In the past, traditional publishing followed a well-defined path of first releasing a “real” book in the most expensive format possible, followed by a less expensive paperback and an ebook. Today, with self-published authors determining the formats and release order for their work, is the traditional path still relevant? Should you release an ebook or a “real” book first?
Most of the books I have published are available in both print and electronic formats, but when I published Reality Check, I only published it as an ebook. The reason was that I wanted the book to be available quickly with a minimum of delay. The book was an exploration of the issues I faced as a Brit who moved to live in Brazil in 2013 and I wanted it to be very fresh with comment on current affairs during this time.
The book did well. Amazon featured it as the #1 book about Brazil for a long time and as I look at their charts while writing this article, I see it remains in the top 20 for books about South America. Yet, I now believe it was a mistake to release it only as an ebook.
Ebook or Real Book… Or both
The real answer to the question ebook or print book is “both.” I don’t think the publishing order matters now, so long as the versions are released at approximately the same time. Some readers are ebook fanatics. They only download books and consume them on their Kindle, iPad, phone, or other reading devices. Other readers want to feel a physical book in their hands and to decorate the bookshelves of their home with beautiful objects.
However, the process of self-publishing an ebook and a print book is slightly different. You will probably need to take your final edited manuscript and subject it to two separate preparation processes.
The Publishing Process
Getting your manuscript ebook ready for publication means the manuscript must be formatted in a machine-readable format, usually HTML (Lulu provides an excellent eBook conversion tool for non-technical authors). You can’t specify details such as the font size because the reader may change all of this on their eReader anyway. You will also need to add links, similar to website links, so the reader can click and find key places in the book, such as the index or chapters.
Getting your print book ready for print publication is more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get process. You need to ensure that your document is formatted to the correct size for your printed pages, that your font and character sizes all look exactly as you expect in the book, and details such as page numbers and starting a chapter on an odd-numbered page are applied.
These are two separate processes and having done both a number of times now, I suggest the quickest way to get your book out there once you have a final edited manuscript is to launch the ebook first. The preparation process for an ebook is quite fast as there is only a limited amount of formatting allowed and you can use free preview tools, such as Calibre, to see how it will look on an ebook reader. Once submitted to Lulu, your ebook will be available for purchase almost immediately.
Ebook First, Real book to follow
Once you have the ebook out there you can focus on taking the same manuscript and formatting it for the physical book. This process takes longer because once you have the book ready, you still need to purchase a single copy and check that it has printed correctly. You might get it right the first time, but I have found that I usually miss something the first time around and get the printed version right on the second attempt.
With luck, you can have the ebook and physical book published within a week or two of each other and both available so that customers who like either format will be satisfied. And, that book I wrote about Brazil? The second edition is going to be published as a paperback on Lulu next month because I don’t want to ignore all those people who still love “real” books!
Mark Hillary is a British author, blogger and advisor on technology and globalization based in São Paulo, Brazil. He is a regular contributor to journals including The Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and Computer Weekly.