Friday, February 15, 2013

Ebook Parts

I've been self-publishing ebooks on Kindle since April, 2009, and was making my own work available via free pdf since 2005.

I've learned a bit about putting an ebook together. Not the actual nuts and bolts of it. For that I use Rob Siders at He's an artist when it comes to laying out ebooks. I pay extra for his premium service, where every chapter has its own, distinctive header, he uses multiple fonts and sizes and colors, the first paragraph has a large dropdown letter consistent with print, and there are many other bells and whistles make the ebook look better than 99% of what is now available.

But that's not the focus of this blog post. Today I want to talk about the parts of an ebook. Specifically, what should be included, and the order these things should go in.

When someone downloads one of my ebooks, this is what they see in the order they see it:

1. Cover art. That should be at the very beginning, like a paper book.

2. If it isn't a compilation, the very first page should be the product description. AKA the back jacket copy.

Why? Simple. People often download ebooks, then forget what they are about. Reminding the reader on the first page why they bought the book makes it easy for them to remember, and helps them figure out what to read next. It's the equivalent of picking up a paper book from your TBR stack and reading the back or inner flap copy.

If it is a compilation, it should contain hyperlinks to each of the books in the collection, followed by the product description for the first book in the collection.

3. Title page. Include author name.

4. Hyperlinked table of contents. Links should go to every part of the ebook mentioned here, except the cover art.

5. Dedication, if any.

6. The book, with hyperlinked chapters.

7. Any extras. A short sample of the next book in sthe eries, or an author afterword, or Q&A, etc.

Avoid long excerpts/too many excerpts. Readers don't like to think they have twenty pages left of the novel, and then it abruptly ends and all that is left is extras. They feel cheated. So skip long excerpts unless it is for the direct sequel.

8. Acknowledgements, if any. Why put that in the front matter when people skip over it and it takes up sample space? When people download a free sample to try, they should get the book, not stuff they have to skip.

9. About the author or bio.

10. Bibliography. I used to have hyperlinks in my bibliography, then stopped because the URLs kept changing and were tough to keep track of, and I had to keep updating it for different platforms. But YMMV.

11. Ads. A one page add, with small cover art, of your other books. Or, if you have writing buddies, swap ads with them. In this case, a URL is advised.

12. Copyright page. Why put that in the front matter when people skip over it and it takes up sample space?

And that's that. Some of this may seem obvious, but I don't notice too many authors putting the book description in front, and traditional front matter in back. I also don't see a lot of hyperlinks. Ebooks make it easy for readers to find their place and jump around, so we all should take advantage of this technology.

As for how a beautifully formatted ebook looks as done by Rob Siders, I've got six free examples for you.

For the next five days on Amazon (Feb 15 - 19) you can get these six books that Rob formatted. Three are by me, two are by Barry Eisler, and one is by Blake Crouch. Coincidentally, Barry and Blake managed to get the rights reverted to their work at the same time I did. How's that for lucky?

BTW, Blake did the formatting for Grab himself. No Rob Siders premium formatting on that. So that's a good opportunity to see the difference between premium layouts and bare-bones.

Dirty Martini by JA Konrath

Trapped by Jack Kilborn

Timecaster by JA Konrath

Snowbound by Blake Crouch

A Lonely Resurrection by Barry Eisler (Previous Published as Hard Rain)

Inside Out by Barry Eisler

BTW, I'm also running an experiment with this free promotion that you folks can follow along with.

A peer (I lost his name in my ebook pile, but if you're reading this I'll link to you here) said he had some success using So I thought I'd give it a try.

BookBub is an opt-in service that uses its website and various social networks to make subscribers aware of ebooks that are free or on sale. Authors pay a modest fee to have their book announced to as many as 600,000 members.

I paid for Trapped to be announced to BookBub's Horror members on the 16th (100,000 members), and Timecaster to be announced to its Sci-Fi members (110,000 members) on the 17th.

So we'll see how much momentum these ebooks can generate on their own (rank, units given away) and then see if BookBub gives them a boost. If I see a big increase in downloads due to BookBub, I'll change my long-held stance that advertising isn't effective.

Regardless, I encourage everyone reading this blog to download the above ebooks. First, to see how good Rob Siders layout work is. Second, because these six books are lots of fun, and they are free.

If you don't have a Kindle, download the free Kindle app for your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Rob's layouts also look great on other platforms (Kobo, B&N, Sony, Apple, etc.)

So let the grand experiment begin...


Bob said...

I just used Bookbub for my first Atlantis book. It rose to #2 on paid science fiction on the day it was featured and is still in the top 20. I felt it was effective. It also expanded sales on Kobo, Pubit and Apple, which is always a plus.

JA Konrath said...

So you promoted a paid book, Bob? Not a free one?

TK Kenyon said...

Hi Joe!

You're all chatty again! Excellent!

Will be interested in your results with BookBub.

BTW, I'm pretty sure that The List was featured on PixelsOfInk (POI) when it was free, IIRC. POI is a free advertising site, but very competitive for space. That would account for the large disparity of free downloads on your Select Free Promo days.

When I was featured on POI, I gave away >10,000 free downloads in less than 2 days, and my sales were great for a month afterward.

Just data for the data mill.

TK Kenyon

Steve George said...

I'm curious about why you recommend creating a TOC for fiction. Kindle keeps my place as I read so I have no reason to go back to the TOC. Unlike nonfiction, the chapter numbers (and sometimes chapter titles) don't tell the reader enough to jump to them, and who jumps around a fiction book anyway?

I like your idea of putting the book summary at the start and plan to update my ebooks with that addition. Wouldn't it make sense, after the summary, to get right to the action and eliminate the TOC?

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

@Steve: I'm picking up what you're laying down. Now that Kindle displays the internal navigation file, a visible ToC really isn't needed. I can't speak for Joe, but on the production end of things we find that most of the authors with whom we work still expect their ebooks to include it, so it remains in our work flow and we'll skip it at an author's request.

JA Konrath said...

I use a TOC so when a sample is downloaded, or the LOOK INSIDE THE BOOK is clicked, it shows how many chapters the book is. Some readers like that, me included.

Steve George said...

That's interesting. I usually ignore TOCs so it's good to get a different perspective. Thanks.

Neal Kristopher said...

Oooh, I'm off to get the ones of these I haven't read yet. I love the idea of the summary in the front of the book - I'll have to use that!

For those of you that want to read these but have a NOOK or other non-Kindle reader, my cover artist Deeply Dapper has a blog HERE with a few simple steps to convert a kindle eBook into other formats.

Mr. Pale Steps Out

Joshua James said...

Thanks for these!

And wanted to let folks know, CREATURES OF APPETITE by Todd Travis is also available for free download this weekend:

For fans of DEAN KOONTZ and THOMAS HARRIS, a tale of snowbound terror and suspense:

They call it the Heartland Child Murders.
Everyone else calls it a nightmare.
Locked doors don’t stop him.
He leaves no trace behind.
He only takes little girls.
His nickname…

The Iceman.

A deranged serial killer roams wintry rural Nebraska targeting little girls with a demented purpose that no one can fathom.

Special Agent EMMA KANE, a former DC cop and damaged goods now with the FBI, is assigned to baby-sit burned out profiler JACOB THORNE, once the best in the business but now said to have lost his edge, as they both fly to Nebraska to catch this maniac.

Thorne is erratic, abrasive and unpredictably brilliant, but what he and Kane find in the heartland is much more than anyone bargained for, especially when the Iceman challenges them personally.

The clock is ticking and a little girl’s life is on the line.

And maybe even more with that, once they find out what he’s really up to.

Please check it out!

Jude Hardin said...

Wait...wasn't "Bub" the nickname for the monster in Origin?

Cue Twilight Zone theme song...


Bob said...

Yes-- you have to drop the price-- we went from $2.99 to .99 but it's the first book in a six book series. Haven't done Select in a while as we were seeing diminishing returns but we may revisit it.

Our author, Colin Falconer, just did a free and he had 25,000 downloads and hit #5 overall on Kindle Free which is pretty good.

Bill said...

Hi Joe-

I am the guy who hipped you to BookBub via email. I used it for my wife's books - her name is Rose Pressey:

Once we did the promo for a free book, later we did for a few $0.99 books. One thing to remember, is the free books you promote are NOT going to Nook readers, obviously.

So we later paid the extra cost to Bookbub the latest $0.99 offering, and the ROI doubled since Barnes and Noble readers could also benefit.

We tried several other paid ads that were pretty close to useless. Bookbub prices keep climbing, so I must imagine lots of others are having similar results.

The Bookbub cost was $400 and she sold an extra 3,000 copies in 7 days at $0.99ea while 11 other books she has blipped up a bit in daily activity. Certainly helps when you promote the first book in a series with others at $2.99+.

Glad you gave it a shot!-

Anonymous said...

Great post - thank so much for sharing your layout ideas. I am doing some of those things in my ebooks already, but not others. I think the description page is a brilliant idea and the book cover ad page at the back is also a fantastic idea, I love my covers and think including them would be pretty and practical - ha!

Good luck with the promo push!

Anonymous said...

I really miss back covers. Once I've accumulated a stockpile of ebooks on the old e-reader, it would sure be nice to have some virtual way to flip 'em over and decide which one to read next. There doesn't seem to be any technological barrier against it.

How come nobody has virtual back covers?

Anonymous said...

I love the book description. I buy books like a madman, and it is always annoying to have to reconnect to the website to get the description.

Robert said...

I found out about Bookbud a few weeks ago. I have a listing scheduled for next week, for a book that's regularly priced at $3.99 but will be 99 cents for two days. While the listing is an ad, I don't think of it as a normal ad. Those ad banners you always see -- I never click on them, and I don't know anyone who does.

But this is different. It's adding your book to a subscriber list who a) are obviously readers and b) who are always looking for good deals. (It's like having your book listed as a Kindle Daily Deal, but over multiple platforms.)

I've been watching the books that get listed the past week or two and see almost all of them shoot up the bestseller lists. They peak and come back down, of course, but by that point most writers revert the prices back to full price.

I did Select last year and had great results, but right now have no interest in putting my books in there again. Like you mentioned last week, Joe, how many people actually read the free books they download? A few, certainly, but not nearly the majority. If the only purpose is to make a book free to try to get a nice bounce afterward, then it makes more sense doing a 99 cent listing at a place like Bookbub, which is almost guaranteed to give you a nice bump -- and you'll be earning money with every download.

Also, I like that Bookbub doesn't take just any book; they have an editorial process that reviews each title, decides whether or not it's a professional product, etc. This way, I think, the subscriber base comes to trust the newsletter more than one that just lists anything willy-nilly.

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

@bozobuttons: That's what item number 2 in the list is intended to be.

Anonymous said...

The best thing, of course, would be if Amazon (in my case) would provide some basic book description in the download - something as short as 100 characters with the genre at a minimum.

I'm sure there are others like myself that buy cheap and sort it out later.

And a note to all you authors that I love, the bump in sales you get from a promotion could take a year to show fruit. We buy now and read later.

Anonymous said...

@Rob @ 52 Novels

Yeah, I get that. I should have offered up props to Mr. K. on it's inclusion in his excellent list. Mea Culpa. But really, I'd like a formal back cover. As in, I touch a button on the reader and all the books flip over.

I think we run a risk of getting stuck with pretty much exactly the format of ebooks we have now because incremental improvements don't seem to justify a format change. Sure it's adequate, just like MIDI, and XML and all the other imperfect standards that stuck as soon as they hit 'good enough' levels.

Case in point, remember the really cool arrangement of footnotes on 48 Laws of Power? No such formatting on Mastery, even in the printed format. Clearly, for this title at least, the paper book is now a side show to the main event of the digital product. I totally get that, but I'd rather see an effort to support at least optional artistic formats in the e-product.

It's not the technology that's holding us back, but the very marketing-oriented concept of not improving what is currently working, at all. Better learn to love the feature set you've got because I don't see it expanding -- ever.

So, long live product description! Boosting adherence to this idea is certainly a big step in the right direction. Pardon me for the topic drift.

Unknown said...

How about a button / URL at end of the book where your new fan can sign up for your newsletter so they hear when your next book comes out so they can rush out and buy it?

Jude Hardin said...

I subscribe to Bookbub, btw, and Barry's A Lonely Resurrection was part of their email blast for thrillers today, along with titles from three other authors, but none of the other books listed here. FYI.

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

Fair enough. Although I'm not certain added complexity would result in proportional added goodness. As Eric Raymond wrote: Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.

On the one hand, I, too, lament what you describe with the 48 LAWS OF POWER, but I admit I bought that book for its design rather than what its content teaches. In fact, as a textbook I found it nearly unreadable; as art it was exquisite. On the other hand, that these sorts of books might never be workable on a hand-held ereader is okay by me because artists and artisans will continue to produce those sorts of things in media more fitting.

J S said...

After benchmarking a lot of books last summer I changed my front matter to 1-cover, 2-title page, 3-jacket copy, 4-the book (imagine that), 5-all the rest including the TOC. Most fiction books don't use fun chapter titles so it just clogs up the front sample (non-fiction it's vital up front). I use a longer copyright in the back matter (it only needs to be "within 10 pages" of what it covers per the rulz) but I use a one line copyright on the title page so samples are covered.

Turnoffs when I'm a reader is a lengthy TOC to scroll through at the front and a several paragraph meanly scribed copyright notice.

Steve said...

A question about copyright. Do you submit your work and pay the fee for federal copyright protection?

Richard Stooker said...

J.S., I tried putting the TOC in the back once, and someone pointed out to me that violates Kindle TOS. They want it before the book's content. FYI.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the tips!

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Anonymous said...

A clickable TOC for fiction is outmoded and unnecessary and, if Patterson-esque number of chapters, annoying.

24/7 in France said...

Thanks for the great publishing tips! I hyperlinked the Table of Contents in my book, SOLITARY DESIRE - appreciated by readers from feedback, so agree it's important.

Cheryl Bradshaw said...

BookBub has been very effective for me. I ran one for .99 and another for free, and both were worth it.

Kim Cano said...


Thanks for this. Got a copy of all the free books. I also use 52Novels based on your recommendation.

Book Bub is one of the only ad sites that I see deliver continuous sales results for authors. Whenever a peer uses them I watch their books skyrocket through the kindle store.

Once I have some reviews/sales history for my debut novel I will use them too. :)

Kim Cano

John Brown said...

Okay, stupid newbie question, but when I opened up all the books in my Kindle PC (no I don't own a tablet), it bypassed cover, TOC, etc. and displayed the first chapter or prologue.

So why include all that stuff up front if it's just going to bypass it? Look inside? Or just because readers expect some front matter?

John Brown said...

@Cheryl Bradshaw 9:39 AM

What was your ROI?

GSMarlene said...

I think it should be required that back of book blurb should be at the beginning of an e-book along with the cover. I've been quite annoyed when looking specifically for YA or MG books among my Kindle list (needing to read for voice when writing) and it takes a couple pages to find out what the book is about.

Now, here's the interesting thing. I downloaded a couple of these free books. I've only opened Trapped so far. It opened on the black "Prologue" page, so I was disappointed after this article. So I tried backing up and found the cover, author's note saying there were two books here, first the final version, then the original, then some quotes, then contents. Then a page stating we were starting with the uncut first draft, not the final version as stated above and then on to the prologue.
So I'm confused about why things showed up this way. My particular Kindle (a couple years old)?
I moved on to the story - sounds awesome, so none of it really "mattered" but now I do have to wonder how many descriptions have I missed because I didn't page backward when I opened the file.

J.T. Geissinger said...

Hi Joe,

Just wanted to say I first heard about you on a bus with twenty other authors from various imprints of Amazon on the way to a press conference where J. Bezos was announcing the new Kindle Paper White. Everyone was talking about self-publishing and your name kept coming up and I said to the thriller writer sitting across from me, "Who is this Konrath?" His response: "The lone voice crying in the wilderness."

Biblical references aside, that intrigued me.

So I discovered your blog and have sent many, many people your way, most of them newbie authors who haven't been able to get their book published and are thinking of self-publishing. At the risk of sounding cliche, I think you're providing a real public service.

On another note, BookBub was extremely effective for my book. Went to #212 in the overall Kindle store and sales stayed in the #300-400 range for weeks afterward.

Thanks for all the great info.

Ryan Casey said...

Good post, Joe. I recently wrote about the importance of 'back matter' lately. A book without links to other works/website/etc is a missed opportunity.

Cheers for the eBook formatting advice -- I'll be sure to make a few tweaks.

I'll keep an eye on BookBub too!


Jill James said...

Joe, thanks for the look inside your books. Stirred up lots of ideas to improve the looks of my books. Thanks.

Jonas Saul said...

Joe, I used Bookbub for Dark Visions a few weeks ago and I made it to #3 in the free Kindle store overall.

It has been the most effective tool I've used to date. My overall horror rank outranked you for a short term. Ha!

Good luck with your promos …


Unknown said...

Book Bub it THE tool. They've done a great job of targeting reader audience by genre and have the volume of subscribers to make a difference.

On my third day of Free Promo. Was at #1 Free for two days. Now swapping #3 and #4 with Barry and other authors who have been on BookBub yesterday and today.

Mark Edward Hall said...

I'm thinking about giving Book Bub a try for my thriller Apocalypse Island. I've already done one successful free promo. Maybe an email blast to more than 300,000 potential readers would be worth the investment.
By the way, good info, Joe, on formatting.

VC Woods said...

Hi Joe! I downloaded Dirty Martini and did something I haven't done in a right through the night until I finished. Chicago native that I am, it was a joy.

Here's the question, re: formatting - there were quite a few instances where a letter was replaced with a period, especially with two letter words or "the." "the." which was supposed to be then or they. Some missing caps on first names...could this be caused during the conversion process, is it my Kindle...? Thanks.

VC Woods said...

Oh, and "no scenes to make the reader squeamish?" The roaches...!

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

@VC: The instances you note in DIRTY MARTINI were from the source material. I presume they were introduced when former Joe's publisher converted them from print to ebook, but I don't know this for certain. I actually cleaned up hundreds of those periods in DM (I'd bet money they were introduced with a rather greedy regular expression during a global find-and-replace).

Thanks for pointing them out. We'll get changes in and send new editions to Joe ASAP.

Unknown said...

Book summaries by chapter is something quite interesting and appreciable concept. Especially for those students that would like to have an idea about the particular book in the first place, it helps a lot. In that way they will not waste their time in reading the whole book to gather and gain their specific information of interest.
chapter book summaries

Jodi said...

I like the idea of a blurb up front, but not moving copyright info to the back.

MyTwoBits said...

I completely disagree with the idea of moving the copyright date to the back. I only last month came across for the first time two ebooks that did this. I stopped reading them rather then go through the gymnastics I would need to have done to read it and then get back to my place on my ereader. When a book was written and last edited is important information for putting the work in context and understanding it and the language usages it uses more fully. I want to know this information before I read anything else. It is a pain to get to it and requires five or more buttons if it is not in the right place. It only takes one quick button press to skip it if I wanted to. This information belongs at the very start, right after the title page, no later.

B. Rehder said...

Something occurred to me as I was in the process of creating a box set. Seems like Amazon would let authors offer box sets without having to actually create one file with multiple books in it. So, for instance, when a customer buys Joe's box set of AFRAID, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE, he or she would receive those three separate ebooks that already exist. The customer gets the three-for-one price, and the three separate ebooks. Seems like that would save a lot of time and money for authors wanting to offer box sets. All we'd have to create is the cover art for the box set. Or am I uninformed and you can already do it that way?

M.B. Ryther said...

How about including copyright info on the title page like Smashwords recommends? After all, do we really need a whole page for a copyright blurb?

Shaun Horton said...

Great information. Getting ready to put the pieces of my first book together and get it published up on Kindle and this helps immensely.

Jenny Lens said...

So sad, just discovered you and it's Feb 20! As an aspiring Kindle writer, I would love to see your wonderful tips in action re the free books.

I photographed early punk. Stories are flowing out of me, but I've got to sort and scan many photos as well. I'm starting with the Clash, as it's the most exciting tale of my punk rock life with sex, drugs and rock. Plus THE most thrilling band I've ever seen or photographed.

Then the Runaways and ... well, I've got a fan base, and tons of forums and groups to broadcast. I have many friends/fans who will spread the word too. Just turning them onto eBooks is new, but they know it's low priced and their only option!

I have several very witty writer pals with something to say. I told them I'd share my leads. I found you via Amazon, when someone chastised a rather successful author for paying for good reviews. Your name was mentioned, and here I am.

Sad I missed the freebies, but SO glad I'm here!

You dear sir are a breath of fresh air and just what I needed! Oh, a major art publisher released a hard cover coffee table book of my photos. Edited my text so badly I can't bear to read it and worse.

Ppl keep offering to turn me onto publishers or I get offers. No thank you, never again! Self-publishing is the only way! I'm surprised so many still don't get that. Oh well.

As someone with limited funds, I'll be doing everything myself. I'm a Photoshop pro, a graphic designer, web designer, writer and photographer. So back to it ...

Again, SO DELIGHTED to find you. Thank you thank you thank you!

Unknown said...

Really nice article on ebook parts. I like to read your articles.

Unknown said...

Hi There, I just spent a little time reading through your posts, which I found entirely by mistake whilst researching one of my projects. Please continue to write more because it’s unusual that someone has something interesting to say about this. Will be waiting for more!
And the Mountains Echoed By Khaled Hosseini Expert Book Review

Unknown said...

great guide :)i really like to become a
ebook cover designer &
book cover designer
but im still studying how to become a professional on illustrator.