Publishing paperback novels with an iPad

As a writer, the iPad is already my perfect computer.

As a novelist who self-publishes, though, there have always been a number of limitations on which parts of my job I can do solely on this device — but things have changed. As various third-party iPad apps have become available (and evolved), and as iPadOS itself has progressed to give a more desktop-level web experience in particular, there’s now very little that an iPad is locked out of.

For the first time, I can now create and publish novels — in both ebook and paperback formats — entirely on the iPad, from start to finish. And to prove it, I did just that.

I write novels and other fiction using Ulysses, which has feature parity between iPadOS, iOS, and macOS. Critically, each version allows the same full range of export formats, including the important ePub for ebooks, and PDF for creating print masters of paperback novels. Users can create export styles for each supported format, to tailor the output to their preferences.

Up until recently, I hadn’t found a particular export style that met my needs for typography and layout on paper. Almost two years ago, I created an ePub export style for Ulysses that produces beautiful ebook output, and last month I finally got around to making a corresponding PDF export style. I’ve now field-tested that export style with an actual print-on-demand paperback, and the output lives up to my expectations.

During this year so far, I’ve released three ebook volumes of an anthology of very short stories, entitled Once Upon A Time. These tales originate as weekly newsletters for those kind people who signed up for my site’s membership programme. Members receive an email every Monday morning, and while it’s sometimes an essay, it’s often a brief story. To test my Ulysses paperback output, I decided to create a unified collection of all three volumes in a single printed book, with a few bonus tales besides.

Once Upon A Time cover and spine

This project was conceived of and executed over a period of about a week, not including the lead time for obtaining print proofs. Because of that tight schedule, I took a shot at designing my own cover, and again I stayed entirely on the iPad. Affinity Photo is my tool of choice, and it’s an amazing app. I created the front cover and also the full print wraparound (back, spine, front) using it, and exported that master file for printing. No other computers were used at any time.

(If you’re using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing print-on-demand service, as I did, you can generate a custom PDF or PNG template tailored to your trim size, page count, and paper stock — which will automatically include the correct spine width so you don’t need to calculate it.)

A big change this year is that KDP’s online proofing tool now works in Safari on iPadOS, getting rid of (I think) the last thing I really needed a conventional computer for when publishing. You should also, of course, always order a print proof to check everything before approving the book for sale.

Here’s how my Gemmell Novel paperback export style looks in the real world, in the form of the Once Upon A Time complete collection. It’s 450 pages of beautiful, Palatino-set, tactile micro-fiction to intrigue and transport.

Title page

Chapter page

Author info page

Copyright and dedication

Here’s a screenshot of Ulysses’ internal export preview for Gemmell Novel, allowing you to flip through exactly what the printed output will look like.

Ulysses export preview

And here’s my wraparound cover master in Affinity Photo. Fully layered and editable, with the only bitmap being the background photography. It’s a 3420 x 2475 file at 300dpi with a few dozen layers, and the iPad Pro handles it without so much as blinking.

Affinity Photo cover wraparound file

This is the final book, in its actual retail form. I also have the print proof copy in my office; I keep those for all of my books too, as mementoes.

Once Upon A Time paperback front cover

Once Upon A Time paperback back cover

With only an iPad and two very affordable apps, you can readily write, edit, design, and publish not just ebook versions of novels, but also lovely trade paperbacks. The same PDF created by my Ulysses export style will also work great for IngramSpark and so on. There’s no longer any barrier to getting shelf-ready books from an iPad.

If you’d like to support my writing and related work, you can take a look at my other books, and if you’d be interested in a collection of 60 mini-tales of horror, sci-fi, the supernatural, and more, you can get Once Upon A Time on, Amazon UK, or your local Amazon site.

Thanks for reading.