Thanks to a recent update, Apple's Pages now includes tools to turn any document into a professional-quality EPUB file. It's an imperfect but still excellent solution for a process that previously gave me endless headaches.
Scrivener, my personal go-to writing app, can export directly to EPUB or Kindle-friendly MOBI files. But the ones I created never had the right formatting – centered text, for instance, would always get shunted over to the left – and I struggled to embed fonts in them to make the books look the way I wanted. Same went for Sigil, a free, open-source EPUB creator that I just couldn't get to do my bidding. I gave iBooks Author a shot, but while I liked its power and ease of use, I didn't want to create works that could only be sold on the iBooks Store.
Pages' new update solves all those problems. The formatting looks pretty much the same in your EPUB as it does in Pages. Fonts embed automatically. And the resulting files are ready for the iBooks store, but can easily be converted for Kindles, too.
Fixed or flowing?
Pages doesn't offer some of the multimedia bells and whistles found in iBooks Author, which was originally designed in part for creating textbooks for kids. But it offers both fixed templates – where the layout of each page doesn't change – and reflowable ones, which change up the amount of text per page based on the screen size of the device reading them.
Fixed layouts work best for books with lots of images; Pages' templates here include a textbook, a photo book, and a children's picture book. Reflowable layouts make a better choice for text-heavy books, such as novels or short stories, although Pages does support inline images in these files.
Keep in mind that text columns, page numbers, and other fancier features aren't available in reflowable templates. After all, they don't make much sense if your text will be reset and resized to fit the available screen size.
Style to spare
I started with a blank template, then pasted in text. Pages uses text styles to organize and understand your ebook's structure. Apple's documentation instructs you to use the Chapter Name style for chapter headings, but weirdly enough, that style didn't show up even when I used an ebook template. The Heading style worked fine, though.
Pages applies consistent formatting to each style, so once you've marked up your text with the right styles in the right places, it's simple to adjust your fonts, font weights, text sizes, and more. I liked how I could change one area of styled text, then click the "update" button next to the style name in the Inspector pane to apply those changes throughout the document. I rarely use Pages, but it didn't take me too much time to figure out how to transform text into small caps and make other cool formatting tweaks.
If Pages did offer me a Chapter Name style, then according to the documentation, it would also have automatically generated a table of contents for me. In my tests, it … did not do that. Luckily, I had no trouble inserting my own table of contents, nor using the Inspector pane to specify which styles – titles, section headings, subheads, etc. – I wanted it to use in assembling the table. You can format the text within the table the same way you would any other text in the document.
Once a style becomes part of the table, Pages automatically creates a page break before it (assuming you haven't already done so manually). This meant that if I wanted to have the chapter number in one style, but the name in another, as you can see in the example above, I couldn't include both styles in the TOC, unless I wanted weird page breaks – annoying, but not too big of a problem. I think this feature's built more for people who break books up into sections, and then chapters within those sections.
Adding a small ornament graphic to break up sections gave me much less trouble. I just had to specify that the image would "move with text" under the Arrange pane of the inspector, and then make room for each instance within the text.
My one real gripe with this part of the process: It's not quite what-you-see-is-what-you-get. By default, Pages sets its blank book template to the equivalent of 1024x768 resolution — a common screen size for Kindles, and the minimum resolution found on pre-Retina iPads. But for reflowable ebooks on different-sized screens, this won't always accurately show you how your final book will look, and there's no way to preview your finished ebook without publishing it.
From Pages to published
Once you're happy with formatting, select
File > Export To > EPUB to bring up the export dialog box. It's a snap to specify title and author; if you want to add category and language information, you'll find them hiding under the Advanced Options section.
Since most people do, alas, judge a book by its cover, you'll probably want one for your ebook. If you must, you can go the lazy route, select "No Cover" in the Cover section, and let iBooks generate a generic cover with just the title and author name.
Alternately, you can make the first page of the ebook your cover. Pages offers a Novel template with a cool-looking cover whose image and title you can adjust to your liking. Weirdly, though, the aforementioned 1024x768 page size isn't anywhere close to the recommended cover sizes for iBooks (1600x2400) or Kindle (1563x2500) files. So an image that completely fills a page in Pages might not do the job in a finished ebook.
I much preferred the "Choose an image" option. Having to reselect my image file via the Finder every single time I exported to EPUB got old fast – Pages won't let you store a cover image within your .pages file – but the resulting cover looked great on my ebook.
The ebook created from my Pages file brought my specified fonts and formatting over without a hitch, with a snappy interactive table of contents to boot. I was pleased to see that the finished product looked no different than any of the books I'd purchased from the Kindle or iBook stores.
A huge step forward for easier e-publishing
Even with its minor flaws and hurdles, Pages is hands down the simplest, least annoying way I've found to make ebooks on the Mac. At least for me, this new ability has turned Pages from a dusty afterthought in the depths of my hard drive to a true killer app.
What has your experience been with creating ebooks in Pages? Have you found any apps that do the job better? Publish your thoughts in the comments below.
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