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.


When the Magic's Gone

My four year-old nephew was over recently and immediately drawn to the tower of books in my living room. He was amazed at how high the books were piled and his parents marveled at how sturdy the books seemed.

I said, "Hey let me show you something." I brought him over close to the tower and kneeled down to his level next to it. "Look, you can take a book out without the whole stack collapsing." He looked at me with wide eyes; even at age four he understands gravity.

I suggested he try and pull out a book. He leaned into the stack and slowly pulled out a thin blue volume, waiting for the books to tumble. They held their position, as if suspended in air.

"It's magic!" he screamed, "It's magic!"

He was so excited he did a little marching dance in place - his whole body shaking with delight. He was suspended momentarily, like the books, in the wonder.

He paused a beat and then his hungry little mind started to explore. He poked at the books, his eyes greedy for the cause. He wasn't content with the magic, he had to understand how it worked.

Within 30 seconds he figured out the stack of books was in fact a book shelf with metal sleeves that were shallow enough and spaced so it gave the illusion of a tower of books with no support.

"There's metal," he said. "That's how the books stay up."

He turned, his curiosity satisfied, and switched his attention to other matters.

I re-shelved the book he had extracted and smiled. Mystery solved. But in the weeks since, I keep visiting that moment in my mind. The moment he shrieked, "It's magic."

The purity of his belief, the surprise and wonderfulness of it - the possibilities. His pure joy at the idea of something magical. And my joy at witnessing his experience.

I long for that feeling myself. Not just the unexplainable, but the unexplainably good. Where has the magic gone?

How to Change Your Life

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage: the only thing you can count on is change. There was, in fact, a whole publishing frenzy around this realization about ten years back. There was “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life”, “Who Made my Cheese?”, “Who Stole My Cheese” and even “Nobody Moved Your Cheese” (How to Ignore the Experts and Trust Your own Gut). It was a real cheese movement.

Most people get that change happens. The funny thing is that few folks seem able to affect it. The hardest part about changing, it seems, is where to start. Several years back, when everyone was moving their cheese, I was moving my stuff.

While I learned to be super organized and neat as a way to combat the chaos of my upbringing, I had never given much thought to my living environment until I moved to San Francisco. To commemorate the move, a friend gave me a book entitled, Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life : How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness.

From the title you might guess that it is not a great literary work. What it is, essentially, is a fun guide for using the principles of feng shui in your home. What is feng shui? It is the thoughtful placement of objects in your environment to get positive results. As much as your living environment affects you, you can affect your environment. In the book, Barry Gordon, a physicist, describes feng shui as “the intelligent use of intention through environmental metaphor.” I didn’t say it wasn’t deep.

Anyway, the idea is to take a look around and see what you are unconsciously saying in your life. Who or what are you letting in? Who or what are you keeping out? Your things, what you do with them, how you treat them and even where you place them are a physical manifestation of your conscious and often, sub-conscious.

Without getting too much into feng shui parlance, I’ll just say this: different parts of your home equate to different aspects of life, like relationships and love, career, prosperity, etc. The book recommends looking at each corner of your home to understand what areas of your life might be blocked – literally. For example, that treadmill in your bedroom just might be an outward manifestation of the treadmill your relationship is on. The cure is to move your things so that your environment begins to feel right. When you move your things you stir up energy and a change in energy, leads to a change in life.

So when I feel stuck, I get moving. I move my body: I try new routes to work in my car; I sleep on the “wrong” side of the bed. I move my clothes: I donate clothes I haven’t worn in over a year; I organize my sweaters by color. I move paper: I figure out which of my books have gone too long without being read and create a pile to work my way through; I clean out my office of old papers. You get the idea.

It all may sound silly but I am learning to believe that if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. That being said, because I just went through a major life change, I didn’t realize what else needed changing. That is until I recently took another look around my house. Here’s what I noticed: several framed Mexican movie posters. I like collecting them but for the first time I really looked at one of them.

Exhibit A:

Alicia Morga Mi Marido

Do you see it? The trouble with this picture is visible but I decided to look up the movie and understand its plot. I found this synopsis of the movie: a wealthy widow hires a marriage agency to find a man to pretend to be her husband so that suitors do not bother her. Oh, dear. Is it any wonder my love life has been in such a state? I’ve literally been keeping Mi Marido (my husband) out.

I can only guess at what you might be thinking. Maybe something along the lines of “Does she really believe this stuff?” Yes. I do. Energy can be harnessed through intention and I have been hopelessly unintentional. I decided to take action. I took down that Mexican movie poster and put this up instead.

Let’s see what kind of change that brings.