Making eBook Conversion Decisions

POSTED ON Mar 7, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Last week I wrote an article with a Kindle uploading mini-tutorial using my Self-Publisher’s Quick & Easy Guide to Copyright as an example. In the comments to the post, one reader asked some questions about ebook conversions:

I’m curious to know (a) why you used a paid-for service ( to do your conversion rather than use software like Calibre (free) or Quark or Adobe CS5 which now accommodate eBook conversion formats; and (b) why you have chosen to send the second of your publications to a different conversion service ( – is it perhaps because it’s the one with the complex layout?

Both good questions, and ones I didn’t address in the article. Since most indie publishers are going to face these same questions, it seemed like a good topic to address in a larger forum.

eBook conversion: DIY or Outsource?

There are lots of tasks in self-publishing that you can either do yourself, or hire someone else to do. The question we face is how to decide which is which?

Should you edit the book yourself? Most people advise against it if you want to produce the best manuscript you can. Can you proofread your own book? Not that effectively, unless you are a trained proofreader. It’s surprisingly difficult.

The list goes on and on. Design the book yourself or hire a designer? Do a cover design with some template tools on a website somewhere, or hire a cover design specialist to produce the packaging for your book? Try to do your own fulfillment, or pay someone else to do it? Write your own press releases, or outsource them to a publicist to do?

This question is so urgent for self-publishers to answer, it can become the single biggest decision you will make on your publishing journey. Down one road, the DIY path, you’ll find:

  • great pride in achievement
  • a lot of time spent training to do new tasks
  • complete control of the project
  • output that will probably look or read like it was produced by amateurs. Which it was.

Down the other path, where you have a budget and hire professionals, you’ll find:

  • the support of a team in your publication
  • a collaborative approach to design and marketing
  • a lot more money spent on your book before publication
  • a book that should look and read like the product of professional book people. Which it was.

eBook Choices

I’ve written here about some of the eBook conversion software Averill mentioned in her question. Calibre is a terrific translation and management tool for your eBook library. We’ve seen how Storyist and Pages can output ePub files that pass compliance checks, especially on simple books.

However, we’ve also seen Liz Castro’s EPUB Straight to the Point. This book, which shows how to take the files produced by Adobe InDesign’s ePub export feature and turn them into beautiful and consistent eBooks. However, the book is about half HTML and CSS code, necessary for anyone to learn who wants to mess with the innards of ePub and Kindle eBook files.

Of course, once you create your ePub files, you have to have the skills to translate them into files for Kindle, a different format. My question for most authors is this: If you are only going to do this once, or maybe once a year, why do you want to learn to do it yourself?

There’s a huge difference between books that are converted by someone who is paying attention and knows how to manipulate the files to get the best result, and more or less automated conversion that give you whatever comes out the end when you push the “convert” button.

One Self-Publisher Decides

Taking all this into account, it was really a non-decision for me. I have no desire to spend time learning the ins and outs of HTML and CSS, it simply isn’t a good use of my time. The Quick & Easy Guides are heavily formatted, with bullet lists, numbered lists, headings and subheadings, graphics and other effects. For $99 each I got terrific conversions into both Kindle and ePub formats, fully corrected, with all graphics in place and links active and working. I think that’s a great deal. If these books can’t earn back the $99 I shouldn’t be publishing them anyway.

This also goes to answering the second question, too. I try as much as possible to use the best vendors I can for my own books. But I’m also interested in experiencing as many options as possible so I can get a real, first-hand look at what you’re going through when you set out to do the same things.

Not only that, Joshua Tallent, from, is very busy and can’t schedule books for at least 12 weeks. I needed my Guides on sale sooner than that, so the decision was easy.

I’ll continue to experiment with different vendors and different ways to get our books into print so I can come back and report on them here.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to help out.

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Joel Friedlander

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Joel Friedlander

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