Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Digital Publishing is the Best Thing to Happen to Self-Published Authors

Even as writers and readers buzz in social media circles about the latest success story and unknown authors continue to leverage success through digital releases, the traditional publishing world has still been hesitant to jump fully on board.

Fortunately, many marketers and self-help gurus are leading the way with aggressive digitization of their books into e-books and offering them at heavy discounts (sometimes even for free!) which increasingly evens out the playing field in favor of independent authors exploiting the benefits of digital publishing.

While e-books are exploding in popularity, many aren't fully aware of what it is and whether or not they should be reading them, much less making them, and how to do either effectively.

Advantages of e-books and e-readers

The best thing going for readers in digital publishing is not the books, but the technology. The crispness of Apple's new retina display technology notwithstanding, dedicated e-readers from Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) have embraced sophisticated digital ink technology, which doesn't rely on backlight and has a resolution twice as good as your typical laptop. This offers the reader an enjoyable reading experience without the eyestrain.

For authors, the game changer is the ease at which your book can be shared and marketed. Especially wonderful is that many e-book sellers let readers to download enough of the text to get hooked, anytime, anywhere.

E-books are quite easy to figure out, even your average reader will find it intuitive enough to obtain and use. You need only download those promotional Portable Document Format documents (PDFs) in exchange for an e-mail address or head over to the distributor of your choice, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apple. Readers with voracious appetites for books may find this a bit more confusing as a multitude of competing formats vying for the attention of a number of platform specific devices have flooded the market.

Formats and formatting

Although there is a standard format, EPUB, as recommended by the International Digital Publishing Forum, here is where the story gets complicated. A quick look at the Wikipedia page on e-book formats leaves one with the impression that the wheel has been created, recreated, beaten into a horseshoe, and then melted into ball. Some are out-of-date, such as Microsoft's LIT while others are common in specialty areas such as science or are utilitarian formats, such as Microsoft Office document formats PDF and web-style HTML.

What's the problem?

Keep in mind that static formats like PDFs or word documents usually don't translate well to portable devices due to display ratio, as anyone who has tried to open one on their smartphone can attest. The key is that e-books should work like web pages and utilize separate files to display content and color. There are no page breaks, so the content streams freely, giving an uninterrupted flow, and are easily resized.

Pads, Pods, Nooks, and Kindles-oh my!

Now, toss into the menagerie the penchant for corporations to favor proprietary technology, and the plot only thickens. The simplest way to get to the bottom of this is to list which formats the major e-book readers support:

• The Amazon Kindle supports AZW, TPZ, TXT, MOBI, PRC and PDF natively, HTML and DOC through conversion.
• Apple's iPad or other tablets can handle EPUB, PDF, HTML, DOC, plus iPad Apps, which could include Kindle and Barnes & Noble readers.
• The Barnes & Noble Nook can read EPUB, PDB, PDF.

Everybody supports EPUB as their primary e-book format, except for Amazon's Kindle. This is very important as presently Amazon is arguably the biggest retailer and publisher of digital content.

What about writers?

It's important to know that converting your manuscript to digital format is not a simple matter of drag and drop. Outside of getting really cozy with HTML and CSS so you can accurately translate the formatting and style to the text, it's best to hire a professional service, which iUniverse provides. Although there are some third-party options that will convert your word document into one of the popular e-book formats, prepare for results that could vary from acceptable to horrid. And while you can always convert your book to PDF, you are ignoring the advantages that book aficionados most love about their dedicated digital reader.

For more writing tips, head over to the iUniverse Writers Tips and learn from the experience of iUniverse Author Focus.


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