Ebook Workflow Guide: In-house Production of Born-Accessible Ebooks

To prepare a book for conversion with accessibility in mind, follow the steps outlined in this Ebook Workflow Guide: In-house Production of Born-Accessible Ebooks (note that using Microsoft Word and InDesign for manuscript and design/typesetting workflows is a prerequisite) — it’s a straightforward way to kickstart the accessibility of your forthcoming file.

  • Subject(s):

    Ebook Production

  • Resource Type(s):

    Standards and Best Practices, Step-by-Step

  • Audience:


Suggested Prerequisite

Before reading this, you might want to read:

Step-by-Step: Producing Accessible Ebooks

Creating clean, sophisticated, and accessible ebooks in-house might seem a little daunting at first, but it’s not that difficult if you and your team are armed with the right information at the start. With a little practice, it can even become a seamless part of your book production workflow. There are lots of little things you can do to set up a book file for success.

The Manuscript


Microsoft Word is the industry standard for both authors and publishers when it comes to writing, reviewing, and editing manuscripts so this is the program we focus on.

When working in a Word document, the most important thing you can do to help kick-start accessibility — whether you outsource any aspect of the production process or do it all in-house — is to use Word’s built-in Styles to tag all of the elements in the manuscript. If you use Word’s Styles to tag headings, block quotes, lists, different forms of emphasis, for example, the document inherently begins to have structural navigation and semantic styling. Then, when that styled text is imported into InDesign (the most commonly used program for layout and design), the styles you used in Word can be easily mapped to the correct HTML markup.

As a publisher, you probably already have a house style guide for authors and editors working in Word that includes guidance on style preferences for setting em and en dashes and ellipses, for example, as well as removing extra spaces. So the best way to add accessibility to your workflow at manuscript stage is to include directions for using Word Styles in your guidelines. For example:

The easiest way to integrate Word’s Styles into your workflow is to create a Styles template that can be imported into every Word document. Then the Styles can be implemented by the person of your choosing (usually an editor or someone who understands the structure of the manuscript) as the book moves through the early stages of production. The best person to do the styling will be different at every publishing house, but the earlier accessibility is incorporated into the workflow, the better.

Download the Word Template

Need a Word template to start with? We’ve got you covered.

Image Descriptions

The other key aspect to consider as early as possible in manuscript production is image descriptions. Image descriptions should be written by someone who is familiar with the subject or the content of the manuscript. The descriptions can be included either directly in the manuscript or in a separate document or spreadsheet — whatever works best for your workflow.

It’s important to have the image descriptions prepared before the manuscript is ready for copy editing, as they should be edited along with the rest of the manuscript.

For detailed information about how to write image descriptions, who should write them, how to review them, and more, visit the “Image Descriptions” area of the website.

Design & Layout

Once the book is ready for design and layout (again, we are assuming in Indesign as it’s the industry standard), the use of Word’s Styles makes it easy to ensure that, ultimately, the text is correctly mapped to the HTML markup when the EPUB file is exported.

When you import text from a Word document into an InDesign document, the Word Styles used will appear in the Character Styles and Paragraph Styles menus/panes. The appearance of the text will undoubtedly need some formatting (when it comes to design, the world is your oyster).

Screenshot: Where to find "edit all export tags"
[Alt-text:Screenshot showing where to find “edit all export tags, off of paragraph styles menu”]

To get the correct HTML tags assigned to their corresponding Paragraph and Character Styles, take the following steps:

  1. Open up the “Edit All Export Tags” menu, which can be accessed through any of the Style Sheet panes.
  2. When the “Edit All Export Tags“ menu is open, you can either select the HTML style from the dropdown, as shown in the screenshot, or you can type them in if they do not appear in the dropdown.
    screenshot: Edit All Export Tags menu
  3. The next step is to ensure that all images have image descriptions (as noted earlier, alt-text should be written by this stage). To ensure that alt-text is embedded into the image and exported along with the EPUB, you need to add a description to each image. First, right click on the figure and then select “Object Export Options.” This will open a dialogue box where you can enter the alt-text:

Screenshot: InDesign's alt-text dialogue

In the alt-text tab, select “Custom” for the alt-text source. Then, enter your alt-text into the field below. Click “Done,” and you’re set.

Table of Contents

It is very important to have a complete and accurate Table of Contents that a reading system can present to the reader in a format that is understandable and navigable.

The steps below will help you do that (there are quite a few steps, but it isn’t as complicated as it looks).

In InDesign, the ebook’s Table of Contents (TOC) is created from the heading structure that you created when you set up your Paragraph Styles. Before carrying out the steps below, you need to establish Paragraph Styles for the elements in your document that will be used to create your TOC, such as Chapter Titles, Subtitles, and the title for the TOC itself (such as “Table of Contents” or “Contents”) before continuing with these steps. Refer to the “Styles” section, above, for more information on correctly implementing Paragraph Styles. Properly structured and tagged headings will produce a TOC in the code of the file that is navigable in the code of the book.

You will also need to create separate Styles for the TOC Chapter Titles, Subtitles, etc., that will be applied to the TOC after it is created. These will be used for the TOC that is presented visually within the body of the book. You might name these “TOC Chapter Heading-post” and “TOC Subtitle Heading-post.”  This step is included below. Note that these particular Paragraph Styles should NOT have a specific tag applied. 

Note: There is a step below that explains how and where to enter a TOC Title. This does not have to be done in the body of the document.

Setting up your Table of Contents
  1. Go to “Layout” on the top menu.
  2. Click “Table of Contents.”
  3. In the “Table of Contents,” give your TOC a title; for example, it can simply be “Table of Contents” or “List of Figures,” etc.
  4. To the right, under “Style,” choose the Paragraph Style you created previously for your TOC title (not the “TOC Chapter Heading-post”) by clicking on the arrow on the right of the “Style” box.
  5. Below that you will see the “Style in Table of Contents” pane.  On the right side of that pane, under “Other Styles,” you will see the list of your heading styles.
  6. One by one, select each Paragraph Style you created for the TOC elements, and then click the “Add” button. Make sure that the headings for the different levels of the TOC cascade properly and are in the appropriate hierarchical order. For example, “Chapter Title” (h1) appears first for top-level content, followed by “Subtitle” (h2), followed by lower-level section headings, which should have been given h3, h4, etc., tags.
    Note: The Styles you created for use after creating the TOC (the “Post” tags) are listed here. No action is needed on these Styles until the last step (Step 12, below).
  7. Next, one at a time, highlight each Paragraph Style listed under “Include Paragraph Styles.”
  8. Then, with that style highlighted, just below in the “Entry Style” field, select the same (matching) Paragraph Style name.  Do this for each style on the list above.
  9. Below that, you will see a “Page Number” field (note: you may need to click “More Options” to enable this), where you can choose whether to place numbers before or after the elements in your TOC, or to not have numbers at all. Make this choice for each style, just after you have carried out Step 8, above.
  10. Under “Options,” just below the “Page Number” field, check the “Make text anchor in source paragraph” option. This will ensure that your TOC items are hyperlinks, so readers can click on them to be taken directly to that section of the book.
  11. Click “OK” to exit the “Table of Contents Styles” window.
  12. Place your TOC into the document:
    1. You will now see a text cursor that is loaded with your TOC. Click on a newly created page (which you can add even when the cursor is loaded) or on a point in the document where you want to place your TOC.  You will now see your new TOC.
    2. The last step is to apply the appropriate tags to each items in the new TOC; for example, the “TOC Chapter Title-post”  tag to the Chapter Titles in the TOC. You can do this by selecting each separate line of text (e.g., “Chapter 1”), and then, via the Paragraph Styles pane, click on the style to apply it.

Your document and your TOC should now be in good shape to export to EPUB.

When you have styles that are mapped to HTML tags, embedded alt-text, and your TOC in place, the .INDD file that you export to EPUB will have incorporated a lot of accessibility features already.

Next Steps


InDesign to EPUB Course

1.0 Making Ebooks with InDesign – Introduction

Learn how to make ebooks with InDesign with this step-by-step guide from Laura Brady.

Subject(s): InDesign to EPUB
Resource Type(s): Step-by-Step

Final Quality Assurance (QA) Pass

Quality Assurance of Completed Ebooks

Once your ebook has been created, it is time to do a quality assurance check for accessibility. This resource contains both simplified and advanced checklists to help you review your ebooks.

Subject(s): Ebook Production
Resource Type(s): Checklist

External Links to More Information

EPUB Accessibility Using InDesign

This course on LinkedIn Learning by Laura Brady covers how to use InDesign to make ebooks that are as accessible as possible. Items covered include separating style and content, navigation and structure, and image descriptions. Page lists and the Ace Accessibility checker are also covered.

Adobe InDesign Best Practices

This page discusses how to format elements of an EPUB in InDesign to get the most accessible code when exporting a book inEPUB 3. It also mentions areas where InDesign does not provide the needed markup which must be added afterwards.

Leveraging InDesign for Accessible EPUB Creation

This is an archive of a webinar from 2020 that discusses ways to make an accessible EPUB with InDesign. It demonstrates how styles can give good semantics when exported to EPUB, and includes techniques for ensuring images with their alt text appear as intended. It is still necessary to do some editing of an EPUB file after exporting from InDesign.

Using InDesign Tool to Develop an Accessible Interactive EPUB 3: A Case Study

This paper from 2019 discusses an evaluation of how well InDesign supports accessibility in EPUB files. The study found that basic accessibility is supported, but the file must be edited with other software to add accessibility markup not included by InDesign.

Content source acknowledgement:

LinkedIn Learning: EPUB Accessibility Using InDesign

AccessiblePublishing.ca: Adobe InDesign Best Practices