In the world of ebooks, picture books are an anomaly, a hold-over from print, a legacy format that doesn’t translate well to the ebook format. eBooks are created to have reflowable text. That is, the reader can use their device to increase or decrease the font-size, and the text will reflow or fill in the available page-space correctly.
But when you add images—a color picture book—it’s tricky. Usually the image is a background image with text on top of it, which mimics print books. If you place an image and text below it, the carefully designed integration of text and print is messed up.
I experimented heavily and came up with recommendations on creating Kindle picture ebooks here, to create the required mobi files. But Amazon is moving away from their proprietary .mobi files and will start accepting the industry standard epubs, starting in June, 2021. Here’s part of the customer service message:
We listened to your feedback and are making it simpler to publish eBooks on Kindle. Starting June 28, 2021, we will no longer support files in MOBI, PRC or AZK formats when publishing new reflowable eBooks or updating the content for previously published eBooks. Instead, we ask publishers to use EPUB, KPF (Kindle Create files), or DOC/DOCX (Microsoft Word files) files for reflowable eBooks. Please note MOBI files are still accepted for fixed-layout eBooks.
So, this is great! My old method still works and the .mobi files will be accepted for fixed-layout eBooks.
But…my old method meant I was hand-coding ebooks. It’s a complicated process that involved knowledge of photo formats, html, and the use of extra programs. I can’t explain it to anyone else and I couldn’t help anyone else get the files they needed. There are a lot of hacks out there! But nothing reliable, IMHO.
Updated eBook Software
However, all the software has updated since I last tried creating fixed format picture ebooks. I wondered what would happen if I started from scratch.
I use Adobe’s Indesign for layout and design of a picture book. When I tried their export function before, it failed miserably. It couldn’t control the layout of the images and text correctly. But I just downloaded the version 16.1, the 2021 version, and tested this new version.
First, I went to an .indd (Indesign file) and opened it. Export an epub this way:
In the options, I knew that I still needed to create small files or the Kindle download fees of $0.15MB (in the US, varies in other countries), would add up quickly. It cuts into your profit margins, so you must keep file size under control.
So, here are my CONVERSION SETTINGS:
Resolution: 72 ppi
Format method: Progressive
Image Quality: Medium
Of course, fill out the Metadata with your book’s information.
Then, EXPORT. It was fast!
Second, I opened the epub file with Kindle Previewer 3.0. (You must have the latest version which no longer uses the KindleGen processor. ) Save as a .mobi file. This is ONLY for your use in troubleshooting or for sharing by the side-loading method. When you upload to KDP, you will upload the epub file.
TROUBLESHOOTING the ePUB
Of course, there were problems.
SIZE: Kindle still charges download fees and these cut into your profit. I’m still looking to create a file that is small in size. To do that, I use MEDIUM Image Quality. I find that it still looks great on the Kindle devices, with no problems in reading the text. I easily reduced the file size to about 4MB. That’s larger than the 2MB I can get with hand-coding, but it’s way faster and easier.
Some people will disagree with me on this and you’ll use the HIGH Image Quality. If your file is over 8MB, then you’ll make more money if you choose the 35% royalty option. It’s your choice.
PNG, PSD and Other Image Formats: I also found that this method had problems when I used PNG, PSD or other image formats in the layout of the book. The PNG format has a transparent background, but when it’s converted the background becomes white. If the transparency is important, you may need to export the affected page as a jpeg and then use that jpeg as the book’s page. This combines all the different elements into one jpeg that will display as you intended. If you have problems with other files, try converting pages to jpegs and use that in the Indesign file.
Also, my InDesign template had added a default text box to each page. On some pages, that text box was on top and rendered as a blank image. Be sure to delete any unused text boxes, or other stray elements.
It’s now easier than every to create a fixed format epub that can be used, well, everywhere! Amazon’s acceptance of epubs means we’ll no longer have to create a separate file.
This method does require that you use Indesign. I don’t apologize for that because the program is the industry standard for layout and design. It’s the perfect tool to create children’s picture books, and now to create fixed format epubs for those picture books.