In my last post, So You Want to Write an Ebook, I talked about some of the decisions that have to be made in order to write and publish an ebook. Now I want to look at some of the options available on formatting the ebook and getting it out there for people to read.
I assume that you have by now written your book, at least hypothetically, and have decided if you want it to be free or for sale, as well as if you want it as a powerful but inflexible PDF, or the limited by more interchangeable EPUB/Nook or Mobi/Kindle format. You should also get your manuscript (the name given to an unpublished work, literally meaning “written by hand” – look! a language reference!) proofread and edited by someone else. You can even consider paying someone to do it if you are planning to sell it. No one wants to buy a book only to find it containing misspellings and poor grammar.
Making It Portable
Let’s go with the PDF version first. PDFs can have some very elaborate formatting, complete with images, tables, and colours. The easiest way to add those things is probably in the word processor you are using. The most popular ones for Windows are the commercially available Microsoft Word and the free OpenOffice. Both these programs operate very similarly (you can actually edit various versions of Word documents in OpenOffice).
I believe the most common product for Macs is iWork Pages, and for Linux, it is LibreOffice. Kerstin Hammes mentions using Scrivener, which is a word-processing program designed for authors. It has versions for windows and Mac, but not Linux, currently (sorry folks!).
They should all provide you with the tools you need to edit and format your book, and the best part is that when you are done, you can save them as PDFs, so your work is all done!
Now some people might want to use more advanced publishing programs to produce their PDFs, and there are a number of them available.
I want to give two caveats, however. A word processor is not the same as a publishing package. The former contains lots of powerful tools for editing, while the latter focuses more on taking your written text and putting it into a more polished layout alongside images and other text.
They can both be used for editing and publishing, but they have different strengths. Publishing programs will often have a steeper learning curve, meaning it may take you a while to learn to get the best out of them. For that reason, you want to be sure you give yourself enough time to really learn how it works before you need to meet your publishing deadline.
Now the big name in PDFs is, of course, Adobe, since that company is the one who invented the Portable Document Format back in 1993. Therefore, I would be committing a huge injustice if I didn’t mention their publishing package, Adobe InDesign.
I haven’t used it, but I have heard it heavily praised. There is a version of it available for both Windows and Mac (not for Linux, sorry again, folks!). It is not free, however, and requires a $20 minimum license fee per month.
I personally use the open source program Scribus on Windows for creating my PDF magazine, Parrot Time. It is very good for mixing and formatting texts and images, and I can easily export the results to a PDF or a series of images. That second option can be very useful if you want to post a sample of your work on Facebook or a forum. Furthermore, it is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and BSD Unix.
Scribus has become my popular program for designing many things. When I want to mix some graphics and text to make an image, I often use this instead of a graphics program like Photoshop or Gimp simply because I can pull things together so easily. It doesn’t have quite the same power as a full graphics editor, of course, but it has become a very useful tool in my creative arsenal.
Similar programs exist for the other operating systems. Olly Richards used iBook Author, and it looks to me to be pretty easy to use, since it offers a lot of templates for you to “drop” you content into. Scribus also offers some templates, but I have never used any, since I am one of those old-fashioned “reinvent the wheel” kind of people.
Once you have formatted and saved your PDF, you are ready to put it somewhere. Many bloggers create ebooks as incentive “goodies” for subscribing to their blogs, and there are plugins for many blogging systems that help you incorporate them that way.
If you want to make it even more available for online reading, I would suggest uploading it to Scribd and Issuu. Both are free publishing platforms for PDFs with their own search engines, statistics, etc. Both have their own strengths: you can sell your PDF ebook on Scribd, while on Issuu, your book is turned into a virtual document, so people see it like a magazine, complete with animated page turning. It was that online reading power that got me completely hooked on producing my magazine in the PDF format and putting it there. It is only slightly less impressive than getting the actual printed copy in your hands.
Making It Flexible
If you have decided to publish your book in one of the more device friendly formats and distribute through online outlets, then the formatting rules differ a bit.
Whether you are going to charge for your ebook or allow people to get it for free, the two best places to publish it to are the huge book and goods platform, Amazon, or the self-publishing and distribution platform, Smashwords. The two are similar in what they require from you, but are slightly different in what they offer. They are also both completely free to use. The requirements for both are:
1) Your book in a document format with basic headers for chapters
2) A table of contents, properly formatted to link to each chapter
3) A book cover.
First, I will look at Amazon. Their publishing program is called Kindle Direct Publishing, or simply KDP. They allow you to upload your completed book text in a number of formats, but they prefer Word DOC format or HTML. There is a guide on how to format things properly for first time users, and it is really easy to follow.
Once you upload your document, you will then need to fill in the information that goes along with it. These include the title, author name (that’s you!), description, keywords to help with searches, and your target audience. Other information is also useful to add, like a book’s subtitle, publisher name (you can make your own publishing company!), series name, edition number, and ISBN (International Standard Book Number).
Important note here about ISBNs which can be confusing. All published books have a unique ISBN, so they can be easily catalogued and searched. When you publish your book on Amazon for the Kindle, you do not need an ISBN. Kindle books use an Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) instead.
Why I want to point this out specifically is because you can get an ISBN number for it, but it will not appear in the listing for the book. A single ISBN is rather expensive. I bought one for my book, and it cost me $125. That was before I understood that I didn’t need one to publish. Ouch! Lesson learned.
Now the most important decision you need to make is how much you plan to charge for your book. The minimum amount you can charge is $0.99, and a common price for them is $2.99. This doesn’t mean you will be receiving what you are charging with each sale. Because Amazon is doing the “packaging” and selling of your ebook, they will take a percentage of the price for themselves. The proper terminology is a “royalty”, and that is the amount you are paid for each sale.
Amazon offers you the royalty rate of either 35% or 70%. If you plan to charge between $0.99 and $2.99 for your book, you will only get a 35% royalty. You need to sell it for $2.99 or more to be getting the 70%. But even then, it can depend on where the book is sold. Countries like Japan and Brazil will still only offer you 35% royalty, unless you enrol in the KDP Select program, which I will talk about in a minute.
If you don’t understand what those percentage numbers mean, they are the amount of the price of the book that you receive upon each sale. So, if you charge just $0.99 for your book, you will earn 35% of that, or about $0.34 from each sale. If you charge $3.99 and are getting the 70% amount, then you would earn $2.79 per book sold.
Of course, you can put your book up for free. This gives you a greater chance of people reading it, but you won’t earn any money for it. The choice is completely up to you. You may also choose to initially charge a price for it, but later make it cheaper or even free.
Once you have completed filling in all the information, Amazon will “review” the book, which may take a few hours, before it appears in their stores. That’s right! Plural “stores”. Publishing your ebook on Amazon gets it distributed to all of their online stores, including the US, UK, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, Japan, China, Mexico, and more. Your book can now be read all around the world!
Now Amazon offers a special program called KDP Select which you can enrol in. When you do so, Amazon will do more to promote your book and you can earn that 70% on the limited countries. The catch is that you cannot offer your book online in a digital format, including your own website, for at least 90 days. After that, you can do with it as you please.
I have heard reviews of the Select program, both good and bad, and I wish I had given it a shot when I published my book. Since I didn’t, I can’t give you any first hand knowledge of how good (or bad) it is. Perhaps I can do that with my next book.
While Amazon is the big name that everyone knows, Smashwords is a much smaller and lesser known platform. It is not as slick looking as Amazon, but there are many reasons why you should look at it when published your book.
Putting a book on Smashwords is very similar to Amazon. You need a Word DOC file, properly formatted according to the Smashwords guidelines, then upload it along with a cover and supply the appropriate information (title, description, category, price, etc.) The royalty rate is 70% on Smashwords, same as Amazon.
The advantages to publishing on Smashwords which are different from Amazon are in the distribution areas and formats. On Amazon, you book is only available as a Kindle book (unless you set up to create printable versions, which is a whole other topic). On Smashwords, your book is available in multiple formats, including EPUB, Mobi, PDF, Rich Text Format (rtf), Plucker (pdb), plain text, and even reading it online in HTML, like a webpage.
Your book is also not only sold on Smashwords, but it is also put on Barnes & Noble for their Nook device, iTunes, Scribd, and Kobo, along with a few others. They may also distribute it to Amazon, but there are some limitations on that which are too technical for this post.
Smashwords also offers a few other perks, like allowing you to create “coupons” you can distribute to people (basically, numerical codes) which they can then use to get your book for a reduced price, which can be great for promotions. I handed out a coupon that made my book free for a weekend to encourage more people to get it. You also are assigned a free ISBN number for your Smashwords version, so no need to worry about that.
The best part of this is that there is no reason you can’t put your book on both services, to maximum your coverage (unless you enrol in KDP Select, then you can’t put it on Smashwords until after the 90 days are completed).
Got It Covered?
I have mentioned that you really need a cover for your book, and in many ways, it is perhaps the most important part of getting your book read. Besides the title, the immediate thing a potential reader or buyer is going to notice is the cover. People make decisions in an instant about whether to take a closer look or to move on just from that single image, so you need to make sure it is a good one!
If I tried to cover all the minute things that go into making the “perfect” cover, this article would be twice the length it is, so I will just mention the most important points.
First, the image you use needs to either convey the contents of the book properly, or be a complete selling point. If you are very lucky, you can achieve both. The first idea is obvious; a book about money should have a cover which is something related to money. But that is not easily done for all topics, so sometimes a cover is based upon a funny or dramatic picture that really bears little connection to the book but it peaks the person’s interest.
I can use my own book as an example. It is entitled “Finding Your Way to Languages”, and my original cover showed a hilly landscape with a female hiker looking out over it. I wanted to convey a sense of searching, and I wanted a person on it, since many times people relate more to images which contain living creatures. When I asked other language enthusiast about the cover, they said it didn’t match the subject matter, so I came up with a completely different image. For that cover, there was a globe with little speech bubbles, each one containing some words in a different language script.
After using that second cover for a year, I decided to switch back to my original, simply because it spoke more to me, personally. There really is no formula for making a cover that will grab people, toss them into a chair, and make them read your book. Even while discussing the cover with others, during which time I produced a variety of different possible covers, there was no complete agreement upon which would be best.
A common suggestion is that you hire someone to make your cover for you, and if you aren’t comfortable with editing graphics, that might be the best solution. You can use some place like Fiverr to have it designed, and as the name suggests, it will cost you $5.
On Your Way
There are many things I could have gone into more detail on in this post, but what I wanted to do is give you the basics of how to get your own book published. From this, you should have a better idea of what to look for, so you can follow up with your own research. To start, Kerstin Hammes posted her own experiences with self-publishing here. She has published two books for sale on Amazon and a free PDF book you can get from her blog Fluent Language.
Good luck and happy publishing!