Ebook Conversion Tool Reviews
From The Book Designer
Previously, I’ve compared some of the computer apps that you can use to convert your manuscript into an ebook.
This month I’ll talk about online conversion tools — all of the ones I’m going to discuss are attached to the retailers and distributors that you are going to be interested in.
Eye of the Hurricane: Top Ebook Retailers
Let’s start with the most popular retailers and their conversion tools (or lack thereof).
Once again, I’m assuming that you’re in the US — which isn’t a given, I know. (Most of this information is true for non-US publishers as well.) Also, I’m defining “manuscript” as synonymous with “Microsoft Word document” (either .doc or .docx), since that’s the most common file format for authors to work with, and that’s the format I used in comparing the desktop conversion tools.
As before, these are the major retailers you will probably be looking at:
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Apple’s iTunes Connect (iBooks Store)
Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press
Rakuten’s Writing Life (Kobo)
They are the five largest ebook retailers in the US, and the sites I almost always recommend that clients upload to directly (rather than using a distributor). Three (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Rakuten/Kobo) have online conversion tools; Apple and Google only allow you to upload completed ebooks (ePub files), so they’re not going to be part of this discussion.
To compare the tools, I’m going to use the same chapter from my novel Risuko that I used to test the desktop apps — with one change: I’m adding two images — one centered and one inset on the right-hand side of the second paragraph — to test how the different sites handle pictures, in addition to text.
Here’s how the page looks in Word:
Note that the larger image is centered, while the smaller image of the woman playing the flute is flush with the right margin, and note the brush fonts that I used for the header and the drop cap. Note too that the body text is fully justified—the line down the right-hand margin is clean (except for where the paragraphs end).
KDP is probably the most important retailer site for most self-publishers, and so we’ll start here.
You can upload files in a number of formats to KDP: Kindle’s native mobi format, the universal ePub format, HTML, a PDF, and, of course, our friend the Word doc.
Click the Browse button, find your file, hit the Upload button, and within a few minutes, the page will offer you the choice either to preview the converted ebook or to download the mobi file. The best way to test an ebook is to download the file and load it onto a Kindle — preferably several, ideally of different generations (i.e., old-style Kindle, Paperwhite, Kindle Fire) and a couple of different apps (Kindle for Android/iOS/Mac/Windows). The online previewer and Kindle Previewer app will, however, do a pretty good job of showing you how the book will look on various Kindles/Kindle apps.
Here’s our file viewed on the online previewer, emulating a Fire:
Not bad. The pretty brush fonts went away, but the images are placed and sized properly, the text is correctly justified, and the line-space remains consistent. If I could, I’d play with the size of the drop cap (it’s four lines high instead of three, and it’s set slightly below the level of the top line), but I can’t, so I’d live with it.
I checked the file on a number of other Kindles; quality was acceptable on most (though on several the inset image was miniscule), except for the Kindle for iOS app, and my old Kindle DX, which looked like this:
The drop cap went away, the first paragraph is indented, and the inset image was simply placed on a line of its own before the paragraph. These aren’t conversion problems, per se; old Kindles and Kindle for iOS display a version of the mobi file (MOBI7) that is based on old PalmPilot technology; it can’t handle sophisticated formatting at all. There are some things that you can do (involving media queries) that will allow you to format the same file differently for old (MOBI7) and new (KF8) Kindles; however you can’t do that from Word. To make that magic happen, you’ll need to create an ePub file, edit it, and upload it.
KDP doesn’t have an online edit function, nor can you edit the downloaded mobi file directly.  KDP does, however, allow you to download the ebook as an HTML file, which you can edit….
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