I was already quite the book nerd when Kindle ebooks first entered public consciousness. My dad, “the computer guy”, was excited to tell me about the merging of our mutual interests.
“Just think of it,” he told me “you could have hundreds of books on one little device! Think of how convenient that is. In the future, books aren’t going to be on paper anymore.”
With my lifelong dream of having a Beauty and the Beast-esque library with a ladder in mind, I was shocked. “That will never happen. What about old book smell? What about the sound of turning a page? The sound of snapping a hardcover closed when you’re done? This will never take off.”
We were both wrong.
Today, I must eat my defiant, teenage words. I still love the tactile benefits of a paper book. But I also love not announcing to everyone on the bus with me that I am re-reading Harry Potter for the 50th time or that I’m trying out a new self-help book. Do you know what else is nice? Being able to read while standing in lines and then stashing away the evidence in your pocket.
But how do we get from a print book to an ebook? We have spent so much time and effort in formatting our books for print – how do we prepare our books for a multitude of device sizes and the ability of readers to enlarge the font size at will? Most importantly, how much is it going to cost us to make sure our self-published books still look professional?
I will look at three ebook conversion options and discuss why you might consider each path.
Automatic Ebook Conversion by Kindle Create
Some of the best things in life are free: sunshine, pizza on employee appreciation day, Amazon’s free ebook conversion software, etc. You have the ability to convert your manuscript into an ebook for free – as long as you do a little bit of the formatting yourself. Not all of us have the experience or knowledge base that professional book designers enjoy. To solve this problem, Amazon has their own ebook conversion tool called Kindle Create. After downloading the software, you will upload either a PDF or .doc/.docx file of your manuscript. The program automatically detects headers, chapter titles, etc and formats them accordingly.
The tool uses only two templates (“Modern” or “Classic”) and limits you to three font choices. This can be understandable given the fact that it is a free program, but it does not give you any creative flexibility. Customizing your line spacing and image sizes can be a challenge as well.
If you are on a budget, Kindle Create will get the job done. This may be an option to consider if you are publishing a fiction novel or a book that has very little formatting to begin with. If you don’t mind the template and are willing to take the time to review and revise the final product, it is certainly not a bad option. Maybe you’ll use your savings to get your own employee appreciation pizza instead of waiting for the occasion at work.
There is one major reason why you might not want to use this tool. If you have a book with specific formatting needs (such as a lot of images, tables, charts, headings, footnotes, etc), you will probably want to consider the other options. Don’t forget that while you are able to review the file and make small changes yourself, it is still ultimately a computer that is doing the formatting. The computer might not know industry standards for your genre, reader’s expectations, or aesthetics. They say “you get what you pay for”, which is why, unfortunately, free things sometimes need to be approached with caution.
Professional Ebook Conversion by BookBaby
BookBaby is one of the many self-publishing service providers that offers multiple “packages” with a variety of services. BookBaby also known for their connections in ebook distribution. While we are mainly focusing on Amazon’s Kindle for the purpose of this blog post, BookBaby provides distribution channels to other ebook services such as Nook, Kobo, and iBook in addition to Kindle.
Currently, BookBaby is offering an “ebook conversion only” package starting at $99. Graphics, tables, and all that other good stuff do incur additional charges as they take more time to format correctly. BookBaby has a quote estimate calculator that can help you get a good idea of what you’re in for. You only need to upload your manuscript and they will professionally convert it into an ePub file OR a mobi file, which is what Kindle uses. You will still retain the rights to your book and you keep 100% of the royalties from sales.
Unlike the Kindle Create software, using BookBaby could open more distribution options. Plus, you have the added benefit of a real human person formatting the book. This means there is likely to be less spacing mistakes and more customization.
The biggest downside to this service is it is a one-time service. You send them the file and they send the file back. That’s it. If there are any revisions you need to make, you will pay more fees – you may even have to pay your full original price all over again.
Using Independent Book Design Specialists to Convert to Ebook
If you already have a print version of your manuscript, you probably (hopefully) had a professional do the interior design. If you are working with My Word Publishing, for example, you are probably already aware of our stellar roster of designers. It won’t be like the time you printed an 85-page word document at the high school library and then bound it with duct tape. Oh, wait that was me.
I have wonderful news for you. Many of those same professionals will also format the same manuscript for Kindle. This will be a similar process to using BookBaby, but there is a key difference – they already know your book. Those fun little swirls they added at the end of your chapter headings? Consider it added. Have you spoken to them at length about how much drop caps mean to you? Your drop cap passion is recognized.
So much thought and care was poured into your print book. Why should your ebook be any different? Why should it look any different? Using an independent book design specialist to maintain the formatting of your book from print to Kindle only makes sense. At this point in your publishing process, you have already established a connection with this person and he or she is already in tune with your style.
The previously mentioned services are “content only” format designs. You give them a file, they do some stuff, and give it back to you. Instead, an independent designer will have an open dialogue with you. What do you like? What don’t you like? They will listen to your needs and create an ebook that is uniquely you.
These layouts typically cost anywhere between $150-$300 depending on the complexity of the design. What you are paying for is that personal touch that only an independent specialist can give you. They have the industry knowledge, experience, and skill to know exactly what your book should look like as both a paperback and an ebook.
Every book has different needs. During the publishing process, you will want to weigh all your options and how each might impact the success of your book. Remember – you don’t have to do it alone.
Kerry Roepke is a genre fiction writer and a publishing consultant at My Word Publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Metropolitan State University of Denver and has a background in editorial journalism.