Friday, June 22, 2012

3 Vital Tips For E-Book Conversion

Susan Malone is our guest today sharing some great tips for converting books for reading on electronic devices.

So this month we’re talking about technology, and everyone who knows me would hoot about me writing on the topic.  Being your basic neo-Luddite, I’m lucky to get my Word program going without glitches!  But one of the wonderful things about being in this business so long, is knowing exactly who to call in for help.

Doris Booth, CEO of Authorlink, constantly stays on the cutting edge of technology, specifically technology that applies to books of all sorts. While we were both speaking at the Harriett Austin Writer’s Conference at the University of Georgia last year, I had the pleasure of attending her session on e-book conversions.  Most of it of course was like Russian to me, but a few points really caught my attention.  So I contacted her again to get the scoop of what writers truly need to know before diving into that vast sea. 

First off, do be ready for a ton of work.  “E-book publishing is a highly complex process,” Ms. Booth said, “so when you go in, be patient.  There’s a lot of proofing at every step—including the actual conversion itself.  The flow isn’t stable, the process itself isn’t stable.” 

Yikes, I thought.  I’d run up against this issue years ago, with a traditional publisher that actually scanned a manuscript to its printer.  Boy, was that a nightmare of catching “be” that should have been “he,” etc.  Apparently, this process is worse when doing e-book conversions.

“For example,” Ms. Booth continued, “hyphens can appear in the middle of a sentence because of the flow.  You just have to proof and proof and proof some more.”

Okay, so you have this part done.  Then comes the issue of metadata, which is the longer description of the book.  “Again, getting this right is extremely complex and critical—it will determine whether your book is ever seen,” Ms Booth said.  “If it’s not done correctly, your book will have less visibility.” 

Personally, I don’t even want to know what metadata is (even if I could comprehend it!).  Those kinds of terms give me the hives.  But back to issues number one and two.

“To get the conversion done correctly and the metadata targeted specifically to your book, truly does take a professional conversion company—not one of the do-it-yourself conversion tools, which usually don’t work.” 

My only experience with this is through many of my writers, who have self-published via e-book, and the nightmares they’ve faced.  Of course, since they, too, are speaking Russian (and not the Dostoyevsky kind, which I actually love), I cannot convey exactly what those nightmares were. But I do know the results—books drowning in that vast sea of 211,000 e-books published just last year! 

“Finally,” Ms Booth said, “you can have parts one and two, and your book still not go anywhere without good marketing. You need to have your marketing going six months to one year before you publish.” 

Some things about this business never change, even as the technology does.  Writing a good book in the first place (my bailiwick ), and fashioning a marketing plan—the backbone of success before tackling the technological age.

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

Posted by Maryann Miller, who is thankful for geeks out there who can do these conversions. She does not even know what metadata is.

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  1. Thanks for the detailed description of entering a book into the e-book world. I'm happy to have found someone who will do this for me. But, can you tell me why marketing must begin six months ahead of publication?

  2. Susan: I haven't tackled this particular challenge yet, but it seems that every author will at some point. Thanks for these tips! I have a new appreciation for why so many e-books are riddled with errors.

  3. Metadata? Is that one of those Russian words?

    This dyed-in-the-wool do-it-yourselfer is on vacation when it comes to the e-book thing. Your information confirms that I need to do myself what I am good at and what I can learn, and I will hire an expert for something as important as getting my novels in proper form up as e-books. As Kathryn implied, the need for multiple proofings (along with a probable lack thereof and a struggle to wade through the intricacies of e-book creation) explains the poor quality of many e-books. I pick and choose where I spend my limited dollars, but this is one area where they will no doubt be allocated.

    This is a great post, Susan. Thank you for sharing.

  4. It's Russian to me, Linda! LOL. And I haven't had to tackle it either, Kathryn--it gives me the willies. Thank goodness my publisher did it for the one e-book I have. That's one of those areas where I'll be hiring an expert if I journey there.
    Terry--the six-month minimum to begin marketing is with any format of book. It just takes a while to get interest, and you're much better to get that done on the front end, rather than the back. Makes a huge difference in getting your book "seen."

  5. Having just done this for the first time for the Corner Cafe Kindle book experiment you've heard so much about here, I have to respectfully disagree. It was surprisingly easy. The biggest challenge was re-formatting (in MSWord) 19 different manuscripts coming from different computers. Everything else was a piece of cake and the Amazon instructions are idiot-simple to follow. When you are dealing with only text, and one book cover, anyone who uses Word can convert to e-book, at least for the Kindle. We'll see if I feel the same way after formatting for Smashwords. That said, if you have illustrations between the covers or complicated formatting like charts, you might have to think about things like metadata. I never ran across the word or concept in the KDP instructions!

  6. I think I come somewhere in between what Susan said in the initial post and your comments, Dani. There are some of us who really struggle with so much of this computer stuff, and you have taken to it like a pro. That's why I hired someone to do the formatting for some of my books, or had a small publisher release the e-book so I did not have to spend hours learning something that comes so much easier to other people.

  7. Here's a short version that may help regarding metadata. The wiki can be found here:

    Metadata in this instance can be thought of as the library card catalog information, or a digital expansion of the dewey decimal system to account for the need to have all the digital location and source information available as well.

    It is essential for all the information to be there for the book to be found on it's digital shelf, just as the library card catalog enables one to locate a book in a library.

    As Dani mentioned, a good digital publisher like Amazon will walk one through step by step to make sure all the needed information is collected and slotted in their form for inclusion in your file.

    Totally agree on the need to do LOTS of marketing! Without the marketing, even the best book would be the tree falling over in the forest without anyone there to hear it.

  8. It's amazing! So many variations of opinion and everybody is RIGHT! lol!

    Doing your own book for Kindle and Smashwords is easy -- IF you're comfortable with computers, programs, and throwing yourself headlong into new enterprises.

    It's the marketing that brings me to a screeching halt, but Dani's blog book tour class and her BBTCafe Yahoo! group are helping me overcome my terror of that.

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

  9. I know zip about metadata, and don't get around MS Word that well (I am signed up for Elle's Word 2007 class because I think the e-book conversion would have taken less time if I'd known my way around Word a bit better). Your talking about someone relatively non-techy - no HTML for me - and the conversion from Word file to HTML was as simple as the push of a button. Then I uploaded it to KDP and they did their magic - it was live within the hour. Then I made edits after publication! Easy peasy. I haven't had formatting complaints from anyone yet. I mean... not rocket science, and I would be hard-pressed to pay anyone even a few hundred bucks to do this after stepping through the process myself. And KNOWING how to make corrections. This from someone who wouldn't dare set up their own website. I will go as far as blogging and that's it for my tech skills and interests.

  10. Terry, I can tell from the Corner Cafe experiment that the "noise" build-up that results in sales will be a longer process with an e-book than with a print book. We have had a massive push coming from a team of authors who know about blog book tours and social marketing, but trying to break into the top 50,000 ranking on Amazon (and trying to stay there) requires daily promotion and we are selling only a few books each day despite constant buy links and prompts to visit the book page. There are probably 20 people daily working this surge. We are comparing to authors in our group who are marketing their oen titles... again... maybe a third intense marketing attempt. Their free e-book downloads and sales are better than ours even though they are essentially going it alone. So there is an incremental build-up of marketing effort that pays off over quite a long period of time, it seems. That's just observation - we haven't figured out why this is happening.

  11. It's definitely doable. Just takes a little patience and attention to detail.It also helps to keep notes so you can refer to them when needed each time. I've done it 3 times so far.

    Of course, if you're short on time and have other projects you'd prefer to spend more time on, then ask around for someone who'll be glad to do it for you for a small fee.

    Morgan Mandel

  12. I've never tried to format an e-book, but Dani has made it sound simple enough that I may attempt it at some point--not soon.

    Interesting that the group results promoting Corner Cafe have been less successful than those making individual book sales. I do believe the more books you have, the more opportunity for success.

    Thank you, Susan, for your post. The comments have been interesting and helpful.

  13. I agree with you, Monti. A nice long list of books on the Author Central page will lift the whole boat! But I also think the individual successes are stemming from the fact that it's not a first promotion. Often there was a print book first. Other times, the author is doing a third round of promoting with the same title (rather unusual for print books which traditionally have a pretty short promotion window). The best lone author comparison we have is Helen Ginger who has her first novel out. I'm guessing her stats and sales are probably about like the Corner Cafe. Maybe she'll weigh in.

  14. Perhaps it's a bit like bungee jumping? Stressful, thrilling, and (perhaps) mentally rewarding, but not for everyone. I know I'd like to be on the sidelines a few more times before I try it on my own!

  15. Well, I'd say it's a lot safer and less thrilling than bungi jumping. LOL. But it does take time and concentration. I'd say farming it out is more like having someone else do your tax return. It's easier to create an e-book than to balance a bank statement, just as a standard of comparison. But about the same level of excitement. :D

  16. Excellent. There's always something new to learn in this business--that's what is exciting to me about it!

  17. I must respectfully disagree that a professional is needed for e-book conversion or for assembling metadata.

    Metadata is not difficult and there are good articles on the web to explain the process. Essentially it is finding the keywords and search terms to identify your book. Looking at similar book that are already on the market can give you a really good idea for where to start with your own metadata.

    As for conversions, the major e-book purveyors have detailed instructions for the conversions. There is a learning curve, but it is really not that difficult. It took me half a day to sort it out. There are also several excellent book design blogs that can help you with the process.

    I have one book out and and preparing to launch the second. The first one did well in it's niche, 6 weeks in the top 100 for it's category. Not a best seller, but I am satisfied with the results.

    Hiring a professional is certainly an option, but doing it yourself is not at all impossible.

    My recommendation would be to spend the money on good editing/proofreading and learn how to do the conversions yourself. It is far easier to learn how to do that than to become a good editor.

    Your mileage may vary.


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