Capitalizing on the E-Book Trend: Making an E-Book

Writers Journal article on e-books.This article appeared in the July/August 2009 issue of Writers’ Journal.

View “Capitalizing on the E-Book Trend: Making an E-Book” as it appeared in Writers’ Journal.

As we move deeper into the Information Age, we’re seeing drastic changes in the publishing landscape. The e-book is yet one more piece of this mechanical puzzle, but it can be a lucrative one. Writers’ Journal will run a feature on marketing e-books so I won’t dwell on that aspect. What I want to impart to you here is how easy it is to create one and give you a few tips on making them effective.

To make an e-book you need four things:

  • A modern word processing package that includes layout tools (MS Word, Open Office, Quark, etc.)
  • A PDF distiller (You can buy the Adobe application for MS Word, or get a free one with Open Office)
  • A good idea
  • Solid writing

Images are nice, too, but not essential. (I have a trick for illustrating your e-book with free clip art without using a photo editing program! More on that later.) First, I want to mention the two different ways of compiling e-books.

The Mechanics
One way is to make a series of HTML pages and use a cheap or free compiler to turn the thing into an .exe file. Though this method is widely used, I don’t really recommend it for several reasons. While MS Word will allow you to create HTML pages even if you don’t know how, the problem is in display and distribution of the end product. The display is heavily dependent on the end user’s web browser, so you can never be certain they are seeing your book the way you intended…or even legibly if they downloaded it to a Blackberry or Palm Pilot. The second is that .exe files have a bad reputation for carrying viruses and the attachment might get stripped off by the user’s security features if it was delivered via email. Even if it isn’t summarily removed, opening the file will trigger all sorts of security warning screens that should make the end user edgy and mistrustful of the file, and by extension, your message.

The other way—the one I prefer—is to make a PDF e-book. PDF distribution is safer and easier to control. The major drawback has been that Adobe Acrobat Distiller is expensive. No more! Open Office (openoffice.org) is a free office package that includes an on-board PDF converter. The best part is that you can either use Open Office to create the file in the first place, or do all your layout in your favorite program and then import it into Open Office for conversion. I’m an MS Word user of 20 years, so I do all of my print layout in Word. Having said that, Open Office has almost all the same functionality. Are you most comfortable making PowerPoint presentations? Use that program. As long as it converts to a lovely PDF, the program you choose doesn’t matter.

E-Book Layout
Unlike a physical book, you can set security features on your e-book so that it can’t be copied or printed out. There are arguments both for and against this. How you choose to set it comes down to the purpose of the e-book. If you’re making your money on a per copy sale, then set the security features as tight as you can make them without making the book unreadable. If, however, the purpose of the book is to create a viral marketing campaign and your sales are going to come from up-sell packages or service sales, then make sure you have your name and url on every page and do allow printing…in fact, encourage it.

Whether you’re allowing printing or not, keep in mind that the pages are probably not going to be printed double-sided. This means that you don’t need to bother with pesky things like gutters and left verses right page formatting. You can have different odd and even number pages if you want to, but having all of the page numbers on either the left, right, or center is the best method.

One thing you do have to worry about if the pages are going to be printed, though, is printer margins. Most home printers can’t handle having the image go all the way to the edge of the paper and will crop off your lovely page with a .25 inch margin all the way around, so those of you with dramatic visions of full-color pages bleeding over the edges of the paper will have to adjust your mind’s eye a bit. You’re going to get a .25 inch band of white around the edge. Set your paper layout to .25, stay in the lines, and you won’t have anything important cropped off. If you’re going to prevent the user from printing out the book, then bleed, bleed, bleed!

You can orient your e-book in either portrait or landscape and no one is going to care. This makes the possibility of turning a PowerPoint presentation into an e-book a feasible one easy click, just remember that margin.

Do use page numbers in either the header or the footer. Also include your name, the book title and your url. Longer e-books might even include an index, table of contents, glossary, or resource list.

Use Color
If the e-book is going to be read via computer, people have color monitors. If they download it to their PDAs, the device is equipped to handle the color display. Color printers are so common now, there’s no real excuse for making an e-book in black and white. Just don’t go overboard. Unless this is a photo album or a graphic novel, your text is the most important thing you have here. It must be legible. Do use color pictures, color borders, shaded call-outs, reversed-out pull-quotes…wait a minute, this sounds like a webpage! You can see where HTML templates would be useful. In fact, if you drag out your well-read back issues of Writers’ Journal, my previous columns on web page layout and images contain useful e-book layout information.

One thing an e-book allows that print doesn’t is hypertext links embedded into the document. Use the same method in your e-book that you would on a web page. Make the title of the page “hot” (clickable) with the direct link instead of putting the link itself into the document ase you would for print. For example: Writers’ Journal Contests instead of http://www.writersjournal.com/CalendarofContests.htm.

Dressing It Up
MS Word has some useful layout features under “Insert.” (Open Office, WordPerfect, Quark, and other word processing packages have similar features.) “Insert > Picture from file” is one and “insert > textbox” is another. “Picture from file” allows you to insert any image you have stored on your computer. Let’s say you’re doing a booklet on yoga positions and you’ve had a friend take a series of pictures of you performing the moves you’re writing about. You can easily edit these using the tips I mentioned in last month’s column, then insert them into your e-book. “Textbox” will allow you to put in captions, or shaded side-bars or whatever else you can think up.

“Insert> Picture > AutoShapes” allows you to put in lines and to circle key points in your images. On all of these, right click on the thing you just inserted and “format” the “layout” to “square.” This will allow you to move the objects around and drop them anywhere you want so they can overlap or wrap around each other. Right-clicking on the objects also allows you to change which one is on top, shade the background, put a border around them, or even group a bunch together.

If you don’t have any pictures, you can use “AutoShapes” to put subtle color spots behind your text. When “format”ting the “layout,” just choose “behind text.”

Remember I mentioned a trick for illustrating your e-book for free? I lied. I have two!

First: There are a lot of wonderful background patterns available online for free. My favorite place to hunt for these is nasa.gov. Background patterns can be used to create colorful and interesting frames behind text box call-outs or even around the edges of your pages. Backgroundcity.com also has some great ones: they just require a proper image credit with a link, as does backgroundlabs.com. You do this by inserting the background as an image, then inserting a slightly smaller textbox with a solid background on top of it. Frame images this way, too.

Second: use “crazy” fonts. Fonts aren’t just letters anymore. You’ve seen “wingdings” right? At least one version of a “crazy” font came with your system so you could put in math formulas and arrows. There are very clever and beautiful artists out there who have created all sorts of picture fonts. Animals, holiday icons, lightning bolts…all sorts of things. The great part about these fonts is that you just put them into the fonts folder on your system and you can type them right into your document. Change the font size to make them bigger or smaller, change the color. Put them into a text box and you can have them appear behind the text. Fontspace.com has over 9,000 of them free and available to use.

One caveat with the free fonts is that Adobe’s distiller makes you embed the fonts before it saves out the file. Just go to your “Adobe PDF” tab, choose “change conversion settings,” “advanced settings,” “fonts,” and always make sure everything is embedded.

If you can’t find something useful for free, istockphoto.com has some fantastic background images as well as stock business-type photos for $14 or less.

The last thing I want to leave you with is the idea that your e-book really ought to have a cover. You put your cover on the first page of the document to make it look more professional, but you can also use the cover image as an icon when enticing people to purchase the e-book. Amazon.com claims that product images increase sales by up to 10%. Your cover image doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. Any image or color block you might use inside the book can be used to create a cover. Even a solid color with crisp, reversed out text can work. Browse titles in your genre for inspiration.

Most of all, have fun with it. Whether you’re using it as a showcase for your work, a means of enticing people to buy another product or service, or as a way to make money with little or no overhead, an e-book is a useful took to have around.

Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on internet marketing. Her internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.

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This entry was posted by on Monday, May 10, 2010.
Filed under: Articles, For Writers, Marketing, Writer Resources, Writers' Journal
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