What You Need to Know About Ebook Formatting and Conversion

An ebook is more than just an electronic version of your book. Converting your print book to an ebook requires transforming your PDF (or Word document) into a file that can be read by ereaders. This process is called ebook formatting.

While there are multiple ways of having your ebook formatted—some of them automated—having a human format your book will create a richer, higher-quality ebook, especially if you're converting a PDF to an EPUB or MOBI format.

Because a PDF is in a read-only mode, formatting an ebook via automated conversion processes can result in unpleasant errors: run-on sentences, broken paragraphs, and missing punctuation. Here's how we format ebooks by hand.

A Step-by-Step Look at Our Ebook Conversion and Formatting Process

1. Strip out headers, footers, endnotes, footnotes, page numbers, and other elements that interrupt the flow of text.

2. Extract raw text from the manuscript (a more involved process if extracted from a PDF).

3. Reformat raw content using ebook-specific code to recreate the print style and design elements (e.g., bold, italics, underlines, chapter headers, drop caps).

4. Create the structure of the ebook by inserting chapters or sections that will reflect appropriate page breaks and table of contents hierarchy.

5. Recreate bulleted and numbered lists using code.

6. Insert and link footnotes so readers can jump between the text and the corresponding note.

7. Code links for outside websites that appear within the text.

8. Insert images using code that tells the ereader how to display the image.

9. Create a metadata file that will provide the device or software with the book information, such as title and author.

10. Create ereader-specific title and copyright pages.

11. Convert the ebook's source code to EPUB and MOBI formats (the actual file type recognized by ereaders).

12. Test the files on each major ereading device and, if needed, make changes to the source code (now that we can actually see what the code looks like on the ereader!), then retest as necessary.

Potential Ebook Conversion and Formatting Pitfalls

When it comes to turning your print book into an ebook, not everything is easily translated. Certain ebook limitations can affect the final product.

Image-Heavy Books

Because ebook files are flexible—meaning they can fit different screen sizes and accommodate changes of font size and margins—image-heavy books such as cookbooks, children's books, and coffee table books don't translate well to ebooks. These books, if converted to the typical EPUB and MOBI formats, will look more simplistic than their print counterparts.

You can, however, create a "fixed layout" ebook. Rather than being flexible, the images and text are fixed, and users can zoom in or out. Only iPads and Kindle Fires can display "fixed layout" ebooks, limiting the scope of who can read these particular formats.

Books with Multi-Column Text

Unfortunately, multi-column text (textbooks, reference books, Bibles) cannot be translated into an ebook because ereaders are unable to properly read and display text in multiple columns. That doesn't mean you're unable to create an ebook in these cases, though—if you can provide your book's text in a single-column format, converting it to an ebook shouldn't be a problem; it just won't look exactly like your print book.

Color Images and Text

While you can have images and text in color for your ebook, some users will simply see everything in grayscale, since not every ereader has the ability to display color. Ereaders that use e-ink displays can only show black and white, but other devices, such as the iPad and Kindle Fire, easily display color.

How Mill City Press Helps

Mill City Press has a team of experienced ebook coders who can help you convert your files and format your ebook. Our proprietary conversion process means that we can also code enhanced formatting features for your ebook.

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