Book Formats – Pros & Cons

Confused about your publishing options?

Your Publishing Options

For an overview of publishing today see my Author Choices Mindmap. On the left side of this map, you will see traditional print publishing. On the right side you will see the details for all of the new options for authors that this page covers – you’ll be amazed!

Print Books
POD Books
PDF Books

Print Books

Print books have a great advantage in having been around for a long time. Print books make up around 67 percent the current book market. Here are some of the paths you can take to build and sell a print book. No matter what path you choose, if you have a nonfiction book, you will need to hire your own indexer for your book for ebook.

Four ways to build a print book

  1. Publish with a traditional, independent press, or a small press publisher. You will need to hire your own copyeditor, indexer, proofreader, and possibly your own publicist and marketing expert.
  2. Put together an author-support team. Hire your own copyeditor, indexer, proofreader and possibly your own publicist and marketing expert. Hire your own editor, cover designer, layout specialist, printer, book binder, administrative assistant, and distributor too.
  3. Do all or some of the above author-support team jobs yourself as you build and sell your own book.
  4. Use a POD publisher for some of the above author-support functions. But note that you may still need to hire some helpers.

To understand what traditional publishers and their editors do for authors, see my Publisher Services Checklist. You will need to some of these things for yourself or find professionals to do them for you. The main functions of publishers are: book production and book distribution. Publishers market books too, but their marketing is very limited. Publishers specialize in coordinating all the services an author needs to build a book and sell it. Publishers also do a variety of important administrative tasks such as registering copyright, getting an ISBN number, and sending your book to the Library of Congress for preliminary cataloging information (included at the bottom of the verso of your title page).

If you publish on your own, there are specially trained freelancers called Virtual Author’s Assistants (VAAs) who will do the same things editors at publishing companies do. VAAs also know how to do things like set up book tours, do research for you, and get permissions for photographs or quotes. For a complete list of experts you may need to prepare your book for sale, see .

POD Books


POD books have one great advantage. You don’t have space to keep a lot of copies of your book. Nor do you need to go out and mail each book. POD publishers print each book “on demand” (i.e., payment) and mail them out to the buyer. This costs far less than hiring a distributor to store copies of your book and get them out to buyers.

These templates are limited and limiting, but they are better than having to do the design and formatting of your book yourself.  

POD companies also have some partners who distribute to special markets, such as bookstores and libraries. They usually provide software templates for “typesetting your book.

Some POD publishers offer a variety of other services for authors, such as providing you with a free ISBN (international standard book number) and UPC (product code strip) for your books.


The P in POD stands for “print,” not “promote”. POD companies do not do market  their books. For example, unlike publishers, they do not send out review copies of your book to parties that might publicize your book. Nor do they create catalogs of their books. And most do not sell their books through online sites.

Not all partners of POD companies are created equal. Ingram is the superior distributor for marketing your book to almost any kind of market. It is the largest and most inclusive distributor in the world. Here are Ingram Marketing Programs’ FAQs.

POD publishers with special typesetting software are limited in the production support they offer authors. POD companies truly are Do-It-Yourself when it comes to designing your book. They may confine you to very simple options for layout, illustrations, and your cover. To create a professional-looking print book you’ll need to hire an editor, designer, and indexer if it is non-fiction.

POD books are likely to cost the author more to create than books by a professional printing company and traditional bookbinder.

Some POD companies may retain the rights to your ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or UPC (bar codes) or even your copyright. If you leave the company you may have to buy your own ISBN and UPC, or if you don’t retain copyright, you may not be able to reprint or create an ebook version of your own book. An ISBN and UPC is essential if you plan sell your book through bookstores and/or if you’re marketing to libraries.

For more, see “Is POD Right for Me?” and Top Ten Signs of a Poor POD Book



Ebooks have a great advantage over published books in that you get to keep about 50% to 70% of what your book sells for in bookstores (i.e. the retail price).

Ebook publishers have special software that helps you put together your ebook. The two main ebook protocols are Epub (for Nook, the iPad and other brands of eReaders.) and Mobi (for the Kindle).

Ebooks offer the ability to use hyperlinks within the ebook and to sites outside of the ebook – even for the index to a book.

Ebooks have special features, such as Search, Bookmarks, and Highlighting.

Unlike POD publishers, most ebook publishers own their own distribution channels.

Ebooks are largely distribution-driven. The fastest growing market for ebooks is now the mobile (cellphone) market! If you want, you can market your book to a wide variety of ebook distribution sources at the same time.

Many writers are exploring interactive apps for ebooks they plan to publish for the iPad. Ebooks can even offer readers “augmented reality” by putting additional information about you and your book “in the margins” of your ebook.


People are buying way more print books right now – about 3 print books for every ebook. This, of course might change soon. Ebooks are something you should consider seriously, especially if you plan to write more than one book.

Just as with POD books, authors still have to pay for all of their book promotion costs.

Ebook formatting is a new art. Ebooks often come with strange looking text, especially when the reader changes the font size on an eReader device. If the author wishes to include photographs or other standard features of print books , the options may be limited unless they pay extra for an fixed-layout ebook.

Better versions of Search, Bookmarking and Highlighting are available in Adobe PDF books. In particular, the Search feature on eReader devices is problematic. It misses things and picks up too many “hits”. An index is still required to find many things in an ebook.

Indexes are not yet easily imported into ebooks. That is why an ebook index costs the author additional to format for an ebook.

Links to the text from an ebook index may take the reader to the wrong “page” or “location” if the reader has changed the font size on their eReader device.

The use of multiple distribution companies results in the need for extensive tracking of sales and revenues. The author may have to pay for an online billing service to keep track of payments.

Augmented, or enhanced ebooks have not taken off in the market as they were expected to. They are more expensive and time-consuming to produce. And there is a problem with the lack of standardized protocols among different eReader devices.

Click this link for more information about ebooks – Digital Book FAQs

PDF Books

PDF books are a hybrid form of book. They lie somewhere between a print book and a digital ebook. PDF books are made from downloadable digital files that can be printed out and/or read on the screen.


Unlike other digital books, PDF books do not need a special eReader device to view them.

PDF books can be read on any computer – on Apple devices the reader can use Preview; on PCs they can use Adober Reader. PDF books do not need a special eReader device to view them.

PDF books have the advantages of fast turnaround time for production, inexpensive cost, and the capability of being easily and quickly revised whenever an author wishes.

PDF books can be easily converted to ebook format. That’s because PDF pages are used for ebook formatting.

PDF books are sold through inexpensive online payment companies such as PayPal or Stripe, and distribution services such as DBD or junkie. The author has access to the email address of each buyer along with other useful marketing data such as the device used to order, e.g., mobile, computer, etc. or the location of the buyer. Affiliate sales can also be tracked.

PDF books have no restrictions by publishers or distributors in regard to the price they charge.


Adobe’s PDF creation software comes in different price levels. Adobe Reader is free software. An author can create links with it, but that can be tedious. The more expensive version of Adobe software has more convenient features. It’s an expense that one might choose to pay if creating multiple PDF books.

The Author has to format the layout of a PDF book from scratch. In order to avoid this expense s/he might pay for a Joel Friedlander book-design template for use with Word. This can help an author keep the number of words per page down to 200-250 words. This is the average number for a traditional print book and the least expensive for formatting an ebook.

If you plan to make large revisions to your ebook file or break it down into separate parts in the future, or otherwise “chunk” it, you’d be wise to pay extra to format an XML file for your book. XML is a software program that dynamically encodes the bibliographic elements within your book – elements such as title, headings, table of contents, the index, etc.

Online payment and distribution services for PDF books, while much lower in cost that print or ebook distributors, do no promotion for PDF books. The author will need to pay for all promotion costs including an online web and/or blog site.

The inexpensive methods of distributing PDF books require that the author must take care of  their own customer service whenever a buyer can’t complete a purchase.

Librarians do not buy as many PDF books as they do other kinds of print and digital books.

Like other kinds of self-published books, brick & mortar bookstores do usually carry PDF books. Nor do most online bookstores, although Amazon sells cheap downloadable PDFs along with browser books (i.e., HTML ebooks). Amazon calls both kinds of books an e-Doc.

Uses for downloadable PDFs

PDF books are most popular with business professionals and experts selling information or their own information services. Companies use PDF books to create sales handbooks for employees. Professional coaches and trainers use them for online and offline workshops.

PDF books are often referred to as “handbooks,” “guides,” or “manuals”. Librarians sometimes refer to them as “ephemera”.

Click this link for more information about PDF books – Digital Book FAQs


There are two separate types of audiobooks: commercial audiobooks and audiobooks for the blind/hearing impaired. Each requires a different product to create and listen to an audiobook.

Audiobooks for the blind and sight impaired

These audiobooks use a special protocol called Daisy and require an eReader or a software download via the Internet to hear them. The US National Library Service (NLS) has a program for distributing special eReaders and ebooks to the blind and sight impaired.

The protocol that audiobooks for the blind and hearing impaired use allows for adding an index to the audiobook. The index is readable as a whole, although it is not searchable by voice command. However, a voice command using a term from the index in an eReader for the blind or sight impaired will take the reader right to the paragraph that index term refers to.

Daisy is a powerful international protocol that lets readers flip from chapter to chapter, search for terms in the text and take a lot of other actions readers of print books can take.

Commercial audiobooks

These audiobooks do not use the Daisy standard. As a result, most audiobooks by commercial publishers omit the index. And they must be read straight through. As a result, most commercial audiobooks are fiction books.

According to Spoken Books Publishing, a quality commercial audiobook POD publisher, over 40 million audio books were sold last year. It is easy and fairly quick to create and package a commercial audiobook. However, there are costs of using a professional audiobook reader to record the book, and use of an experienced spoken book reader is highly recommended.

Along with publishers, bookstores, both virtual and non-virtual, are the most likely distributors of audiobooks on CD. Schools and public libraries are a primary target market for both commercial audiobooks and audiobooks made for the blind and hearing impaired.

For the blind and hearing impaired, service organizations like the Lions Club and senior citizen organizations are interested in collecting audiobooks, large print books or Braille books.

Library market for audiobooks

My new page, “Audiobooks at The Library” covers new audiobook apps for library patrons, what formats of audiobooks libraries are buying, and ways to get your audiobook into the library.

For self-publishers getting an audiobook purchased by libraries may be more difficult right now than for authors with a publisher, but the rate of growth of audiobook sales to libraries is doubling every year, and demand for new quality audiobooks is rising fast. Click here to read about this booming library market.


NOTE  You’ll find additional information on book formats in “Formatting Your Book”. This is part Two of my 3-part Slider series. Just click on the yellow tab at the top of Authormaps home page to read it.



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