About the e-Book
Advanced Home Server is now portable. Amazon and Google both offer digital compilations of the content available here. The articles here will remain available and will remain free. This site is advertiser supported. The e-books have a minimal charge. Distribution of the e-books is not free and is, in fact, surprisingly costly. I don’t expect the e-book to generate more than pizza money (and bragging rights when needed) as my share.
Certain articles here are very popular. WordPress provides metrics that tell me this. I assumed some articles would be wanted at work where an internet connection might not be employer provided. A portable version of Advanced Home Server would fill a need.
It was surprisingly difficult to figure out how to convert the web site into an e-book. There’s countless articles on the internet. Virtually none described how to make an e-book with nearly 400 images that is easy to read so that the images and corresponding text appear together. Most e-books have far more text than graphic material and most of the pictures inside are pretty pictures, not images with text that needs to be sharp and easy to read. In other words, the typical e-book is a different animal from Advanced Home Server and far less challenging.
Later, I learned about e-book readers and how Kindle differs from epub both in file format and readability. More on that later.
The e-Book Specifically
It turns out an e-book with this many pictures is pretty big … about 33Mb big. The text on most images needed to be crisp, and compression / re-sizing ruined them. This is why the price is not as low as I would have liked. The e-book companies charge by the Mb. The price has to cover the distribution cost. Given that Amazon and Google will discount from list, then price match each other, I’ll be lucky to see anything.
The Process – PDF version
It turned out copy and paste into LibreOffice worked best to get started. A lot of artifacts needed to be removed that mysteriously appeared when copied over. All references strongly suggest using styles when possible. I used H1 with page break for each new chapter. Another style was needed to make ordinary text go to the top of the next page so the PDF version would have pictures display with the correct descriptive text. Headers and footers added page numbers and chapter names. The table of contents generator worked great. Voila … a 400+ page PDF version of Advanced Home Server. LibreOffice did the job wonderfully. Google accepts e-books in PDF format.
The Process – EPUB version
The next challenge was turning it into an epub. The LibreOffice add-ons worked horribly. They made one big epub that had no distinct chapters and/or the file was unmanageable in construction. I had similar problems with a few pdf to epub conversion tools I accumulated over time.
Having nearly 400 pictures, many of which needed to remain readable, became a pain in the neck. It turned a simple job into a research project.
Later, I discovered Atlantis Word Processor. It created a nicely formatted epub file from the basic LibreOffice document file. Before converting, I removed the headers and footers and deleted the style that put text at the top of the next page. The H1 style nicely gave me page breaks for each new chapter. Atlantis Word Processor provides a fully featured 30 day trial. It’s a nice product and may be the tool for you and your e-book.
Due to the large quantity of images, a lot more work was needed to format it well enough to consider it complete. My project was a special case. Viewing the first epub using free, open source Calibre, the content looked erratic. The images that looked so nicely sized on the web site were all over the place in size in the epub.
It turns out an epub is really a zip file. I renamed the .epub to .zip and unzipped it. Inside was a web site. Each chapter was an html file, thanks to Atlantis Word Processor.
Microsoft Expression is now free. It’s a great web site editor. I downloaded a copy and imported the site into Microsoft Expression, using it to clean up each html file and manage the image files. I used its image tools to resample the introductory images for each chapter into a uniform size. The other 300+ images were more of a challenge.
Anyone who has written an e-book with pretty pictures is probably confused about why there were so many problems. Well, dealing with pretty pictures is a snap. If they’re scaled to the proper size, then e-book readers will usually render them nicely. Images with text that needs to remain readable are not so easy. E-book readers offer a mixed bag of quality when it comes to image rendering. Some zoom and some don’t. Some zoom well and some zoom poorly. Since the pictures tell a lot of the story in Advanced Home Server, the text on each needed to be sharp and readable.
I decided to leave each remaining image sized as it was when the screen print was made. All html scaling was removed because it turned out that some epub generators like to resize images during epub generation. Epub readers scale images as they display and each one does it a bit differently.
Re-zipping the file and changing the file type back to .epub didn’t work. My android tablet didn’t know what to do with it. Caliber could turn the epub into a good epub, but it also compressed the images so that many were not crisply readable any more.
Eventually, I discovered Jutoh, an excellent e-book editor and bought a copy after experimenting with the free trial. I imported the html web site into it and created a perfectly formed and crisply formatted epub file.
Some epub readers scroll and page. Those that page only don’t render the e-book well. Those that scroll make each chapter look like the web site here (with minor formatting differences at the heading).
Google also accepts e-books in the epub format, and is said to prefer both PDF and epub formats if available.
The Process – Kindle version
Amazon uses a program called kindlegen to convert epub files into mobi files and mobi files are massive. They contain the original epub plus two different kindle versions. My 33Mb file ballooned to over 80Mb, exceeding the Amazon file size limit of 50Mb.
Amazon also provides a program called Kindle Previewer. It’s designed to give the author an idea what their book will look like on different Kindle models. I discovered mobi files on Kindles will page only. They don’t scroll. I considered them to be unreadable since there was no way to ensure the proper descriptive text would display next to its image. On top of that, Kindle Previewer and / or kindlegen added artifacts to a lot of the images with text. They detracted from the clarity. The pretty pictures still looked great. Importing a mobi into Kindle for PC and a first generation Kindle Fire improved the clairity somewhat. Overall, mobi was not suitable for this content.
Amazon also offers Kindle Textbook Creator. It converts PDF files into Kindle files that can be viewed only on a limited number of devices. No image compression was obvious on the previewer. The file size of the Kindle textbook was almost the same as the PDF. It’s formatted identically to the PDF. This is the version that was uploaded to Amazon.
Jutoh generated a well formed mobi file. My attempts with using kindlegen on the command line created files with unusable images, regardless of the compression setting I used. Jutoh knew how to do it better. I have an idea for another e-book. If it ever comes to life, I will use Jutoh for the heavy lifting.
Sigil is another e-book editor. It’s free. Along the way I discovered some people regard Sigil and Calibre like some people regard religion. I made a mild remark about Sigil in a forum for people who write e-books for sale on Amazon and found out how defensive some people can be. If you want to write an e-book, try it. A lot of people love it.
Apple makes it difficult to sell e-books with them if you don’t use a Mac to upload it. I don’t have a Mac, so no Apple book sales. Nook has a 20Mb upload limit, so no Nook sales. Smashwords is a business that takes your e-book and acts as a middleman to all e-book distributors. They have a 10Mb limit, so no Smashwords.
Amazon has a forum dedicated to e-book authors. I picked up some good, basic information there. Like all forums, each contributor reflects their own interests, experience, level of basic knowledge, and agenda. Keep an open mind but stay focused on your needs, not those of the contributors.
Finally, I’m still not sure if it’s ebook, e-book, e-Book, or something else. My useage is inconsistent. Same with epub, EPUB, and ePub. Live with it.