By Jenny Bullough, Digital Content Manager, and ebook data geek
Last week Angela posed a question on Twitter, asking “do you have a question for an editor?” One of the responses came from @thedaisyharris: Why yes, I do! Why does it take so long to get an e-book out? I’d think once it’s edited it could go live. What am I missing? Since I manage the production of ebooks for Harlequin and Carina Press, Angela put me on the spot! Ready? Here we go!
I have to preface this by emphasizing that every publisher is different, so the processes each house follows are different, but in giving you a topline overview of the process we use at Harlequin and Carina my aim is to explain why it’s not immediate for most any publisher.
Technically, you’re right – once the book is edited, it could be converted immediately to ePub (the universal, open source format created by the International Digital Publishing Forum) and go live. But most publishers want to make sure that the book is as clean, nice-looking, and error-free as possible, to ensure a good reading experience; and doing that takes a bit more time.
In terms of our process, once the final, edited, formatted manuscript has been delivered as an electronic file, it has to be formatted (or deformatted if it’s a PDF typeset for print) – things like tabs, line breaks, asterisks, etc that don’t always render the way you want them to in ebook formats need to be tweaked so that the miracle of reflowable text can happen during conversion. That can take a couple of hours per file depending on the length and complexity of the book.
Then it has to be converted to ePub. Believe it or not, it can take a few hours to run a simple scripted conversion software, then run the final file against the IDPF ePub checker to make sure it adheres to the format specifications (if it doesn’t, ebooksellers won’t accept the file). If it doesn’t pass, it’s back to square one – reformat and reconvert, then try again.
Once it passes the ePub checker, the final ePub file is sent to our team of proofers for quality control check – our last chance to catch any typos, formatting errors, or stray code that will detract from the reading experience. If there are errors, it has to go back for correction, then be QC’d again, and lather rinse repeat.
When the ePub file has passed QC and is finalized and looking all pretty, the file has to be sent to ebooksellers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books on Board, Diesel eBooks, and many many more. Each of these ebooksellers has a different process for accepting files and ingesting them into their databases. This is often done by FTP and while it’s relatively quick to transfer one file or a few files, most ebooksellers will only accept files in big batches; so if there’s a typo or error in one file, the whole batch of 100+ ePubs waits until they’re all ready for public sale.
The other tricky part is marrying up the ePub file with the correct metadata, marketing images (ie cover thumbnails), and in the case of some ebooks, preparing special promotions, discounts, or other marketing material before the ebook goes live and on-sale.
So it can take at least a couple of days from final, edited file to sending the file to vendors – and that’s assuming there are no complications or errors. Sounds simple enough, right? You could bang that out on a slow Monday and have it on sale on Wednesday if all goes well. Where things get sticky is when you multiply this process by 300 or so – a typical monthly production load for the Harlequin digital team.
Hopefully this answers your question! If not, let us know in the comments!