Making Sense of Ebooks

This content originally appeared on 6 February 2013 as a guest post on the blog of Elizabeth Mahadeo, a satisfied client of Sleeping Cat Books.

In this digital age, ebooks continue to gain prominence. As an author, it is certainly in your best interest to offer your work on at least one ebook platform, and preferably on as many as you can access. Converting from print to ebook can seem a daunting task at first, but if you have some patience and a bit of HTML knowledge (which really isn’t too hard to pick up), you can manage it if your book’s layout is not complex. A good resource to get you started is Guido Henkel’s “Take pride in your eBook formatting” series of nine blog posts. Guido explains in simple, direct terms the changes you should make to your MS Word manuscript file in order to successfully convert it to an ebook file. He also provides some tips to take your formatting beyond basic and help your book to stand out.

Another good resource for creating EPUB files is Sigil, a free open-source application that provides a WYSIWYG interface to make the creation of the final EPUB file as simple as copy-paste. If you are familiar with HTML and CSS, you can work directly with the code to add your own personal style to the file. Sigil also has an integrated FlightCrew EPUB validator that will alert you to any issues with your file, allowing you to create a fully EPUB compliant file that you can upload directly to retailers or certain ebook aggregator sites.

Once you have your validated EPUB file, you can import it into another open-source application, Calibre, to convert it to a MOBI file for uploading to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

Now that you have your finalized ebook file, you need to get it to the ebook retailers. There are a number of ebook aggregators like Smashwords, BookBaby, BookTango, and others that allow you to upload your ebook file and they then distribute it to a list of retailers. The fee arrangements, acceptable file types, and royalty payment terms vary among these companies, so do your homework before you make a decision to use any of them. But for a lot of self-publishing authors, they may be the only way to reach markets like Apple’s iBookstore or Sony’s Reader Store.

There are a few markets you can reach yourself, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble (if you are a US resident) and Kobo Books. Smashwords very recently began accepting EPUB files instead of only allowing MS Word files, which now makes them a much more attractive option to get into the other markets. You must be very certain that your formatting meets their guidelines and your EPUB file is fully validated in order to be approved for their Premium Catalogue, which allows distribution of your book to the other retailers. I recommend going directly to the retailers you can reach, and using an aggregator to reach the rest.

Writing a book is hard work, but the effort doesn’t end with the last period. If you want to give your baby the best possible chance in the wider world, you should give serious thought to ebooks. With a bit of time and effort on your part, you can open your work up to several other markets beyond print. Isn’t that worth it?

And if you should decide that the task of ebook conversion is beyond you, please contact Sleeping Cat Books and we’ll help.

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