An ebook conversion primer

Dear author friends (& soon-to-be authors),

I want to share a less fortunate situation I see some authors getting themselves into. If you let another company publish your eBook under their account, you are going to be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to succeeding in the era of eBooks. If you let another company publish your eBook under their account, you are not actually self-publishing. True self-publishing means you as the author are the publisher. You work directly with the marketplaces that sell your book, you buy directly from the printers who print your books. The beauty of self-publishing is that you retain 100% of your profits and purchase your books at the lowest possible price (no markup, no middle man).

Here’s WHY you should avoid letting anyone else publish your work under their accounts on the major eBook marketplaces:

If you ever want to setup the title under your own account (after it’s already been setup on another account), you will lose your ranking and reviews. This is because the marketplaces can’t simply transfer a title from one account to another. Instead, the title would have to be unpublished under the old account, and then setup as a new title on the new account. Amazon won’t transfer the reviews to your new listing and you have to start over working your way back up the sales rankings (which does take into account your cumulative sales).

If you want to participate in programs like KDP select – you need to be able to ‘unpublish’ your work on all the other marketplaces you might setup on (only for the duration you choose to participate in KDP Select). This is easy to do if you are the account holder, but impossible to do if you are not. This is one of the many reasons I’m not a fan of the shotgun approach of publishing your eBook in every marketplace under the sun.

One of the keys to being a successful eBook author is in being able to fine tune your listing. This entails updating your description, trying different keywords, changing categories, testing different price points, etc.. All which requires that you have direct access to make these tweaks whenever you want.

I’m not going to call out any of these companies by name, but the bottom line is that there are many different business models out there, and you need to be fully informed before you enter into an engagement. Some companies are charging an annual fee as well as fees anytime you want to update your listings. None of the marketplaces I recommend you publish to charge any fees whatsoever (they don’t have to because they get a % of every sale). Bottom line is that you should be self-publishing your eBook. Which means you as the author/publisher get paid directly by Amazon, BN, Apple, Google, Kobo, or any other reputable marketplace that sells your eBook.

What if your book has already been published in print with a traditional publisher?

If so, there’s a chance the contract you have with your publisher makes no mention of eBooks. If that’s the case, then it would be in your best interest to self-publish your eBook edition before the publisher does. If you wait, and the publisher will likely eventually publish it as an eBook on your behalf, and you will not have any easy time republishing it under your own account. Amazon won’t allow a title to be published as eBook more than once. If this as occurred, as I mentioned above – the only option is that you convince your publisher to unpublish the eBook so you can publish it under your own account. Your ability to do this will vary depending on the contract you have in place with your existing publisher. But many of the contracts were written long before eBooks existed, so there’s a good chance you own the rights to do this yourself. But if you hesitate too long, and the publisher does publish your eBook, you may be hard pressed to get the rights to self-publish it. Please note: Every contract and situation will be different, and by no means am I providing any legal advice whatsoever – you need to protect yourself and be sure you aren’t violating any terms with your existing publisher. You should try to get a letter from the publisher that they are rescinding any rights of the eBook edition. Amazon may ask you to provide written proof that you have the rights if they see the print edition was published under a different publisher. I’ve worked with many authors who had no problem getting the publisher to furnish this document. Sometimes all you have to do is ask!

Wondering what work is involved to properly do an ebook conversion?

For the purposes of this article, consider the following: epub refers to any format of epublishing – whether it be mobi for Kindle,  epub for iPad, or epub for any other device.  Incidentally: a mobi file is built on the same foundation of epub file – just a few minor tweaks are required by the Kindle. Both are compressed files that take up little space.  The eReader expands (ie. unzips) the files every time you open a new eBook on your eReader.

While there are very few rules in print layout (other than margins and printer’s requirements which vary), there are many rules in epub layout. Epub is built on HTML standards because all eReaders are essentially stripped down web browsers programmed to display html pages. Thus, some knowledge of html is helpful to get predictable results.

There’s generally a 12 step process involved in doing an ebook conversion, no matter what techniques or tools you use, and at a fundamental level, they all involve the following steps.

Depending on the book and type of file provided, some of these steps may be eliminated, thus the time it takes (& thus the price to do the work) to do a proper ebook conversion will always vary if there’s a proof stage involved.  I mention this because the high volume, low cost conversion shops won’t give the author a digital proof – you will be stuck with whatever they produce for you.   An attention to detail (& understanding of the language of the book you are converting) is paramount.

Here’s the process we go through when we receive a new book file from an author to convert it to a ready-to-publish digital file format. Following a brief consultation with the author regarding possible layout and sequence changes to improve the ebook reader’s experience, we:

1. Strip out any headers/footers/endnotes/footnotes
2. Extract all the raw text from the file (usually a pdf or word doc)
3. Reformat all the content using html to mirror the styles in print (ie. bold, italic, font size, underlines, titles, etc..)
4. Recreate bulleted lists & numbered lists (to be html compatible)
5. Reinsert & hyperlink all endnotes/footnotes
6. Recreate tables or clip them as images from a PDF version
7. Create a metadata file that provides eReaders with information about the book, publisher, & author
8. Format the cover (to fit the full screen of an eReader)
9. Clip & reinsert images or forms (sometimes images will have to be reformatted)
10. Create a hyperlinked table of contents to each chapter and accessible in the navigation function of the eReader
11. Convert html to the epub & mobi formats and validate the file with the ePub checker.
12. Test on each device and make any necessary corrections and deliver a ready-to-publish file to the author.

After the file is delivered, we provide step-by-step tutorials to help the author/publisher upload their books to each of the major marketplaces.

There are variety of tools that can be used to work through the process, and those of us who do this work will favor tools we are comfortable with.

Having an understanding of how html works will help you understand why something looks the way it does on an eReader. Just as a webpage will look different on different browsers, an ebook file (remember, it’s essentially a webpage) will look different on different eReaders.  The best thing we can do is stick with the basic rules of html that are compatible with all ebook readers.

Many authors hire us after they’ve already spent many frustrating hours trying to get their book looking they way they intended it to.  And the vast majority of our business is through referrals, which is why we make sure every author is pleased with the results we produce for them.

Just like anything else, the final result will reflect the experience of the person doing to work.   Because your ebook will be a permanent edition of your book that will never go out of print (and outlive all of us), you owe it to your future readers to have it done right.  When I think about the lifetime royalties that’ll be earned from an authors ebook, spending a little extra to have it done right seems like a smart investment.

If you do want to do this work yourself, you should at least consider using our template. It has been refined through the process of literally hundreds of conversions and testing with each device. I guarantee you’ll get much better results than you would without it.  One of the most recent examples of someone who used our template to create a truly beautiful ebook is Will Craig, who published Date with Destiny: Living the Hero’s Journey on Kindle.

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