E-book Conversions: Ten Pointers to Ensure Reader Enjoyment (and Minimize E-book Returns)
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Publishers that are converting print books to e-books can find lots of helpful guides and tools. But judging by my conversations with self-publishing authors and the dozens of “final” e-books I’ve reviewed, a number of areas need special emphasis.
Paying attention to the 10 recommendations that follow should help you deliver a quality e-book-reading experience to your reader. Whether you are doing the conversion internally or outsourcing to a conversion firm, someone should look at the converted product using as many e-reading devices or e-reading software programs as possible. You might want to think of this quality control measure as a press check.
A Conversion Checklist
1. As always, quality is the objective. If you are publishing straight to e-book, apply the rule that applies to p-books: Make sure all preproduction work is high quality. This requires careful, professional editing, copy editing, and proofreading.
Typically these steps have already taken place if you are converting an existing p-book. However, if you plan to use a PDF as the source file for your e-book, you need to be aware that errors may occur. Most of these can be found with a thorough spellcheck, but it’s still important to review the new book closely. In my experience, hyphenated words at the end of sentences in the print version are particularly troublesome.
2. Interior e-book design differs from interior print-book design. Don’t assume you can or should try to use the same interior book design for the e-book. For example, today’s e-books have limited support for fonts, which means that if you want to use, say, Lucida Calligraphy for your chapter titles, you’ll have to convert each one to a graphic and insert it into your document. The same applies to other design elements, such as graphics.
Interior e-book design is in its infancy, so for now publishers should not assume that every print book interior-design element must be duplicated in the e-book version.
3. Watch for inconsistencies in text formatting. Typically this issue arises when the source document was poorly formatted. Although it may not be a problem when print books are being converted, it’s important to observe best practices when formatting manuscripts that will be converted to e-books.
Best practices include:
• Define indentation in a style sheet. Don’t use the space bar or tabs to indent the first line
of a paragraph.
•Limit the number of point sizes used in your text. For example, you might make headings 14- or
16-point type and use 10- or 11-point type for text. If readers want larger or smaller sizes, they can
choose them on their e-reader devices.
•Limit paragraph or line returns to no more than four consecutive lines. Adding more only annoys your
readers by forcing them to page through empty or near-empty e-reader screens.
•Watch your leading or line spacing settings. Wider spacing means your reader will have to click
more frequently. (Imagine the amount of paper your book would require if you printed
For more guidance on best practices, I recommend the formatting tips outlined in the free “Smashwords Style Guide,” available at smashwords.com.
4. Link the table of contents (TOC). If your book utilizes a table of contents, it should contain hyperlinks to the start of each chapter. Thumbing through a print book to locate chapters is easy, but looking for chapters can be frustratingly slow on an e-reading device. There are few visual cues, and e-books don’t have page numbers, because readers can change a book’s length and pagination by changing type size.
5. Provide a cover. Some people think it isn’t necessary to include a cover in the e-book file. I think that the cover matters a great deal and that it’s also important for covers to be consistent. The e-book cover serves as a visual reminder to readers as they peruse their online libraries. A link to the cover is built into the e-reader’s menu system. And covers are important for branding.
6. Use color images when they’re available. Images in color may seem unnecessary, because most of today’s dedicated e-reader screens are black and white. But they won’t always be. Besides, books can be viewed on color devices such as smartphones and tablets. If you have images in color, use them.
7. Include hyperlinks to external Web sites. Unlike a print book, an e-book gives you the ability to link to Web sites. Make it easy for readers to find your site, to discover related books and to access resources. Depending on your book’s content, the ability to hyperlink may lead to revising as you find new opportunities to enrich the reading experience by including links.
The bottom line for publishers is that hyperlinks are a terrific marketing tool, so use them.
8. Be mindful of sampling. A great benefit of e-books is that shoppers can try a sample before buying. Ideally the sample should include enough representative content for the reader to make a decision. (This also helps limit the number of books that are returned for a refund because they did not live up to expectations.)
Samples generally provide about 10 percent of a book. Beware of including extensive front matter, blank or nearly blank pages, and content promoting other titles that may push the content the shopper is looking for—the opening chapter, a table of contents—beyond the sample’s limits.
9. A print book ISBN cannot be reused for the e-book. It is surprising how many publishers ignore this or, worse, don’t understand it. If you are converting a print book, you cannot use the same ISBN. The professional publisher uses a unique ISBN for each format.
10. Obsess over metadata. This marketing tip applies to all books. Metadata may not be entirely relevant to conversion quality or reader enjoyment, but good metadata is vital for online marketing (see “Managing Metadata in Today’s Marketplace” in this issue for specifics). All information about your book—title, subtitle, keywords, descriptions, ISBN, and so on—should be consistent and used everywhere possible.
Include relevant metadata in the e-book as appropriate, and use the same information in each online store, because that’s what connects a publisher’s e-book to its “shelf” in the stores.
David Wogahn is a digital media publishing consultant, speaker, and educator. His company provides e-book development, marketing, and conversion services and e-publishing strategy consulting. Over the past 20 years, he has managed five digital publishing ventures and co-founded the FANSonly Network (now part of CBS Sports) and Times Mirror Multimedia. To learn more: Sellbox.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-book Conversion Quality Control
Proofreading is a vitally important part of e-book conversions, especially when the conversion is from a PDF source file. We seem to mandate proofreading routinely when producing a print book, but not often enough (so far) when converting to e-book formats.
In addition to proofreading, you should take the steps outlined below to insure quality for every e-book format. You can use a Kindle or free Kindle e-reading software to open MOBI files, and a Nook or free e-reading software for Nook to open EPUB files.
• Inspect the front matter for accuracy.
• If there is a table of contents, check to see whether it is linked and whether the links work.
• Check line spacing, indents, and justification.
• Click the menu button to “go to” a section of the book to see whether all options are available
and work correctly.
• Test any hyperlinks to Web sites.
• Check images.
• If your book had footnotes, they are now endnotes. How do they look? If you linked them, do
the links work?
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