Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is Print-First Publishing a Mistake in Today's World of Ebooks? #Pubtalk #ASMSG

Reading my morning emails, I noticed a message from Joel Friedlander, Breakthrough Technology Cuts Book Formatting Time in Half. This is an article about a software/service that will format both your print and ebook, together, and give you files for both. This article instantly struck me wrong.

Now, I have no idea if Joel's program handles everything I am about to discuss, but I doubt it.

In my author's group, ASMSG (Author's Social Media Support Group), I see a lot of Indie author-publishers who run a print-first publishing plan.  What I mean by that, they format and publish their POD book (Print On Demand) first, usually via Createspace, and then they download the Createspace digital files to use for ebook publishing to Kindle.

I believe this is a huge mistake.

 The format of the print novel file is not ideal for ebooks, either Kindle or epub or pdf. Ebooks should be formatted with a 'least common denominator' style of simplicity. 

Personally, I write my novels in a universal Smashwords/Kindle ebook format.  The simple formatting is already set into my styles on MS word. I know many people use something other than MS word, for writing, but the same ebook formatting rules apply no matter what program you use.

Ebooks need things that Print books don't:  

► Whereas print has margins and page breaks and page numbers, it also has a dead Table of Contents, 'TOC' dead being that there's no live hyperlinks. Its my humble opinion (and an opinion of most kindle gurus) that the TOC is mostly pointless for fiction ebooks, except for specially named chapters, or non-fiction where each chapter has a themed idea to present. Ebooks, if they need a TOC, must have special hyperlinked bookmarks (epub and pdf) or at the very least they need to use the auto-generated TOC functions of MS word (kindle).

► Kindle ebooks are smarter to move the TOC to the back matter, to maximize the front end sample for book sales. You want very little junk in the way of your book and the reader. Kindle only allows for a small percentage of sampling, and that sample must be enough to 'hook' the reader to go forward with a purchase. And, the ebook front matter needs a short blurb, so that readers who have downloaded the novel, can recall what this book was about (the ebook cover does not have any blurbs--not like the back cover of print).

► Ebooks have color images. They should have full color images of all backlist novels, with live hyperlinks customized for each retailer. Kindle hyperlinks for kindle ebooks, B&N for B&N, Smashwords for Smashwords, etc.. 

Color book cover, description, link to retailer, and review quotes
 Print novels have no  hyperlinks, and you must strip the color out of  your book cover images. If there is any color, Createspace and other POD companies will charge you full price for color interior (don't go there for novels--'how to' books, children's books--those are different).

Big, fat subscribe button for my email list--hyperlinked.

My cheesy grin and all the hyperlinks to my social media!

► Print back matter should have QR codes to give your readers the option of instantly ordering more of your backlist novels once they finish your book. Statistics prove the single best way to sell more books to a reader is to have access to all your novels in the back matter. Print novels need a bridge to the internet:

B&W book covers, with QR codes, descriptions, and review quotes.
► Print back matter and front matter is always going to be a different format and content from ebook front and back matter. Personally, I have separate word files for both back and front print matter, (that's the way I do it, but its not the only way, and it has issues with formatting that I learned to deal with). But, because of these differences, its really not wise to use a print formatted file for ebook, or vice versa.

Now, I am just an Indie author, busting my butt to navigate the labyrinth of digital publishing, but, I have seen that my own sales are about 99% ebook, and about 1% print. 

► I publish ebook first. Every single book I have ever published needed an update within the first week. Ebooks can be updated in a few mouseclicks, and the new Kindle file shows up hours later. Same with Nook (if you're direct). Smashwords takes up to 10 days to update.  But, print novels (via POD) can take weeks, because you must order another proof to see how the book looks in print. You can take your chances and approve the proof from the online file viewer in Createspace, but its a risk. You never really know what you have until the book is in hand.

In this author's humble opinion, publishing should be digital first, print later, after all the kinks and bugs are worked out, and the two should be individually-separately formatted, with specialized content for each format.

I am wary of 'all-in-one' solutions when it comes to print and ebook publishing.



  1. I agree Travis. I've also noticed when reading some e-books, that were evidently created to be print books and the same PDF used for e-book version, that you end up with page numbers in the middle of a page and awkward dashes placed in the middle of words, as of course the PDF does not take kindly to changes in size...
    I've tried two of my books in paper because people asked about paper copies, but that didn't result in many sales so far. I submit different files though....

  2. This is great advice. I'm saving this post in my keeper file. Thanks!

  3. I produce a master file using a limited range of styles which is then the source for print and e-book. I produce an e-book first from a Word document converted to epub. I then edit the epub document, which requires a knowledge of html and CSS. My epub is then sent to Amazon and a version with slightly different front and end matter is sent to Smashwords. If errors are found, l make any modifications needed to the epub and to my master document and a month or two later will produce a CreatSpace version for print.