Warning! eBook Readers (iPad, Kindle, Nook and Smashwords) do NOT use the same formatting.
So you want to create an eBook? But wait! Stop! Do you own an eBook reader? Have you ever read an eBook? Software readers installed on your computer don’t count. In order to fully comprehend the behavior of an eBook you really NEED to own and eBook reader! Yes, there are eReaders available for your computer, but very few of these tools display the book the way it would be seen on an actual eBook reader. Even within the Amazon Family of eReaders (Kindle Hardware, Kindle Previewer, and Kindle Reader for your computer, DO NOT display the book the same). Why you ask? It’s simple. The software is trying to make your computer pretend to be something that it is not!
If you want your see what your book (either your new manuscript or backlist title) would look like as an eBook, please go and buy an eBook and look at it on a real eBook reader! This is about you! It is utterly amazing to me how many authors want their book to be formatted into an eBook, but they have no idea what that means! And, they are often disappointed because of unrealistic expectations. eBooks do not present like regular books. If you come from a background where you are used to controlling the font, exact spacing and the overall presentation, be prepared for a culture shock!
The purpose of this post is to give you a general overview of the different eBook types (formats) along with their advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing you need to remember is that when it comes to electronic data, computers, software, people—there is going to be compromise.
So let’s get started.
There are basically four types of electronic book formats. Now I’m generalizing here so if you are a technical person you are already poised to send me a comment. <g> . Please do, this is all an evolving, learning process
The four most popular vendors of eBooks are:
1. AMAZON FAMILY OF KINDLES (.MOBI .AZW)
The .MOBI file format used to be owned by MobiPocket (PC only) but Amazon acquired the company and is now utilizing this eBook format. It is cross-platform and you may see either the .prc or .mobi file extension on files for other eBook readers.
.AZW is a proprietary format developed by Amazon for the older Kindle eBooks and is still used today. Those of you who know how to transfer a book from a computer to your Kindle may notice that your file has an .azw file extension. An .azw file is a Kindle eBook.
ADVANTAGE: There are more Kindles on the market than anything else. Users will be able to read the story and see pictures. This is your largest potential buying audience.
DISADVANTAGE: Most of the Kindle hardware is in grayscale. This may or may not be the best tool for your book if it has illustrations. However, the new Kindle Fire is a color eReader and utilizes the “KF8” format. If you hear someone talking about a KF8 format they are talking about the programming required for the Kindle Fire, for example, but your eBook file will still have a .MOBI file extension. How’s that for confusing? Keeps us on our toes, right?
Book Design is limited on regular Kindles, no embedded fonts and very generic in presentation. Only Kindle Fire or new Kindles have the embedded font options and enhanced functionality. Readers with a Kindle Fire will be able to read the enhanced .mobi/KF8 file. The consumer will not be allowed to purchase the book if they don’t own a Kindle Fire.
2. BARNES & NOBLE NOOK (.EPUB)
EPUB – This is the most common eBook file format. Text is searchable, the reader can highlight, make notes and take advantage of that particular hardware’s features and functions. They vary depending upon the eReader hardware and/or software.
ADVANTAGE: Fonts and presentation can be customized by the consumer for his or her own reading pleasure. Available to most eReaders on the market today. An .EPUB file is the most common on all readers except Amazon.
DISADVANTAGE: Your pictures will remain located in the same position, however, the original artistic design of the book can be changed by the reader. If you are a book designer, illustrator or have a graphic novel, you are not too excited about this format.
3. APPLE’S IPAD, IPHONE AND IPOD TOUCH (.EPUB)
“Fixed Layout” EPUB – This is recommended if you have a children’s book. The elements on the page remain fixed and the consumer cannot change anything. They can however, swipe, zoom and tilt vertically (1 page display) or horizontally (2 page display). If artistic presentation and book design is important to you (an illustrated children’s book is a good example), then a Fixed Layout EPUB is recommended. In most cases the text is not searchable and is presented as images only.
ADVANTAGE: An opportunity for the book design to stand on it’s own. Pages can be enlarged (or swiped), zoomed in and out.
DISADVANTAGE: Non-Searchable Text and generally only seen on Apple products. Features and functions such as changing fonts cannot be selected by the user.
Note for Apple folks: Apple also accepts regular EPUB. If you don’t have a mac computer, you cannot upload to the iTunes store.
4. SMASHWORDS (.DOC)
Smashwords is a distributor of eBooks to vendors such as Amazon, B&N, Apple, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, and More. Using the author’s Word for Windows file, they convert the book into the various different formats required by each vendor.
ADVANTAGE: It’s a one-stop shop that will distribute your book to a multitude of eBook vendors. Most end-users can use Smashwords guidelines for creating a generic Word for Windows file.
DISADVANTAGE: If you have any unusual formatting requirements (i.e., text boxes) you may receive conversion file errors. If Smashwords requirements are not met your book will not be included in the “Premium Catalogue” which is required in order to distribute to the various vendors.
So, why not use Smashwords for every format? Well you can. But (1) you’d make a little more money per book and (2) if your file is over 5MB you cannot upload a file to Smashwords.
If you are an author with a standard novel (i.e., mystery, romance, western) then I would suggest you have four eBook accounts supporting the following file types: (1) Amazon .MOBI (2) Barnes & Noble EPUB, (3) Apple EPUB and (4) Smashwords Word for Windows file.
Oh…that’s right…what about PDF? A PDF file does not an eBook make. IMHO!
Hey how about a little trivia? Did you know that SmartPhones are the most popular eReaders?
Do you want control of your book, do you really care and want to see what your audience sees? THEN GO AND PURCHASE AN EREADER!