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The First Year: Midwestern Gothic

Designing the ePub: When Perfect is the Enemy of Great

The Unboxing

Getting Issue #1 of Midwestern Gothic ready to be released was a last minute flurry of activity. Even with a relatively easy-to-use POD solution like CreateSpace , designing and publishing a book yourself is a time suck.

But all the hard work, InDesign wrangling and non-stop tweaking of online settings was definitely worth it when the final book came in the mail. It was beautiful and glossy – I wanted to tuck into bed and sleep in late on a Sunday with it.

Then I opened the ePub.

Lost in Translation

While we hurtled pell-mell towards getting paper with words out the door, the ePub fell a couple rungs to a lower priority. I’d read a couple articles about how to export an ePub and I was relatively confident that whatever looked good in print would look at least decent on an eReader.

It didn’t. It looked broken. Text ran off the screen, nothing was aligned and our table of contents was a shop of horrors. All the joy I’d felt just a few days ago with that beautiful book in hand was erased. I almost didn’t want to put the ePub up on Kindle or Nook. And I didn’t see how Apple would ever approve it for the iBookstore.

But most of the problems were in the first six or seven pages. Once the actual fiction and poetry arrived, things weren’t perfect, but they were passable. So we rolled it out, selling a fair amount of eBooks, but not as many as their print brethren.

The Second Time Around

So for Issue 2, I had a plan. We made a detailed timeline based on how long it’d taken us to set up Issue 1. The submissions period was based entirely on the actual time I’d spent on design. There would be no more rushing around at the end to make things happen. There would be time to focus on the eBook, and I thought time would be enough to solve the problem.

Again, I was wrong. While my second bite at the ePub apple was definitely better, it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Even with the hours to look up tutorials and read articles about formatting, the pieces just weren’t coming together. Again, we were faced with the decision of, do we put out an imperfect product, or do we hold back to make it everything it should be?

The answer came as I stumbled over a sample tutorial put out by Lynda.com. Basically, the eReader market is so fragmented, and even with the ePub standard, your book can be interpreted in as many ways as there are eReaders. Much like web design, there are best practices to follow, but to a certain extent you’re at the mercy of the device displaying your content.

Sure, you can spend a hundred hours making it absolutely perfect on every possible device, but is that worth it? Is perfect going to be the enemy of great?

Doing it Right From the Beginning

I’d had enough of doing it halfway. For Issue 3, I decided I’d better learn those ePub best practices. Lynda.com has a nice little series about creating ePubs from print documents, and it’s jam packed full of information.

Our design template was rebuilt from the ground up to be more ePub friendly. I also have a checklist of what to do to make sure all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. There were even a few tricks I picked up to make laying out the print version of the file more efficient.

So now, after the third issue, I think we’ll finally have an ePub that’ll give me that same awesome feeling when I load it on a device. And maybe it’ll make it inside the iBooks walled garden. Now the only question is – should I spend the time to go back and redo Issues 1 and 2?

Jeff Pfaller is co-founder of Midwestern Gothic, a literary journal that aims to collect the very best in Midwestern fiction writing, cataloging the oeuvre of an often-overlooked region of the United States ripe with its own mythologies and tall tales.

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