Trying to format a draft for publication as an e-book can make you reach for the aspirin.
Since the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, e-book sales have grown rapidly. This year Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo expect e-books to provide up to half their revenue in the United States and Canada.
Popular Reading Devices
Popular devices for reading e-books include the Kindle, iPad, Nook by Barnes and Noble, Kobo’s eReader, and the Sony Reader. Software applications for reading e-books on other devices include WordPlayer for the Android, iBooks for iPhones (and Macs later this year), Playbook for Blackberry, and plug-ins for most web browsers.
These devices and applications allow the reader to choose fonts and sizes, portrait or landscape orientation, and background colors and styles. So, the way the final draft appears on the writer’s computer will be nothing like it will look in the various devices and e-reading applications.
eBook Format Management
Computer software like Calibre (free at calibre-ebook.com) can manage e-book collections and export e-books to approximate the most popular formats: .azw for the Kindle, .epub for most other e-readers, and .pdf for a static view of the text. Calibre cannot export to Apple’s proprietary .ibooks format. Popular software for writers and word processors provide ways to export text in .epub and other formats. Scrivener, WriteWay Pro, NewNovelist, Storyist, Microsoft Word, and Apple Pages can all create .epub files.
However, opening these .epub files to read in devices and applications can reveal problems. Each device or application can display different formatting errors (centering, spacing, indentation, word-wrap).
Correcting Display Issues
To avoid such display errors, writers currently have only three choices:
1. Repeatedly edit the text and export it to .epub format until it looks right in the most popular e-readers and applications. Many writers have done this with success.
2. Use one of the professional e-book publishing services like Amazon, Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Lulu, or Smashwords. Each has its own submission requirements to ensure correct formatting and offers a variety of publicity programs and channels of distribution.
3. Create the text within an application designed exclusively for producing .epub format documents. Currently only one such application is available: Playwrite (by Wundr, 30-day free trial). This may become an effective option in the future.
Playwrite, available only for the Mac, has templates for the parts and sections required in published e-books. It allows the writer to select font and style, to include tables, media, tip boxes, and more, and offers immediate preview and publishing by Wundr. Playwrite tries to give the writer what-you-see-is-what-you-get ease in creating an e-book. In my tests the exported .epub file may look fine on one e-reader but can have formatting errors on others. Playwrite is worth watching, but it has yet to live up to its potential.