Meet Christina Elmore

Christina got into the nuts and bolts of ebook production in 2010 and has enjoyed watching the ecosystem mature. She’s speaking this year about how to most effectively make a book from a blog. We covered a few questions about her talk, ebooks, and more.

Who can make their own ebook? (Not to be confused with the question of who should make their own ebook.)
Just about anyone can get basic text content into an ebook format. The process isn’t quite as simple (and definitely not as delightful) as making a WordPress site, but it’s moving in that direction. Create a Word document with clean, consistent formatting (but no images or tables, folks), upload the file, fill out some form fields and you’ve got an ebook for sale on Amazon.

Just like websites, it gets more complicated when you want to tweak formatting, include images, display information in a table, or customize a table of contents. And you’ve got to figure out formats: will the EPUB file work on a Kindle and my mom’s iPad? (Answer: no. But you can use yet another tool to convert EPUB to a Kindle-ready format.)

If you want to publish an ebook that goes beyond the basics, you need some additional skills and a good tolerance for trial and error. Experience with HTML and CSS will help, and you can use Adobe InDesign to layout a print book and export to the EPUB format. There are also author-services companies that offer ebook production, as well as many other publishing services like editing, cover design, printing, and marketing. Finally, there’s a book publishing platform called Pressbooks that’s built on WordPress—it’s an especially good choice for writing teams with multiple contributors and editors.

Your tools of choice should depend on your range of skills. And that’s part of what stalls people who are trying to get started: which tools do I really need and when is it worth paying an expert? The bottom line is that it’s doable for an amateur to produce a high quality ebook without web or book publishing experience.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in publishing ebooks?
Let me count the ways. . . My biggest single mistake was to expect a degree of standardization that isn’t there. It was (still is, but less so) chaotic: a messy environment in which the publishing powers were enforcing a lowest common denominator. And most of the e-publishing tools looked like they escaped from a Gateway PC running Windows 98. I wasted a lot of time looking for an existing tool, model, or guideline that I could trust. (For most web developers, a state of evolving standards is the norm, but it was foreign to me.) I certainly couldn’t look to the traditional publishing houses for best practices. I’ve come to take delight in the shifting landscape of ebook production, but it was a challenge at first.

What’s the coolest WordPress-powered author website you’ve come across, and why?
Hugh Howey is worth checking out. His site is built on WordPress, he’s a self-published author who’s had great success, and he uses his site to engage readers. Howey works on multiple pieces at once, and he keeps readers clued in to his progress with a simple bit of code that calculates words written against each story’s total expected word count. It displays as progress bars on the left side of every page. (The tool originated with National Novel Writing Month, and I think there’s a petition out there to have George R. R. Martin start using it.) Howey also promotes fan fiction and fan art on his site and sells DRM-free and signed copies.