We all know the importance of eBook conversion. After all, if you don’t convert your source files to ePub files, you have no eBook to sell (duh). But there’s a lot more to converting your print books to eBooks than simply uploading your source files and getting a market-ready ePub file in return.
Making a quality ePub file that is as faithful as possible to the print edition takes time. From catching and correcting formatting errors to validating the files to make sure they display on retailer sites, the demands of doing eBook conversions can be stressful, if not overwhelming.
But they don’t have to be. Your conversion process can be smooth, efficient and result in high quality eBooks your readers will love. Just ask Digital Production Manager, Catherine Twibill. Catherine has been masterfully handling eBook conversions for the last 5 years here at Vearsa. She has leant her skills and expertise to publishers big and small on eBook conversion projects of all sorts, including cookbooks, children’s books and everything in between, and advises publishers on the best practices for optimizing eBook sales. In a previous life, Catherine spent many years as a graphic designer in the publishing industry. What follows are her top tips and expert advice.
To get things started, can you give us an overview of the conversion process you follow?
Every book we receive is assessed individually. Once that’s completed, we advise the publisher on the best course for conversion and provide a quote. Generally, it’s easiest for the publisher to simply use the print PDF and cover jpeg. Once a quote has been accepted, we get the project underway. The complete process looks like this:
What are the biggest hurdles publishers face with eBook conversion?
Probably the biggest decision to be made is whether to tackle the project in-house, or to find a supplier which they can trust with their most prized possessions. Production department TIME is always at a premium, and if a publisher doesn't have the bandwidth, then outsourcing is a good option.
There are many pitfalls to look out for in the production mechanics, and file validation is key here. That said, there there is some great software out there that can help with that. You just have to find the one that’s right for you.
How can publishers overcome the problems you’ve highlighted?
Testing: Always make sure your eBook file is valid. If it’s not valid, it’s not going to be accepted by retailers. Use EPUB Validator to validate every file before you send it out to retailers.
QA: I can’t emphasize enough how important QA is. Be sure to view your file on Adobe Digital Edition/Kindle Previewer and Ibooks before you distribute it. Make sure the Table of contents is working correctly. It’s very annoying for a reader when this does not work.
Make sure the formatting looks good. You risk getting bad reviews from readers for poorly formatted books, and you never want to see the notice under your Amazon listing that your book has been removed because it's poorly formatted...cringe!
What are the pros and cons of doing in-house eBook conversion versus outsourcing to a third party?
Doing your conversions in-house gives you a great sense of control. Plus, having the process in-house gives you the opportunity to establish a smoothly running production department. You’ll be future-proofing your books by having them set up correctly for both Print and digital from the get-go.
On the other hand, if you find a trustworthy supplier to handle conversions, they can alleviate a huge amount of work for you. A third party is probably more cost efficient in the end, too.
If publishers choose to handle their own conversion, what should they be aware of? What are some best practices for them to follow?
Make your Indesign files work harder for you! If producing eBooks in-house from your source Indesign files, using styles is hugely important. Paragraph Style Everything! Don’t manually apply any formatting.
If you italicize a word in the middle of a sentence, Character style it! That way when you export the file to ePub, all of that formatting will be correctly retained. It’s also going to make updating the file easier, and you can also use it to make XML files which further future-proofs your files.
If publishers decide on a third party, how should they go about finding the best fit?
Try out a few different suppliers to find the best fit for you. When I was setting up this department at Vearsa, I did trial projects with about 20 different vendors. I compared them all on price, quality and customer service, then chose the best suppliers to work with.
There will always be somebody cheaper, but you don’t want to end up with inferior quality. Publishers would not tolerate quality issues in their print books, so they shouldn’t accept them in their eBooks.
You will also need a good working relationship with good response times, and good turnaround times. Make sure there are no hidden costs for amendments. Get your ePub + MOBI file include in the price. Ask to see their QA process.
You and I have talked some about how much eBook technology has improved and the exciting opportunities that opens up for publishers. What are some these opportunities, and which are you most excited about?
It’s more cost efficient than ever now to produce fixed format replicas of traditionally high-end glossy books like cookbooks, travel books and children’s books. The development costs for these have really decreased in the last year or so. I think that’s a great opportunity for publishers to promote to generate new revenue.
I’m also really excited about augmented reality. It was probably the biggest buzzword at the book fair in Bologna this year, and there are a lot of new companies out there providing this service. It’s great how it combines use of the printed book on a digital platform, and kids love that combination.
I think what I am most excited about at the moment is the world of opportunity available for interactive books, especially in the children’s publishing arena. We have been working closely with Italian based company PubCoder recently. Their software is fantastic, and really helps to bridge the gap between an ebook and an app, without the huge development costs that usually come with app development. You can add coloring games, puzzles, quizzes as bonus features in your ebook, or produce whole activity books which would traditionally not get a look-in on a publisher’s digital strategy.
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