How to create an interactive enhanced ebook: a step-by-step guide

Ebooks are the current expanding trend in education and publishing. Add interactivity on top of that, and you’ve got yourself a top-notch product that won’t be going away anytime soon; one that is sure to put you ahead of the game. This comprehensive guide will lead you on the journey to learn how to create an interactive ebook, as well as publish the ebook to different platforms. We will start together from defining what you want to create, to choosing your preferred online and offline tool, with the occasional suggestions and warnings.

Learning how to create an interactive ebook is simple, but let us start first by defining the concept of “interactive ebooks”. Clearly this term has been over used in past years by publishers who think that inserting a moving picture in their ebook would deem it “interactive”. Well, they are not at fault here but it just sounds quite silly given that they didn’t even scratch the tip of the interactive iceberg. With current technologies like HTML5 and EPUB 3.0 you can go way beyond a digital moving picture — provide experiences rich with videos, audio and even touch-based games if you like. All inside the same ebook.

And that’s how we would rather define interactivity. This guide is divided into 5 steps:

1) Setting your target

2) Preparing interactive ebook content and material

3) Online services and websites to prepare your interactive ebook

4) Ebook creators and editors to build your interactive ebook

5) Publishing and distributing your interactive ebook

So want to learn how to create an interactive ebook? Let’s jump right in then!

1) Setting your target

Defining the Platform

As a company in the ebook creator business, we receive many requests from customers wanting to create interactive ebooks. They have a clear plan of their ebook, and most times the content is ready. However, when we ask what platform/devices they are targeting for publishing, all that can be heard is the chirping of crickets. Wanting an ebook is not enough. Since your ebook will be targeting a certain audience, its important to know how to reach them. The end-product should be clear and well-defined. Here is some options for defining the platform/device to put in consideration.

  • As a web app on your personal website. Your readers will simply visit a certain URL in their web browser to start reading
  • Mobile app, to publish on the respective app stores. The ebook will have its own dedicated icon and name, in the app menu
  • Desktop app, to distribute by email or on hard media. The ebook will run independently without requiring a certain reader software
  • A component to publish on your school or university’s LMS (learning management system). Interactive ebooks are a serious added value when it comes to education
  • An EPUB file to give away independently, or publish to popular ebook stores (Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, etc.)

Updates

Since most people are aware that usually no content is final or absolute. You may decide to make edits after publishing. You need to understand how updates are reflected on the platform you chose. For instance, if you publish your ebook on your personal website, updating that ebook is a straight forward approach. Unlike if you have chosen to publish on mobile or LMS.

Paid or Free

It’s not a must, but deciding early on whether your ebook will be available for free or through purchasing will give you different ideas for promoting and marketing your ebook.

Why is this essential?

If you think this will affect the ebook in terms of quality, you’re wrong — you should always aim for a higher quality nonetheless. Free ebook get the highest downloads on any ebook store. As for sales, a credible study done by Smashwords showed that ebook prices falling within the range of $.299 to $3.99 get the highest sales. Sounds like peanuts? Never compare prices of ebooks with printed books. There is no overhead when it comes to publishing ebooks — they can be reproduced infinitely. If the purpose of your ebook is to promote an idea, it may be better to offer it for free, otherwise choose a reasonable price. A popular marketing strategy when it comes to selling ebooks is to publish a free excerpt of one of your chapters. This is something to have in mind in the early stages.

Marketing budgets and resources

Your ebook will not be sold off shelves in dozens (metaphorically speaking) as soon as you publish it. Without a good marketing budget paired with patience and effort, chances are people will not get to read it. You can’t sell your ebook if no one knows it exists. Unfortunately, there isn’t a recipe for successful ebook marketing. You need to create awareness however and whenever you can.

Reader Interface Branding

If you decide to publish your ebook on platform with a ready built reader, like iBooks or Kindle, you won’t be able to change anything in the reader’s interface. But, if you choose to publish the ebook in the form of a mobile app, web app or desktop app then you’ll have full access to even build your reader from the ground up if you deem fit.

Why care about a Reader interface?

The upside of going through the trouble of creating your own reader within your platform of choice is the ability to brand it and theme it for your audience. This would be perfect for companies that have their trademark that need to be in tune with the look and feel of the interface. On the other hand, if you are creating an ebook for the mass public without strictly sticking to a target audience, then accepting an external reader is okay for you.

2) Preparing interactive ebook content and material

There are a number of gotchas to watch out for here. The majority of ebook users rely on mobile devices, so you must optimize content for that. It’s simple to just convert your ready-made PDF into an ebook, but is that the best option there is? Let’s take a close look at the two ebook layouts: fixed layout and reflowable layout.

Fixed Layout

Simply speaking, this means that every aspect of your layout will remain the same no matter which device it’s viewed on. Think of websites that are not optimized for mobile viewing (a rare currency these days), do you see how they extend beyond the boundaries of the screen and you have to either zoom out to see the whole thing or scroll vertically and horizontally, yes? Well, that is basically how a fixed layout in ebooks would behave, it will not optimize the content based on the viewing device.

When to choose the fixed layout?

And although this may sound like an outdated technology, it’s actually more practical for desktop usage or even some LMSs that deny mobile access. Also it would produce more accurate results if you’re creating magazines, comics, or storybooks.

Reflowable Layout

The second type of layout optimizes the content for the viewing screen’s dimensions. It makes a strong distinction between content and design allowing content freedom with text-wrapping and rescaling.

When to choose reflowable layout?

This is the more popular form of layouts and for a reason of course, that is viewing versatility. It’s preferable to use this at all times unless of course it’s crucial to preserve the layout.

Ebook Assets

Once you choose your layout. Have your media content ready: images, MP4 video, MP3 audio, widgets, etc. Optimize images as much as you can, since many ebook publishing platforms have limitations with media. Apple iBooks Store for instance does not accept images greater than 5MB in size, or 4 megapixels in area. If your ebook is an online app (relying on internet bandwidth), large sized images taken straight from a digital camera without optimizing, can really lag down performance and cost you visitors. In the next section we’ll take a closer loo at some helpful sites that can make this task a breeze.

3) Online services and websites to prepare your interactive ebook (content resources and more)

There are services that can do a lot of the manual work for you for a fee. They can handle the heavy work such as scanning a hardcopy book, designing your ebook cover, formatting your document for ebook readers, and creating custom interactivity. Just watch out: as many websites (not on this list) claim to offer interactive ebook conversion services, where they actually mean digital, not interactive. There are literally hundreds of online services in this industry, but here is a list of the most popular and useful ones to keep handy.

By mailing a hard-copy book to 1dollarscan, you can get your book converted into a PDF for as low as 1 dollar. This will be extremely useful in case you don’t have a soft-copy of your book.

Sketchfab is a good resource site if you want to add interactive 3D elements to your ebook. Easily embed any model into your page using their HTML embed viewer. And it requires no additional plugins.

Download or buy interactive ebook widgets from BookWidgets.com to use inside your ebook. These widgets are designed for iBooks Author, but can work in other ebook creators if they support them. By clicking on the widget button inside your ebook, a popup window will display showing the mini-app, such as a game, puzzle, or quiz.

Similar to above, you can download and buy interactive ebook widgets from Bookry. The widgets are customizable. And it also supports drag & drop with iBooksAuthor.

Kotobee (our company) provides customized widgets and components for interactive ebooks. If you need a specialized animation, or interactive behaviour inside your page, this is the company to contact.

Stock photo websites

Imagery is extremely important for interactive ebooks. There are many professional stock photo websites such as Dreamstime, Depositphotos (the one we use), and istockphoto that you can purchase professional images for as low as $1.
But in case you want to cut down your costs, you may rely on those free stock photo websites, such as freepik or freeimages. Dreamstime has a free images section that you can also check out. You may also find free icons to use from websites such as iconfinder or thenounproject. For an extensive well-organized list of free stock photo resources (compiled by Canva), check out the following post: Free Stock Photos: 73 Best Sites To Find Awesome Free Images.

Some of those websites would request you to credit the owner of the graphic, so play nice.

Video websites

It would be difficult finding video or audio fitting exactly what you need, unless you can find it on YouTube or Vimeo. If you need something custom made, hire someone from a freelancer site like freelancer or fiverr.

Audio websites

Similarly to video, possibly even more difficult finding something off the shelf. Before hiring someone, try your luck in soundsnap or soundcloud.

4) Ebook creators and editors to build your interactive ebook

There is a number of tools you can use to create/edit your interactive ebook. Of course we are referring to interactive ebooks, so these applications will provide you with the tools you need to add interactivity inside your ebook.

Kotobee Author is our freely provided software for Windows and Mac, allowing you to create interactive ebooks based on EPUB format. The ebooks can be exported freely as EPUB files, web apps, desktop apps, with full customization enabled. Other export formats (such as native mobile apps), as well as SCORM integration, come at a price.

iBooks Author is Apple’s popular ebook creation software, exclusively for Mac. This easy software allows you to create interactive EPUB-based ebooks that would run exclusively on Apple iBooks (on Mac and iPad), but not on other EPUB readers. Ebooks created by this tool would strictly have a fixed-layout.

Aquafadas provides a free plugin for to Adobe InDesign which allows you to add interactive components to your existing InDesign projects, and export them in multiple formats. You will need to pay only once you publish your ebook.

Inkling is one of the first companies to show an iBooks Author alternative for Android. They offer Inkling Habitat, a cloud web-based app that allows you to create interactive ebooks for all devices, in EPUB format. They allow import from various file formats.

Interact Builder allows you to create ebooks with advanced responses to events, like taps and touches. The application is not focused on just ebooks, but you can create games or any kind of apps using it. At the time of this writing, they only publish native mobile apps.

A friendly ebook creator for iPad. It is more targeted toward children story books. The resulting ebook will only be accessible through the App Store or their dedicated ebook store: Demibook Storytime. The ebooks created are of fixed-layout.

Atavist is a web-based tool more focused on creating interactive ebooks for web, but also have the option of exporting EPUB in their Pro plans. They do provide excellent controls for reflowable layout content.

Talespring is a web-based tool for creating children story books to be published as a native mobile app for iOS, although in their FAQ they say that Android support is coming soon. They do not EPUB format.

Kwik allows you to create interactive storybooks directly from Photoshop. With this plugin, you can add animations, interactivity, even entire physics simulations. Obviously the resulting ebooks are fixed-layout. They can be published only as native mobile apps (iOS and Android).

Tigercreate uses layers and time-frames for animations, and hence provide flexibility with whatever you want to achieve. Again, this software is targeted towards interactive children storybook. They can be exported as mobile apps (Android and iOS).

Italy-based Pubcoder provides a software for Windows and Mac, and allows various interactive components in the ebook. Ebooks are fixed-layout and can be exported as native mobile apps (iOS and Android), as EPUB files, or kindle format.

5) Publishing & distributing your interactive ebook

When it comes to distribution, it’s important to understand how it works. There are service providers known as aggregators that can distribute your ebook to international online retailers, as well as their own book stores for a fixed fee and/or commission out of your sales. They handle all the hard work of submissions, and ensure that your ebook gets the right exposure.

But if you have the time and the effort to distribute the ebook yourself, then you’ll have the freedom to choose which platforms you want to sell your ebook on. This does not mean that you will keep 100% royalties since all major retailers will still take royalties, but there will be no aggregator commissions eaten away from you.

Distributing to individual platforms

Those are your choices if you decide not to go with an ebook aggregator and rather publish your ebook yourself. Of course, depending on the software you have used from the previous list, you may only publish to platforms that are supported in the software. The platform categories are: mobile apps, desktop apps, web apps, EPUB ebooks.

Ebook mobile apps

1) Google Play App Store $25 one-time fee. They take 30% royalties.

2) Apple’s App Store $99/year annual store fees. They take 30% royalties.

Ebook desktop apps

Set-up online-selling functionality on your website to sell ebook downloads, using any one of the following services:

Ebook web apps

If you want to distribute your ebook for free, you can simply upload the web app to your server. If you want to sell it, this one’s a bit tricky. You will need to develop custom functionality for your website. Or you can use our Kotobee Cloud solution to encrypt the ebook on the server, and have customers pay you using different payment gateways.

EPUB ebooks

This is a must-have format if you’re going serious into the ebook selling business. Let’s breakdown the different available options.

Google Play Book Store

Not very popular. Just like the case with app publishing, registration costs $25 one-time fee, and they take 30% royalties for each book sold. But given its lack of popularity it would be better to only distribute here through an aggregator (more on aggregators later).

Apple’s iBookstore

Unlike the app store, registration to Apple’s iBookstore is free. They take 30% royalties for each book sold.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Amazon giants, who owns roughly half of the ebook market, provide you with two royalty options: 35% or 70%, with different requirements for each. Read more about this here.

Nook Press (by Barnes & Noble)

You royalty options are either 40% or 65% depending on your list pricing.

Distributing through ebook aggregators

Ebook aggregators will help you distribute to all the different retailers in return for a fee and/or commission. The common practice we’ve seen in ebook publishing is to manually publish to Amazon (KDP) and then publish to all other retailers using an aggregator. This is because authors experience over 50% of their sales through Amazon — they own roughly half the ebook market. Since they are the dominant retailer, it’s best to avoid giving away part of your Amazon revenue to an aggregator.

Beside the support provided by an aggregator, there is usually other optional paid services such as cover design, copy editing, etc.

Probably the most popular automated aggregation service and value. Don’t be let down by their website’s humble design. Smashwords has been in business for a long time, and distribute to tens of ebook retailers across the world, including their own Smashwords store. Registration is free, and your royalties are 60% when selling through major retailers, or 80% when selling through their own store.

BookBaby is also extremely popular, but following a different model. Instead of giving away royalties, you make a fixed payment of $299 instead, to have your ebook handled from start to finish. BookBaby takes 0% royalties. Your ebook is distributed to major retailers, including Amazon’s Kindle.

BookTango offers an impressive package. Free registration, and no commission whatsoever, which is a really good deal. Distribute to B&N Nook, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, Google Books, and Amazon Kindlestore. They make money by selling optional complimentary services, like design and formatting.

Lulu, a large name in the self-publishing industry, entered the ebook publishing market, and offers distribution to the Lulu store, B&N’s Nook store, and Apple’s iBookstore. Your sales royalties are 90%.

Conclusion

In this article, we looked at steps and resources need to create an interactive ebook. While there are many other tools and services for creating ebooks, the resources mentioned here are focused on interactive ebooks. In a highly competitive and expanding field, it’s your content that defines you. And this guide is here to help you showcase it to its full potential. If you’re new to ebooks, things may get messy at first, but the experience you yield will sure come in handy in your following attempts.

Too much to take in? I agree. So feel free to bookmark this page, and use the resources mentioned whenever you need to. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to drop us a comment