26 July 2011

Ereader Basics: What Writers Need to Know

Kindle, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl Technology
R.I.P: My Kindle
February 2011 - February 2011
by Carrie Bailey 

It's not my fault and it's not your fault that ebooks and digital technologies have unnecessarily complicated our lives as writers. We're master story tellers who feel at home with the written word, but many of us cringe and cower when we faced the inevitable dilemma: 

Do we publish our work online? If so, HOW?

As more authors pursue self-publication and the stigma of not-being-traditionally-published is replaced with who-cares-its-being-bought-and-read, we must become friends with ebook technology, ebooks formats, and ebook readers. Not causal acquaintances who vaguely remember each others' names and hum anxiously to themselves while hoping their meeting passes quickly… we must embrace the ebook. Give it a little peck on the screen...  


An ebook reader or ereader is essentially a device that allows you to view and read an ebook publication. Basically anything that has a screen and supports the necessary software can be considered an ereader, but we tend to identify the tablet computer as the standard form.  

Kindle- Ah, yes, the kindle. Available from Amazon.com, the Kindle may be the most recognisable handheld ebook reader. I purchased the wifi version in February and enjoyed an excellent Agatha Christie novel for about a week before a customs agent at an international airport smashed the screen by carelessly tossing my backpack. Grrrr...

Nook- Available from Barnes and Noble, the nook and the nookcolor with apps is everything an ebook reader should be. Both have wifi and they look nice enough, but I still miss my Kindle. 

Ipad- The Ipad is one tablet computer that has stimulated much debate. The first question I asked myself was, "Yes, it's small shiny, has games, and makes noise, but do I need it?" It's more than a simple ereader and while I eventually told myself, "No…" it fits other (better) people's lifestyles well.  

Your Computer- I'm currently reading Sides by Denis Vaughan on my laptop (rather than my Kindle). Ebooks can be read on your computer in many of the available formats like PDFs. One of the misconceptions writers commonly hold is that only people who own Ipads and Kindles read ebooks. Not so!

Smart phones- A number of phones, including the iphone and the blackberry can be used to read ebooks.

Additional Reading: Here's a rather anti-Apple biased article about screen types if you've ever wondered why the screens that you see on the Kindle, for example, mimic the colour and lighting intensity of your average paperback. 


A format is a type of file. Not all ebook readers support all formats. Most writers who publish online make their work available in a variety of formats to accommodate as many devices as possible.  

Mobipocket/Kindle- Including file extensions .mobi, .prc, and .acz. These ebooks are created for use with the Kindle.  

ePub- The file extension .epub was intended as an industry wide standard and can be used on all of the devices mentioned above.  

PDF- The .pdf file extension is incredibly common. It's likely the first file most people encountered that looked like a word file, but the words couldn't be edited. Its greatest advantage as an ebook format is that anyone can "print" a word document as a .pdf to be made available online. However, a disadvantage is that the text may not be visible when viewed on the smaller screens of some ereader devices. In fact, users may zoom in on the text, but then have to scroll back and forth to read it.   

Additional Reading: eBook Architects gives a more in depth explanation of the formats.  


Smashwords- Writers love this site. You upload your book file and it immediately makes it available in every other format ebook users could want.  

Calibre- A free software that allows users to organise their ebooks. It's available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. With Calibre, ebooks can be synced across a variety of formats and viewed or read on the computer. Ebooks are cataloged by the user for sorting and retrieval. It's the best software to help any ebook reader keep track of their collection and can even convert the RSS feed from websites into an ebook.  

Sigili- Also available for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows, Sigil is free software that allows users to edit .epub files. It's particularly useful for writers who wish to convert their word and pdf files into pub files and then edit them before uploading to Lulu.com or Amazon.com for sale.


Digital Rights Management (DRM)- Certain digital rights protections are built into the devices and software we use to access ebooks. These efforts to protect copyright infringment are called digital rights management. 

Public Domain- Any work no longer covered by intellectual property rights. Yep, they expire. After writers die, their work has the potential to live on being sold and sold again by anyone and everyone… at least, that's what we all hope will happen. This term has gained special significance with the ebook. Classics in the public domain are CHEAP and we love them. I paid only $5.99 for 100 Mystery Classics for my Kindle during the week before the screen broke. 

Carrie Bailey is a freelance writer, mother, and remotely skilled finger painter who is currently studying a Master's of Information at Victoria of Wellington in Wellington New Zealand. This article was written for her Digital Technologies course. For more information about ereaders and ereader technology, view these bookmarks at Delicious.com. 


  1. Thank you so much for the helpful info. Sometimes there are just too many info sites, I am glad I opened yours. However, my question was, do they only work when connected to a form of Internet? I did not see an answer to that, can you help? Thank you.

  2. EBooks are divine. My Kindle Fire combines books with everything I wanted in a smartphone. Its real virtue, though, is condensing many books into the size and weight of one book. If I had to choose, I'd give up the smartphone features and keep the books.