As the self-publishing industry grows larger, Apple’s iBooks Author (free) exists as a unique tool for publishing e-books than can reach a large audience of iPad, iPhone and Mac users. The iBooks format is also useful for showcasing and distributing content independent of the iBooks Store.
Apple first released iBooks Author back in 2012, and it was and still is largely geared to the textbook and education community. iBooks has introduced many ways to present and display content, with an audience of over 800 million iPad users across the world. It’s been reported that since mid-September 2014, over one million customers visit the iBooks store every week, which makes for a huge potential market for authors and publishers.
The iBooks Store includes both traditional e-books, using the .EPUB format, and multimedia iBooks produced in iBooks Author. These Apple e-books can only be sold and distributed in the iTunes Bookstore, though other versions of the same book can be sold elsewhere. The primary advantage of iBooks is the use of multimedia elements (like video and interactions) to better engage with your audience. iBooks can also be used for non-publication purposes like portfolios, and are perfect for showcasing content on supported mobile devices.
I recently completed and published my own iBook, titled: Starting From Day One: Using the Day One Journaling App to Record and Enrich Your Life. This guide is primarily based on my experience and workflow for writing a book, from initial idea to publishing.
What Is iBooks Author
iBooks Author is a desktop publishing tool and word processor, similar to Apple’s Pages and Microsoft Word . It also includes what are called widgets for inserting image galleries, videos, interactive images, 3D media, and even Keynote presentations.
An iBooks Author e-book has the look and feel of a multimedia web page, but the iBooks format can only be read using Apple’s iBooks reader app (free) for iPhone, iPad and Mac. At the time of writing, multimedia iBooks cannot be read on the iPhone — only standard traditional iBooks. Here’s a demo of my multimedia iBook on the iPad.
In many cases, multimedia elements can significantly influence how the content is written and how the book is designed. This can be especially useful for nonfiction books, such as cookbooks, software manuals, history and geography guides, art and picture books, and crafts and hobby guides. As a writer, you can use the features of iBooks Author to present content that is better communicated through video, images, and interactive media.
This expanded format does mean that an Apple e-book is often larger in size than a traditional text-based e-book. For example, one of David Sparks’s iBooks, about Markdown syntax, is a whopping 1GB download, because he included lots of instructional videos and audio interviews. The content of his book certainly makes learning about markdown a lot easier, but the large file size may take up a significant amount of space. Fortunately, iBooks users can remove and re-download iBooks whenever they like without having to make any double-purchases. iBooks can also be downloaded and accessed on the Mac version of iBooks, which comes pre-installed with Mac OS X.
Multimedia iBooks are especially useful for educational environments, because the content can include interactive photos with pop-ups, short quizzes, and a glossary of terms. iBooks Reader also includes very useful highlighting and annotation tools for reviewing content.
Successful Multimedia iBooks
Some of the best examples of self-published iBooks for techies are David Sparks’ Field Guides, which include five multimedia iBooks: Paperless, Presentations, Email, 60 Mac Tips, Volume 1, and Markdown.
Though David’s first published book was a traditional paper book, produced with a publisher, he later found that self-publishing iBooks provides more autonomy and a better way of presenting content. In a recent email exchange with David he told me that iBooks Author allows him “to create books that I’m proud of and my readers love.” He also says that though “iBooks Author has been a sort-of-whipping boy in some circles [because the books are limited to the iBooks Store] … the application has improved, and I think it is still the best solution for my books.”
David’s guides take almost full advantage the available iBooks widgets, and he was able to have full control over the design and direction of the book. With traditional publishers, authors often lose control over the design and even content of their book.
In many ways, iBooks are like a website, allowing users to browse content without having to read in a linear method. The reader also includes annotation tools for marking text, writing notes, and even setting up study cards for academic content.
I highly suggest downloading one or more of David’s guides and other well produced iBooks to discover what is possible in writing and producing a professional iBook. Nearly iBooks in the store include a sample download of their respective chapters.
Here are a few other notable multimedia iBooks, each with available sample chapters for download.
- Presentations: Learn to Plan, Create, and Deliver a Riveting Keynote Presentation by David Sparks
- Email: Learn the Best Tools and Workflows to Tame Your Email by David Sparks
- Street Photography by Rafael Perini
- My Year In Meals (Enhanced Edition) by Rachael Ray
- Expedition: Insects by Smithsonian Institution
- The Making of the Empire Strikes Back (Enhanced Edition) by J.W. Rinzler and Ridley Scott
Planning Your iBook
As with any long form writing project , after you determine what your book will be about, you should develop an outline of the chapters and sections you intend to include. I personally use the Mac version of OmniOutliner because it allows for automatic numbering and switching around of items. During the writing process I frequently review my outline to revise and fill in missing sections.
When using iBooks Author for the first time, you might not realize how the multimedia elements can actually drive the content of your book. So in the outlining process, think about which sections of your book could be presented as a gallery of images, a video or Keynote presentation, an interactive pop-up, and so on.
Though you could certainly write your book directly in iBooks Author, the application is not really a word processing program like Word and Pages. It doesn’t include writing collaboration features, and most importantly there’s no ability to track changes you have made. The main content of an iBooks file can be exported as a plain text file, but the exported file is stripped of formatting entirely, so you will need to reformat the text in Word or Pages. This formatting is retained when you export the iBooks content to PDF.
I typically draft manuals and books in the text and document management program, Scrivener , because it allows me to quickly switch between different chapters and sections of a manuscript, and also related research documents, web pages and notes can be stored and managed in the same project file along with the manuscript content.
Another option for drafting is Apple’s Pages, which offers the advantage of exporting your draft manuscript directly to iBooks Author. In theory, you can set up chapters and sections in Pages and export them to iBooks Author, which will create the same chapters and sections for iBooks – but more about that later.
Whichever program you write with, write using chapters and sections, which is the setup for all iBooks Author templates. Draft and revise as much as you can outside of iBooks Author. Most likely it will be a waste of time to include images in your drafts, because you will be switching and moving images around later in iBooks Author.
If you’re like me, you may like to include images while drafting to help write the content and remind yourself of what the content refers to – but don’t dwell on it. You can always export body content of your manuscript without the images and widgets to a text file.
For my book I drafted as much as I could in Scrivener and then exported the entire document to Pages for additional revisions. It’s important to note that you will be drafting and revising a lot depending upon the length and complexity of your book.
I know there are people who claim that a book can be written in 30 days, but I just don’t see that happening unless it’s all you do everyday, and even then I see it as impossible to write a good book of 20,000 or more words in one or two months. The entire writing and revising process takes time, and you’ll do even more of it when you finally get the body text in iBooks Author.
Creating Your First Book
To get started with iBooks Author, you can choose to begin with a template or create your template from scratch. iBooks Author includes fifteen templates, and the App Store includes dozens of third-party templates, at very affordable prices. I personally recommend the iBook Author Templates website too, which has a wide variety of professional designs.
If you have experience using Apple’s Pages, you will be familiar with how iBooks Author works. Aside from the self-explanatory tools at the top of the screen, the application consists of four main sections:
- The upper sidebar consists of template icons of pages, including chapters and sections, copyright, foreword and dedication pages, and preset column pages. You can click on the individual thumbnails and make changes to font style and size among other settings, so that each time you create a new chapter or section, the default settings you choose will automatically get applied to the new chapters and pages you add to your manuscript (more about this below).
- The bottom third sidebar section contains a thumbnail view of all chapters and pages you create in iBooks Author. Thumbnail chapters and sections can be rearranged, but individual pages in chapters and sections cannot be moved around. Each template starts with chapter and section pages.
- The larger main section is where you type text and insert multimedia elements into the body of of your manuscript.
- The Book assets section between the layouts and the thumbnail sections provide access to the cover art for your book, the table of contents, and the optional glossary and intro media for your book. Here you can insert a video that automatically plays when your book is opened, if you like.
Like Pages, iBooks Author includes an Inspector with formatting and layout tools. Also similar to Pages, the iBooks Author toolbar includes a font style tool, a button for multimedia widgets and buttons for adding shapes, charts, and tables.
Notice also that though multimedia iBooks are viewed and read in landscape orientation, there’s also a button for viewing your book in portrait view. Note that portrait orientation puts all your media elements into the margins of your book, and readers will need to tap open them for full viewing.
In a recent iBooks Author update, Apple included portrait orientation templates, and it appears that multimedia widgets can be included in those pages too. Do note that these portrait templates cannot be switched to landscape view. Many readers may prefer books in the traditional portrait orientation, so consider in an option for your own book.
All templates can of course be customized, which means you can create your template based on an existing template, or create one from scratch.
To customize a template make all the changes you would like to chapter pages, sections, and the different types of pages (e.g., preface, foreword, dedication) in the Layout section of iBooks Author. The changes made to layouts will be applied to all new pages you create in your book. The video below provides a bit more insight about working with layouts.
Chapters, Sections & Pages
Multimedia iBooks consist of chapters, sections, and pages. As with standard ebooks, your book can be made up of chapters and pages, but in iBooks, you can break content down into sections (within chapters) for better presentation of information and reader navigation.
For each of its templates, iBooks Author creates the first chapter and section for you. Click on a page to start typing or pasting content, just as you do in Word or Pages. You can click in the Insert menu to add another section, chapter, or insert more pages.
If you have a version of your manuscript drafted in Pages or Word, you can drag and drop the file itself onto the first chapter of the book, and iBooks Author will import the content of that file and create chapters and sections based on how the content is laid out in the imported file.
The application will attempt to use the chapter headings you typed in the original document. The formatting of the imported chapters and section will be based on what is set for your iBooks. But remember, you can go the Layout section of iBooks Author and change the formatting of headers and body style, and the select to apply those changes universally. As with Word and Pages, you can also use the Style Drawer (located under the View menu and in the toolbar) to apply or change styles.
However, based on my experience, this approach didn’t work as smoothly as I liked, and I ended up cutting and pasting my body text from Scrivener and Pages and pasting it directly into iBooks Author. As I worked through each chapter, I realized that a lot of the content I had drafted in Scrivener could be better communicated with a gallery of screenshots or interactive images. I had decided early on that I wanted most of my book to be image driven rather than pages and pages of text. I also wanted the book to be browsable, so readers didn’t have to necessarily read the book from cover to cover.
To create a chapter in iBooks Author, go to Insert > Pages, and select the chapter style or section you want to use.
While you can customize chapters and pages anyway you like, it’s best to make changes in the layout section so that those changes can be applied to all the chapters you have created or will create. This provides a consistent style throughout your book. When you make changes to the layout, click the Apply Changes button to apply them universally.
Sections are not required in a regular iBook, but adding sections is useful when it comes to an interactive multimedia iBook. For example, chapter 8 of my book consists of seven sections. iBooks Author will automatically create section headings for the interactive Table of Contents (ToC) of the book. This special ToC allows users to use the pinch finger gesture on any page of the book to open the ToC for quick navigation. Users can swipe back and forth between chapters and sections.
Also note the text size for iBooks templates are typically 20pts, which is an appropriate size for reading on an iPad-sized device. Readers can adjust the size of the font in the reader, so resist the urge to make this larger than it needs to be.
Adding Multimedia Widgets
iBooks Author includes nine different widgets that can make your ebook standout from the rest, and offer a different user experience to a traditional e-book. Instead of your book being pages and pages of text, widgets add visual elements like images, video files, and 3D animations to spruce up your book.
The gallery widget is probably the easiest and most useful widget. For example, a gallery widget can be inserted into a blank page, or it can be added (and resized) alongside existing text on a page. Widgets are inserted from the drop-down widget selector in the toolbar.
Once you have dragged the gallery widget where you want it, drag and drop the image files you would like to include. The Widget section of the inspector allows you to also re-arrange or replace added images. Notice in the Inspector the option to “Show Thumbnails” of your images in your gallery. This option might be useful to readers for quickly navigating through the images, because it simply requires they tap thumbnails.
When you click on an image in the gallery, it brings up the Edit Mask which allows for resizing the image. Sometimes to make for a better fit, you should capture images based on the actual dimensions of the widget frame you set on the page.
Notice also in the Layout part of the Widget inspector, there are options for selecting a gallery title (e.g., Figure, Illustration, Movie, Diagram), a caption for each image, and how these are placed—top or bottom, or top and bottom. To customise these options, make sure you first have the gallery selected.
Before publishing your book, try to make sure the measurements for your media elements are consistent from page to page. Do this by clicking on the Metrics panel within Inspector to refine and adjust measurements so that each related media element has the same dimensions.
Beyond your own screenshots and self-shot photos, there are many stock image and graphic design sites which you can use to find images for your iBook. I mainly used the graphic design site Canva because it provides lots of free and inexpensive images and layouts, plus includes an easy to use graphic design web application.
As you add chapters and sections to your book, iBooks Author automatically creates a table of contents that you don’t see until you pull down and reveal the “Book” section in the side column above the thumbnails for the chapter and sections. You can readjust the size of the table of contents text, but you can only edit the chapter titles and sub-headings on their individual pages or in the thumbnails. The chapter number text frames can also be moved around, such as below or above the chapter titles.
If you’re writing a non-fiction or academic book, it might be useful to include a glossary of terms, which can easily be done by selecting one or more words and clicking the Add Term button under the toolbar.
A glossary might be most useful for technical or historical books for providing readers with definitions of selected names and terms, which appear in-line. Click on the Glossary button in the book assets column to add definitions.
Intro media, such as a movie or an image may also be nice to include, but keep in mind that movie files add a significant amount of digital weight to your book.
As for cover art — I recommend getting a custom design created. For my book, I used the cover image included in the template, and while it’s not bad it does somewhat look like a stock photo with some basic graphic design. Next time I’ll pay designer to create a unique cover that more closely matches the content of my book.
Also, as you write your book, constantly preview it in iBooks Reader on both the iPad and Mac. iBooks Author allows you to preview the entire book or the currently selected page (File > Preview). In the application’s preferences, you can change the default preview setting to selected page or the entire book.
The preview version of your book can be downloaded to your iOS device via iTunes. You can also export the book as an .IBOOKS file to a cloud drive like Dropbox, and then open the file in the iBooks Reader on your iPad.
I found the process of exporting previews to iTunes a little tedious, and the preview versions wouldn’t automatically update between devices via a wireless connection. Exporting to Dropbox worked better and slightly faster for me, but if your Mac supports AirDrop with iOS devices, you can send your iBook straight to your iPad.
The exported version of an iBook will appear in the iBooks Reader with a “Proof” badge on it.
Edit, Edit, Edit
You will spend a considerable amount of time revising and editing your book, but I highly recommend that you also have a few qualified people proofread your book before it’s published. If you can hire a professional proofreader, all the better. Hiring a qualified copy editor for your book as you complete chapters is also very helpful. An editor can help sharpen your sentences and provide recommendations for revisions.
During the editing process, I exported my pages to a plain text file, and then opened that file and formatted the chapter headings and sections so my sister-in-law could proofread the manuscript. For her last round of proofreading, she proofread directly in iBooks Author, as did another proofreader of the book.
As with Pages and Word, iBooks Author also includes the option to “Proofread As You Type” inside the Edit menu, so be sure to enable that feature. In addition, take advantage of the Proofreading tool (also located in the Edit menu). It’s useful for highlighting double words (like “the the”), double spaces between words or the end of sentences, and suggestions for editing wordy expressions. While you can’t make it ignore special terms like “app”, it still provides yet another way to review and edit your content.
Revising, editing, and proofreading your book is a painstaking process, but if you release your book with lots of grammar and spellings mistakes, readers will almost certainly let you know about it.
It’s also important that you remember to back-up your work as you write. iBooks Author automatically saves your document as you work in the application, and as with Pages, iBooks Author allows for browsing and reverting to previous versions of your document (File > Revert to > Browse All Versions). Regardless, you should still manually save a backup copy of the document to another drive. The file and folder tool, Hazel can automatically do that for you.
Submitting to iTunes
To publish and sell your iBook in the iTunes Book Store, you first need to create a free account on iTunes Connect, which requires your personal banking account information and some form of social security number (this can change from region to region), which is used to pay taxes on the income from book sales. After you’ve registered, click on the Resources and Help icon and download the Getting Started documents which explain all the various parts of iTunes Connect.
Note: Apple no longer requires an ISBN number to publish and sell an book in iTunes. ISBN numbers, which can cost from $150 per number, are most useful if you’re selling book in a traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore, which uses the number for keeping account of book sales and inventory.
iTunes Connect won’t be of much use until you actually get your book uploaded to iTunes. To do this, download iTunes Producer, which is available from the Resources page of iTunes Connect. Producer allows you to specify which assets — including cover art, book description, and book price — will appear on the iTunes Books page for your book.
Up to five screenshots of sample pages in your book can be submitted for your book page. Note, the dimensions of these images must be either: 1024×768, 1024×748, 1068×1024, 768×1004, 2048×1496, 1536×2048, or 1536×2008.
To get an accurate size, create a blank file with one of these dimensions in Photoshop or some other graphic editor, then add and scale your screenshots down to size. If your files are not the supported dimensions, you will get an error message, which will prevent the submission of your book package to the iTunes Books Store.
After you have edited and previewed your iBook a thousand times, you will want to create a sample version of your that can be downloaded for free by potential customers on iTunes. Typically, you sample book consists of the first few chapters of your book, but you can select any chapters and sections you want to include.
To create a sample version, Go to File > Duplicate to make a copy of the iBooks Author version of your book file. Open the copied version, and remove chapters and sections you don’t want to include the sample. For my book, I chose the first two chapters, the dedication and introduction to the book, and the last section of the book which is about me.
Preview the sample version on in the iBooks Reader, and if everything is okay, export the copied file to an .IBOOKS version. When you export this time, select the “a sample book,” option and export the file to the Finder.
Drag and drop your sample book to the “Sample” files section of iTunes Producer. Next, go back to your iBooks file and triple-check your book again, and then export it as an .IBOOKS version. This time, check the “a complete book” option. drop the exported file into the “Book” (not sample) file section of the producer.
When everything is ready, click the submit button to send your book and media assets to iTunes. Under the My Books section of iTunes Connect, you can check the status of your submission. My book was submitted and approved in less than 24 hours.
As you will see, inside iTunes Connect and Producer, there’s several other things you will need to do, including setting the price for your book, selecting which regions of the world you want your book sold, and downloading promotional codes to provide free downloads of your book. Remember: Apple get 30% of each unit of your book sold.
You will also need to provide a bank account for Apple to deposit payments directly to. Take some time and carefully consider your pricing. Unless you think you’re going to get high volume sales, don’t undercut yourself by selling your book for $0.99. If you write and produce a quality book that is at least 100 pages long, I recommend a starting price be at least $5.00.
You should also keep mind your monetary investments in producing your book, which may include hiring a proofreader, paying for images, and subscribing to a book launch page. Keep your costs down as much possible so you can profit more from the sales of your book. Once you’ve recovered the overhead costs of your book, you can start profiting from the residual income from the sales of your book.
Note, however, that the self-publishing book market is huge and competitive these days. I recommend reading Nina Amir’s The Author Training Manual. I started reading her book after I published Starting From Day One, and there are definitely some things I will do differently in writing my second book.
Promoting Your Book
Writing and self-publishing your book is a ton of work, and for better or worse, promoting your book so that hundreds, if not thousands of potential customers know that it exists is another huge job in itself. I would say that from the very first time you get started on your book, begin indirectly promoting it through your social networks and other relevant places. Here are a few ideas for promoting your book:
- Share chapters or excerpts of chapters of your book on your blog. Sharing your book content early in the process is one way to gauge reader feedback, and it helps you keep your audience in mind as you write.
- Tell a few select people about your book to get their feedback. One or more of your friends may keep asking you about how your book is going, which could be a good kick-in-the-pants for you to keep working on it.
- Write guest blog posts about the subject of your book to reach a wider audience beyond your own blog.
- Join social networking groups and monitor hashtags that address the topic of your book. Connect with people who are interested in the topic you’re writing about.
- Make sure your social network profiles make reference to your book in progress. Include a nice design and a link to a good blog post about your forthcoming book.
- A few months before your book is published, create a book launch page on your blog, or use a service like BookLaunch.com (that’s my book launch page). Make sure your book launch page includes a way to collect names and emails for those interested in buying your book. I started my book launch page about three months before it got published to the iTunes.
- Make sure your book launch page includes a few blurbs by notable people who have at least browsed your book before it’s published. If you don’t have two or three people who can write a blurb, then you may need to spend more time networking with potential readers who are interested in your book.
- Consider creating another blog site or online project related to your book so that you can capture an audience for your book when it’s finally released.
- Blog and post updates on your social networks about the progress you’re making on your book. Even if people don’t respond, keep posting anyway.
- Try to get a podcaster or blogger with a significant following to write the foreword to your book, and/or to interview you about your book.
- Develop a media kit that includes a press release, reviews of your book, a good profile photo, and screenshots of sample pages from your book.
Seriously: don’t feel as if you need to rush your book to publication. Give yourself some to time to find your audience and generate interest in your book before it’s released.
Drawbacks to Multimedia iBooks
The biggest drawback for a multimedia iBook is that can only be sold in the iTunes Book Store, and it can only be read in the iBooks Reader app. For my book, the niche audience is primarily users of the iOS Day One journaling app , many of whom probably also have an iPad or Mac computer.
Multimedia iBooks can be exported to PDF, but the PDF version will not include embedded widgets. A gallery widget, for example, will only show the first image of the gallery, and an embedded video and or audio file will not export into the PDF version. To sell your iBook in the Kindle or PDF version, you will need to recreate the layout to fit the requirements of those formats.
This article has hopefully provided you a good overview of what to do for creating your first multimedia iBook. For more details about using iBooks Author, there are several free and inexpensive guide manuals available in iTunes Bookstore, such as iBooks Author: The Definitive Guide (2012). Most of the guides were written a few years go, but they are sufficient enough for what you need to know about the authoring application.
The YouTube channel, DIY Journo includes 26 tutorial videos also covers all the features of iBooks Author, including how to use paragraph styles, modify gallery widgets, edit Keynote widgets, align objects, and sharing an iBook Author file with a friend.
Let us know what you think about iBooks Author and how you might use it as a writer.
Have you released an e-book? Talk about the experience and what you learned below!