Sunday, June 14, 2009

Problems with Ebooks

Getting a book published is tough. If you are an unknown author, it's really tough. So ebooks seem like the answer. The whole ebook phenomenon is new and getting in on the ground floor seems like an easy way to break into the publishing world. But there are problems.

First, how do you make an ebook? There just aren't any good ebook creation programs out there. The commercial ebook programs don't create ebook files at all in any of the common formats. Instead they create an executable file that creates a proprietary ebook. I don't know about you, but I don't download executable files unless I'm absolutely sure that they come from a reputable source, and most unknown authors are... well, unknown. There are a few freeware ebook programs out there, but try figuring out how to use them when the instructions are all in Russian!

You can publish through Lulu and get an "electronic version" of your book, but it is only in pdf form. In fact, there are plenty of ways to make a good-looking pdf, but as my friends at Mobile Read Forums constantly remind me, pdf's are not ebooks. PDFs are designed for printing. People with ebook readers don't like them, because the text may not reflow correctly (Sony) or they won't work at all without conversion (Kindle).

Even if you did manage to create your own, where would you sell it? There are a few file hosting sites with payment arrangements, but not ones that are freqented by ebook buyers. You can get your books out at Feedbooks and Manybooks, but not if you want to get paid for your work.

That leaves Smashwords, where you can upload your file and their program (called the meatgrinder) converts it to the various formats. Some people have had very bad luck with this conversion, getting garbage out the other end. I have worked very hard to make sure that my books follow their style guide and I check what I'm getting, and so far I think the books are acceptable though not perfect (about on par with what I get from Feedbooks). What they really need is a way to edit the final products once they have been converted.

If anyone knows of an Ebook Creation Program that actually creates ebooks in real ebook formats (epub, lrf, mobi, etc) let me know, I will buy it. Then I'll work at getting my books in ebook stores.

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