As I have been experiencing, learning, teaching, and writing about on-demand self publishing over the past decade or two [I actually started self publishing ebooks in 1993 or 4], one area of book design has slid right past most of the new authors. This is quality. We won’t even discuss how quality dropped in the slide from letterpress to offset. That’s back in the dark ages, pre-digital. Silly person! That doesn’t matter any more.
The one that really matters is the nearly catastrophic fall from design software to office application. There really is an immense difference between Illustrator and PowerPoint. Huge numbers of authors are writing in Word, formatting in Word, and publishing from Word. The only thing that matters is Kindle. “KDP will convert my Word docs, no problem. Because I’m unknown I’ll give my books away.” But what happens when you become known? Not many can effectively raise their price.
Now we find that Kindle is not enough. In fact, Kindle is dwindling. For many of us, Kindle is back down to 35–40% of book sales from 60–65% a couple years ago. Print is still running about 35% or better [especially for non-fiction]. The iBookstore is growing fast, as is Kobo. DRM-free ebook bundles of PDF, ePUB, and KF8 sell better and better every month. Nook is dying a death of Borders. Their feet are blown to bits, but their guns are still pointed to the ground in front of them—self-inflicted wounds. [As an aside: what would have happened if Barnes & Noble had partnered with Apple instead building the Nook? The iBookstore becomes the in-house estore of the brick and mortar bookstore. Things would look very different this year.] But back to the topic.
What are the indicators of the need for quality?
One of the ways that I have noticed this lack of understanding about book quality has been simple. I continue to sell a surprising amount of full-color, downloadable PDFs. Createspace continues to match Kindle every month. But another indicator is simply the number of books which cannot raise their price above 99¢, $1.99, or maybe $2.99. The simple fact seems to be that no one will pay more than a couple bucks for a book with seriously blurry graphics and word processing typography.
Now I know that Joel Friedlander has come out with some very good Word templates. If anyone can get a decent book out of Word, it’s Joel. But even with his help, a book published in Word is still limited by the software itself. You’ll find no true small caps, no vector graphics, no CMYK, the color choices will be poor to limited, oldstyle figures for lowercase and lining figures for all caps will probably not be possible [and we won’t even consider small cap figures].
Drop cap controls are minimal: sidebars, anchored objects, object styles, typeset tables, and much more are simply not within the capabilities of a word processor—by design. Word processors are designed for office use by secretaries and business people.
Design software is developed to produce top quality, professional printed and ebook materials—efficiently. That means not only will your quality be greatly enhanced, but your production speed could triple if InDesign becomes your go-to software of choice.
But no one will notice
You just keep believing that. The rest of us will leave you back there with your cheap novels and Word-processed non-fiction. You’re the reason I can get $5 to $10 for one of my books. My sales tend to diminish if I lower the price too far. The readers get confused. My books don’t look like “cheap” books.
I’m just finishing a 450 page, 200 illustration “Self Publishing Handbook”. Try that in Word. The InDesign document is over 50 MB with no graphics embedded. The ePUBs are 22 MB. Even the PDFs are around 20 MB. Is that pushing the envelope? Of course. But they sell and they read beautifully in iBooks, Kobo, BlueFire, and Kindle apps on my iPad.
- The rise of the 99-cent Kindle e-book (reviews.cnet.com)
- Nook Press Won’t Let Users Edit Previously Published eBooks (the-digital-reader.com)
- Amazon Unveils Kindle Comic Creator For eBook Conversion (comicsalliance.com)