18 Jul How to Sell a Book in America, part VIII: the e-book!

I’ve just posted my first (self-published) e-book on Kindle. It wasn’t easy. You’d think that all you’d have to do is format your text, maybe turn it into a PDF, and then upload it, right? No, no, no.

All would-be Kindle texts have to submit themselves to a Kindle converter. The Kindle e-format is not the same as your word processing format or your PDF format or, really, anything you have in your computer. In order to make your book readable on Kindle, you have to format it in a certain way so that the Kindle format machine (like Capt. Kirk’s transporter) can convert it without harm.

Without harm? Try uploading a PDF into the Kindle converter and it turns it into spaghetti. Same with a Word document. Same with a Text. Same with epub. Oh, my, I spent many hours fiddling with formats to see which one the Kindle converter would accept. I should add that I was trying to include images. A world of trouble!

Worse, the current generation of e-book readers do not accept all e-book formats. The Kindle won’t share with the Nook. The Nook won’t share with Kindle. However, both readers have some overlap. The Kindle 2 or 3 and the Nook read PDFs (the Kindle 1 does not).

Now here’s the frustrating thing: the Kindle 2 or 3 can read PDFs but you can’t upload a PDF to make a Kindle book. Does that make sense? Don’t let me geek out on you with further formatting facts and failures. Suffice it to say that, as we are in the infancy of e-books and their readers (the e-incunabula), nothing is standardized. It’s all unbelievably crude, like being in the Model-T era of automobiles. Eventually, the competing e-publishers are going to have to settle down and get along. But right now, it’s chaos out there.

The result is that, if you hope to publish an e-book yourself, you either have to be something of a techie or you have to hire help. That’s why we see so much growth in the e-publishing industry as new companies specialize in formatting e-books so that writers can upload them to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or wherever. Formatting is critically important, obviously, because who wants to read a book that looks like a chimp put together?

A word of caution to the eager, would-be e-book authors: the e-book market is no less crowded than the hard-copy market. I have no idea how anybody is going to find my little e-book on amazon. Here’s the link: Nana Gragg’s Long Journey Home

E-book publication makes sense if
a) you’re a well-known author (check out the Kindle store and you’ll see some big names self-publishing stuff);
b) you’ve got something that is too short for traditional publishing — something equivalent to a nonfiction chapbook, for instance (that’s me);
c) you feel you have no other options and you’re willing to promote your e-book;
d) and/or you’re part of this brave new world, like Kevin Fanning, who resides exclusively in the e-universe.

I’m trying to get into the Kindles Shorts market. But there’s a submission process. First you have to self-publish the short you would submit.

I bought a Kindle just to test out the technology and, really, to see how the e-book version of my illustrated novel, Kiss Me, Stranger, looks. It looks good enough but far from ideal. As it stands, you could format a fabulously lovely e-book on your computer but no e-reader on the market is ready to do it justice. To get the clarity of color and the fidelity of format, you still need to place the text in a computer — that’s what the I-pad does. It’s a notebook computer, not an e-reader.

After many hours of testing out conversions, here’s what I’ve learned if you’re interested in publishing a text with images:
1) Kindle and its ilk are PC friendly. Use a PC to format.
2) Use (free) MobiPocket program for your final conversion.
3) Prepare the text for Mobi in MS Word 2003 (I know, I know); the current Mobi doesn’t accept .docx!
4) Do not indent. Do not tab. Do not space.
5) Hard return at the end of every paragraph.
6) Use only one space after periods.
7) Use tiff format for images, not jpegs.
8) Place the images between paragraphs. Do not embed them.
9) If you want images framed, you have to do it in your image editor before you place them in your document.