Earlier in my career I was quite surprised at the number of requests I had from people asking me how much it would cost to “edit my ebook”, or who spoke about them as their own entity – “I want to write an ebook” for instance.
I’ve also experienced people asking whether they should write an ebook, and being baffled at the technological advances.
Actually, I think my confusion was comparable to that, and it was simply a case of “Why is there this extra, boundary-defined category?”
That’s not to say ebooks shouldn’t have a name, but rather let’s not create confusion where it need not exist. Ebooks are documents, that’s all there is to it. In the case of books, they’re manuscripts just like any other book. The only difference is the final format, and saying “I want to write an ebook novel” is no different to saying “I want to write a hardback novel”. In reality, you want to write a book, and publish it digitally. Isn’t that clearer?
But What If It’s Not a Novel?
It doesn’t really matter. As usual, we’ve got caught up with labels and the insatiable need to define everything as separate from other things. In the simplest definition, an ebook is a digital version of what it would be in physical version. So, if you have a three-page pamphlet on caring for a baby, but you email it to someone, it’s still a three-page pamphlet. If you write an 80,000-word novel on your computer, it’s a manuscript, and when it’s published it will be available as a physical book or ebook – or maybe just an ebook, if you so desire.
Words are words, stories are stories, documents are documents. Don’t get caught up in the technicalities or you’ll get dragged down by the technicalities.
As I said to my clients at the time, “Editing an ebook will cost the same as editing any other format of book”, and “Writing an ebook is no different to writing a ‘regular’ book, it’s just available digitally”.
What About Marketing?
Marketing is probably where the confusion arises the most. You know what it’s like – you visit a website or blog and there’s a big shiny photo of a book and it says “Enter your email address to receive our free ebook!” or you receive marketing instructions telling you to write an ebook so you have a saleable product you can make passive income from.
It’s true to say ebooks have become very popular for marketing and income purposes, but that’s not because they’re different than regular books, it’s merely a sign of the times. For the first time ever, we can all be publishers. I could, very easily, put all my blog posts into a single document and sell that document as an ebook, at low or no cost. That’s the whole reason ebooks are used as they are – they’re either free or very cheap to make and put on sale.
Years ago, paperback books were used in the same way, but less prolifically because they needed traditional publishing. You can find them, though – take a look on Amazon for ‘how to’ books or ‘make it as a…’ book, and you’ll find untold numbers of (typically small or pocket-sized) books telling you how to do something, and they are marketing tools, basically. Exactly the same as today’s ebooks, just less convenient for the writer. (Therein lies my cynicism with these marketing books, too – if the authors are so good at making lots of money following the rules in them, why do they need to write the books persuading us to cut in on their market?)
So there you have it, ebooks in a nutshell. They are digital versions of physical products that were already used, written and sold. No more and no less.