Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Preparing a Novel for Print #4: Electronic Publishing

When Publishers Weekly asked publishers (of bestsellers with sales of more than 100,000 in 2010) for figures on ebook sales, the majority refused to provide the information, but as the graph below demonstrates, many bestselling publications were selling significant quantities in electronic formats in 2010. [1]

Other reports indicate that digital sales accounted for anything between 11 and 22 per cent of revenue of large publishing houses in the first quarter of 2011. [2] Perhaps more impressive are the statistics for Kindle books compared to their hardcover/paperback counterparts: in the US, Kindle edition sales surpassed paperback sales in January 2011; the UK Kindle store opened in 2010, with Kindle book sales now standing at more than twice that of hardcover books. [3]

Fig. 1: Top 10 Hardcover Print/e-book Combined Sales as Reported (2010)[1]

What this tells us is that the electronic publishing market is growing rapidly (graphically demonstrated below) and traditional publishers don't like it. I would speculate that this has a lot to do with profit margins: low production costs for ebooks means there is no justification for over-pricing and yet the current bestselling book on Amazon.co.uk (One Day by David Nicholls, published by Hodder Paperbacks, 2010) is priced at £3.79 for the paperback and £4.99 for the Kindle Edition.[4]

In part, this is due to Amazon's royalty policy, with the 70% rate applying to publications falling within their standard pricing bracket, but even at 35%, the miniscule percentage that goes to authors means publishers are raking it in, or at least they would be if they still monopolised the market.

Fig 2: US Trade Wholesale Electronic Book Sales [5]

More importantly, publishers do not control electronic publishing, although, as ever, there are plenty of companies out there ready to profiteer from authors' hard work by offering ebook conversions at ludicrously high rates. For instance, we were quoted just under $140 (about £84 at time of posting) to convert a 200 page novel to epub format, a process which took me less than half an hour on a first attempt with new software.

The key point here is this: you would do well to publish your work in electronic formats, regardless of whether you also decide to go with a hardcover/paperback edition. However, you should not pay through the nose for this service.

Below you will find some pointers to get you started on your own ebooks - they are only brief pointers (recommended formats and software), as this is something Beaten Track can do for you (for a sensible price, usually less than £30 for multiple formats - contact us for a detailed quotation).

eBook Formats
There are many ebook formats out there, but as a minimum, you should look to publishing these:
  • HTML (.html)
  • Kindle (.azw)
  • EPUB (.epub)
  • Mobipocket (.mobi)
  • Microsoft Reader (.lit)
  • PDF (.pdf) versions.

All of these versions support images and all but HTML allow for bookmarking.

ePublishing Software
Sigil is designed to edit in ePub format, is open source software and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. You will need to import your manuscript in plain text, html or epub format. If you import in plain text, then all styling can be done within Sigil itself and you can switch between WYSIWYG and code view, add chapter breaks, build a table of contents, insert images etc. I imported from HTML and found it was a bit fussy, but it kept all of the specified styling and automatically generated a table of contents from my chapter headings.

Once you've formatted your manuscript in Sigil, it will check to ensure that it's valid.

You can download Sigil here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list

Calibre is a fully featured ebook management system, which is also open source and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. It will import and export in a wide variety of formats (everything listed above, except Kindle).

You will need to validate exported epub files externally, via an online tool or software such as EpubCheck (see below).

For Kindle, you can produce a 'Kindle friendly' mobi format / html, with associated image files in a directory that is then uploaded via Kindle Direct Publishing (https://kdp.amazon.com/).

You can download Calibre here: http://calibre-ebook.com/download

Epubcheck is a Java based ePub validator, which runs from the command-line or as a server-side web application.

You can download Epubcheck here: http://code.google.com/p/epubcheck/downloads/list.

However, you might find it easier to use an online validator, such as http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate/.

Concluding Comments
As with any publication, check your files thoroughly before making them available - there may well be characters in your text that don't show up correctly in differing formats and other display issues in need of some tweaking. Once you're happy with your ebook, you will find plenty of online outlets who will list your title and they will tell you which formats they accept. Just upload your files and you should be all set!

  1. Maryles, D. (2011). 'E-books Rock.' Publishers Weekly. March 17th 2011.
  2. Book Publishing Software (2011) 'eBook Sales Statistics.' http://www.bookpublishingsoftware.com/2011/05/ebook-sales-statistics-2011/
  3. Murray, P. (2011). 'Amazon’s Kindle Books Outsell Hardcover and Paperbacks For First Time.' Singlularity Hub. May 22nd, 2011. http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/22/amazons-kindle-books-outsell-hardcover-and-paperbacks-for-first-time/
  4. Amazon.co.uk 'One Day by David Nicholls'. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0340896981/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=b10track-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=0340896981
  5. IDPF (2011). 'Industry Statistics.' http://idpf.org/about-us/industry-statistics


  1. To expand further on this post, a class action lawsuit has been brought against a number of companies on ebook price-fixing: http://ebookevangelist.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/finally-a-class-action-lawsuit-for-ebook-price-fixing/

  2. very nice article, I would like to try Sigil, have not use it yet. My concentration is more on book formatting for print in demand books so I use Adobe InDesign.


  3. Thanks Jeny.

    I tried Sigil for the first time last week and it is really easy to use. For some reason I use Adobe tools for everything else, but I haven't tried Adobe InDesign - must have a play!