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Can I Create An E-book From My Print Book?

Book Basics

January 17, 2021

Is publishing an E-book right for me?

Many people assume that it is simple to create an e-book from their designed book files. But this is not always the case. E-books are very different from print books, and some books just don’t make good e-books. If you are considering creating an e-book, decide early because it may determine how you or your designer format the files. Considering your e-book while designing your print book can really save time and money.  

Because e-books account for 30 percent of all book sales in the United States (possibly higher now with the pandemic), many self-published authors want to create an e-book of their own. But an e-book is an entirely different animal from a print book, and many print books do not convert well to the more common e-book formats. So you may ask, will my book make a good e-book? That depends…

There are two categories of e-book formats—reflowable and fixed page. Reflowable is by far the most common.

Reflowable E-books

When people talk about e-books they are likely talking about reflowable e-books like the Kindle or the Nook. Often my clients assume that their e-book will look like their print book.  This belief is especially common among authors that don’t use e-readers. It was for me, and as a book designer, I was so disappointed in my first e-book! Unlike print books or pdfs, the reader can change how the e-book displays. They can adjust type size, fonts, contrast, margins, and color. Essentially, the e-reader functions much like a web browser when viewing web pages. And like a web browser, an e-book flows differently on every e-reader device, depending on the user’s settings. Because of these variations, the text in an e-book needs to adapt to the end user’s changing parameters. This adaptability means your e-book will not look like your print book. 

Two reasons not to create a fixed page layout e-book

A fixed page layout allows you to create an e-book that is static and fixed and maintains your print book’s look. That may sound like a terrific way to go, but there are two big reasons not to choose this option.

1. Availability. Not all e-book retailers offer fixed-layout e-books and fixed page e-books are viewable on only a few e-book devices.

2. Usability. Some fixed layouts will never read well on e-reading devices. This is particularly the case with larger, more complex books that are too detailed to view on the smaller screens of e-readers. 

And to make things more complicated, there is no one e-book format. E-books come in various proprietary and open-source formats, and not all e-readers support all formats. So if you create a fixed page e-book, you are automatically narrowing your audience by device and format .

The two most common reflowable e-book formats are ePUB and MOBI. 

  • ePUB is the most widely adopted e-book format. It is free and open-source. Most Amazon Kindle devices cannot read ePUB, but ePUB files can convert to MOBI. 
  • The MOBI format is not open source but is supported by all the major e-readers except for the Nook. 

The most popular fixed page formats are ePUB3 for Apple, Google, and Kobo; KF8 and Kindle Textbook Creator for Amazon Kindle devices; and PagePerfect and NOOK Kids for Barnes & Noble.

What books adapt best to reflowable e-books?

Usually, non-illustrated chapter books—fiction and non-fiction titles such as biographies and memoirs, adapt well into standard reflowable formats. Books that are not spread-dependent, graphics-dependent, and primarily text, work best as reflowable e-books.

What book characteristics are NOT suited for reflowable e-books

Books with many design elements do not translate well into reflowable e-books such as cookbooks, manuals, textbooks, children’s books, and coffee table books.

  • Books with multiple columns do not translate into reflowable e-books.
  • Soft returns or manual hyphenations do not transfer well to reflowable e-books. This is mostly because e-book line endings are a changing variable.
  • Special text formatting such as drop caps or font changes works in some e-book platforms and not others.
  • Images and borders within the text translate into some e-book platforms and not others.
  • Images appear at a low resolution in many types of e-books. 
  • Currently, color images and text are not available on most e-readers.

Some books don’t make great e-books.

Even if you can make your book into a fixed page e-book, should you? Some books are just not suited to the e-reader. And since the audience is fractured for fixed-layout e-books by availability and proprietary viewing options, your best choice may be not to create an e-book and only publish a print book. 

If you want to create an e-book

If you want to create an e-book, one of the best things you can do is create a squeaky clean manuscript.  Check out my article, The Squeaky Clean Manuscript, for more.

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