InDesign experts; Re-Learn InDesign to make eBooks

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This palette allows you to edit all of the TAGs for all of the styles.

Dear book designers and typographers who previously only designed for print

please throw away your bad habits when using InDesign!

Here follows some suggestions (nay, rules even) when making flowable eBooks:


Things to do:

  • Turn on hidden characters
    • Keep this on to show you where you might have empty paragraphs, double spaces, space at the end of a paragraph/heading, tabs, and soft-breaks.
    • Some of these things you might want to be rid of, but some, just may not convert to the ePub (tabs for instance).
  • Create a root paragraph style for the major part of the content (usually the body text)
    • This makes sense if you have a lot of text that needs a style applying. Use select-all and then style with that body text style. The headings can then be styled afterwards.
    • You might also consider using 'Next-Style' as a rule for the headings, so that headings are followed by a special first paragraph in the chapter or sub-section.
  • Make a style (paragraph, character and object) for every category of content that you will have in your publication
    • These styles get converted to HTML mark-up in the ePub
    • Make sure everything is styled with a style definition. If you use bespoke styles (by selecting attributes directly), your ePub may contain hard-to-edit, complex markup.
  • Give names to your styles that make sense for the kind of content that belongs there
    • For paragraphs and headings use names that can easiliy be identified. An example might be 'first paragraph after the title', or 'author name'.
    • Character styles need names like 'citation' or 'name of country', or 'latin name'. Not 'italic' nor 'red underlined'!
  • When using colour in text, define it with RGB values not CMYK
    • Colour defined in CMYK usually end up as the nearest 'web safe' colour. Our devices can do better than that!
  • Provide every style with a tagging rule for HTML and ePub (see image here)
    • If you leave the setting on 'Automatic' you are trusting InDesign too much
  • Use an HTML tag (h1 to h6) for a heading (not 'p')
    • InDesign may tag the HTML in the ePub with such things as <p>. It will work, but it should be <h1>.
    • In some situations, the eReader software will enable the user to change fonts. It may be that you (the book designer), would rather the headings stay as you intended. Using proper HTML heading tags (h1-h6) will 'lock-down' your choice of font.
    • tag names and classes cannot have spaces in the names, so use 'camel-case' - like this: 'ChapterTopic'
  • Keep text threaded
    • You may have got used-to the idea of putting a text box here and there for headings. Unless these loose text boxes are linked or anchored, they may all end up at the back of the book!
    • Wherever possible, keep the text in one story, particularly if you need images inside the flow of the text
  • Put caption information in the metadata of the images (get your photo library/ asset managers and editors to do this)
    • You can then automatically populate the caption text box with this data.
  • Anchor images and objects that need to flow within the main text
    • Objects need to be anchored so that they will flow with the text. They may need to move on to the following page, if the user of your eBook, increases the font size.
    • Images that are not anchored will probably appear at the end of your eBook
    • You should anchor at a paragraph break, even if, your print version has the image right after a particular line of text.
  • Group the images with their captions and anchor those grouped objects
    • In your print version, you may have captions appearing in a variety of places. Try to use a consistent location in the eBook. This will make your life easier. 
  • Name the object styles that you use
    • Objects such as images or groups will be tagged with a <div> name that matches the name of the object style; like this one: <div
  • Use the Table of Contentsfeature to create your table of contents
    • The TOC needs to be interactive. InDesign will export the correctly formatted TOC for the ePub only if you have used the correct auto-generated TOC.
    • You may want more sophisticated control and style for the print version, but you can always create a different TOC style for the eBook version.
  • You can use the dropcaps feature of InDesign, but you will need to create a character style for the dropcap letter, and apply to the first letter in that paragraph.

Things not to do

  • Don't create space between paragraphs by using a line break (ENTER or RETURN key)
    • Space before or after a paragraph or heading should be provided by the style (Indents and Spacing>Space Before) not with empty paragraphs
  • Avoid the use of the soft break to make a word go to the next line
    • In your print version you may have used a soft-break to balance the lines or even to control orphans and widows. This will upset things when someone views in the eBook, because the line may suddenly wrap in the middle of a sentence!
  • Do not leave character styling without a specific character style. Often a problem with italic and bold
    • When you import (place) text from MS Word, the author may have italicised some text. If this is still required then create a character style for it, and then use Find/Replace to look for italic and replace with the new character style (see the next item here)
  • Do not create style names that refer to their appearance (like italic)
    • This locks you in to that appearance (practically). Of course you can change the style, but for anyone else who needs to edit your ePub, their poor brain will hiccup when they see <span> and they need to change the style to underlined red!
  • When setting the rules for a character style, remember, that it will always inherit the basic formats from its parent; the parent is the paragraph in which it resides.
    • You should not select the font name again (it will be unusual to have a different font inside a line), because this will make it difficult for you to change the style of that paragraph.
    • You will also find that it will over complicate the style rules in the ePub CSS.
  • If you want text in uppercase, do not type as THAT but rather create a style that changes the text to uppercase
    • A future generation of designers in your publishing company may want to re-publish this work. They may prefer these headings to have small-caps. Now thay need to dig in to the actual text and re-key those capitals.
  • Avoid handcafting the table of contents
    • Use the feature in ID to generate automatically from the headings and subheadings. Even if you want extra features in there like images or intro text, start with the auto generated and then add those features. This will then give you an interactive TOC in the ePub (required). Alternatively, you can build this auto generated TOC on the pasteboard of ID, and it will transfer to the ePub (off the page)
  • Do not expect to control the appearance of spreads in a flowable eBook
    • Do not put captions to images on a different page
    • Although you can attempt to get content to start on a new page, you don't know if this will be verso or recto. Fixed-format books are different!

Posted on 22 Oct around 4pm


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