PDFs and eBooks


PDFs and eBooks: warning, danger ahead!

Why?  Let me explain: eBooks are meant to “flow”.  You mark up what is a paragraph, what is a chapter title, and so on, and that will be displayed in the most appropriate way depending on the device your reader is using.  On a mobile phone, the paragraph is going to be a certain width, on your PC’s screen, it’s going to be different.  Same goes for iPads, Kindles, and so on.  eBooks are very “portable” this way – you can read them wherever, and the reading system will adapt the book for you to make the experience as pleasant as possible.  You can read more about what differentiates eBooks from print books here: The “One Thing” About Kindle Formatting and here: The Difference Between Print Books and eBooks.

PDF’s on the other hand, are a very precise, but brittle format that is meant to show you exactly how the book is going to look when it’s printed on paper of a given size.  That’s fine for paper books, but breaks down more or less completely when transformed into an eBook.  PDF’s have a bunch of information about exactly how wide the text is, what font and font size to use, the line spacing, and so on.  That may sound like what you want, but the problem is, with eBooks, it is the reader and the device they happen to be using that control those things, not the person that formats the book!  So the result often ends up being what you get when you try and put the proverbial square peg in a round hole.  The PDF thinks it should be fine on the sheet of letter paper it was designed for, and doesn’t want to be squeezed into the mobile screen that one of your readers is actually using to read your book.  And that’s when things go well – more complex PDF’s can come out just plain garbled and illegible.

The moral of the story is: use a Word file, use an OpenOffice file, use Pages to output a Word file, but please, please  don’t try and start from a PDF if at all possible.

What if all you have is a PDF?

That’s tricky, and depends a lot on the file itself and how much “junk” it has in it.  For now we don’t actually provide this service at LiberWriter, but can put you in touch with someone who can help you with the first step: turning your PDF into a Word file.  Unfortunately, paying to have someone turn the PDF into a Word file is going to add to the cost of the eBook formatting, as it will still need to go through the normal conversion process afterwards. Clearly, if it is possible, it is better to dig around and see if you can’t find an original Word file of your document somewhere!