Reading E-Books, for Beginners

E-books are wonderful. It took me a few years after they became popular to make the transition from print to digital (though I still have many, many print books), but now that I’ve gotten used to digital, I prefer reading e-books. Granted, there are still some issues (since I make e-books, I own a few different devices, so I’m not a big fan of DRM), but I think overall there are more pros than cons. Here are my biggest pros for e-books:

  • E-books lighten my load. I read fast and sometimes like to read multiple books at once. Having them all sit on one e-reader instead of carrying around 4 or 5 books in my purse makes my back/shoulders happy.
  • E-books save my place. I don’t always remember to carry bookmarks, so I often lose my place in a print book, and have to spend a few minutes each time I pick it back up searching for where I left off. The other option is to dog ear my page, but I’m not the type who likes to write in books or fold pages. Plus, this isn’t a great option if I’m borrowing the book.
  • E-books let me bookmark and take notes. I don’t take notes that often, but sometimes I’d like to refer back to a specific chapter or paragraph, and I can easily bookmark it.
  • E-books make it easy to read in bed. True, reading lights have been around for years, but those lights can make it hard for other people in the room to sleep. Since I share the bed, I’ve found that the dim glow of my tablet is a lot less disruptive than a bright reading lamp.
  • E-books have links. I like this especially in non-fiction books I read, where sometimes other chapters are referenced, and I can easily find the reference and get back to my place in the book. Or, if I’m at home and have easy access to Internet, I can check out any external links included in the book.
  • E-books are flexible. I don’t often use the search feature in reading devices, but when I need to find a specific term, this is really helpful. Same goes for the option to enlarge or change the font, though I tend to prefer whatever the publisher has designed.

There are a lot of other great things about e-books, but those are my basic ones. As someone who used to prefer print, I understand that learning how to buy/upload/read an e-book may seem difficult at first. Recently, I’ve gotten a few questions about how e-books work, so I thought it’d be helpful to write up my answers.

One of my clients asked where her e-book will be available and whether the entire page will be viewable on the reading device, regardless of the screen size. It’s a great question, and one that has both a short and long answer.

Short answer is, the e-book is available wherever it is uploaded for sale, and yes, readers will have access to the whole book, regardless of the size. Now on to the slightly longer explanation.

Authors with both the EPUB and MOBI versions of their books will be able to upload and sell their books anywhere that accepts those versions. The MOBI version is for Amazon, and the EPUB version is for everyone else. This includes, among many, many others, Apple, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. If anyone buys an e-book from any of the above retailers, they will be able to read it on their device. All the companies mentioned above (with the exception of Smashwords–you can read e-books on a computer via Smashwords and they also distribute to most of the major retailers) produce their own e-readers and/or tablets. They also have apps. So, for example, if I were to buy an e-book from Kobo, I could read it on my smartphone via the Kobo app, as well as on my iPad via the Kobo app, but also on my own Kobo device (since they have e-readers and tablets). For more information about e-book formats, check out my post, “An Explanation of E-Book Formats.”

As for the pages issue, with e-books, there’s no such thing as a page. This is because depending on the size of the screen you are using to read the book, the size of the “page” will change, and the number of words on the “page” will be different. Readers also have the option of enlarging the text, which will again change the number of words. Because of this, e-books are reflowable. So while you will see text and images filling the screen, it will not be the same size “page” as the print version. Another thing to keep in mind is that words will sometimes appear hyphenated in a reflowable e-book. Where the hyphens appear will depend on the screen and font size, and has nothing to do with the design of the e-book.

If you are new to e-books but would like to learn how to use and read them on either a tablet, e-reader, smartphone, or computer, then there are many libraries that offer special classes and tutorials. I recommend trying a Google search to see if your local library has a class. From my own quick search, I’ve find a few libraries around the U.S. that offer regular classes and tips (listed in no particular order):

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