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.


How to Write Your Story

Course: Memoir I: Beginning Memoir Workshop

Institution: SF Writer's Grotto

Instructor: Rachel Howard

While a law student at Stanford I had the opportunity to take classes in their creative writing department. My professor, in his infinite wisdom, told me I should never write about what I know. According to him, this wasn’t “real” writing. Not sure what to do, I wrote fictional accounts of my stories. I started writing in the third person.

Ten years later, I find myself writing in the first person – a lot. Like here on this blog. It hit me, maybe it’s time to write my story, my truth; however unreal the effort. So this summer of self-actualization I decided to take a memoir class.

I walked into the SF Writer’s Grotto offices in downtown San Francisco and immediately judged the people I saw seated around the table. I guess I knew better than to expect Po Bronson, but I was a bit taken aback by my cohorts. Have you ever seen yourself in others and hated it?

I put my backpack down and surveyed the room. I immediately looked for the angry lesbian, the pampered Marina housewife, the retiree, and the whole retinue of writing class characters I have come to expect. I wondered which character they thought I was in my hideously bright pink cashmere sweater, dark jeans, and running shoes. I didn’t engage in conversation and instead discouraged would-be greeters by burying my nose in my blackberry until the instructor arrived.

The instructor, Ms. Howard glided in and began class. I listened to her opening preamble and thought, Why, Alicia, are you so god-damn judgmental?

Experience has taught me that the moment you find yourself judging someone else it’s invariably because you’re not owning up to something in yourself. It held true in memoir class. I realized that I want to tell my story but I am terrified of telling my story. I also was afraid that my story would somehow get lost in all the stories around the table. Would I be heard? And what if I am? I worried that telling my story meant laying it to rest. What happens after? I reasoned that once I put it down on paper I would then be really truly responsible for what happens next. A scary proposition.

While Ms. Howard is a delicate-featured, small-boned individual she is steely when it comes to the workshop process. She outlined her rules: we would each submit a piece to the group for critique. When reviewing the submitted pieces we were asked to read the piece two times, first for pleasure and the second with an eye for the positive.

I’ve taken a number of writing classes. Most of them have operated via the workshop method. Some of these classes were opportunities to display a participant’s utter lack of reading comprehension, others were tear the writer a new asshole sessions, but most operated under the guidelines of Ms. Howard’s class: first do no harm.

I have to admit that I struggled at first with the rules. I cringed at the idea that workshop was just going to be a love fest and I wouldn’t glean anything substantive from it. I found my first few critiques were very brief. When feedback was presented in class, I looked around and thought, How am I going to understand what people really think of my piece when we’re all forced to sit around and make nice? Are you saying anything good if you don’t say anything bad?

Still, I stuck to the rules and eventually, a funny thing happened, I started to see that every piece was actually good and the class discussion worthy of them. It finally clicked: How, really, do you judge someone’s story or their stage in the writing of it? When I made the connection, I stopped judging my own story so much and the words started tumbling out.

With every successive class, I felt my eyes and heart opening. I started to see the stories I had read in the eyes of the other students, or in the way they held their heads or shoulders. How they crossed their arms and leaned on the table or angled away from it. I begin to think, there’s so much pain in the world, and then I began to feel it. I wondered if it shouldn’t be required of everyone – to have to write your story. To face the truth as you know it.

It’s not always fun or easy, but I learned that those who are bravest – who do the work it requires to get close to their own experiences, are perhaps the finest writers. It’s so hard to do that very few people can actually do it. The rest of us? We’re learning how to write our stories. So when we’re ready and as we are ready – we can share them.

I'm Looser

One of the interesting results of having a website is the email I receive from readers. I am always truly touched to hear from a reader, because, well, it indicates someone is actually reading what I write. Right?

I recently received an email with the subject line, “I feel like a looser.” The sender went on to tell his tale of woe and I read it and after wondered what to do about his email. I was tempted to reply and tell him that it’s actually “loser” not “looser,” but then I thought I might be reinforcing his feeling, as it were.

Grammar aside, I know how he feels. No matter the circumstances of our lives, there comes a time when everyone feels inadequate, stupid, unworthy. I’ve been feeling that way myself lately.

I’ve been working hard to figure myself out and I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. Last night, feeling antsy, I decided to organize my writing files. I have been writing since the first grade and I have a number of word docs to demonstrate my effort.

While culling through my files, I happened upon one entitled The Struggle by Alicia Morga. I opened it up and found this:

I’m like one of those loser writers. You know those pseudo-intellectuals that tell you without prompting that they’re writing a book. They are forever writing something, never publishing anything. I fancy myself a writer but let’s face it, I can’t write to save my ass.

There is something wonderfully romantic about calling yourself a writer. It conjures up images of tortured intellectuals, soft souls. Writers understand grammar; have huge vocabularies. Now see, if I was actually a writer I would have used a word like ___ (god I can’t even think of the word – checking the thesaurus) to describe the size of such a vocabulary.

Whenever I meet someone who actually says he writes for a living, I am instantly in awe. How does he do that? Do thoughts and great ways to put them together flood his mind? How can he be prolific enough to be employed?

The words are so bottled up inside my head. My thoughts go in thousands of directions. If you’re thinking attention deficit disorder – don’t worry, I’m way ahead of you. But no. It’s that I’m not a very good writer. Isn’t the essence of a writer the ability to transform words into the human experience? To transcend the very paper on which those words are written? Did you like that? (I reworded the sentence so it didn’t end in a preposition.)

I, however, have a terrible time translating my thoughts to paper. It takes time and I have a hard time sitting still. It takes thought and I say anything that comes into my head. I’m not sure what else it takes, because – well because, I’m one of those loser writers.

I read it and laughed out loud. I wrote that in 2001. It seems the struggle never ends – you’ll constantly have times when you feel like a loser. But, the difference today from where I was in 2001, is I’m far more gentle with myself. I may have the feeling, but you won’t catch me using that word to describe myself anymore.

Words have power. I’ve always known that and I had always struggled with words people in my past used on me, until I read The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement he outlines is “Be impeccable with your word.” He reasons if you wouldn’t scream the horrible words you think at your child or a loved one, why do you do it to yourself? He points out you only strengthen the evil words others put in your head by accepting them into your lexicon. After years of struggling with the negative voices in my head, the Agreement finally helped me flip the switch in my brain.

It’s not like I never have a negative thought – they do come up – it’s that now I instantly battle them with positive thoughts; the sillier the better. Now that I realize I have control over how I treat myself, I treat myself well. I’ve found this has made room in my life to get on with my life. I’ve found I’ve become a bit looser.