making ebooks

This is a non-paper world, right?

I’m an old-school artist, so I hope not, but when it comes to our books…it seems like it is tilting that way. Content marketers have to rejoice: Ebooks cost less to produce, are more portable, and can reach a wider audience with easy distribution.

The decision to make ebooks is a no-brainer, it seems, right?

Is Anyone Reading Ebooks?

The answer to whether people are reading ebooks is a hearty yes. On Amazon, Kindle ebooks outsell hardcover books. But what about the ebooks you often see flashed across a blog or marketing site? Free Ebook! Get Our Free Ebook!

We’ve made heavy use of ebooks on our website, mainly to entice our audience to sign up for our email list in exchange for an ebook. In fact, that is the most common use of an ebook online, that exchange between the reader who wants the free ebook and the blog that wants their email address. Some authors even give away their ebooks for free, no email required!

But I have a confession about all of the free ebooks I’ve grabbed: I rarely read them.

In fact, I grabbed that author’s free ebook, just like 24,000 other people did…but I never got around to reading it. Why?

In the busyness of life and work, when it comes time to sit down and read, I don’t grab my tablet to read a PDF on SEO secrets. I want to read a great bit of fiction or a history or non-fiction book. Perhaps I’m the only one who does this, but when I see a free ebook, my first reaction is to get it and “save it for later” which actually means “save it in my ebook folder and never read it because I have so many.” I forget what I have.

As a tool for grabbing emails, the ebook exchange still works well enough. You just have to wave the free ebook with its enticing headline and it’ll get the job done whether anyone reads it or not.

But what if you want people to read your ebook?

Ebooks are cheap. Just about anyone can create an ebook, which more often than not is merely a PDF file. That low barrier to entry, and the fact that the practice has become the standard MO of marketing blogs, means that there are a few great ebooks out there and a huge pile of not-so-great ebooks. And that’s trained people to not always read them.

How do you get your ebook read?

Getting Your Ebook In The Marketplace

The PDF ebook is ubiquitous on the web. They are everywhere, they are easy to create, and they are also sometimes easily ignored by people like me who are flooded with pop-ups and enticements to sign up and get a free ebook everywhere I go on the internet (heck, we do it here, too).

So, with the convenience that comes with a PDF, why would you bother with a more device-specific ebook file format?

I attended a lecture at an art fair several years back. The artist presenting was a man who created large furniture pieces out of metal and driftwood. His talk was mainly about his craft, but during the question and answer time afterwards, he received several questions from other artists. One particular exchange stood out in my mind.

“Why do you bother paying the higher rent for a downtown studio and store space?” a man from the audience asked. “Why not just build the furniture out at your farm?”

The artist smiled. “My art is a business, and if you’re going to do business, you need to be where business is being done.”

In other words, you go where what you are selling sells the best. People wouldn’t drive out to his farm to buy furniture, but they’d buy it in his furniture store downtown. People might not come to your website to find your ebooks, but they will find them in other locations they already frequent. As long as your ebook has your information inside (author name, website, etc.) it doesn’t matter where they find your ebook. The ebook will help them find you.

Kindle And Nook Stores

Most of us know about getting our ebooks on Amazon through their Kindle Direct Publishing program, or through the Nook Press program for Barnes and Noble.

If you have an ebook that has particularly valuable and unique content, why not make it available in these stores? They are the place people go to get ebooks. Try giving your ebook away for free; there are people like me who frequently scour the Kindle store looking for free books, downloading and reading to see if there’s an undiscovered gem out there. Give people a taste for your content.

Scribd

Scribd is a service I started using back in 2008, in its early days when bloggers used it as their main way of embedding documents in their blog posts. It’s come quite a long way since then, and is now pushing its service (and mobile app) as something to use to read ebooks (novels and otherwise). You can set your ebooks to be free or charge a fee to access them. There is also a subscription service that Scribd has set up for its users which can benefit authors.

Scribd also provides you with a dashboard that can tell you how well your content is doing.

scribd

Scribd has a FAQ section that is helpful to clarify their current business model, which is an ever growing ebook and document distribution system.

Smashwords

Smashwords is somewhere between a publisher and distributor of ebooks. Their selling point is that once you upload your ebook into their system, they will help you distribute your book to many online resellers. They also are proud of giving authors a higher net profit on their ebooks than some distributors.

They have a full suite of services, but the biggest downside? A reliance on Microsoft Word as the file you’ll upload to be converted. Also, not everyone has had great success with flawlessly formatted ebooks that are run through the Smashwords converter. You may want to use a different system to get a better ebook, and then use the Smashwords distribution network.

BookTango

BookTango is a publisher and distributor that makes it easy to create and publish an ebook in several online stores. BookTango is probably a good solution for someone not tech savvy or comfortable with other ebook creation services, since it has an editing suite that you can use on your tablet in case you need to make some changes on the go. You can design your cover there, and get an ISBN, too.

As far as sales are concerned, you’ll receive 100 percent of any sales off the BookTango site. If the ebook is sold on other distributors sites, you’ll receive around 90 percent. It’s not a bad deal, and if you’re looking for distribution, BookTango is an option for you. BookTango also offers some paid services you can use if you’re not confident in making your ebook.

Any ebook on BookTango must have at least a 99 cent price tag, so free ebooks are not an option on this system.

Blurb

Blurb has long been the go-to for paper published books for artists and photographers. It recently partnered with Amazon.com to get both print and ebooks listed on their site, coming out with revamped software (BookWright) to help you create both ebooks and paper books. Blurb also has a plugin for InDesign for those who prefer creating ebooks that way.

While the BookWright software is fun to use, the distribution is more limited with Blurb than with other services. It would be a good choice if you have an image-heavy ebook in mind and want an art quality end result. Blurb has been known more for their print book publishing.

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If you are trying to make money off of the sale of ebooks (or even giving them away to build an audience) instead of just using them as a free incentive, then you are in the business of selling ebooks. Your books need to be found where the ebook selling business is done. And that means making your ebook available in proprietary formats for e-readers and different ebook marketplaces.

If you want to make your books available on the Kindle, in Google Play, or for Apple users, you’ll have to graduate beyond the PDF.

Make Ebooks Online

If you want to create an ebook that is a step beyond a PDF, you’re in luck.

There are a lot of options out there besides the old stand-by InDesign which not everyone has or knows how to use. It’s a matter of finding the right tool to create an ebook that can be used where you intend to sell it or make it available. There are many ebook formats, but the three we are going to focus on will be PDF, MOBI, and EPUB.

Most people consider the EPUB format to be the standard, though that isn’t quite so. Still, for purposes here, we’ll assume that MOBI is for Kindle and that EPUB is for most other e-readers. You may be selling your ebook through Kindle Direct Publishing (which has some basic file conversion tools, too), iBooks, or making it available in those other ebook marketplaces for general consumption. Here are the apps that can help you prepare your ebook in a format that you need.

PressBooks

Pressbooks will be very familiar to WordPress users. This service uses the WordPress interface to create your ebook in their system as well as manage your resulting files and distribution.

PressBooks

The PressBooks dashboard. Hopefully you have a better idea for an ebook than I did.

It can then be converted to PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. They also help in the export of your PDF to be used with Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand publishing, and they also allow your ebook to be available for promotion, with the ability to make specific chapters public or private. PressBooks provides many templates and designs to choose from, and they are well made.

PressBooks is free to try and use, but if you do not want the PressBooks watermark in your completed ebook, you’ll have to pay a fee for each book. Still, it’s a simple way to make an ebook right now, online, and it has a solid track record of users who have had success with the system. I find it particularly attractive to use because I’m used to being in WordPress all day long. PressBooks almost feels like blogging, and I’m comfortable with that.

Liber.io

Liber.io is a service that allows you to convert your Google Drive documents into an epub format, and has one of the more attractive user interfaces in this list. If you’ve been doing much of your writing in Google Drive, you may find this service useful.

After you connect Liber.io to your Google account, you’ll be able to select any document from there to turn into an ebook. Liber.io allows you to do some customization of the table of contents, legal disclaimer, copyright, and (coming soon!) ISBN settings. You also have the option to allow it to create extra pages. For example, it will grab your Google profile information from your account to accompany the ebook as an author bio.

Additionally, you can use an image in your Google account, or grab a custom image and upload for the cover.

liber.io

I used Liber.io to create an ebook from a test document.

As slick as this all sounds and as pretty as the interface is, Liber.io is still invite-only as of this writing. And, unfortunately, it has some real hiccups when it comes to converting the document. I’ve had it fail as often as I’ve had it succeed in generating a book.

Hopefully, this service will work out the kinks as it opens its doors to new users. The potential here is quite high for those of us who do a lot of writing in Google Drive.

Papyrus Editor

Papyrus Editor is a fun tool that lets you create brand new content or import your content from a URL. It’s an easy way to get blog posts and turn them into an ebook.

One word of caution: rather than put your base blog URL (e.g. http://coschedule.com/blog) in as the URL to import, you should use the individual URLs of each post that you’d like to bring in. You’ll get a more targeted ebook, for one thing. Plus, it doesn’t seem to grab more than a handful of posts, particularly if you have a blog with many hundreds of posts.

Papyrus Editor does a decent job of pulling in your content and imagery, though there are some hiccups when it comes to spacing and formatting, as outlined here. The interface also allows you to create pages easily, including author and copyright pages. You can upload a custom cover graphic, though you may need to experiment with the image to make sure your proportion is correctly. It doesn’t always resize well.

papyrus editor

One of the custom pages you can create with Papyrus Editor.

You can create content from scratch with Papyrus Editor, too, but many content marketers are looking for a way to repackage their blog content and give it new life. This is a fairly reliable tool that you might find useful to do exactly that.

Papyrus Editor will give your ebook a page (like this) but also allow you to download your ebook in different formats so that you can use them as you want to on your own site.

papyrus editor

The downloadable ZIP file contains the cover JPG as well as EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats. Here is a sample of our PDF generated from Papyrus Editor.

Overall, I’ve found Papyrus simple and easy to use, and it is free up to 5,000 words.

eBookBurn

eBookBurn doesn’t have the flashiest interface, but it is still fairly simple to use. This service is free to set up your ebook, but you’ll need to pay for the final export. The dashboard starts with basic information about your ebook, including the option to get an ISBN if you want.

ebook burn

From there, you build your ebook chapter by chapter, either with a blank page or by uploading a file (.doc, .docx, .rtf, .txt, .odt) of content you’ve already created. You’ll be using an old school WYSIWYG editor to create your content if you’re not uploading a file.

Make Ebooks Offline

Not everyone is a fan of having to do their work trapped online. Some prefer apps and software they can use on their desktop whether there is an internet connection or not.

Vellum

Vellum is a free app for Mac OS that generates ebooks for Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, though you will have to pay in order to export your book. Though it has many excellent design templates (much like PressBooks), it doesn’t allow for all the customizations you might want.

It does have a simple and beautiful interface that makes exporting your ebook easy (one click gives you an ebook for iOS, Kindle, and Nook). There are many other tools that can do what Vellum does (as we’ll see below) but they will take a bit of a learning curve. If you want to avoid headache and just write and export a beautiful ebook, Vellum is for you.

KindleGen

KindleGen is Amazon’s command-line software for making certain that your files will work on all Kindle devices. Using it is not for the faint of heart, and the zipped package comes with a readme file that you actually must read. KindleGen is more of a “partner” kind of software, used in conjunction with other tools. You’ll often see Kindle Previewer used along with it.

Kindle Previewer

Kindle Previewer is a helpful little piece of software that simulates what your ebook will look like on all of the Kindle devices. It can certainly be used to do a final check to see if your ebook actually will work on a Kindle before you place it online for sale. While it doesn’t actually create a file, it helps you see what your ebook will look like on several different Kindle devices.

Pandoc

Pandoc is a universal document converter and it, too, uses command-line to get the job done. Some people use it to convert Markdown to various ebook formats, and often use it in conjunction with KindleGen to make sure they have the Kindle format covered. Again, not for the faint of heart. There is a learning curve to using this tool.

iBooks Author

iBooks Author is free and fun to use, capable of creating simply amazing ebooks with a great set of drag-and-drop tools. The catch? The ebooks it creates are only for the iPad and Mac. Remember: do business where business is done. If your audience is solely (or even mostly) using iPads and Macs, this might be a great option for you.

One caveat is that there are restrictions on how you sell or distribute your .ibooks ebook. If you charge a fee for your ebook with this format, you can only distribute it through the iBooks store. Other formats, or a free ebook, broaden your distribution abilities.

Jutoh

Jutoh is another popular ebook creation software tool, though its user interface is decidedly dated. However, just because it isn’t pretty doesn’t mean it can’t get the job done. A plus? It allows for lots of customizations. It can export your ebook to several different formats, though in order to export for Kindle, it needs the KindleGen application present.

Sigil

Sigil is an open source tool that focuses on creating EPUB ebooks. It has a friendly interface and is fairly easy to use. We’ve used it here, in conjunction with InDesign (not to great success), and it isn’t a difficult tool once you become used to it.

sigil

If you are only interested in generating EPUB files, Sigil might be the tool for you.

Calibre

Calibre is an ebook management tool, but it also converts ebook files from one to another. It is capable of working with a large number of ebook formats, and because it can convert an EPUB into a MOBI, it is often used in conjunction with tools like Sigil. I’ve used Clibre with Sigil to get an ebook that will work on the Amazon store.

So. There are marketplaces, there are tools, there are decisions you need to make. Will your ebooks stay trapped as PDF files on your site, or will you take the time to do business where business is done?

What’s your favorite method of creating an ebook? Do you sell them, or offer them as free incentives?