Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fixed Layout EPUB with Book Creator

I write books about how to create fixed layout EPUB ebooks by hand so it would seem like reviewing an WYSIWYG iPad app like Book Creator would be shooting myself in the foot. But if you've read me for a while, I hope you know that's not how I work. While it's true that I like getting under the hood and figuring out how things work so I can do it my own way, I'm not at all adverse to good tools that make the job easier.

I liked Book Creator from the start. It's interface is simple and clean and intuitive. After I had played with it for a bit, my daughter picked up my iPad and said, “hey, you're writing a book about me!” since I had happened to use photos of her for my test. I told her she could make her own and she spent the next hour and a half happily placing photos and creating her own book. She asked me for help a couple of times, but mostly, she could figure it out without instructions.

Here's what it looks like. You open Book Creator and and click the New Book icon to begin. You can drop in any photos that you have saved on your iPad. If the orientation of the photo matches the orientation of the page (portrait for the cover, landscape for the interior spreads), Book Creator automatically places it to fill the spread. If not, it's centered. You can make photos larger and smaller, but unfortunately, you can't crop them. (One wobbly hack for cropping is to make the photo larger than the page and have the part you don't want hang off the edges. Only the part on the page will be used.)


You add text by pressing the Tt button and then the i button to choose a font, font-size, bold, italic or underlining, alignment, color, and background color. I like the way you can slide the text bigger and smaller and how you can see the effects immediately (as long as the info menu isn't covering where your text is).

Book Creator Text

Adding pages is as easy as clicking on the right arrow. If there's a page there, you navigate to it, if there's not, Book Creator adds one. To delete pages, click the Pages button in the upper-left corner and then the Edit button. You can also rearrange spreads in that Pages menu (which somehow is titled Contents).

And the best part is that once you're done, you click the Away arrow (not sure if it has a name, but it's a common iPad button for going to another app) and choose iBooks (there are other options in the menu but none of them work yet, because none of them support fixed layout EPUB yet!).

Book Creator export

Book Creator sends you and the book to iBooks. The code that Book Creator generates is pretty reasonable, though I wish they had kept the styling information out of the XHTML and wholly in the CSS. Still, it's not too bad to work with if you want to edit it yourself. (You can use PhoneDisk to grab the EPUB files.)

Book Creator to iBooks

Complaints? It's still pretty basic. I really want to be able to crop photos, rotate them, and add borders. Red Jumper recommends using an external app for that, still right on the iPad, but as much as I like a simple program that just does what it's supposed to, these are pretty minimal functions. I also want to add video and audio.

I think some of the interface could be more clear. I continually press the Tt button when I want to change the formatting of the text (even though that's the button for editing the content of the text), and the Pages button should probably look like the Table of Contents button in iBooks, since it has practically the same function. I want the info menu to float so it doesn't cover the bits I'm interested in.

More importantly, I want to be able to control the size of the layout, or at least have a few choices, and in particular be able to create portrait-oriented books. The fixed size of 450px wide by 675px high is too small and doesn't give enough room to zoom (as I describe in my Fixed Layout EPUBs Miniguide.)

Still, right now, I think this is a great start, and Book Creator is a perfect place to begin for people who feel a bit uncomfortable wading through code, and/or who don't need the precision or added effects (like Read Aloud, for example) that you can still only add by hand. I can also totally imagine using it for creating quick mock-ups. And it's a fantastic tool for kids—both for telling stories and for creating, say, science reports. Above all, I'm really looking forward to the next version!

You can find more information about Book Creator on Red Jumper Studio's site, which includes a very nice demo and FAQ.


  1. Hi Liz, I have your Epub book. Where can a get some good example fixed layout .epub books? I've did a short search in the iBook book store but couldn't find a way to pick out fixed layout ones. Or if you know any web or free ones that would be nice too.

  2. @Blair: My Fixed Layout Miniguide comes with some Fixed Layout examples, as does the Read Aloud Miniguide (since all Read Alouds must be Fixed Layout as well). There's also my Barcelona Beyond Gaudí book that shows a JavaScript example in a Fixed Layout book.

    You used to be able to download *samples* (not the actual full book, which is almost always DRMed) of Fixed Layout books (try children's picture books particularly) from the iBookstore and look at them, but the last time I checked they had started adding DRM, but I haven't tried them all :)

    Other Fixed Layout books I have looked at include Ansel Adams in the National Parks, Ad Hoc At Home, Anne Geddes' Beginnings, and an Amelia Bedelia book. But that was before the DRMd the samples.

    I've been meaning to get some more samples up. I'll work on that.

  3. Thanks Liz, I will look for those ones, but is there a search method that will just show fixed layout books? If I enter "fixed layout" it only brings up your books in the iBookstore. Btw, I liked your Epub book.

    If I were to search children's books or others, how would I know it was fixed layout unless they explicitly write that in the description? and if it is in the description, shouldn't it show up in a search?

    One other question, do your miniguides cover CSS animations in epub files?

  4. Although I had expected to see a WYSIWYG app for fixed layout, I was surprised to see this first on the iPad. I thought that this would be a desktop first. More precisely, I thought we'd see a mew version of Pages by now and that it would support both fixed layout and read aloud.

    So, how close is Book Creator's output to Apple's Guidelines?

  5. I was also a beta tester on Book Creator. I used it to layout our iBook, then transferred the ePub file back to my Mac where I added in the narration audio and synched text code (and background soundtrack). Using it to lay out the app was great.

    Liz, I had no problem importing images much larger than the page size so you could then pinch zoom into the images in the finished iBook. I ended up using 1.8 times the size of the the iBook in portrait mode, or 1620x1215 for a spread or 810x1215 for a page. Worked great.

    I agree with the rest of your feedback, though I didn't have a problem not being able to crop since I created all of our images to exactly the desired size before sending them to my iPad.

    You can download a the free sample of our iBook at

  6. flowney - as far as I know, Book Creator's output does match Apple's Guidelines... at least they had no problem accepting our iBook into their store, and they do a lot of validation on the code first.

  7. @Blair: Apple's offering "Dixie" for free this week, but in general, you can sort of tell from the cover... if it looks like a picture book, it probably is. They sometimes have a "Picture Books" category on the Featured page, but I don't see it there today.

  8. @David: Hmm. Interesting. In my earlier tests, smaller viewports translated into less zooming with the same images. It's not that you can't zoom with the 450 x 675 viewport, it's that you can't zoom as much as you could if the viewport was larger. Not sure if that's changed. I'll test again (one of these days :)

    I totally agree that Book Creator could be a very useful tool, both as a starting off point if you're willing to edit the code and as a mock-up tool if you want to code from scratch.

  9. Something new to me. Trying to download the sample cited by David Fox using a desktop Mac I was told that:

    Book Sample Cannot be Sent

    To receive book samples you need a compatible iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3.3 or later with the latest version of iBooks installed and Automatic Download enabled.

  10. Interesting, flowney... do you have a compatible one synched with your iTunes account? I know you can't read the iBook without one.

    Here's what I understand you need:

    iPad, iPhone (3G or later), or iPod Touch (2nd generation or later)

    iBooks 1.3 or higher (free eBook reader app from Apple)

    The free Sample can only be sent to iBooks on your devices running iOS 4.3.3 or later that have Automatic Downloads enabled.

  11. @flowney: could it be because of the Read Aloud? What version iBooks do you have?

  12. Do you have any books for sale that you've published in Book Creator for the iPad so that those of us working on our own ebooks can see some samples / examples of finished ebooks done with Book Creator?

    Better yet, so you know of any other ebooks created and are for sale (or free for the looking) using Book Creator?

  13. Anonymous - I used Book Creator to lay out our children's picturebook iBook, "Are You My Friend?", and then brought it back to my Mac to change the fonts, add a background sound track, narration and the code for synchronized text highlighting. But since the book has DRM, you probably wouldn't be able to inspect the code. You can find it at to purchase or download a free sample. More info at

  14. Thank you David, in what software do you open your picturebook and add background sound ?

  15. Fred, I use BBEdit to edit the text/xhtml files, and Audacity to work with the sound. I'm now reading Liz's great Miniguide, "Read Aloud EPUB for iBooks" and she recommends the same tools. I'm using a slightly different method than she lays out, be we get to the same endpoint.

    Also, looks like we're all about to make another leap into the world of ePub3 with the recent release of "Five Little Pumpkins". Besides the audio features we're talking about above, it has some minimal animation and sound effects triggered by touching hot spots on the page. You can download a free sample via the iBookstore here.

    I'd love to find out exactly how they made this work so we can start adding more interactivity to our iBooks!

  16. I used Book Creator to create my children's picture book with interactive sound buttons. Working on my second book now. Here is a link to my book on iBooks:!/id550927129?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4


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