Despite being around now for over twenty years, no-one has yet come up with a stable definition for the word eBook. However, one can discern some typical features:
The item is distributed as a single file (so CD encyclopaedias are not considered to be eBooks) and can be opened as a data file in an application, rather than being launched as an executable (.exe) file
The item is both complete & completed i.e. neither a chapter / episode / serial nor an unfinished work in progress
The item is familiar to readers, as obeying most or all of the standard conventions of a book (e.g. contains a table of contents, preface, index, etc. and is between 25,000 and 400,000 words in length)
The advantages of an eBook
Aside from the financial advantages for the author (which I will cover below) there are a number of intrinsic benefits to eBooks when compared to the traditional printed book:
Readers can search the text to quickly find key information, particularly when reading for a second time
Readers can adjust the font face and size to make the book easier to read (ever more vital for an ageing population!)
Blind or partially-sighted readers can make further use of text-to-speech conversion software (screen readers)
eBooks can be read in low light or total darkness by using the back-lighting features of PC or mobile devices
Distribution costs are extremely low and eBook authors and publishers can respond quickly to any erratum or addendum, with more frequent, incremental editions
eBooks are environmentally friendly. Many hundreds can be stored on a single device and paper use (through printing) is minimised or avoided altogether
eBooks without DRM protection can be instantly copied and backed up easily
The Advantages for the Author
When writing a traditional printed book, the odds are stacked against the author making a decent living from their work! eBooks, by contrast, deliver a real return on investment for the author:
You cannot get rejected! A traditional book may get rejected 50 or 60 times by different publishers and agents before finally being accepted or indeed may never find a home! Many authors paper their walls with rejection letters. You wont have to!
You dont have to wait! For the traditional book, it can take up to two years for the publisher to get your book to market (managing as she does a huge and inefficient supply chain of printers, shippers, wholesalers, distributors, marketers and booksellers). An eBook may take no more than 10 weeks!
You can make a lot more money! To illustrate this, imagine a traditionally published book with a list price of £20. The Distributor and buying public share a 50% trade discount between them (£10 in this case) and the Publisher takes £9; leaving the author with a 10% royalty on the discounted net price (£1). For a trade paperback, this might be less (perhaps 70 pence). For an equivalent £20 eBook, you could earn 14 times as much on each copy (£14)! More on this later in the guide.
You get your money sooner and with less surprises! On a traditional book, an author would generally get their cut up to 120 days after the actual sale, with 20% of their cash witheld as insurance against unsold books. With eBooks it varies from immediate receipt to 90 days, with no portion witheld.
The practical advantages; eBooks can be changed or updated easily, without the need for new print runs and thrown-away old editions. They need never go out of print and can cross genres or use unusual formulas without aggravating an interfering editor! Finally, you retain complete rights to the title and agreements will be non-exclusive (so you can sell through other publishers).
I hope I have convinced you that the eBook option is very much worth investigation, particularly for the new author. You can avoid publisher rejection letters, get to market 12 times faster and make 14 times the income per book than you would in the traditional publishing model.
In chapter 2 of my free eBook Publishing Guide ("features of the eBook Market"), I explore the Book market itself and the different emerging publishing models therein.