8 Hints from My Experience Using iBooks Author Software

We have been posting about producing our new iBook “A Sensual Garden: Creating a Place for Being in the Present Moment” using iBooks Author software. This free software is powerful, but my advice is to be careful if you decide to use it. There are instructions with the software, but not many. And the software is seductive, frankly. It seemed easy enough to use when I looked it over, so I just dived in. And then my “issues” began….

iBooks Author showing cover page
iBooks Author showing cover page

iBooks Author allows you to chose from many templates that you can then customize for yourself. It all seems so easy. Somewhere along the way, I thought to myself, “I wonder how this will look on my Mac or iPad.” I went back to the instructions so that I could  preview our book and individual chapter, and tried them all out. Pretty powerful little do-hickey, but humbling.

Uh Oh, not working the way I thought it would. Better check out additional advice and training….

Turn Off Portrait View If You Selected Landscape Template

One thing I learned the hard way is that our photo book did not lend itself to publication as both landscape and portrait. We had initially selected a landscape template. The portrait view of it was pretty dull and didn’t look or work at all like the selected landscape views. So we turned off (“disabled”) “portrait” so that it can only be read in the landscape view on the computer or iPad.

Chapter 1 in iBooks Author showing Inspector on right hand side, showing portrait disabled
Chapter template in iBooks Author showing Inspector on right hand side, showing portrait disabled

Don’t Let the Name of the Template Influence Whether It is Suitable for Your Book

We also had to get past our own prejudices about what type of book we were going for and therefore what type of template might work for us. We started with the template for “Photo Book” and was, more or less, satisfied with it. But later on in our book production marathon, we thought that the “Cookbook” template would lend itself better to what we were trying to do, mainly allowing us to make the underlying chapter photos show through the text boxes and using a uniform color scheme throughout the book, for photo captions, text font, etc.

Choices of templates: 2nd row: Photo Book (1) Cookbook (3)
Choices of templates: 2nd row: Photo Book (1) Cookbook (3)

Most Features of Any Template Can Be Modified by Unlock

We also discovered about that time that we could “unlock” any of the features of a template that seemed unchangeable and fix them to be what we wanted, so we could have made changes in the Photo Book template (if we had known exactly how the final book should look) to be equivalent to the Cookbook template, but it was nice that a lot had already been done for us. And it appears that when we make changes to a template, it only changes the book from that point on, not generally backward. There is no “select all” for all of the pages so far produced, so that you can copy a newly developed feature into what you already have produced.

How to Change the Page Color in iBooks Author – Both the Hard Way and Easy Way

For example, after almost completing the book, we decided that we really didn’t like the white pages of the book.

Copyright page as a white background
Copyright page as a white background

We wanted a softer background. When you download a iBooks from iTunes, one of the features you can change is the page color. You can’t do this with an iBooks produced by iBooks Author, so we decided to change the page color after almost completing the book. So we went back and copied the page color by inserting a shape, making it the shape of the page, coloring the page the color we wanted, and then putting the shape at the back of the stack by using the Arrange command to move it to the back. (Arrange > send to back). We then had to do this for every page we had produced thus far.

If we had changed the page color to the page template we were using from the beginning before we inserted any working pages, it would have transferred to all the pages from then on.

Copyright page with a buff background
Copyright page with a buff background

What Should Have Been Easy Was the Hardest

There is a lot of help available on the internet, but not a lot of it reveals the problems that one can have trying to accomplish what you assumed you could do, but need special approaches to do. One of the interactive tablet wonders is to be able to tap on a photo and have it enlarge full screen so you can see it better, study it, etc. I wanted this to be a feature of our book. But I couldn’t get it to work, except only occasionally. So I went to the web. There is one wonderful post by Davide Barranca about making full screen images in Author that I consulted again and again.

Barranca's post on photos for iBooks Author
Barranca’s post on photos for iBooks Author

But even this post did not tell me why my photos sometimes would and sometimes wouldn’t go full screen. When you work in iBooks Author, there is something called the “Inspector” that one uses to format text or graphics. Barranca’s post explained how to make the photos expand, but many times, I couldn’t modify the photo boxes using the Inspector to do what he said one needed to do. The boxes were grayed out and not clickable. In other cases, the Inspector boxes were set up correctly but the photo still wouldn’t work the way it was supposed to do. You work in layers in iBooks Author and when you click a photo, you access individually the frame around the photo, the photo itself, the resulting photo after cropping with the frame, etc. Each part of the final view is accessed with a separate click. It might be 4 or 5 layers down (4 or 5 clicks) before you access what you want to adjust.

Organization of Book Will Dictate Form of Table of Contents

So I started over, picking an untouched template (maybe I had modified the template too much? That’s when we selected the Cookbook template), and tried to import my photos. I won’t go into how you start with a template, then add pages from that template to form your actual stand-alone pages (such as copyright, etc.), section pages (parts of chapters), and chapter pages. There are many articles on the net on how to do that. But you do have to decide how your book is going to be organized from the beginning, because you probably don’t want some chapters to have sections in them and others not, if for no other reason then that your table of contents will end up looking funky and unprofessional. For example, another author chose to make everything in one chapter, using a large number of sections within this single chapter (really the book). This allowed her to use iBooks Author to produce a single page table of contents where every section under the chapter head appeared with its title and page number. This is the way we would think a table of contents would look for a book, but it is the only way to get a single page table of contents to work in iBooks Author.

iBooks Table of Contents is actually several pages showing one chapter each page
iBooks Table of Contents is actually several pages showing one chapter each page

Because I did not want to have section pages in our small book, just chapter pages and stand-alone pages, I customized the chapter page templates to be what I wanted that I saw in section page layouts. Otherwise I would have gotten sections in my book whether or not I wanted them.

Advice on Modifying Templates

I will also not go into how to customize the layouts for your book. Just be forewarned that you should always

  • save the changes you have made to the templates as new templates with custom names,
  • be careful to keep the text flow in page templates that you create or modify so that when you expand the text or add pictures new pages appear automatically to catch the overflow, and
  • when you are done with modifications to template (see problem I didn’t know I had below), lock the template changes so they don’t accidentally get moved, etc. later when you are in a working page rather than at the template.

Use iPhoto for Trouble-Free Photo Import

Even with a fresh untouched template, all the photos imported, but without full functionality for all but a few (so the functionality was there; I just didn’t know how to access it repeatedly?). There seemed no way to consistently get the functionality incorporated (I counted the number of times I clicked before trying to insert, for example). Sometimes the photo seemed to copy into the window without replacing the underlying “place holder.” Sometimes the photo replaced the place holder, but still didn’t have the functionality of the place holder.

I discovered that if I imported all my photos into iPhoto and then clicked to import media (which immediately opened into iPhoto), the photos would consistently retain their functionality.

What the Media Importer (on right) looks like - showing all my iPhoto photos.
What the Media Importer (on right) looks like – showing all my iPhoto photos.

So my advice to get expandable photos in iBooks Author:

  • Click on photo placeholder
  • Click on insert > widget > gallery
  • Click on view > media browser (iPhotos will display) > drag and drop selected photo

Use iBooks Author Forums When You Are Stumped

It all went fairly smoothly from then on.  Except for one annoying quirk (I thought it was a quirk). Some page numbers would appear mid-page rather than in the lower right or left corners of the page. Pagination did not seem to be a function that I could turn off either (except for stand-alone pages.) So every once in a while, I had to make a tiny box of the same color as the page and paste it over the offending mid-page page number and then flow the text around it so it didn’t seem to be there (!)

When I commented on the Apple iBooks Author forums about this “quirk,” an expert explained that I must have had the pagination (contained in a footer) unlocked in a template, and that I had inadvertently moved the footer to midpage. Well, well, what a revelation! He was right and I was fixed. Nothing like these user forums on Apple — really!

The next step was to upload the final iBooks (which iBooks Author compiles for you) using another application “iTunes Producer” into iTunes for publication (and sale if wanted) as an iBook at the iBook Store. I will continue my saga in a later post about this task.

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2 thoughts on “8 Hints from My Experience Using iBooks Author Software”

  1. Sadly, the printed instruction manual is almost extinct. Even online versions are rare. Instead, we have to rely on intrepid explorers such as you to explore the unknown and then share what you discover. Thanks!

    1. I offer to help anyone who is struggling or has questions, but those user forums are great help. They don’t bash you for not having read the instructions carefully enough, either!

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