If you don’t own an eBook reader and can’t for the life of you figure out why anyone would choose to read from a screen, you might be about to skip this section. Don’t! Selling electronic files may not hold the romance of seeing your work physically on a bookshelf but it’s an essential part of self-publishing.
Unlike traditionally published authors, most self-publishers sell vastly more eBooks than physical ones. Estimates of how many more vary and are dependent on genre but I’ve heard figures of between ten and a hundred times more.
Even without this incentive, selling eBooks is a joy. Overheads are small and the work involved is minimal. There’s no sitting up until midnight stuffing jiffy bags, no trips to the post office and no tripping over a pile of unsold books at three in the morning. Everything is done simply and easily online. Even preparing your file for eBook publication is far easier than typesetting a paperback.
A Little About EBooks and How They Work
EBooks are books in electronic form. They can be read on a variety of gadgets: a dedicated eBook reader (such as a Kindle or Kobo), a tablet, a PC or a Mac. Some people even choose to read on their smart or iPhones. EBooks are downloaded from the internet, either directly onto an eBook reader/tablet or via a computer. Purchase and delivery are virtually simultaneous, meaning someone could be reading your work within minutes of first hearing about it.
EBooks come in either fixed or reflowable format. The fixed format is often seen in PDFs downloaded from the internet, such as user manuals. You may well have read one of these without even realising it was a type of eBook.
With fixed format, much like the print copy of a book, the text and pictures are fixed on each page so that, for example, page ten will be identical, whatever size your screen. This can be useful for children’s picture books, cookery books, graphic novels or indeed any work where you need to guarantee the exact look of each page.
The disadvantage of this format is that anyone reading on a small screen will need to zoom in constantly to read the text. This can get annoying and isn’t usually suitable for books such as novels, where you want to ensure a smooth reading experience.
This is why most text-based eBooks come in reflowable format, meaning that the text rearranges itself (reflows) to best suit whichever screen it’s on. A small screen, such as that of a smartphone, may only hold a dozen or so words, whereas a large monitor could potentially display several hundred words per ‘page’.
The reflowable format also allows readers to set their preferences for font type and size. For example, on a standard 6” eReader, someone with a visual impairment could choose the biggest possible font and the text would reflow so that there were only a dozen large words per page whereas someone else might opt for the smallest setting and read several hundred words between page turns (usually achieved by tapping the right side of the screen).
In this environment, the traditional concept of a page changes. It’s largely the reader, not the publisher, who chooses what constitutes a page of any given book.
The most popular reflowable formats are EPub (used on virtually all eReaders except Kindles) and Kindle’s Mobi.
In 2011, Kindle also launched KF8 (Kindle Format 8) which includes support for fixed books, such as graphic novels.
Help! I’m lost already!
Before you start to think this all sounds a bit technical and you’re not sure you want to get involved in any of it: don’t panic. I include the above only as background information. You don’t need to know any of it to successfully publish an eBook. If you’re deeply traumatised and seeking therapy at this point, try to forget you even read this post. The step-by-step instructions over the next few weeks will show you how to list your eBook, simply and painlessly without the need for a degree in computer science.