How to Create an Interactive Ebook: A Step-by-Step Guide

Ebooks are the new norm in education and publishing. Add interactive content and you’ve got yourself a top-notch product that is sure to put you ahead of the game. This comprehensive guide will lead you through the journey so that you know how to create an interactive ebook. You’ll also learn how to publish and distribute the ebook to different platforms. We will start together by building your content, to choosing your preferred online and offline tools. Along the way, we’ll give you the answers to the most common questions writers ask.

Create interactive ebook

Learning how to create an interactive ebook is simple, but let us start first by defining what an “interactive ebook” is. This term has been overused in past years by publishers who think that inserting a moving picture in their ebook would deem it “interactive”. Although they are not entirely at fault here, it just sounds quite silly given that they didn’t even scratch the tip of the interactive iceberg. With current technologies like HTML5 and EPUB 3.0, you can go way beyond a digital moving picture. You can provide experiences rich with reader engagement as they play touch-based games, answer questions and even participate in polls or send feedback —all inside the ebook. And that’s how we would rather define interactivity —fully engaged readers.

So you want to learn how to create an interactive ebook? Let’s jump right in then!

1. Preparing interactive ebook content and material

There are countless online services and websites to help you prepare your interactive ebook (content resources and more). Some services can do a lot of the manual work for you for a small fee. They can handle the heavy work that for you might be a drag, such as designing your ebook cover, formatting your document for ebook readers, and creating custom interactivity. As we go along, we’ll point you in the direction of some of these services.

The writing

As fun as it is to add interactive content to your ebook, it’s also easy to get so caught up in it, that you almost forget the writing.

Do I have to do my writing in the software that creates interactive ebooks?

No. Nearly all software allow you both options: you can write your ebook directly into the software or import it from a word document, PDF file or even an old EPUB that wasn’t interactive. So go ahead and write, wherever your creative juices flow the fastest: your blog, favorite word processor, old-fashioned journal or even the proverbial restaurant napkin.

Should I write my ebook then add the interactivity? Or work on both simultaneously?

Whatever you want. Most software allow you both options. Start writing, experiment and do what works best for you.

Read more Writing Process Explained for Non-Writers.

What if I have all the ideas, but I’m not sure I can write a whole book?

If you’re worried you don’t have the time or the writing skills, you can hire a ghostwriter or editor. Ghostwriters will do the writing for you (for payment), and they won’t ask to be mentioned in your book as an author. Editors will take your writing and edit/proofread it as necessary. Where do you find ghostwriters and editors? Freelancing sites like Upwork, Reedsy or Fiverr.

Read more Understanding Ghost Writing.

What if I already have a published book, but no electronic copies of it?

Then you have two options. If the images in the book are few or not important hire a fast typist to type up your ebook into any word processor. The images can be easily scanned.

If the images are many or the layout of the book is integral and you do not want to have to redo the layout. Instead, you can have your book scanned and turned into a PDF. Then with the interactive ebook software, you can build on the PDF. One of the most affordable places you’ll find for scanning is 1 Dollar Scan. By mailing a hard-copy book to 1 Dollar Scan, you can get your book converted into a PDF for as low as 1 dollar.

Create an interactive ebook

Ebook Assets

Your ebook assets are all your visuals, audio, and interactive content. First, we’ll answer a few general questions that apply to all kinds of interactive content, then we’ll tackle each type of content individually.

Do I have to decide on my assets and gather them all before I add them to the ebook?

Just like with the writing part, you can gather first and import at once, or you can add them gradually as you write.

Do all of my assets have to be copied or uploaded into the ebook?

The simple answer to that would be, no. Including images, videos and sound recordings inside your ebook isn’t always possible. Usually, for one of two reasons: copyright restrictions and/or the size of the file may be too big. So what do you do?

One of two things: You can just link to webpages, videos, sound recordings, etc. and your reader will go to the website to watch the video and then come back to your ebook. Or an even cooler option is to embed the visuals or sound recording. When you embed them, your readers will see/hear them as if they’re in your ebook, but in fact, they’re watching a video straight from YouTube (or wherever you’re linking to).

How do I decide whether to include images and videos, embed them, or link to them?

1) Copyrights: If the copyrights restrictions do not allow you to include them, then embed them. If they don’t allow you to embed them, then link to them. Most artists and photographers will allow you to include their work in your ebook as long as you give them credit for their work. Embedding restrictions are usually only a concern with some YouTube videos.

2) File size: One of the Amazon plans charges you a Delivery Fee for some international sales based on the size of your ebook. Otherwise, the main concern with a large file size is happy readers. The larger your ebook is, the longer it takes for your readers to download it, the more annoyed they are. How long they’re willing to wait also depends on their expectations for the type of ebook. For example, for a novel that is mostly text, readers would consider 10MB too big. But for a large university textbook loaded with images, videos and complex interactivity, readers would consider 10MB very reasonable, even small. Research your ebook type and try to stay within the normal range.

Images

I don’t have an illustrator, graphic designer or photographer on staff, but want lots of visuals in my ebook. Where are all these writers getting all their amazing images?

Stock photo and graphics websites. There are many professional stock photo websites such as Dreamstime, Depositphotos (the one we use), and iStock where you can purchase professional images for as little as $1. Dreamstime has a free images section that you can also check out.

In case you don’t want to be tempted into buying images, you can go straight to one of the free stock photo websites. There are websites such as FreepikFreeimages, Pixabay, Pexels and even Canva. Some of those websites may request that you credit the owner of the graphic, so play nice. You can also find free icons to use from websites such as Iconfinder or Thenounproject.

What do I do about images with large file sizes?

Optimize images as much as you can, since many ebook publishing platforms have limitations with media. Apple iBooks Store, for instance, does not accept images greater than 5MB in size, or 4 megapixels in area. If your ebook is an online app (relying on internet bandwidth), large-sized images taken straight from a digital camera without optimizing, can really lag down performance and cost you, visitors.

Here are our recommendations:

  1. Compressor.io: Shows you the image before and after optimizing.
  2. Tinyjpg: Good for batch processing.
  3. IrfanView: Can batch optimize hundreds of images in seconds.

3D Images

You want to travel the world with your readers. Show them Michelangelo’s David from all angles, the bellies of exotic creatures from the Amazon Rainforest, the ins-and-outs of an old fashioned typewriter. If you don’t have 3D models, it’s ok. Sketchfab hosts the work of 3D creators around the world. You’ll find free ones and pricey ones. All of them are easy to add to your ebook.

Video

Are you writing an ebook filled with how-to videos? Or a more academic ebook about the socio-economic implications of the rising YouTubing industry?  Or how video killed the radio star? Either way, you’ll need plenty of videos. If you need a custom-made video, you can hire a freelancer from a site like Freelancer or Fiverr.  Once you have the videos selected and ready, comes the exciting part: adding videos to your ebook.

The best option is to first optimize your videos then add them to your ebook. If you optimize the videos well, the MP4 files should be well under 50mb. If you don’t know how to optimize videos read our blog post: How to Optimize Videos and Add Them to Your Book

The second best option is to embed the videos from other sites like YouTube or Vimeo or your own website. If the copyright limitations do not allow embedding, then you can simply add a link to the video in your ebook. That way, your readers can watch the video directly from the hosting websites. Unfortunately embedding and linking to the video, means that your readers will need to have internet access to view the videos. 

Audio

Similar to video, you can upload small MP3 files, but it would be better to upload the sound files to an mp3 hosting site like Soundcloud then embed them in your ebook.

Some ebook creator platforms provide text-to-speech for your readers, look for it.

If you want tones, sound effects, background music, you don’t need a full orchestra, band or even a synthesizer. You’ll find plenty of sounds ready to go online at sites like Dreamstime or Soundsnap.

Widgets

What can widgets do?  

What can’t widgets do! Everyday ebook widgets are breaking the boundaries of what defines a book. Books are no longer static, they’re dynamic and constantly changing. So what are these magical inventions?

Widgets are like miniature apps that your readers can use while they read. They can be as simple as calculators or as complex as games. Your readers can send you messages as they read your ebook. You can have a live video from Ustream, a real-time Instagram gallery, or even a real-time Twitter feed in your ebook.

So how do widgets work?

First, find the widget you want. Check out Book Widgets or Bookry. Follow the instructions to purchase and download the widget. Then, follow the instructions of your interactive ebook creation platform. You’ll be surprised how quick and easy it is.

2.Designing and customizing ebooks for your target audience

Ebook Cover Design

For some authors, the cover design is done while they’re still thinking about what they want to write. For most authors, who have a way with words, but not with images, it can be a daunting task. Here are my favorite three articles to help guide you. I’ll tell you why they’re my favorites.

How to Create a Book Cover for Free. Here you’ll go through the main steps and learn what you should consider as you make your choices. You’ll find this article helpful even if you decide to hire someone to make the cover for you.

Book Cover Design Mastery. More good advice and a couple of collections of links make this article valuable. You’ll find a handy chart with the basic dimensions and file requirements for the most popular self-publishing book sites. You’ll also find links to different software options for designing your own ebook. That’s in addition to links to sites that can help you hire someone to do the ebook cover for you.

15 Ebook Covers: Success and Failure in the Kindle Store. Even if you won’t be selling your ebook in the Kindle Store, you’ll want to read this article. Joel Friedlander explains what works and what doesn’t, particularly when your ebook cover turns into a tiny thumbnail.

Layout

The first layout decision, you’ll need to make for your ebook is whether to create it using a fixed layout or a reflowable layout. At first glance they may seem similar; however, they are so distinct that you can not switch back-and-forth midway through your project. So, unlike most layout decisions, this one is final and changing your mind means restarting from the beginning. Kotobee allows you to set the layout for each chapter/page individually, you’ll see why in a moment. Let’s make sure you understand how each one works, their uses and benefits. We’ll also give you examples of the types of ebooks that work best with each layout.

Fixed Layout

With fixed layout, you will set precisely where everything will be on the page and everything will appear on the page exactly where you place them. Their location will be fixed and will never wrap or change. You can overlap elements or place them side by side and when your readers zoom in or out, it will be like zooming in or out, on a photograph. So, when your readers zoom in, the whole page will expand beyond the borders of the screen. The reader will need to use the vertical and horizontal scroll bars to see the rest of the page.

Fixed layout

When should I choose a fixed layout?

When the layout of the page is critical, especially if your readers will be reading your ebook from a computer, like some LMSs that deny mobile access. If you’re writing magazines, comics or children’s storybooks, you’ll probably prefer a fixed layout.

Reflowable Layout

The second type of layout optimizes the content for the viewing screen’s dimensions so that readers simply scroll through each chapter. This option focuses on the content, not layout. You will simply determine the order of the contents for each chapter, and they will appear in your ebook in the same order. An advantage of reflowable layout is that each user can adjust the font size according to personal preference. The same can be said for the screen size. The layout and interactive content will automatically adapt by wrapping and increasing page length, thus enhancing user reading experience, especially on smaller screens. Most blog posts and news articles are reflowable.

reflowable

When should I choose reflowable layout?

This is the more popular form of layouts for reading on mobile devices and for a reason of course—viewing comfort for readers. If you’re writing a short story or novel, your readers will want you to choose reflowable layout.

Why do we at Kotobee Author allow you to use both layout options in the same ebook?  

Because you and your readers want both. Reflowable layout is the most comfortable for your readers, no doubt. But sometimes you’ll want or need to include a design rich page. Like the first page of a history chapter, with an interactive timeline, that extends horizontally. The rest of chapter will be reflowable to make reading easier. Or annotated before and after side-by-side images. The uses are endless, but they shouldn’t ruin the reading experience of the rest of your ebook for your readers.

Read more Best Ebook Layout Format: Reflowable or Fixed?

Defining the Platform

As a company in the ebook creator business, we receive many requests from customers wanting to create interactive ebooks. They have a clear plan of their ebook, and most times the content is ready. However, when we ask what platform/devices they are targeting for publishing, all that can be heard is the chirping of crickets. Since your ebook will target a certain audience, it’s important to know how to reach them. The end-product should be clear and well-defined. Here are some options for defining the platform/device to put in consideration.

  • WebApps: As a web app on your personal website. Your readers will simply go to the website and read.
  • Mobile apps: They’ll be published on the respective app stores (Apple App Store, Android Playstore, etc.) The ebook will have its own dedicated icon and name, in the app menu.
  • Desktop apps: They’ll be distributed by email or on hard media. The ebook will run independently (no need for a separate reader software).
  • LMS Component: A component to publish on your school or university’s LMS (learning management system). Interactive ebooks are a serious added value when it comes to education.
  • EPUB files: An EPUB file to give away independently or publish to popular ebook stores (Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, etc.)

Reader Interface Branding

If you decide to publish your ebook on a platform with a ready-built reader (like iBooks or Kindle) you won’t be able to change anything in the reader’s interface. If you choose to publish an ebook app instead, you’ll have full access to build your reader from the ground up.

Why care about a Reader interface?

The upside of going through the trouble of creating your own reader within your platform of choice is the ability to brand it and theme it for your audience. This would be perfect for companies that have their trademark that need to be in tune with the look and feel of the interface. On the other hand, if you are creating an ebook for the mass public without a target audience in mind, then accepting an external reader is okay for you.

Updates

Since most people are aware that usually no content is final or absolute. You may decide to make edits after publishing. You need to understand how updates are reflected on the platform you chose. For instance, if you publish your ebook on your personal website, updating that ebook is a straightforward approach. Unlike if you have chosen to publish on mobile or LMS.

3. Ebook creators and editors to build your interactive ebook

There are a number of tools you can use to create/edit your interactive ebook. Just watch out: as many websites (not on this list) claim to offer interactive ebook conversion services, where they actually mean digital, not interactive. There are literally hundreds of online services in this industry, but here is a list of the most popular and useful ones to keep handy.

author

Kotobee Author is our free software for Windows and Mac. You can use Kotobee Author to create interactive ebooks from scratch or by importing your book from anywhere else. When you’re ready to publish your ebook, Kotobee Author will turn it into a customizable EPUB, web app, or desktop app. There is a nominal fee to export your ebook as a native mobile app or for SCORM integration.

ibooks

iBooks Author (discontinued in 2020) is Apple’s popular ebook creation software, exclusively for Mac. This easy software allows you to create interactive EPUB-based ebooks that would run exclusively on Apple iBooks (on Mac and iPad), but not on other EPUB readers. Ebooks created by this tool would strictly have a fixed-layout.

aquafadas

Aquafadas provides a free plugin for Adobe InDesign which allows you to add interactive components to your existing InDesign projects and export them in multiple formats. You will need to pay only once you publish your ebook.

atavist

Atavist is a web-based tool more focused on creating interactive ebooks for the web, but also have the option of exporting EPUB in their Pro plans. They do provide excellent controls for reflowable layout content.

talespring

Talespring is a web-based tool for creating children’s storybooks to be published as a native mobile app for iOS and Android. They do not offer EPUB format.

kwik

Kwik allows you to create interactive storybooks directly from Photoshop. With this plugin, you can add animations, interactivity, even entire physics simulations. Obviously the resulting ebooks are fixed-layout. They can be published only as native mobile apps (iOS and Android).

tigercreate

Tigercreate uses layers and time-frames for animations, and hence provide flexibility with whatever you want to achieve. Again, this software is targeted towards interactive children’s storybook. They can be exported as mobile apps (Android and iOS).

pubcoder

Italy-based Pubcoder provides a software for Windows and Mac, and allows various interactive components in the ebook. Ebooks are fixed-layout and can be exported as native mobile apps (iOS and Android), as EPUB files, or kindle format.

4. Publishing & distributing your interactive ebook

Paid or Free

It’s not a must, but deciding early on whether your ebook will be available for free or through purchasing will give you different ideas for promoting and marketing your ebook.

If you think this will affect the ebook in terms of quality, you’re wrong – you should always aim for higher quality, nonetheless. Free ebooks get the highest downloads on any ebook store. As for sales, a credible study done by Smashwords showed that ebook prices falling within the range of $.299 to $3.99 get the highest sales. Sounds like peanuts? Never compare prices of ebooks with printed books. There is no overhead when it comes to publishing ebooks – they can be reproduced infinitely. If the purpose of your ebook is to promote an idea, it may be better to offer it for free, otherwise, choose a reasonable price. A popular marketing strategy, when it comes to selling ebooks, is to publish a free excerpt of one of your chapters. This is something to have in mind in the early stages.

Copyrights and DRM

The world of copyrights is growing in possibilities and complexities. You’ll want to spend a little time studying the options to decide exactly how you want to protect your work. Regardless of which option you choose and when you choose it, laws state your work will be copyrighted protected the moment it’s published.

Read More Creative Commons

Besides copyrighting, what else can I do to protect my work?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the most effective way to protect your ebook. As you design your ebook app, you can stop users from copying, printing and sharing your ebook. So don’t worry, sit back and read up on DRM.

Ebook DRM & Security: What is it and How it Works.

Marketing budgets and resources

Your ebook will not be sold off shelves in dozens (metaphorically speaking) as soon as you publish it. Without a good marketing budget paired with patience and effort, chances are people will not get to read it. You can’t sell your ebook if no one knows it exists. You need to create awareness however and whenever you can. Paid advertising is most effective.

That said, do not underestimate the value of organic marketing via social media outlets. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest can spread the word about your ebook to your targeted audience efficiently and save you money.

Distribution

When it comes to distribution, it’s important to understand how it works. There are service providers known as aggregators. They can distribute your ebook to international online retailers, as well as their own book stores for a fixed fee and/or commission out of your sales. They handle all the hard work of submissions and ensure that your ebook gets the right exposure.

But it’s better if you have the time and the effort to distribute the ebook yourself. Then you’ll have the freedom to choose which platforms you want to sell your ebook on. This does not mean that you will keep 100% royalties since all major retailers will still take royalties, but there will be no aggregator commissions eaten away from you.

Distributing to individual platforms

Those are your choices if you decide not to go with an ebook aggregator and rather publish your ebook yourself. Of course, depending on the software you have used from the previous list, you may only publish to platforms that are supported in the software. The platform categories are mobile apps, desktop apps, web apps, EPUB ebooks.

Ebook mobile apps

1) Google Play App Store: $25 one-time fee. They take 30% royalties.

2) Apple’s App Store: $99/year annual store fees. They take 30% royalties.

Ebook desktop apps

Set-up online-selling functionality on your website to sell ebook downloads, using any one of the following services:

Ebook web apps

If you want to distribute your ebook for free, you can simply upload the web app to your server. If you want to sell it, this one’s a bit tricky. You will need to develop custom functionality for your website. Or you can use our Kotobee Cloud solution to encrypt the ebook on the server and have customers pay you using different payment gateways.

EPUB ebooks

This is a must-have format if you’re going serious into the ebook selling business. Let’s breakdown the different available options.

Google Play Book Store

Not very popular. Just like the case with app publishing, registration costs $25 one-time fee, and they take 30% royalties for each book sold. But given its lack of popularity, it would be better to only distribute here through an aggregator (more on aggregators later).

Apple’s iBookstore

Unlike the app store, registration to Apple’s iBookstore is free. They take 30% royalties for each book sold.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Amazon giants, who own roughly half of the ebook market, provide you with two royalty options: 35% or 70%, with different requirements for each. Read more about this here.

Nook Press (by Barnes & Noble)

Your royalty options are either 40% or 65% depending on your list pricing.

Distributing through ebook aggregators

Ebook aggregators will help you distribute to all the different retailers in return for a fee and/or commission. The common practice we’ve seen in ebook publishing is to manually publish to Amazon (KDP) and then publish to all other retailers using an aggregator. This is because authors experience over 50% of their sales through Amazon – they own roughly half the ebook market. Since they are the dominant retailer, it’s best to avoid giving away part of your Amazon revenue to an aggregator.

Besides the support provided by an aggregator, there are usually other optional paid services such as cover design, copy editing, etc.

Smashwords

Probably the most popular automated aggregation service and value. Don’t be let down by their website’s humble design. Smashwords has been in business for a long time and distribute to tens of ebook retailers across the world, including their own Smashwords store. Registration is free, and your royalties are 60% when selling through major retailers, or 80% when selling through their own store.

BookBaby is also extremely popular, but following a different model. Instead of giving away royalties, you make a fixed payment of $299 instead, to have your ebook handled from start to finish. BookBaby takes 0% royalties. Your ebook is distributed to major retailers, including Amazon’s Kindle.

BookTango offers an impressive package. Free registration, and no commission whatsoever, which is a really good deal. Distribute to B&N Nook, Apple iBookstore, Kobo, Google Books, and Amazon Kindlestore. They make money by selling optional complementary services, like design and formatting.

Lulu, a large name in the self-publishing industry, entered the ebook publishing market and offers distribution to the Lulu store, B&N’s Nook store and Apple’s iBookstore. Your sales royalties are 90%.

Conclusion

In this article, we looked at steps and resources need to create an interactive ebook. While there are many other tools and services for creating ebooks, the resources mentioned here are focused on interactive ebooks. In a highly competitive and expanding field, it’s your content that defines you. And this guide is here to help you showcase it to its full potential. If you’re new to ebooks, things may get messy at first, but in the end, we know you’ll love your ebook.

Too much to take in? I agree. So feel free to bookmark this page, and use the resources mentioned whenever you need to. If you have any comments or suggestions, feel free to drop us a comment below.

You might also like:

Alice in EPUB-Land: Understanding the EPUB format

Book Widgets: Everything you need to know

Sell Books on WordPress with the WooCommerce Plugin

Guide to Selling on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo

Ebook DRM & Security: What is it and How it Works