Sunday, 19 February 2012

How to create an e-book

For those of you who’ve been living on Mars, an e-book is a book that you can read using an e-reader, such as a Kindle or using the Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. And the great thing is that anyone can publish an e-book. You don’t need to find a publisher, you just need a computer. On the other hand, the really bad thing about it is that anyone can publish a book, no matter how little merit it my have!

Now, obviously, there must be technical standards, so that the e-book you create can be read on a standard device. But like everything in IT, there are more than enough standards. Amazon’s Kindle uses a version of mobi and calls it Kindle Format 8 (KF8). Apple has an iBook standard called EPUB for books available from its iTunes store. Barnes & Noble have their Nook standard. And there’s Kobo, Sony Reader, iRex Digital Reader, the iRiver Story, and probably lots of others - including simple PDFs. The majority of e-book formats are based on some kind of HTML (like a Web page).
So, how do you create an e-book? Step 1 is to write something! E-books generally work best with text rather than text and pictures. And it seems Word is fine as the source of the text. Once you’ve done that, you need to create a nice cover, a contents list, and all the other things that you find in the front of a book. It seems to work better if you insert a page break at the end of each partial page or blank page.
If you want to publish for the Kindle, Amazon has KindleGen software available. I must admit, I couldn’t get it to work on my laptop. I put the files in the right place, ran it on a command line, etc. Kindle Previewer software lets you see how the layout of the book will appear on a Kindle.
If you have InDesign 5 or above, you can export to EPUB (for iTunes) and there is also a Kindle plug-in available.
I used Mobipocket from to convert my file. It didn’t like .docx, but was fine with .doc. However, I did lose lots of styling when I converted, so the document had to be reworked. As I said above, it’s not too clever with pictures and text boxes in a document. And that’s a problem with e-books at the moment. It’s important to keep your document as simple as possible. One other thing, the publisher edition of mobipocket protects the distribution of copyrighted content and includes Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word, and text file import wizards.
There’s also a piece of software called Calibre, which is available from, that can be used to convert from one e-book format to another.
There are online services, like Lulu ( that can help you publish your e-book. You upload your file, then create a cover, describe your book, pick a price, and promote your book. This gives you a route to Apple’s iBookstore, as well as selling it on Lulu’s Marketplace. In terms of royalties, Apple takes 30 percent, and Lulu takes 20 percent of the remainder.
If you want to publish through Barnes & Noble you can use the online service PubIt! ( Create an account then upload your e-book and cover art. Then PubIt! converts the digital files for viewing on Nook devices. And then you can sell it. Royalty rates range from 40 percent (for any book priced under $2.98 or over $10) to 65 percent (for any book priced between $2.99 and $9.99).
If you self publish to the Kindle, you earn the highest royalty rate if your book costs between $2.99 to $9.99 range. You get 70% of the price.
Using iTunes Connect gets your EPUB format book on the iBookstore shelves. There is an approval process, and you’ll need an iTunes account.
For $19.99 (and part of your royalty) you can use BookBrewer (, which lets you upload your cover, enter a description of your book, and copy and paste chapters. The e-book can then be sold through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Where am I in my investigation into e-books? I’ve created a book in Word that’s full of pictures with wrap-around text and text boxes with coloured backgrounds and shadows. It doesn’t convert very well. On the other hand, I have exported it as PDF and copied it onto my Android tablet into the Kindle app folder, and I can read my book using the Kindle app. (Older versions of the app don’t read PDFs.) My next task is to see whether I can ‘play’ with the HTML and create web pages that look more like my original Word pages and then go through the process again to get a good looking mobi file. At the moment, my PDF book doesn’t show up with the correct cover in the Kindle app.

If anyone’s got any suggestions, I’ll be interested to hear them.

1 comment:

Haakon B. Dahl said...

Suggestion: Focus on content not formatting. You make this point yourself, and I appreciate your approach. You (if I may venture a guess) have fallen in love with a layout, and can probably defeat any argument which would threaten it. But... You had a goal when you started. Is the layout now fighting against you?

Anyway, you asked for suggestions. Thank you for the concise write-up. Good stuff.