My Review of Booktype Pro

The more I learn about self-publishing the more I’m realizing how late to the game I am. There is already a thriving industry built by companies all too eager to take your money, promising a fast-track to self-publishing super-stardom in return.

Booktype is a little different than most. For starters, it’s free. It’s also a good idea. In the company’s own words:

Booktype is a free, open source platform that produces beautiful, engaging books formatted for print, Amazon, iBooks and almost any ereader within minutes. Create books on your own or with others via an easy-to-use web interface. Build a community around your content with social tools and use the reach of mobile, tablet and ebook technology to engage new audiences.

TL;DR Think of it as WordPress for books.

In addition to the server-side software there is also a hosted version of Booktype called Booktype Pro. It has a free version (one book) and a paid one (more than one book). The Booktype folks were nice enough to offer me a preview of the service.

Unfortunately I had some significant issues with Booktype…

1. Importation

The first thing I set out to do with the service was import my book.

As you already know, I’ve been writing the first draft in public on this blog, posting chapters as I go. I’ve also been saving my work as a LibreOffice text document. I figured that getting my book onto Booktype would be a trivial matter; turns out I was wrong.

From Booktype’s own support pages, the following file formats can be imported:

  • EPUB
  • Booktype Book

Hmm… one of Booktype’s selling points is that it can create EPUBs — if I already had an EPUB why would I need the service in the first place? Also, why would any author want to import someone else’s Public Domain book? And if I’m a new Booktype user, how could I possibly already have something in Booktype format to import?

Sure, I can copy and paste chapters manually. But I don’t really see why I should have to.

2. Presentation

What’s that old saying… You never get a second chance to make a first impression? Here’s the first impression you get from my Booktype site:

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t exactly scream “user-friendly” to me.

My book’s info page looks slightly better, but I think Booktype needs to make things much more clear to someone visiting for the first time. Granted, there’s an invitation front and centre on the splash page for a visitor to sign up — just like Facebook, Twitter, etc. But very much unlike those other sites there is zero explanation of what Booktype actually is.

3. Collaboration

Honestly, I didn’t even get this far. I’m sure Booktype is a competent collaborative tool for a pre-existing team of writers and editors working on a specific project. But after watching the introductory video I was expecting something entirely different — a social network for wannabe authors. I think Sourcefabric has missed a big opportunity with Booktype, and I’m sorry to say that my trial of the service ends here.

Had I started writing with Booktype from the get-go things might have been different, but since I would still need a more traditional website to promote my book I see no reason to switch from the WordPress-based workflow I’ve used thus far. For output to EPUB and other formats there’s already an excellent client-side software solution called Calibre. And powerful as Booktype may be, it’s not at all user friendly in the way that other social networks are. Oftentimes it’s hard enough getting readers to comment on blogs — why would anyone create an account on my Booktype site if there’s no clear explanation of what’s going on?

The hosted version of Booktype has yet to see an official launch; though I don’t expect it to be rewritten from scratch based on my complaints here, I might humbly suggest that there’s an untapped market for a more user-friendly version of the product — “Booktype Social”, maybe?

If you wanted to try Booktype Pro for yourself you can sign up for this newsletter and keep track of its progress. Even if its current iteration doesn’t meet my needs it might well fit yours…