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Friday, September 2, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Introduction

This series will eventually become an ebook I'll make available for sale once we complete the chapters and I can make time to edit them. If you appreciate my efforts and find them useful, please consider a donation (top, right) to aid the continued work on this book. Thank you.

As of this writing, it is obvious that ebooks will, at some point in the near future, overtake the sale of physical books. The trend accelerated during 2010, and all indications are that the movement has sped up to a road-runner pace during 2011. Publishers have been scrambling to lock down ebook rights on old contracts, while authors who retain those rights, have realized their old backlist is a new gold mine of potential income. More and more readers are buying ereaders like Amazon's Kindle, and Barnes and Noble's Nook, and the expectations for the future look bright for anyone who has hopped onto the ebook train.

In short, any author who doesn't factor in ebook sales as significant for years to come has their head in the sand. Whether you are a new author preparing your first book, or an established author who wants to get their backlist into circulation, ebooks provide an excellent mode to publish your work.

The new author might ask, "I can see the advantage of an established author getting their backlist out, but how can this help a new author?"

As a new author, you can put your work out for the public to evaluate before you sink any money into creating a physical book to sell. No money? Correct, because I'm going to show you how to create an ebook in several formats without spending any money. Not only that, but also how to do it so you end up with a professional product. In many cases, your ebook will look better formatted than many traditional publishers, simply because they often take their print file and create an ebook from it without any modifications.

But once you get your story out as an ebook, you will tend to get feedback on it. Maybe someone finds a typo on page 25, or notices that you didn't have your police acting like real police. Unlike a physical book, an ebook is easily fixed and the new copy uploaded. In traditional print runs, you're stuck with several thousand books containing those errors. No redo on those. And even with "Print on Demand" (POD) books, there is usually a fee associated with changing the text once you've said it was ready. But you can fix an ebook easily, and upload the new version within a day or two at no additional cost.

Once your content is published in an ebook, you can gauge how well it is selling to justify creating the print book, and earn the money to do it. If there are problems with the ebook selling, you can either fix it before going to print, or decide the content won't sell well and save yourself the expense of putting out a book that might lay dormant forever.

"What if I want to be published by one of the big publishers? Will putting out an ebook prevent that?"

Only if your story isn't ready. Sales will show whether what you have is enticing to a publisher. But publishers are willing to publish a published ebook that is selling. What a big publisher offers that isn't easy for an indie publisher in today's market is getting onto bookstore shelves. But the chances of even a good book getting traditionally published are slim unless you already have a following. Having an ebook out that is selling well indicates you have that appeal and a following that a bigger publisher can leverage.

But if your ebook tanks, then it gives you opportunity to learn so you can write the next book better. Why did it tank? Did you skimp on the editing and/or proofreading? Was the story full of typos and grammar mistakes? Did the story meander in the backwoods before getting going and need trimming? Did the characters come across as stereotypes and unnatural?

An author is rarely the best person to spot these types of problems. An editor or good friend who knows how to edit can assist you with getting the story into shape. A good proofreader can help spot typos and grammar mistakes that need fixing. The last thing you want is someone to download your sample and find three or five typos in the first chapter.

But these are the types of things you can discover, and work on each time you write. Then when your book starts selling better, you'll know you're improving. An ebook can be a no-cost way of finding out if what you've got is something a publisher would be interested in. Because what a publisher is most interested in is whether your book will sell or not. If they see decent ebook sales, they very well could conclude that they can market that book.

And no, a publisher of a novel is not always interested in first print rights like a magazine would be for a short story. Two different things. First, print rights for short stories in magazines are important because the magazine wants to publish original work, generally. That's because a short story can be resold several times to different magazines. Some magazines will accept reprints, but usually they'd much rather be the first to print a short story.

Why? Because that is what sells magazines. If I see a story I've read before in another magazine, I'm not as likely to buy a copy of that magazine. Those who follow an author are the most likely to buy a magazine containing his or her story. So the first time it comes out, most of their followers will read it there. All those readers are not likely to buy the next magazine that carries the same story, so a magazine knows if they want to sell the most copies, they need to have a story from an author that the author's fan base has never seen before.

But the opposite happens with novels and publishers. The audience a big publisher can reach isn't one that a self-publishing author will likely reach. An indie author can take years to hit the same audience that a big publisher can potentially create in months. So a publisher knows that there are a lot of people out there who are not fans of the author, but would become so if they read the book. So they conclude they can make money with a book with a proven track record. But it will never get that track record sitting on your hard drive, waiting for an agent or publisher to say, "Okay, we'll take a chance on a new, unproven, writer." It happens, but not frequently. The publishing slots in the big publishers are so few and the competition is so high, even a good manuscript will struggle to catch a publishing slot.

So there are advantages to authors, both established and as-of-yet unpublished, to consider putting some of their work out on ebook. "But what about having someone create the ebook for you?" I can hear you asking.

There are plenty of people willing to do that. Some for a fee, some agents are getting into the publishing business via that route as well, taking a percentage of the profits, or there are publishers that primarily or only publish ebooks, giving the author a royalty, maybe even a small advance. So there are routes you can go to do this other than self-publish, and leave the ebook creation and distribution in the hands of others. For some authors, that may be the route to go.

So why self-publish your ebooks? One, it isn't that hard. I'm going to take you step-by-step through the process of creating the source files and the final product for the EPUB, MOBI/PRC, and PDF formats. If you don't know what those are, don't worry. We will be going through them one at a time. We will also go over creating the covers. This includes a learning curve, but time well spent. Once you have the steps down, you'll wonder why you ever feared doing it yourself.

But the big reason you should learn to create your own ebooks is you get to keep 100% of the royalties, and you get to keep 100% of the rights. Any cost you incur, or percentage cuts you hand over, and contracts you sign, will net you less money and can restrict what you can do with your ebook, even if you're not careful, what you can do with your other titles you create and your career.

Since it's not rocket science to learn how to do this, and the benefit is you keep all your rights and money, the time to learn the steps is more than worth the benefits you'll receive. But if this still doesn't sound appealing, chances are you picked up this book by mistake. I'm assuming if you are reading a book titled, "How to Make an Ebook," that you have already decided to be open to the idea, if not ready to dive right in.

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, here are a few things you will want to keep in mind about ebooks. First, a PDF differs significantly from the EPUB and MOBI formats. PDF stands for Portable Document Format and was created by Adobe. It has the benefit of looking most like a book in its display, and can handle graphics in books easier than the other two formats. It can have page numbers and retain the print format of the paper version. But because of these benefits, it is best for viewing on a computer screen, or at least a tablet like the IPad. When displayed on a smaller screen, like a cell phone, the text becomes too small to read comfortably. Zooming in means the reader has to scan the page back and forth to read it. However, I have a method of creating PDF documents that not only makes them easier to read on a computer screen, but makes it possible to view on a small screen as well.

But the other two formats, EPUB (a universal format which can be read on most computers, Apple and Android tablets, including the Nook, and cell phones as well as Blackberry) and MOBI/PRC (the format associated primarily with Kindle ereaders, but readable on a few other devices). These three formats account for the bulk of ebook sales.

Another format that is used is PDB, which refers to the old Palm format. It is used, but not nearly as widely as it used to be. That said, it has one of the best reading applications for the PC computer out there. If I'm going to read on my computer, that format is my preferred method. The program can be found at the site. This format can create a very good ebook, but unless you are willing to spend some money to buy software that will create it for you, the free route gets pretty complicated. Plus, it requires the use of MS Word, which if you don't have it, cost money. I will include the instructions for that format in my appendix for those brave souls who wish to indulge themselves. But since it only accounts for around 20% of online sales, and Smashwords can create a version of it for download if someone wants it, I'm not going to go into the details in the main part of the book.

Note, there are some conversions to PDB on a couple of the programs I'll be using (Open Office Writer and Calibre). However, neither has produced a correctly formatted PDB file. Experiment with them if you wish, but they don't tend to retain chapter heading formatting or create a table of contents. If you're fine with that, then have at it.

The advantages of the EPUB and MOBI over the PDF involves what the PDF can't do: flow text. In these formats, the words will flow into whatever the reading device's screen allows. The user has the option to make the words bigger or smaller, as well as other formatting options. What this means is page numbers become meaningless. What might be page 50 on an IPad, becomes page 225 on a cell phone, and page 95 on a Kindle. What page text falls on all depends on how much screen space the ereader has and how big the font size is. Consequently, for these formats, we'll be getting rid of the page numbers that are traditionally used in a print book, and can be in a PDF format ebook.

The downside is a book with graphics doesn't usually display well on many devices. A graphic that is 300 pixels wide might look fine on a computer screen or a tablet, but only show the left third of the picture on a cell phone. I had one such ebook, published by a traditional publisher, that had this problem. The original book had graphics for some charts and certain lists. I'm sure it looked fine in the paperback, but on my cell phone, we couldn't see most of it. So if you're using graphics, you want to make sure they are no bigger than around 100 pixels wide. If you don't know what a pixel is, hold that question. We'll get to that when we go over preparing your source file.

But the upside to these formats is it makes reading a book on most any device doable. While one will have to flip the page more frequently on a cell phone screen, the book is just as readable on that screen as it will be on a Kindle or one's PC computer.

One other note before we start off. In many cases, there are multiple routes to accomplish a given task. You may have a favorite program you like to use or a method that you feel works better than the one I'm showing you. Cool. If it works for you, no skin off my back. But in order to keep things as uncomplicated as possible, I'm going to focus on one set of programs and methods that have worked best for me. I think most people will be able to obtain the programs and use them. When I say to use one program to convert to an EPUB, that doesn't mean there aren't other free sites out there which can do the same thing. In all these cases, I don't have anything to do with the owners of these programs I'm recommending, don't know them, have no financial interest in their success. I'm only mentioning them because I've used them and they work for me. I don't want to take up pages describing how to accomplish one result with multiple programs. If you use other programs, you're on your own applying the basic concepts presented here as it would work in that program.

There is one exception to this, however. As we go, you will see I recommend using Open Office Writer. That is in large part because Open Office Writer is free, and MS Word is not. And I did sub-title this book that we would be using only free software. So I will be focusing on how to do this in Open Office Writer. But because so many people have MS Word, and there are points where MS Word makes the process simpler, I will also be giving instructions about how to accomplish these task in Word. If you don't have Word and don't want to go buy it, I will be showing how to accomplish everything in Open Office. But if you have Word or want to buy it, I'll include steps for that program as well.

Ready? Set? Alright, let's go!

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