How to Publish an eBook

So I should start by saying the information I provide here applies mainly to those who want to write text dominant ebooks (not illustrated or photo heavy books).  This post also doesn’t apply to people who want to publish books via the traditional route. The first step, of course, is writing the book.  After that, it’s a pretty quick process to publishing it as an ebook (assuming you’ve decided you want to pursue this route).

The ebook market is evolving rapidly and today it’s easier than ever.  There are 3 basic things to consider when setting out to publish an ebook

  1. Getting your ebook formatted correctly in epub and mobi file formats;
  2. Distributing your ebook for sale; and
  3. Marketing your ebook.

Formatting Your eBook

There are several options for formatting your book.  You can use free and paid services that will convert a Microsoft Word doc or PDF into epub and/or mobi file formats.  The epub format is required for publishing on iTunes, PubIt (Barnes & Noble’s ebookstore), and Google eBooks.  The mobi format is required for publishing on Amazon (also called DTP – digital text platform or KDP – Kindle Digital Publishing).  Or you can use paid conversion services that will not only convert your original document into epub or mobi file formats, but also distribute your ebook.

Do-It-Yourself Conversion Options

Do-it-yourself options include

Sigil - free, but definitely a bit more complicated to use (really more for editing an existing epub file)

Calibre - haven’t used but understand it doesn’t make epub files that well

Paid Conversion Services

With these services you’re paying a person or team to do the formatting work for you. They charge a one-time fee that may or may not include cover art work. The amount charged depends on the complexity of converting your file into the ebook formats, how much you want to preserve fonts, art work, etc.

Distributing your eBook

Some service providers do the conversion and distribution of your book for free, but do take a cut of your royalties (the amount your ebook sells for minus what Amazon, for example, charges you for selling them).

Royalty Split Conversion Services

This is what companies like Smashwords and Lulu do. 

Other newer entrants threatening to change the space are Pronoun (formerly Vook)  and Hyperink(formerly Hyperink Press) (though they seem to be publishing their own titles).  

The advantage of services that take a royalty split is they can place your book in multiple ebook stores without you having to manage them all.  The disadvantage is that they take a royalty split.  While most don’t take a large portion, any portion of an already small portion is something.

Here’s a matrix of your options.

Using a Service:

ebook options

That being said, it’s actually quite easy (and in some cases even easier) for an author to place her ebook in a retailer directly.  Below are your options.

Going Direct:

Self publishing ebook options

Earnings are typically paid out in 60 to 90 days.  Amazon pays out every 60 days..

Which channels are responsible for the most ebook sales?  Industry numbers say Amazon has 61%, followed by iTunes and Nook, but anecdotally from other authors I’ve heard 90% of sales they receive are from Amazon.  So this makes using a distribution service seem highly unnecessary.

So should you use a conversion service that also does distribution?  Many authors are opting out of this option.  More and more ebook authors sell through Amazon, iTunes, and B&N direct.  Many have abandoned Kobo.

Finally, ebook authors have generally also given up on Google’s eBookstore.  They take forever to process an epub file and it’s completely confusing to set up actually selling your ebook.

In my humble opinion, I think it makes the most sense to simply start where the most market traction is – Amazon and iTunes/iBookstore. 

If you start there, publishing your own ebook is relatively straight-forward and inexpensive.  Your two biggest expenses will be purchasing an ISBN (if you decide to - you don't need one for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but do need one for iTunes) and having cover art made.

Marketing Your eBook

The real challenge, as ever, is marketing your ebook.  I’ve found that many use the traditional online methods:

  1. Promote via email and social networks (Facebook/Twitter)
  2. Write a blog post about it
  3. Get someone to review your ebook
  4. Do a promotion where it’s free
  5. Play with the pricing of the ebook

What’s interesting to me is how many companies exist to convert and distribute ebooks but that’s not where the real need is.  Authors need help marketing their books. Some people use sites like Scribd to help authors build buzz about their ebooks.  You can also publish a pdf easily on Scribd itself and even sell through them.  They take a 20% cut of your ebook’s price.  We’ll see who else takes up the marketing tools for authors challenge.

What’s Coming Soon in eBooks

Lastly, the next frontier is making it easier to produce more dynamic, media rich ebooks.  So stay tuned for that.