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Once upon a time, (okay, about two months ago or so) in a fit of curiosity, I decided to buy one of those advertised templates—you know the ones—make your ebook from WORD! Why? Because we get a lot of inquiries here. In fact, we receive about 300 emails a day, believe it or not. We get people asking why our services are “better” or different than what they can do themselves. A lot of what we do is invisible to the human eye. This makes it hard to answer those types of questions without sounding self-serving.
As in, “well, gosh, we export and clean up the HTML, so that all the bad code that you can’t see with the naked eye doesn’t make your book go wonky when it’s opened on a Kindle.” This is a difficult sell, to be honest. It’s the same difficult sell that I run into when I try to explain that Smashwords does not do the same thing that we do. But, when you look at a sausage, do you know what’s inside it? Can you tell that one sausage-maker lovingly crafted his sausage from the BEST stuff, while the other used what remained on the floor after the first guy finished? No, you can’t. Not unless you already do this for a living, and if you did, we wouldn't be having this conversation--would we?
An eBook-making Test: Show, Not Tell.
In that vein, I decided to test what we do against those "DIY Word" templates that you can buy all over the Internet. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Perhaps, I thought, if I simply used one of those commercial templates, I could show--not tell--people the difference. I made sure that I bought a well-written template, from one of the most reputable and best-known websites on the topic of bookmaking. For both ebooks and print books. Below, see the original, unstyled Word file. (click ANY image to enlarge/lightbox).
One of the questions that we are often asked is, "what is the best eBook format for Kindle? I'm not always sure what question I'm being asked. Is the person asking to find out what file format they should upload to Amazon? Are they asking what's the best way to make a book for the Amazon-Kindle ecosystem? Really, there are only two eBook formats that are still remaining in the USA, and, when you look around, in the world. Those formats are:
ePUB: which stands for ePUBlication (clever, eh?), which is used by B&N, iBooks, Sony, KoboBooks, and Google, and,
MOBI format, which is the preferred Kindle file format.
If you've Googled, you've likely seen all sorts of claims, ranging from some folks telling you that you can put an ePUB on Kindle, to the idea that using Word is the best "Kindle eBook format." The bottom line is, the files that Amazon sells to its readers are, by and large, a single file format, called "MOBI."
What Format Does Kindle Use?
Now, if you've run across various forums, you may have seen people refer to AZW format, or AZW3 format. The former is the actual, final, encrypted Kindle format that is dispensed from the Amazon store, to your Kindle as a purchased book. That's not a format that you can make yourself. And, even if you could, you can't upload that format at the KDP, the Kindle Digital Publishing platform. The latter, AZW3, is a file format, created to emulate what's called "KF8," (the more-advanced Kindle formatting) by a piece of free library software called Calibre. However, just like AZW, you can't upload an AZW3 file format at the KDP. You can certainly make a file in that format, and side-load it to your own Kindle device, but you can't publish it. Obviously, that format, then, lacks utility. Fine for personal use, but useless for publishing. If someone starts yammering away at you, talking about how you can convert your file to AZW or AZW3 format, for the purposes of publishing--that's not someone to whom you should be listening.
Curious As To Why You Might Ever Want or Need an ePUB File? Read On!
How Can A MOBI File Be Anything Like A CAKE?
When we’re called by prospective clients, we’re asked a lot of questions. Some of them are about layout, some about functionality, and some are simply what seem to be practical questions, to the typical person or new eBook publisher.
One of the things that I’m often asked is “Why do I need an ePUB file? I only want to publish to the Amazon Kindle program, which uses MOBI, so why do I need to pay for an ePUB?”
What is an ePUB File? What's in a MOBI File?
As background, to address this, it helps to know that of all the major retailers, Amazon uses an eBook format called “MOBI,” and all the others (B&N, iBooks, KoboBooks, Sony, etc.) use the other major eBook format, “ePUB.” Basically, the eBook DNA of both formats is 98% identical; only at the very end of the process does the bookmaker make the decisions that end up creating an ePUB file versus a MOBI file, or vice-versa. So, by and large, it’s not twice as much for a company to give you both formats (and if anyone tells you that—find a different formatter!); it’s only a bit more money, as a large part of the work is the same.
The exception to this is what’s called “Fixed Layout” or “Fixed Format,” but that’s a topic for another day.
BUT: MOBI Kindle Files are not editable.
What most folks don’t know is that a MOBI Kindle file is not editable. When I tell people that, they naturally ask me, “but, if I want to make changes, how does that happen?” So, here’s the real deal on the basics between ePUB and MOBI:
A MOBI file is a finished, completed product. It is, essentially, like a Cake. When it’s finished, it’s great—but if you wanted to, you couldn’t take that cake apart and get your ingredients back. You couldn’t decide that you wanted to replace (say), half your white sugar with brown sugar. You can’t get your eggs, your flour, your sugar or flavorings back. It’s great, but it’s CAKE, not cake ingredients. If you decide to change your cake, you have to make a whole new cake, from new ingredients.
(If you want to get techy—a MOBI file is a binary database file that is built from its HTML source).
But, What If You Need To Change Your MOBI File?
But an ePUB file, on the other hand, isn’t just CAKE. It’s a cake that you can disassemble, if you need to. You can get your flour, your eggs, your sugar and your flavorings back from your ePUB. Your ePUB exists in two ways simultaneously; it’s both a finished book (cake!) and the ingredients. This is because an ePUB format isn’t like a MOBI format—it’s a bunch of files (ingredients) zipped into a unique format (ePUB). The “book” exists when it’s zipped into that special ePUB format. But if you know how, you can simply open up that formatted book, and you can add sugar, eggs, flour (text, formatting, other elements), make your changes, and zip those ingredients right back up into…a BOOK. It’s a bit like magic. You can wave your wand at an ePUB, and say “EPUB-liarmus!” and you can take it apart, and then put it right back together as you see fit.
Most professional eBook conversion and formatting firms will use an ePUB, or the constituent parts of the ePUB, to build the MOBI file. What does this mean for you, as a publisher? Well, think about it: if your formatting firm only gives you the MOBI file (cake!), and you later decide that you want to make changes—what do you do? You’re forced to go back to the same firm. You don’t have your source materials (your ingredients) any longer. I’ve even been told by some folks who’ve come to us that some companies will charge you as if it’s a brand-new book—a build from scratch, rather than simply revising the files that they must have in their archives.
So, don’t forget: you WANT an ePUB. Firstly, you never know when Amazon might decide to use ePUBs; you never know when you might want to change your ingredients; and third, heck—you’re paying for your eBook to be created. Make sure you get your own source files, for your future use.
And that way (yes, wait for it!)...you can have your Cake, and eat it, too.
The Stanford Persuasive Technologies Lab did a study, and found that despite the naysayers, typography matters. Not merely in terms of persuasiveness--in terms of credibility. What did their study find out?
The study found out that "participants made credibility based decisions...based upon...overall visual appeal." And what elements went into determining "overall visual appeal?" The very first element was typography, followed by layout, font size, and color scheme. Why does this matter to you, as an author?
One of the questions that I am frequently asked is about how to write an ebook. The great answer to this is: it's not hard, and it's not different than any other kind of book, pamphlet, or document. You simply sit down and write. Is it actual, real work? You betcha. I can tell you simply from writing all the web and FAQ articles that I have to create that writing isn't magical; it's not easy-peasy, and it's not a get-rich-quick scheme, but it does work. Like anything else, you simply have to put in the effort.
Is writing a How-To Book different than Other books?
We convert a lot of "how-to" books. Another question I hear fairly often is, "how to write a how-to ebook," to be sold on Amazon's Kindle platform. Again, this isn't any different than writing any other type of book. Marketing that type of book, though, might be a completely different task than, say, marketing a fiction book. One of the best marketing books out there, for non-fiction books, is Mike Alear's "How To Make a Killing on Kindle," (although Mike disagrees with me about blogging--but that's his prerogative as a successful author!) which gives you pretty good advice on strategizing a) what types of books to write, b) how to find the best keywords on Amazon, and c) how to market your efforts, using those precious ebook keywords and keyword strings.
How To Get Started Writing How-To Books:
One of the things that many authors don't think about is "how to" blogging, as a platform. A place to start. A way to start thinking about, experimenting with, and creating valuable interaction with your market base. What's a better place to use, from which to sell your "how To" book? An author page on Amazon, one of millions, or an active blogsite, that already has thousands of folks that come by, to see what you--a self-help guru who has established herself--has to say?
Not only does blogging give you writing experience--it helps you find out what people want to KNOW. And how they want to know it. Do they need long, detailed blog posts? Detailed instructions, or short, less-demanding pieces of the instructions?
Consider blogging, to find out what your audience wants, if you don't already know. And if you haven't established yourself as a guru, now is a good time to start. It will help drive book sales, in numerous ways.
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