I was looking for a free tool I could use to publish ebooks to the Android platform when I came across Kotobee Author. I downloaded a free copy and discovered how easy it was to use and how versatile. In this interview Ayman CEO of Vijua talks about the Kotobee Author, its many features and how it can help aspiring writers, publishers and educational institutions.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Kotobee is a comprehensive solution for creating interactive ebooks and libraries in different formats, supporting all platforms.
Who is your ideal customer?
Well, Kotobee really fits anyone wanting to create an ebook, putting aside all the tiny details. But ideally, our customers would be educational institutes (training, universities, schools) and ebook distributors.
What are the pros and cons of producing an app version of an ebook as opposed to a standard ebook for the iBook Store?
We get asked that quite a lot actually. For an app to work as an ebook, an embedded-reader is required. That is, an engine responsible for running the ebook file, providing common functions like search, note-taking, bookmarking, etc. That’s one of the things offered by Kotobee. Having an embedded-reader gives you the advantage of doing whatever you like with the interface. You can control the design, layout, functionality, etc. An app can have your own logo and name, hence stronger branding – something that is not possible with standard ebooks. The embedded-reader however increases the size required for download.
A standard ebook for Apple’s iBook Store will give users the luxury of accessing all their ebooks from a single app, i.e. Apple iBooks. Publishing to the iBook Store is free, in contrast to the App Store, which charges $99 annual. Ideally it would be best to publish to both formats.
What ebook formats can be created using your solution?
The ebook formats supported by Kotobee Author, our creator software, are EPUB, Kindle (MOBI), HTML5 web apps, Mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, desktop apps for Windows and Mac, and SCORM components for an LMS. All these formats are actually free to create on Kotobee, with the exception of mobile apps.
One of the services you provide is a branded e-library. What are the benefits of this service and what kind of customer is that aimed at?
The Kotobee library solution is targeted at institutes who want to have their own platform for serving ebooks or courses to their users, instead of publishing ebooks individually. So the institute will have their own branded library app to offer to their students. The institute can then dynamically publish books to the library from a friendly administrator panel, plus they control users’ access to the library. User permissions can be assigned to specific books or book categories. Their library app would be made available for web, desktop, and mobile.
Our library solution is a significant investment and provides a full end-to-end solution for institutes.
With the library app you can:
Publish books dynamically (individually or in bulk) and edit them on the fly.
Collect statistics on book view and downloads.
Create book categories and genres.
Add users to the library, with different access permissions.
Limit the number of devices to be used per user, for security reasons.
Customize the look and feel, and enable only the components you need.
Assign different administrators and authors to your library.
Export the library to multiple formats.
e-Books have been slow to make an impact on the educational market. Why do you think this is?
That’s a good question. We are actually seeing ebooks catching up really quickly in the corporate training sector, but not so much for large educational entities, that are long established and deeply rooted. Changes with such entities are slow. That explains why we are finding the majority of requests coming from small or new institutes, rather than established ones. Large entities are interested in having solutions that integrate with what’s already in place, rather than replacing it. Our SCORM ebook format is kind of popular actually even with older universities, because that simply plugs into their systems without any risk of change.
What do you view as Kotobee’s greatest achievement so far?
We’re proud to be offering the most comprehensive white-labeled ebook solution available today in the market.
What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?
A marketing mistake we had made in the past, is not providing a free value for users in Kotobee Publisher, Kotobee Author’s predecessor. Although we provided a free trial, this was not sufficient. To capture users and make effective exposure for your software, you really need to provide a free value to the users. This made exposure for Kotobee very slow. In Kotobee Author, we’re providing a good free package, for commercial or non-commercial use, without asking for anything in return. This has increased our customer loyalty and exposure through word of mouth.
How do you intend to change and develop Kotobee for the future?
Currently we are extending our ebooks’ SCORM components, to introduce new integration capabilities with LMS for universities and schools. We will also be creating support for built-in payments inside libraries, for example users can assign prices for ebooks and receive payments immediately into their accounts.
I know you are based in Egypt. Can you describe the startup scene in Egypt?
Egypt is a promising region for local entrepreneurs starting their ventures. The resources exist to initiate projects with zero-investment. These resources include various investment programs, co-working spaces, affordable offices, and a number of annual startup events to help network with key people. At the time of writing, a government-based fund exists to assist tech-based startups in different ways, leveraging up to 70% of their costs.
Ayman Abdel-Rahman is a digital publishing enthusiast with 10 years of experience in the ebook industry. He graduated from the University of Waterloo, Canada, with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering in 2006. Ayman spent his childhood in Kuwait, a few years in Canada, and currently settled in his home country, Egypt. He established Vijua in 2011, after the Egyptian revolution. Coming from a technical background, he is a certified project management professional (PMP) and is currently the managing director of Vijua, with particular focus on the Kotobee platform. Before establishing Vijua, Ayman was managing the Media & UX department at The Book Depository in Cairo. Ayman likes to write about ebook technologies in the Kotobee Blog and answers related questions on Quora.
I’ve been a long time fan of Apple’s iBooks Author. It’s great for producing interactive books and lesson materials for the iBook Store or to export as PDF for other platforms, but more recently I’ve become frustrated with the inability to publish interactive books for other platforms particularly Android and Windows.
I tried a number of tools but just wasn’t satisfied until I found Kotobee Author. Like iBooks Author it is free to download, but it will run on most platforms so you don’t have to be a Mac owner to use it, but what’s really great about Kotobee is its ability to export to so many different formats and platforms.
How do you use Kotobee Author?
When you first download Kotobee it looks pretty much like any other WYSIWYG editor, but it has so many more great features.
You start by setting up your book structure and adding a cover image in the left side. This is simple to do, just write in the names of the chapter titles and click image editor to add a cover.
You can then add subsections to each chapter and start typing or copy paste in your text. You format the text as you would with any other text editor and it’s easy to change fonts, styles and add tables.
The real fun starts though with the right hand column of the editor. This is where you can start to add media such as images, audio, video and 3D objects and different types of interaction.
There are three different standard types of interactive questions that can be used within the Kotobee books. These are multiple choice, true false and multiple select. The questions are very configurable so you can add in feedback depending on students responses and also add in images to the questions types.
If you want to take a more professional approach to building in interactivity Kotobee supports a number of widgets as well as html5 content.
Once you have completed the content of your book the next step is to customise how your readers will be able to interact with the book. Again there are lots of option here to really enhance the way the reader experiences the book, such as text-to-speech, adding annotations copying parts to their clipboard and sharing through social media.
For me the real surprise comes when you have finished your book and you want to export it. You can export your book into most of the standard word processing formats such as Word, PDF, Epub and .mobi, but can also export it as a desktop application, enable it to run on an LMS such as Moodle and make it a tracked part of of a course, or make it into a web based application that you can upload to a server.
Creating a mobile app
Kotobee books can also be exported as iOS, Android or Windows native apps and sold within their relative market places. For this you would need to have your own account on those platforms and there is a charge from Kotobee, but they will also help you get your app through the approval process and that can save you a considerable amount of time.
Creating a digital library
One of the final options Kotobee offers is the ability to create your own library for your students and add books to that library. This is a great option for schools that want to go completely digital with their course materials and books and the library can be branded for each individual school.
What I like about Kotobee
I think it’s a great free tool that’s quite quick and easy to learn.
It’s great to be able to export to so many different formats, especially if you work in a BYOD environment.
Adding media and interaction is very simple so teachers could use Kotobee to create digital worksheets for classroom use or as interactive homework assignments.
Kotobee offers a lot of great ways to manage your content once it’s been produced.
Basically I think this is a great tool for both the individual teacher to create interactive materials or for a school that wants to get away from paper course materials and move into the digital age.
This is the slide deck from Nik’s Keynote presentation at the 8th Virtual Round Table Web Conference 6-8 May 2016 (Fri-Sun). It covers his journey through self publishing and has tips advice and links for anyone who wants to publish their own ebook.
Click on the images in the presentation to link through to the resources mentioned.
In this interview with e-Author Phil Wade, we look at his journey into ELT materials writing and how he sees the future of e-publishing in ELT.
Phil has been in ELT for over 15 years and currently teaches at universities and in companies. He is interested in creating tailored courses for specific needs. He has the CELTA, DELTA, MA TESOL, a PGCE, certificates in Coaching and mentoring and is doing a Phd in Education.
You seem to produce a lot of work for free. Why have you decided not to charge for your books?
I get asked this a lot, mainly by course book writers. Well, I used a lot of free online materials and blogs for a long long time as a language school teacher and always wanted to give something back. I got into writing but never got to write what I wanted. My idea was to produce short titles about things I was interested in and to work with the people I wanted to. Thus, my ebooks were born and as they are quite quick to make, my contributors, Noreen Lam and Kati Alice Bilsborough kindly donate time for free and numerous other reasons, I give them away for free.
I’ve heard that you don’t want to produce paper versions of your books. Why is this?
Maybe I’m wrong but I thought ebooks were a response to too much photocopying, paper books and the growing rise of mobile tech. I don’t really see the point in making ebooks to print and copy. For me, I make them with the idea that people will use them on phones as most people use their phones for a lot longer nowadays. As a teacher, I put everything on my iPad and my students put all their docs and my materials on theirs or their phones. It saves time, is more convenient and free. My students and my department have $0 photocopy budgets.
Do you prefer blogging or books as a medium? Why?
I used to blog a fair bit but my blog kind of ran its course and I got limited by it, articles too. My writing evolved and ebooks seemed to fit what I wanted or rather HOW.
Some people are critical of those who give their work away for free and they say that it undermines our profession and makes people feel they should get everything for free. How would you respond to this?
Yes, I’ve been told this. I’d say to question who is saying it and why. Facebook seems to have quite a few people representing companies who are quick to either defend them or attack you if what you are doing seems to tread on their toes. I really don’t have to defend myself and neither do you or anyone else who is sharing a free worksheet or a lesson plan. You can make and share what you want. And also, as far as I see it, there really are not many self-pub ebook writers out there. Few publishers seem interested but the British Council does do some great free ebooks and nobody questions them.
My other response might be that if new and unpublished people can write ebooks that seem to detract or compete with professional ones, maybe the latter should be better. Healthy competition is always good though and it sometimes disappoints me that there is this kind of attitude.
What platforms and tools do you use to publish your ebooks? Why did you choose these platforms?
Just Word 2007. Nothing else. I just open Word, write then publish. Oh, I add a cover page too. Personally, I find Word very boring. It really does not inspire you to be creative. My current trick is to write on my phone or even on paper and then transfer it.
How do you market your books and make sure people find them?
I’m very boring. I don’t think about selling as I give books for free so I just post on FB and in a few groups. I soon get tired though. I’m not a fan of the hard sell to my PLN. I do a few posts and then sometimes I make fun images but soon get bored.
You recently won an award from the IATEFL Business English SIG. How important are awards and prizes for you?
Well, at the start, I won a OneStop one and a Language Point prize and then later the BESIG one. It was great to get some recognition and I tip my hat to BESIG for supporting a 100% freelance writer. In contrast, I entered the ELTons the year before but didn’t even get past the first stage. For me, it’s not about prizes or fame as they haven’t really changed anything for me. This is just a hobby. I generally finish a book and then move on. I never read them again. I hope some people read the ebooks and find them useful. A repost, a share or a review are very nice outcomes, in my opinion.
You started an ELT eBooks movement. Can you tell us what’s that about and what it aims to achieve?
I’m not sure it’s a movement and if it is maybe The Round started it but maybe I just fuelled it a bit by showing that anyone can write an ebook for $0 money. As I see it, it is part of my teacher development. I design courses, teach them and then write ebooks. It is very good for reflection.
I did make an FB group but we were never very many. Every so often I get requests to ‘share my secrets’ and tell people how to make lots of money from e-booking. For some reason, there is this myth that it is profitable. Someone actually said that I’d be retiring soon on my profits. I won’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even made enough to get a first cheque from the one book I sell. When you tell people this, they soon back off.
What’s the long term business aim for you? Do you want to get ‘discovered’ by one of the established publishers, or are you happy to continue producing books for free?
Not at all. I worked for several publishers and then was offered some course books but they just aren’t my thing. I then asked about writing short ebooks but none were interested. After that, I asked schools and online organisations but again, no interest. I’m very stubborn so when people say ‘no’, I like to prove them wrong. As I see it, and some others, our ebooks fill a niche or niches. I very much doubt that publishers could make enough money from an ebook to even cover costs.
I started with a list of ebooks to write and I’ve more or less done them all and then some so I might do another and stop. My next goals are to write more academic articles, set up an innovative journal and to create some kind of hybrid medium.
How do you see the future of ELT publishing and the role of ebooks within it?
I haven’t bought an ELT book in years and I haven’t used one in a long time. The last ones I saw looked a bit samey. I stay creative by making lessons and courses and also never work anywhere that has materials. This could be infuriating for some but I love the freedom. Because all my courses are very specialised, there just are no books I could use, the students wouldn’t buy them too and even just getting enough copies would be hard. I work in France and from what I know, we cannot legally make students buy books and for 10 or 20 hour adult contracts, they aren’t worth it.
I really haven’t seen much real innovation in publishing. You hear about it and the term ‘groundbreaking’ but I think it depends on the writer. For instance, I recall that a dictionary won a big prize a few years ago. I wouldn’t say that is innovative but some would. It depends on your perspective. This though highlights something else in that we are stuck in the ‘x sells so make more of x’ mentality. Same for films. People won’t get something new which they might like or even want. This is why Google is good in that they have innovative labs and groups where they just design crazy things that are not meant to sell but will lead to something else that might lead to a viable product IF it’s sold at the right time.
Do you have any tips for ‘would be’ ELT authors?
Open Word or Pages, start writing, add a cover page, click on ‘save as PDF’ then share it. I initially started with the idea of ‘fast publishing’ in mind and a form of marketing, which I’ve forgotten the name of, where you make something, release it, get feedback and then improve and improve it. This is how my first books evolved. For me, I really find the process of publishing interesting and creating models for books and then experimenting with promotions. I also love working with a cover designer and have dabbled in it myself. I must here say that Kati, the very kind designer of some of my ebook covers, is very kind in that she listens to my ideas and then has a real talent in making what I think I want.
I am not, as many will notice and hate me for, a fan of editing. I like to have a style and I want people to be able to read it. I don’t want it to be steamrollered and to produce a bland ‘course book …. quality’ product. I have worked for a couple of tough editors who either just wanted a ‘mini me’ to write like them or gave me so many templates and stock phrases that I just ended up copying and pasted instructions and text.
Ebooks, as I see it, are in between blogs and FB so very very different to books. If I had to write like in course books, I would quit. Teacher manuals and teacher development books are different but generally more formal and much longer so very different. I may sound like a spoiled kid but I love writing, creating and publishing. I like to be involved in all of it. I also track ‘data’ i.e. downloads and distribution channels and also spend time looking for key words for titles, the structure of covers, fonts and other things. I have a degree in Marketing and occasionally teach advertising so this interests me. I also specialised in literature on my first postgrad and have that a bit too, so this hobby kind of combines both I guess.
You can download two of Phil’s eboks from our Free Stuff section and check out more of his books on Smashwords.
In many ways writing and creating your own book is the easy part of self-publishing. The really difficult part comes when you start trying to sell it.
This is especially difficult for many writers. We are writers not marketing specialists so we don’t have the kinds of marketing budget, reputation and brand recognition that an established publishing house carries.
This often leaves writers feeling powerless to make any significant impact on the book buying market and frustrated that nobody is reading the book they have spent months or even years pouring their lives into. There are, however, some ways that you can boost the profile of our work and perhaps even increase sales. They don’t involve spending a lot of money, but you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and put in some time to promoting your book.
Your own network
If you want to develop a reputation as a writer then you should start building your network of contacts and your social media presence even before you start writing. One of the best ways to do this is still to have a blog. Build your presence and reputation there by offering free content, then when your book is published you already have a group of people who follow and believe in your writing who may be prepared to actually put their hand in their pocket and pay for your product.
Create a video ad
Many social media platforms favour video over other mediums, so sharing a video advertisement rather than a text or image one is more likely to get you onto people’s newsfeed. I created a video to advertise my ebook using simple screen-casting software and a sound track that I created using loops from the free version of Apple’s GarageBand.
I hosted it on Vimeo, which enabled me to add a closing link at the end of the video which takes viewers to the iTunes page where the book is hosted. Once you’ve created your ad you’ll need to share it and embed it in as many places as possible, so this is where having a blog presence or a network can really help.
If you have a Facebook page or group, and by this I mean a community type page rather than a personal page, you can ‘boost’ your posts. This can be pretty cheap to do and you can set the budget as low as $1 a day while running daily or weekly ads. If you’ve created a video ad for your book then it’s likely to get more views. This is a quick, cheap way to push your ad to literally thousands of potential readers in your network and your readers’. It’s worth mentioning here that just because people have liked or friended you on your Facebook page that doesn’t mean that they see everything you post there.
Facebook only sends your updates to a selection of the people who interact with you most and it will then send the post to more people if those people respond in some way. Boosting your post is a way of paying to get around this problem. It can also enable you to reach not only the people who like or follow you but also their friends.
There are lots of websites, blogs and online journals that will review books, so it’s worth contacting these and sending a copy of the book to them to see if you can get it reviewed. Phil Wade collected a list of places where you might get a review and posted it on his blog here.
Getting customers to review or rate your book on the site where you are selling it will help to boost confidence in the product and improve the chances that a casual browser will take the plunge and decide to buy. Reviews are also often used as an algorithm for placing your book on the sellers platform. Getting more reviews can increase your book’s visibility significantly. Actually getting people to review your book on the site can be a challenge and it might involve giving away a few free copies to get the ball rolling.
Give it away to influential people/multipliers
One of the primary aims of any marketing campaign is to get the right people talking about your book. The easiest way to do this is to give them a free copy. If you have published on iBook Store you should get 250 free codes that you can give away to promote your book. Use these wisely and give them to people who are likely to be able to spread the message about what a great book you have written.
Give it away free for a short time
The more people who have your book, the greater your chances of gaining from word of mouth and getting them recommending the book to others, so it’s worth having short give-aways. This is one of the great things about ebooks. It doesn’t cost you anything to give it away, and the love you build from this might well help you to sell more copies.
A great way to get your book on people’s radar is to enter competitions. You don’t have to win, just getting shortlisted might be enough to help give the book a push into more significant sales. There are a number of competitions open to ELT writers including The British Council’s Innovations Award, The Society of Authors Award for ELT Writing, The Ben Warren Prize, and The HRH the Duke of Edinburgh English Language Book Award. You may not feel that you have a chance against products that have been created by teams working for professional publishers but it’s always worth a try.
Create a site or landing page
Creating a website to promote your book can be really helpful, even if it’s just a single page website it can help you to develop more wrap around content to help promote and inform people about the book. There are a number of free sites that can help you to do this. It’s also easier to get these kinds of site and pages indexed by search engines than getting people to a page on iTunes or SmashWords. You can also link the page to the various versions of your book for different platforms. Here are some free tools you can use to do this: Check This, and Tackk.
Write about it
Having written a book, you are sure to have learned something about the process along the way. If you have a blog or any access to publishing online, then write about your book. Write about creating it and share any insights you have gained in the process. Write about it for other sites as I’m doing here.
Strength in numbers
Working alone on promoting your book can be exhausting and soul destroying, but it takes no more effort to promote ten books than one so if you band together with other writers you can multiply your efforts and promote each other. A great example of this is The Round, a collective group of authors who work together to promote their work.
Talk about it at conferences / webinars
Talking at conference events or webinars are both great ways to promote your book. That doesn’t mean that your presentation should be one long advertisement for your book. You could just choose a related topic and just give it a mention at the end. A well-received talk that’s given good value is likely to lead to people buying your book.
Add a QR code to your business card
If you have a business card then why not create a QR code link for your book and add it to the card. This makes it easy for people you know to find your book and gives everyone you meet an advertisement and example of your work. You can create a QR code using the URL of your book here.
Publish across multiple platforms
Make sure your book is available on as many platforms and for as many devices as possible. This is just simple maths. The more platforms your work is on, the bigger the market you have to sell your book to. Smashwords seems very popular with many authors for cross platform publishing.
Get it on your profiles
If you have a profile on any social media or networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, About.me, etc. make sure you add a mention and link to your book.
Just something as simple as adding a link to your book in your email signature can help to inform more people about the book and push sales a little, after all most people that you send emails to probably already have some knowledge of you and so may be more likely to buy.
Create a quiz
Quizzes are very popular on social media platforms so why not create one based around the theme or content of your book. The quiz could be based around what readers will learn from your book and end with a recommendation to buy your book to improve their knowledge of the area.
Riddle.com is a great platform for doing this and allows you to create a number of quiz types.
Lastly, I think you have to accept that for the vast majority of us there is no tipping point in marketing our books. It doesn’t suddenly become easier and gather its own momentum. Marketing your book is like constantly pushing a heavy rock up a steep hill. When you stop pushing your book stops selling.
This list of tips is by no means exhaustive, but I hope these suggestions do help you to get your book out there and perhaps to even make a little money.
The increase in popularity of mobile reading devices and the ease of access to publishing tools and platforms has made self-publishing not only cheap and easy to do, but has enabled self-publishers to achieve standards that are comparable to those of an established publishing house.
So if you are thinking of publishing your own book and wondering whether you should bypass the publisher, here are a few things you might want to consider first.
To self publish?
The book you want
Working with a publisher usually means producing the book they want based on their market research and their belief in their ability to make money from that book> This may mean that the book you want to produce isn’t really the one you wanted to produce. If you do it yourself you can create the book you want, so if you really feel you know better and you don’t want to compromise then this could be for you.
Related to the point above, most publishers are looking for an ‘evergreen’ book that has a reasonably long shelf life and that will stay relevant and up-to-date for as long as possible without the need for rewrites and updates. If your book doesn’t fall into this category then perhaps you should think more about doing it yourself.
Royalties on the average teacher development book are about 10 – 15% compared to 70% on some virtual platforms like iBook Store, Scribd, TES Resources, etc so regardless of whether your book is a big hit or a small triumph you may make more by self-publishing.
There’s something really satisfying about being able to do everything yourself.
Lack of options
Sometimes if what you are doing is controversial in any way a publisher just won’t touch your idea so doing it yourself may be the only option.
If you self-publish, your work will always stay under your own control. You can decide when to increase or lower the price, when to take it off the market and when you feel it’s ready for an update.
Or not to self publish?
Marketing your book
Writing a great book is one thing but being able to sell it is another. Publishers are marketing machines with years of experience and expertise as well as a distribution network and dedicated expert staff. They may well be able to shift far more copies of your book than you ever will.
Finishing a book to a high standard on your own without an imposed deadline takes a LOT of self-discipline. Many people don’t have that and never finish the books they start (I have a pile of unfinished manuscripts) so if you are driven by deadlines then it may be better to find a publisher.
You may think your idea for a book is great, but a publisher may actually know better and it could be that however much you like your book, nobody else will. Of course publishers can be wrong.
Producing your own book requires a lot of various skills. It’s not just about the writing, you may also need images, the ability to format the text well, layout the design and produce any additional media. Of course you can subcontract these out, but that starts to cost a lot of money, so you have to either have deep pockets or a lot of confidence that you’ll be able to make the money back from sales.
Having a good editor to bounce ideas off of and to tell you when you are going wrong or right can be incredibly helpful and can help to keep you motivated. They can look at your work from a reader’s perspective and also spot inconsistencies and repetition in your work that might be hard to see yourself.
Not all the work that needs doing for your book is creative. Publishers have people dedicated to making sure you don’t end up in legal hot water either through payment of taxes, copyright permissions on images or text or a wide range of other potential pitfalls. Do you really want to take care of all of those things yourself.
The bottom line
To summaries, if you want to self publish successfully you have to be far more than a good writer, you have to start thinking of yourself as a startup publisher and learn a whole new bunch of skills. If that idea excites you and you are willing to put in the work, then it can be enormously rewarding on a personal level (though perhaps not financially), but if all you want to do is the writing, then it’s probably best so stick with a good publisher. Whichever you choose, good luck with your project.