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Self-publishing e-books: How to get started

Johanna Ambrosio | March 26, 2014
It's not difficult to put out your own e-publication, but there are several decisions to sort through first.

Depending on your target audience, you may need to translate your content to other formats, too, particularly if you want to succeed in overseas markets. Wikipedia offers a good rundown of the various formats, with a helpful table at the bottom of the page comparing whether each format supports images, sound, digital rights management and other features.

For your book to achieve any measure of success, it will need to be available in at least a few of the most popular e-formats.

But what about PDFs? PDFs are accepted by many e-sellers, of course, and they are very convenient for authors to produce using any of a number of software apps from a wide range of devices and platforms, including Windows PCs and Macs.

But the problem with using a PDF to submit directly to an e-seller is that invisible codes can result in a book that does not look as you intended it to. Booknook, a conversion house that formats books for the Kindle, offers an example of a Word file that was then output as a PDF.

It looks great initially. But when that same PDF file was uploaded to the Amazon Kindle publishing site, every single line becomes its own paragraph because of the hidden "p" code at the end of each line. In fact, because of the formatting issues with PDFs, Booknook charges extra for converting PDFs (versus the cost of native DOC files, for example).

As my co-author and I are finding out, formatting the book correctly is the most important step, to both ensure the book will be accepted into the e-stores we choose to sell it on and so the book looks the way we want it to. The major online booksellers have various guidelines to help with this; Amazon in particular offers loads of help for getting your book into a format it will accept.

There are lots of other tools to help with this, too, from Apple's free iBooks Author and Adobe's not-so-free Digital Publishing Suite (which starts at $395 or $50/month for the single edition) to your favorite HTML editor.

But, as even Amazon warns, your mileage may vary. Converting JPGs and GIFs and even bulleted sidebars or boxes into several different, incompatible formats is not necessarily simple, especially for untrained individuals. Text may run over in one format but not another, photos or illustrations might look muddied in yet another. There's a ton of checking and re-checking, formatting and reformatting, needed to get this right.

Of course, if you don't have the time, talent or inclination to format it yourself, there is an alternative. Rather than futz with multiple formats and get a giant, multi-person headache, my co-author and I decided the formatting step would be a good thing to outsource. Yeah, we could have figured it out; we just didn't want to. We both have full-time jobs, among other commitments.


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