Should You Go Digital (Ebooks) With Your Nonfiction Title?

A comprehensive Table of Contents linked to all entries.

A comprehensive Table of Contents linked to all entries.

Is there a big market for nonfiction ebooks? I truly do not know. As an observer (as opposed to actually publishing nonfiction), it appears to me that nonfiction readers have been slower to adopt and adapt to reading ebooks. I’ve read very few “success” stories from the publishers (trad or indie) about nonfiction titles. This might be partly due to the ereading devices themselves. Older (pre-Kindle) devices and eink readers are best suited for straight text, few bells and whistles–i.e. fiction. Or it might be due to the mindset of the readers themselves. Who knows? Even I, hardcore ebook reader that I am, tend to look to print when I’m in the market for nonfiction.

With the rising popularity of tablets and with so many readers using their smartphones as reading devices, I believe we’ll see a slow, but steady increase in the number of people who read certain types of nonfiction ebooks.

Using hanging indents for a Q&A section.

Using hanging indents for a Q&A section.

There is a real problem in regards to format. For narrative nonfiction–biography, memoir, inspiration, political books, essays–an ebook is a terrific medium. When you start getting into more complicated works–how-to books, art books, reference books, cookbooks, project books–any type of book that readers don’t necessarily read from cover to cover, but instead go to the sections they are interested in at any given moment–ebook limitations become abundantly clear. (I have been disappointed over and over by buying an ebook filled with how-to tips, illustrations, etc. only to find its PITA score is too high for my comfort–so then I have to run out and buy the print edition.) Those types of books might have to go in a completely different direction altogether in order to find a strong market. Apps, perhaps, geared specifically for tablets, online reading and smartphones, eschewing dedicated ereading devices altogether.

Nonfic3

A simple table style that renders well across devices.

In my opinion, even though the market for nonfiction appears small right now, I believe that it is growing and that eventually it will be strong enough and steady enough to make nonfiction ebooks profitable for self-publishers. It seems only smart to me that writers with certain types of nonfiction books should go ahead and go digital. The more nonfiction there is on the open market, the more visible it is, the more readers will notice and start buying.

So what types of nonfiction are suitable for ebooks? Considering the limitations of the devices themselves–right now–narrative types with illustrations such as photographs, maps, and “fill the page” type graphics. For example:

  • Histories
  • Biographies
  • Memoirs
  • True Crime
  • Essays
  • Religion
  • Inspirational
  • Political

Books with a high PITA (pain in the ass) factor include:

  • How to
  • Reference
  • Workbooks
  • Cookbooks
  • Project books

When deciding whether or not your project is suitable for an ebook, check the following items:

WHAT ALL EREADING DEVICES HANDLE VERY WELL

  • Narrative text
  • Photographs (color and black/white)
  • Illustrations (color and black/white)
  • Simple maps
  • Lists (ordered and unordered, and nested, too)
  • Simple tables
  • Hyperlinks (internal and external)
  • Extensive tables of content
  • Indexes
  • Appendices
  • Endnotes

WHAT SOME EREADING DEVICES HANDLE OKAY

  • Text heavy graphics–including some maps and charts
  • Boxed tables
  • Faux-scalable images (have to use some formatting tricks, but with great care and understanding of the limitations)
  • Worksheets
  • Fixed format
  • Footnotes

WHAT EREADING DEVICES DON’T DO

  • Text wrapping around images
  • Truly scalable images such as vector graphics
  • Printable material (While capturing screenshots is possible, very few readers will have the knowledge to capture, rescale, sharpen and print material off their Kindles or Nooks or smartphones, so it’s reasonable to say that what they see on the device is what they get and will go no further. A more reasonable option for writers with worksheets, recipes or other material you WANT readers to print, is to include links to a printable pdf.)
Nonfic4

Lists, ordered and unordered, and even nested, render well across devices.

Another thing nonfiction writers need to consider is file size. Most distributors have a limit as to the size of the file you can upload to their site. Amazon also charges a delivery fee of $.15 per MB against your cut. A 10MB ebook will cost you $1.50 per sale. A 50MB file will cost $7.50. You could end up owing them money for every ebook you sell. Images add considerably to file size. Extensive formatting adds to file size.

If you, as a self-publisher, are considering producing your nonfiction project as an ebook, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Cost analysis. The more images you have, the more complicated the formatting, the bigger the file, the more you will have to charge. Consider, too, how much the book costs to write. Get an idea about how you will price the book and be reasonable. If you have to charge $30 for your ebook just to break even, you need to research the market and figure out if anyone is willing to pay $30 for your ebook.
  • Take the PITA factor into consideration. (For example, I laid out $15 for an ebook about InDesign. The information is worth every penny, but even on my Kindle Fire most of the illustrations are too small to read. So I had to buy the print version which does have illustrations I can actually use. What a pain in the ass–and the publisher is getting no more ebook sales from me.)
  • Forget about making it LOOK like print. Ebooks are not print, and trying to force your digital edition to look exactly like the print edition will probably result in a broken ebook.
  • Exploit the features that ebooks do well. Hyperlinks, internal and external, for instance, giving readers enhanced navigation.
  • Unless you’re an accomplished ebook formatter, add professional help to your cost analysis. Narrative nonfiction with few images can be a good DIY project. For anything more complicated, programs such as MS Word or Scrivener will work against you and produce a poor-quality ebook. You will need to format in html or use an EPUB editor such as Sigil or Vellum.

My conclusion is, if you have a nonfiction project suitable for ebook (in format and price), then don’t let the current market deter you. Get it produced and distributed and let the market catch up to you.

 

 

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