Same Same but Different: Ebooks and Pbooks


Now that the self-publishing of ebooks (electronic books) and pbooks (physical books) is so easy, many writers choose to distribute both instead of just focusing on one. There are similarities in the preparation processes for both but there are also differences. Knowing them in advance instead of discovering them along the way can help minimise the time it takes to achieve publication.

Regardless of whether you choose to publish as an ebook, a pbook or both, your manuscript needs to undergo the same stringent editing processes. If you plan to publish both in ebook and pbook formats, it’s best that it remains the same file right up until the moment that the differences in the preparation process become necessary. As soon as you separate them into ebook and pbook files, every subsequent change in the text of the story in one must be duplicated in the other, essentially doubling your workload.

An ebook doesn’t require a template. You simply take the Word document you’ve been using to perfect your book and follow the instructions to turn it into the ebook files ready for uploading (there are different instructions for different platforms). The whole point of an ebook is that it is reflowable text, automatically modifying itself depending on the device on which it is being read.

A pbook, however, is a fixed file and a template will ensure that it appears exactly on the printed page without change from copy to copy. If you hire a typesetter to do the work for you, they will take care of the practical aspects of this but if you are self-publishing through a print-on-demand (POD) service, the templates are generally provided free of charge. You simply copy and paste your text into it.

Charts, Table and Columns
Charts, tables and columns do not fare well in the ebook conversion process so the ebook platforms recommend any instance where they are absolutely necessary that they be inserted into the file as images. But you can have as many charts, tables and columns (within reason) in a pbook as you would like.

Page Numbers
Page numbers are unnecessary in an ebook and sometimes even confusing because the pages move around depending on the device the ebook is being read on. Tables of contents are instead bookmarked or hyperlinked to text in specific locations (usually chapter headings) to make finding them easy. Pbooks don’t theoretically have to have page numbers but they do help with navigation and referencing. I can’t think of a good reason to leave them out, especially since they will appear automatically in a template.

Technology hasn’t come along far enough for us to make hyperlinks in pbooks possible so make sure you remove them all from your template. Hyperlinking in ebooks is usually limited to places within the book because some platforms don’t like or can’t process external hyperlinks. If you do have external hyperlinks, think about why and if it can be done differently to eliminate them.

Widows and Orphans
Widows and orphans are lines and sometimes words that are separated from the previous line or previous page and left hanging all by themselves. There are some disagreements over what exactly constitutes each one but for the purposes of this article, remember this: widows and orphans aren’t relevant for ebooks. Because ebooks automatically resize themselves depending on the device, widows and orphans that appear in one version may not appear in another. So there really isn’t any point in trying to control where they appear. You’ll just drive yourself crazy.

In a pbook, however, they are considered very poor typesetting form. So whenever you see a single line at the top of a new page that is the last line of the paragraph on the previous page or a single line at the bottom of a page that the first line of the paragraph on the next page, these need to be fixed. This can usually be accomplished by turning on the Widow/Orphan control in Microsoft Word but be careful: sometimes this results in the last line on each of the two facing pages not lining up, which can make it look lopsided. Sometimes the solution is to make minor changes within the text to bring the lines up or push the lines down. Just remember that you will need to go back and make the same changes to your ebook file for consistency.

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is used to identify a book in the book trade and library sector. It isn’t mandatory in either an ebook or a pbook but choosing not to assign them can limit your distribution options and make finding your book difficult. Amazon won’t distribute a book without an ISBN unless an exemption is applied for and granted and this is usually only done for older books that were published without an ISBN before 1973. And adding your book on Goodreads is so much simpler when they can simply search for an ISBN. Remembering that neither your author name nor your book name can guarantee to be unique, sometimes the ISBN is the only thing that is.

Just remember that each ebook and pbook requires a separate ISBN. If you publish an ebook version of your book through Amazon KDP, another ebook version of the same book through Smashwords to reach the majority of other online ebook platforms and the pbook version through CreateSpace, that’s three ISBNs you’ll need.

Since barcodes are only required for point-of-sale scanning, they aren’t needed for ebooks. If you don’t aspire to stocking your pbook in a bricks-and-mortar store, then it won’t need a barcode either. If you do want to be stocked in physical stores, then a barcode is essential.

Internal Colour
Because many ebooks are read on grayscale devices, it is recommended that internal colour is avoided (particularly for text) – black always shows up clearly whereas yellow can be a real challenge when converted. Newer ereaders and tablets enable colour but you could be alienating a significant readership if you only cater to these more recent devices. Images are less of an issue because they are contrasted with the other grays surrounding them.

Internal colour in a pbook is entirely a personal choice but be aware that it significantly increases the printing costs, which means significant increases in the minimum price at which you will have to retail your pbook in order to recoup those costs.

Picture Quality
The quality of pictures in an ebook can be significantly less than that required in a pbook. Something that looks clear on a screen can look fuzzy and pixelated when printed. This doesn’t always prevent the image being used in a pbook. The printing company will generally raise the issue that the images may not be to the preferred quality but then leave the final decision to you. If the pictures are old, then there isn’t much that can be done about it. The decision is simply between leaving them in or taking them out.

Book Size
An ebook doesn’t require the choice of size (essentially the size of the device it is read on is the size of the ebook, automatically resized up or down) but there are dozens of size choices for pbooks. Six inches by nine inches is a common size.

While both ebooks and pbooks should have the same front cover, an ebook requires only a front cover while a pbook also requires a spine and a back cover. Ebook covers are always the same size but pbook cover and spine size is dictated by the pbook size chosen.

Internal Checks
Once you submit your book to the ebook or pbook platform, both generally take twenty-four hours for the platform to complete their checks. Once an ebook is checked and approved by the ebook platform, it can go on immediate sale. For a pbook, proofs will still need to be ordered and checked by the author/publisher before finally going on sale.

Ebooks are read online so it makes sense that final checks (or proofreading) are done on screen. But because a pbook is printed and read on paper, ordering a physical proof copy is highly recommended. It is standard practice for all printed products (calendars, outdoor advertisements, everything) for proofs to be provided and signed off on so that the ultimate responsibility lies with the publisher and not the printer. (After all, it’s a huge hassle when 100,000 copies of something with a mistake are printed so the printers don’t want to be responsible for that. And it’s comparatively simply to rectify errors in an ebook and upload a revised copy.)

I’m not quite sure why but finding errors is always easier on the printed page. Despite the fact this adds quite a few more weeks to the pbook process, just go with it. Errors in an ebook can be fixed in a day. Errors in a pbook last forever.

When authors are trying to get published, we worry about the upfront costs to ourselves but sometimes forget to worry about the costs at the other end. It’s in everybody’s best interests to consider both.

Cost to Author
There are lots of companies out there offering to do ebook and pbook conversions but both ebooks and pbooks can generally be set up without cost to the author, especially if you choose to do all the hard work yourself. However, you should check with individual pbook printing services as some do charge a fee (Ingram, for example) while others don’t (such as CreateSpace). If they do charge a fee, make sure you know why and that it is justified.

Cost to Reader
Readers expect that ebooks will be cheaper than pbooks, simply because there are no printing costs and minimal to no delivery costs for them to cover. Keep this is mind when setting your prices.

While distribution will depend on the platforms you choose to publish with, there are differences for ebooks and pbooks. An obvious one is with Amazon. When publishing through CreateSpace, the pbook will only be available for sale through the US and Europe Amazon sites. However, when publishing the ebook through the KDP service, it is accessible through all the Amazon platforms (Australia, UK, France, India, Japan, Brazil, etc). For purchasers, as soon as they sign in to Amazon, it will transfer them to their local platform and if that isn’t the US site or a European site, the pbook won’t appear. It can get confusing for your potential readers.

The key is always research. If your readers have a problem, they will expect you to be able to solve it, especially if you want them to buy your book, regardless of the format. Either choose a platform where these issues don’t occur (if such a thing exists) or know the limitations of the ones that you do choose and be prepared to answer the same questions over and over again.

Delivery Times
Once an ebook is purchased, it is delivered electronically almost immediately. Pbooks, however, must be physically shipped by mail. And if you have published via a POD service, a little extra time needs to be factored in for printing. Pbook shipping generally has three options – priority (within a week), expedited (within two weeks) and standard (between three weeks and a month). Obviously, the quicker the delivery, the more it costs, especially where the pbook is being shipped internationally. In fact, priority shipping can often be more than the cost of the pbook itself. It’s a choice for the purchaser but it’s good for the author to be aware, especially because delivery costs can impact on a purchaser’s decision to buy or not to buy.


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