Running the eBook gauntlet

As I start editing a new book edition, I find myself forced to think about eBooks once again. After all, the printed page is so last year – isn’t it? Whether or not print will ever go out of fashion (no doubt topic for another post), it’s equally clear that electronic books are here to stay.

As an author, then, what’s the quickest way to getting into electronic print? The first caveat is that while things are undoubtedly simpler than they were a few years ago, eBooks should be seen as a work in progress. Before Amazon and Sony’s eBook readers first came to market, there was no agreed standard for the eBook file format. Adobe PDF was the most commonly cited but it didn’t offer what is now seen as fundamental for offline e-readers – the ability to change text size, with pagination adjusting accordingly.

Today’s eBook readers have standardised around a limited set of formats. EPUB is the ‘most’ standard, as adopted by a number of e-readers including Apple’s iPad. The Amazon Kindle uses a derivative of the ‘legacy’ Open eBook format, known as AZW. Excuse the acronymitis but I hope it provides a point of reference if you see the terms elsewhere.

Writers want to write, and any moment they spend faffing around with technology is at best a distraction, and at worst a blocker. In traditional models, publishers have handled most of the gubbins, but have themselves acted as the main blocker to publication – while this has had the benefit of a level of quality control, it hasn’t been the sharpest of instruments. Surely, if an author has a (good) short story that was never likely to be published anyway (or if it was, only to be buried in an anthology), isn’t a better route providing a simple workflow with minimal intervention from anyone?

Googling on “how to create an epub ebook” yields long-winded lists of tools such as the one here (from the producers of Stanza – but it hasn’t been updated in over a year) or here. JediSaber has a tutorial on how to make an EPUB eBook, but it is not for the faint hearted! While many tools are free, there’s also the option of shelling out for a tool such as Adobe InDesign – but unless CS5 is suddenly fantastically simple, that won’t be for the faint hearted either.

This isn’t helping so far is it? OK, here’s the rub. I’m an author, I want to write a book using a ‘standard’ word processor such as Microsoft Word. Then I want, without sweat, tears or hacking XML tags, to see said book appear on my e-reader device. For the love of God, isn’t there a simple way of doing this right now?

Funnily enough, the simplest route today appears to lean on that old stalwart of electronic publishing, the PDF, then using a PDF to EPUB converter. There appear to be a number of options, here, here and here. And here for Mac. Which may just offer the answer.

For authors who also want to make money from their writing, it may also be possible to miss out the middle man and let the service provider (such as Lulu or SmashWords) do the hard work. I’m just creating an account on SmashWords, which according to Joe offers the most straightforward way of creating a downloadable ebook. More news when I have it.

Running the eBook gauntlet

One thought on “Running the eBook gauntlet

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