Fun with e-books (or Never Say Never)

Quite awhile back, I wrote a complaint about e-books. My issue at the time was that Kindle didn’t include page numbers from the original print versions of e-books, but I was curious that students were starting to use them in one of my classes. They presented a challenge for scholarship, but I could see the advantage.

Also awhile ago on the Creative Writing Pedagogy group in Facebook, I weighed in on the question of whether to use a textbook in a creative writing class (the original question was whether to use a how-to book). I argued that a textbook gave me someone else’s perspective on creative writing; someone I could agree with or disagree with in a kind of dialogue with the author. I felt this was good for my students, and though I still feel that way, in the end my dissatisfaction with my current textbook and the alternatives let me to decide to try writing my own. For now, I call them ‘Notes,’ and not a book, but as I thought about how to make them available to my students, I decided to go with an ebook format.

Creating a basic e-book actually turned out to be relatively easy, though there may be issues I would need to iron out if I wanted it to look more professional. Still the workflow that I’ve adopted works very well and produces a decent looking final product that can be read in several format.

I opted for the epub format initially, since it is open source and can be read by most readers. My biggest concern was that students could have access to the text without much hassle. After weighing several options, I decided the best way to write the text of the book would be in Pages. This was true because I already own it, even though I haven’t used it extensively. I have it to read texts that students send me and to open the old AppleWorks documents on my computer — yes, I’ve been a Mac user since the days of ClarisWorks and AppleWorks. But the biggest selling point was that it would export a document to epub format very easily. I tried a couple of simple documents, and the output was pretty good. I also learned I could create a table of contents that would then be the table of contents in the epub document. To do this, I followed Apple’s help to set up styles that would be included in the table of contents. Once I did that, the TOC updated automatically as I wrote and applied styles.

Besides epub, I decided I should also give students a pdf of the book. Once again, in Pages this is easy. I just print and then save a copy as pdf. The only challenge came when trying to make the book available on a Kindle.

Of course, Amazon won’t read the epub and Pages cant’ export to the mobi format (one of two that Kindle uses). Fortunately, there was a solution that worked incredibly well. It came from Amazon in the form of Kindle Previwere. All I have to do is open the epub file in the previewer and it creates a mobi version.

I upload all three of these files into my course in Blackboard, then copy and paste the text into a discussion forum for good measure. This allows students who don’t want to download the files a chance to read them online, and they can comment on the chapters as they read them. I make a new thread for each section of the chapter so the discussion gets broken up a bit

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