What Ebook Formats Are Most Important?

As a blogger it can be hard to decide what ebook formats you might want to put your ebook into. After all, there are way more ebook types than there are web page types. If you create a web page, you can be confident (at least with most blog templates today) that your creative content will be available for everyone. But ebooks offer many different flavors. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • PDF
  • Kindle (also called Mobi)
  • ePub

My Kindle

Outside of the standard formats there are file types that people use for ebooks that aren’t explicitly ebooks, but can be used for that purpose. Format types like Word documents, HTML, and text files are often used to distribute ebooks, even though they are not specifically ebook formats.

And beyond that there are many other formats you can use. As of this writing, Wikipedia lists 27 different types of ebook formats. And the fact of the matter is that all of these formats are used by somebody. So by ignoring them you are potentially ignoring someone who might enjoy your book.

So How Do You Choose?

There are a number of things you can look at to help decide what format or formats is best for your ebook. You can look at your readers or potential readers, you can look at the technology the format supports, or you can look at what you’re comfortable creating.

What Do Your Readers Want?

Ebook readers like the Kindle, Nook, and even the iPad have gotten more popular in the last few years, but in many surveys most people still prefer PDF files for reading ebooks. PDF files (Adobe Acrobat) files have an advantage over many other ebook file formats because they have been around for a long time. Nearly every computer on earth has a PDF reader, and if they don’t it’s available for free. Plus, most people are familiar with PDF files and how to use them. They know they can print them or read them on their computer or mobile device and they know that they work.

ePub Logo

Giving your readers the format they prefer is a good choice, and if possible you should find out what that format is so that you can provide it to them. But if you don’t know what your readers would want, starting with a PDF file is a good choice while you do a survey to find out.

But there are reasons to choose other formats rather than (just) PDF.

What Do the Different Formats Offer?

The technology available inside the different formats can make some more preferable than others. For instance, some of the technology I look for includes:

  • DRM While I don’t always want digital rights management, I often want to know if the format supports it or has it turned on. PDF, Kindle/Mobi, and ePub all have DRM that can be turned on if necessary.
  • Multimedia Multimedia like images and video can turn an ordinary book into an extrodinary one. And while all ebook formats (other than plain text) support images, video is not as widely supported. PDF, Kindle/Mobi, and ePub all support video, but some depend upon what eReader is viewing them.
  • Bookmarks Bookmarks make it much easier for the reader to use your book, but they aren’t always supported. For example HTML ebooks don’t have reader-created bookmarks unless the ebook author can write a script to do it. PDF, Kindle/Mobi, and ePub all support bookmarks, but again may not have them depending upon the eReader being used.

Another aspect of the technology that might make you choose one over another is whether it’s an open standard or not. PDF and ePub are both open standards while the Kindle/Mobi standards are not.

But the main issue with technology is what devices your readers are going to be using. If your readers use a Kindle device then you should create a Kindle or Mobi file (or both), if they use a Nook or a Kobo then ePub might be best. Most tablet devices like iPads and Android tablets have apps for Kindle/Mobi, ePub, and PDF, but you’ll find that they often prefer one format over another.

What Is Easiest for You?

When choosing a format, it often comes down to what format you find easiest to create. This is another reason why PDF ebooks are so common. Many software programs like Word will print to PDF. Macintosh computers will print to PDF right from the print screen. And there are many HTML to PDF converters that you can use online.

But with a tool like Calibre you can convert almost any ebook format into almost any other format. Because of this great tool, I recommend that people create their ebooks in at least three formats: PDF, Kindle/Mobi, and ePub. It is easy to create ebooks from HTML and then you can convert that HTML to ePub and PDF within Calibre.

It’s a Great Time to Be a Writer

Written by: Rie Sheridan Rose The Bardabee Poet

It used to be that there were only a handful of publishing houses to which a writer could submit their novel-length works.  If you didn’t get a contract from one of the “Big” presses, you didn’t have much recourse beyond finding a printer and putting it out yourself—at a substantial cost.

All that has changed. Today’s publishing landscape is wide open. While there are still vestiges of the original road to publication, that road is no longer the only way to go.

For example, there are dozens, if not hundreds of small presses that offer alternative markets for publishing your work. Many of these are niche markets—meaning they specialize in a specific genre or region. Because of these specific s, it is more likely your work in that area will find a more receptive audience for your submission. You can target your queries with much greater precision.

Another alternative is using a “vanity press” where the author pays to have their book published. While this takes a lot of the headaches from the writer, it is considered the least desirable by most industry insiders. Especially in light of the third possibility.

Squarely on the other end of the balance from the Big presses is the ability to publish your own work with no upfront fees.  Amazon’s CreateSpace or Lulu.com have tiered levels of services that range from free—where you upload your own files and are responsible for all aspects of your book—to having professional designers and editors help the creation. You don’t pay anything to use the free services, and they take a cut of the sale price when someone buys your book. The author decides their profit over and above this cut. Personally, I have not used CreateSpace, but Lulu provides a great product which I have taken advantage of several times in the past.

But another wonderful thing about the current climate of publishing is that you don’t have to go the traditional print route at all to be heard. If you just want to share your work, there are ample opportunities to do so. You can join websites like Writer’s Café or Authors Den and post your writing simply to share and/or get critiques. You can start a blog at WordPress, Blogger, or LiveJournal and post poetry or fiction along with your thoughts on them. Or, you can use the same tools mentioned above—CreateSpace, Lulu, or Smashwords, as a third alternative—to create your own e-books to offer for sale. E-books offer the freedom to quickly produce your work in a shareable – and saleable form. This does not, however, mean that you can take a shortcut on all the hard work that goes into writing it in the first place.

Because no matter how open the publishing field may currently be; no matter how many methods are available to publish your work; you still have to write something worth reading. It’s just a really great time to do it.

About Rie Sheridan Rose

Rie Sheridan Rose

Rie Sheridan Rose

Rie’s short stories appear in Double Dragon’s From Within the Mist ebook and The Stygian Soul as well as Yard Dog Press’ A Bubba In Time Saves None. Yard Dog Press is also home to humorous horror chapbooks Tales from the Home for Wayward Spirits and Bar-B-Que Grill and Bruce and Roxanne Save the World…Again. Melange Books carries her romantic fantasy Sidhe Moved Through the Faire. Zumaya Books is home to The Luckless Prince. And Mocha Memoirs has the short stories “Drink My Soul…Please,” “It’s Always the Same Old Story,” and “Bloody Rain” as e-downloads.

Visit Rie’s Website: Rie Sheridan Rose—The Bardabee Poet

What do you create?

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An HTML Ebook Template

One of the easiest ways to get started on an ebook is to use a template. And, if you’ve read my last post, you know that I don’t think you should use Word for your ebooks or your templates. This is a basic HTML template for creating an ebook for Kindle/mobi. The benefit of using this template is that you can quickly convert it to epub and other ebook formats without too much trouble.

To use this template, simply copy and paste it into a text editor or HTML editor. Then add your chapters, titles, and so on.

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<html>
<head>
<title>The title of your book</title>
</head>
<body>
<p><img src="cover.jpg"/></p>
<a name="start" /><h1>Your Book Title</h1>
<h2>Sub-Title</h2>
<h3>By Your Name</h3>
<mbp:pagebreak/>
<p>Copyright &copy; Your Name The Year. All rights reserved.</p>
<p>Published in Your Country</p>
<p>First publication date <em>Month, Year</em></p>
<mbp:pagebreak/>
<a name="TOC" /><h2>Table of Contents</h2>
<a href="#chapter1"><h3>Chapter 1</h3></a>
(Repeat for second and following chapters.)
<mbp:pagebreak/>
<a name="chapter1" /><h2>Chapter 1</h2>
<p>Your chapter 1 paragraphs</p>
<mbp:pagebreak/>
(Repeat for second and following chapters.)
</body>
</html>

Save your cover image in the same folder as your HTML file and name it cover.jpg. Then go in and edit the file in your HTML editor to add your book details.

Why Are You Using Word to Write Your Ebook?

I am about to tell you a secret that many ebook producers would like you to never find out—using Word is not the best way to produce your ebooks.

That’s right, probably the best known “fact” about writing electronic books is a lie.

You’re now telling me “but Amazon says to use Word!” Yes, they do. And so does almost every other ebook publishing site out there. In fact, most of the information you can find about writing ebooks assumes that you’re using Microsoft Word and implies that there is no other way to do it.

Why Using Word is a Bad Idea

Some of the most common formatting problems that occur in ebooks happen because of things Word is doing behind the scenes. The problem is that Microsoft Word is not a text editor—it’s a word processor. And it is processing those words into a document format (DOCX) that is designed for printing. When you use it to create an ebook, your words are first processed into the Word format and then that is converted into the ebook format (epub, Kindle/mobi, etc.).

In theory this shouldn’t be a problem as Word uses XML, but the problem comes when you are writing your book. There are a few things that can happen to cause formatting errors in an ebook that will be invisible in Word. Things like:

  • Invisible formatting codes can cause spaces in the middle of words.
  • Characters that look correct in Word, end up muddled or just wrong in your ebook.
  • Spacing that is precise down to the partial inches in Word displays incorrectly in your ebook.

And there are other problems that crop up with Word-created ebooks. But what I find most interesting is that no one questions the first premise—using Word. Instead, people blame themselves, their editors, the tools they use to convert Word to ebooks, and anything else they can think of.

I would like to propose a new way of creating ebooks. Kick Word to the curb and use the skills and tools you already have for blogging to build ebooks that work.

Use Your Blogging Skills to Create Ebooks More Efficiently

You may be surprised to learn that you can use what you already know because you’re a blogger to create ebooks that work without using Word. But it’s true. And if you’re like me, you’ll find that it’s easier than using Word becuase you’re using tools that you’re already familiar with.

Here are some simple steps you can use to create an ebook without using Word:

  1. Write your ebook chapters using your blog software. Use either the visual or the text editor and write the chapter like you would write any blog post. The only difference is that your chapters are probably going to be longer than your posts. I like to save my chapters as draft posts, so they aren’t live on my site, but you can post them to your site, or use blog posts you’ve already written.
  2. The only thing that will be missing from your chapter written in the blog tool is paragraph markers. Most blogs add them automatically after you publish. But even if you’re not publishing your chapter, you can add them in. Simply click on the “Preview Changes” button and then view the source for the preview page. Search for the first line of your chapter. Then highlight the <p> tag right before the first line, and then copy your entire chapter, down to the very last line. Paste the chapter into a text editor like Notepad, and add a </p> at the very end.
  3. Save the chapters in an HTML ebook template.
  4. Open the file in an ebook editor like Calibre.
  5. Convert the file in Calibre to whatever ebook format you like.