All self-publishing authors should consider producing e-book versions of their work. In fact, there's a good argument to say that you should regard the e-book as the primary format these days. But how do you go about creating the e-book? Here's how we do it at WebVivant Press.
The first question to ask yourself is, which e-book formats are you going to target? For my money, the main contenders are:
ePub: This is emerging as a standard. The format is open source. In fact, it's basically a bunch of HTML files with XML wrappers neatly gathered in a zip file. Sony has now adopted this as the main format for its e-book readers, and most other e-readers can handle ePub. It's possible to wrap DRM around the file or leave it DRM-free. We've adopted this as the main format for WebVivant Press.
Kindle: Amazon's e-reader doesn't support ePub. It uses Amazon's AZW format, which is essentially the Mobipocket .mobi format with DRM added. The current generations of the Kindle can also read PRC, plain-text and (in a still somewhat limited fashion) PDF files. Not making your book available for the Kindle would be somewhat short-sighted, whatever impact Apple's tablet computer, and its inevitable emulators, might have on the Kindle's future.
PDF: Most e-readers can handle PDFs, as can all desktop and laptops PCs. However, PDFs are so easy to create, it's not worth considering PDF as a primary format - target one of the others and then crank out a PDF too.
There are other formats, including plain text, Word and RTF, but these are the most important.
How to publish
Next, let's consider how you publish your e-book. There are two aspects to this: 1) Creating the e-book file itself; and 2) Making it available to the buying public, handling orders etc.
You can create your own e-book file and make it available for download from your site. We're investigating this for WebVivant Press, using Google Checkout for handling orders. In the meantime, we've decided to use three services.
Lulu: Our print books are produced via Lulu, so it makes sense to use the company for e-books too.
Smashwords: This service creates e-book files in a variety of formats, including ePub, .mobi, PDF and others. The service is free but the company takes a cut of sales. It is setting up deals with all kinds of outlets and distribution channels, provides easy ways of creating coupons, allowing you to make special offers on your books, and generally seems like a vibrant company.
Amazon Digital Text Platform (DTP): This is the service that allows you to create e-books for the Kindle. The downside of this service is that it's very US-oriented. If you live outside the US, the only payment option is cheque (or check, if you're American). Quite why Amazon can't pay we Europeans by bank transfer, the way Google does, is beyond me.
Designing the workflow
All of these services allow you to upload your book as a Word or RTF file. So, problem sorted. Except that that doesn't quite fit with our workflow.
With our first book, Lady Caine, we used a Word file to upload to Lulu. (My experiences with RTF over the years haven't been entirely happy. So RTF plays no part in this post. If you have experiences using RTF files, I'd be happy to hear about them.) But there were problems.
Although I used Lulu's own template for the page size we'd chosen, the text reflowed slightly, causing widows and orphans. It may have been a font issue, or the fact that the Word file was created from OpenOffice (more of which later). Either way, it was annoying. Besides which, word processor software isn't ideal for laying out books.
Our preference, then, and the method we use now, is to layout the print version using Adobe InDesign. This gives us much finer control over the appearance of the book. And from InDesign, we can easily create PDF and ePub versions. In fact, the ePub versions produced this way are superior to those we get from Word files, as we'll see in Part 2. Lulu accepts ePub files for its e-book service, so we can use the same InDesign file for the print version, the Lulu e-book and PDF.
But this doesn't get around the fact that we'll still need the book as a Word file for Smashwords and Amazon DTP. Maintaining two versions is a pain - late changes have to be made to both copies. But so far I haven't found a better solution. We've alleviated that issue to some degree by adopting the following workflow:
- We flow the copy into a Word template which has a large number of paragraph and character styles for all sections of the book.
- We edit the copy, add hyperlinks, add special copy including: title page; copyright page; author bio; WebVivant Press page. In other words, the copy is absolutely complete except for a contents page.
- We carefully proofread the book, at least twice. When we're happy with it, we save the file with '_FINAL' added to the filename. This is the text that will appear in the book. Only essential changes are made after this point.
- We make a final check to ensure the file is technically compatible with the various e-book services.
- This Word file is used to create e-book versions at Smashwords and Amazon DTP.
- We flow the text from the Word file into an InDesign template. This template has paragraph and character styles that match those in the Word template.
- We add a contents page (for non-fiction books) to the InDesign version. We may make some minor design tweaks, but generally the design is taken care of by the template's style settings.
- We output from the InDesign file as PDF for the print and PDF versions and as ePub for the Lulu e-book version.
In Part 2, we'll look at some of the issues you might encounter when creating your e-book.