InDesign-ing for Kindle: useful resources?

Adobe Community Professional ,
Sep 23, 2021 Sep 23, 2021

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Designing publications for Kindle is becoming a larger and larger part of my workflow, and I now routinely do books for both print and Kindle as a matter of course.With 30 years of experience and using ID since at least CS2, I've worked out most of the process ot my own satisfaction and taste... but I know I am still fumbling around in many ways. Recently, in redoing a complex book from print to K, I had many issues and problems, and in trying to find answers, I came up somewhere between annoyed, shocked and appalled at how scattered the information on this topic is.

 

The vast amount of information on Kindle publishing is amateurish  and incomplete: it's aimed at authors who need to get their Word file into Amazon's hands without much technical knowledge or skill.

 

The vast amount of information on Kindle publishing for pros, and using InDesign, is not a great deal better, and the majority of it is greatly outdated. Nearly all of it is for novices, newcomers, first-timers, etc. — users who are perhaps savvy at publication for print/ID but new to Kindle--izing. Most dates back to 2010 or so, with a few articles in the 2015 or so era. Even Amazon's plugin stopped at 0.90 beta development some ten years ago.

 

Furthermore, very little information about the process goes past flowing-text layout (novels, simple textbooks, a few inline illustrations). The material out there tends to repeat the same worn basics about how to anchor illos and ensure you get a clean Kindle TOC... and stop.

 

And on top of it all, too much of the information is inaccurate, incomplete, takes awkward paths to get to a result or is just wrong; something that worked for the writer but can't be replicated in a general sense, or because either ID or Kindle has changed. (And yes, it's all very much a moving target, and one that jumps all over the place!)

 

So... have I missed a good, evolving, complete source for pro information and more complex publications? Or is the field of both users and gurus only interested to the level of this basic, often sketchy, frequently wrong/outdated/inapplicable material?

 

FWIW, I've been doing print+Kindle editions for almost ten years, and take a very comprehensive approach of careful ID formatting, a complete conversion CSS file, and a huge bag of tricks I've learned myself to go along with the information I've gleaned from other sources. I tried and discarded the Amazon plugin; it's for the Word-to-K-in-5-minutes crowd at best. Even my simplest Kindle productions are carefully find-tuned to make the most of the medium, without relying on default formatting etc. And I just did a montrously complex book, 450 pages of myriad formats, illustrations, tables, and more — something way, way beyond any tutoral or information article I've yet seen. But as I said, I have questions and hurdles and so forth even at this level... and I wish there was a better resource or help community from which to learn.

 

Thoughts?

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)
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EPUB , How to , Publish online

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Sep 23, 2021 Sep 23, 2021

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This community is an excellent resource but you might also look at the InDesign Secrets group on Facebook. Lots of very knowledgeable folks there.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Sep 23, 2021 Sep 23, 2021

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Thanks, but I was including both of those communities in my assessment above. I've been a member of this one since it was founded, and I've visited most of the other Adobe/ID communities as well. I have not gotten useful answers to a number of fairly straightforward but "non basic" questions in any of them. This seems to be one of those areas in which current, accurate information is hard to find, and asking brings many replies, most citing or quoting outdated information (or, more frustratingly, answers that don't actually address the question).

 

For example, I had an annoying problem with tables converting from ID to Kindle. I asked in several communities. What I got back was 50% unhelpful (stories about similar problems and solutions that did not apply), snappy lists of links to other discussions or articles, none of which had a solution and/or were as much as 10 years out of date, and brief replies from users with very high rankings (thousands of posts, likes, accolades, etc.) that "oh, that can't be fixed."

 

Well, I kept poking at the problem, found a fairly simple cause in the interface of ID and CSS formatting, and fixed it. Eventually.

 

I am very much not b*tching pointlessly or throwing up my hands because a 5-minute search didn't give me an answer; this is a long-standing, widespread problem I've found in the Kindle development community. I know that it can't be because no ID user is going past Word-level, auto-convert basics; I doubt that it's because the real, skilled experts doing advanced work don't bother to share their findings. If this were one of the very small niche processes in digital publishing/2021, I could see the lack of info. But I believe this is a pretty large segment of what a pretty large portion of the user community does... and I am baffled that the available/shared info level is so poor.

 

Happy to be pointed to a truly expert user community on the topic, if anyone knows of one. But I've searched, and I've asked, and... well, I stand by my first post.

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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Guide ,
Sep 25, 2021 Sep 25, 2021

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Pretty much in the same boat here. I can pull off things in fixed interactive epub files that I haven't seen anyone else do. When I hit a snag while working on an ebook project, I might search the web for an answer, but generally it results in fragmented unclear or outright wrong answers. Or shoddy ones. In most cases I solve my own issues, often by checking out the specs.

 

As far as I can tell 95% of Kindle/epub/ebook creators fall in the beginner category and/or just rely on software to automatically generate their ebooks for them. Most have little knowledge of front-end coding (html/css). Many have no clue in as far as what kind of epublishing software is out there, or technical limitations of the various e-Readers, devices, an so on.

And I can't blame them: most authors just want to publish their books. No-one cares if the underlying code is riddled with inline css throughout that makes it impossible to change even a basic font on a typical e-Reader device. I don't want to get in to how many times I hacked books just so that my personal e-Reader settings are respected 😉

 

@James Gifford—NitroPressI am unsure whether your complex book was a fixed one or a reflowable one (sound like a fixed layout, though). The one thing I can state very clearly here: InDesign is a pretty terrible tool for reflowable epubs, and a mediocre one for fixed layout ones in my opinion. I say that because:

  • no built-in validation tool(s)
  • no built-in exposure of the underlying code
  • no built-in option to quickly preview with other ebook viewers
  • no debugging tools
  • the use of non-standard coding practices in interactive ebooks
  • no control over file structure
  • rogue elements are inserted if one is not careful - as well as giant blank PNG files
  • image compression and quality is sub-par. Distinct lack of export control over images (which is why I just stopped bothering, and use the object export to tell InDesign to use my prepared images)
  • no real updates in a very long time since the very inception of epub functionality in InDesign

 

At the very minimum I expect to be able to inspect and edit the underlying code in an epub file, and it should provide me with a code validator. It's impossible in InDesign. It can barely cope with attaching external CSS files, and that particular workflow in InDesign is awful, to state bluntly.

 

Which is why I stopped using InDesign years ago for any reflowable ebooks.I'd rather just hand-code than touch InDesign for any such job after a few super frustrating experiences in the past. Sigil works just fine for these projects, combined with Visual Code.

 

I still use InDesign for fixed layout projects here and there, but even in those cases I check if I can opt for different tools such as PubCoder or Jutoh. PubCoder doesn't treat me like an utter fool when working on fixed layout ebooks: built-in validation, code inspection, good preview tools, the works. It also converts InDesign documents to its own format, which can be convenient for printed book conversions.

 

But I digress. Returning to the topic of a distinct lack of expert knowledge: I have an account on many of those ebook authoring forums as well. The trouble is that most authors are not interested in a good quality code conversion, as I mentioned. Just needs to work well enough, and most have no background as a coder. Then there are so-called experts on those forums who, as you already experienced yourself, think they know more than they actually do.

 

But more worryingly, the current situation of epub and related ebook publishing platforms and file formats, as well as widely varying technical limitations depending on the device and file format remind me of a time when Internet browsers support for Html, Javascript, and CSS (and even image file support) were all over the place, and the current situation is far worse with ebook reader and devices. Just a short while ago it wasn't even realistically possible to view InDesign's interactive FXL epubs on Windows or Linux (now we have Thorium as a way out!).

 

Not to mention the myriad of tools in use to create ebooks, both online and offline ones.

 

This combination of everyone's uncle, aunt, and backyard donkey wanting to publish ebooks, the confusing array of devices and widely varying support for ebooks and their content, many authors not worrying or even aware of all the above can be rather off-putting in my experience. The same questions pop up here on the InDesign epub forums again, and again, and again. Even answered, no-one seems to want to even put in the effort to first search the forums whether their question perhaps was already answered?

 

Nor can I blame them entirely. Many seem to want to hear simple answers or have it spelled out for them.

 

Be it as it may, to answer your question: I haven't discovered a good singular centralized source of information either.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 07, 2021 Oct 07, 2021

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Well, I agree with most of what you say. E-Book tools are about where web design tools were ten years ago: even after several generations, most were worse than useless and vastly inferior to code-writing. Even today, I'm in Dreamweaver's code as much as I am in the visual or tool panes.

 

I haven't found a single "ebook" tool worth space in my Recycle Bin, much less my desktop.

 

I completely disagree with you about InDesign; I don't know of a better tool for primary ebook development. I'd rather have a tool that handles the actual, you know, writing and formatting end well and has decent methods for export than one that has the work interface of PageMaker in 1998 and super-duper structural tools. I use a stripped and hot-rodded version of Word for nearly all real writing, but don't try to format things in it; I use ID for absolutely everything requiring layout and production export... and then I go pretty much right to code for everything else, including Kindle optimization. Maybe someday someone will build a Dreamweaver/ID level e-book tool; I'd bet on Adobe, but not soon.

 

And after more effort, I am even more dismayed at the state of disseminated knowledge about e-book production. It's 50% outdated (which it takes some expertise to know), 33% aimed at novices who don't want to learn anything except a writing screen with an export button, and too much of the remainder is scattered widely, between sites/forums/blogs and THEN over 30-post threads.

 

All fixed, though; I followed my recent insanely-complex project with a book on professional Kindle publication. I'll probably release it this week. 🙂

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Oct 08, 2021 Oct 08, 2021

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I've found the answer to my question. More specifically, I've... answered all my own questions. Hopefully the effort will be of use to others:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09HZB4NQS

 

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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New Here ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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Thank you...I agree very much with your assessment of available resources. I've spent days in the last month trying to determine how to create a fixed Kindle .mobi file. So many rabbit holes, and no firm answers as yet. My latest roadblock is with Kindle Create and an InDesign-generated epub...the print replica option states that Kindle e-readers are not compatible with this file type, only Fire tablets and the Kindle app on a computer. I'm very willing to try other options than Kindle Create, but can you please advise if fixed format Kindle files are addressed in your book? Thank you!

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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I don't recommend FXL/fixed format EPUB for anything except 'picture' books to be sold through an e-book portal. It is, in my view, an obsolete approach and format useful only for institutional use when a document created for print needs to be hastily and easily converted to an e-book format. And at that, PDF is a greatly superior format with essentially the same characteristics but with the advantages of live text instead of page images. So, no, I don't cover EPUB 2.x or FXL except in passing.

 

If your work is not basically a picture book (children's, art, highly image-based how-to, etc.) I'd recommend ramping up the content and layout skills for reflowable EPUB. It's quite possible to maintain one InDesign file for both print/fixed layout via PDF and reflowable EPUB for e-book/Kindle.

 

My overall position, to make it clear, is that digital publishing is a swamp of outdated tools, formats, processes and techniques, and I advocate a clean start, using current/future-ready alternatives. Especially if you're up to speed with ID and not using Word or one of the 'ebook creator' tools.

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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New Here ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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I purchased the Kindle version since there is no reference of any sort that is updated otherwise--well worth supporting! I see now that you advise against using fixed format. Our books are heavily photographed/illustrated how-to books, so they do fall into the category that qualifies for fixed format. You also mention that PDF would be a better choice. I wasn't aware that Amazon would accept PDF files--I would appreciate any knowledge you'd be willing to share regarding fixed format pages into Kindle. Thank you.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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I'm not going to be much help. 🙂 I moved away from fixed layout EPUB a while ago and have only done it in recent years for commercial clients who insist, mostly because it matches an existing library of work (like maintenance manuals, etc.)

 

My "solution" would be to move it to reflowable EPUB 3... but I'm not in any way saying that's the right move for you or this project. However, if you are "getting more into EPUB" as part of your output, I emphasize what I said above (and in the book): go with current, modern, future-ready processes and techniques, not the giant scrap heap of what was done yesterday with hack-y freeware tools and what was easy for author/publishers to achieve. It's past time for this niche of the industry to, well, grow up a little and leave the home workshop, if not the kitchen table. 🙂

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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New Here ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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OK, thank you! I will start reading through your book and learning how to do a reflowable format...it sounds much better, but I had thought it wouldn't work with as photo-heavy as our books are. However, it sounds like it may work, if I can figure out what I'm doing! 🙂

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Nov 17, 2021 Nov 17, 2021

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Happy to help, and there's one or two other folks here who are, too.

 

Reflowable can do pretty much anything fixed can; it's just not quite as simple. The advantage is that the display will be flexible, and each large image can have its own page of whatever scale the reader permits, without the limitation of an image-based page layout. Well worth sorting out the process, IM(V)HO. You'll probably find the section on CSS image scaling quite useful in getting optimal display of large images + captions.

|| Word & InDesign to Kindle (& EPUB): a Professional Guide (Amazon)

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