The other night I was reading my son a few ebooks on the iPad. He asked for something new to read so the two of us perused the Amazon Kindle Store. Eventually we found a book that he liked (a train book). But I found something as well. The desire to create an ebook.
Given my background in elementary education, my current status as new dad, and the fact that writing is hard, I decided I’d create a children’s book.
Having no idea what I needed, I figured that at minimum I needed stuff like words, pictures, tools, and a means to publish.
The story came together with relative ease. I asked my toddler-sized railfan son for input, and he suggested I write about trains. He told me the exact cars and the places they would travel. The hard part was taking our conversation and turning it into a story.
It took several attempts to get the story just right. I ran it by my niece, son, wife, sister, brother-in-law, son, and co-workers before I finally got it to its finished, edited form (and by edited form I mean my son wanted to read it over and over).
I am not an artist. In fact, I have limited ability when it comes to doing anything of the graphic design variety. The Internet has loads of images, but one cannot simply walk into the Internet and use images for personal gain (ahem, copyright laws). There are stock photo sites that I could buy photos, but the sites often have limited and confusing licensing. So, the best alternative for me was to find images I could use as references, and create my illustrations by hand using digital tools.
I created My First Train Book almost entirely on the iPad. I used iDraw, Brushes, and Photoshop Touch for the illustrations; Dropbox and iCloud to keep things organized, and Book Creator for text and iBook assembly.
- iDraw for iPad (iTunes link). It’s a vector drawing and illustration app. Think of it as a portable Adobe Illustrator. It can export as PNG and save directly to Dropbox. Also integrates with iCloud so you can sync your iOS iDrawings with the desktop app.
- Brushes 3 for iPad (iTunes link). Paint by finger (or stylus), or pull in an image and re-create it. I purchased the in-app layer upgrade to add 10 layers to make outlining and filling easier. Exports as a PNG, JPEG, or PSD. Added bonus, Brushes saves to Dropbox.
- Photoshop Touch for iPad (iTunes link). A smaller version of the desktop counterpart. Really quite good and easy to use. Exports as a PNG, JPEG, or PSD and save directly to Dropbox.
- Book Creator (iTunes link). A really simple way to create iBooks on an iPad (square, landscape, and portrait books supported). Exports as PDF and ePUB. Saves to a number of places including Dropbox and the iBooks app. Downside, no easy way to add an audio version of an iBook.
- iDraw for Mac (iTunes link). Everything the iPad app can do and more. Seriously. Very easy, really intuitive, and feature-rich. As noted earlier, it syncs with iCloud which means you can access your desktop iDrawings on your iPad.
- Photoshop for desktop. I already had this one. I used it on occasion for my book, but relied mainly on the iPad version.
On occasion I used the iDraw and Photoshop desktop counterparts, but not often. As for hardware, I used a combo of Mac and PC, but mostly relied on an iPad and an iPad stylus.
Means to Publish: iBookstore and Amazon’s Kindle Store
Creating my book was the “easy” part. The harder part was figuring out how to publish it for multiple platforms.
I set up a paid iBookstore account via iTunes Connect. After a few days my application was approved. I downloaded and installed iTunes Publisher (Mac only and available only after the application is approved).
With iTunes Producer, I had to enter a bunch of stuff to describe the book. Stuff like metadata (publisher, categories, and description), a book sample, screenshots (that have particular dimensions), and an ISBN number. FYI, be sure to read the iTunes Publisher manual for filling out the details.
Quick aside. The ISBN isn’t necessary, but if you get one for your book it’ll be added to the international list (making it more visible). The downside to getting an ISBN is they aren’t cheap.
Once I had all the stuff, including an ISBN, I used iTunes Producer to deliver my book to Apple for review. Six days later my book was in the iBookstore. Even better still, I submitted the Spanish version of the book and it was published the same day as the English version even though it was submitted the night before. Excelente!
Amazon’s Kindle Store
To prepare my book for Amazon’s Kindle Store I had to reformat all of the pages as full-width images (1024 x 600), drop them into a fixed-width template, do a bunch of copying/pasting and a little bit of coding, and use a combination of Mobipocket eBook Creator and Kindle Previewer before I was able to upload my book for review.
The process was a huge pain in the rear. Partly because the iBook ePub didn’t convert well to mobi. And, partly because I had to dig deep into forums to come up with band-aid approaches until I eventually found the template of choice.
The Kindle Store made the English version of my book available within 8 hours. The Spanish version took about 16 hours.
To recap, to publish my first ebook it took time, tools, cash, and a lot of patience. Check out the samples below. If you like what you see please download:
Or, if you’d rather have the Spanish version, check out:
A big thanks to my son for the inspiration and criticism, and my wife for putting up with the process of writing (and for translating the book).
Got thoughts on My First Train Book or on writing and self-publishing ebooks? Share ‘em below or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.