Ebook formats and the unnecessary fuss

There’s an awful lot of confusion and kerfuffle going on at the moment around ebooks. It’s not new, as the kerfuffle has been kerfuffling for a while now. And I’m sure it will continue. The primary concern seems to be people panicking about getting their books (be they author, indie author, publisher or whatever) out in as many selling venues as possible. There’s the iPhone and the iPad, the Kindle and the Kobo, the Sony Reader and a million other options. Then there are all the various ebook formats.

ebook-readersWell, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a fuss about nothing. Supply and demand is a great leveller. People that produce a product, the successful people at least, are keen to remove customer confusion. Often they let the customers do it for themselves. That’s happening with the retailers.

At its most basic, an ebook is not very different to a print book. When you produce a dead tree book you have to get all your content correctly laid out in your chosen program. The real pros use InDesign or something like that, but you honestly can produce professional looking books with MS Word and Adobe Acrobat these days. You make sure you set your styles right, you get your layout and font the way you want it, you add in your page numbers and headers by section and so on. I’m not here to explain all that stuff right now – it’s pretty easy to learn.

Once you’ve made yourself a text block for a print book, you’ve already got an ebook. You take your print edition text block and you remove all the page numbers, headers, sections and everything else. There are numerous other options open to you, like embedded images and videos, hyperlink references, a hyperlinked Table Of Contents and a variety of font styles, but essentially all you need is the print file with all the page-relevant data removed. Again, there are numerous “How To” files and sites out there to help you with that stuff. But that’s not really the primary cause of concern. It seems to me that a lot of people are stressed about getting their ebook available on all the popular devices and in all the popular formats.

Ladies and gents, don’t stress about it. All those product makers out there would have you believe you need to jump through hoops for them. Not true. Jump through a couple of well chosen hoops and all the rest will fall into place.

Let’s start with the big names and the current poster children: Amazon, Kindle, iPhone and iPad. Very easy. Go to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform or DTP. Here it is. Sign up and follow the instructions to upload your text block. Wait for approval. Now your book is available directly from Amazon wirelessly to anyone with a Kindle reader. And an iPhone or iPad, because those people can get the Kindle app for their device. Bloody gold, these app developers. (If you think of something and the thought, “There should be an app for that!” goes through your head, then there almost certainly is one already. If not, you might have just had a million dollar idea.)

iphone-ipadSo you don’t need to be a web developer to make an iPad app of your book. You don’t need to pay other people hundreds or thousands of dollars to do it for you. Sure, it would be great to have an iPad app built specifically for each of your books, but you don’t need them. People will still read your book if you make them aware of it, catch their interest and then direct them to a place to buy it from, be it a standalone app or a file for their Stanza or Kindle app.

You don’t want to use Amazon? No problem. I’ve extolled the virtues of Smashwords.com here before. They are a truly great ebook publisher and retailer. You can upload your book to them as a Word document (as long as you follow their Style Guide to the letter, which isn’t hard) and they’ll make your ebook for you in every format you’ll ever need. Including .mobi, which people with Kindles can read. And epub, for the iPhone and iPad. And they’ll distribute out to numerous well respected ebook retailers around the world. It’s bloody child’s play.

There are ways to make all kinds of versions for all kinds of readers and have a really swanky looking selection of ebooks. But people that are keen to read your book will read your book. If they have a certain reader and you direct them to the correct file type, that’s it. With Amazon and Smashwords, you’ve got all you need.

Of course, if you’re all protective and believe in DRM (Digital Rights Management) then you won’t want to use Smashwords, but you can enable DRM on the Amazon DTP and still have Kindle editions available to all Kindle owners and anyone else with a Kindle app. For nothing. In no time. And you can set your price and make a royalty.

See. It’s bloody easy. Chill out.

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2 thoughts on “Ebook formats and the unnecessary fuss

  1. You make it sound amazingly easy, even easier than using Lulu.com sounds.

    So I’m wondering why small publishers don’t make more use of it. At the worldcon in Melbourne one publisher said that the formatting was all too difficult.

  2. It is easy. Like anything else, it’s just a case of learning the ropes. A lot of publishers are getting on board – any that don’t will be left behind.

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