The person who creates or converts your EPUB document needs to have the following skills to perform professional and polished work:
1) Strict guarantee of quality – No invoice should be sent until the customer is totally satisfied with the finished product. Being asked to pay up front for ePub conversion is a red flag. Most other types of contracting services do not ask for payment until the work is finished. An ePub converter who does top quality work would have no worries about getting paid only after the client is totally satisfied with the work. Directly ask when the ePub converter expects to get paid. The answer should be, in every case, “Only when you are totally satisfied with the work and all changes are completed.” Why accept anything less?
2) Outstanding HTML design skills – An ePub is a mini web site complete with pages of XHTML, a cascading style sheet, and a folder containing images or links to them. Would you pay someone to build your web site if they didn’t have expert knowledge of HTML and CSS? Sure not. You also should not hire a non-expert in HTML and CSS to build your mini web site, that is, your ePub document. Ask if the ePub converter knows how to build an ePub in an HTML editor like Dreamweaver or Expression Web. Also ask what ePub editor the ePub designer uses. Any decent ePub designer will be totally at home with at least one ePub editor, such as Sigil. Another red flag here is the ePub editor that only knows how to create an ePub in Adobe InDesign. Adobe InDesign has a number of limitations that require the ePub designer to get under the hood and tinker directly with HTML and CSS. A person who is not a solid HTML design person cannot do a good job at ePub creation.
3) Deep CSS design skills – Ditto for CSS skills. All formatting in an ePub document is controlled by a cascading style sheet, just like a competently designed web site. You definitely want to see demonstrated HTML and CSS skill before you let anyone work on your ePub.
4) Graphic design skills (preferably with Photoshop) – All images going into an ePub needed to be sized properly, sharpened, and have the resolution set at between 72 dpi and 150 dpi. 150 dpi is the most common resolution. Photoshop is the basic tool for this type of graphic work. You probably won’t have your images looking as good as they should if your ePub converter is not facile with Photoshop. Ask if the person owns and uses Photoshop. If that person states that they don’t have this basic tool of graphic design, he or she probably can’t do the work on your images that needs to be done.
5) Strong working knowledge of an EPUB editor such as Sigil – I can’t remember ever creating an ePub that I did not have to considerable tweeking afterwards with Sigil. If an ePub converter cannot claim to be skilled with an ePub editor, you should not even consider using that person to convert your book to ePub. This is an absolutely essential skill in ePub design.
6) Solid working knowledge of EPUB validation – Any ePub sent to an online book store must be validated. Ask the ePub converter what validation is. The answer should be that validation is the process to ensure that the ePub conforms to the latest ePub standards. Ask how the ePub converter will perform the validation and provide you with verification that the validation was completed.
7) Accessibility – Your ePub converter should always return emails within a day, without exception. Ask if you can expect this. Also, ensure that the ePub conversion work is not being farmed out. Every ePub that I have ever created for a client has been totally customized work that would not have been possible if the client did not have regular access to me through email.
8) Their own self-published works – If an ePub converter has never successfully self-published anything on Amazon Kindle, he or she does not have a complete picture of what is happening. There are a number of formatting items specific to Kindle that an ePub designer has to be aware of. I learned quite a bit from self-publishing all of my book on Amazon Kindle and also as hard copy print-on-demand books on Amazon. Ultimately that is where you want your books to be. Hire someone to do your ePub who has been there, done that.
9) A short turn-around time – It should not take more than a few days to have an ePub created and validated. You will probably need a few more days to go back and forth with final changes and corrections.
10) A reasonable price – I generally charge around $150 per conversion, unless there is a lot of extra work involved, such as substantial image processing or unusual formatting. If you are paying less than $100, you are probably not getting competent work done. You definitely get what you pay for if you use price as the most important deciding factor in the selection of an ePub designer. A bargain rate ePub will probably have to be redone completely somewhere else. I have several clients who went through that before they came to me. If an ePub converter is asking more than $250 and your manuscript does not have any unusual difficulty, the price is too high.
If you ensure that you are dealing with a fair and competent ePub designer from the start, you are very likely to get a finished product that you will be proud to sell under your name.