Receiving and making client changes

Keith Snyder (@noteon), author of recent epubsecrets post The Portuguese Case, hosted today’s #eprdctn hour.

If you’re an ebook developer, check out this Storify summary of the session (assembled by @BookDesignGirl; thanks, Colleen Cunningham). There are lots of good ideas for tracking and billing for client-requested changes, along with discussions of how to bill for them.

If you are planning to hire an ebook developer, read it to see how some pros like to work with their clients.

And, there’s a video! Here’s the session:

Don’t forget, #eprdctn hour is every Wednesday at 11AM (EDT). Next week, September 2: Laura Brady (@LauraB7) and Damian Gibbs (@damiangct) will talk about Design for ebooks – time to rethink “book” concepts? What about UI and UX?  This is going to be fascinating.

Sign up here to lead or suggest other topics for this valuable weekly event.


It takes the most dogged of ebook developers to solve the toughest problems. This week, Keith Snyder proves his mettle as he solves a cross-device problem and then digs into a pesky swipe issue.

“You come recommended,” he said.

“Should be a straightforward job.”

“I want to be sure the chapter names appear in the Go To menu.”

“Understood. Can I get the Word file instead of the HTML export?”

“No, I’ve made changes to the HTML.”

I paused. “I see.”

A book of importance to his family. Just as I was making the rocky switch from EPUB2 to EPUB3, so my usual apps didn’t work anymore and I wasn’t sure what to blame on the new format and what to blame on my lack of familiarity. Starting with the client’s own HTML Word export. Word HTML is merda. Which is Portuguese. Which was the language this book was in.

“Sounds straightforward,” I said.

* * *

The app I was using was unfamiliar, but sleep deprivation was an old friend.

The chapter titles showed up fine, everywhere but Kindle for iOS. I checked with my usual sources and got a tip. Kindle for iOS might pull its Go To from the nav.xhtml.

I recoded. I tested. The only thing that populated the Go To correctly in Kindle for iOS was a .mobi loaded onto an iPad from Dropbox. But in Kindle for PC, that same mobi’s Go To didn’t have the chapter names.

How much do we care about Kindle for PC, I asked.

The client sent back user-poll data: Primary platform for his market.

That’s great to know, I said.

He sent the .azw he’d made by uploading a Word file to Amazon. It had chapter names in the Go To menu.

* * *

My brain swam. My breath was toxic. I seemed to have a beard. Laptop light glinted off a clutter of mugs. A voice came to me:

Go To doesn’t populate in an .azk on iPad until you upload it to Amazon. 

“Wait, don’t go. How am I supposed to check it before upload, then?”

You don’t. You cross your fingers and click. Well, actually . . . on iPad, you can check design in the .azk synced through iTunes the way you’re supposed to, and check Go To content in the .mobi loaded through Dropbox the way you’re not supposed to.

Bitter tears coursed down my cheeks.

The voice cackled as it receded.

You knew the job was Kindle when you took it!

* * *

You did it, the client said.

Yeah, I said.

But I noticed something else.

Oh, good, I said.

When I swipe to the previous page from a chapter start, it shows the chapter start again—but only when I get to the chapter start by touching the Go To menu.

I’ll take a look, I said.


He re-sent the .azw he’d made by uploading a Word file to Amazon. It had no swipe problem.

* * *

It was a <div>. A <div> to make a coder kick a hole in a Cinema display. Each chapter was contained by one. It had a margin-top to sink the title on the chapter-opener screen.


It looked at me. I looked at it. I shot it dead and gave the margin-top to the chapter title H1, and then I dragged the file onto the iPad, touched a chapter link, and swiped . . .

The end of the previous chapter appeared. Just like it was supposed to.

I touched another chapter link. No doubled screen. I’d solved it.

I tried the rest of the links.

I hadn’t solved it. Three .xhtml files out of 20 still doubled when I swiped backwards.

But now I had a clue. An honest-to-god clue. I went looking for margin-top values built in somewhere.

* * *

No margin-top values were built in anywhere.

A hundred test versions of the same book littered my Kindle libraries.

* * *

The clientele of the E-Pub is dodgy, but there are things only other ebook people know.

Sallow people with eyes like bruises touched the links, dully swiped to the doubled start pages, nodded or shrugged or sighed. Some picked up their dirty glasses again, returning to the embrace of blessed numbness. Others sobbed.

“Yeah,” said one who did ebooks for a big New York conglomerate. Her soul was gone. “That happens sometimes.”


She handed my tablet back. “You know what happens to people who ask ‘why’ in this business.”

“That a threat?”

The pub went quiet. She leaned in. Depraved light flickered and guttered in her eyes. “It happens sometimes. Understand? It happens.

Everyone was looking at me.

“It happens,” I said. “Sure.”

“Save yourself,” someone said.

* * *

“It happens,” I told the client.

He named a figure to stay on it. It was enough to buy me socks.

“Let me see what I can do,” I said.

* * *

The HTML is the same, I said at home, to the stacks of dirty dishes. The CSS is the same. The link to the CSS is the same. The header information is the same. There are no divs, no margins anywhere except H1, and I even removed that and it made no difference.

What am I missing . . .

I stopped halfway through a swipe and looked at the chapter-start screen sitting next to its duplicated self.

What am I missing? What’s different about these three chapters?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Only their <spine> order. Which—

And suddenly, I knew where to look

* * *

I didn’t charge the extra fee, just said, “Think I’ve got it. See how it looks,” and invoiced for the original amount.

Spine order.

That’s what was different.

Which meant those three all followed different chapters. And at the very ends of the three chapters they followed?

Margin-bottom values.


It was the bullets.

Created in Word. Exported to merda. And I missed them.

Always clean up your bullets.

You can bury it. Bury it deep. In Word HTML. In a foreign language. In an unfamiliar file format. In an unfamiliar app. In a job so small, no one sane would ever bother looking. But all it takes is someone crazy enough or stupid enough or hungry enough to keep shoveling, and keep shoveling, and keep shoveling.

I am that stupid shoveler.

I make ebooks.

KEITH SNYDER is aware that margin is better than margin-top. You can tell him anyway at

Keith will lead the Aug 26 #eprdctn hour (11 AM) on, what else, Receiving and making client changes.

Indexes in ebooks: Part 2

indexIlloSteve Ingle of WordCo continues his deep dive into indexing for ebooks. He’s got insight into how he works, and why InDesign isn’t suited for his methodology.

Publishing non-fiction books in digital form often presents one unique challenge that does not exist with fiction: providing a usable index. In my previous post (“Indexes in ebooks”) I argued that indexes should be included in digital non-fiction books, and that they don’t need to be cost-prohibitive.

The index is an organized, highly structured and detailed summary of the book’s contents; it’s there to help the user assimilate information (aka “learning”). Of course the reader can use the index as a search tool to “look up” topics, but it’s much more than that: users can browse the index to get an overview of the book’s contents.

While a non-hyperlinked (i.e., “dead”) index reproduced from the print version of the book is better than no index, readers of digital non-fiction books have a right to expect, at the very least, a hyperlinked index, where headings or page locators are linked to specific locations within the digital book.

Ah, the hyperlinked index . . . There’s the rub.

It all sounds great, but how do we get there from here? As an indexer, I could manually insert tags into the ePUB file, but this is not a realistic option. It would essentially double or triple my work time. Plus it would mean holding up the digital release until tagging was completed.

Idea: there must be a way to do the tagging BEFORE the book is exported to ePUB.

I will address a viable solution to this quandary in my next post, but first, let’s look at one potential solution — or impediment — to embedded indexing. I’m talking about Adobe InDesign.

InDesign is a wonderful application that has enabled anyone with a workstation and a little knowledge to create professional-looking books. It has helped revolutionize the publishing industry. It even has an indexing feature that allows the publisher to turn to the indexer and say:

Here are the InDesign files. Now just please create the index. Maybe we can even pay you slightly more for your trouble.”

This actually happened to me. I took the workshop on indexing with InDesign, and made the substantial outlay to purchase the program in anticipation of lots more InDesign indexing. However, when I started doing the work, I realized there was a problem: indexing with any kind of tagging takes much, MUCH longer than indexing a print book. And the end product is not nearly as good.

To understand the scope of the problem, and the limitations of indexing in InDesign, publishers and software designers need to know something about how an indexer works. (We need better communication and understanding all around, but I’ll address that in my next post).

How an indexer works

The indexer doesn’t just feed a book into an automated indexing program that then spits out the index. He or she makes several passes through the book, getting a general overview of the subject, deciding how to structure useful headings and subheadings, all the while keeping in mind the probable audience of the book, length constraints on the index, as well as the deadline.

Indexers typically use database programs focused on index creation, such as Cindex, Macrex, or Sky. A good index is not produced sequentially (I don’t start with the “A” entries, and I don’t necessarily start with Chapter 1); it EVOLVES. The indexer uses his or her judgment to include certain categories of entries and exclude others. When the data is entered, the indexer edits the index, deciding where to add, delete, or consolidate entries. And that’s just the beginning: indexing software helps me perform complex operations on my file. For example:

  • as I create the index, at any time I can see the formatted index taking shape. If I want to see how I picked up a certain topic from a previous chapter, I can easily perform an instantaneous search to display all such entries.
  • as I enter an index heading, the software will auto-complete the entry based on previous headings.
  • if I want to copy a block of entries under one heading, but spanning several chapters, I can easily duplicate the selected records and add the new heading.
  • if I want to ensure that all terms beginning with “St.” (as in “St. Louis”) sort as “Saint”: again, it’s easy to search and replace with the proper sort codes.
  • I can visualize the index in various forms: draft vs. formatted, sorted letter-by-letter vs. word-by-word.
  • I can sort the index by page number, or search for records by page span, to assure that Chapter 2 was covered as well as Chapter 10.
  • I can have the program alert me when an entry is followed by too many page locators (I can set the number).
  • I can label index records for future reference if I want to revisit that concept later.
  • As I near the end of the indexing process, I might have an inkling that a certain concept that didn’t seem important at the beginning comes up in several places under two different terms. I want to consolidate all instances of these terms under one index heading. I simply perform a Boolean for both variants, save them to a separate area, make any necessary edits, and add them to my index. With the right software, this takes just a few seconds.

Recap: 1) indexing is way more complicated than most editors assume, and 2) a skilled indexer can utilize indexing software to make the job much more cost-effective, with superior results.

Unfortunately, InDesign in its present form is not up to the task. I realized this as soon as I started working with it on an actual project. Here are just some of the problems:

  • Not only do I need to click and drag with the mouse to highlight a word or passage, I have to indicate whether the reference continues for a specific number of pages, or until the occurrence of a specific style. If I am using the style option, I have to scroll through several screens of styles to find the right one.
  • It is very difficult to edit the index as it is taking shape. Because a book in InDesign consists of separate chapters, I need to generate the index anew from all of the chapter files every time I want to view it. This takes a lot of time.
  • There is no (easy) way to search and replace for entries using Boolean searches or patterns. Inserting forced sort codes (as in “St. Louis”), takes a lot of time and effort.
  • There is no way to quickly view the index, or selected, in various formats and sorts (alphabetically, by page).

In short, indexing in InDesign takes much too long, even to justify a significantly higher rate.

Reflowable vs hyperlinked indexes

Even IF indexing with InDesign were as easy as working with dedicated indexing software, its indexing capability was designed not with digital (hyperlinked) indexes in mind, but rather REFLOWABLE indexes. That is, if the publisher removes a chapter, the index page locators automatically update. Reflowable indexes have their place, such as with a book that is regularly published every year with relatively minor updates. While a reflowable index also requires tags, it’s not the same thing as a hyperlinked index.

What if . . .

While a few publishers have totally dispensed with InDesign in favor of a digital-first workflow, the current reality is that the majority are still using it as the foundation of their production process. So maybe what is needed is a totally different approach to indexing. What if the indexer didn’t have to do tagging at all, and what if the creation of digital indexes did not have to disrupt the publisher’s InDesign-based workflow? And what if we could use a new method to start building really useful indexes that took advantage of digital formats in a way that print indexes never could? To be continued….

Stephen Ingle is the president and CEO of WordCo Indexing Services (, located in Norwich, Connecticut.  He created his first index (8 lines) at the age of 10. After graduating from Yale University with a degree in German literature, he went on to earn master’s degrees in German and Russian Area Studies.  In 1988, Steve began freelance indexing part time while also working at the Modern Language Association (MLA) in New York.  He began indexing full time in 1991. Steve has served on the national board of the American Society for Indexing. His company now employs a team of indexers and completes about 500 projects annually for a diverse group of clients.  His interests include indexing as a business and indexes for digital publications.

Interactivity in ebooks

Here’s a timely piece by Justin Putney of Ajar Productions (the in5 developer). There’s an exciting demo (scroll down) and a request from Justin for ideas from developers to bring interactivity to InDesign and then to EPUB (there’s a link to a short survey).  Justin will be hosting #eprdctn hour next Wednesday, August 5.


Hi, my name is Justin Putney. I’m co-founder of Ajar Productions. We make tools for designers and publishers, including our most popular product, in5, which exports interactive HTML5 from InDesign.

For the past three years, I’ve been focused on the best ways to get interactivity out of InDesign via in5. While at PePcon, I was inspired by a conversation with Mira Rubin to focus on getting more interactivity into InDesign, so that ePUB authors (and others) can easily add interactivity to their projects.

Currently, the tools within InDesign are quite limited when it comes to creating interactivity and distributing to an ePUB. The Folio Overlays, used to create interactive elements like self-running slideshows for Adobe DPS, do not work in ePUB. Animation imported from Edge Animate is a great way to add some flair to a project, but it cannot be viewed in iBooks on iOS. So if you’re not currently a fluent coder, your options for interactivity are limited. That’s what we’d like to fix.

In the video, you’ll see the prototype that I showed at PePcon, which can import interactive HTML that works in an ePUB.

We’re currently testing the ability to add HTML from anywhere, as well as having the option of inserting configurable widgets (like iBooks Author has).

What this means for you

This could help you add interactive items to your reflowable and fixed-layout projects.

  • Quizzes and Surveys
  • Image Galleries
  • Slideshows
  • Scrollable Frames
  • Flip cards
  • …and much more

You won’t have to be a programmer or know how to code to use our tool.

What you can do

There are 3 things that you can do to impact and follow this project.

  1. We’d love to get your feedback and find out what’s important to you in your ePUB work. If you want to help shape the direction of our project, please add your input to this short survey.
  2. I’ll also be hosting the #eprdctn Hour on August 5th at 11am EDT/8am PST, if you want to have a live Twitter chat about interactivity and ePUBs.
  3. If you’d like to hear more about this project as it’s being developed, you can subscribe to our newsletter (and get a premium InDesign extension for free).

Thanks for reading and I look forward to chatting with you!

Justin Putney (@justinputney) is a designer, animator, developer, speaker, author (Adobe Press &, Adobe Community Professional, entrepreneur, and minimalist runner. He is also co-founder of ajarproductions.

Animations in children’s fixed-layout books

Today’s #eprdctn hour featured Diane Burns, Kris Vetter, and Laura Brady talking about two approaches to creating animation. Diane explained using InDesign CC, while Kris focused on CSS3 animations. Both had great insight and information.

Be sure to scroll to the end to find links to Kris’s materials (her tweets didn’t all come through to the Storify edition due to a firewall issue).

And check out Diane’s course on creating and exporting animations from Indesign CC.

Next week’s #eprdctn hour (Aug 5 at 11 AM) will continue a focus on animation with Justin Putney. Look for an article from Justin here on tomorrow.

Indexes in ebooks


This is the first installment in a 3-part series on Indexes in ebooks, written by Stephen Ingle, president of WordCo Indexing Services. We’ll publish the final 2 pieces over the next few weeks. Steve will also be a guest on #eprdctn hour on September 9. Please comment below, send in questions, and participate on September 9! Now to Steve:

I love digital non-fiction books, especially history and politics. I love downloading them on the Kindle app on my iPad or my iPhone. But I have a gripe: why is the index often missing in the digital version of the book? I feel like I’ve been shortchanged. I like to see what topics come up in the book, how often they come up, and where the discussion is (i.e., at the beginning, middle, or end of the book). The index (even just a non-hyperlinked image of the print index) provides this. The index also breaks down major topics into subtopics so I can get an overview of how the author treats that topic.

I guess the usual (dare I say ignorant?) response from the publisher is something like this: “The page numbers don’t show up in the digital version, so the index is unusable,” or “Readers can just use Search.” Search works great for simple things (assuming you remember how to spell the name you’re looking for or the author’s particular terminology). But why not include the index, at the very least to help the reader know what to search for?

What exactly is an index anyway? A list of every name or term that comes up in a book? Not really. That would be more of a concordance. Essentially, an index provides an organized overview of the book’s contents. It is not just a search tool to “look something up.” It’s a meta-presentation of what’s in the book. Think about what that means: with a well-constructed and complete index, and enough time, you could pretty much reconstruct the gist of the book, in page order. Just add water!

An index is a beautiful thing. It adds value to the book. I would argue that indexes are not only still relevant, there are all kinds of ways they could take advantage of the digital milieu to improve the reader’s experience. At a minimum, index headings would be hyperlinked to the text. But why not use colors and typefaces to indicate relative importance or different categories of headings? And, since we’re dreaming, why not have collapsible headings that can be expanded with a touch? Why not enable some kind of user input, perhaps “searching” the index for certain types of headings (all people, perhaps, or all companies in a business-related book)?

Clearly, there’s lots of “potential.” Then why do the ebooks we see with indexes either have a “dead” (i.e., non-hyperlinked) index, or, at best, a hyperlinked version of the print index?

The answer is simple. It’s not only that it’s not feasible given the technology (there certainly are issues with differences between devices and platforms that render ebook files differently). There are two real reasons we don’t see a push for more and better ebook indexes: production costs and time. And since time is money, it’s really all about costs. So that begs the next question: how to adjust workflows to reduce the costs of creating decent (hyperlinked) ebook indexes?

First of all, let’s start with the basics. A dead index is better than no index. If the print book has an index, at the very least the ebook should include it, even if it’s not hyperlinked. That doesn’t cost anything. And it doesn’t leave the reader (me) feeling cheated.

But can we have even a basic hyperlinked index that’s not going to cost more, or at least not more than a nominal amount? An index, where if you touch the page locator, you are magically transported to the relevant location in the text? The answer is: “Yes, we’re getting there!” If the ebook file contains page markers (page list in EPUB3; read the IDPF’s guidelines here), it’s really a simple matter to hyperlink the page locators in the index to the actual page locations in the book. More on this next time.

 Coming in Part II: Changing the Ebook Workflow


Stephen Ingle is the president and CEO of WordCo Indexing Services (, located in Norwich, Connecticut.  He created his first index (8 lines) at the age of 10. After graduating from Yale University with a degree in German literature, he went on to earn master’s degrees in German and Russian Area Studies.  In 1988, Steve began freelance indexing part time while also working at the Modern Language Association (MLA) in New York.  He began indexing full time in 1991. Steve has served on the national board of the American Society for Indexing. His company now employs a team of indexers and completes about 500 projects annually for a diverse group of clients.  His interests include indexing as a business and indexes for digital publications.

#eprdctn hour: EPUB3, HTML5 Markup

Colleen Cunningham (@BookDesignGirl) has done a lot (I mean a lot!) of R&D on semantic markup. Here’s the Storify session from today. Make sure you examine her examples closely.

And, if you’re not clear on the meaning of semantics, Colleen gives a cogent, snappy definition (via a few tweets) at the top of the session.

Tune in next week for Joshua Tallent (@jtallent) leading a discussion about dealing with difficult clients and providing good customer service. July 22, 11AM EDT.

If you want to lead a discussion, sign up here:

#eprdctn hour update

Today’s #eprdctn hour on Twitter was a great success. Lots of ideas, lots of participation. No surprise, though: all of the previous sessions have been rollicking.

Today, Tzviya Siegman, Lead of Wiley Digital Book Standards & Capabilities, led a spirited discussion on EPUB standards. She covered organizations that are working to establish and promote standards (BISG, IDPF, W3C), and fiercely advocated for everyone involved in EPUB work to get involved.

Here’s the Storify link to the session, as collated by Laura Brady:

We are collecting all the Storified sessions on the Resources page here at epubsecrets, so stop in if you missed the hour and read your fill.

And don’t forget: Sign up to lead a discussion. All spots are taken until September, so you have plenty of time to prepare.