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Allan Douglas Writes on E-books: Converter, Formatter, Printer – Who is For Real?

Writing for Profit of Pleasure by Allan Douglas

Writing for Profit of Pleasure by Allan Douglas

The publishing world is in a state of flux, and I for one believe that writers must keep abreast of trends, and technology. As regulars at my blog know, I used the A to Z Challenge in April to learn the ropes of the e-book world, by recently publishing my first e-book,  A to Z Stories of Life and Death.

But, to tell you the truth,  after I had my manuscript ready, I was fuddled for a while about the whole geekspeak of e-books. I thought of hiring a professional to do the job, and then I realized it would defeat my purpose. If I hire a professional to do all the formatting and uploading, I’ll learn zilch.

I read up a lot on the technicalities of e-book publishing, and in the process came across Allan Douglas’s articles.  Today, I’m going to share one of them with you, because e-book savvy Allan is absolutely the right person to educate newbies like me, and has agreed to do a guest post!

Converter, Formatter, Printer – Who is For Real?

Over the past few months I have received a fair number of inquiries from aspiring authors about e-mails they have received from “publishers”.  I have received one or two of these myself.  The messages vary, but in essence they portray the sender as a publisher, generally they use impressive names that include the word “press” to give the impression that they print books.

Some offer to convert the author’s book manuscript into an eBook for a minimal fee – often about $50.00.  Others offer to oversee the entire publication and printing process and request fees of several thousand dollars.  Are any of them on the level?  Do any of them offer genuine value?

First let us deal with “conversion”.  It needs to be clearly understood that “conversion” of your manuscript needs to be done only if you plan to sell your eBooks exclusively through your own web site or on places such as ClickBank.  If you plan to sell your eBook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, or Smashwords, conversion of your text manuscript into the appropriate eBook format will be done by the distributor as part of the submission process.  They will not accept your pre-converted file.  In the vast majority of cases, paying someone to “convert” your file is a scam.

Formatting your manuscript, however, is a goose of another color.  Formatting is essential prior to submitting your file to distributors (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Smashwords, etc.) for conversion.  You can produce a manuscript in any word processor that will print out a fine looking book manuscript.  But, the actual formatting you used as you wrote will have a tremendous impact on whether the eBook looks as you planned it.  Just one example would be chapter titles; did you use the Header 2 formatting command or simply make it a larger font size and bold it?  Did you perhaps mix the two methods in the manuscript?  Printed on paper, these may look identical, but during parsing for eBook conversion, a header will produce one effect, large text something else – if it is accepted at all.  There are, in fact a bevy of hidden command codes that will wreak havoc on your beautiful manuscript if not stripped out and replaced with the proper formatting commands that the conversion script will be looking for.

Those skilled in this formatting process may use terms like, author services, publication services, book designer or interior layout and they will certainly not be offering to format a novel length manuscript for $50.  The work is not difficult – you can do it yourself if you want – but it can be time consuming, therefore tends to be expensive.

Then there are printers or presses.  When considering eBooks, the term is totally superfluous.  I find the terminology annoying, especially in light of the fact that this “press” will probably submit the file they produce to Smashwords and Smashwords will produce the eBook and distribute it through their network of dealers, but not necessarily deceitful.  They may be trying to pattern their electronic publication business after the model of traditional publishing.  And, being known as Big Pants Press is more impressive than being Big Pants Publication Services.

There is one last bone to pick on this topic however, and that is to clear up the business of “printing” actual paper books.  Last time I checked, there were only two companies in the USA capable of actually printing and binding real paper books on a commercial scale:  Lightning Source and CreateSpace.  One of the publishing companies I have worked in could and did print small numbers of paperback books using an off-set press and bindery set-up.  But if large quantities of books were wanted, or if they needed to be hard-bound, we sent it off to Lightning.  In the vast majority of cases, “publishers” who say they will print your book are hedging the truth.  They will have it printed, but they themselves will do nothing more than the design work.  If that.

If you are a hands-on sort of person you can format your manuscript and submit it directly to the various eBook distributors individually, or to Smashwords to cover them all with one submission, or to the printing service all by yourself.  If you are a very busy author and don’t want to spend the time on these technical details, by all means hire them out.  But, make sure you do your homework and investigate those you hire to do the work.  A reliable formatting or lay-out service can save you many hours of labor and produce an exceptionally nice looking book.  However, as in any industry, there are many weasels skulking the woods hoping to separate you from your money.

My most recent book, Writing for Profit or Pleasure, Where to Publish Your Work, devotes several chapters to a detailed discussion of cleaning and formatting your manuscript as well as the exact process of submitting your files to eBook distributors and printers.  My book is available for Kindle, Nook or as a paperback, and yes; I formatted the files and submitted them all by myself.

About The Author:

Allan Douglas has been an author, writer, and prattler since the 1970’s; published mostly in magazines and newspapers, but has three books to date, more on the way.  He lives on a mountainside in the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee with his wonderful wife, a genius border collie and a Prima donna hound dog who is queen of the mountain. He serves as an ordained Elder in his church, is a master woodworker, former custom furniture maker and once dreamt of sailing the world in a Bristol Channel Cutter.  Stories about this and his life as a mountain man wannabe are posted to his Simple Life Prattle blog: He also runs a writer’s blog; The Write Stuff at

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Reblogged this on CKBooks Publishing and commented:
    Good article, but I don’t I agree that there are only two printers than can print a commercial number of books. I am familiar with at least one myself that does off set printing in addition to digital printing ( so I am sure there are many more.

  • Lots of useful info here. I shall tag this page and will return no doubt many times. Thanks for sharing.

  • I agree you should validate any services you employ (unless you can master the art, learn of all the htm bugs that ms word harbors and know how a professional book should be formatted within 6 hours if you think that time-is-money). It’s not quite as straightforward as you suggest, when it comes to you uploading a word document, htm, rtf, whatever, because Amazon does not give a faithful representation, either in their preview or on Kindle iPhone, et al. They also force an indent at the start of a chapter (cringes) and you won’t have NCX navigation unless you have tagged your headings (H2-3 are the adopted favs). But if you use a service, take a look (click to look inside) at what they provide. A good service will remove your formatting nits as standard and know how a ‘real’ book is laid out. Interesting post…

  • Arlee Bird says:

    This is an outstanding post. Thanks Allan and Damyanti for enlightening me further about something of which I know little. I’m going to save this post for future reference as I hate being taken advantage of when I don’t know enough about what’s going on.

    Tossing It Out

  • I’ve bookmarked Allan’s blog for future reference. The book also sounds like a good resource. I thought about formatting my book myself, but just reading through the instructions felt like torture, so I opted to pay someone to do it.

  • It’s nice to know that it is completely possible for us to do all these things ourselves – as long as we have the time! Thanks for the info, Allan.

  • Alex, That’s a good thing, right?

    Mike, Thank, you. Hope it helps some steer clear of the weasels.

    Gladys, Thank You! Absolutely right; promoting the book is the hard part and I’m grateful to Damyanti for the opportunity to swap a little knowledge for a some self-promotion.

  • Excellent!
    Then comes the hard part of getting the books sold!

  • Mike says:

    Nice rundown on your experience with the email presses and also on how to format stuff for ebookness.

  • That’s a lot of information.

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