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When eBook Choices Seem Overwhelming

June 11th, 2012 . by Peggy

Stuck in a revolving door of confusion about eBooks?Stuck in a revolving door of confusion when it comes to various technologies around eBooks? You’re not the only one.

Knowing your options may seem like you’re opening a can of worms, but actually, I find that most of the choices in eBooks really boil down to just a few questions.

The problem is that these few choices have been inflated and repackaged a million ways. When various companies start inventing their own words to use for the same things, nobody knows what the heck is going on.

Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to pigeonhole options when they present themselves, and know if a new choice is something you really need to consider, or if it’s overrated or unneccessary.

Here are the questions I hear about the most in my presentations and workshops.

1) Do I need to create a PDF or an ePub?

This is really the biggie. Everything else falls into place based on this. For more information on each of the platforms, and how to make the choice based on your content type, read this previous blog post from me.

2) Do I need to hire an “eBook Publishing Company”?

This category of company invented itself a couple of years ago. Are they capitalizing on the confusion by charging outrageous prices for stuff that most people can do themselves? In most cases, absolutely. (However, there are some that I’m testing and that I may recommend in future.)  The built-in systems inside Amazon Kindle, for example, enable any non-techie to do it all by themselves. Anybody who can type an MS Word document can publish on Kindle. For more information about how to actually do this stuff yourself, sign up for my mailing list. I’ve got new video classes coming online very soon.

3) Do I need an Editor?

A resounding YES. For me this is not negotiable. In almost 170 eBooks, I’ve met exactly two writers who did not require the services of an editor. Two. Neither you nor I are one of those two. Find someone qualified you can work with, and just make the best deal you can. Try this database of freelance editors to start.

4) Do I need to hire someone to typeset my eBook?

If you are creating something that you want people to buy and read on Amazon Kindle, no, you certainly do not, as that’s not how Kindle works. (If you don’t know this already, it means you need to buy an eBook on Kindle and read it, to familiarize yourself with the platform. You can read an Amazon Kindle eBook for free using your computer, your phone, or your iPad or other tablet – you do not need to buy a Kindle device, or even pay money for an eBook for that matter.)

However, if you’re creating something that should be printed out and written in, or that contains many illustrations or tables or charts, or that must be seen in colour to make sense, then yes, you may want to consider hiring a designer to lay it out as a PDF for you. This means it’s more likely that you’re going to sell it off your own website, rather than on a platform like Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and etc. (Please, I beg of you, don’t simply type up an MS Word document and use that to create your PDF for download. It looks like crap.)

5) Do I need to hire a cover designer?

Unless you have some reasonable graphic design skills, yes, a professionally-designed eBook cover is totally worth the money. Don’t try to buy software and learn it as you create a homemade-looking cover design – too frustrating. You can certainly get a really attractive cover designed for you for about $200 – $500 USD. There are some great people overseas. (Or, hire me. It doesn’t matter – just be sure it looks slick.) I’ve written about eBook cover design guidelines here. You can share that previous link with your graphic designer.

6) Do I need a website devoted entirely to this eBook?

Perhaps not. What every book does need, however, is a landing page. If you already have a WordPress site, that means just adding another page to your current site, one that is totally devoted to selling your eBook, without distraction, alternative navigation, or outbound links. This page is where you’ll direct web traffic to “land” when they respond to things like your social media links, any ads you have to sell your eBook, or from other websites and blogs.

Let us say that you are a chef, and you’ve written a cookbook. The cookbook is a PDF, which means that it’s loaded with colour photos, lists of ingredients, and indented instructions. You want to sell this off your own website, and use it to build your profile. The best way to accomplish this would be to devote one landing page on your site to just selling the eBook. From that page, create a really HUGE and obvious link in the top right corner that says “Order my copy NOW!”, and make that button go directly into the shopping cart experience.

That sales page does NOT need to be independent of your website. In fact, it will work better if it’s not, as it reduces maintenance for you, as well as being able to easily capture traffic from the rest of your website.

7) How do I start writing? What should I use to type it?

Just use whatever you are most comfortable using. These days, everything can be exported and imported. Most people still write in MS Word, which is just fine, no matter how you plan to ultimately output your eBook. (I happen to prefer the free software Open Office over Microsoft products, but as I say, it doesn’t matter.) It helps a great deal to reduce the amount of formatting you use, and keep it as simple as possible, to avoid having to make adjustments to the manuscript later on. Whether you plan to release it as a PDF or as an ePub, as in, Kindle, etc., MS Word (or Open Office) is still a perfectly good way to start out.
Don’t worry at all at this stage about things like spacing, designing the layout of things on the page, or especially fonts. This seems to get asked all the time, and yet, at the first stage, this is absolutely the wrong thing on which to focus. Instead, worry about your marketing plan, your outline, and finding any images you wish to include, again, no matter which type of eBook you plan to create.

While this is not an exhaustive list, this certainly covers the most common questions I hear. The key is to simply not worry about the details too early in the process. The bigger question of things like your marketing plan and your keyword research are still the most important first steps.

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Make Your eBook Into a Magazine

April 10th, 2012 . by Peggy

With my upcoming audio product eBook Fast Lane, I’m including a slim workbook for eBook creators. Here’s how you too can create an eBook that is also a magazine.

HP has a service called MagCloud, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a cloud printing service for magazines. Yes, you can upload your mailing list, and they will print the number of required copies, and send them out to your list. You can also order them for yourself at a very reasonable price. They have three different sizes, and the print quality is excellent. Check out the latest I just created for this platform, for friend and client Shari Molchan, of MolchanFinancial.com.

Shari wanted an eBook, but she also know she wanted something to have at her speaking events and classes. With MagCloud, we created a single file to upload – that’s right, not different versions of the file for eBook, downloadable and print – uploaded it once, and we were in business.

The PDF we created to upload to MagCloud also works as a download on Shari’s website (in lower resolution, to make it smaller and faster to download), and when the digital version is downloaded from MagCloud, it works as a cool iPad app, which shows off Shari’s content to best advantage. The print version is beautiful, using the best in magazine printing technology, bagged and delivered to your door.

SLICK, huh?

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Writing for eBooks vs. Writing for Paper Publication

May 25th, 2011 . by Peggy

Someone recently asked me, “Is there a difference in writing style between eBooks and paper publications?” Yes, and it can be quite dramatic.

People buy eBooks for completely different reasons than they purchase paper books. Again, it comes down to knowing your audience and their needs.

Let me share with you the top three reasons that people have specifically stated or demonstrated to me about why they might choose an eBook over a paper book. All of these cases apply to only my own work with non-fiction.

1. They want the information right away. Like, yesterday. They search online first for the content, find a resource, like a blog that tells them things they like to hear, and then find out that the blog Author also has an eBook available for download.

2. They don’t have time to read that much. I’ve heard more than once that people have a perception of paper-bound books occasionally being too deeply explorative of topics. They just want the facts. They don’t want to know the backstory – it won’t change how they use the information or how they make decisions.

3. They just don’t want more “stuff” in their lives. An eBook on their phone, iPad or other digital device is more or less invisible. It doesn’t require storage and is always in their back pocket. They can make notes or send paragraphs to others via email or even Facebook.

So if we know all of these things about our reader, how can we imagine that they want to read an eBook?

- uncomplicated, unburdened writing
- plain language, not a lot of buzzwords
- straight-to-the-point explanations
- external references will work easily (like web links for more info or your bibliography)
- high-level exploration of the topic, unless it’s specifically stated that yours is an in-depth work
- written in a lighter, more entertaining style
- consider modularizing content into self-contained sections that make sense on their own, allowing readers to make choices about how they choose to read the content, perhaps just one mini-chapter at a time
- use clear headings and sub-headings
- use consistent organization, conventions, and glossaries that interlink to your main content
- be sure that your chapter headings and subheadings links work properly, allowing people to hop around to parts of the content clearly
- make sure that your sales copy clearly represents what readers will receive
- use standardized platforms and technologies with the widest appeal and compatibility (watch out for the use of Flash on Apple devices, for example)
- offer them follow up content that meshes with your first book or offering

In closing, let me offer you a single caution: don’t make assumptions that your eBook readers are young hipsters, and can understand euphemisms and slang. Lighter and more entertaining doesn’t mean using cultural references or inside jokes that may be missed by a 55+ crowd.

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eBooks on the iPad

February 1st, 2010 . by Peggy

I can’t stop watching the iPad video over and over. But how will this device work as an eBook reader, and what do eBook producers need to know?

iPad image from Apple.com

The iPad is (partly) designed to elevate eBooks to the next level, and it’s really the first practical, portable incarnation of a reader designed to take advantage of what I’ve been calling “next generation eBooks”. (Despite the fact that ‘eBook reader’ is pretty far down on the list of all the apps and features of this device, long after video and web surfing.) This means total integration of my “Three M’s of eBooks”, which are: multimedia, modular, and mobile.

As eBook creators, here’s what we need to consider as we prepare to launch eBooks for this elegant new platform;

eBooks are no longer just applications, as they have been since their adoption of books into the iTunes app store in late December 2008. eBooks are managed through eBook reader applications like iBook, the fully integrated eBook reader in the iPad, (!!), which offers books in the ePub format. This format is also supported by readers like Lexcycle’s Stanza, Mobipocket, and Adobe Digital Editions. iBook will allow you to purchase, download and read books wirelessly, right from the device, without the connection of a computer.

We don’t know what the selection of books will be like in the US-only (for now) iBooks store. Will they eventually have an inventory similar to Amazon? The publishers reportedly offering books in the store include; Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette, but who knows about others.

Neither do we know what sort of specs developers will have to deal with, but we can surmise that it will be similar to Kindle, as the iBook store will support books in the “re-flowable” ePub format.

The display of an ebook will be more like an actual book, as seen briefly in the video. Page flipping is more natural, and perhaps to take advantage of the superior screen, the format will expand to allow producers to control more things like font styles, embedded graphics and so on, but still allow the user to control things like zoom and font size. We’ll have to see the finer points of this.

We don’t know what support iBooks will have for independent publishers and self-publishing Authors. Kindle is relatively kind to self-pubs, (compared to some retailers that will remain unnamed) and Apple has a great history of inviting in independent iPod app developers, so let’s hope their relationship with independents through iBooks will also be a good one.

Kindle books will apparently still work, as the iPad claims that is will still be compatible with all the iPhone and iPod apps, including Stanza and the Kindle app. However, apps designed for the iPod and iPhone will only display as a small part of the screen, so books read through existing apps won’t take advantage of the new screen size, which is rather dumb, if you ask me.

More apps mean more eBook formats, such as multimedia PDF’s and so on. But since Flash support has not existed up until now on any Apple devices, (Apple is totally *not* buds with Adobe – like, whatever, just get over it…) we still won’t see the full potential of all that a “next generation” ebook could be without embedded flash in PDF’s. In other words, it’s still not likely to display all that a multimedia PDF would if you opened it on your PC.

We don’t yet know what role DRM will play in this new iBook universe. It’s pretty tough to imagine Apple allowing eBooks to download in a DRM-free manner, even as an option, but you never know. Apple has surprised us before. Many, many times before.

Books can possibly be more than just pages, because with a beautiful display like that available to us, we can really get creative when it comes to adding multimedia content, or adding value to book bundles with things like audio content and printable extras all zipped into a friendly package.

Yes, there are still plenty of big question marks. But, I know I’m going to seriously consider purchasing an iPad for myself. I’ve been waiting for the release of this device to make up my mind about a portable eBook reader that I can really live with.

But no matter what, I can’t wait to start developing eBooks for this thing!

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