I've been a designer since before there was any designation between print designers and web designers, the web in its current form hardly existed. The way design has changed over the past 20 years is amazing, and now we're heading towards the other extreme where there will be no print or web designers again, all designers will know both. The world still needs us to help keep things looking good, even if design is often only noticed when it's not done well (much like housework). With the advent of ereaders there is yet another system to learn, and the available information on ebook formatting is sketchy at best, or it was until the EPUB guru Elizabeth Castro's latest publication, EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating ebooks for iPad and other ereaders. This is the definitive book on EPUB formatting. As an experienced designer/intermediate coder this is exactly what I wanted, and as I also teach InDesign I'm quite familiar with the beginner's perspective and wanted something for my students. This book is very well organized and the information is clear and easy to understand, covering the entire range beginning with defining what an EPUB is to advanced formatting techniques. While I think knowledge of HTML and CSS is really necessary to be successful at working in EPUB, someone who wants to self-publish could learn enough here to manage their own book (though still, at least a smattering of HTML and CSS is going to be needed). At the same time, experienced designers and coders will find plenty of advanced formatting features to make this book indispensable.
The first chapter is about using Microsoft Word to write EPUBs, something I personally wouldn't want to tackle, but obviously this is going to be great for self-publishers and for non-designer coders who don't use InDesign. This chapter would also apply for use of any text editor other than InDesign. The second chapter covers using InDesign, so this is where I started reading in earnest. Liz does an excellent job of explaining proper use of styles, including character and nested styles. Her explanation about using GREP Find/Change to edit local formatting might be a bit confusing for any InDesign newbies, but GREP is an awesome tool that InDesign users should know, hopefully anyone not already familiar with GREP will be inspired to learn more.
The Adobe articles about using InDesign for EPUB I've read previously also covered much about general layout and use of styles, but Liz's book is far more comprehensive even just in the chapter on InDesign. For example, Adobe simply says that a text wrap around an image isn't possible, and while technically it's true that InDesign can't do that straight out of export it is possible to anchor images in the text and manually adjust the CSS after export. I'd already seen EPUBs with text wraps so I knew Adobe was leaving something out (naturally, their focus is more about what InDesign can do than EPUB formatting). Metadata and exporting--both from CS4 and CS5--are covered more thoroughly than Adobe's documentation as well. In the metadata section of this chapter, Liz notes that InDesign will not add the date format correctly and therefore InDesign EPUBs will not pass validation straight from export. I was disappointed when I discovered this previously, it seems to me that CS5 should have allowed for that, but Liz not only covers how to manually correct that, she includes a URL to a site with InDesign scripts to resolve the problem. Awesome! I haven't tested the scripts myself as I'm going to end up breaking open the files for manual formatting anyway, but it's really good to know that this is a possibility now.
The next chapter is perhaps the most important one of all, it discusses the files within an EPUB, testing, zipping (including using Terminal to zip on a Mac, unfortunately necessary), and validating. She even covers how to move EPUBs to an iPad and converting EPUB to the Kindle Mobi format. Finally, the last chapter--the longest and most extensive--covers advanced formatting. There is a list of fonts available for iPad ebooks (extremely helpful). Formatting options that seem subtle yet are vital design elements, such as hyphenation and spacing, are explained thoroughly, as well as text wrapping around images and sidebars, tables, and even including video.
As a giant added bonus you can download the example files she uses in the book so you can follow along and try everything out yourself--as an instructor I know how valuable it is to have exercise files like this and I very much appreciate that Liz was thoughtful enough to provide them. Liz mentions posting updates/errata on her site, but in everything I covered I did not find any problems or errors, I really don't expect errata will be an issue.