This article is about the technique and explains how to format an eBook for publishing. Once you have written a book you can outsource the process that comes after that. But if you are like me, you want to do a lot of the process yourself in order to make your eBook as perfect as possible.
There are many eBooks on offer that are not – strictly speaking – an eBook. At some time I made a PDF for this website – 20 Tips: How to get the most out of a Museum Visit. A PDF is actually not an eBook, even though everybody including me, calls it that way.
During that same period, I was commissioned to make an eBook in EPUB and MOBI format of the English version of The Story of Amnesty International that my husband wrote with a friend. That made me really become aware of the differences between an eBook and a PDF document.
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Table of Contents
- 1 How to format an eBook for publishing?
- 2 What formats can an e-book have?
- 3 How to choose the right format?
- 4 PDF – Differences in quality?
- 5 Who is in control?
- 6 EPUB and Kindle – don’t make it too fancy
- 7 Do you have knowledge of HTML?
- 8 What comes first?
- 9 Tips on technique and execution
How to format an eBook for publishing?
Kindle has a different format than Kobo, a tablet might require yet another format. So try to figure out which e-reader is going to be used first and then format your eBook accordingly.
What formats can an e-book have?
There are almost as many formats of eBooks as there are text programs, so I’ll stick to the most common ones:
- PDF, strictly speaking, is not an eBook, because the text is not reflowable;
- EPUB can be read by a lot of e-readers, for instance, the Kobo reader;
- MOBI, AZW or AZW3 are used for the Kindle reader.
I guess everybody can read a PDF, no matter whether it’s on a computer, tablet or smartphone. We hardly notice anymore that it’s a separate app that makes that possible, Adobe Acrobat Reader. Making it the most common format.
PDF is a fixed format. The way you have made it is exactly how the reader sees it.
EPUB and MOBI
Most EPUB and Kindle eBooks are reflowable. This means that the text adjusts to the page depending on the settings of the reader. The reader determines the font, size and line spacing.
I say most EPUB and Kindle because there are fixed-layout formats for EPUB and Kindle as well. That is beyond the scope of this article because I want to describe a couple of processes that you can handle yourself and are not too complicated.
How to choose the right format?
- Where are you going to sell it?
- Who are you going to sell it to?
- What is the nature of the content?
If you are going to sell your eBook on Amazon it is going to be a Kindle eBook. Does your audience have another kind of e-reader, you will choose EPUB. And if you know they will only read from a desktop or tablet you can make a PDF.
For a short period of time in the past, the Kindle e-reader had a colour screen. I suppose the rise of tablets is partly to blame for its demise. As well as the reader’s experience. Black and white or black and amber screens are a blessing for the reader’s eyes.
Nowadays, e-readers have a black and white screen. So, if colour is an important part of your book – like in my Museum Tips or Waste Ideas – you can better choose PDF.
PDF – Differences in quality?
My computer is an Apple. I had a Windows computer as well when I still was a graphic designer because most of my clients had one, but I gave it away years ago. (Honestly? I hated the thing.) The consequence is that I can’t control all the statements I do, at the moment. If I make mistakes, please let me know. 🙂
You can make a PDF with every text program there is (this is one of those statements I was talking about!). A text takes up less space than images. The images should be as small as possible without losing any quality. On my Mac, I can choose the quality and regulate the size of the images.
Who is in control?
More than 25 years ago I made my first website and – control freak that I am – went crazy about everything you CAN NOT control in web design. By now I know so well what CAN be done with web design that I focus on those possibilities.
Something similar is the case with EPUB and Kindle eBooks. You can format it as much as you want, but the appearance is mainly in the hands of the user.
EPUB and Kindle – don’t make it too fancy
The fewer bells and whistles you put in your file, the better the end result will be. For a designer, it is always hard to recommend using as little design as possible. Yet, in my experience, this gives the best result.
A lot of programs – for instance, Adobe InDesign or Apple Pages – let you export your file in EPUB. Apple Pages even lets you publish directly to Apple Books.
For Kindle, it’s way easier nowadays than when I made the Amnesty eBook. You can write your book in Word, self-publish, and choose what type of book you want: a paper book, an eBook or an audiobook.
Do you have knowledge of HTML?
I am old-school. My first self-made websites are dated around 1995 and were made in HTML. That is a big advantage when making an eBook.
If you read on an e-reader yourself, you know what documents you like and which ones you don’t like. So you will know what kind of layout you prefer. And you probably have encountered some eBooks that didn’t feel nice because of the layout or the mistakes.
A completely automated process can generate mistakes easily. I have read eBooks where page numbers stood randomly in the text. Others had so many typos, that obviously an OCRscanner was used to generate the text.
Because I don’t like the export-to-EPUB results of InDesign and Pages, I use Sigil. You need knowledge of HTML to feel comfortable with that program. Sigil is a free program and is available for Apple, Windows and Linux.
To make several formats of the eBook I use Calibre. This program also comes in handy if I want occasionally to be able to read a Kindle book on my Kobo.
What comes first?
As the title suggests this article is about the technique and formats of eBooks. As important as that is, your main concern should of course be the content. If the information here made the process that comes after the writing easier, I am content. The writing is up to you.
Tips on technique and execution
Here is a summary of the tips described in the preceding text:
- The main formats are PDF, EPUB, or MOBI;
- The type of e-reader determines which format to use;
- Is the content primarily text or images;
- Prioritize user experience;
- Outsource or do it yourself;
- Which programs to use;
- Content is more important than format and technique.
E-readers and eBooks are very welcome inventions. These make it far easier to read books and store them. They take up a lot less space in your home.
In addition, eBooks make great giveaways you can use to build your list and that can confirm your expert status.
Have you made an e-book? And if so, what format did you use?