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).
Read on to see my test.
I carefully made the book using the bookmaking template. I followed every single instruction. And the end result was that the print layout is absolutely lovely. See screenshots, below. Who wouldn't be happy with that layout? And for print, it should be great. No argument.
But then I used the template to make the eBooks, by uploading the completed book file at Amazon. Using exactly the same process that Amazon tells you to use. The same way that a DIY'er with Word would make their book. And at that point, the cow didn't eat the cabbage, as they say. In fact, I was actually surprised at how "wrong" things turned out. What happened?
The Facts About Fonts
Firstly, if you look at the screenshot, below, you can see that the commercial Template has a boatload of fonts. In fact, for the template to work on your computer, you have to install the fonts that come with it, first. One of the things that the template-seller doesn't overtly mention is that Word files can't "carry" their fonts with them. So, all those lovingly-styled font headings--they do nothing for you when you upload the file at Amazon. When you upload a beautiful, painstakingly-made, templated Word file like the one I bought from the commercial company, none of that styling carries over. NONE of it. Only HTML-created eBooks can "carry" fonts with them, so that when a reader buys a book, they see those same fonts on their e-reading device.
Yes, the KDP recognizes that headings are headings, and things like that--but everything about that template that made you buy it in the first place is gone. Those beautiful fonts and layout. And worse, as you can see, below, some of the styling does remain--but it's the wrong kind of styling for eBooks (like the enormous size of the Chapter header, when it's made "automagically" by the KDP from an uploaded Word file.)
OOOPS! Not the eBook-making Result You Wanted!
On the left is the file generated at the KDP by uploading the templated book. The one you paid for, spent your time formatting, carefully cleaning it, etc. On the right is a MOBI file made by one of our professional bookmakers, from the same file--but using our methods, of exporting HTML, cleaning it up, embedding the fonts, styling it, and the like. Some difference, isn't it? Which book do you want your readers to see at Amazon? The one on the left, or the one on the right?
Is the book on the left what you want your readers to see?
What the template-selling company doesn't tell you, at least, not in big letters that you can easily see, is that to make an ebook from that same template--well, you need to buy another template from them. And style your book, again. An entire second time. For the "eBook" use. To be uploaded at Amazon. Because they know that their beautifully-styled templates won't work at the KDP. They know that the templates will have the same results I'm showing you here.
And the template that they sell you isn't special; it won't look like the print-book template. To do that, you have to have mad tech skills; you have to know how to export HTML, how to clean it, how to style it, and how to embed fonts--in fact, you have to know everything that someone at our company knows. Making an eBook look like that gorgeous template you bought requires what are essentially professional ebook-making skills. It's simply not something that any DIY'er can do, using a commercial template. Or their own template. Bottom line: it can't be done from Word (or Libre Office, Open Office, Pages, WordPerfect--you simply can't get there from here, as they say).
This is a company that spent more than a year developing those templates. The same one I used for this demonstration. The same ones that you'd buy, if you went to their site. There's nothing "wrong" with the templates that they made, not for print. I didn't buy a second template, to make my "ebook" with. Why? Because, really, who wants to make their book TWICE? And there was no point in me buying their "ebook template" because it simply would have produced a very bland-looking, but functional, ebook. If you want that, you don't need to use a styled template; you can do it yourself from Word. If you take a plain Word file, like the one above (Prologue) you'll get a plain MOBI. There's nothing wrong with a plain MOBI, as long as it's functional. Nobody would dispute that.
What's Your Online Credibility As An Author Worth?
Stanford University has a Persuasive Technologies laboratory. They did a study on online credibility , and determined that the average person makes snap decisions about the credibility of a website or vendor based upon these things: typography, layout, font size and color scheme. Let me say that again: typography, layout, font size and color scheme. In one of our upcoming articles, we'll be talking about Why Typography Matters, even in today's web-driven world, and the basis of this discussion will be all about web credibility, and how buyers see your book once it's online.
If you were the buyer, of the books shown above, which one would YOU buy? It's your book. Shouldn't the appearance of your book clearly reflect all the hours you put into writing it? That old saying that your Mom taught you, when you were wee--that's there's no second chance to make a first impression--is no different for your book than it is for you. Don't forget that, when it comes to formatting your work. Professional conversion matters.