Publishing for iPad: My iBooks Workspace…

My MacBookPro screen set up for iBook work
I’ve found this a great setup for working on iBooks on my 17″ MacBook Pro, and I decided to share it in case it’s of use to anyone else.
One of the problems with building and editing iBooks is that to see them displayed properly you really have to see them on an iPad. That’s a process with many steps:

  • Save your XHTML, CSS and Image files on your computer
  • Run ePubZip on the parent folder of your book to generate ePub
  • Run ePubCheck to find and fix errors
  • Delete the old version of your book from iTunes
  • Delete the old version from your iPad
  • Drag the new version into iTunes
  • Synch your iPad
  • Open the book

If you’re tweaking the CSS or the XHTML markup, having to do this every time is tedious beyond description.

However, the text rendering inside iBooks is done using Webkit – the same engine that Safari uses. While iBooks does not offer all the Webkit features, its rendering is close enough for most purposes. So a Safari window about the width of an iBook screen will let you view changes instantly.

  • Make changes
  • Save file
  • Hit Refresh in Safari

And you see the changes. It makes experimenting with styles, font sizes etc in your CSS stylesheet quick and painless.

The top window on the right-hand side holds the parent folder of the book. The window below that contains the ePub tools. 

Once you have the files the way you want them, generating the ePub is just a matter of dragging the top-level folder of your book onto the ePubZip icon.

Once the ePub has been generated, dragging its new icon onto the ePubCheck icon runs the check. When completed, that pops up a window listing errors, and also puts a text file containing them into the same folder as your ePub.

Elsewhere on my Mac, I have a “Working Archives” folder. As often as I can remember, I make a copy of the latest working ePub and drop it in there, in case I mess up the one on which I’m working. 

It’s not a very complex setup – or probably even very original. It grew organically as I worked, and is the most efficient and pain-free I’ve found so far. The process of building an iBook by hand needs all the help it can get – especially when you’re working with a book of 17 chapters, with more than 30 full-screen color illustrations so far.

Incidentally, Apple’s Publisher Guide suggests that you should use embedded fonts for short sections only – for example, to show a hand-written letter using a script font. However, I’ve proved to my satisfaction that the embedded font technology in iBooks, the ePub format and iBooks itself are more than robust enough to deal with Tanya’s 128-page, illustrated bird book, which so far is 12.8Mb in size…

One thought on “Publishing for iPad: My iBooks Workspace…

  1. Simon de Haast

    Hello. Loved your latest iPad piece, some insightful takeaways from the clip. Regarding this article, have you tried editing the CSS in real time using Safari's 'Developer' tools. Similar to Firebug in Firefox, it allows you right-click an element and then inspect it. A console window opens up and you can edit the CSS and see the effects immediately.


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