Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
So you’ve written a book and you want to get it out into the world. You’ve decided that self-publishing is the way to go, but you’re not really sure how to turn that book on your computer into something that can be read by an eager public.
In this post, we will show you the three most common file standards in self-publishing and let you know how you can easily create your book in these formats. Ready?
EPUB: One Format to Rule Them All
An EPUB file is the most widely accepted ebook format on the market. It’s the industry standard, used by Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Google for their ebook distribution platforms.
A free and open standard based on HTML (much like the files your web browser would read), EPUB is a remarkably flexible format that supports a wealth of features. It can optimize a book’s text to fit your device, embed images, and allow for bookmarking, highlighting and text-to-speak. The latest version, EPUB 3, will even permit you to add multimedia content like video and audio clips.
All around, it’s pretty great, which is why most of the publishing industry has rallied around it as the ebook format of choice. If you want to upload your book directly to almost any ebook retail platform—through Kobo Writing Life or Nook Press, for example—or use an “aggregator” like Smashwords or Draft2Digital, you will need to have an EPUB file.
So what’s stopping EPUB from being the single digital book format?
MOBI: The Kindle Exception
Amazon’s Kindle Store is the biggest ebook retailer in the world, and by quite a long way. In 2015, it was responsible for more than 70 percent of ebooks sold in the US. So you can see why authors are pretty keen to get their books into the Kindle Store.
But what does this have to do with the popular DJ and Grammy-nominated musician?
As it turns out, the ebooks you buy on the Kindle Store will have the file extension .mobi—but are actually formatted to a proprietary standard called AZW. These files are protected by Digital Rights Management (DRM), which “locks” the book so it can only be read on devices associated with your account.
If that last paragraph sounded complicated, don’t worry: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service has an integrated tool which will happily accept EPUB files.
PDF: Your Single Solution for Good Ol’ Fashioned Printed Media
Perhaps the most cost-effective way of selling physical copies on a small scale, self-published authors commonly use what’s called a print-on-demand (POD) service. Instead of ordering a print run and filling a warehouse with paperbacks, copies will only be printed as and when they’ve been purchased. The two most popular POD services are IngramSpark and CreateSpace, the latter of which is—would you believe it—an Amazon company (“Amazon: we invented books”).
For this, you will need a file that contains strict definitions of your book’s layout and content—which is why we use PDF files. There are countless different types of PDF out there, but for our purposes, the format will need to a “print-ready PDF” to make it compatible with printers. Any hyperlinks will be removed and your image colors will be expressed in CMYK, not using the RGB color model.
If you’re a big fan of file formats, you’ll be pleased to know that the Reedsy exports PDFs with the Adobe PDF/X-1a:2001 format: a standard used by most professional printers.
So What Platforms Require Which Format?
If you’re printing physical copies with a POD service, you will need a print-ready PDF. For ebooks, you will be able to upload an EPUB file to any platform, including the Kindle store. From a practical point-of-view, those two are the only two formats you’ll need to work with.
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