Just as the convergence of the internet, music compression and MP3 players opened doors for independent music artists nearly a decade ago, eBook readers and the EPUB format will allow self-published authors to distribute their work to a potentially huge audience and at a very little cost.
eBooks are about to become very popular
We already have the Kindle from Amazon, Stanza for the iPhone and products like Sony’s eReader, but at the moment these are mostly the domain of tech geeks. Next year we will see a slew of devices which will help push eBooks as a more mainstream way of reading books. Apple is rumoured to be releasing a Kindle like device, and other hardware manufacturers are jumping in with their own versions of tablet/media devices.
Offer PDF and EPUB formats
Independent authors should offer at least two formats; PDF and EPUB. PDF’s should be offered as an all purpose solution, if all else fails the user can open the PDF on their computer or most users will be aware of work-arounds to get the PDF to display on their preferred device. However, for a better reading experience authors should also offer the EPUB format, this is currently compatible with a large range of eBook readers and will reflow text to the size and dimensions desired by the user (ie: PDFs currently lack this feature, page sizes are a fixed dimension with a fixed number of words). The world of eBooks is still relatively young with many competing formats, but I believe EPUB stands the best chance of becoming the eBook standard just as MP3s have become the open standard for music files.
You can create professional looking books in EPUB (for free)
There is a new, free program available for creating eBooks in the EPUB format called Sigil. At the moment Sigil only imports TXT, HTML and EPUB documents, this might mean a two step conversion process for most independent authors, for example;
1. You’ve got the book written in Microsoft Word or something similar
2. Export an HTML version
3. Open the HTML version in Sigil and fix any formatting issues
4. Export as EPUB file
Sigil is very new, but a very promising open source project… I imagine it will not be long before a version is released capable of importing MS Word documents natively along with other common word processing formats.
Amazon provides a great marketplace for books
As well as offering the book for direct sale over your personal website, independent authors should also look at selling their work on Amazon. Amazon charge an ongoing fee and take a chunk of the sale price, but they have millions of eyeballs each day so it is very compelling marketplace. To sell on Amazon they require you to join the Advantage program which is $US29.95/month, they also take 55% of the List Price … which I think is steep, but probably not that much different from a brick and mortar bookstore.
Free the words!
Many authors are seeing benefit in releasing an eBook for free in order to establish an audience or to expand their existing base of fans. Sites such as Feedbooks will let authors publish their work for free and gives instant distribution to a range of popular devices, such as the Kindle.
EPUB format description on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB
Sigil ebook editor: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/
Amazon advantage: http://advantage.amazon.com/gp/vendor/public/join
Feedbooks guide to self-publishing: http://www.feedbooks.com/help/self-publishing