iBook Lessons: Book samples and rookie mistakes

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iBook Lessons: Book samples and rookie mistakes

iBook Lessons is a continuing series about ebook writing and publishing.

Talk about rookie mistakes! We finally discovered the reason the iPad-only iBooks Author version of our Mountain Lion ebook got stuck on its way to release: we hadn't submitted a custom sample along with the full ebook.

Every iBooks Author submission requires a sample book for paid book accounts: "[A] custom created sample...is required for all Multi-Touch books offered for sale in the iBookstore" For further details, Apple has a support article about publishing requirements here.

So we went ahead and created our sample. To do this, you duplicate your book to a new project and then delete all non-sample content.

Removing chapters is easy: select them, click delete. It's a little more complicated for in-sample chapter-text. You must edit the actual content. Make sure you delete the text and images you want gone, and then trim away any remaining pages.

It took us a number of tries to get this right because we thought we could delete pages directly by selecting them and clicking delete. You can't. Pages only represent layout, not content, and our undeleted content kept popping back at us until we figured this bit out.

Once the project was trimmed down to size, we saved it and exported it to an .ibooks author file. We then bundled the full and sample versions up through iTunes Producer and re-submitted to iTunes connect.

The multi-touch book went live in the store instantly upon uploading the sample version.

One of the reasons this process went as quickly as it did is that Apple has apparently been conducting its own internal audits, finding books that have been submitted to the iBookstore but that haven't gone live yet.

Support requests like ours trigger a list of issues that need addressing. We now wish that we had contacted Apple sooner, rather than falling into the "we have no control or say in this process" mindset. Of course, Apple could have simply sent a robo-email telling us that the iBook needed a sample rather than making us wait two weeks to find our mistake.

Deciding what to include in our sample led a bit of debate. We weren't sure whether to include an entire section (which we weren't sure would work out of context) or bits and pieces from all over the book. In the end, we settled on distributing our preface, which includes overviews of each of our chapters and our intro-video, which welcomes readers and explains the purpose of the book. For a larger book, we think we might have gone with a full sample chapter instead.

We couldn't find much online discussions about choosing material to include in a sample. (We're used to Amazon and iBooks deciding that for us from our EPUB.) To this end, here's what we felt would be relevant to creating sample content:

  • It should reflect the writing style of the authors, to give readers a sense of the flow and pace of the text, and answer the question "Does this author's voice match the way I want to read?"
  • It should reflect the contents, showing readers some of the scope that the book covers, "Am I interested in this material? Does it have compelling utility?"
  • If the book has a particular flow, for example lessons, it should showcase that style, "Can I follow along the way this book is teaching me based on this sample?"

Beyond those few thoughts, however, our immediate push was to get a sample created and submitted. I'm sure if we had spent a little more time and effort, we could have expanded these ideas further; maybe if we ever get around to writing "iBook Lessons" as a standalone book, we'll flesh this out.

For now, we got past a hurdle we weren't aware even existed, and learned an important lesson about being proactive with support requests. Hopefully our rookie mistake will save you some wasted time and effort.

Do you have thoughts about creating ebook samples to share? Or examples of your own rookie mistakes? Drop a comment and let us know.

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