What I Like About Publishing eBooks (and What I Don’t)

They are the trend, aren’t they? Electronic books. Cheaper to buy and easier to carry around. I understand why consumers like them. Personally, I don’t think anything is better than a real live book in my hands, but that’s a debate about personal choice. As a writer and independent publisher, my likes and dislikes about eBooks shift a bit. They’re more about the things that go on behind the screen.

What I like best about publishing eBooks is that they can be updated. This is useful on several levels. For example, there’s nothing worse than finally getting a book in print, one that you’ve labored over, checked and re-checked, only to find errors. And there’s nothing you can do about it. With an eBook, the errors can be corrected and a new file uploaded to replace the old. No new ISBN or ASIN required. Simple as that.

This is also useful for promoting newer books. In my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, for example. With every new volume, I can update the previous eBooks and include a link to newer works.

Along those lines I can let new readers get a sample of me and my writing by offering books for free, say the first in a series. I’ve done just that with my how-to series, offering volume one for free. Hopefully they like it well enough to be willing to buy more of my work. If they don’t, then they haven’t lost a dime.

So what don’t I like about publishing eBooks? The first thing is that they are difficult to make pretty. They are ugly. Not the covers, but the interiors. Formatting options are limited because different eReaders render the book differently, so the rules to formatting are set and with little aesthetic leeway. I don’t like it that I can’t compose my text and white space to suit myself. On top of that, different eBook conversion software produces different results, which compounds the problem of creating a pretty page. I’ve tried several services and now stick with only two because the results are more acceptable.

Images and diagrams are a problem in eBooks, and avid readers agree that this type of book is not very picture friendly. For one thing, the screen is relatively small, although some eReaders have zoom type features. From the publishing end, images seem less predictable than I’d like. The image in the file I upload may end up larger or smaller than I aimed for.

I don’t like that I can’t make tables. In some of my how-tos, tables would be a helpful way to visually organize data. I end up having to type it all out in a line with commas or hyphens, which isn’t very “at a glance.”

The other thing I don’t like is that eBooks have a sense of temporariness about them. If my device breaks or my computer dies, they’re lost. If I don’t have electricity or battery power, I can’t read. Expiration dates can be added when the book files are converted to the various formats so that the books can be automatically deleted. As an author it’s unsettling to think that all of my hard work could simply disappear from the face of the earth.

I suppose it could be said that eBook are here to stay. Maybe. Likely they will change somewhat. However, print books don’t seem to be going anywhere soon either, which is also good. I suppose the best way to look at it is that in the realm of books, there’s something for everybody. As a publisher, I just have to learn to do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with.