Kindle Conniptions: How I Published My First E-Book

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this makes it far easier to locate them when you’re searching for the anchor text for the internal hyperlinks—another tip from the talented Mr. Tallent.

Let’s fast forward to the end—assuming you’re still with me. What you get, with enough endurance, is a stripped-down HTML file that will look nice almost anywhere, whether in a Web browser window or on an e-reader. Amazon’s Digital Text Platform lets you upload this HTML file to Amazon’s servers and specify a title, a price, and other details. If you do everything correctly, your e-book shows up in the Kindle Store and on within three days or so, and you can start your career as a best-selling e-book author.

I’m a geek who is comfortable with, though not totally fluent in, HTML, and this project severely tested my patience. I spent an estimated 10 hours trying to figure out how to do this, and then another 30 or 40 hours doing the grunt work to make it happen. So I think it’s safe to say that until somebody comes up with a way to automate e-book production, we won’t see a huge flood of authors self-publishing for the Kindle or the other e-book platforms. Perhaps I should have hired a consultant. Tallent charges a reasonable $60 per hour, and says he can convert a typical novel to Kindle-ready HTML in 1 to 3 hours and a longer non-fiction title in 3 to 6 hours. But then I wouldn’t have had this wonderful story to tell.

The situation is unfortunate, because part of the promise of the digital publishing revolution was that it would finally give authors a way to bypass the old literary establishment—the agents and editors and publishers whose job is to make sure that trees get sacrificed, and costly marketing campaigns get mounted, only for the most commercially viable titles. The way things are now, only big publishers, or maybe authors with some money to burn (and how many of those do you know?), are going to go to the trouble of getting their books onto the major e-book platforms.

Of course, all that’s needed to solve this problem is for one clever programmer to come along and build a usable e-book editing program. That’s roughly what happened on the Web back in 1995, when Cambridge, MA-based Vermeer Technologies introduced FrontPage, the first successful WYSIWYG HTML editor. Microsoft eventually bought Vermeer and FrontPage for $133 million, and I bet that the first company to build a decent e-book editor would get snapped up by Amazon or Apple. Entrepreneurs, are you listening?

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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11 responses to “Kindle Conniptions: How I Published My First E-Book”

  1. phil says:

    If Mr. Tallent can convert a book in one to six hours, what’s the problem? If I were an Indie author and could make 70% profit on each eBook sale, that cost for a contractor seems like nothing. Sounds like there’s certainly no need for a major publisher, if that’s all the work it takes to format a book.

  2. P J Evans says:

    LEarning how to create a Word formatting template took me several hours, with an instruction book, the one time I did it. That was for a manual at work (about 160 pages, with illustrations, which means a format for captions also).
    The entire manual required two or three months, because I had to redo all the images in it also. (At least I got paid for part of it – most of the work I did at home, on my own time.)

    Anyone who thinks ebooks can be done without editors needs to try it.

  3. Bill says:

    One reason you had so much trouble is that Word produces *really* *horrid* HTML, as opposed to clean well-formed HTML. That’s partly because they’re Microsoft, and partly because Word is a product that’s evolved over a couple of decades rather than being built cleanly from scratch, but it’s also partly because HTML and Word are designed for radically different problems. Word is designed to let you make pretty-looking marks on screens and specific-shaped paper, while HTML is designed to let you categorize the *information* in a document, so that somebody (not necessarily you) can display it on a display that doesn’t necessarily look like yours.

    An HTML reader might be displaying contents on an 8.5″x11″ portrait-mode piece of white paper, or on a wristwatch, iPhone, or billboard, so what HTML really cares about is that one bunch of words are an H1 header and that you’d like to anchor a given picture at this point in the document, not whether the bunch of words are in 14-point boldface small caps or have enough room before a page break. There’s an auxiliary standard, CSS, that lets an HTML author give some hints about how you’d *like* the reader to display the document, if they can, but it’s just hints, because that’s the reader’s decision, not the author’s. And since Word is primarily about display (and PDF almost entirely about it), it’s got to add a bunch of ugly format requests around every HTML information tag, because the author might have changed the heading format partway through the document, or might have just specified that a given paragraph was in 14-point bold-face without indicating that it was an H1 header.

  4. bowerbird says:

    wade said:
    > Since I use Word all day every day,
    > I had thought I understood the program.
    > But Tallent’s book forced me to figure out
    > previously ignored features such as
    > the styles pallette

    whoa. you’ve “ignored” styles? seriously?

    that’s a pretty brave thing to be confessing!

    all this time i thought you knew your stuff.

    > I bet that the first company to build
    > a decent e-book editor would get
    > snapped up by Amazon or Apple.
    > Entrepreneurs, are you listening?

    oh please. haven’t the “entrepreneurs” caused
    more than enough damage in the e-book space?

    i’m coming out soon with a simple light-markup
    authoring-tool that lets writers write in plain text,
    not bothersome, clumsy, heavy, intrusive markup.

    button-clicks will output e-books in powerful .pdf,
    and several versions of .html (for different purposes),
    as well as .rtf. other converter programs out there can
    then auto-generate the other formats you might want.

    my authoring-tool will be cross-platform and cost-free.


    p.s. send me your word file or your .html file, or better yet
    both, and i’ll show you how easy your book could have been.

  5. Wade,

    Thank you very much for purchasing my book and for your kind comments on it. I am very glad to know that I helped you in your conversion project! Hopefully the next book will be much easier to do, and do feel free to drop me a line if you ever need advice or assistance.

    – Joshua

  6. Matt says:

    Interesting article, I wonder whether the next version of Word will (as some whisperers are suggesting) have an export to ePUB feature. Seems like that would be a good idea and make life for a lot of self-publishing eBook authors a lot easier.

  7. Outtanames999 says:

    So it turns out that the Kindle (and probably all other ebook readers – uh the machines, not the people) are the dumbest devices ever invented. And to think, people pay money for them.

    For you see, the dirty little secret is that you could read these Kindle books on your non-smart phone circa 2007 because that is how dumb the Kindle devices are.

    Amazon themselves says their Digital Text Platform (DTP) “handles .mobi file formatting and images very well. For more information about the Mobipocket format and the Mobipocket eBook Creator, please visit the eBook Creator homepage Important: Only unencrypted mobi files are supported.”

    Turns out Mobipocket Creator is free.

  8. David says:

    Great Post! I am currently finishing up my first book project and I plan on self-publishing it. Any words of advice would be greatly appreciated!