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The Publishing Revolution: Create Your Own E-Book

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 6, 2012 Deadline
March 2012 Issue

The Publishing Revolution: Create Your Own E-Book

Publish your book this year!

Only a few years ago, “vanity presses” used such pitches to appeal to aspiring writers. For a fee, the vanity publishers would convert your manuscript into a reasonably nice book. Vanity publishers are nothing more than print brokers. Using a vanity publisher was expensive, but for some aspiring writers it was their last option.

Many writers ended up with boxes of books in their garages and attics.

Yet, I am writing this column to tell you that it is time to publish your book.

Forget the vanity publishers and the small publishers that pass along many of the costs to writers. Publish your book as an e-book. It will cost you little (or nothing) and if you discover the book is popular, then you can consider an old-fashioned paper and ink book.

Even writers with proven track records are leaving the traditional New York publishing houses behind to self-publish e-book editions of short stories and other works that the large publishers would rather skip.

Publishing an e-book involves the following steps:
Writing the book;
Editing the book;
Designing cover art;
Compiling an ePub file; and
Uploading the book to a website.

I encourage writers to use Microsoft Word for composing manuscripts because it is the industry standard. Most professional editors rely on Microsoft Word and its revision tools. I know many writers don’t believe they need an editor, but I am convinced we always benefit from an outside reader. My wife and I provide editing and consulting services, but I never edit my own writing. When you have written something, you tend to overlook minor mistakes.

Before creating an ePub document, you should be aware of the limitations of e-books and e-readers. Do not waste time specifying fonts or sizes when preparing an ePub for online bookstores. Most e-readers, including the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Amazon Kindle, have only a few typefaces. The fonts on each reader differ, too. Focus your time and energy on the writing and editing of your book.

The way e-readers work, the user selects a typeface and size. When the user changes a font, the page count and layout change. Designers hate this, but remember that every device has a different screen size and resolution. Many devices don’t even support color.

There are several word processing and design programs that can export or “save as” ePub. Adobe InDesign, Apple Pages, QuarkXPress, and Scrivener directly support the ePub 2.0 standard. These programs can import Word files, making it easy to move your edited manuscript into these applications.

Personally, I discourage the use of InDesign and QuarkXPress because these applications create huge ePub files that often fail to work on all devices. These applications were meant to help create print publications and near-perfect PDF layouts. What looks great on a full-size computer screen is often unreadable on an e-reader or similar device.

Some people assume the new Apple iBooks Author application supports the ePub 2.0 standard, which would permit the creation of e-books for non-Apple bookstores. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While based on the ePub 3 standard, iBooks format includes many Apple-only features.

You should consider Apple iBooks Author only if you are creating a book specifically for the iPad and not other e-readers, such as the Nook or Kindle. I am using iBooks Author to create custom textbooks with illustrations for some clients. It is not the best tool for a text-based novel. The Apple Pages application works better for text-centric books.

If you do not own one of the commercial ePub creators, you can download the free open source ePub editor Sigil. A “sigil” is a personal or magical symbol, often used on wax seals. The Sigil application is a complete ePub editor. I recommend Sigil to everyone interested in ePub creation and editing. After creating any ePub, I open it in Sigil to test the document.

You can use Sigil to write, edit and generate ePub files. Also, you can open any properly formatted ePub file in Sigil. If Sigil fails to open a file, the file is likely not properly formatted and fails the ePub 2.0 validation check. Many people do use nothing but Sigil, from start to finish, to create ePub files.

Your edited book now needs a cover.

I encourage authors to hire a good artist for cover design. Again, there are limitations. The images should be in JPEG format, highly compressed. The images must also be smaller than 500 pixels wide by 600 pixels tall. Remember, e-reader screens are small. Another complication: the earliest Kindle models, which are still popular, only support four shades of gray. If the art doesn’t look good in both color and monochrome versions, the book might not sell.

Once you have cover art, place it at the beginning of your ePub document. Save the document and it is almost ready to upload to bookstores. You only need one ePub document because it is an international standard. Thankfully, even Amazon allows you to upload an ePub, though Amazon does convert the file to a Kindle-only format.

Before you can upload a book to an online bookstore, you will need to create an account. There is a list of links at the end of this column. Read each bookstore’s policies and procedures.

After creating your account with a bookstore, it might take a few days to activate. When I created my Barnes and Nobel account, it took more than a week to receive an e-mail indicating the account was ready. Amazon took four days to create my publishing account.

Once the booksellers notified me that my account was active, I uploaded an ePub to each store. Within two days, my book was listed right alongside the books of better-known authors. I’m still pleasantly surprised by how many copies are sold daily.

My self-published books won’t make me rich, but they do buy a nice dinner or two each month.


The website for the Sigil ePub editor: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/

E-Book Publishing Options

Amazon Kindle Direct: https://kdp.amazon.com/
Apple iBooks Author: http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/
Barnes and Noble PubIt! Direct: http://pubit.barnesandnoble.com/
Smashwords Author Program: http://www.smashwords.com/

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