repeating kid's coloring book cover.

Tips on Publishing an Accessible Kids Ebook

The struggle is real. I spent hours, weeks, months trying to find a way to make my tester book, What If I Fall kids book, digitally accessible. What does that mean exactly? (This is for all you self-publishers out there, or authors who want to make sure your publisher is on the accessible road ahead.) Read on the mistakes I made, the lessons I learned, and what I wished I would have known.
    • text should be read separately and not embedded into the image.
      • I did this so wrong and it was terrible. I thought I was being creative by making text sit upside down, sideways, and patterned. This, in turn, made all of my text embedded into the images (meaning that a reader or any other device is not able to read it). Text and images should be done in separate layers (like in Amazon or iBooks, place the text after you’ve placed the image into the layout; or if in Photoshop or Illustrator, have the text on top of the image–also do this when preparing for print).
    • alt-text for images lets you give a brief description of what the image is about.
      • This was harder then I thought. There is a particular language to writing alt-text descriptions (not all software offer this option, like Amazon), so make sure you know what publishing paltforms allow for alt-text options. Remember to do your research on writing alt-text descriptions, as they should be specific but not too long. (Aside from ebooks, my entire page on this website disappeared because I made my alt-text too long one time–more than 30 words.) Also, speaking of images in websites, alt-text is different than attribution, which is the little text that pops up when a mouse cursor is on an idea (e.g. at the top menu of this site, if you put the mouse over the HOME or BOOKS tag, the title attribution will show as, ‘home page,’ or ‘books page’). Here’s a video for InDesign on how to do make ebooks visually accessible (then exported into an ePUB).
    • audio and sound capabilities.
      • I’m all for multiple ways of learning, so I knew I wanted to have something outside of just words and images. Only iTunes came through–it was hard until it became easy. Side note on anything when a software reading text: always add periods/punctuation, otherwise, the words just run together. For example, each of the sections in this blog post, like ‘audio and sound capabilities,’ has a period at the end, but you can’t see it since I changed the font color to white.
    • color scheme.
      • Now, this was something I hadn’t thought of at the time of publishing, What If I Fall, but I recently realized that picking a color scheme can either be great or harmful for those who are colorblind. For example, on the backside of the book, the background is green and the mushroom is red. So for a red-green colorblind person, those colors will blend into one and the person would not be able to see the red mushroom. Luckily, I had outlined the mushroom in black, so the mushroom will appear, but not in the red color.
    • large and friendly text.
      • Fortunately, most kid’s books have small portions of text, so making a text big and spacious is great! This was a no-brainer. Moving on to the friendly text, which I didn’t do for this book, but will for a different book: using a font that is dyslexic friendly. Normally what that means, is the bottom of a letter is a lot heavier than the top of the letter, in a way anchoring the letters so that letters don’t move around town. This also includes spacing the distance between words in conjunction to each other.
  •  misc.
    • This doesn’t exactly have much to do with ebooks, but I wanted to point out the importance of ‘ease of navigation’ for a user. This includes navigation from page to page or where audio listening buttons are placed, and the such.
Now, you might be wondering, why didn’t I just use Adobe Illustrator, which has a feature and capability to create interactive ePubs? It’s an expensive monthly subscription and since it was only one book, it wasn’t worth it. AND, I wanted to test out the Amazon and iTunes platforms (as well as Smashwords and Draft2Digital), to understand my options.

Here’s a video of me documenting my experience:.

On ePub3 Interactive.

If you have no idea what ePUB 3 or ePUB Interactive means, let me give you a summary. Software used to create ePUB 3 allow ebooks to be interactive (some people call it an interactive ePUB), but most of it can be done in Adobe InDesign and then converted into the ePUB formatting for ebooks to be distributed in iBooks, Amazon, etc. Also, one of the leaders in accessible ebook management is DAISY, and they offer free testing opportunities for ePUBs in their ACE program for accessibility features. Here’s a link that explains this process in more detail: http://www.daisy.org/daisypedia/using-adobe-indesign-create-accessible-epub-3-files (some of these are outdated, so just make sure you’re reading the most up to date info). For all ePUB InDesign tutorials and information, definitely start out with this video (2011) by Anne-Marie Concepción.

Accessible Ebook Formatting on Amazon.

This was the most unpleasant experience. I used the Kid Creator software on Amazon for creating kids ebooks for Kindle. First, you have to create an account on their KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) site and then install the Kid Creator software on your computer. Then, you upload an entire file as one PDF (I did this; the file I used for my print PDF file, which was a huge no-no because the formatting is just off), or you can upload separate pages–I recommend this option (this way you can have the best page sizes). Even though Amazon is pretty flexible on what size you upload, keep it in the range of what a normal ebook would be formatted as. There was no alt-text options for text or audio integration, but there was a Pop-Up Text option, so when someone clicked onto an image or word, a pop up of your new text would pop-up. I explored this option as an alternative to alt-text, but then decided to switch into the HTML page and put the alt-text coding in that way–I have no idea if that worked. Also, there is something Amazon has that allows for “Text-to-Speech,” but I have no clue how that worked either, so Amazon automatically chose, “not enabled” after I published the ebook. There’s a bit more, but I’ll let you check out the video above.
This choice was not a great one for creating accessible kids ebooks.

Accessible Ebook on iTunes.

iTunes (for iBooks), has a bit of a learning curve and requires a Mac. But, it’s got many great features and options that I highly recommend. Additionally, they have some great ways to create the ebook interactive with different gadgets and what not, outside of adding audio and video into the ebook. I only did the audio and video add-ons, but would be willing to test out their interactive options as well. They have great image description (alt-text) for pages and cover art, and a modern platform (Amazon looks a bit outdated and 90’s feeling). Remember, the text should come as a separate layer and should not be part of the page, so because I already did that, I used audio to read the text and alt-text to make up for my unawareness. I found this video to be helpful for starters.
This is the best option for creating an accessible kids book.

Accessible Ebook on Smashwords and Draft2Digital.

You might be wondering what about ebook distributors? I spent a few hours on Microsoft Word and Scrivener to comply with the Smashwords guidelines, but there was nothing. Best case scenario is having an image (you can’t really control how it’s positioned), and text above or below the image. No alt-text or anything else is available. Funny enough, I somehow found a magic button in Word for image description, but I was told that any accessible features in Word would be lost when converted into the ebook through a distributor, like Draft2Digital.
This is not an option at all for accessible kids ebooks, but if you got an ePub3, then yes, upload the file and your ebook will be everywhere!

So, is it worth it making a kids ebook accessible?

That depends on your goal and what audience you’d like to reach. If you’re doing it all yourself and not looking to sell or market to a bunch of people, you can opt out. But if you want to have good inclusion practices, do take the time to learn how to make your products accessible to as many people as possible. It really should be second nature and once you understand the process, it’ll be easier, and you’ll offer many ways for different people to enjoy the book.

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