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Building a Fixed Layout EPUB

Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship:

a Shiny New Fixed Layout EPUB

Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship is a fixed layout EPUB! Finally!

Building a Fixed Layout EPUB - Sascha Martin clings to his rocket-ship as a banner from the tuck-shop flutters behind him.

And it’s available for free, all over the world! It’s really exciting, and it’s taken me so long to reach this point.

Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship first appeared simultaneously as a print edition and as a Kindle eBook in 2016. It was my first publishing adventure.

I used Kindle Comic Book Creator, I think, to build the first working Kindle edition. And there it remained until recently when, as part of my drive to make Sascha widely available, I rebuilt the Kindle files from scratch.

Now there’s an EPUB version, too.

Fixed Layout EPUB vs Reflowable Text

You might be wondering why I’d make such a song and dance about this. After all, there are so many services now, and apps, that will build a working eBook from your Word document. Or you can generate an EPUB or Kindle eBook on the fly from within Scrivener.

But these apps and services are for text-only eBooks. Text-only eBooks are reflowable. Their text is part of a single html file, or a series of html files, and displays dynamically according to the user’s settings.

Illustrated children’s books are not reflowable. Their text has to sit just so in relation to the images, and that’s what a fixed layout EPUB is for. Fixed Layout means that everything on every page, every image and every scrap of text, appears in a set position that the book designer has specified.

Sascha’s Journey to Fixed Layout EPUB

Building a Fixed Layout EPUB - Sascha Martin clings to his rocket-ship as the floor bursts into flames beneath him.

Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship is a simple eBook file. It doesn’t use live text. Each page is a single image, and the text is embedded as part of that image.

The eBook of Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship is essentially a copy of the print book.

But even this simple file has to conform to the standards that define eBooks, so that eBook readers and applications can display it.

In creating a fixed layout EPUB version of Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship my first hurdle (though I didn’t know it at the time) was the EPUB specification itself.

EPUB 2 doesn’t recognise fixed layout EPUBs. Everything is reflowable in EPUB 2, and fixed layout EPUBs don’t exist.

EPUB 2 has been replaced, but it’s still relevant because millions of eBooks have been created to match its specifications, and many EPUB reading devices only know abut EPUB 2.

Fixed Layout EPUBs: They’re All EPUB 3

EPUB 3 is the new standard. It recognises fixed layout and specifies how it should be coded and displayed. It also supports new media like video.

So Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship has to be created as an EPUB 3 book, even though it’s such a simple file.

EPUB Validator

Creating a fixed layout EPUB of Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship has been a huge learning curve for me. I’m not specification-literate and that’s a distinct disadvantage for anyone creating fixed layout eBooks.

Why is it so hard?

Because every EPUB file has to pass muster. It has run the gauntlet of a program that checks the file for absolute adherance to the specification.

The process is called validation, and it’s performed by EPUB Validator. There’s an online version at IDPF.org, or you can download the program to your computer.

EPUB Validator is relentless. Its role is to enforce compliance with the specification, and it throws back an error message for every code block or character or punctuation mark it doesn’t like.

Some of the messages are clear and easy to fix. Others are obscure. They demand research. And sometimes the error message has nothing to do with the problem causing Validator to complain.

I’ve had to resort to internet searches, and delve into different forums and communities to resolve the many, many issues thrown up by EPUB Validator. It’s been a solid week of toil and frustration.

But I’ve done it!

Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship is a Now a Valid Fixed Layout EPUB!

Building a Fixed Layout EPUB - Sascha Martin in hero capes stands holding his rocket-ship. A mouse in hero cape stands at his feet, pointing.

On Friday I got this message from EPUb Validator:

“Detected version: EPUB 3.0.1
Results: Congratulations! No problems were found in sascha-martins-rocket-ship.epub.
Validated using EpubCheck version 4.0.2.”

and I threw my hands in the air and cheered.

So, long story short, you can now pick up the fixed layout EPUB version of Sascha Martin’s Rocket-Ship, and read it on your phone or tablet or computer, or on any EPUB reader that supports fixed layout.

I hope that’s all of them … but there’s a wrinkle. Not all EPUB reader devices are able to display EPUB 3 books; at least not the books that take full advantage of the bells and whistles available in the new specification.

But I’m hoping the EPUB version will work across the board. It’s such a simple file, but it does have that EPUB 3 handle.

The new fixed layout EPUB works on my phone, both in iBooks and in the Kobo reading app, and it works in iBooks on my computer. Please let me know how you go with your app or reading device.

The Kindle Version is Still Available

For those who prefer Kindle, the Kindle version is still available free on the Amazon Kindle store. It works on Kindle devices and in Kindle apps.

The difference now is that you can choose EPUB as well as Kindle. Or use both. Sascha’s gone wide and is free everywhere – not just as a fixed layout Kindle eBook, but as a fixed layout EPUB as well.

For My Next Trick, a Fixed Layout EPUB of …

Building a Fixed Layout EPUB - Sascha Martin, Mary-Alice Cooper and Luca Blanco react in alarm inside the energy sphere created by the time machine.

I’ll be applying the lessons I’ve learnt this week when I publish Sascha Martin’s Time Machine (the second book in the series, and a much bigger disaster than the first).

It’s lots of fun and it does use live text. It’s interactive, too, so kids can enjoy the surprises and delights we’ve built into the eBook.

I’ll give you lots of advance warning when it’s on the way (if you haven’t registered for my newsletter you can do that right here).

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John Arthur Nichol 2018