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EPUB Hell

One of the most frustrating aspects of creating an EPUB is getting it to display half-way decently on all reading devices/apps.

It feels as if this will never happen.

EPUBs are, of course, HTML documents. Different browsers display HTML differently, and it can lead to nightmares, getting websites to display nicely. The same is true of EPUB devices/apps. That’s why a writer needs to check their EPUB on every device and app they have access to.

Let me illustrate.

Here is the first pages of my novel on the Nook app, displayed on my desktop.



Here is the same two pages, on the Adobe Digital Editions, again, on my desktop.



Neither are how I would like it to display, but the ADE is much closer. The Chapter heading picture is centered horizontally, but needs a margin at the top. The dragon ornamental is centered, though the large gap at the bottom needs fixing. The initial letter is larger than the rest of the text, and perhaps I can get the gap to disappear below the first sentence.

The Nook, showing the exact same file, does not center the pictures, does not include the initial letter, and has a space below every paragraph. I managed to get it to left justify by choosing the display option “Publisher’s Settings”, but it ignores the paragraph indents despite this.

So, how do you go about fixing this? If it is the exact same EPUB, how does a writer manage to make it look decent on multiple devices/reading apps when the display can be so different? (For instance, I had to start over on my formatting because, suddenly, the document starting displaying with a 2pt font on high-res devices. WHY? Still not certain.)

The answer, unfortunately, is that you can make it look OK, but there will be many trade-offs. Yes, some of those trade-off will get you bad reviews. And, yes, if you look at professionally-coded books on different devices/apps, they will look different as well. Scene breaks can look huge/small, the chapter headings can take up random amounts of space, etc. If you have pictures, like I do…good luck to us.



This can be very frustrating to authors, whose primary talent lies in writing stories, not code. Unfortunately, there is no best solution. Some pay for the service of having their book coded and call it good, but results vary (and beware of scammers). Others use Smashwords, where you upload your Word document and they will make an EPUB for you (and results vary). Some use the free online editor through Reedsy or make an EPUB from their Scrivener doc (and results vary). There’s also software like Calibre or Jutoh that are specifically designed to create EPUBs (disclosure: I use Jutoh–and yes, results vary). Or, if you are really a glutton for punishment, you can try InDesign, the industry standard for book creation.

I did purchase a template (InDesign), but quickly realized, while it made the For Print version look nice, none of my pictures lined up properly when I used it for EPUB creation. InDesign has an exceedingly high learning curve, and its forums are pretty worthless (“read a book”, “take a class”, “know exactly what you’re doing before you ask a question here”) and the scant, not-snobby advice I found never translated to an EPUB that displayed my pictures properly in a reflowable format (which is hardly an uncommon problem, no matter the software used).

If you have the money, paying someone to create your EPUB is the least annoying option (even with the back and forth). Most charge extra to work with pictures, so that option is not a good one for someone with illustrations (this includes scene breaks or drop-cap images, BTW). Or, just publish with Amazon. Getting my book to look right, even with the pictures, was a breeze compared to the weeks I’ve spent trying to get a non-WTF appearance in my EPUB.