That sounded a little like an advert for Kindle – and it sort of is.
Ebooks – electronic books – are extremely popular for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons is also the same reason that makes having a MP3 in your pocket a lot more popular than cramming a few dozen CDs in there: mobility.
Ebooks, for those living under a hardcover rock, are essentially special digital files of a book (novel, non-fiction, whatever), that can be opened and read by certain devices and/or programs. Not all ebooks have to be in those special digital file formats, but all special digital file formats need a dedicated program that can open it.
Here are some of the most common formats for ebooks:
The first format that would have come to your mind would be PDFs. They’re great when you’ve typed up your 30-page long manuscript, all in 12pt Garamond, and all you have to do on your Microsoft Word is hit “Export” and the computer does it all for you. Then, you can send it off to anyone with the proclivity to read it, and you know that it won’t mess up, because almost all devices can recognize PDFs. PDF is even better if you have images, because we’ve all had to deal with images going on a walkabout whenever you try to move some text around it.
Then you hit a snag: Ralph wants to read your 30-page on his 5-inch phone, except because the PDF was made with 12pt Garamond, it’s too wide for his screen! He has to zoom in, and keep swiping and moving the PDF around, and he keeps losing his place.
Alright, Ralph, calm down. There is actually a way for him to read your manuscript on his little screen, without any compromise on anyone’s behalf.
Ebook formats are formats that allow the text to be resized, and free flowing. Imagine your text to be a box of nails: PDF sees those nails hammered into a piece of wood, and you just can’t move them around. Ebook formats, on the other hand, is more like having those nails on a sheet of metal, and the user is a magnet. They can freely move the nails around so there’s more or less of them clumped together. This is what they call ‘free-flowing’ text.
Alright, that was a terrible analogy, but you get my drift.
There are two major ebook formats, firstly, we’ll look at EPUB.
Epub is the industry standard for ebook formats. That means, most publishers or software developers would work with Epub in mind. Epub is most commonly used on Apple devices, like your iPad or iPhone. It is also used on many other, third-party apps for tablets and such.
Here, let Wikipedia explain it better.
Great! You’re super excited about being able to read A Song of Ice and Fire without building up biceps. You go to your nearest electronic store, and you tell them you want to buy an ebook reader. The gal points at the nearest Kindle, and that’s what you go home with. You’ve already got a few DRM-free ebook files from a Humble Bundle that you paid for, and since epub is the way to go, you try to load them up into your Kindle.
Except…it won’t work!
Amazon’s Kindle is probably the most ubiquitous and well known e-reader (electronic reader) around. And they do not read epub files.
Apart from their proprietary, DRM protected AZW files (for the ebooks you buy off of their Amazon store), Kindles accept only PDF, and mobi.
Fun fact: Mobi might not even stick around for Amazon…who could be moving onto something else that’s not epub.
Let’s make an ebook!
So, you’re looking at your 30-pager, and Ralph is ralphing on about his 5-inch deficiency. You know that as an author, you need to please your readers, so you’re going to make your manuscript into an ebook. Here are some ideas:
Bookbaby has a great series of articles that explain some preliminary steps you need to take before publishing.
The first step is to know what you are publishing. If it’s text-only, then epub (or mobi, if you are wanting Kindle readers to access your product too) is the way to go. Otherwise, if there is a large quantity of images, such as photo-books or instructional booklets, then PDF may be the easiest course of action.
After that, it is a matter of deciding which platform you will publish in. Remember that epub is the industry standard, and will work on iPads, as well as other e-ink readers such as KOBO, NOOK, etc; mobi is the only one which Kindles will accept (apart from their proprietary AZW format).
There are electronic publishers for your ebook, which also help you format your work. Jutoh; Lulu; and Smashwords all offer publishing in epub. Mobipocket, the people who made the mobi format, obviously allow you to publish in mobi.
What to take away:
Ebooks are much more sophisticated than reading as a PDF; a well formatted ebook an be read easily on any device, using any sized font.
There are many different kinds of file formats for ebooks, depending on the device you’re using to read. Generally, epub is the way to go, being the industry standard. However, the format decision need to ultimately be made with the knowledge of intended audience and platform in mind.
There are several online electronic publishers who can help you create an ebook and distribute it.
Finally, Ralph needs to find himself a better reading device.