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E-books and the Future of Publishing (part iii)

posted 30 Oct 2012, 15:03 by Oscar Duggan   [ updated 7 Jul 2013, 14:28 ]
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The Free and Open Form of Publishing. But is it the Future?

In recent years e-publishing has emerged as an exciting and entirely new type of market for books and the literary form of writing in general. Authors, writers, independent publishers are naturally excited by these developments. Having laboured so long, usually on the fringes, often in the shadows of success, a whole new playing field has opened up, and a level playing field at that.

The danger of course is that this sort of excitement can precipitate a certain 'gold rush' mentality. While the opportunities that are offered are real enough, so too are the prospects for disappointment. But setbacks and disappointment need not be fatal. The key to achieving success is to knuckle down and study the nuts and bolts of the e-publishing process. That is precisely what we propose to do in this and forthcoming articles in this series. First however, it's worth taking a step back to look at the e-publishing phenomenon in the context of wider developments in modern publishing; its relation to both the 'traditional' and self-publishing models.

The advantages and indeed the attraction of this form of publishing are not difficult to discern. First of all it is largely free - there is no charge for uploading your book (in the form of electronic files formatted to the required standard) and selling on websites like Amazon, Smashwords, etc. They have opened their publishing platforms to just about anyone and anything. Some people say that this is to the detriment of publishing, but that only serves to underline the openness of the approach which they have taken.

The argument that companies like Amazon are destroying literature by democratising it is largely seen as the refrain of traditionalists. It has fallen on deaf ears for the multitude of authors and writers who are eagerly embracing the medium; urging that the e-publishing giants should go further. Nevertheless there is a note of caution in the traditionalists' reproach that is worth taking cognisance of. Just because anyone can publish, doesn't mean that everyone should - certainly not without laying the proper, prior groundwork.

Traditionally it was the publishing houses who served as gatekeepers of the publishing world. Books that got published were chosen, not merely for their literary quality but also the commercial viability of the material/subject matter/author/etc. They observed and upheld certain rules and standards in this regard; and rightfully so. While this often led to charges of elitism, favouritism and worse, authors who may be considering the self-publishing route need to understand that it is not the easy road to publishing. Far from disregarding industry standards, self-publishing authors and independent publishers should strive to emulate, if not exceed them. Otherwise your enterprise will fail. To avoid this failure, you will need to devote the same attention to the process of publishing a book, as you will already (hopefully) have devoted to the process of writing it.

A journey of a thousands miles begins with a single step. If you are seriously contemplating taking that first step into the self-publishing world, be it printed or non-printed or both, the following should serve to guide you in the right direction. 

We mentioned previously that there are three basic rules to self-publishing success
  • Write a good book,
  • Publish it to a professional standard,
  • Market it effectively.

These are general guidelines and apply across all publishing media and techniques. But how do they apply to the specific area of e-publishing? When it comes to e-book publishing there are four main elements you need to consider:
  1. Choosing a publishing platform
  2. Conversion to acceptable e-book format and standards
  3. Designing an effective 'cover'
  4. Marketing and promotion in a mainly online environment

Choosing a Publishing Platform

No shortage of choices and free for the most part. For authors and writers who are new to this game, we recommend Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing together with Smashwords. The reason for this is simple. By availing of these two free publishing platforms, and following the guidelines they set out, you are ensuring that:
  • Your book will be available in all the common e-book formats, including e-pub, mobi, PDF, etc., which are suitable to download and read on all the popular e-reading devices and apps - e.g. Kindle, Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, your PC or laptop.
  • Will also be eligible for inclusion and sale through all the major online retail and distrubtion channels for e-books - e.g. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo, etc.
So it's pretty good exposure all round, especially considering that e-books are an international market, relatively unrestricted by borders. Adopting this approach is giving yourself the best possible start.

As you gain confidence, you should also consider publishing and distributing through your own dedicated author website or blog. The Manuscript Publisher offers practical assistance and advice on managing your web presence as an author, writer, independent publisher. This is part of our Sales and Marketing support for both printed and non-printed publishing ventures.

Conversion to Acceptable e-Book Formats and Standards

This is where you may have to pay a designer - unless you choose to do it yourself; which isn't as hard as it may sound, particularly if you follow the advice contained in the previous step. 

The Smashwords Style Guide offers step-by-step instructions and advice for formatting and outputting your manuscript to required e-book standards, across all the popular e-reading devices and apps. What's more, it's free. A working knowledge of Microsoft Word (or its open source equivalent, The Open Office) is all you need. If computers aren't your thing, or you are simply too busy, not to worry; The Manuscript Publisher will provide this service to you for a reasonable fee. See our website for information about the e-publishing services that we offer.

We also offer editing and proof-reading services to ensure that your book doesn't fail on the first criteria of the three basic rules referred to above. E-book conversion makes your book accessible to the various e-reading devices and apps; but it also has to be readable and intelligible to the end consumer, who has a human mind, not a mechanical one.

Designing an Effective 'Cover'

We are talking here about designing a good e-book 'cover' (which in this case is really more of an image concept than a book cover in the traditional, printed sense) to represent your book in an online environment. Again a service that you may have to pay for. Possibly a service that you should pay someone to do professionally as it will reap rewards if your book goes on to be a success.

If you have confidence in your own design skills, go right ahead, but be prepared to experiment with different approaches. One of the great benefits of e-publishing is that you can do this; with printed books you only really get one shot: a change of mind can be costly because where paper and print are concerned, you are already committed. Incidentally, the benefit of experimenting with different approaches applies not just to your 'cover' but to your text, story, narrative too.

One thing to consider is that covers that look well in a printed medium do not always translate well into the digital milieu, and vice versa. Bear in mind that your 'cover' may appear no larger than a thumbnail on some web pages. This does not give very much scope for detail.

The Manuscript Publisher offers a service that creates attractive yet affordable Cover Designs that can be either template-based or bespoke.


Marketing and Promotion

The crucial stage that determines the success or failure of the project overall. Publishing projects often fail at this stage. There has already been such an investment of money and time yet the race is still not run - not even at the halfway stage. Marathon runners refer to this as the invisible wall. Publishing is a marathon, make no mistake about it. 

We are talking here about marketing and promotion in a mainly online environment. The Manuscript Publisher offers practical assistance as well as general advice about managing your web presence as an author, writer, independent publisher. This is part of our Sales and Marketing support for printed and non-printed forms of publishing; an after-sales service you could say.

There is much that we could say about this aspect of the e-publishing process; and we will be saying more about it in future articles. For the time being, we can only recommend that patience is a virtue in this game. Don't give up too soon but don't wear yourself out at too early a stage either.


In future articles in this series we will be looking at each of these elements in turn; separately and in their relationship to each other as well as to the publishing process as a whole. We will be explaining what they mean and what decisions you will have to take if you want to succeed at e-publishing.


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Notes:

  • For assistance and advice on how to turn your manuscript into a e-book and take advantage of this emerging market talk to The Manuscript Publisher today:
  • For e-books published by The Manuscript Publisher and available to buy from Amazon or Smashwords visit our Online Bookshop (printed editions available too). 

Feel free to share this article or forward the links to anyone you know who may be interested in E-publishing as a cost effective and affordable publishing solution for the modern era.

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