eBook Conversion

eBook conversion for Kindle and ePub readers

eBook aggregators and online book stores

Where to sell your eBook isn’t a subject I want to go into deeply and there are several people on the web who are far more knowledgeable than me. However, it does have some implications for formatting and conversion, so I thought I’d better mention it.

As far as market share goes, Amazon is the by far the biggest fish in the pond. Depending on whose figures you believe, Amazon’s share of the eBook market is somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent. For this reason alone, I think it’s worth spending time making your books look as good as possible and it’s why the Kindle format is the focus of this site. Getting your book in the Kindle store is a fairly straightforward task.

Next up is Barnes & Noble, who seem to have a market share of somewhere between 15-20%. B&N sells in the ePub format. They also make it fairly straightforward to upload your file and sell through their site but there’s one catch; you must have a credit card registered to a US address. If you have one, I’d recommend doing this; however, if you don’t then there are workarounds.

Apple and Sony, despite their high profile – especially in terms of the iPad – aren’t actually selling that many eBooks themselves.

I must also add that I have no personal experience of any of the sites I’m discussing on this page; although I’m a writer and editor by profession and I’ve formatted several eBooks for friends and acquaintances, at the time of writing I have no book to sell. There are several excellent websites and people on Twitter who know much more than me about writing fiction, design, marketing and distribution.

eBook aggregators

eBook aggregators are companies who will take your file, convert it into multiple formats and make it available through multiple distribution channels. They typically make money by taking a small commission or charging an upfront fee. They often are the only way of distributing your book via Apple’s iBookstore, Sony, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.

How many channels you want to sell on is up to you, but as I’ve already mentioned, you want to be on Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon. If you can’t sell directly through them, the only aggregators that let you access this channel would appear to be Smashwords, Lulu and BookBaby.

About Smashwords

Lulu and BookBaby both give you the option of uploading ePub files. You can use online validators (such as this one) to check your file before you submit it.

Smashwords seems to have a high reputation in self-publishing circles – for the range of retail channels they offer and for their competitive pricing. However, for reasons best known to themselves, Smashwords will only accept files in Word 2003 format. The company uses a proprietary piece of software called Meatgrinder to convert Word files into the myriad of formats they offer.

Of course the problem with this kind of conversion is that it often gives you a format that could be described as acceptable but rarely looks professional. Stylistic features such as images as chapter headings and drop capitals simply aren’t allowed.

Smashwords offers a very long and detailed style guide, which you must strictly adhere to. Tales abound on the internet of files rejected by the Meatgrinder. (Paul Salvette also has a useful guide to submitting Word files to Smashwords.)

Now, you may be annoyed that I’ve encouraged you to convert your Word file into HTML for conversion and you may now have to send a Word file after all. However, all is not lost:

1. Much of the Smashwords style guide is based around using Word’s Styles and Formatting features, which I’ve encouraged you to use prior to conversion. So chances are you’ve done much of the work already
2. If you’ve done all the style work by editing the HTML code, MS Word does a fairly good job of opening simple HTML files, which you can then save as a Word document. (I’d appreciate a comment from someone who’s done this – unfortunately there’s no way for me to test the Meatgrinder without submitting a book.)

If you’re going to use Smashwords, I would encourage you to try and do your best with the software. I’ve looked through some of their free .mobi book downloads on my Kindle and several of them look pretty lousy. I suspect it’s a combination of poor author formatting and the limitations of the Meatgrinder software.

Printing on Demand

Several companies let you upload Word or PDF files and print individual books to order; after all, many people still prefer a paper book. The most famous of these is probably Lulu.

This subject is also beyond the scope of the site. If you’re going to do this in MS Word, then tweaking the Styles and Formatting attributes makes this a whole lot easier. From a page layout point of view, I’m not a fan of Word – unless you know the program well, your pages invariably end up looking like office documents.

A good solution to this may well be the free program LyX; this uses a typesetting engine called Latex, via a basic word processor-like interface. For producing prose such as novels and poems you can get some very attractive results (here’s a PDF of the first two chapters of Emma done on LyX). Although it’s not particularly difficult to use, it’s not as intuitive as MS Word and there’s not much online documentation for the beginner (although this guide isn’t bad). However, I may return to the topic if there’s enough demand, as I think it’s a very useful tool for the self-publisher.

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