Although I draw from expertise throughout our company, you’ve mainly heard directly from me on this blog so far. Today, though, you have the good fortune of hearing the thoughts of Steed Brown. He’s a smart guy with a lot of interesting thoughts, and he has kind of a weird question to ask you. He wonders…do you dogfood? Let’s talk about dogfooding for authors.

There’s a philosophy going around in the business world these days called “dogfooding.” If you haven’t heard of it, here’s a quick down and dirty. If the CEO of Purina has dogs, he’d better be feeding them Purina and not Alpo. Thus, dogfooding. It’s really a pretty simple concept.

So why do I bring this up? I’m glad you asked!

Dogfooding Helps Support Your Industry

Be honest with yourself here. Do you read on an eReader or are you still picking up that paperback from your favorite used bookstore? If you’re not reading on an eReader, you’re not really supporting that segment of the publishing industry that makes you money. As a self-published author, I’d venture to guess that your real money comes in from eBook sales and not from the pittance you receive from the occasional sale of your paperbacks.

You know as well as I do that royalties on the sale of paperbacks are almost always significantly lower than they are for eBooks. The costs of printing are just too high to make your book very profitable. So if you’re buying books from other authors in hardcopy, you’re cutting the legs out from under them and doing a disservice to the eBook industry while you do so.

Dogfooding Helps Control Your Quality

Another great reason for indie authors to dogfood is to control quality. While there are certain programs out there like Adobe Digital Editions and Kindle Previewer that allow you to check out what your EPUB looks like, the reality is that those programs only show you part of the picture.

When it comes to eReaders, each has its own rendering system and therefore the same EPUB can look astonishingly different from device to device. If you’re serious about your writing and the final output, it stands to reason that you know what the final output looks like on an iOS device (iPad/iPhone), an Android device, a Nook, a Kindle, or a Kobo Reader.

Factors such as zoom, screen size, font size, eInk vs full color, and other factors all come into play. If you’re not checking your books on different platforms, how do you REALLY know your readers are seeing?

You don’t need to worry about a book formatted through Draft2Digital looking ugly on any of those devices. We plan and program with each one in mind to create EPUBs that remain beautiful no matter what device is used to read it. However, what we consider beautiful may not be what you consider beautiful. And even if we agree overall on aesthetics, idiosyncrasies of any given device could render your work in ways you don’t appreciate.

Now I’m obviously not suggesting that you go out and purchase one of every reading device and ebook app on the market. But I will suggest that you at least have a representative sample for your own use. At a minimum, I would say that you should have a way to view books in iBooks (either with an iPad or on a Mac, etc), a way to view Nook’s rendering engine (Nook for PC works great), and some version of the Kindle and Kobo readers. That may sound like a lot of money to shell out, and you may not want to do it all at once, but it’s definitely something to think about.

Dogfooding Helps You Know What Works

In addition to controlling your own quality, dogfooding can give you a leg up (pun intended) when it comes to knowing what works and what doesn’t in an eBook format. Take a look at other books in your genre on an eReader and really analyze what you see on the screen.

What elements are other authors using or attempting to use in their eBooks? Which of those elements appear to work well to you and which don’t?

Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, but were unsure if it would translate well in a digital format. If you’re dogfooding, chances are you’ll come across someone who’s already attempted it or at least something similar. It’s also possible you’ll find something completely new that you never even thought of as an option before.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely plenty of reasons to dogfood. I’m sure you’re already thinking of a few more that didn’t even occur to me. In fact, that’s one of the best reasons to dogfood. You learn from your peers and avoid the mistakes they’ve made while stealing the good ideas.

With that said, if there’s one thing I’d really like you to take away from this post, it’s this: If you don’t prefer your own product, why should anyone else? And if you don’t try you own product, how will you know what needs improvement?

We take the idea very seriously around here. We have a few indie authors on staff, and all of them use Draft2Digital’s tools for their publishing needs. Whenever we get the feeling that something’s broken or the formatting looks wrong or the conversion made a poor choice, you’d better believe we’re running down the halls to ask the developers for a fix. Pronto.

After all, why wait for a customer to complain (or worse, silently slip away) when we can take care of it in-house? And that’s the point: dogfooding in a nice, neat little can.

I highly encourage you to think about the principle and start applying it in your own projects. The next time you see us at a conference or event, let us know how it tastes.