Creating e-books

Note: I cross-posted this on Publishing Renaissance on December 24, 2008.

I’ve been thinking about offering a quick’n’dirty series on how to create various ebook formats, wondering if independent publishers (or even micro- and small presses) know how to disseminate their wares effectively in electronic format. I know PDF is the fallback position and while I have a love/hate relationship with PDF (formatting, yay! reading on computer, boo! hiss!), most people who don’t have an ebook reading device pretty much are stuck with the computer.

(This is one reason I have issues with places like Lulu, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, etc. Their electronic delivery is exclusively PDF. I don’t know if the authors have the option to create other formats or even if they’re inclined to do so, but I urge those indies who choose such providers to check it out and diversify.)

SmashWords has a grinder program that allows you to upload your document and then spits out various electronic incarnations of it, but it has formatting issues, which is to say, some it ain’t pretty especially if you have a not-very-well-formatted RTF document to begin with. Oh well and get over it. They do a marvelous job with what they get and it’s a few hundred steps in the right direction—not to mention the fact that once you get it on your ebook reading device, it probably won’t make you any difference.

But in case you do want to know how it’s done (or, more properly, how we did it, properly or not), what tools we used, why—and we invite others to correct us on more efficient ways to do it (that doesn’t involve Book Designer, thanks)—here’s the first and most important thing you have to do:

Learn XHTML and CSS. Really.

O’Reilly at Tools of Change is pushing for all formats to be based on XML, but if you’re reading this post, this is probably a DIY project and XHTML is, IMO, easier to learn. You will need this for every format you might want to offer (except PDB [Palm] and as an ebook application [iApp] to be sold in the iTunes store).

After that, it’s all tweaks and about 6 different pieces of (almost free) software.

Go on now and learn XHTML and CSS. I’m not going to post tutorials on that when others have done it better than I.

7 thoughts on “Creating e-books

  • December 21, 2008 at 8:32 am


    I’ve been pretty successful publishing ebook versions of my print books as PDFs without DRM, using for the download service and PayPal for the credit card processor. Averaging a little over $1000/month net since I started this summer. The really fun part is I’ve already reached 45 or so countries (have to update my list this weekend).

    I tried the DRM route years ago, used to have two of the top ebooks on Amazon that weren’t “adult” – but I was using Lightning Source to get them into Amazon, and Amazon dropped them for ebooks beflore they launched Kindle. I have one book with Kindle just for grins, the reader just isn’t suited to my larger format books.

    Piracy is an issue, but one I’ve been living with. I file the occasional DMCA complaint when a blatant download service refuses to take down an illegal copy. Did a video about DRM issues once, though it has a couple speakos in it:-)

    I think I’ve done three or four blog posts with exact numbers on the ebook progress this year.

    BTW, I usually don’t comment on pubishing blogs but you have me on the sidebar so I figure I’m welcome…


  • December 21, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Morris, of course you are and welcome!!! (I’ve been following you for a while, so I’m flattered. ::cheesy grin::)

    I’m am fervently against DRM and the only way I lock up my PDFs is from changing content—and I certainly don’t encrypt any of my other formats.

    I’ve never heard of I’ll go check that out. Thanks again!!!

  • December 23, 2008 at 5:09 am

    Hey MoJo, will you consider sharing some of this on PublishRen too? Rae has gotten bogged down and is only now going to be able to do a blog once or twice a month. I’m going to have to start filling up the guest blogger calendar, or getting permission from peeps to “reprint” some of their blog posts on the group blog. Because I can’t post 3 and 4 times a week there. It’s too much.

  • December 23, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Sure, I’ll duplicate it from here to there, but it’s going to be very sporadic. It takes a while to prepare teaching posts that are that detailed.

  • December 30, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I’d love to read a series on this. I’m trying to learn how to do it. I’ve been out of publishing for awhile but have considered going back in on a limited basis…Pretend I’m a first-grader and write your articles at that level. 🙂

  • December 30, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Karlene, you bet. My first post is going to be concerning Smashwords, which is the super-duper easy way to do it if you don’t have a lot of fancy formatting.

    Also, I duplicated this post over on Publishing Renaissance, and there are some more comments on the subject you might want to check out.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *