Until two weeks ago, I never understood the whinging emanating from commercial publishers about how expensive electronic publication was. Now I thoroughly understand. BookCamp Vancouver offered a session called "The E-Book Doctor," led by a Canadian editor who works for Random House UK formatting e-books.
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Currently, most manuscripts are received and edited in MS Word for the print versions of the title and it is from this final Word file that the e-versions are made. First the Word .doc is stripped of its formatting including page breaks, and converted to HTML. This file is put into InDesign and then converted to .pdf and the ePub formats. Each has to be done separately as ePub cannot be converted to .pdf and vice versa.
This is the stage when myriad problems arise, both major and minor. ePub transposes letters and words; it joins words and deletes parts of words; images and their captions change size and shape, or are dropped randomly all over the ms. Tables are a nightmare and, according to the E-Doctor, well nigh impossible to reproduce with the present software, except on the iPad.
Each of the different e-versions (and there can be nine!) of one title has to be checked minutely for errors against the print-ready file of the print book. ePub alone takes three times as long to proof and fix as a print version. Additionally hyperlinks have to be inserted and bookmarks for the TOCs, lists of illustrations (if any), and indexes.Then the e-pub version is checked on a computer screen, several kinds of e-reader, and mobile devices.
iPads to Smartphones' small screens. Kindles to Sonys, etc. Yikes!
Given the time required to convert print titles to e-books and the lack of resources to do the conversion in publishing houses, it will be a while before this issue is resolved. And, I can see why publishers dug their heels in over Amazon.com demanding the right to set the prices at $9.99/e-copy. The "cheap" e-book is is a costly addition to commercial publishers' product lines.
IMPLICATIONS FOR AUTHORS:
- We will be preparing our manuscripts in a new way that aids publishers in formatting titles for print and e-readers.
- We can no longer retain electronic rights in our trade publishing contracts.
- We should be reviewing the royalty percentage offered for sales of our electronic titles - it's going to change.
- Electronically self-publishing our titles for which we have the e-rights may be the wisest route.
- Freelance formatting and proofing for e-books is a growing field!