I’ll never forget when we gave my dad an iPhone. He’d been wanting one for a while and he was already great with his Blackberry, but there was one thing he was confused about. He held up a CD and his iPhone. “What I don’t get is how I get this onto here.” He mimicked trying to force the CD into the phone and we kids laughed… with him, mostly with him.
Every day, scores of people make the switch to reading ebooks, but I’ve realized that almost no one knows how they’re made. And so budding gumshoe that I am, I hiked up two floors and interviewed Holden and Kerri from our ebook team to get to the bottom of things.
Step 1: Clear the rights
Like most publishers, in addition to publishing nearly all of our new titles as ebooks, we’re working our way through our backlist. Many of the older contracts were written before ebooks existed and so we work with the agents, authors, and illustrators to get the ebook rights settled. With new books, the ebook rights were generally negotiated when the book was acquired.
Step 2: Find the files
For a new book, this isn’t too tricky because we would have been planning on the ebook from the start, but for older books it can be more of a challenge. What we’re looking for is the final digital file of the print book—the one that would have been sent to the printer.
Step 3: Creative planning and execution
This is one of the most interesting steps! Though most people think of ebooks as text-only “e-ink” experiences, in truth ebooks come in a variety of formats with different bells and whistles. For instance an ebook can be published as:
a reflowable ebook
which means that the user can change the size of the text, click words to look up definitions, and more
a fixed format ebook
which means that the layout is nearly identical to the print book, preserving the pretty fonts and design
an enhanced ebook
which mean that it could include bonus content like audio and video and interactive features like clickable pop-ups
We take a hard look at each print book and decide what format and which enhancements (if any) make sense for the ebook. And then, the ebook team makes a storyboard, showing exactly where these features will go and how they will work.
You might remember from my last blog post about Chloe, Instead and Wumbers that we sometimes add audio to ebooks. Ever wonder who those voice actors are? Well, it’s us! Holden and Kerri keep an ear out around the company for people with good voices and then ask them if they can spare an afternoon to record audio parts. For some books, we tap people who can speak other languages. Peter Perez just wrapped up recording the Spanish audio for our bilingual editions of Taro Gomi’s Spring Is Here, Bus Stops, and My Friends.
Step 4: Conversion
Once the digital file for the print book is located, we send it over to an ebook conversion house that specializes in converting it into what is known as “an epub.” Epub is the standard, open-source format for ebooks.
Step 5: Q/A
Next the conversion house sends the file back to our ebook team and they begin to check the files for changes and improvements. This is also when they will add in any enhancements to the ebook, such as audio and pop-ups.
We’re very proud of the fact that our error rate is well below the industry average. Holden and Kerri make this happen through good old-fashioned hard work and long hours. It’s important to us that the ebook versions of our books are just as beautiful as their print counterparts—and we hope that shows in the final product.
Step 6: Distribution
After a book passes the Q/A process with our team, it is then sent to a distribution house. This step is very similar to the print world, where books are sent to a central warehouse to be redistributed to bookstores all over the world. The ebook distribution house takes our single file and distributes it to all our ebook retail partners (e.g., Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, OverDrive, etc.) in their preferred formats.
And not long after the file is delivered to the ebook retailers, it goes up on their sites—where customers like you may buy it and download it to your devices.
I hope that clears up how an ebook is made, but definitely leave a comment if you have more questions for Holden and Kerri! We’ll have them chime in with answers.