If you’re completely new to the world of ebooks, this post is for you. There are so many options available now that it can be confusing for newbies. Kindle, Nook, iPad! Which is the best for you? If you’re not at least basically aware of the consequences of your choices, you can end up with a bad experience. But not to worry! This post will give you enough background on ebooks to get started. I’ve broken it into two sections, for those who already own a device that they want to read ebooks on, and for those who want to get a new device for ebook reading.
A. WHEN YOU ALREADY OWN A DEVICE
This is the process I recommend for you if you want to read ebooks on a device that you already own. This might be your smartphone, iPad or other tablet, or an eReader that you acquired in the past.
1. Do Not Buy or Download Any eBooks Yet
eBooks come in different formats, and not every format can be read on every device. Before you spend any money buying eBooks, follow the next few steps. This will save you money, time, and confusion.
2. Learn Which Types of eBooks You Can Use
If you have an eReader (like a BeBook, Cybook, Sony Reader) that’s not tied to a specific bookseller, the best thing to do is to go to the website that sells that device and look in the specifications to find out which ebook formats it supports. Also look for support for “DRM” (digital rights management) because without it, the types of ebooks you can use will be further restricted. Most eReaders can read PDF and ePub files and some can read additional file types like Mobi, txt, and others.
If you have an eReader (like a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo) that is associated with a specific bookseller you won’t have to worry about file types if you only purchase ebooks from that specific store. However, the Nook and Kobo eReaders can also read PDF or ePub files from other sources.
If you want to read ebooks on your iPhone or iPad, you can use iBooks, which is built into Apple’s system. By doing so you can easily get ebooks in the same manner that you download apps. You can also read PDF or ePub if you get an app that can handle those file types. In addition to that, big booksellers like Amazon and B&N have iOS apps that will let you read their ebooks without having to own a Kindle or Nook device.
If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can read Kindle and Nook ebooks with their respective Android apps. You can also read PDF or ePub if you get an app that can handle those file types.
3. Install Software/Apps If Necessary
E-Ink eReaders like the basic Kindle and Nook eReaders don’t need apps. But if you want to read on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you’ll need an app for reading ebooks. The best one to use depends on where you’ll buy your ebooks. I have explained this in more detail in previous posts: Best eBook Apps for iPad and iPhone, Best eBook Apps for Android
4. Find Out Where Your Type of eBooks Are Sold
Here are the basics:
If you have a Kindle then you must buy ebooks from Amazon.
If you have a Nook you can buy eBooks from Barnes & Noble or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks.
If you have a Kobo you can buy eBooks from Kobo or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks.
If you have an iPad or iPhone you can buy eBooks from iBooks, use the iOS app from Amazon/B&N/Kobo, or any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have an Android phone or tablet you can use the Android app from Amazon/B&N/Kobo, or buy from any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have another eReader (like a BeBook, Sony Reader, etc) you can buy eBooks from any ebook store that sells PDF or ePub ebooks (check DRM requirements – you might need a specific app).
If you have an off-brand cheaper eReader, you can probably use PDF and ePub ebooks, but you might not be able to use DRM-protected files. It’s vital that you check the specifications for your particular eReader.
5. Get eBooks!
Once you’ve done all of the research and learning above, go forth and buy ebooks from your chosen book store.
B. WHEN YOU DO NOT YET OWN A DEVICE
This is the process that I recommend if you don’t yet own a device for ebook reading, or if you’re not yet sure which device you want to use.
1. Do Not Buy an eReader or Tablet First
Don’t buy anything until you have a basic grasp on the options available.
2. Consider eBook Stores
My recommendation is to first figure out where you want to buy ebooks. This will narrow down your device choices. For example, if you really want to buy most of your ebooks from Amazon, you should get a Kindle. (You can also read Kindle ebooks on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device with the Kindle app). Likewise, if you really want to buy your ebooks from Barnes & Noble, you should get a Nook. (You can also use an iPad, iPhone, or Android device with the Nook app). The same goes for Kobo. If you like buying things from Apple and would like to buy your ebooks through iBooks, you should get an iPad. If you’re the type of person who wants to buy from smaller ebook websites, you can pick and choose from a few different sites like ebooks.com, ebookmall.com, or diesel-ebooks.com, as well as others. They will be able to support a lot of devices with the main exception being the Kindle. However, the process isn’t as streamlined as when you buy a specific type of ebook for a specific type of device, like a Kindle ebook for a Kindle eReader.
3. Based on Your Store Choice, Consider eBook Readers
Let’s say you decided that you’d really like to buy all of your ebooks from Amazon. That makes it pretty easy because you can get any Kindle model that you want. (Note that Kindle is not synonymous with eReader. A Kindle is the type of eReader sold at Amazon.com.) The same goes for Barnes & Noble — just get one of the Nook models. If you would like more variety, you could consider getting and iPad or Android tablet. That’s a great choice because you can use ebooks from a variety of sources, and you’ll also have a fully functional tablet computer that you can use for web browsing, movies, or whatever else.
4. Buy Your Chosen eReader
Once you know where you want to buy your ebooks and what kind of device you want to use for reading, go get your eReader!
5. Install Software/Apps If Necessary
Depending on what kind of device you’ve chosen, you might need to install an app or other software. E-Ink eReaders like the basic Kindle and Nook eReaders don’t need apps. But if you want to read on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, you’ll need an app for reading ebooks. The best one to use depends on where you’ll buy your ebooks. I have explained this in more detail in previous posts: Best eBook Apps for iPad and iPhone, Best eBook Apps for Android
6. Get eBooks!
Go forth and buy ebooks.
I hope this guide is helpful for ebook newbies. If you have any more tips for someone who is completely new to ebooks, leave them in the comments.
Part of my job over the past 10+ years in the ebook industry has been the creation of ebooks. Over the years the popular formats have changed and the software used to create ebooks has changed, but there are some concepts about text manipulation that have remained constant. Whether you’re creating ebooks for ePub, PDF, iBooks, tablets, smartphones, or Kindle, there are common mistakes that can be avoided. The information I’m presenting here is based on my own experience, so your mileage may vary.
1. Try not to do any conversions straight from Microsoft Word
Microsoft Word is a good program and it’s fine to type your book in it, but Microsoft Word documents don’t convert well into other text formats, like HTML. A lot of ebook creation programs let you import HTML files, which are excellent to use because you can customize the textas much as you want, but the “HTML” that Microsoft Word creates is not really HTML. If you simply take your Word document and “Save As” HTML, you get Microsoft Word’s abomination of HTML, and it doesn’t behave in the same way as real HTML. It’s got a ton of extra junk code in it that isn’t very readable by other programs and you’ll probably end up with a bunch of weird formatting issues.
Instead of using Microsoft Word to create your HTML, make it yourself with a different application. The first step is to save the document as a plain .txt file. Yes, this will strip out all of your formatting, but it will also strip out all of the nonsense code that Microsoft Word creates. I recommend a program like AscToHTM for converting text to HTML, but you can use any other similar program that you like. Make sure you save a copy of your original Word document before you start messing with it.
2. Do small-scale testing
If you’re new to creating ebooks, or if you’re new to text manipulation, or if you’re just new to the particular application that you’re using, do some testing first. For example, copy one chapter of your ebook and make an ebook out of that. This way you can learn how the software behaves without going through all of the work of converting your entire book into ebook format and having to go back and fix mistakes throughout the entire text. You can experiment with things like headings, images, margins, etc, and find out what looks best.
3. Test on an eReader, smartphone, tablet
Test your ebook on as many different types of devices as possible. If you only look at the ebook on your computer screen, you won’t know what it will look like on an eReader, an iPhone, an Android tablet, or whatever else people might read your ebook on. I understand that you might not own all of these devices, but see if you can borrow one from a friend and at least test the ebook on your own phone.
4. Consider small screens
Does your ebook have giant, complicated graphs and charts? Those might not be readable on the small screen of a phone and it will be very important to test it. Images can safely be about 600×400 pixels but even at that size the text will need to be relatively large in order to be readable. If your huge graph has 10pt text that’s imperative for the reader, they’re just not going to be able to read it on small screens.
5. Keep fonts and layout as simple as possible
eReaders like the Kindle, Sony Reader, or Kobo eReader don’t have access to very many fonts. You’ll do best by sticking to the most default font type available. I recommend that you not specify a font at all. That way the eReader can display your text as naturally as possible, and if the ebook reading app does allow the user to change font sizes, they can do that without your book trying to force a font on them.
Footnotes have become a big problem in ebook creation and the reason is, once again, different screen sizes. You have to make an ebook that can display correctly on a computer screen, an eReader, a tablet, and a smartphone, and all of these devices have very different screen sizes. They won’t show the same amount of pages, the same page numbers, or the same amount of text on the screen. This means that you can’t define the bottom of a page for your footnotes because each screen will have a different “bottom” of the page. You could consider moving all of your footnotes to the end of the chapter, and linking to them from the text with hyperlinks.
6. Carefully look through your text
When authors see their book in a different format (say, PDF instead of Microsoft Word) suddenly a lot of typos jump out at them that they didn’t see before. Once you’ve converted your book into .txt, HTML, or an ebook format, you should scan through the entire text to look for errors or typos. You should also scan through the entire text to look for problems that might have been created during the conversion from format to format. You can use this as an opportunity to make sure everything you want to be italic is italic, everything you want to be indented is indented, etc.
All of this might sound like a lot more work that you anticipated, but if you put in the time and effort you’ll end up with a quality ebook, and that’s worth it.