PressBooks attempts to simplify ebook publishing

by Carl Natale on January 17, 2012

PressBooks wants to do for book publishing what WordPress does for website updating: Simplify it so anyone can do it. And it aims to do that by creating a book-publishing tool out of WordPress.

The idea is that WordPress is a content management system that is easy for millions of bloggers to use. So Hugh McGuire  and his team tweaked a multi-user WordPress blog that creates books not blogs. The framework is hardwired to organize the blog by chapters. Tools are available to help writers format the book pages and cover.

The beauty in this system is that once writers are ready to publish, PressBooks will export the book in HTML, Kindle, print-on-demand-ready PDF, or ePub – the standard for electronic book publishing. There also is an XML output that can be imported into In Design. But PressBooks notes that is an experimental feature, and other XML formats are in the works.

PressBooks is an elegant solution for writers who don’t have the desktop publishing skills needed to format manuscripts for self-publishing platforms such as Amazon. It uses formatting tools and language that many bloggers already find easy to use. The cloud-based nature of WordPress facillitates collaboration among writers and editors.

The service is free for writers and publishers. PressBooks hopes to make its money from customizing ePub designs and page templates.

There isn’t a lot of documentation. To be fair, anyone with WordPress experience should be able to work with it. And there is a forum to ask questions.

I’m not a stickler for fine print but would like to see a Terms of Service statement to make sure issues of copyright and other intellectual property issues are clear.

Test run

I tried it out by creating an eportfolio comprised of a cover letter, resume and “reprinted” blogging samples. To be honest, I just wanted a PDF version to distribute as a promotional tool.

The results were ugly. Images were repeated and out of alignment. Formatting was nothing like I wanted. The whole PDF was unusable. But here’s the good part. I got an email from McGuire asking for feedback – which I gave. He was interested and promised improvements were coming.

Remember, this is a free service. And I have to appreciate the genuine effort to solicit feedback.

Worth a try

This is a promising work in progress. There are obvious areas this tool (or any other system) can’t address such as style, grammar, editing and marketing. But as a WordPress aficianado, I love this idea and execution. If finding the time and inspiration to write isn’t a problem, PressBooks can help you become a self-published author.


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