Saturday, April 14, 2012

Using Apple's Pages to Produce eBooks - A Product Review of Necessity

Rare is the author who can make a good living with just one book. It generally takes several books and a following of readers to generate income. For self-published authors, not only do we need to generate a following, we need to be able to leverage name and product recognition every opportunity we can get. After writing the book itself, marketing our books is the most important task a self-published author has. If our potential readers do not know about our books, they won't buy them and read them.

Most self-published authors follow industry leader Aaron Shepard's advice and "Aim all of our sales at Amazon," basing our marketing strategy on his book Aiming at Amazon. In this book Aaron wisely suggests pushing all sales to Amazon, allowing Amazon's long tail do a lot of the marketing work for the author. Aaron advocates that not only should self-published authors take advantage of all the benefits of selling our books on Amazon, by pushing all of our sales to Amazon, we maximize the impact of Amazon's marketing machine.

This is a sound strategy and I one I have followed since I self-published my first non-fiction title in 2009. Since that time, things have changed. The Kindle and the Nook ereaders have revolutionized the industry. 

While my print-on-demand (POD) sales are higher than ever, my Kindle sales far outweigh my print sales. My lone Nook edition sells poorly by any standard of measurement.

So why worry about Nook sales at Barnes and Noble if all of my marketing efforts direct my potential customers to Amazon and Nook sales are so poor? Because of the change in how people read books.

A recent survey sent out to the readers on my e-mail list provided me with some very useful data. First of all, about 70% preferred eBooks over print! In the comment portion of the survey, many respondents asked that the bulk of my remaining books that are not available as ebooks be made available in an electronic format. 

What was even more surprising were the results to the questions of where my readers purchased their books, paperback or ebook, and which ereader device did they prefer. 70% indicated they purchased their books from Amazon but the remainder indicated Barnes and Noble. Roughly 65% indicated they preferred Amazon's Kindle with the remaining 35% preferring to use the Nook.

After letting this information soak in for a bit, I came to several conclusions. The first was I realized I had to overcome my resistance to convert all of my titles to an ebook format. The second was I needed to get over my hesitancy to covert books to the Nook ePub format as well. The horrendous low sales for my lone Nook edition, which sells very well in its POD and Kindle formats, might be in part due to the fact it is the only book available in the Nook format.

I will readily admit I am not the most technologically savvy individual. The thought of learning how to convert Word files to Kindle and ePub files terrifies me. I just know it is beyond my limited skill set. Compounding my "fears" is the fact my books are all non-fiction and some are filled with diagrams and photographs, making the conversion process even more difficult.

So, for the books I do have available as ebooks, I paid for the conversion process. It is not inexpensive and I selected carefully which books I would invest my limited funds in. Of the ten books I have had converted thus far, nine of the ten have earned out their investment in the conversion process, even the lone, poor selling Nook edition.

How do I enlarge my library of ebooks with out spending all of my profits on the conversion process? Some of these books will sell very slowly over time, making the investment of funds in the conversion a good way to tie up money for a long period of time.

The answer it would seem, would be to do the conversions myself. This way the only investment is my time. But where to start?

Totally by accident I discovered the Mac I have been issued at work comes with Pages, which has an export feature to convert Pages files into ePub files. These files supposedly can then be converted to Kindle files. Could this be the solution to my problem?

My initial efforts focused on five short books that were either all print with no diagrams or photographs or had limited diagrams and photographs. The plan was to convert these short books into ePub files and publish them as Nook editions at Barnes and Noble.

All five have been converted and are now on sale as Nook books at Barnes and Noble. I make no claims that these books are masterpieces of the ebook art form. I deliberately choose single topic books that in their POD form are 50 or fewer pages in length so I could avoid dealing with the dreaded table of contents issue.

The first step is to convert the Word file to a Pages file. This could not be easier. Just open Pages and then open the Word file in Pages. Then save the file as a Pages file. That's it.

You will need to obtain a guide on preparing files for ePub and eliminate all the quirks in a Word document that ePub does not like as well as reordering some of your pages, such as moving the front matter to the back of the book, etc.

When finished, click on the file button, click on Export and finally click on ePub and Pages will work its magic. You will see a box pop up when the conversion is finished that will list any problems with the file that need repairing.

Your interior file is now ready to upload for sale! The conversion is that simple.

I have yet to figure out how to get the cover inserted inside the interior, but since I almost never look at the cover once I open an eBook this might not be that big a failure on my part. The cover seems to be important for the store sight display at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

Barnes and Noble allows you to preview your file when you upload it. In fact, it does it automatically on a built in review device on the screen, a feature that Amazon's Kindle lacks.

The next challenge is to learn how to build the dreaded Table of Contents and master all of the interior design styling quirks to make my books look as nice as possible in their ebook edition.

Supposedly these files will convert to Kindle files by loading the file in the software known as KindleGen. I have yet to manage to convert one of my ePub files because, while having successfully downloaded the free KindleGen file, I have yet to figure out how to insert the ePub file for conversion.

Using Pages to create ePub files took about 6 hours for the first conversion. I did the remaining four conversions in less than 45 minutes each and the bulk of that time was spent in deleting the elements of the file while still in Pages that needed to be removed before conversion to an ePub file.

Since I already have the use of a Mac and it is equipped with the Pages software, these five conversions cost me nothing but my time. It was easy to do and for me that is amazing given the struggles I have at times learning how to use technology.

Would I attempt to use the Pages software for my large books filled with diagrams and photographs? I don't know. In my lone attempt to try to do so just to see what the results would be, Pages has done some strange things to my file when it came to diagrams. Before I attempt to convert one of these books to ePub I have to figure out why Pages seems to want to copy and move diagrams.

But for books with only words? I will get all of my books that fall into that category converted into Nook editions withing the next few weeks.

Once that task is completed, I will start the process of tackling the conversion of my new Nook books to Kindle.