So easy it’s downright hard…
Producing and publishing an ebook has never been easier, and it’s inexpensive. In fact, compared to traditional printed book production, ebooks require so little effort that some self-publishing pundits are advising new authors not to bother with paper at all. But there is still a market for printed books, and ebooks are not necessarily taking it away. Ideally, any author-publisher would want to offer a book on every platform there is, also including audiobook and multimedia. But consider that, among the hundreds of thousands of new titles that appear every year, offering paper as well as electronic can be a market discriminator.
The Key Difference
From a production standpoint, the key difference between paper books and ebooks is that the pages of paper books are static and those of ebooks are dynamic. In traditional print publishing, a book designer controls elements of appearance such as fonts, letterspacing, line breaks, justification, and a lot more to precisely control the look of the page. But those factors matter much less in ebook design. That’s because, for the most part, ebook text is reflowable. That is, ebook software in the device fits the text to the varying dimensions of different displays. Users can also change the size of type to suit their personal preferences. It’s therefore not possible to “design the page.” (A notable exception is Adobe PDF format, which captures the look of the printed page exactly. Although this preserves the aesthetics of the book design, the PDF version may be difficult to read on devices that have small displays, such as smartphones.)
Kindle vs. EPUB (and All the Rest)
The two principal ebook formats are Kindle and EPUB. Kindle is the proprietary format of Amazon. EPUB is an open format used by Nook and many library distribution systems. Although there is a variety of competing formats, such as Sony Reader, these have receded in importance over time. Adobe PDF is a third major choice. Because of its static page design, PDF is a good format for illustrated books such as technical manuals and children’s stories.
Following the logic of being available on all possible platforms, it would seem that producing a book in multiple ebook formats would be a good plan. However, through its program called Kindle Select, Amazon has provided strong marketing incentives for publishers to release in Kindle exclusively. If you want to try Kindle Select, do it before you release in EPUB. If at first you release in EPUB as well as Kindle and later decide to opt for Kindle Select, you might not be eligible for Amazon’s exclusive program. That’s because some EPUB listings may persist online despite your efforts to remove them. Amazon’s search engine will check and will drop you from the program if it finds competing versions.
The predominant distributors of Kindle and EPUB are Amazon and SmashWords, respectively. Each site provides conversion, upload, and distribution services. An emerging ebook distributor for both EPUB and Kindle is PublishDrive, which claims a wider network worldwide.
Conversion software for both EPUB and Kindle is readily available online and free. For either type of conversion, the input format will be a Microsoft Word file. An intermediate step may be to save the Word file in HTML format. Both EPUB and Kindle are based on HTML. Consult the tools and guides below for specific instructions on preparing your Word manuscript for the conversion process.
EPUB Publishing Tools
PublishDrive will convert for a fee
Vellum is an excellent conversion tool for Mac
SmashWords online conversion tool
Sigil conversion software
Calibre conversion software and ebook management
Kindle Publishing Tools
Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon KDP) online portal
Kindle Previewer (Amazon) software
Kindle Kids Book Creator (Amazon) software. Converts PDF version of a print book to PDF for Kindle. Not just for children’s books but for any illustrated text that relies on tight page layout. The tradeoff is that this format creates very large files and, therefore, relatively long download times for the user. Download time can be part of the Amazon ebook pricing formula and can be particularly significant in foreign markets.
EPUB Production Guides
SmashWords Style Guide by Mark Coker
Kindle Production Guides
From Word to Kindle by Aaron Shepard
HTML Fixes for Kindle by Aaron Shepard
CreateSpace & Kindle by Rick Smith
Kindle Formatting Bible by Tom Corson-Knowles
Formatting of Kindle Books by Charles Spender