Self-publishing offers many options. Your book can be available in print, eBook, or another document version like PDFs. Which format do you choose?

The final destination of your published book will become the driving force behind how you prepare it for publication.

Where will you market the book? If you are a speaker, a printed version might work best. These books are fairly easy to transport and a beneficial addition to any product table. The one big advantage is that you are bringing your book directly to the consumer. No shipping. No waiting.

If your market is online, some kind of digital or downloadable version might work well. A point to consider if you are entertaining a digital format…not all eReaders are the same! And not all self-publishing formats can be read on every eReader.

So what dictates your formatting choice?

With several options available, there are a few questions to ask. Where will I market my book? Where will my eBook be available for downloading? Which device accepts that format? Which formats are the most popular?

To answer these questions, we will look at how formats work and then the most popular ones in self-publishing today.

Print Books

If your book will be printed, the formatting choices are simpler. The author submits the text file according to each printer’s guidelines.

Every publisher has their own requirements as to font, layout, and margins. They may offer downloadable templates where you simply cut and paste your document into the format. Some will accept a .doc file while others prefer a PDF version. Check with your printer/publisher for their requirements and style options.

eBook Files

The format files for eBooks contain more than just text files. Instead of a fixed layout where the same words always appear on a kindlespecific page, most digital books have reflowable text. This means that for any given device, the text may be adjusted or will “flow” to fill the prescribed parameters of the eReader.

eBook files are a combination of many different types of files. The amount depends upon the complexity of the eBook. Within each .zip file that is uploaded to the publisher, you will find…

  • A file that contains only the unformatted text. This is the basic text of the eBook.
  • A file that tells the eReader how to display elements of the text. This file is the CSS or coding file which regulates how the type will be displayed. For example, in Adobe InDesign, the style comes from two sources. Paragraph Style defines how the elements of different paragraphs (margins, indent, spacing) will be displayed. Character Style influences the individual structure of each word. Will they appear normal, italic, drop cap, etc.? When the document is prepared for publication, there are files that reflect these selections.
  • Other files that contain information, such as images, ISBN, and other elements of the eBook.

Popular eBook Formats

Every eReader has its own format preference. The following are the most popular in today’s digital landscape:

  • Epub. The standard format for digital publishing is Epub. Most eReaders will accommodate these files. The devices which support Epub are Apple iPad and iPhone, Kobo eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader, and Android phones.
  • Mobi. Kindle readers will not work with ePub files. Instead, Amazon has developed its own version and called it Mobi. In order to read a book on Kindle, you must access it directly from Amazon and use the Mobi format.
  • AZW. This is Amazon’s adaptation of the Mobi format for devices other than Kindle. An eReader may download the Kindle eBook Reader and access AZW files from the Amazon bookstore.ereader
  • PDF. The Portable Document Format has been around for years. It was developed by Adobe and is easily used on most any device. PDF files maintain the original format of the document.

If you write in MSWord, Pages, or OpenOffice, you will have to convert your book if you decide on a digital format. Again, even if the book will be in a printed version, some adaptation in formatting may be necessary. In order to reach the greatest amount of readers, publish in several formats.

In order to reach the greatest amount of readers, publish in several formats. Epub and Mobi are the most popular digital versions. But don’t forget that many still prefer the traditional paper and ink of a book.


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