You’ve written a book. What you have is a massive Word document and you can’t wait for the world to read it.
Only now it seems that ebooks are a totally different kind of beast from Word. You have to start converting your Word document to some other file format, and you don’t know which one to pick. And you don’t know how to do it.
Well, relax. It’s all easy.
What is a Mobi file? What is an Epub?
When you think about it, an ebook is a bit like a special sort of webpage: a way to get text and images to appear on screen.
The most universal and flexible ebook file format is the EPUB. Those kind of files can:
Fit the text to whatever device you are using
Offer a pagination-type experience
Changes in font size and type
Handle embedded images
Permit highlighting and bookmarking
And plenty more
And what is a Mobi file? It is the same thing, in almost every respect. The only differences between a mobi file and an epub file is that the MOBI file:
Is an Amazon proprietary standard
Allows Amazon to control your ebook from afar – and in particular,
Mobi files have embedded “digital rights management” (DRM) that allow Amazon to restrict your mobi files only to devices that are associated with your Amazon account.
In short, epub and mobi files are basically indistinguishable to users – with the exception that mobi files are kept within Amazon’s walled garden.
What file format should you choose for your ebook?
When you are choosing your file format, you basically need to answer the question of where you want to sell your ebooks. Here are your choices:
Apple and Kobo and everyone else except Amazon
All e-stores – Amazon, and Apple, and everyone else
Now, there are basically two smart choices there, and one dumb one.
The dumb choice is to sell your book with Apple and Kobo and all the rest, but not with Amazon. How come? Because Amazon (depending on what stats you look at) accounts for about 75-85% of all ebooks sold in the United States. Their dominance of the UK market is somewhat similar. Only in Canada and some other minor markets does Amazon have anything less than an absolute lock on the market.
So, OK, you’re definitely going to sell your ebook on Amazon. And Amazon only works with mobi files. So you’re going to have to create a mobi file. Fine.
But are you going to be exclusive to Amazon? Or sell via Apple and everyone else as well?
Now that sounds like a dumb question, right? You might assume that you just want to be selling books in as many places as possible.
Except if you agree to sell your work exclusively through Amazon, you get to participate in Kindle Unlimited (KU). If KU subscribers borrow a book and read it, you will be entitled to a payment based on the total number of pages read. Loads of indie authors report that KU income is as large as regular sales royalties, or even more.
Other indies (who prefer to be ‘wide’ rather than exclusive) prefer to sell through as many stores as possible.
Without getting into the weeds on that argument here, you’ll end up deciding between two options:
Amazon Exclusive: You are only selling through Amazon. You need a Mobi file and nothing else.
Selling Everywhere: You’re selling everywhere, so you need both a mobi file and an epub.
Just to be clear, you can easily create both a mobi file and an epub file from the same Word document.
Before you create your Mobi / Epub file
Before you create your ebook file, you just need to make sure that your Word document is in good shape to convert. That means three things:
Your text needs to be (very largely) free of typos and other errors
Your document needs to be consistently formatted
You need to put together front- and end-material that will support your ebook marketing
I’ll talk just a bit more about those things.
Text should be free of typos
If you are preparing to self-publish, it’s not enough just to tell a good story. Your text needs to be free of spelling and punctuation mistakes, accidental typos, messy formatting and other issues.
Even if you’re naturally very attentive to these things (and most authors aren’t), you will need a second pair of eyes finding those typos and correcting the errors. If you know someone who can do this for you (an English teacher friend, a librarian, or whatever), then you should definitely take that route. But if in doubt, pay for a professional copyeditor – such as our own copy editing services. These days, a badly proofed book stands next to no chance of selling.
When you convert your document from Word to Epub / mobi, the converter will scan your document and look for major headings and sub-headings. So if all your chapter headings (whether numbers or titles) are formatted the same way, the converter is almost certain to find them and render them correctly. If your chapter headings are a mish-mash of different font sizes, caps and lowercase, bold and not bold, then the converter will almost certainly have no idea how to structure your document. You can read up on how to format your manuscript, here.
So the message is simply – be consistent. Use a consistent font size and format for your major headings, and the converter should be able to do the rest. Simple.
Support your ebook marketing
Remember that your Word document will form the basis of your ebook. And remember that your ebook can basically be divided into three slices:
The front “Look Inside” part of the ebook
Your text itself
The bit after the actual end of your story
It’s pretty obvious what your text has to do: it has to dazzle readers and blow their brains.
But you need to remember that the front part of your book should be all about converting a possible reader. So if someone comes to your Amazon page and hits the “Look Inside” button, you want to present them with material that makes them most likely to convert. So don’t fill it with long author’s notes and thanks to friends. You want to include a few positive messages about your book and then leave plenty of room for text. All the boring stuff can live at the back of the book.
And that leaves end matter. When a reader finishes your book, you want them to complete three actions. You want them to review the book they’ve just read. You want them to buy the next one. And you want them to give you their email address in exchange for a reader magnet of some kind.
I’m not going to get into detail here – this jumbo post on self-publishing does that – but just remember: an ebook is not a print book. Your document needs to look forward to the ebook it wants to become.
Oh, and if you want to know more about building your author brand, then check out this article.
The easiest way to create a mobi file is … just upload your Word document to Amazon, via your KDP dashboard. Amazon will handle the conversion for you.
Once Amazon has completed the conversion, it’ll ask you if you want to preview your ebook. And you do! Every page.
If there is a formatting error, a slipped heading, a page break in the wrong place, now is your time to catch it. If you do find an error, you need to rework your Word document, then re-upload it. Continue that process until all your errors are fixed.
And one other thing: when you preview your ebook, you need to do so using a variety of different device / font settings. Because pagination varies from device to device, a faulty page break may not show up on one view. You may only find it when you switch from one font setting to another.
In essence, though, creating a mobi file is simplicity itself. Step one: write a book. Step two: ask one of the world’s largest tech companies to do the fiddly stuff for you. Step three: become a kindle bestseller.
How to create an EPUB file
You can’t ask Amazon to create an Epub file for you, because Amazon doesn’t work with them. You have a couple of alternatives here.
One, if you are an Apple user, you use Vellum – a very easy to use and beautiful formatting tool. Everyone who uses it, loves it. It comes very highly recommended.
For people in PC-world, I generally recommend that you use Draft2Digital, which has a very easy to use – and free – conversion tool. The principle here is exactly the same as with the Amazon / mobi conversion process above, so just repeat that same basic exercise.
And that’s it.
It takes maybe three minutes to convert your files, assuming that your Word document was in shape to start with. Easy right?
Epub vs mobi vs PDF
Older posts used to include the PDF file format in a discussion of ebooks. But you know what? PDFs aren’t ebooks. They’re fine for corporate brochures and that kind of thing, but for a responsive reading experience, you need the flexibility of an epub or mobi file.
So, please, just forget the PDF. It has no place in this discussion.
And that’s it! The question isn’t really mobi vs epub, because you’ll quite likely need both. They’re simple to create, and the creation process comes free. The main thing to think about, in fact, is getting the raw material – your Word document – in shape first.
Good luck with the process. Happy editing. Happy converting. And, most of all, happy publishing.
About the author:
Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)