Ebooks: To Link or Not?


A reasonably common question I see on various Kindle publishing related forums is about the use of hyperlinks in the book.  It’s easy to include them, and for non-fiction books, it’s possible to link to a great deal of useful information outside of the book itself.  What’s not to like?  Well, several things:

  • The Kindle’s browser is not very fast.
  • Your readers may not even be somewhere where they can connect to the internet – on an airplane for instance.
  • It’s distracting to fire up the browser and go visit an external web page.

One easy way around this problem is to add your links in footnotes in the book, or perhaps a notes/references section at the back of the book.  This way, your users still get the value of your links, but don’t get interrupted from the flow of your book.

Another bit of advice: since your book may be sold for years to come, try and link to content that’s going to be there a few years from now, at the same address.  Things like Wikipedia, government, or university sites likely are in this category, whereas someone’s Myspace page probably isn’t something you can count on existing in the same form a few years in the future (anyone remember Geocities?).

Automating The Kindle Formatting Process


Many industries start out with people hand-crafting something, which is an image we all like: the master craftsman hunched over, perfecting his creation bit by bit, lovingly creating one piece at a time, built just right for each customer.

Unfortunately, the economic reality is that producing things that way is very expensive and only available to those who are comparatively very wealthy.  The fact that we can all afford things like cars and computers is because they are mass produced.

LiberWriter aims to do the same thing for Kindle authoring and conversion services: rather than charge a lot of money and do one file at a time, we’re putting together the tools that work best, in order  to reliably repeat the process at a lower price and maintain high standards for quality.

Perhaps that doesn’t sound as romantic as the “master craftsman” approach, but rest assured that we’re putting all the craftsmanship and ingenuity we can into creating the tools that compose LiberWriter itself, in order to make it quick, pleasant and above all, friendly.  Rather than dealing with XML files and regular expressions and whatnot, we put a friendly face on the process, and of course are available to give you a hand when you get stuck.  Just because we aim to bring high quality tools to the masses doesn’t mean we don’t have friendly, personalized customer service!

And of course, where human creativity and individuality matter, there’s no substitute.  That’s what writing is all about, isn’t it?  We are doing our best to give you the tools to concentrate on your writing without worrying about “the details”.

Self-Publishing The Incremental Way


In the past, printing a book looked like this:

Luckily, it’s a lot easier these days, especially with ebook publishing.  Obviously, the economics are quite different: to set up a print run of a book like that in the video requires a large team of people, many resources, and expensive machinery.  To set up a new ebook for sale, it costs a few pennies worth of storage space on a server, which can be easily recouped by the publisher’s percentage of sales.

In trying to learn more about my customers for LiberWriter, I’ve been reading several internet forums where self-publishers congregate, and a common question that seems to come up is how to do the “complete” self publishing thing: both print and ebooks.

With the incredible growth of ebooks lately, to me that seems like the wrong approach.  Having a run of your books printed involves a lot of “sunk costs” for something you’re not sure will sell well.  Even print on demand costs a bit more to get set up, especially if you want your book to look nice.  Ebooks, on the other hand, are all about content – they all look pretty much the same on a device like the Kindle, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have someone to do a beautiful layout for you.  Your only sunk costs are going to be tools, a cover, and some editing, which you’d need for a printed book in any case.

This suggests a strategy: why not publish your book using an “incremental” strategy?  Get it out there as an ebook – it’s faster and cheaper.  Then start concentrate on marketing it, and seeing how much interest there is.  If sales are going well, then invest the time in getting set up to have it printed.  If you’re not selling a lot, go back and work more on your marketing, and avoid, in the meantime, the costs involved in a print version.  In this way, you spend money only when it’s needed, not in anticipation of demand for your book that you’re not sure will materialize.

Wilkommen – Kindle Auf Deutsch


Here’s an interesting bit of news: Amazon is launching the Kindle in Germany:


There has been something of a divide in the past, where the US, and UK have seen Amazon rise to prominence with the Kindle and its mobi format, whereas in continental Europe, the epub format and a variety of readers have been more popular. It’ll be interesting to see if Amazon can make some inroads into this space.  The article states the keyboard and user interface are still in English, so it’s likely more of an early sortie rather than a full on invasion.

In any case, the Kindle is a great way for people to get ahold of less popular English books in a place like Germany, where shipping them might take more time and money.  Some stores may carry a limited selection of English books, but they tend to either be light reading for airplanes or classics for students of English, and maybe a few best sellers.

Kindle Formatting – Keep It Simple!


One of the first things I learned when doing my research on producing content for the Kindle is that the best strategy is simplicity.

At 600×800 pixels, the Kindle 3 screen is not large, and its formatting engine is fairly simple.  You can forget all those fancy CSS tricks you’ve learned to make your web site beautiful.

In a way, though, I think this is good: the important thing is to focus on the content, and not get worried about the details of how it’s displayed.  If your writing is engaging, the page or screen fades away, leaving the reader directly connected with your words.

Consider also that the world of digital publishing is not static: once you publish your paperback, it’s out there and won’t change.  On the other hand, the Kindle allows the user to change:

  • The font size
  • The typeface
  • The line spacing
  • Words per line

And even the screen orientation – although I don’t know why you’d want to read with the screen held “sideways”.  Furthermore, the Kindle is just one of many ways that people can read Kindle content.  There are programs for Windows and Mac, and of course iOs (iPhone and iPad) and the collection of Android mobile devices.  These have a diverse range of screen capabilities, so something that might work perfectly on one would look ugly and out of place on another.

With LiberWriter, we do our best to encourage this: the toolbar includes just a few formatting tools, but even better, has a small button that lets you hide the toolbar completely, leaving you a mostly blank screen where you can simply concentrate on your writing.  In the end, compelling writing is what will make the difference with your work.  Formatting things nicely can be fun, but ultimately it’s a distraction from the process of taking the thoughts in your mind and organizing them into a written work.

The LiberWriter Story So Far


Living in Italy, obtaining books in English has always been an expensive and/or slow process.  I decided to get myself a Kindle last fall to see what the experience is like, and, in short, I fell in love with it – I never lack for things to read any more!

In any event, while looking around at various things for the Kindle, I bumped into the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program, and started wondering about publishing a few things of my own.  I don’t consider myself a very good writer, but having lived in Italy on and off over the years, think I have a few interesting things to recount, regarding my experiences and observations here.

Investigating the technical requirements for Kindle publishing revealed that the process is not very simple and straightforward.  There are a lot of tips and tricks necessary to get the formatting just right – stuff you see missing even in professionally done Kindle versions of books.

Being a programmer, I started thinking to myself that I could build a simple system to make things easier, and to take some of the drudgery out of the whole process.  I mean, if I find it a bit of a pain in the neck to go poking around in various XML and HTML files, what are things like for someone who simply has a story to tell, and doesn’t know their XPATH from their anchor tags?

Working nights and weekends, I’ve gradually been improving what I named LiberWriter over the past months, and I’m proud to say that it’s already attracting satisfied customers!