Publishing Formats & Platforms for the Ambitious Writer (part 1)

Okay, so last time we took a look at the different types of “self” publishing available to writers. The reason self is in quotation marks is because, if you remember, we found out that there are varying levels of professional help that you can ask for with each type of publishing. Many writers don’t realize that self-publishing doesn’t mean “all alone” publishing, and that it’s okay to ask for help sometimes. Keep in mind with this post that I’m not going to talk about the writing or revision process that should be occurring (and reoccurring) while getting ready to go through the publication process. I like to plan ahead and some writers might like to have an idea of what type of publishing, format, and platform you’re interested in using in advance. If you aren’t that kind of writer, no worries. Just come back to this when you are ready.

Now, we’ve decided to take the publishing route that gives us all the control (huzzah!) and all of the work (yay…): self publishing an e-book. My strategy for this post is to break it into two separate posts. Part one will be about publishing formats and then part two will be publishing and distribution platforms. While they are different aspects of the publishing process, formats and platforms have the potential to be more compatible in certain pairs. Also working with one platform or format verses another can sometimes effect the look and the level of ease that you complete your project.

ebook Formats
First, what is a format anyway? Well, an easy comparison to the ebook format would be a document type. When you save your novel/short story collection/chapbook/etc. in your word processor, it’s saved as a specific document type (i.e., .doc, .docx, pdf, .pages, etc.) and an ebook format is very similar. Each format allows certain aspects of your document to be accessed or manipulated by different platforms. Don’t worry, while some formats are more popular than others, they all do basically the same thing.

The 4 most popular (or commonly known) ebook formats are:

  • EPUB
  • Kindle
  • iBook
  • eReader

bright green "e" with word "pub" underneath

EPUB is bolded because it’s the most accepted and popular of the formats. EPUB allows for a document to have the option of being reflowable content (content that can be shifted to match any reading device) or fixed-layout content (useful for publishing houses so they can use one format from in-house to distribution and sale). This is now the official standard format for the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).

blue background with silhouette of a tree and a child reading

Kindle, iBook, and eReader formats all seem to tie for second place. Both Kindle and iBook formats are similar to EPUB with the only differences being in a few html and CSS tags. However, there is a hitch with iBooks in the End-User Licensing Agreement – if a writer wants to charge a fee for their work formatted with .ibook generated with the iBooks Author, it can only be sold or distributed through iBooks.

orange circle with white book

eReader was top dog before EPUB because it treated the published content like a book and nothing more. It would only allow one page to be shown at a time and you could create footnotes, or bookmark a page, but that was pretty much it. At first this was great, because readers just wanted an way to access and keep a larger number of books in one place. But once readers decided that they wanted to read their e-books on different types of devices and be able to have more interaction with the text, the eReader format just seemed too simple and EPUB was formed.

There is no “correct” format, but a good rule of thumb to follow is to be accessible to as many platforms, and people, as possible. If you’ve worked in a particular format before or know more about it, go with it. If you’re in doubt, go with the EPUB format. Once you’ve decided what format you want your work in, next is deciding what platform you’re going to use, but that’s for part two.

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