I'm getting a lot of emails from authors who tell me this or that company or person is offering to convert their manuscripts into ebooks for some ridiculously low fee, like $50. What the authors don't know is that conversion of a manuscript to an ebook format takes fifteen minutes or less, is mostly an automated process, and will only deliver a quality ebook at the back end if the file being converted has already been properly formatted for the target ebook format. $50 doesn't seem like such a bargain when you realize how little work is actually being done for that fee, and when you know it doesn't include the most time-intensive, labor-intensive, and important part of the ebook creation process: formatting.
The conversion step is no big deal. You open a conversion program, click a button to import the (pre-formatted) manuscript, fill in a form with details about the book (e.g., title, author name, suggested retail price, etc.), click another button to add any required companion files to the project, then click one last button to output the ebook in your desired file format. If the manuscript file you've imported was formatted properly ahead of time, your ebook will look and perform great. If not, not.
The majority of time and effort that goes into creating an ebook is spent on preparing the manuscript for conversion, and creating any required companion files (e.g., Amazon's required active table of contents file for Kindle books). Where the conversion step is mostly automated, the formatting part is mostly manual. This is because every manuscript is different, and the process of formatting a manuscript for ebook publication is primarily a process of minimizing and standardizing formatting. Here's my Kindle book formatting to-do list, to give you some idea of what's involved:
* “Save As” to create Kindle file copy
* Insert cover image on first page
* Remove blank pages
* Remove headers
* Remove footers
* Set margins to 1” all around, remove gutter
* Replace section breaks with page breaks
* Set two carriage returns before each pg break and one after each
* Insert page breaks before each chapter heading, if necessary
* Replace double spaces with single space between sentences
* Standardize body text style
* Turn off auto-hyphenate (Tools > Language > Hyphenation)
* Remove any tab or space bar indents, replace w/ ruler indents as needed
* Set line spacing to 1.5, max 6pt spacing after paragraphs
* Standardize chapter headings
* Standardize section headings
* Remove/replace special characters
* Reformat graphics as needed to 300dpi resolution & optimal size (4x6” or smaller)
* Verify images are “in line” with text
* Insert page breaks before and after full-page images
* Modify copyright page to reflect Kindle edition verbiage
* Add correct ISBN to copyright page
* Insert hyperlinked TOC
I have a different to-do list for each different ebook format, since the requirements vary from one to the other. Obviously, if the author provides a file that already meets most of the requirements above, the job will take much less time and effort than it will with a file for which I must complete all of the items on my formatting checklist.
Just as obviously, it's impossible to know how much work is involved without actually seeing an excerpt from the manuscript. Anyone who's offering to do the job on the cheap without seeing any part of the manuscript is either not intending to do any formatting, or so new to the author services game that he doesn't realize the time and effort demands in creating ebooks are highly variable.
If you can find someone who will do the formatting AND the conversion for $50, and the resulting ebook looks great and functions properly, by all means HIRE HIM NOW! Otherwise, when you're comparison shopping among author service providers, be sure to ask if the price quoted for the provider's ebook conversion service includes formatting and creation of any required companion files.