For Indie authors who want to sell ebooks, it has become important to know about NCX files, which stands for Navigation Control for XML. This is especially important if your book is non-fiction and/or has important chapter titles and plans to be converted to epub format, which is the standard now used by Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook and many others. In fact some retailers, like Kobo, are now requiring these NCX files, and many retailers, like Apple and Barnes & Noble, could make them mandatory soon for Indie authors selling ebooks.
NCX files and linked Table of Contents (TOC) are very similar elements for adding navigation within the book. It’s easy to confuse the two. While it’s smart and common to find a TOC at the very beginning with hyperlinks that connect chapter titles to locations within an ebook, it’s also wise to do a similar thing with NCX files.
These NCX files are relatively new but quickly becoming mainstream. It’s really just a simple way of telling conversion software how to identify the TOC and create a user-friendly map or means of accessing that element quickly from anywhere within the book. For example, if you were reading somewhere in the middle of an ebook and instantly wanted to see the chapter headings, the NCX file will allow for that. If the ebook did not contain this file and only provided a TOC for navigation links, then the reader would have to go back to the beginning. Not a huge deal, of course, but the NCX file does make this a bit simplified.
So how do you create them? For Indie authors planning to upload with Smashwords, which is a great idea, it can be done by following the explanations given in the Smashwords Style Guide and is really quite simple. Basically, all that’s needed to create an NCX file is to list the chapter number and title in this fashion–Chapter 1: Example for the First Chapter. That would be the wording to go into the TOC as well as to begin the page title where the first chapter is located. Then each subsequent chapter number and title would follow in the same manner throughout the TOC and the ebook. This way, the software used for converting documents, like Microsoft Word into things like epub files, can easily recognize the intent and create a handy navigation guide for readers anywhere within an ebook.
Another way to create NCX files is with html coding for a document. There’s a nice Wikipedia article for EPUB that also has a section with examples for html coding that includes inserting the NCX file.
Of course for non-fiction and/or fiction with important chapter titles, you should also have a Table of Contents with hyperlinks to the actual places within the document. For authors still wanting to know more about creating a TOC, especially for Kindle ebooks, here is a previous post on adding linked TOCs.
And some books really don’t require this at all. My second novel, Jim’s Life, has such short chapters (and so many of them) there was never any need to title them or worry about a TOC or navigation. Maybe that’s true for your ebook too, and so this won’t be something to worry about, although for most Indie writers, the NCX file will be mandatory soon so we might as well get familiar with it.
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