Self-Publishing Advice: What I learned about iBooks Author for iTunes

I’ll be publishing a series of posts here about my experiences with self-publishing an e-book that has multi-media and hyperlink integration. I hope sharing tips with other authors will save them some time and headaches.

Because the idea behind my book–reliving past relationships through a playlist of ex-boyfriend songs–involves an Apple device (the iPod) and music, it was critical for me to design a book that took advantage of all the self-publishing design tools Apple offers. When iBooks Author (iBA) was launched in 2012, I was pumped. iBooks Author brought dynamic design, color and functionality to the one-dimension e-book world that Kindle still dominates.

The iBA templates for designing your own e-book are clean and contemporary; I’m a marketing/communications director for a winery by day, so the look of my e-book is important to me. I want people to read my book on an iPad, and I want to be featured on Apple’s iBooks Author section on iTunes. (Apple promotes iBooks Author-designed books. Using iBA is another opportunity for publicity.)

Here are the top five things I learned about working with iBooks Author:

1) iBooks Author device compatiblity. iBA currently only allows purchasing and viewing books on iPads. Before committing to this design program, ask yourself a few questions: Will my readers only be reading my book on an iPad? How much sales will I miss out on? I looked at my own reading behavoir; I switch back and forth between the iBooks bookshelf app on both my iPad and iPod, especially when traveling. It’s easier for me to read on an iPhone in an airport. I decided that I couldn’t alienate iPhone or iPod Touch users–how many hundreds of millions have been sold worldwide?–but I made this decision after my iBooks Author version of the book was designed. Learn from my mistake. Weigh your options early. If you are set on having the sleek interior design iBooks Author offers, the best solution I’ve found is to launch two different books to the iTunes store: the iBooks Author .ibooks file and an .epub file. Make sure that your book title includes a description of device compatibility (in parenthesis after the book title–example here) so that potential buyers viewing the book thumbnail in iTunes search know which type of device is required. Also, add a device compatibility statement at the beginning of your book description metadata text.

2) iBooks Author file conversion. These .ibooks and .iba files cannot be converted to .epub. Once you have designed your book in iBooks Author, you can’t export it to other formats besides a PDF. So, converting your .ibooks or .iba file to .epub so that it can be viewed on iPhones, iPods or other non-Apple devices is not an option. And you can’t take the PDF version and then convert it into an .epub. Trust me. I tried. (.iBA files are the standard format iBooks Author files are saved in; .ibooks files are the format that gets uploaded to iTunes Producer for selling on iTunes. The .ibooks format is what makes them compatible with an iPad.) In my case, I had already hired 52 Novels to format my book for both Amazon Kindle and Smashwords for Nook, Kobo, Sony and other retailers, so I had a .mobi version for Amazon and an .epub for Smashwords. The key was then getting the .epub version revised to include hyperlinks that would be acceptable, and compatible with, Apple devices. (For more on this topic, see “Hyperlinks to songs” below.) If you don’t want to pay someone to edit your .epub file to include hyperlinks specific to each retailer who is selling your e-book, then you’ll need to learn how to use Sigil. (Stay tuned for a post about Sigil.)

3) Hyperlinks to images. iBA doesn’t currently allow hyperlinks on images. I inserted a play button image at the beginning of each chapter, hoping that readers could tap on the play button, which would be linked to an iTunes URL for a song. Then, the iTunes app would launch and play the preview of that song. In order to get this functionality, I had to find a workaround. I added a few very small periods (…..) on top of the play button and changed their color to match the red play button. Some forums also suggested adding a white period or changing the shading on the character to be 10%.

5) Hyperlinks to songs. It’s common retailer etiquette to not use hyperlinks within an e-book that would send the reader to another retailer to purchase something. Don’t use Amazon URLs in a book that’s being sold on iTunes, or iTunes URLs on a NOOK, etc. Hyperlinking to songs within iBA files is easy using the Inspector tool. Just make sure that you double-check text formatting after you create a hyperlink. The iBA Inspector removes italics from text as soon as you create a hyperlink. This happens with InDesign and other programs e-books are designed in, so it’s something to watch when formatting and proofreading. Make sure to sign up for an iTunes Affiliate account and add your affiliate code to all your hyperlinks, so you can earn commissions on links. (Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on hyperlinks inside e-books.)

4) Table of Contents (TOC) display and formatting. The way a table of contents displays on iPads for iBA books is quite different from what readers are used to seeing in .epub formatted books. (Check out my free book sample on iTunes, and you’ll see what I mean.) iBA templates don’t offer much flexibility in editing the TOC. It is what it is. The template I used only allows for a single headline of text–pulled from the first page of each chapter–to display in the TOC. I wanted my TOC to display the ex-boyfriend’s name, his song and the band name. With iBooks Author templates, that was not possible. I did hire a freelancer off who specialized in iBA formatting; he was able to help me design a custom playlist page at the beginning of the book and help clean up how the pages were displaying within each section. (iBA has sections and chapters, and if you are designing your iBA book yourself, you must be careful to make sure you are adding the right type of page within your file or it will screw up the TOC.)

In the end, I’m proud to say that I used iBooks Author to design about 90% of the iPad version of The Exes in My iPod myself, and I only had to use a freelance designer to help me design one custom page, reorganize a few sections and get my table of contents working. That cost me about $150. Well worth it. From start to finish, designing an iBooks Author e-book took me about two months. Keep in mind that I only worked on my book for about six hours each weekend, and I also had a hyperlink-heavy manuscript that required lots of testing of hyperlinks to make sure they were compatible with mobile devices.

Would I use iBA again? Yes. But I cannot wait until they make iBA compatible with iPhones and iPod Touch.