On Making eBooks

(Please note I am holding off on my big review of Lulu.com as I have some special distribution options and services pending, and I want to wait until those are done before doing a full, comprehensive review).

After realizing that eBooks meant I could distribute more of my books to people cheaper, after realizing the geek-fan-otaku readers of this blog probably were big on ebooks, I decided it was time to turn Fan To Pro into an eBook.  Looking back I wonder why I waited so long to do it.

Now I've been predicating for the last year that the complexities of eBook markets were going to be confusing for small publishers, indie writers, and the like.  So, let me state it simply – yes, it's confusing.  Sure, I did it, but it wasn't as easy as I'd thought.

Here's what taking my book to an eBook took:

Obviously I'd go with Lulu.com, right?  Well, not so fast.  There were a variety of options:

In a desire to apparently increase my suffering, I began investigating this during the launch of the iPad and the iBookstore.  So I had to back up and figure out just who could get me in there as well.

I settled on Lulu.com because they were a known quantity and I'd really been pleased with the experience of physically publishing a book.  They also had worked out an iBookstore distribution deal, so I stayed with them.

Welcome to the nightmare.

I'd decided on a publisher/distributor.  Next up was format – which led to many more decisions.

First, I had to decide which format or formats to use.  The obvious ones that just about everyone uses were PDF and ePub.  PDF is, of course, Adobes well known publishing format to create documents that look the same everywhere.  ePub is a universal format, based on XML, and used in many readers and reading devices – but it's more browserlike, reformatting sizes and flow to fit your needs.

I decided on both.  PDF was universal enough and good looking enough that I decided to do a PDF release.  ePub was universal and open, and the format used by iBookstore and others.

First, I made a PDF version.  This was easy as I had Microsoft Word on my Mac, which converts to PDFs rather nice.  However, there were still some formatting issues because a PDF being read on a screen is a different experience than a book – you see it one page at a time.  I had to remove some blank pages and formatting that worked in the flow of a book, but not in a PDF.

Then there was ePub.

ePub is an evolving standard, publishers and reader applications have different standards and approaches to using it, and there's no standard tool.  You can buy Adobe InDesign, which is supposedly the best program to do ePub, but it's pricey.

Me, I went with several freeware programs and various document conversions.  Thus I would try saving my book as HTML, or RTF, or txt.  I'd import it into various applications:

  • Calibre – Calibre is a great conversion and reader tool that converts, saves, and displays eBooks of various formats.  It has some surprisingly complex conversion functions that let you extract Tables of COntents, etc.  However it doesn't seem to produce ePub files that are very standard.
  • Sigil– Has less options, but is an actual editor for ePub files, and once you get used to it, it works pretty decently. Its ePub files are much stricter in following stanradrs – but not perfect
  • Microsoft Word, Mac TextEditor, and TextWrangler – mostly for converting my book to other formats to feed into the above programs.

Depending on what features I wanted to keep, at times I had to pass files of various formats through many different programs.  The final version I published passed through four different applications on it's way to an ePub file.

ePub books are a lot more like webpages, so I had to tear out a lot of specific formatting that only worked in PDF.  ePub can handle some complex designs, but as the book wasn't that complex design-wise, and I wanted it readable under different scales, fonts, etc. I siplified the book.

At this time it's still not compliant enough for iBookstore, so I'm actually purchasing a Lulu service for ideal standard conversion.

So let me be frank, doing ePub was a nightmare.  I did it, but right now it's incredibly hard to do.  As this is THE format for eBooks . . . well if you want to publish them, you're going to need to learn about it or find someone to do the conversions for you.

I'm sure it will be easier in the future.  It isn't now.

Digital Rights Management.  That extra additions to your eBooks to limit how people can share and use them.

I thought, briefly, about DRM, then basically gave up on it.  It's treating my readers like thieves.  It's clunky.  It's unreliable.  It drives up the price.

I figure I'll rely on my readers to make sure I get paid for my books.

So finally, up on Lulu.com, are my PDF and ePub versions of the book.  At some point in the future, I'll be updating the ePub version with a new file and trying to get it into the iBookstore.

Was it worth it?  Well frankly yes:

  • I learned a lot and I could share it.
  • A few days after putting them up I had my first eBook sale.

However it was not easy.  eBook publishing is still in its infancy, and is constantly changing.  The tools available are at times limited.  You have to research and test things carefully, trying out your eBooks on various platforms.

For an independent author, a self-publisher, it's quite an effort.  I can see it even discouraging people.

If you want to be published, if you want to voyage into doing eBooks, I'm sure you can do it.  It's just going to take work, research, and keeping up on trends.

On the plus side, having the book in eBook format suddenly opened my eyes to the world of ePublishing.  I learned a lot about people reading eBooks and their tools, and I saw how passionate many were about eBooks.  I learned about pricing and profits and how eBooks were paying off for authors.  I am now much more passionate about eBooks.

I do see ePublishing as not just a change, but a promise of cheaper, faster distribution, not so much replacing print books but complimenting them.  If you're going to publish, be aware of ePublishing.

Just be warned, right now the journey to eBook is kind of bumpy.

– Steven Savage