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.

Publishing potpourri for 100, Alex

Jasmine or honeysuckle, if you’re offering. Lavender and gardenia make my nose itch.


A resident of the Ivory Tower, who apparently called dibs on A’isha (child bride of Muhammed) as her personal and exclusive domain of study and forgot to send the memo, raised a ruckus about a book she didn’t like and managed to get Random House to pull it after the author had been paid her $100k advance and the presses were rolling. I say it’s an academic hatchet job.

Read more

Take my money, please!

I remember when I was a kid, going to The Jones Store and Macy’s around Christmas time gathering our Santa choices, then wandering around to find a clerk to take your money. Unfortunately, “there was no one there to take my money and they wasted my time by making me go fetch them” isn’t a good defense for walking out of the store with what you want, even if you can break it out on a wage basis and demonstrate adequate opportunity loss.

Harlequin. Bite me.

Read more