Back Story: Publishing an E-book? There’s an App for That!


With e-books estimated to now be comprising almost one-fourth of all book sales, just about every publishing house, writer and aspiring writer is considering their e-book publication options.

Though I’ve had 10 works of fiction and non-fiction published, the task of bringing my most recent book into the digital age seemed like a daunting challenge. Our non-profit The Nobelity Project had just published a coffee table book that expanded the story of my film Building Hope. The movie is a SXSW award winner, which tells the story of our partnership to build the first high school in a rural Kenyan community. The book was 60,000 words and included 100 high-res color photos, an expensive print job in a low margin publishing world that was further complicated by our desire to print in the U.S. on high-quality recycled paper.

We solved those budget and margin problems by pre-selling $60,000 in copies through Kickstarter and direct sales on our website. That approach enabled us to print the book in Austin, Texas on a Heidelberg Master Press. Adjusting ink densities and color balances as the spreads come off the press is a true joy for a photographer and writer, especially with our gorgeous book layout from DJ Stout and Stu Taylor at Pentagram design.

The Building Hope book is now available online at and, but when it came to creating a digital version that would do justice to the printed copy, I was nearly stumped. Apple’s iBooks platform offers options for full color and even embedded video, but I soon learned that most traditional book designers haven’t made the leap to digital platforms.          

Luckily there’s an app for that. iBooks Author is a free download from Apple’s App Store that provides a surprising amount of design freedom (providing that you're working on a Mac). Figuring I had nothing to lose, I downloaded iBooks Author, read through a couple of online guides and was soon in the book design business myself.

When you open the application, you start by choosing a style template, which offers a collection of designs ranging from basic text to photo books, cookbooks and many others. The style you choose can be customized, but you can save yourself a lot on the learning curve if you choose to use one right out of the box.Pipkin Cover

Click on the “inspector” window for your template and you are asked to fill in basic info on your book – author, title, search keywords, etc. The layout of a finished iBook will rotate from horizontal to vertical as the reader rotates their iPad, but if you’re designing a landscape book with wide photos, the inspector panel has a check box to disable the vertical view. That tidbit was key to letting me create the design I wanted.

Your template will already have custom designs for title and copyright pages and an introduction, for chapters and for individual pages. In my case, I chose to begin with inserting the book’s intro by Dan Rather and by inserting the same color images, which accompanied Dan’s intro in the printed book. It didn’t take me long to realize that Pentagram’s beautiful design could be approximated fairly well in iBooks Author. The skills of a great book designer are not to be underestimated, but neither is the power of this program.

Chapter by chapter over the next few days, I added the full copy-edited text of the book and most of my images, including three sections of full-page color photos with no text beyond simple captions. And when I reached the end of the book, I was delighted to insert the theatrical trailer of the movie as the icing on the cake.

There are too many design options in iBooks Author to cover them properly in a profile, but the options are there, allowing you to adjust parameters like tracking, ligature, capitalization and baselines to name a few. As you refine your work, you can plug an iPad into your computer and look at your work as it will appear and function to your readers on their iPads or iPhones.

When you’re all done, you can export your book as a PDF (with distribution limited to giving it away). Or you can publish it to the iBookstore, where you set your own the price and receive 70% of all sales, which I consider an excellent deal. How you promote your iBook is an entirely different conversation.

In the case of Building Hope, the movie, the hardcover book and the iBook have returned considerable revenue for The Nobelity Project’s Kenya Schools Fund. The funds come from multiple streams, including the support of those who see the movie or read the iBook and are inspired to support it. Building Hope tells an eight-year story that begins with my planting a tree at a rural school in Kenya and ends with the opening of the first high school in that community. The release of the movie and book versions have enabled us to expand our partnerships to 17 additional schools – building water systems, classrooms, science labs and libraries. In my mind — and I think in the minds of the kids who use them — each new school facility is a work of art that must be created individually. So far, there’s no app for that.

Filmmaker and Author Turk Pipkin’s most recent books are The Tao of Willie (Gotham) and Building Hope (The Nobelity Project). The film of his book When Angels Sing (Algonquin) starring Harry Connick, Jr. Connie Britton and Kris Kristofferson and opens nationwide in November, 2013.


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