What it costs to create an ebook depends on what type of file you are starting with, and what type of result you are seeking. Ebooks can start out as a printed book or be created only as an ebook. Some strategies include converting the file for use only on tablets and other strategies aim for all devices—desktops, tablets and mobile phones. For complex books, such as textbooks, these different approaches require different strategies for how tables, sidebars and other features are preserved and presented. In most cases, the goal is to preserve the graphic features and style elements in the print edition, which may require recreating them in a way that looks similar in the ebook editions.
For many books, especially complex books, file preparation is the main costs—not the stage known as conversion. Conversion is relatively easy and mostly automated when a file is very simple or prepared correctly. However, even after a file is converted to ePub, it is normal that some file editing and preview tests and adjustments are necessary to eliminate export code errors.
eBook Table of Contents (TOC) and Chapter Openers
The relationship between the table of contents and the styling of chapter openers can be used to illustrate need for additional file prep for some ebooks. For books with simple formatting, such as novels, the TOC is one of the main considerations when creating an ebook.
For Mobi (Kindle) and ePub, the TOC in the ebook is generated by the software using the part heads and/or any level head chosen for inclusion in the TOC. This means the chapter titles in the book must be structured exactly in the way they need to appear in the TOC. If the TOC list chapters like this, “Chapter 1: Introduction,” then the wording, including the semicolon, must appear on the chapter opener. It also means that any section without a head coded in the same style, such as the copyright page, dedication, special adverts, notices, galleries, etc., will not appear in the digital TOC.
This may sound fine or even ingenious, except that it restricts the ability to design interesting chapter openers, which are one of the main design features in a book.
Why are chapter openers important? Unlike with business books, people reading novels are looking to be transported. Being transported to another place or time convincingly makes a great reading experience. This desire to be transported is why cover image selection and preparation and cover typography are so important for selling fiction literature. A good book designer will create chapter openers that connect to the cover typography and often the cover image or cover concept. To loose all that design work simply to create a hyperlinked table of contents is unfortunate, and thankfully unnecessary.
To overcome these design limitations, the source file can be prepared before conversion and the html files can be edited after conversion to retain both the hyperlinked TOC and the desired design elements of the chapter opener.
To do this, the ebook file must be “unpacked” to access the html and css files it contains. Then the files are edited, repacked, and tested.
It is rarely possible to simply auto convert the print edition to an ebook without adjusting the file first and often adjusting the html files after conversion.
The expectation that ebook production should cost little or nothing is created by the availability of online services that use software to solely “convert” files to ebooks rather than preparing files to go through the conversion process successfully. These services do not style the book’s format or give it any added ebook features, rather the software simply converts the digital format (text doc or PDF) to the type of ebook format requested, such as ePub. These services can work when the user has a very simple Word doc or PDF that uses only basic styling.
It is rarely possible to automatically convert the formatting of a complex book. Good results require file preparation and it often takes multiple code edits and 5–10 exports and previews to remove all the file bugs such as mis-aligned elements. Any design feature or graphic element in the print edition that does not convert well to the ebook edition has to be evaluated and rebuilt in a way that will work. All of this troubleshooting needs to be done before you receive and upload the file for publication.
How to avoid hidden costs
Some companies offers ebook “conversion” for small fees—often less than $100. This fee assumes all necessary fixes already exist in your source file—meaning there is an embedded style tag for every element and every instance of italic, bold, proportional font size, images are anchored in the text stream, etc. The user of the conversion service is charged a conversion fee for every upload and must fix all the file errors in the file before re-uploading or pay someone else to fix the errors. This means automatic conversion services can be more costly because the file that fails to convert correctly is always the fault of the customer, not the conversion company and every upload involves a new fee. The price may only be the price per automated conversion of each Word doc or PDF—regardless of results.
Automatically converting most files, and especially PDFs, usually produces an ebook file that has many anomalies and formatting irregularities that must be corrected individually, which is where things get difficult, custom fees are required, and the price starts adding up.
To avoid this situation, find a fixed-rate service that includes file preparation, meaning all the necessary file adjustments to make the book function and look well in the most widely used devices.
Conversion is inexpensive, but file preparation fees will vary depending on a book’s complexity. Always remember that readers have choices. To win the reader it is important to offer a good reading experience. The ebook design and preparation can make that happen.
Costs and ePDFs
EPDFs are very different from ePub and Mobis. As explained in the earlier chapter, ePDF eBooks and How to Use Them, ePDFs are ebooks that are are mostly used as free guide books, manuals, and marketing resources. EPDFs have great layout capabilities the same as prnted books, it is possible to create very stylish and interesting books that are good for branding and viral marketing. There is no conversion costs or special preparation needed to get the book from its original layout to it’s final publication-ready form because the layout doesn’t change to allow scalable fonts. For these reasons, the costs involved are similar to creating a print book and vary depending on the book’s complexity. There are, of course, differences between ePDFs and print books—ePDFs have hyperlinked TOC, meta data, and require web optimization.