The eBook Dilemma

When publishing my new paperback, The Story of the Robot, a few weeks ago via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, I decided initially not to create an eBook version. My main reason for this decision was the eBook format’s inability to support a proper index. This is no big deal for fiction books but can be a major drawback for non-fiction titles, where the reader relies on the index to dip in and out of the book in order to check facts or re-read certain sections.

Another reason was what I assumed to be the difficult and time-consuming task of reformatting my painstakingly formatted manuscript to make it suitable for an eBook. Unlike my previous book, The Story of the Computer, I’d gone straight to a highly formatted paperback edition, which I created using Adobe InDesign, rather than the more logical route of starting with a relatively unformatted eBook version before moving onto the paperback. InDesign does support eBook output formats but this would have meant manually stripping out all the paperback-specific formatting, a process that was likely to take some time and considerable trial and error to complete.

However, with initial sales of the new book in single figures, I soon realised that having an eBook version might help to stimulate demand. My previous book has sold in similar numbers of both formats over the past 5 years (although eBook sales do appear to be tailing off) and there is also the additional benefit of royalties from the Kindle Unlimited scheme, where you get paid for the number of pages a Kindle Unlimited subscriber reads in your eBook for the first time.

Having convinced myself of the need for an eBook version, I then investigated the options available for creating it. Several online resources suggested using Amazon’s Kindle Create to produce the eBook rather than doing it within InDesign. Kindle Create is a free desktop application that produces eBook interiors in Kindle Create Publishable Format (KPF) for publishing directly on the Kindle store. It will accept files in Microsoft Word format and will do its best to replicate the Word formatting in the eBook. As I’d written my book using MS Word before turning to InDesign to create the finished version, this sounded like the easiest option.

The conversion process was relatively straighforward, although Kindle Create does have a number of annoying bugs which required manual adjustment of formatting settings to bring certain elements back into line. The software is also quite limited in terms of functionality, particularly in how it handles images. Fortunately, it includes a built-in previewer which lets you see exactly how your eBook will look on a tablet, phone or Kindle reader. I found this feature invaluable for picking up several minor formatting issues that had crept into the eBook during the conversion process. Producing the eBook using Kindle Create took me about a day and a half, which was less time than expected and a fraction of the time taken to produce the paperback version using InDesign. It will be very interesting to see if having an eBook version has the desired effect in boosting sales of the new book!


The Self-Publishing Dilemma

Progress on my book has been slow but steady over the past few months with the result that Chapter 12 is now nearing completion.  That leaves only one more chapter remaining plus some tidying up to be done as a result of writing several chapters out of sequence, so I’ve been thinking recently about what to do with the book once it is finished.  The feedback I’ve received on the sample chapters suggests that there is a market for such a book, but what would be the best way of reaching this market?

There appear to be three options available.  These are (in descending order of difficulty):-

  1. Securing a publishing deal with a book publisher.
  2. Self-publishing the book.
  3. Putting the entire book up on the Web as a free download.

With the first two options, there is also a decision to be made on whether to go for a traditional printed book or an eBook, or possibly both.  A book on a technology-related subject may be more attractive as an eBook given that people who are interested in reading about technology are also likely to be keen users of technology.  However, I’d like to include plenty of illustrations in my book and there are currently issues with the use of illustrations in eBooks due to the way in which eBook readers dynamically reformat the pages in order to accommodate different display screen resolutions.

Given my chances of landing a publishing deal with no track record whatsoever, I’m tempted to go down the self-publishing route.  However, to do this properly will involve considerable time and expense, with little prospect of a return on this investment as my book is likely to be lost amongst the competition unless I can find a way of getting it noticed.  Unfortunately, the level of competition is formidable, with more than 2 million eBooks currently available in the Amazon Kindle store alone.

The Web is awash with sites offering advice for unpublished authors, but most of these focus on fiction rather than non-fiction and the two categories are sufficiently different that much of the advice does not apply.  Therefore, if there are any non-fiction authors out there who would be willing to share their publishing experiences, good or bad, I would be keen to hear from you.

Of course, I don’t need to make a decision on this anytime soon.  With a busy day job and other commitments, it’s likely to take me some time to complete the book.  The later chapters have taken longer to write due to the larger amounts of primary source material to digest, so on this basis I probably have another 9 months or so before I’ll actually have something worth publishing.