Ebook files must undergo a series of quality checks before they can be sold. There are four main parts to the testing process:
- Validation of the code
- Testing on different e-readers
- Meeting distributors’ acceptance criteria
If you’ve used a reputable conversion service, some of these checks will be done by them. But a prudent publisher will want to double-check, whether you use free and low-cost automated services, or higher-priced custom services. The vendor’s checking may be limited to following their own in-house procedures rather than detailed checking of your work.
1. Validation of the code
This is simply a check that the underlying HTML code of your ebook follows the rules of EPUB and Kindle formatting. If it does, it has a good chance of running on most e-readers without breaking anything.
It won’t tell you if your ebook looks ugly, has inconsistent formatting, runs two chapters together, or has other problems. However, passing a validation check is a minimum first step.
Running these checks is very straightforward. Fixing problems when you get a ‘Fail’ requires some HTML knowledge. The tools most frequently used for validation are:
- EpubCheck (http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate). This is the benchmark validation tool for EPUB and most ebooksellers require that your file pass the EpubCheck validation as a condition of accepting it for distribution. You can upload an EPUB to the online EpubCheck service for a quick validation. Volume users must install the local program version.
- KindleGen. The best way to check that your Kindle ebook contains error-free code is to create it using Amazon’s KindleGen, described earlier. The source files for KindleGen must be in HTML or EPUB format. If you convert from EPUB and you’ve already run the EpubCheck on this file, it will improve your chances of passing through KindleGen without errors.
This is something you should do yourself or with the help of a skilled proofreader. You’ll need to proofread both the source document and the finished ebook.
- The best time to proofread is when you’re preparing your source document. It will be quicker and cheaper to fix typos, misspellings, poor writing, and inconsistent styles here. The conversion process won’t do anything to remove these and will introduce a few more of its own.
- Books already published in print will still need proofreading. Unfortunately, new errors will be introduced in the conversion process, especially if the source file has been created from a PDF file or scan of the hardcopy book.
- If you’re converting from a previously-published manuscript, there’s still a pitfall. Time and cost pressures mean that final corrections made by a designer in the page-layout program are seldom transferred back to the original manuscript.
3. Testing on different e-readers
Ebooks are software so they have to be tested on a range of devices to see how they look and function.
There are differences in the way that different e-readers render pages and the need to test isn’t likely to change anytime soon: Even website developers have to test their designs on several web browsers and different versions of the same browser — 20 years after the introduction of the world-wide web.
Testing is not just about finding irritating incompatibilities. There are now quite a few different screen sizes that ebook readers use to display your ebook. And even on the same device, for instance an iPhone, each e-reader app will display your book slightly differently.
And the real bad news? This problem will get worse before it improves as enhanced ebooks push the boundaries of device support for advanced features.
For Kindle ebooks, Amazon provides a neat application called Kindle Previewer. This software, which you install on your PC or Mac, emulates how your ebook will appear on Amazon’s various gadgets and e-reading apps. Download it from the Tools and Resources page of the Kindle Direct Publishing site (kdp.amazon.com). There’s also a simpler web-based version you can access from your Amazon account when you upload a Kindle ebook for distribution.
For the rest, you, your designer or your conversion service will have to physically own or borrow every device you plan to test.
4. Meeting distributors’ acceptance criteria
Each ebookseller has its own requirements before it will accept an ebook for commercial sale. We’ll cover this topic in more detail in the distribution section. Some of the areas you’ll have to check for are:
- Technical specifications
- Content suitability
- Confirmation of rights
- Competitive offers
- Metadata requirements
A good distributor will help deal with these issues and the numerous variations among ebooksellers, providing one more reason why you might find their services worth paying for.
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.