Smartphones and E-books
Originally, e-books were considered the red headed stepchild of electronic publishing. It really occupied no man’s land between publication ready files and hard copy. It was a format that was relegated to something that you would use just for email attachments or quick downloads. Now with the rise of smart phones, e-books have really come on their own. With this increase in legitimacy and credibility, there has been a rise in demand for greater flexibility in e-book editing.
Creating an e-book is actually a fairly simple process. Just take a source document and convert it into an e-book format that could be read by PDF readers; smart phones like the iPhone, specialized e-book devices like the Kindle or people’s laptops. While the overall base process is quite simple, it’s a matter of document conversion. There are certain key considerations you have to keep in mind when considering what format to export your e-book in and also how to convert your e-book.
Let’s start with the source format. One of the most common source formats for e-books is the .doc file. This is a Microsoft word default format and the reason this is so popular is because the Microsoft word format is a very popular document format; it’s kind of like a lazy default format.
The drawback of the doc starting format is one; stylization is not very robust. You could embed materials into your .doc file, but there might be problems when you try to convert it into an e-book format. Not all e-books converters would cleanly translate doc markup and doc code into a clean final document. You might see a lot of elements in your initial e-book stripped out of the final product.
A great alternative to .doc is html. Html format is probably the most universally acknowledged and adapted format amongst e-book converters and e-book platforms. Almost all of the e-book converters have Html as an input mechanism.
The great thing about html is that it is very easy to format. Whatever you see on an html document would be pretty what you would see in the final converted e-book; whether you’re embedding flash movies, specialized coded sections or hyperlinks.
Unlike the .doc format where you have to do a special formatting process to add links to your document; html has many open source and free html editors that you can manipulate to create really robust looking html documents. Considering how universally recognized this format it, you are pretty much guaranteed that many of the converters would faithfully convert your document from what you see in html to the final e-book form.
Document issues regarding source formats
Now that you have chosen the initial format for your book, here are some key tips to follow to make sure that the conversion process results in a product that you can be happy with.
First of all, most of the e-book conversion system is just a process of converting one document format into an e-book end product format. The problem with this is if you use a format that clashes with your conversion software; much of the elements in your source document would be stripped out, like special formatting, unrecognized fonts, font sizes, picture elements so on and so forth.
The workaround to this issue, especially if you’re using .doc or Microsoft Word, is to start out with a clean initial document as much as you can. By clean, we are talking about almost no elements, no special formats, and no special fonts so it’s just text basically. Though this is the safest way to convert, this will also produce a most bland final product.
An alternative would be to use Html. If you have a very robust Html editor like Adobe Dreamweaver, you could create a nice looking Html document and pretty much be rest assured that, that’s what it would look like once your convert it.
Finalizing the E-book Format
Once you convert the source format using an e-book converter, you have to pick the final e-book format for your e-book. There are quite a few destination formats for e-books. The Mobi format is used by Kindle and Mobipocket Reader while Epub is open source and non-proprietary. It accommodates different sized readers. Many people read e-books through iPhones; others would read it through kindle or other devices; though a lot of people would read an ebook through laptops.
The epub destination format actually doesn’t rely on fixed pagination. There are no fixed pages because it does an automatic resizing. The downside to this destination format is if you’re using a fixed pagination source format like pdf. This is going to cause some serious problem especially if your text has internal reference to particular pages. This could cause confusion among your readers so this is definitely something to keep in mind if you’re going to export it into epub format.
Another problem with epub is that it has issues with picking up annotations. A lot of e-book publishers use this format as the destination form only if they have straight text or clean text with no special formatting. With the epub you get support for Nook, Sony e-reader, smart phones and small devices, but the drawback is pagination, annotations and formatting conversion issues.
Pdf is another destination format. It’s actually the gold standard of e-books. People love pdf because it uses a standard formatting system where it will look the same way in one device to another. It’s great for publishing and it is very faithful to pagination. You can do internal references with confidence because the pagination will remain the same.
Another advantage of pdf is that it also retains internal linking structures. It’s clickable document so people can click on links to visit websites. Photos, pictures, and embedded multimedia is also faithfully preserved.
The downside of pdf is that it’s really dependent on your initial format; if you originally formatted your e-book for 8.5 x 11 inch pages, this is going to cause some problems if somebody is going to read your e-book in a Kindle, Nook, an Apple Iphone or Android Smartphone.
There are some pdf readers like Adobe’s acrobat reader that would automatically resize the pdf to fit the viewing screen of the user; but this only applies to Acrobat reader. Though there are tons of pdf readers out there, they don’t all have this feature that is why this is a downside of pdf.
Things to Include in your E-book
Now that you have converted your file from .doc, text or html into an e-book, keep in mind some key inclusions that you should put in your e-book. The most basic is the table of contents.
Table of Contents
Just like any book in existence, an e-book needs a guide so that the reader would know what’s inside the book. This is very important for e-books because unlike a physical book that you can leaf through to go to a particular page; readers just need to click on a section in the e-book to go there quickly. Thus, a table of contents is very important to include for the comfort of the reader.
Make sure that your e-book is not boring. At the most basic, include different fonts for heading and sub headings. A lot of people have really short attention spans so the more variety you put in terms of formatting and fonts into your book, the higher the likelihood that readers would continue reader the book and you would be able to get more point across of what you’re trying to convey.
The third item to keep in mind is to include illustrations. As we described earlier, most people have short attention spans, and like the saying goes, “one picture is worth a thousand words.” This can’t be more true when it comes to publishing.
Pictures need to be included especially if you’re trying to convey a complicated point; of if you’re trying to simplify an argument; or if you’re trying to teach the readers something. A helpful diagram, or at the most basic, a simple illustration would really push the reader along into reading your book. With illustrations, they won’t get bored as much.
Finally, footnotes are an important consideration. Footnotes have been superseded by hyperlinks in ebooks. Whereas footnotes are important in a printed or hardcopy book, hyperlinks have now taken their place; that is why it is very important that your source document handles linking very well. One format that does this really well is the Html.
Now that we have covered source documentation, document issues regarding source formats and final e-books format, we now have to analyze conversion applications. These are software packages that convert source formats into ebook formats. They run a whole gamut from a free and open source to really expensive and powerful.
Adobe in Design CS 5.5
Adobe inDesign is really a desktop publishing software and the real Photoshop of desktop publishing. Just like any powerful work horse; it can take any source format and publish it in any e-book format you want. It really has a lot of power under the hood. If you want illustration support or multi-media support, this software does it all. It’s truly an amazing piece of software.
The big downside to this is that it is extremely expensive. At $699, this software package is out of the reach of most e-book would-be publishers like students trying to come up with an e-book for their report; or small business people looking to put up an e-book as a premium for people signing up on an online mailing list. The price is really a huge hurdle.
Interestingly enough, the second downside to this software is that it is too robust. It’s too strong in a way that is like trying to kill a fly with a jackhammer. It’s kind of overkill. However, if you produce a lot of e-books or if you are a professional publisher and you want to cover as many e-book readers as possible, from Apple Iphone to Amazon Kindle, to laptops to what have you; this is the software to look for.
Calibre is a free and open source converter. It takes most formats and it’s actually very powerful. It’s almost like a poor man’s Adobe In Design CS 5, but it can still convert whatever your source document is into a great looking e-book.
The big downside is, it doesn’t support Microsoft Word. It doesn’t support .doc or .docx documents. That’s a big turnoff to many people that use Microsoft words as a default. This would result to another extra step of having to convert your .doc into either odf, which is open office format, or html; then from there you import it to caliber. However, converting it into those intermediary formats might result in a loss of formatting. This could be big hurdle for somebody that is used to .doc format
The great thing about Calibre is that it takes odf, rtf, epub, mobi, pdf and html and just edit them and then export them. It also does on the fly text editing; if there are too many line breaks in your plain text import, it would unwrap this to make it look better. If you wish it, it also automatically inserts chapter breaks for certain structures. It’s really powerful software for something that is free.
Open Office is the granddaddy of Microsoft word and Microsoft office open source versions. Meaning, this is the free version of Microsoft office. Thou Microsoft office have many bells and whistles that they would like to market the application for, most of it you don’t really need. If you really just want typical bread and butter operations, Open Office can’t be beat especially with its price, which is exactly $0.
The great thing about Open Office when we’re talking about e-books is its Pdf export function, which is built into the software. There’s no need to go through special hoops; just create your file and when you’re ready to export it to pdf, you’re good to go. Just click a button and save.
The big drawback of open office is the same drawback as Microsoft word. It’s not really as robust as Html when it comes to authoring documents. In Html, whatever you can see at a website you can do in html; unless you are looking at a specially formatted website in another format like asp; but for the most part, it’s the most flexible format.
Open office can be quite rigid unless you really know this piece of software inside and out to add stylistic flourishes to your work. However, in terms of exportation and conversion, it’s very powerful plus, it has also a very powerful price which is $0.
Another free converter that is more e-book focus is Sigil. This is a free open source converter that is really focused more on as an e-book editor rather than a conversion work horse. You can do a lot of editing work on it as well as collating, and it even has a table of contents.
If you already have an e-book that is already formatted like in pdf, this is a great editor for it. This is being added to the list because it’s free and it does have some power; but if you’re looking for the best conversion power instead of just editing, you might need to look at the other software listed.
Why are e-books so powerful and popular now?
E-book publishing has gone a long way. It used to be just an afterthought, now it’s an end in itself. Many people are even going straight to e-book format as opposed to having to go through hard copy formats like before.
E-books have really become popular they track the evolution of technology. In websites, you might be looking for an easy to attach or easy to download published document; or an easy to read document. With regards to smart phones, you might be looking for something that is easy to read in whatever mobile device you have. E-books have even reached a point where a lot of people would prefer e-books rather than websites because of their sheer portability, ease of use and formatting.
Whether you have a kindle, an Iphone, an Ipad or a laptop, the e-book format is here and is not going anywhere soon. Also, in terms of marketing and income generation, e-books are great tool for getting your marketing message across; in building brand equity and as a marketing premium. Whether you have a digital version of War and Peace in mind or just a small booklet that you’d like to give out, definitely check out e-book publishing and use the right tools to reach the next level of success.