One of the questions we ask our authors is whether or not they want to enable DRM for their ebooks. Our recommendation is always not to enable it, but as with everything else, it’s the author’s book and so the final decision is theirs. This article explains what DRM is, why you might want it, and why we always recommend against using it.
What is DRM?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, which is technology that tries to prevent unauthorised copying of electronic files. There are DRM technologies available for various types of electronic files, but this article is only concerned with ebooks.
In theory, an ebook with DRM can only be viewed on an authorised device. In other words, if you buy a Kindle ebook from Amazon, you can read that ebook on any Kindle app or device that is registered to your Amazon account. If you buy an ebook from Kobo, you can read it on any Kobo app or device registered to your Kobo account. There’s no point uploading your file to a piracy site, since no-one else will be able to read it.
Does it stop piracy?
If it worked as intended, DRM would stop piracy. In practice, for anyone who knows how, removing DRM from ebooks is quick and easy. Most readers don’t know how, of course, but anyone wanting to pirate ebooks can find it out from a quick internet search.
This means that pirates know how to get around the restrictions. Thus, the pirates aren’t affected, and piracy isn’t prevented.
What does it mean for readers?
Most of the time, nothing. But if a reader has been reading books on one platform and decides to move to another, they won’t be able to take any DRM’d books to their new ereader. While it’s possible to strip the DRM to do this, the average user is unlikely to know how.
A while ago, a friend was thinking about buying an ereader for her husband, who reads a lot of PDFs. She thought it would be great for him to be able to read them on an eink device. She asked for advice, and this post is based on what I told her.
There are many articles online claiming that Kindles and other ereaders support PDF, or how easy it is to convert PDF to your ereader’s preferred format. They’re right, but with some significant caveats. Reading a PDF on an ereader is a far cry from reading an ePub or mobi format ebook on the same device. The PDF won’t resize and reflow to work nicely on the screen. This leads to a lot of zooming and scrolling. I found it such an unpleasant experience that I bought a 10″ tablet to read PDFs on. I still prefer my Kindle and my Kobo for reading ebooks, but won’t use them for PDFs.
So, why not convert the PDF to ePub or mobi, and read that on the ereader? Converting PDFs is simple enough using Calibre, but the results are very uncertain. The Calibre manual states that “PDF documents are one of the worst formats to convert from.” If it’s a single-column PDF it might work reasonably well. It won’t be as pretty as the original, paragraph breaks might be in odd places, etc. If the PDF has headers and footers, they will be included in the converted file as if they were a standard part of the text, which can be jarring.
Two-column PDFs won’t convert well at all. The converter doesn’t recognise the columns, and so you get the first line of the first column, then the first line of the second column, second line of the first column, second line of the second column, etc. The result is unreadable. Text boxes and the like can also really mess with it.
If you’re going to read a lot of PDFs, I would strongly recommend something with a 10″ or larger screen. 10″ tablets are common and some are reasonably inexpensive, but many people don’t like reading on a back-lit screen, hence the popularity of eink devices for reading ebooks. Kobo recently announced the Kobo Elipsa, which has a 10.3″ eink screen. This should be excellent for reading PDFs and ebooks, but it’s significantly more expensive than either a standard ereader with a 6″ screen or a 10″ tablet.
This is a guest post written by Henry Hyde, who designs many of our clients’ covers.
Why use a professional cover designer – it’s expensive, right?
It’s an investment that can make the difference between the book you worked so hard to write either being a best-seller, or sinking without a trace.
Just go take a look at a popular online bookshop which is where, let’s face it, the vast majority of both physical books and ebooks are sold nowadays.
Search for something in any major category. Romance novels, perhaps, or fantasy, or self-help, or cookery, or… You get the idea.
You’ll learn a couple of things from this exercise.
Firstly, that your book jacket needs to grab the viewer’s attention when it’s the size of a postage stamp. Intricate, fiddly designs with hard-to-read titles and subtitles just don’t work.
Secondly, how long did it take you to either click on one of those little covers to find out more, or decide that none of them took your fancy? Ten seconds? Five? One? Less than that?
Actually, the answer is likely to be around 0.5 to 2 seconds. Book jacket design is a brutal business, and if the potential reader doesn’t like the cover in the first instant they see it, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest literary genius on the planet, your book will never get a second chance.
Thirdly, did you notice something about all those best-sellers that came up on the first couple of pages of results?
That’s right: they all looked somehow familiar, in fact similar in style to one another. That is not a mistake – it’s deliberate. People choose books that they think will be similar to the ones they have already read and liked and the front cover design is the biggest clue they’ll get to reassure them that they will like this book because it resembles that book by their favourite author.
Most new authors are convinced that their cover design needs to be utterly unique.
It needs to look like the best-sellers in their category. Not an outright, copyright-infringing facsimile, of course, but close enough in style to resonate with the viewer.
And finally, when you look at all those book jackets on Amazon, say, it’s easy to tell which ones are professionally designed, as opposed to having been put together by an amateur. The quality of the overall image or illustration, and particularly the choice and placement of typefaces (unless deliberate irony is intended, which can easily backfire) are tell-tale signs. For example, you may have a few dozen or, let’s be generous, a couple of hundred fonts on your PC.
I have more than 100,000, collected over 30 years of designing, and I have accounts with font foundries to access even more if I need them. In fact, understanding the subtleties of typography, and the meanings that different fonts convey to the viewer’s subconscious, is a major skill that every pro designer calls upon on a daily basis.
Now, a real-life example of an idea that a client sent to me, and the cover they actually ended up with following consultation with me.
Which of these do you think will stand a chance on Amazon?
The idea supplied by the client was all about him – it even featured his own hands and the corporate colour of the company he worked for. Sure, he and a tiny number of his colleagues might have understood the visual pun – but his potential audience in the wider world? I think not! What I was able to create for him was a striking cover that sits well in the self-help genre and that instantly conveys the type of content the reader should expect, dealing with the complexity of the human mind.
Fortunately, the client readily agreed!
To sum up, your cover designer is your friend and ally, helping your book to stand a chance of getting noticed amongst a blizzard of competing books. They use their professional experience to make you look like a professional too. Ego should play no part in creating an effective cover design: it’s all about what’s best for the book, and giving it the best possible chance as it begins its journey from your hands out into the wider world.
Henry Hyde has been a professional graphic designer since 1991. He specialises in book and magazine design, corporate identity and branding. He also has a keen interest in typography and photography. Having self-published his own books for more than a decade, he is able to offer sound advice on self-publishing and online marketing.
When done well, a reader doesn’t notice a book’s interior formatting. The purpose of the formatting, after all, is not to draw attention to itself, but rather to allow the reader to concentrate on the words in the book and the author’s message. When the interior is not done well, on the other hand, the reader is drawn out of the story. The reader notices the imperfections, and these will lead to a poor impression of the book as a whole.
There are many elements to a book’s interior. Authors are readers first, but as stated earlier, good formatting is invisible and doesn’t get noticed. Consequently, we don’t notice all the little things that make a professional interior. That makes it difficult to create an interior that will live up to a reader’s expectations.
Ebooks add an extra layer of complexity. The interior of a print book is fixed, but with an ebook, the reader can change almost anything. An ebook can be read on a tiny phone screen, a large monitor, or anything in-between. The interior formatting has to be able to adjust elegantly to all these possibilities. The elements of the book (cover, start position, epigraph, dedication, etc) must all be specially coded so that the reader device or software to identify them. It should also contain a metadata table of contents that can be displayed by a menu item or similar, in addition to the standard table of contents at the start of the book.
An ebook file should conform to the ePub standards. If it doesn’t, many vendors will refuse to accept it. A professional formatter understands all these requirements. They will be able to create a file that looks good on any screen, and passes the validation checks performed by vendors so that it will be accepted for sale.
Large print books have their own set of rules and expectations, to make them easier to read for people with limited vision. Some of these contradict the standard rules, so it’s not enough to simply increase the font size.
It’s possible to learn to do this yourself, using online resources to learn how to format a print book interior and an ebook. But these require an investment of time and possibly money, which is unlikely to be worthwhile for most authors. There are also converters online, some of which are free, but the results are unlikely to compare well to the work of a professional.
If you want a professionally designed interior that will allow your readers to enjoy your story, contact us.