The Difference Between Print Books and eBooks

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Everyone is familiar with how paper books look – we’ve grown up with them, and they’ve been around for hundreds of years.  Ebooks, on the other hand, are new territory, and often do not behave the same way that paper books do.  A lot of people aren’t entirely sure about how a paper book translates into an eBook, and – quite naturally – make assumptions based on what they’re familiar with.  Sometimes that’s a little bit wrong, and in a few cases, it’s very wide of the mark.

Pages

The biggest difference is that when you lay out a print book, you know exactly how much space there is on each page.  You know that it’s a paperback, or a hardbound book.  You know what kind of binding the book has.  You probably even know the kind of paper it’ll be printed on.  This allows you to lay out the text just so, and make any images large enough to look right, add sideboxes, tables, charts, or whatever else you want, and do so very precisely.

Ebooks are not like that.  You don’t know what kind of device your reader will be using. It could be any one of the devices shown below.  Color or black and white?  A small phone screen or a big PC screen?  eInk or LCD?  There are all kinds of variables!  On top of that, most eReading applications allow your reader to choose things like the line spacing, font size, and even the font – which is why you shouldn’t (and mostly can’t) force your choices for those on the reader.  For some people, this is a godsend: my former elementary school teacher commented that she could finally read a wide range of books again on the Kindle thanks to the possibility to set a very large font size that’s easier on her eyes.

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On the above devices, how can you tell how much “one page” of text is?  It changes from device to device!

All of this means that, in some ways, your book is a lot more like a web page that readers page through than a book with clearly delineated pages.

Layout

It also means that your book is better off if content is linear with one thing following the next.  Elements like sidebars don’t work very well – think about trying to have a sidebar and text side by side on a mobile phone screen!  We have another post explaining how to make content linear: “The One Thing about Kindle Formatting” .

Footnotes

Another thing that often needs explaining are footnotes.  If you don’t have pages, you can’t put things at the bottom of them.  eBooks use hyperlinks, so rather than footnotes, we use endnotes, which work pretty well.  The reader can easily click on the link to the footnote, read it, and then hop back to the main text.

Starting Location

Print books, obviously, are opened from the front and then you flip through things like the copyright page more or less quickly, depending on your curiosity, to get to the actual contents.  eBooks traditionally start at the actual contents themselves, which would typically be the introduction, or first chapter.  This confuses a lot of people, who are used to print books.  But it’s what people reading eBooks are getting used to, so we recommend sticking with what most (but not all) books do and starting where your content starts.  Most people have already seen the cover while buying your book, and they can easily go back and view that or other front matter if they wish to do so.  Don’t force them to.

Back Cover

Kindle books don’t have back covers.  You should definitely invest in making a nice front cover for your book, as that will be displayed on Amazon when people are looking around at books to buy, but a back cover does not figure in the eBook world.   Print books have back covers that people see when they pick up the book and look at it, so they end up being fairly important in the sales process.  But eBooks, if they have a back cover at all, would likely only have one in an out-of-the-way place that would only be seen by people who actually buy the book.  Here is some more information on eBook covers: https://blog.liberwriter.com/2013/02/26/kindle-book-covers-what-you-should-know/

Index

While a hyperlinked table of contents is part and parcel of a professionally formatted eBook, an index is a different matter, and rarely included.  One reason is that eBooks are very easy to search.  Type in “Venice” and your reading device will come up with a list of all mentions of the word Venice in the book you’re reading.  A good index does more than point to all instances of a word – it points to the most important mentions of the word.  In any event, though, given the ease of search in eBooks, and the cost of going through by hand and creating a hyperlinked index, it’s generally omitted, even from books from major publishers.

If this all sounds a bit negative, I don’t think it is – it means that you, as an author, can concentrate on your writing, and not worry too much about the formatting.  One of the very positive aspects of the relatively simple state of formatting for Kindles, for instance, is that your book, formatted by LiberWriter – or even on your own if you take the time to learn how to do it – is going to look just as good as those published by a big publishing house, because even if they wanted to shower money on making the book look “fancy”, there’s just not that much they can do.  That’s a big point in favor of self-published authors!

Are those prices for real?

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“You should raise your prices – after you’re done with my book, of course!” is not the kind of thing you hear every day running a business, but we’ve had a couple of our customers tell us this.  High quality work and low prices continue to stand out as the two things that make our customers the happiest.  I view the second, in particular, as a challenge: for a programmer with many years of experience, the technical details of getting an eBook right are manageable.  The trick is how to do so, including providing good customer support, at a price that’s reasonable.

Amazon’s KDP is opening up self-publishing to many who might not have considered it.  Rather than spend a lot of money and time with a “vanity” publisher, people can just go directly to Amazon with their work, and if it sells, great!  But since “there’s no such thing as a sure thing”, if it doesn’t go well, it’s better to keep your costs contained.  You can always learn from what went wrong, and try again – edit the book some, improve your marketing skills, and, very importantly, write more.  That said, putting a minimum of effort into your books is likely to pay off: make sure the formatting is ok, make sure that the most glaring of errors are edited out, and make sure you have a nice cover image.  We come into the picture with formatting and cover images: we take your Word file, and produce a high quality .mobi file.   Indeed, I think we meet or exceed the standards of many big publishers’ ebooks, but as the saying goes, we don’t want to “forget to dance with the one that brung you”, and in that case, it’s all of you who are just getting into this self-publishing thing.  For those of you who are making money writing, our low prices are just an added benefit.

But how do we do it?  Mostly by means of programming to automate the process as much as possible, so that the people doing the conversion for each book can concentrate on what people are good at, and leave the boring stuff to the computer.  We have a process for managing your book from start to finish, so that we are efficient in our use of time.  There are tools to clean up all the garbage that MS Word leaves in many files, there are tools to help correct common formatting mistakes, and tools to help create a hyperlinked table of contents.  On the customer support side, we have a “progress tracker” for every book where our customers and conversion experts can leave comments and ask questions.

Does our automated process leave any room to customize your book? Of course!  We don’t add too much in the way of “frills”, since there aren’t that many things that can be done to a book destined for a wide range of reading devices in any event, but we can certainly work with you to personalize your book.

Interested in giving us a try?  Our prices and “get started” page is here: http://www.liberwriter.com/pricing

Kindle Book “Covers” – What You Should Know

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Your book’s “cover” is the first thing that jumps out at people when it’s displayed on a web page with a bunch of other books.  It is absolutely critical that it do a good job of grabbing people’s attention.

Yes, of course, we offer cover design services, but to be radically honest, while we think we offer great cover design at good prices, there are a lot of talented designers out there, so pretty much everything below is going to apply to them as well.  I’m just writing it to help educate people about what goes into the production of a cover.

First of all, a “cover” for a Kindle book really isn’t a cover at all.  It’s a flat image that will be displayed on various web pages – most likely as a thumbnail, but also in a larger format if the user wants to have a look.  This means it’s important for the image to work as a thumbnail in order to attract attention.  Another thing that follows from the cover not being an actual physical cover is that there is no spine, and no back cover.

In a bookstore, when a book interests you enough to pick it up, you might glance at the cover, then at the back, then start looking inside.  Therefore, for print books, not only does the front of the cover have to be good, but the back must be designed correctly too, with a catchy quote or blurb that captures the reader’s attention and makes them want to spend more time with the book.  On the web, none of this happens: readers who want to know more click on your book, and an Amazon page pops up with all kinds of information about the book: blurbs, author bio, reviews, and so on.  This information takes the place of the back cover.  In many ways, this is a positive development: you have fewer expenses in terms of what you need to design, and your books’ page likely has a lot more space on it than the back cover of a book ever would.  Including a ‘back cover’ image in an eBook is a bit tricky.  Stash it at the very back of the book, and virtually no one will ever see it!  You could always put it somewhere after the title page, but most likely it’s going to be a bit awkward there.  We recommend simply not including it in an eBook.

Besides not needing a spine and back cover, another thing working in your favor in terms of costs is that for an eBook cover, you can get by with lower resolution, which translates (especially in terms of things like stock photography) to lower costs.  However, do keep in mind that if you ever want to do a print version of your book, you should discuss this with your cover designer so that they can keep that in mind when creating your cover.

What dimensions should you use?  It used to be that anything over 600×800 pixels was ok, but with screen resolution improving all the time, that’s not big enough any more.  These days, Amazon are recommending:

For best quality, your image would be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A2J0TRG6OPX0VM

Of course, you don’t want too large an image, as that may cause your book to be larger to download, which may end up costing you a portion of your earnings.

The cover image should be in color, but should also look ok in grayscale, for those viewing it on their eInk Kindles.

As to what imagery and typography makes for a good cover… that’s a long and involved discussion for another post.  Suffice it to say that a good designer will be able to help you create something that’s appropriate for your book.  The important thing, from my point of view is to stand out from the competition, and to make people curious to learn more about your book.  Naturally, you want to also come across as professional.

In conclusion, here are some questions we ask potential customers in order to help them think about what kind of cover they’d like:

  • What is your book about, and who is your intended audience?
  • Do you have any images (photos, logos, illustrations) that you would like to include on the cover? If you do not have an image yet, you can describe what you have in mind and we will locate several for you to choose from. Istockphoto.com is a source we work with often.
  • What text would you like to include on the cover? Any particular font or font style that you have in mind?
  • What are you envisioning as the overall look/feel/mood of the cover? The more detailed you are in your description, the more easier it will be to turn your ideas into reality. If there are examples of other cover designs that you especially like or dislike, that can also be very helpful.
  • Do you intend to use the cover for a print book as well, or is it going to be exclusively an eBook?
  • And, finally, what deadlines and timeframe do you have for this project, so we can be sure to get everything done in time?

Successful eBook Publishing: The Complete How-to Guide for Creating and Launching Your Amazon Kindle eBook

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Good customers are extremely important to getting a new business off the ground.  When I was pushing LiberWriter along the runway as fast as I could, I was fortunate to happen on David Wogahn as one of our early customers.  Patient, and full of great feedback, he’s exactly the kind of person you want as a beta tester.

Now that LiberWriter is more firmly established, having produced hundreds of books, we’re in a position to do David a good turn by giving his latest book some attention.  Of course, his book, being about the eBook publishing process, has an interview with me, which never hurts in terms of getting our attention!

There are a lot of people selling “snake oil” to all those yearning to see their book succeed as an eBook, but David’s book is the real deal, emphasizing the work you will need to put in to create and market your book.  He goes through all the steps to properly put together a professional looking eBook, and how to get out and start marketing it.

The book is available for purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009VPQOAA/?tag=dedasys-20

For the next day or so, the book is actually free through Amazon’s Kindle Select program, so you can give it a try without even taking a risk.

Formatting a Cookbook / Recipes for the Kindle

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Formatting books for the Kindle ranges from easy novels to more difficult assignments like textbooks, which still don’t work terribly well on such a small screen with limited formatting capabilities.

Cookbooks are somewhere in the middle, but still something that does work fairly well on the Kindle.  Here are some of our tips and tricks for how to format them.  This advice is for the LiberWriter system, but should be applicable to anyone working with HTML to format their book.

Like everything else on the Kindle, you want to keep things “linear”, so that the text flows.  If you try and lay things out with tables, you’ll get frustrated, and it probably won’t come out looking very good.  Paragraphs separated by spaces, or a bullet list are good for ingredient lists.

So, for recipes, just lay things out one bit after another:

  1. Start off with the name of the recipe.  This is something that will be linked in the table of contents, so make it interesting so people will stop to look at it.  In LiberWriter, use a chapter or subsection, and if you use the latter, be sure to put a page break before it.  The chapter and subsection buttons format the heading in a certain way, and also ensure that it will appear in the table of contetns.
  2. List the ingredients.  Rather than using “fancy” characters like ½, you can simply write 1/2.  While the former will probably work on most readers, the latter is guaranteed to.
  3. Add the directions.  In order to ensure that each line ends where you want, you can push control and return together to make a line break, rather than a new paragraph.

Fairly easy.  Let’s go through an example from The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe :

Continue reading

The “One Thing” About Kindle Formatting

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In this clip from City Slickers, Jack Palance, as Curly, talks about the “one thing” in life (with a bit of swearing, if that’s of any concern).  With Kindle formatting, there are many tips, tricks, pitfalls and things to learn, but there’s something of a “one thing” as well.

The “one thing” is that content should be linear.  Each thing follows the next vertically, and not horizontally.  Two columns?  Forget about it.  Wrap an image in text?  No.  You need to place the image between blocks of text, vertically.  Tables?  Only the simplest will work; anything more complex and you should look at ways of making the content work in a more linear fashion.

For instance, if you had a table like so:

Name Height (cm) Weight (kg)
Lance Armstrong 177 67
Alberto Contador 176 62
Eddy Merckx 180 71
Bernard Hinault 172 62

You could transform it to work like so:

Lance Armstrong
Weight: 67 kg
Height: 177cm

Alberto Contador
Weight: 62kg
Height: 176cm

… and so on.  Granted, a table is easier to use to quickly compare and contrast data with, and if you’re really desperate, you can always make an image of your table, but where possible, transforming it into one-thing-after-the-other is your best bet for easy formatting that will work everywhere with no hassles.

Bullet points, on the other hand, work fine, if you know what you’re doing, because they’re a linear element – one comes after the other.

Like Curly, at some point in the future this advice will probably shuffle off this mortal coil due to advances in ereader technology that allows fancier formatting, but for the time being, it’s a good rule of thumb.  And even in the future, we’ll still be faced with the problem of disparate reading devices from cell phones to PC monitors, so content that “flows” is always going to be superior to content that needs very rigid formatting.

Economics of Publishing – The Valley Floor?

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I have been reading Peter Meyers’ Breaking The Page and find it fascinating to see some of the ideas of how books may be “improved” in the future.  I have my own ideas about what could and should happen with eBooks, but he has clearly put a great deal of thought into it, and his free preview book is well worth reading.

Something that I find interesting though, is the economics of the particular moment we are in right now.  Once upon a time, publishing looked like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hBztGX-2i1M – a very time consuming and expensive process, to say the least. Self publishing back then was out of reach of anyone not independently wealthy.

In the future described by Meyers’ book, things will never be that expensive again, however, especially for certain kinds of books (reference books for instance), it may be possible to throw in all kinds of “extras” to make the books more useful and valuable for people.  That’s mostly a good thing, but it will likely cost more to produce those books. Even novels, which are currently the books that work the best on the Kindle and other dedicated eBook readers because of their nearly exclusive reliance on text, and linear structure, may have extras like timelines and character notes, even if they don’t go all in with videos, graphics, interactive charts and the like.

Compare that with Kindle formatting as it currently stands: at LiberWriter, we can format your book for just $50, and it will look as good as most books from the major publishers.  The open secret of eBook publishing right now is that there just isn’t that much leeway in what can be done with books, so the emphasis is mostly on making sure the important elements like a table of contents are in place, and not making any major mistakes.

That’s a pretty amazing state of affairs if you think about it.  Between formatting, a cover image, and some editing, it’s quite possible to put together a very professional looking book and publish it for several hundred dollars.  Put another way: given good writing, just several hundred dollars are the only thing between you and being pretty much indistinguishable from an eBook from a major publisher!  That’s very, very little, in the grand scheme of things.

The question is: will it last?  If it becomes possible to do more and more “fancy”  things with eBooks, production costs for the high end will go up, putting more distance between what the “pros” can afford, and what self-publishers can do without spending a lot of money.

What do you think?  Are we in a golden moment for self-publishers?