Some Background on the Major eBook Formats
In today's world there are eBooks have two major formats: EPUB and MOBI. EPUB is an open source format compatible with most eReading devices and software (Apple and Android Smartphones, PC, Mac, etc.) There are a wide variety of apps that are usually free to reading the EPUB format. Adobe Digital Editions works well for PC or Mac, iBooks is great for iPhones and iPads, and Moon+ Reader and Mantano Reader are decent Android apps. EPUB is also the format distributed by all vendors (Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, etc.) with the exception of Amazon, which leads us to… The MOBI format is owned by Amazon and is used for Amazon-type devices such as the Kindle eReader, Kindle Fire tablet, and apps. Even though it is a different format, it is very similar to the EPUB format. The best way to make a MOBI eBook is to start with an open source EPUB eBook and convert it using Amazon's proprietary program KindleGen.
eBooks are not Print Books
A common misconception among publishers and authors is that an eBook format should mimic its print cousin as closely as possible. This is often a recipe for disaster. The content of a print book is designed to be read in a fixed layout (e.g. a 5"x8" paperback). However, eBooks must be readable on a wide variety of devices: from a large PC monitor to a small smartphone. Therefore, the content of an eBook needs to be "reflowable" so that it can adjust to the size of the viewing screen that the reader is using. Things like complex tables, images placed next to text, and background images may cause problems on eBooks and create a poor reading experience if not handled properly.
Extra Features of eBooks
At the moment, the most popular eBooks as seen from the bestseller lists at Amazon are genre novels—particularly erotica and thrillers. However, non-fiction eBooks are gaining some much-needed acceptance among readers. There are major benefits to eBooks such as the ability to embed hyperlinks, creating an index that is clickable, and a navigable Table of Contents to allow the reader to easily access their desired part of the eBook. These are important for complex works of non-fiction that are utilized as references. The reading software for eBooks is still a bit rudimentary at the moment; but, the new EPUB3 specification will allow for more rich features such as embedding multimedia, pop-up footnotes, and even more advanced programming like the ability to take a quiz inside an eBook and get graded on it. The EPUB3 specification has been finalized and developers are currently making software for it. Apple's iBooks app can already support some elements of EPUB3.
The Best Part about eBooks
Technology aside, the best reason for eBooks is the low cost of distribution, no need to store books in a warehouse or your garage, and the ability to reach your worldwide target market very quickly. Even if you only intended to have your book in a print edition, you should strongly consider making an eBook version to reach a readership you may have never thought possible.
Paul Salvette is the Managing Director of a small business in Bangkok, Thailand, founded in June 2012. His technical knowledge of eBooks somewhat surpasses his mediocre writing capabilities, so he decided to dabble in that aspect of the publishing process. He is the proud owner of a pair of sunglasses.