Author of 32 novels including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds epic fantasy sequence – over a million print copies sold.
How to Format an E-book
If your book has previously been published by a traditional publisher and you’re planning to republish it yourself, begin at Step 1. If your book has never been published, go to Step 5.
- Ask your publisher for a copy of the final (as published) file for your book. Ideally this will be in Microsoft Word format, however your publisher may give you an Adobe Acrobat (pdf) file or an e-book (epub) file.
- Check your book contract for the rights you licensed to the publisher: these could be Australian and New Zealand rights, world English language rights, world rights etc. You can’t do anything until you have the rights back. If your book is out of print and isn’t going to be reprinted, ask your publisher for a letter reverting the rights to you.
- If your book is in Word format, go to Step 5. If it’s in pdf or epub format, you’ll need to convert it to Word. There are many free online converters, eg http://convertfileonline.com or http://www.online-convert.com.
- If your book is only available in print form and you can’t get the file from your publisher, send a copy to a firm that scans printed books and converts them to Word format, eg http://boundbookscanning.com. You can also scan the book yourself, then use optical character recognition to convert it to text, but this is very time consuming and much more error-prone;
- Import your Word file into your computer’s text editor (on a Mac, it’s called TextEdit) and select “Make Plain Text” to remove all the formatting, special codes and hidden text created by various word processing and conversion programs. If you don’t, your e-book is liable to look terrible on an e-book reader;
- Save the plain text file and open it with Microsoft Word. Even if you normally use a different word processor, you need to use Word here, because some e-book formatting systems require it. Format your book as set out in the free Smashwords formatting manual, https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52, up to and including Step 19. Especially, do a global “search and replace” for every instance of use of the tab key – any tab use in the file and it’ll fail EpubCheck (which the e-book has to pass before retailers will take it).
- You will also need to reformat any text that was in italics, bold or special characters, as these have been converted to plain text. Do global checks for other common errors as set out in the Smashwords manual. Add in images or maps if your book has them – but be aware that making images look good on the various e-book readers is tricky. This article will help. http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/10/preparing-images-for-your-e-book/. For print-on-demand (POD) images, see http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2010/10/using-photos-in-your-book-understanding-print-resolution/.
- Both file conversion and book scanning will have introduced errors such as hyphenated and misspelled words, broken paragraphs and half lines, so you’ll need to run a thorough spell-check and read the book carefully at the end of this process.
- If you don’t want to format the book yourself, don’t have the time (there’s rather a long learning curve) or you want a more professional, typeset look, you can buy a book design template and import your plain text file. Your e-book will certainly look better. You’ll still need to spell check, remove any tabs and read the whole book carefully. For templates designed by a highly experienced professional (such as Joel Friedlander), see http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com (~$60 for a single book licence, ~$117 for multi-book licence). You can also get templates for laying out the cover (front, back and spine) for all the common Print On Demand (POD) formats, http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/bookcover/. Various free book cover, font and book design templates are also available, http://diybookcovers.com/free-sample-thanks/ and http://www.diybookformats.com.
- A great cover is absolutely vital to the success of your ebook and you don’t have to pay much for a well-designed, striking cover. See Secrets of Ebook Cover Design, http://thefutureofink.com/killer-ebook-cover/ and http://www.bigskywords.com/writing-blog/top-10-ebook-cover-design-sites and http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/02/e-book-cover-design-awards-january-2014/ and https://www.smashwords.com/list. These change all the time; one site with a vast range and cheap prices is http://ebookindiecovers.com. Alternatively you can use a crowd-source site – up to a hundred designers will do an original rough to your specifications, you pick one and pay the fee, usually a couple of hundred dollars. http://www.designcrowd.com.au and http://99designs.com.au/book-cover-design.
- Before you can deliver your e-book to a retailer you’ll have to create the linked Table of Contents (NCX). To do this by hand, see the Smashwords formatting manual, Step 20. This is laborious if your book has many chapters or figures, and it’s easy to introduce cryptic errors which will result in the book failing EpubCheck even if you’re very careful. Sometimes you can correct these errors and the book will still fail. Alternatively, you can import the file (.docx format) into a program called Jutoh ($45, http://www.jutoh.com), which will create the linked NCX in one of several ways at the click of a button. It will then compile your book in various formats (Epub, Kindle, PDF and 4 others), run EpubCheck or other checks as appropriate, and tell you what to do about any errors it finds. If you’ve formatted your e-book according to Step 6 there shouldn’t be any errors.
There are other ways to convert your book to the different e-book formats (either manually, or using free but user-unfriendly software called Calibre, http://calibre-ebook.com), but Jutoh saved me hours and did a better job.
How to Publish an Ebook
- If you want to publish directly your main sales options are:
- Amazon.com, which is said to have around half% of the US e-book market but also has various rules (such as download fees, price ranges and geographic restrictions) that mean you will never get the full 70% royalty that you’ll get with Apple, Kobo and other retailers. If you have images in your ebook, download fees can dramatically reduce the amount you earn from Amazon, so get rid of images wherever possible, and where not, make them as small as possible (50 kb or less).
- Apple’s iBookstore in iTunes (15- 20% of the worldwide book market).
- Kobo, Google Play and Smashwords.
- Kobo isn’t big in the US but it’s a major ebook seller internationally, and it also has distribution agreements to many other online booksellers in many countries.
- If you live in the US and parts of Europe you can also publish directly to Barnes and Noble. There are many other e-book retailers but self-published authors can’t reach the majority of them directly.
- Alternatively you can publish via Smashwords (or some other companies) who also have distribution agreements with many online booksellers. You’ll get a reduced royalty (60% instesad of 70%) but you’ll reach far more retailers than you could on your own.
2. Once your book is fully formatted in Microsoft Word and ready for ebook conversion, I recommend you save the file in three versions:
- The version for Amazon Kindle. Strip out all unessential images and reduce the file size of all essential images before uploading (see http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/10/preparing-images-for-your-e-book/).
- The version for all other retailers, where you can insert larger images that will look good on iPads and other high resolution tablets.
- The version for POD, if you plan to, where you will use print-ready (300 dpi) images. I strongly recommend that you use a print template here. Amazon’s CreateSpace provides free templates.
3. To publish on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Smashwords you’ll need to obtain, and provide them with, a US tax number, either an ITIN or EIN. An ITIN is very complicated, time-consuming and expensive, whereas you can get an EIN over the phone in under ten minutes for nothing, see: http://blog.27id.com.au/non-us-authors-and-the-30-percent-witholding-tax/ and http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/. To publish on the Apple Australian iBookstore you’ll also need an Australian Business Number (ABN).
4. If you own world rights to your book (eg, if all the rights have reverted to you, or the book has never been published), I’d suggest you publish on Amazon and Smashwords as this will save you a lot of time and effort, because Smashwords distributes to most of the big online retailers). On Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing, KDP) you’ll get a 70% royalty (less a download fee per megabyte, so keep any images small) if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, or 35% outside that range. With a traditional publisher you’ll only get about 15% (your contract may say 25% or more, but that’s your share of what the publisher gets, and they only get 70%). Publishing on Amazon is relatively quick and easy, https://kdp.amazon.com. Note that KDP uses a proprietary format, .mobi, which the KDP site will create from your Word .docx file. Alternatively you can create it yourself with Jutoh or Calibre. Also note that if you go for the 70% royalty, Amazon charges a download fee based on the size of the file. This isn’t much for text-only books, such as novels, but it can cost you all your royalties for graphics-rich books, in which case you may be better of with the 35% royalty option.
14. To format illustrated kids’ books for Amazon, you need Kindle Kids Books Creator, https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1002979921&ref_=pe_445910_122737500_2.
15. Smashwords is the world’s largest independent e-book distributor, and distributes to Apple, Kobo and many other retailers that you can’t reach yourself. You’ll get 85% royalty for direct sales through Smashwords and 60% for sales through other retailers. https://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords. Smashwords also has free marketing, formatting and style guides which are invaluable for all self-publishers, https://www.smashwords.com.
16. If you don’t own world rights to your book (for instance, if your book is still in print in some countries) you won’t be able to publish it via Smashwords because they don’t have the ability to set geographic sales rights. You’ll be restricted to Amazon, iTunes and Kobo, but as they have more than two-thirds of the market you’re not losing too much.
17. To publish to Apple’s iTunes bookstore (a little more complex), see http://www.redjumper.net/blog/2013/11/pro-tips-publish-itunes-step-1-create-itunes-connect-account/ (first of three articles) and http://www.creativebloq.com/design/how-publish-ebook-ibookstore-10135060.
18. To publish to Kobo (Kobo Writing Life), which is simple and quick, see http://www.kobo.com/writinglife.
19. To publish to Google Play, which is relatively simple, http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/05/selling-ebooks-on-google-play-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ and almost everything you need to know, http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,167655.0.html
20. You don’t need an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to publish on Amazon, Apple, Kobo or Google Play, although on Kobo you won’t get the widest distribution unless your book has one. You do need an ISBN on Smashwords but they provide them, free. If you need ISBNs for other purposes, eg print publication, you can obtain them from the relevant agency in your country. In Australia it’s Thorpe-Bowker, https://www.myidentifiers.com.au/Get-your-isbn-now.
21. You can also deliver your book to a print-on-demand (POD) publisher. CreateSpace (part of Amazon, https://www.createspace.com) and Lightning Source https://www1.lightningsource.com/default.aspx are the biggest. There’s a comparison here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-giuliano-long/self-publishing-platforms_b_2810092.html. And http://mcquestionablemusings.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/publishing-book-using-createspace.html. You can also publish via Lulu, https://www.lulu.com which distributes via Lightning Source. And via many others.
22. Publishing via CreateSpace is easy and there’s a good help service. Publishing via Lightning Source can be more difficult, and the help service is minimal. Long books have to be sold at a fairly high price ($US 14 or more) to make any money from POD. Ideally, try to keep your books at 350 pages or less. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/03/12/tips-self-publishing-createspace/
23. Whichever POD service you choose, templates designed by a professional book designer will save you many hours of time and trouble and give you a much better look, eg http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com (~$60 for a single book licence, ~$117 for multi-book licence). These templates are already set up to lay out both books and book covers for the specific requirements of CreateSpace, Lightning Source and other POD companies. Instructional videos can be found here, http://www.bookdesigntemplates.com/guides/ . See point 6 above for inserting images in POD books.
- You can do POD through Lightning Source for Australia and NZ only. https://www1.lightningsource.com/international/index.aspx?loc=en-au and https://www1.lightningsource.com/files/faq/LSAUSWEBFAQ.pdf
23. You won’t earn a lot of money from POD but it’ll satisfy your fans who want printed books. There are additional formatting requirements for printed books and I’d recommend use of a professionally designed template (see #7, above).
25. For timing of publication with POD, see http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/11/book-launches/.
What Does it Cost?
- Here’s a publishing calculator so you can compare potential earnings via a traditional publisher compared to publishing your book yourself. It covers both printed books and ebooks in various formats. http://outthinkgroup.com/calculator?utm_source=Out%3Athink+Insiders&utm_campaign=4f58dcb708-1_survey_2_links_and_2_events7_7_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5fb144ba9b-4f58dcb708-345487625
- Here’s a breakdown on what you might spend to publish an ebook. http://www.bookpromotion.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-self-publish-a-book/
- For print-on-demand and sales through Amazon’s CreateSpace, here’s where you assess various printing options and the royalties you’ll earn. https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/
- Here’s a printing and shipping calculator for print publishing through Lightning Source. https://www1.lightningsource.com/shippingcalc.aspx
Some Great Resources on Self-Publishing
- Key self-publishing fiction writers: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/07/9-self-publishing-fiction-writers-you-should-follow-today/
- Oodles of articles about every aspect of self-publishing: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/articles/ and http://janefriedman.com
Last updated, Dec 2015.