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Book review

Poor Richard's Creating E-Books, by Chris Van Buren and Jeff Cogswell

Top Floor Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1930082029. Order from

Cover image of Poor Richard's Creating E-Books How authors, publishers, and corporations get into digital print

Reviewed by Jean Hollis Weber

This book is a good introduction to e-books for those who are considering writing or publishing them, or who are just interested in what's happening in the field. It should save you hours of research and thus pay for itself almost immediately.

As a beginning e-book publisher nearly 3 years ago, I had laboriously researched much of the information that you can get by reading this book. I also have a long list of things to look up when I have time, and I'm delighted to say that this book has saved me a great deal of time by summarizing the answers to most of those questions and providing links to sites with more details. I'll still have to do a lot more reading, but at least I don't have to spend time finding the sites that I need to study.

The book is divided into five parts: an overview of electronic publishing, planning and creating an e-book, getting your e-book published and sold, business issues, and real-life success stories and trends. Appendixes include lists of e-publishers and other resources, and sample contracts; a glossary and an index complete the book.

The authors define e-books as any book distributed in electronic form, including those intended to be printed in addition to being read on-screen (PDF is the main format for this purpose) and those primarily intended to be read on-screen, either on an ordinary desktop or laptop computer or on a handheld computer or a special book-reading device. They mention various proprietary formats (including Microsoft Reader), which publishers use them, and the pros and cons of each.

Practical topics covered include writing the book, the value - and necessity - of having a good editor, the production process (including print-on-demand), and issues to consider when choosing whether to self-publish or use a commercial publisher or a publishing service. (The latter provide manuscript preparation, production and distribution services to authors and small publishers for a fee, generally not acquiring any rights to the works produced.)

Other chapters cover digital rights and copy protection, book marketing strategies, contracts, and other business issues such as production costs and collecting payment.

My only complaint with the book is a lack of reference to issues that affect people who are not US residents. I don't expect a book of this type to say very much on the subject, but it should at least have a few sentences in relevant places, or a short section devoted to these issues. For example, the authors go into some detail in how to get an ISBN, but the specifics are only of use to US-based publishers. They should at least mention that if you live outside the USA, you should locate the relevant authority in your country and find out from them how to get an ISBN. Copyright registration varies in other countries, too.

Another big issue for non-US publishers wanting to sell books over the Internet: many of the big-name places to get one's book listed or to use for collecting payment (such as Amazon and PayPal) won't deal with anyone who doesn't have one or more of a US-based bank account, a US-based credit card, or a US address that is not a post office box. A lack of a US social security number could be a barrier too. Fortunately, the situation is changing rapidly, and big Internet-based companies are making arrangements that allow non-US residents to use their services, but it's a pitfall that people need to be aware of and this book doesn't even mention it.

That quibble aside, this is still a very useful book for anyone interested in e-books, no matter where you are located. The vast majority of the information is valid no matter where you live.

The authors are experienced in the publishing world as writers and editors. Chris Van Buren began his career as a technical writer, became an editor at CompuSoft Publishing, and wrote and published several computer industry newsletters. He has written more than 15 books and is currently a literary agent. Jeff Cogswell writes books on programming, e-books, and other computer topics. He got interested in e-book publishing when his first book went out of print and he continued to get letters from people who wanted it.

For more information on Poor Richard's Creating E-Books, a table of contents, sample chapters, and other reviews, see This site also contains hundreds of links to useful resources mentioned in the book.