In March 2016, Google added EPUB (.epub) as a file export option to Google Docs on the web.
The EPUB format has some advantages over a file in Google Doc or PDF format. An EPUB file puts the reader in control of display options. With an EPUB document, a user allows the reader to adjust the font, font size, margins, and more. The text reformats and reflows. In practice, that means a middle-aged reader—like me—can make font sizes larger.A shared or published Google Doc doesn't offer the reader the same type of font control. In a shared Google Doc, the text font and size will be whatever the creator of the Google Doc selected. If you can edit the Google Doc, you can change the font and/or size, but when you do, you change text seen by everyone else, too.
A PDF doesn't solve the readability problem, either. When you export a file as a PDF, you preserve the page layout: Each page of a PDF looks the same on every device. Most PDFs display clearly on large screens. Yet, you may need to pinch-and-zoom to read a PDF on your phone.
The EPUB format works well with long, text-centric content that doesn't change frequently, such as textbooks, manuals, legal documents, books, and fiction.
Create your document
To export a Google Doc to an EPUB file from your web browser, choose File > Download as > EPUB Publication, then save your file.
In a long document, use headings and bookmarks to make it easier for a reader to jump to a specific section of text. For example, select some text (e.g. typically a main item, such as "Part One"), then choose Format > Paragraph Styles > Heading 1 (or, 2 through 6). Similarly, you can Insert > Bookmark anywhere in your Google Doc. Both options will mark a place in the document to which you can link.
Next, select text and press the link icon. You'll notice that you can link to any heading or bookmark within the document. Of course, you can also link to any web resource outside the document, as well.
Not everything in your Google Document will necessarily display in the exported EPUB document. For example, the table of contents I created didn't display in my exported EPUB document. (I created this with a combination of paragraph styles and the Insert > Table of contents option.)
Read your document
You'll need an EPUB reader to view your EPUB document.
Read your document with Google Play Books on the web, or in the Google Play Books app on Android or iOS devices. On your mobile device, open your file, tap the text, then choose the underlined "A" in the upper right to adjust the display options.
More complex needs?
The EPUB standard extends beyond just a single file. The format also allows you to create books with multiple chapters, images, and more. But, you can't create a multi-chapter EPUB document with a simple, single-document export from Google Docs.
SEE: 5 Google Drive tips you'll kick yourself for not knowing (TechRepublic)
To create a multi-chapter EPUB file from your browser (or Chromebook) you'll want to explore other services. Educators might look at ePubEditor, while authors might try Papyrus. Other services offer potential, but are still "in development," such as Reedsy and Writing Studio (built on WordPress). B.Art Development even offers an Online EPUB Generator that lets you create and download a multi-chapter file, but you can't save your work between sessions.
The next time you start to share a long document filled with unchanging text as a Google Doc or PDF with your team, try the "Export to EPUB" option. Put control of text display options back in the hands of your readers.
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Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.