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Technical tips for publishing books online
This is all about choosing formats for publication - doc, zip, pdf, html and the rest.
I've changed this advice four times in response to changes in the market, most recently in January 2004.
In 2000, the most popular format by far was PDF. But in 2001, my own novels (links on the left) were downloaded mainly in formats suitable for PDAs (personal digital assistants) such as .rb and .lit, plus the ubiquitous .txt format. In 2002, the .txt format confirmed its status as the most popular, with PDF a little behind, and then Microsoft Word. The old PDA formats pretty much disappeared. Now in early 2004, PDF dominates once again. What goes around comes around.
HTML (a regular Web page) is not a good format for a long read. It's OK for the sprint but not for the marathon. You'll probably need to produce the early chapters of your book as HTML so they can be sampled online, but it's best not to rely on HTML for the whole book - most people won't reach the end.
When converting to HTML, it's likely that you'll start with Word documents. The HTML conversion feature that comes with Word is not wonderful, even after the introduction of the "HTML filter" option in Word XP (also available as an add-on for Word 2000).
One easy way to make the conversion is inside FrontPage 2000. Just choose Insert > File and pull your Word file into an HTML page. You may get a message saying the feature isn't installed, and if you press Cancel on this message the conversion goes ahead anyway (ah, Microsoft). The resulting file will need some tidying up at the beginning, but otherwise the HTML is sound
A good alternative is to import the Word document into Lotus Word Pro, and then export from this program as an HTML file. Again, the HTML should only need a little tidying. Macromedia Dreamweaver does an even better job, but few people outside the Internet industry own a copy.
I recommend the .txt format for anybody publishing online. It's easy to create using Save As from Word. It's the simplest format available and that's a big advantage.
Quite popular. It's best to create Word 6/95 files because they're smaller and more people can read them. You can convert documents produced in later formats to this earlier format using Save As. Some people are still wary of the old virus issues that plagued Word in days gone by, but in reality, they're now history.
I've found that very few people choose to download Zip files rather than Microsoft Word documents, even though they're about half the size, so they're not worth bothering with.
RocketBooks/Gemstar or Microsoft Reader eBook
These .rb and Lit files no longer seem to be popular.
This is the format read by Adobe Acrobat readers. Its popularity has gone up and down, but in 2004 I'd still say it's the most popular format.
It's not easy to produce cheap PDFs. One option is Adobe's free trial, but the last time I tried, I went through the registration process and got no joy. In theory, you can get five documents converted for free - direct from Word documents. Make sure you start with perfect source files, because you won't be able to make changes later.
A free alternative is PDF995, which I use and recommend. I've also heard good things about another free piece of software called PDF Creator.
Here's a novel of mine in all these formats: Field of Reeds