Publishing a Book with Sphinx

Mon 08 April 2019 by Moshe Zadka

A while ago, I decided I wanted to self-publish a book on improving your Python skills. It was supposed to be short, sweet, and fairly inexpensive.

The journey was a success, but had some interesting twists along the way.

From the beginning, I knew what technology I wanted to write the book with: Sphinx. This was because I knew that I can use Sphinx to create something reasonable: I have previously ported my "Calculus 101" book to Sphinx, and I have written other small things in it. Sphinx uses ReStructuredText, which I am most familiar with.

I decided I wanted to publish as PDF (for self-printers or others who find it convenient), as browser-ready HTML directory, and as an ePub.

The tox environments I created are: epub builds the ePub, html builds the browser-ready HTML, and pdf builds the PDF.

Initially, the epub environment created a "singlehtml", and I used Calibre command-line utility to transform it into an ePub. This made for a prettier ePub than the one sphinx creates: it had a much nicer cover, which is what most book reading applications use as an icon. However, that rendered poorly on (AKA iBooks).

One of the projects I still plan to tackle is how to improve the look of the rendered ePub, and add a custom cover image.

Finally, a script runs all the relevant tox environments, and then packs everything into a zip file. This is the zip file I upload to Gumroad, so that people can buy it.

I have tried to use other sellers, but Gumroad was the one with the easiest store creation. In order to test my store, even before the book was ready, I created a simple "Python cheat-sheet" poster, and put it on my store.

I then asked friends to buy it, as well as trying to do it myself. After it all worked, I refunded all the test-run purchases, of course!

Refunding on Gumroad is a pleasant process, which means that if people buy the book, and are unhappy with it, I am happy to refund their money.

(Thanks to Glyph Lefkowitz for his feedback on an earlier draft. All mistakes that remain are my responsibility.)