Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Making of an Ebook

Join us in welcoming Judith B. Glad, writer, editor and artist, as she dispells a few myths and shows us the business side of creating an ebook.

Judith B. Glad writes romance because she believes every story should have a happy ending, even if it requires two or three hankies to get there. After growing up in Idaho, Judith now lives in Portland, Oregon, where flowers bloom in her yard every month of the year and snow usually stays on the mountains where it belongs. It's a great place to write, because the rainy season lasts for eight months—a perfect excuse to stay indoors and tell stories. When she's not writing, Judith is riding her bicycle, messing about in the kitchen, editing other people's books or creating prize-winning cover art.
Visit Judith's webpage at to learn more about all her books, in several romance genres--because she can't make up her mind which she enjoys writing the most.

One of the common misconceptions about publishing ebooks is how easy it is. After all, just tell your word processor program to turn it into an html or pdf file and you're done. Right?


Making an ebook is just like making a paper book. The only thing that's different is the package. It all starts with a story that grabs me, a satisfying read that I believe can be a commercial success. After all, we've got to pay our webhost and our editors and our cover artists. And ourselves, because while we are doing something we love, we also need to put groceries on the table.

Even the cleanest submission needs editing, because all publishers have their own standards. For instance, at Uncial Press we are really fussy about the proper use of dashes (--) and ellipses (...), and we follow the Chicago Manual of Style for a bunch of formatting issues.

Our editors make three passes through each book, although the third one is usually more of a skim. The book goes back to the author for a fix after each pass. After the second fix, we prepare an ARC (advance review copy), which goes out to reviewers, usually around 3 1/2 months before the book's release date. It also goes to the author, with a warning that it's the very last chance to fix any errors. Since no book is ever absolutely perfect, we get the opportunity to do a third pass and sometimes we find a small, insignificant thing that needs tweaking, but if left untweaked would cause a reader to go "Huh?"

While this is all going on, our cover artists are doing their job, creating eye-catching covers that will (hopefully) tempt you to buy our ebooks. Our cover committee has to okay each one, and it's a challenge to please them all.

Sometime before the release date, we make the final ebooks, package them for sale, and upload them to our website. We also upload unpackaged versions to our distributors shortly before the release date.

We have our own macros that create squeaky-clean html files from our master files, which are in Rich Text Format (rtf). Those seamlessly convert to versions for the Mobipocket Reader, Microsoft Reader and Rocket/REB readers, using software designed to make those files.
Starting with the rtf file again, we make the pdf and pdb versions of our ebooks. The latter is the one you read with eReader software. We also make a special file for uploading to Fictionwise and an encrypted Mobipcket file for distributors who require it.

That's eight different files, folks. Six of them we sell from our website, and those are the ones we put into a tidy ZIPped package.

When you open that package, you'll find inside a terrific story, carefully edited and lovingly presented. Definitely extraordinary! Visit the Uncial Press website ( to see some of our extraordinary ebooks. And drop by my website too, for a look at all of my titles:


Danielle Thorne said...

Hi Jude! You're looking wonderful. You didn't mention all of the hard work you do for Epic.

Nice excerpt on getting the work done at Uncial. You know if you make it "look" easy then you're doing your job right. It's so great to have hard working editors out there help us find the errors. How the eyes swim draft after draft. Editors don't get enough credit!

I'm from the South but did live in Idaho myself for 2 years. I love it there--spent many weekends at Yellowstone. It's very close to my heart. Would have to pass on the OR rain though.

Good luck with Uncial Press--

Susanne Marie Knight said...

Great post, Jude! Another area of creating ebooks is going through submissions to find those satisfying reads. Can you give us some stats on how many submissions are read compared with how many are chosen? And congrats again on your EPPIE and Quasar wins!


Karen said...

Good morning, Jude, and welcome to the Chicks. Thanks for sharing how an ebook comes to life. As an unpublished author I feel it's important to learn how the process works.

As a writer, editor and artist you wear many hats. I enjoyed the photographs posted on your webpage as well as the cover art you've created. Congrats on your awards!

Thanks for giving us some insight into how epublishing works.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Jude,
Thanks for joining us here on the prairies. As we speak there's a small mountain of snow outside my front door from the deluge we've had in the last week or so. I don't know which is worse,snow or rain like you get in Oregon. But at least you don't have to shovel the rain.

When I went through my edits with you I felt that your suggestions made my writing tighter and overall gave me a better book, so I'm very grateful for that. I discovered during my first editing process that I have a tendency to overuse words. Jude went through my manuscript and highlighted every time I used the word "smile". Trust me, my manuscript was bleeding yellow. I was not smiling by the time I finished dealing with all the repititions. But it was exactly what the book needed. A good editor will do that for you.


Jana Richards said...

Hi again Jude,
I'm interested in Susanne's question as well. I read somewhere that 90% of submissions to epublishers are rejected. That seemed pretty high to me, but is it anywhere near the truth?

If a story interested you but needed a lot work would you still consider offering a contract? At what point would you say that too much work was needed on the book to make offering a contract viable? Would you ask for the rewrites to be done before offering a contract?


Jude said...

About those submissions--I can't say what the percentage is, because it's so uneven. Some weeks we get two or three that I read past the first chapter, then we'll have a long dry spell where I have to struggle to read that much (;-) 90% is probably close to the mark, though. It's really depressing how many submissions we reject.

I have to say that the submission process is, in itself, a test. Our guidelines are simple, and (we hope) clearly stated. More than half the subs we get do not follow them. We reject without reading anything that we can't open with Word or Scribus (but we do invite the author to submit again, correctly).

Three of us read submissions--or try to. If we aren't captured in the first page, we start wondering if it's going to be something we want, but to be fair, we read the whole first chapter, skim through the rest, and read the last chapter. Occasionally--rarely--we go back and read the whole thing. Mostly if the first chapter isn't up to our standards, the rest won't be.

When we get one that not only captures us in the first chapter, but holds our attention all the way through, it's cause for celebration. We particularly love discovering new authors (Judy, Ken Levinson, Cynthia Harris, to name a few), but they are, alas, few and far between.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Jude, thank you for the chance to see how eBooks are made.

On your post, you mentioned the editors read the first chapter and sometimes even the last one. That got my attention because I'm used to seeing 'first 3 chapters' and then the whole ms if the interest is there. So, I popped over to Uncial Press and confirmed that yes, submissions are for the entire ms. Neat.

I also took a peak at your contract page and read this para:
'...exclusive worldwide English language rights to publish and sell the Work in readable (text) digital format...'

My first thought was - for how long? But further on down I saw where it said 730 days which works out to 2 yrs. That's a reasonable amt of time.

Thank you for coming to visit us Chicks. Your company looks like a good one to get involved with.

And Jana, thanks for bringing Jude to visit.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Hi Jude,

It's lovely to see you here at the Prairie Chicks. I have to tell everyone here what a wonderful editor you are. You have helped me so much, and I always enjoy working with you. Everytime I read about the ebook process I am impressed by the amount of work that goes into production. People who think epublishing is an 'easy out' are so wrong.

Thanks for all your hard work with Uncial Press, and for believing in authors like me.

Chiron said...

Thanks so much, Judith, for this informative glimpse into e-publishing!

I had a question about submissions. I use a handy writing program (WriteWayPRO) to compose my story then import my final draft to MS Word.

I've heard from at least one person in publishing that I "needed" to compose only in Word because using other programs changes the coding or something. I love my writing program as it offers storyboard, separates chapters (very handy when I'm creating that first draft and need to backtrack) and more.

This is the first time I'd ever heard of such a restriction so I'm curious, does Uncial find that to be an issue?

Thanks again for your wonderful post.

Waving from Ashland!

Chiron O'Keefe

Jude said...

Thank you all. I'm having a great time reading your comments.
Chiron, I think I know why you were advise to compose in word, but it seems unnecessary to me, as long as you submit either a doc or an rtf file (we really prefer the rtf). If you're interested in some hints to get around the formatting issue, contact me offline and I'll share some of what I've learned about it.
Every single publishing house has its own style, and so we all have to do a certain amount of re-formatting of manuscripts. Some houses require authors to do a lot of it, but we don't. It's easier for us to do it all, so the less formatting on a submission, the better. Sometimes it's difficult to get rid of any leftover styles, but not impossible.

Helena said...

Thank you for guest blogging on the Prairies today. As you can see by the comments, your topic is of considerable interest. Since we know writers who have been epublished (Lesley and Jana), your visit is very timely for the rest of us.

I'm like Karen, though. Not quite to the submit stage, but I'd like to ask a question similar to Chiron's. I use WordPerfect to create documents (because that is the wp program I learned first), but I have the version that can save to .doc format. I have always assumed that this is not evident to the recipient of such a file. Am I correct? Or is that not acceptable for submission?

Another question I have about epublishing relates to the volume of 'copies' sold. What is a reasonable 'run' for a novel in this format? And is this comparable to a small press output, for example?

This has been a fascinating discussion you have generated for us, Judith. Thanks so much.

Janet C. said...

Hello, Jude, and welcome to the Prairies. A fascinating read - I knew there was a tremendous amount of work in taking a book from an author's manuscript to a published work, but wow. And we've heard lots of great things about you and Uncial from Jana and Lesley.

You mentioned in your bio that you write in many subgenres of romance - how do you think that would effect a new writer as she works to create a readership?

Again, thanks for joining us Chicks today.

Chiron said...

Thanks again, Jude, for the valuable information. I'll be contacting you sometime next week for those hints. Anything to allow me to keep my handy writing program! *laughs*

It's great to know Uncial takes care of the reformatting. That's a very good thing!


Jude said...

Helena, I honestly don't know if it's evident when a doc is produced by Word Perfect. Not sure it matters if it is. My advice, though, is that unless a publisher specifies a doc for submission, that you submit an rtf file. RTF is a cross platform file that's can be opened by all the word processing programs I've ever heard of.

Your other question I can't really answer from experinece, since we only sell ebooks. I do know that many small publishers now use either short print run printers (30-100+ copies in a run) or POD (1 to as many as you want copies at a time). Both produce quality books, although I do admit that not too many years ago, that was not true of POD.

Janet, it probably does make a small difference for a new writer whether she writes in one or several sub-genres/genres. If you're trying to get a reputation as a fantasy writer, putting a western out there could make some of your readers go 'huh?' BUT, on the other hand, if you're trying to get known as a great storyteller, then having books out in several genres could be to your advantage, because you'd attract a variety of readers. So my answer it yes, no, and maybe, perhaps. How's that for waffling?

Jude said...

I see I missed a good question from Judy, and I'd like to answer it. Yes, if we get a submission that speaks to us (one or all of us), we will consider taking it on. Usually we warn the author that it's going to take a lot of work to get it to the level of quality we require, and often the author will agree.
We only do this when we see something special in a story, but so far we've been rewarded for doing so with some truly wonderful books.
I've often said that anyone can learn to write (well, almost anyone...), but telling a story that grabs a reader is a real talent. Writers with that talent are what we are on the lookout for, and we've been fortunate to find a whole bunch of them.

Danielle Thorne said...

I'm going to comment on choosing a genre. I have two books coming out this year and one under consideration and they are all 3 different genres (2 historical but different eras). I wish I would have heeded this advice in the beginning and focused on one genre. Writing the contemporary was a breeze--but researching one era for two years and then trying to research a later era in a condensed time frame I think hurt my credibility. I have had to really seek out help and continue to make adjustments to manuscripts I was originally happy with. I am now choosing my future projects more carefully and for the long time being, am not branching out into any more genres! My brain only has so much room and my office only so much book space!

It totally makes sense to get established in one area. I've learned that and am still learning that--the hard way!

Janet C. said...

Thank you, Jude. Waffled or not, your answer made perfect sense.

Danielle - my thanks to you as well for wading on this question. I've written a medieval romance and am working on a contemporary now -with many ideas for other historicals and contemporaries. So, hearing your advice from the trenches, so to speak, is appreciated.

Jude, another question if I could. You mentioned POD - what effect does self-published have on you as an editor? Do you think that those who have self-published should just keep quiet about that foray into publication, or do you see it as a plus?

Molli said...

Hello Jude, and welcome. My apologies for being late in tuning in, and I won't be surprised if your schedule keeps you elsewhere rather than replying to my question, but I'm going to ask just in case: do you find it difficult turning off the "editor" in you when you're writing? I do, and I don't edit professionally so I'm thinking it may be an issue for you and, if so, do you have any tips on that?

And thanks, too, for sharing with us. I agree with Danielle--I don't think editors get enough credit.

Jude said...

May I still reply? I had to take off yesterday, but checked back and found two more questions I'd like to respond to.

Janet, POD is not the same as self-publishing. POD is simply one more method of getting a book into print, a different printing machine, if you will.

About self-publishing--there are many reasons to self publish. If you know your audience is limited, for instance (family history, memoirs), if your book is only available electronically (several of our authors have self-published in print because we don't offer print), or to have total editorial control (not everyone trusts an editor).

Whether a self-published author keeps it a secret or not would depend on whether she/he is proud of the book. If I had self-published my first book, one I thought was the best book ever written at that time, I would never, never admit it now. On the other hand, there are some excellent books out there that are self-published, books any author would be proud to claim.

Turning off the internal editor can be a handicap. I sometimes have to turn off my monitor so I can't see what I've written because I start editing instead of creating. Another way I combat this is to write on an AlphaSmart, where I can only see a couple of lines of text.

I want to thank Judy for inviting me to join you and thank you all for your questions and compliments. It's been fun.