Creating Elegant eBooks for Academics and Students
The current trend in Higher Education is moving towards Open Educational Resources (OER). These resources are freely accessible course materials that bring down the costs of obtaining a degree and facilitate research. The materials include textbooks, workbooks, course outlines, and even videos of the courses.
However, there is no universal format being used in the OER movement. Some universities are using Markdown as the base format language, which then allows a book to be exported in ePub, HTML, PDF, or a Word file.
To create a resource using Markdown, you will need to get a Markdown editor like Atom. The challenge with Markdown, however, is that your textbook will come out looking pretty basic and even a little raw.
What if you want to create an eBook that is more elegant and openly accessible?
There are several resources available for creating digital books that look good. The two that I use are Sigil and iBooksAuthor. Sigil is the more basic application and is used for creating primarily text-based books with little media. It creates books using the open source ePub format. To use Sigil, you should know some HTML and CSS. iBooksAuthor can create either ePubs, PDFs, or iBooks.
Since the goal of this post is to create a more elegant eBook without coding skills, let’s focus on iBooksAuthor. First, this application is made by Apple. This means it will only work on a Mac. However, if you choose an ePub format, you can create digital books on a Mac but that will work on any device.
Creating an ePub in iBooksAuthor is as easy as creating a document in Word. Import your text, and then start the fun part of making it look good. The key thing to remember with an ePub is that they are not fixed layout (and you don’t want them to be). The text will adjust based on the device and the display settings of the user.
Photos can be embedded into the text, and thus attached to the eBook. For videos, it is best to provide a link to an external website (this way the book file does not become a behemoth to large to download). iBooksAuthor is a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get editor, so that will make many users lives much easier.
All of this said there is a confusing array of formatting options out there. It can certainly be frustrating to the author who just wants their books to be accessible. It can be doubly frustrating to anyone who wants their book to be modestly aesthetic.