Articles on Writing

Whenever you feel stuck with your article writing and are facing the typical writer’s block, you should go with the ‘brain dumping’ method where you write as fast as possible without thinking twice. Just write down everything that comes into your mind, and this will help the break writer’s block that you may be experiencing. As you write down this content, the spelling, grammar and punctuation will not even be considered during this process. You will be utterly astounded by all of the content that you come up with what you have put all of your article content into written format. Later on, you can use re-structure and proof read this article to make it presentable.


Getting an ISBN That Identifies You as the Publisher of Your Title

One agency per country is designated to assign ISBNs for that country and must maintain a bibliographic database of titles published in that country. For the United States and its territories, R.R. Bowker is the official ISBN agency. R.R. Bowker is the publisher of Books in Print, the premier database for the publishing industry.

Since the US publishing industry is very large, R.R. Bowker has entered into agreements with a handful of companies to submit official applications on behalf of the self-publishers and authors with whom they work. These companies have agreed to provide special programs under which an ISBN can be assigned by the US ISBN Agency. These companies may also offer other programs and services that do not include such an ISBN. Please read all terms and conditions carefully before making your decision about the right program or service for you.

Why does this matter?

The ISBN identifies not only the specific product to which it is assigned, but also the publisher to be contacted for ordering purposes. If an ISBN is purchased from a company other than R.R. Bowker or through the special programs of the companies listed here, that ISBN will not identify you as the publisher of your title. This can have implications for your business in the publishing industry supply chain.

Companies that will submit certain
ISBN applications to the US ISBN Agency

  • Aardvark Global Publishing Company
  • Bethany Press
  • Espressio
  • FilmMasters
  • Instantpublisher.com
  • Lulu.com
  • PPC Books
  • Publisher Services
  • RJ Communications
  • RKD Press
  • Signature Books
  • WordClay

Self-publishing a book

 June 13, 2012 8:28 PM PDT

Note to readers: I originally published the article back in 2008 and have updated it a few times, most recently on June 13, 2012. This article primarily addresses self-publishing a print book, though many of the tips apply to e-books as well. For specific information about publishing an e-book, see my companion article, “How to self-publish an ebook.”

A few years ago I wrote a book. A novel. “Knife Music.” Contrary to what you might think based on my day job, it’s not a cyber-thriller, though it is a mystery/thriller with a medical/legal slant.

Its short history is this: I worked on it for several years, acquired a high-powered agent, had some brushes with major publishers, then, crickets.

I could have tried to go for a small publisher, but I was told mine was “a bigger book” with more commercial aspirations and prestigious small publishers were interested in more literary tomes. I also learned that many small publishers were being wiped out by the “self-publishing revolution,” a movement that’s not so unlike the “citizen journalism” or bloggers’ revolt of recent years that’s had a major impact on mainstream media, including this publication. The basic premise is anyone can become a small publisher. You call the shots. You retain the rights to your book. And you take home a bigger royalty than you’d normally get from a traditional publisher–if you sell any books.

Against the advice of my agent, I began perusing the big self-publishing companies’ Web sites and evaluating what they had to offer. Then I started poking around blogs and message boards to get customer testimonials. What I found was a veritable minefield with roads that forked in every direction and very few clear answers.

After much deliberation, I chose BookSurge, a print-on-demand (POD) outfit that Amazon owned along with the more no-frills POD operation CreateSpace. In 2009, after I published, Amazon merged BookSurge and CreateSpace under the CreateSpace brand name, so when I say Booksurge going forward, you should think CreateSpace. For those new to self-publishing, it’s worth noting that CreateSpace is considered a subsidy press or author-services company. The key to these companies is that books are printed only when someone orders a copy; neither author nor publisher is forced into buying a bunch of books and having to hawk them.

Royalties are better than what “real” publishers offer, but there are caveats, and true self-publishing pros prefer to cut out the subsidy press (which takes a cut) and go straight to a POD printer like Lightning Source to maximize profits. But I was less concerned about making money from this venture and more interested in putting together a well-packaged product that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to sell and some strangers might be willing to buy. If I did it right, I thought, and managed to get it some attention, some “real” publisher might come along and discover what a gem those 20 some odd publishers had passed on.

Well, thanks to a little publicity courtesy of Apple and a rejected — then accepted — free iPhone app, four and half months after I self-published “Knife Music,” my agent sold it to The Overlook Press, an independent publisher that put the book out in hardcover in July 2010. A few months later it came out as an e-book and did very well, rising to as high as No. 4 on the Kindlebestseller list. Later this year Overlook will publish my second novel, “The Big Exit.”

As I said, that’s the short story, and many things have changed — particularly for the e-book industry — since I first wrote this column back in December 2008. But most of what I learned along the way and what I picked up from other people who’ve also self-published, applies more than ever. As always, feel free to add your own experiences to the comments section, and thanks to all the readers who’ve e-mailed in the past.

1. Self-publishing is easy.

Self-publishing a print book is easy. Self-publishing an e-book is even easier.

Since this article is mainly about self-publishing an old-fashioned print book, here’s the skinny on what it takes to put together such a book:

You choose a size for your book, format your Word manuscript to fit that size, turn your Word doc into a PDF, create some cover art in Photoshop, turn that into a PDF, and upload it all to the self-publisher of your choice and get a book proof back within a couple of weeks (or sooner) if you succeeded in formatting everything correctly. You can then make changes and swap in new PDFs.

After you officially publish your book, you can make changes to your cover and interior text by submitting new PDFs, though your book will go offline (“out of stock”) for a week or two. Companies may charge a fee (around $25-$50) for uploading a new cover or new interior.

2. Digital, not print, is your best bet.

The first thing I tell authors who tell me they want to publish a print book is that print should be their secondary focus. I’m advising people who have text-based books (no graphics, illustrations, or photos) to test the self-publishing waters with an e-book before moving on to hard copies. It’s much easier to produce an e-book, particularly when it comes to formatting and cover design. And you can also price a digital book for much less than a paperback, which makes it easier to sell (the majority of self-published print books cost $13.99 and up while the majority of indie e-books sell in the $.99-$5.99 range.

All that said, you can, of course, do both print and digital easily enough.

Once you have your book finalized in a Word or PDF file, it’s relatively easy to convert it into one of the many e-book formats — or just offer it as a download as a PDF. There are several e-publishers geared to “indie” authors, including SmashwordsBookBaby and Lulu, to name just a few. And needless to say, Amazon’s CreateSpace steers you toward uploading your book to the Kindle Store via Kindle Direct Publishing.

Note: Please see my article “How to self-publish an e-book” for more information on e-book creation.

3. Quality is good.

I can’t speak for all self-publishing companies, but the quality of POD books is generally quite decent. You can’t do a fancy matte cover (yet), but the books look and feel like “real” books. The only giveaway that you’re dealing with a self-published book would be if the cover were poorly designed — which, unfortunately, is too often the case.

4. Since self-publishing’s so easy, everybody’s doing it.

One of the unfortunate drawbacks of having a low barrier of entry into a suddenly hot market is that now everybody and their brother and sister is an author. That means you’re dealing with a ton of competition, some of which is made up of hustlers, charlatans, and a bunch of people in between.

The growth of indie publishing in the U.S. has been huge over the last couple of years. While that growth has started to level off as fewer writers have unpublished novels in their closets to publish, you can still expect to go up against thousands of other motivated indie authors.

5. Good self-published books are few and far between.

Again, because the barrier to entry is so low, the majority of self-published books are pretty bad. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say less than 5 percent are decent and less than 1 percent are really good. A tiny fraction become monster success stories, but every every few months, you’ll hear about someone hitting it big (for those who don’t know already the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy was initially self-published).

6. The odds are against you.

The average print self-published book sells about 100-150 copies — or two-thirds to three-quarters of your friends and family combined (and don’t count on all your Facebook acquaintances buying). I don’t have a source for this statistic, but I’ve seen this stated on several blogs and as a Publishers Weekly article titled “Turning Bad Books into Big Bucks” noted, while traditional publishers aim to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of a few books, self-publishing companies make money by publishing 100 copies of hundreds of thousands of books.

7. Creating a “professional” book is really hard.

Barrier to entry may be low, but creating a book that looks professional and is indistinguishable from a book published by a “real” publishing house is very difficult and requires a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars (when all was said and done, I’d put in around $7,500, which included about $2,500 in marketing costs). You wonder why “real” books take nine months to produce — and usually significantly longer. Well, I now know why. It’s hard to get everything just right (if you’re a novice at book formatting, Microsoft Word will become your worst enemy). And once you’ve finally received that final proof, you feel it could be slightly better.

8. Have a clear goal for your book.

 

This will help dictate what service you go with. For instance, if your objective is to create a book for posterity’s sake (so your friends and family can read it for all eternity), you won’t have to invest a lot of time or money to produce something that’s quite acceptable. Lulu is probably your best bet. However, if yours is a commercial venture with big aspirations, things get pretty tricky.

9. Even if it’s great, there’s a good chance your book won’t sell.

If your book is really mediocre, don’t expect it to take off. But even if it’s a masterpiece, there’s a good chance it won’t fly off the shelves (and by shelves, I mean virtual shelves, because most self-published books don’t make it into brick-and-mortar stores). In other words, quality isn’t a guarantee of success. You’ll be lucky to make your investment back, let alone have a “hit” that brings in some real income. Don’t quit your day job yet.

10. Niche books tend to do best.

This seems to be the mantra of self-publishing. Nonfiction books with a well-defined topic and a nice hook to them can do well, especially if they have a target audience that you can focus on.Religious books are a perfect case in point. And fiction? Well, it’s tough, but some genres do better than others. Indie romance/erotica novels, for instance, have thrived in the e-book arena.

Note: If it’s any consolation, the majority of fiction books — even ones from “real” publishers — struggle in the marketplace. That’s why traditional publishers stick with tried-and-true authors with loyal followings.

11. Buy your own ISBN — and create your own publishing house.

If you have market aspirations for your book, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and create your own publishing company.

Even if you go with one of the subsidy presses for convenience’s sake, there’s no reason to have Lulu, CreateSpace, iUniverseXlibrisAuthor HouseOutskirts, or whomever listed as your publisher. For around $100 (what a single ISBN costs) and a little added paperwork, you can go toe-to-toe with any small publisher. Lulu.com sells ISBNs, other self-publishing companies don’t. The complete list of sellers is here.

Note: Most self-publishing operations will provide you with a free ISBN for both your print book and e-book but whatever operation provides you with the ISBN will be listed as the publisher.

12. Create a unique title.

Your book should be easy to find in a search on Amazon and Google. It should come up in the first couple of search results. Unfortunately, many authors make the mistake of using a title that has too many other products associated it with it — and it gets buried in search results. Not good. Basically, you want to get the maximum SEO (search engine optimization) for your title, so if and when somebody’s actually looking to buy it they’ll find the link for your book — not an older one with an identical title.

Note: On a more cynical note, some authors are creating titles that are very similar to popular bestsellers. Also, some authors use pseudonyms that are similar to famous authors’ names so they’ll show up in search results for that author. Check out this list of Fifty Shades of Grey knockoffs.

13. Turn-key solutions cost a lot of money.

You’ve written your book and God knows you’d like to just hand it off to someone, have a team of professionals whip it into shape, and get it out there. Well, there are a lot of companies that will offer to make just that happen — and do it in a fraction of the time a traditional publisher could. But those “packages” range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to upward of $25,000.

These folks can potentially put together a really nice book for you. But I’ve also heard a lot nightmare stories where people come away disappointed with the process and feel ripped off. You can do a search in Google for the companies you’re considering and find testimonials — good and bad — from authors who’ve used the services. Proceed with caution.

14. Self-publishers don’t care if your book is successful.

They say they care, but they really don’t care. You have to make them care.

15. Buy as little as possible from your publishing company.

Self-publishing outfits are in the game to make money. And since they’re probably not going to sell a lot of your books, they make money by with nice margins. That’s OK. Some of the services are worth it — or at least may be worth it. Way back when, Booksurge/CreateSpace used to have something called Buy X, Get Y program that paired your book with an Amazon bestseller. It was pricey ($1,000 a month) but in a special sale I bought 3 months for the price of 2 and ended up being paired one month with John Grisham’s new novel, which put the thumbnail image of my book in front of a lot of people. Alas, BookSurge/CreateSpace has since discontinued this program because traditional publishers were upset that shoddy self-published books were being featured on the same page as their books. It was good while it lasted and it helped me sell dozens, if not hundreds, of books.

Personally, I’d never work with CreateSpace’s in-house editors, copy editors, and in-house design people. That doesn’t mean they’re bad at what they do (I’ve seen some covers that are well-done). But if you can, it’s better to hire your own people and work directly with them. Ideally, you should be able to meet with an editor, copy editor, and graphic designer in person — and they all should have experience in book publishing.

Down the road, I suspect you’ll see more self-publishers offer high-end programs that pair you with a former editor from a major publishing house. It’s also worth mentioning that Amazon has become a publisher itself, with several imprints that it’s either bought or created. Amazon is in the process of developing a new hybrid model for publishing that aims to take the place of traditional publishers, which it sometimes refers to as “legacy” publishers. You can see a list of Amazon’s imprints here. With its flagship Encore imprint, it selects certain “exceptional” self-published titles from “emerging” authors and brings them under the Amazon umbrella so to speak. It’s a good gig if you can get it.

16. If you’re serious about your book, hire a book doctor and get it copy edited.

OK, so I’ve just told to avoid “packages” from publishers and yet I’m now saying you need editing and copy editing. So, where do you go? Well, before I sent my book out to agents, I hired a “book doctor” who was a former acquisition editor from a major New York publishing house (like most editors he worked at a few different houses). He happened to be the father of a friend from college, so I got a little discount, but it still wasn’t cheap. However, after I’d made the changes he suggested, he made some calls to agents he knew and some were willing to take a look. He was part of Independent Editors Group (IEG), a group of former acquisition editors who take on freelance editing projects for authors.

While I didn’t use his copy editor (I used a friend of a friend who currently works at a big publishing house), he and other editors in his group can suggest people. To be clear, this isn’t going to be a better deal than what you’d get from a package deal with a self-publisher, but these people are experienced and are going to be upfront and honest with you. They’re not just pushing your book out to move it along the line on the conveyor belt, though they are trying to make a living. (Warning: they don’t take on all writers).

By no means is IEG the only game in town. There are plenty of good book consultants out there, including Alan Rinzler, who has an excellent blog and straddles the line between being an executive editor at an imprint of John Wiley & Sons and providing services to private clients. And there are plenty of others.

17. Negotiate everything.

CreateSpace and other self-publishing companies are always offering special deals on their various services. There isn’t whole lot of leeway, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for deal sweeteners — like more free copies of your book (they often throw in free copies of your book). It also doesn’t hurt to ask about deals that have technically expired. In sales, everything is negotiable. Remember, these people have quotas and bonuses at stake. (For their sake, I hope they do anyway).

18. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid to complain.

When I self-published, I paid an extra $300 fee to be able to talk directly to a live person on the phone for customer support. Companies like Lulu and CreateSpace have complete DIY options and require no upfront setup fees. That’s great, but when you’re dealing with a superbasic package, you’re most likely going to be doing customer support via e-mail or IM, and get very little hand-holding. It’s nice to be able to call up and complain (in a nice way, of course) directly to a live person on the phone, so take that into account when you’re examining your package options.

19. Self-publishing is a contact sport.

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something to happen. It’s just not so. You have to be a relentless self-promoter. Unfortunately, a lot people just don’t have the stomach or time for it.

What’s the secret to marketing your book successfully? Well, the first thing I advise — and I’m not alone here — is to come up with a marketing plan well before you publish your book. The plan should have at least five avenues for you to pursue because chances are you’re going to strike out on a couple of lines of attack. It’s easy to get discouraged, so you have to be ready to move on to plan c, d, and e (and the rest of the alphabet) pretty quickly.

These days there’s a lot of talk about a “blog strategy,” and many well-known authors do virtual book tours where they offer up interviews to various blogs. You probably won’t have that luxury, but you can certainly research what blogs might be interested in your book and prepare pitches for them. There are social media campaigns to wage, local media angles to pursue, organizations to approach, and all kinds of out-of-the-box gambits you can dream up. None of this will cost you a whole lot — except time and perhaps a little pride.

Then there’s the stuff you pay for. And it’s tricky to judge what’s a good investment and what’s not because the results vary so much from book to book. A friend of mine who has a “real” book from a traditional publisher experimented with placing $1,000 in Facebook ads targeted to people in “cold” states (his book is called the History of the Snowman and it does very well around Christmas). He’s still trying to figure out what impact the ads had, but Facebook does have some interesting marketing opportunities. Google AdWords/Keywords is another popular option. And a number of self-serve ad networks are popping up, including Blogards Book Hive, which allows you to target a number of smaller book blogs for relatively affordable rates.

The author MJ Rose has a marketing service called AuthorBuzz that caters to both self-publishers and traditional publishers. She says the best thing for self-publishers is a blog ad campaign–it starts at about $1,500 for a week of ads (the design work is included) and heads up in increments of $500. She says: “We place the ads in subject-related blogs, not book blogs. For instance, if it’s a mystery about an antiques dealer, we don’t just buy blogs for self-identified readers — who are not the bulk of book buyers — but rather I’ll find a half dozen blogs about antiques, culture, art and investments and buy the ads there and track them.” Rose claims she can get your book in front of at least a half a million people with that initial investment. She also says that you can’t really spend too much, you can just spend poorly.

I agree. However, I can’t tell you what impact a week or month of ads on blogs will have on your specific book’s sales. There are simply too many variables.

Bonus tip: When it comes to self-promotion, there’s a fine line between being assertive and being overly aggressive in an obnoxious way. It also doesn’t impress people when all you tweet about is your book (the same goes for your Facebook and Google+ posts). As one friend told me, the state you want to achieve is what she likes to call “comfortably tenacious.”

20. Getting your book in bookstores sounds good, but that shouldn’t be a real concern.

You may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren’t keen on carrying self-published books and it’s extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. CreateSpace offers its Expanded Distribution program for a $25 a year fee. It uses Baker & Taylor, as well as Ingram, as well as CreateSpace Direct to make your book available “to certified resellers through our wholesale website.” You also get distribution to Amazon Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, Amazon.de).

21. Self-published books rarely get reviewed — for free anyway.

Yes, it’s true. It’s very hard to get your self-published book reviewed — and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But that’s changing a bit. People didn’t take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what’s interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus and more recently Publishers Weekly are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. In the case of Kirkus Indie, the author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400-$550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective critique (yes, they do negative reviews) in the same format as a standard Kirkus review. (You can also submit books that are in an e-book-only format).

As for Publishers Weekly, it offers something called PW Select. While you can submit your book for review for a fee of $149, only about 25 percent of the book submissions end up being reviewed. But for a lot of folks risking that $149 is worth the opportunity of getting into the PW door. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the review isn’t favorable.

A third option is BlueInk Review, another fee-based review service targeted at indie authors.

22. Design your book cover to look good small.

Traditional book publishers design — or at least they used to design — a book cover to make a book stand out in a bookstore and evoke whatever sentiment it was supposed to evoke. Well, with Amazon becoming a dominant bookseller, your book has to stand out as a thumbnail image online because that’s how most people are going to come across it. If you’re primarily selling through Amazon, think small and work your way up.

23. If you’re selling online, make the most out of your Amazon page.

I’m a little bit surprised by how neglectful some self-published authors are when it comes to their Amazon product pages. I’ve talked to self-published authors who spend a few thousand dollars on a publicist and their Amazon product page looks woeful — and they’ve barely even looked at it. I ask, “Where are people going to buy your book?” They don’t seem to realize how important Amazon is. True, some people market through a Web site or buy Google keywords to drive traffic there. But you need to have your Amazon page look as good as possible and take advantage of the tools Amazon has to help you surface your book (“Tags,” Listmania, reader reviews, etc.). It may not have a major impact, but it’s better than doing nothing. You should check out Amazon’s Author Central to get some helpful tips.

One tip: Make sure your book is put into five browsing categories (it’s only allowed five). It helps to categorize your book to readers and also will make your book look better if it’s a bestseller in those categories. Way back when I self-published, no one at BookSurge suggested this to me; I had to figure it out on my own. (Again, they don’t care, you have to make them care).

 

The manifestation of categorizing your book.(Credit: Amazon)

 

24. Pricing is a serious challenge.

The biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to produce thousands. I remember that you could buy my book — it was a paperback — from BookSurge for $5.70. It was about 370 pages. Now, if I went ahead and had the thing printed up directly through an off-set printer — and ordered a few thousand of them — I could probably cut the cost of the book in half, and maybe even a little more. But I’d have to pay the upfront fee to buy the books and then I’d have to figure out a way to sell them (this is how vanity presses used to work — you had to agree to buy a few thousand books).

To get a rough idea of how much money you can make selling your book, you can check out CreateSpace’s royalty calculator. Today, setting the price at $14.99, it looks like I’d make about $3.70 per book I sold. If you have a longer book, you’ll have to set the price even higher to make money.

Overall, compared with what traditional publishers pay out, royalty rates for self-published books are actually quite decent. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers, your book should be priced $8.99 or $9.99, and that’s simply not possible if it’s longer than 250 pages.

Many of the self-publishing operations have their own online marketplaces where you can offer up your book and get a significantly better royalty rate. Lulu.com, for instance, touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience. But you obviously have access to a much larger audience on Amazon, which is the first place people generally go to look for a book when they hear about it.

The trick, of course, is making people aware your book exists. I could write an entire piece on the tricks authors pull to get their books to surface better on Amazon. Amazon Author Central and Google are your best friends for helping to discover ways to better surface your book.

25. Self-publishing is a fluid business.

Self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors that are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I — or other pundits say today — could be wrong just a few months from now. A few years ago, Amazon was only offering 35 percent royalties on e-books. Now it’s at 70 percent for books price $2.99 and higher. What does next year hold in store?

Please comment. And please share any insights into specific self-publishing companies or the industry in general.

More: How to self-publish an e-book

 

 A while back I wrote a column titled “Self-publishing: 25 things you need to know,” which was mostly about how to create and sell your own paper book. After folks asked me to do something similar for e-books, I created this article, which has now been updated a few times.I begin with one caveat: The whole e-book market is rapidly evolving, and a lot of self-publishing companies are offering e-book deals bundled into their print book publishing packages, which makes them harder to break out and evaluate. It’s all quite complicated, and in an effort to sort through the confusion, I’ve decided to offer a few basic tips and present what I think are some of the best options out there for creating an e-book quickly and easily. As things change — and they will — I’ll do my best to keep this column up to date.

 

Tips:

 

  • It’s gotta be good: The same rule applies to self-published e-books as it does to print books. You have to start with a good product if you have any hope of selling it.
  • Create an arresting cover: When it comes to e-books, everything starts with the cover image. Creating an eye-catching, professional-looking cover that also looks good small (it has to stand out as a thumbnail image, since it’s being sold online) is easier said than done, but it can really make a difference in terms of sales. Ideally, you should hire a graphic designer who has some experience creating book covers. From a production standpoint, an e-book cover is easier to create than a cover for a print book (you just need a JPEG with decent resolution), but it shouldn’t look out of place among traditionally published e-books. I can’t tell you how many bad self-published covers are out there.
  • Price your e-book cheaply: You should sell your e-book for $5.99 or less. According to research done by Smashwords, an online e-book publishing and distribution platform for authors, publishers, agents, and readers, $2.99 to $5.99 yields the most profit for self-published authors, and although 99 cents will get you more downloads, it’s a poor price point for earning income (see Smashwords’ presentation on pricing here). On the other hand, Lulu, one of the bigger online self-publishing operations, says that authors who price their e-books in the 99-cent to $2.99 range “sell more units and earn more revenue than those in any other price range.”It’s important to note that Amazon’s 70 percent royalty for authors only applies to Kindlebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99; otherwise, the rate kicks down to 35 percent). As for going free, well, Smashword data indicates that free e-books get about 100 times more downloads than priced e-books.
  • Avoid any outfits that don’t let you set the price: This is one of the cardinal rules of self-publishing an e-book. You must be able to control the pricing of your e-book. If you want to sell it for 99 cents, then you should be able to sell it for 99 cents.
  • Marketing is all about creating awareness for your e-book: I don’t have any secret marketing tips to offer, but what I can say is that you can’t sell a book if no one knows it exists. Most of book marketing is simply about creating awareness and you need to do that however you can, whether it’s through social media or blogging or passing out fliers on a street corner. (I made a business card for my book, which I pass out if someone seems interested in hearing more about it.)

 

E-book publishing options:

Here are the three big questions to bear in mind with e-book creation: first, what is the easiest and most cost-efficient way to produce an e-book? Second, where will it be distributed? And third, how much of a cut do you get? With those in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more high-profile options available currently. I’m limiting it to these options because I want to keep this as simple as possible.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
This is Amazon’s e-book publishing platform, and if you think you’re going to sell a lot of e-books, you should figure out a way to upload your file (book) directly to KDP and avoid using any sort of middleman or e-book “aggregator” that takes a cut of the profits. If you’re a true DIY person, you can create your own cover (though if you’re not a professional designer, it’s better to hire a pro) and format your e-book from a Word file using free software tools such asMobipocket eBook Creator or Calibre. Mobipocket Creator allows you to create an e-book with a table of contents and convert it into Amazon’s proprietary e-book format, AZW (MOBI, the file output by the program, is the same as AZW). You can start with a Word file, which then gets converted to HTML, then MOBI. (Check out the Mobipocket eBook Creator guide at the company’s Web site).

If you don’t want to go the total DIY route, you can pay someone a few hundred dollars (or less) to format your e-book for you, but you’ll still need to come up with a cover. J.A. Konrath, who’s had a lot of success in the self-published e-book space and has written an excellent primer called “How to Make Money on eBooks,” recommended Rob Siders atwww.52novels.com. You can also try Ray Fowler atrayfowler.org. And Smashwords’ founder Mark Coker maintains “Mark’s List,” which is a list of low-cost e-book formatters and cover designers with pricing starting at about $50. You can get the list via instant autoresponder by e-mailing list@smashwords.com.

Amazon offers a 70 percent royalty rate for authors, but some rules apply (see the complete list of terms). This is the same royalty that Apple offers iPhone/iPad app developers and authors who sell e-books via its iBookstore store. You can upload your e-book directly to the iBookstore, but you have to fill out an application and it’s a bit of a process. That’s why authors tend to use an “aggregator” like Smashwords or Lulu to get into the iBookstore (see complete list of Apple-approved aggregators here). Even though the iPad supports most of the leading e-book stores (Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo), getting into the iBookstore is becoming more important as Apple continues to sell millions of iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches.

That said, Amazon is offering incentives to authors to offer their works exclusively on Amazon. This program is called KDP Select and it comes with some key perks. Here’s what Amazon has to say:

 

 KDP Select is a new option that features a $6 million annual fund dedicated to independent authors and publishers. If you choose to make a book exclusive to the Kindle Store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and you can earn a share of the fund based on how frequently the book is borrowed (click here to see how payments are calculated). In addition, by choosing KDP Select, you will have access to a new set of promotional tools, starting with the option to offer enrolled books free to readers for up to 5 days every 90 days. Authors and publishers can enroll a single title, their whole catalog or anything in between within KDP Select.

 

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library allows Amazon Prime members to “check out” your e-book for free (members can only check out one eligible title per month). Obviously, being able to offer your book for free to thousands — or potentially million of customers — increases the odds you’ll “sell” more books. And what’s nice is that even though people may not being paying to download your book, you’re still getting paid — and pretty well, according to Amazon.

“Every time a customer borrowed an independently published book in March [2012], the author earned $2.18,” said Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content, in a recent press release. “That’s more than many authors earn when their books are sold.”

I can’t tell you how long Amazon will continue offering this deal — and what future payout rates will be — but I do know plenty of indie authors who are choosing the KDP Select option and not publishing on other platforms because they think it makes the most sense both in terms of number of sales (or downloads) and earnings. Kindle still has the largest market share with about 60 percent of the e-book pie (Nook is at around 25 percent, Apple 15 percent, and others are left to pick up the crumbs).

Of course, not everybody feels KDP Select is the way to go. Smashwords’ Coker, who’s also the author of the free e-book “Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success” (it’s worth checking out), thinks authors should shy away from KDP Select and has written an article explaining why.

Needless to say, Coker has a vested interest in you not going exclusive with Amazon. But he’s also well-regarded in the indie book world.

 

Smashwords
Smashwords, one of the e-book pioneers and largest distributors of self-published e-books, with more than 125,000 titles from over 40,000 authors, is very much a DIY operation. You bring your Word file and cover image, upload it into the company’s “Meatgrinder” tool, and in a matter of minutes, you create your e-book in just about every format you’d want. You can then sell that e-book on Smashwords.com or have the company distribute it to most of the major e-book sellers, including Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore, Apple’s iBooks, Sony, Kobo, and Baker & Taylor’s Blio and others. Smashwords also has deals in place for having its authors’ e-books distributed to libraries.

As for the Kindle, well, Smashwords says it’s still waiting for Amazon to update its KDP intake systems so it automatically can ingest Smashwords titles as other retailers do (the 200 or so titles that Smashwords has loaded into KDP have been loaded manually). Amazon encourages authors to upload directly through KDP, so I wouldn’t count on this happening anytime soon.

Smashwords offers a free style guide for formatting your e-book. Although Smashwords encourages authors to keep things simple, you can still create a professional-quality e-book with Smashwords that includes a linked table of contents, NCX navigation, and custom paragraph styling. A couple of years ago, I created an acceptable-looking e-book in about 30 minutes after making some tweaks (usually they involve spacing between chapter breaks) and reprocessing my file three times. If you follow Smashwords’ guidelines, you can end up with a professional-quality “reflowable” e-book that looks as good as what many of the big publishers are putting out and reads well on any screen size.

Smashwords prides itself on not charging you for creating your e-book and taking only a small cut of author’s royalties (see Smashwords’ overview ). Though the cut is small, it’s still a cut, but that’s the price you’re paying for the convenience of having your book distributed on a wide array of platforms and having Smashwords track your sales.

Coker has chided me a bit for disparaging the middleman. He’s quick to point out that a good middleman partner (distributor) saves you time, helps you reach retailers you can’t reach, and helps you centrally and efficiently manage distribution and metadata updates (change your price or book cover and the change propagates out to all retailers).

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Smashwords provides free ISBNs. I’m not going to get into a full on discussion of ISBN, which is “a unique identifier” associated with your e-book, but most companies provide a free ISBN for your e-book or roll the price up into a package. Smashwords has a good quick guide to e-book ISBNs that you should take a look at.

 

Authors should think globally from day one. — Mark Coker, Smashwords founder

 

Some distributors are more transparent than others about disclosing exactly what cut they take from your sales. Smashwords considers itself especially transparent. As soon as you upload your book, you get a dynamic pie chart that estimates how the pie is split at each price point across the different sales channels.

Smashwords operates its own e-book store, where authors earn 85 percent of the net sale (what’s left after credit card fees are deducted). That works out to between 60 and 80 percent of the list price, depending on the book’s price (for more info on author earnings and payment schedules, see Smashwords’ FAQ).

For books distributed by Smashwords to its retail network of the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and Baker & Taylor’s Blio, the author earns 60 percent of the list price, the retailer takes 30 percent and Smashwords earns 10 percent. The cuts work essentially the same for overseas sales, though in countries that impose VAT taxes, the VAT often comes out of the purchase price before the percentages are applied.

As far as international sales go, Coker says they’re growing rapidly. Apple’s in 32 countries already and Amazon, Kobo, B&N and Sony are all expanding their global operations. Coker says that 45 percent of its Apple iBookstore sales are from outside the U.S.

“Authors should think globally from day one,” Coker says. He predicts that the market outside the U.S. for indie English-language e-books will soon be larger than the U.S. market. Indie book growth is slowing in the U.S., he says, but fledgling international e-book markets are on the cusp of entering their exponential growth phases.

BookBaby
BookBaby, the sibling of CD Baby (Brian Felsen is the president of both operations), has a slightly different business model from some of its competitors. Instead of taking a cut of your royalties, it makes you pay a fee of $99 upfront, then charges you a yearly fee of $19 per title you have in its system. It also offers print publishing services.

I haven’t used BookBaby but I spoke to a customer service representative at length and was impressed with her responses. When I asked about what advantages BookBaby had over Smashwords, she didn’t knock her competitor.

“Smashwords is great,” she said. “But BookBaby is for someone who wants a little more hand-holding through the process.”

Smashwords’ Coker concurs and told me that he’s sent people who wanted more hand-holding to BookBaby.

Of course, you’ll have to pay a bit more to get that hand-holding. There’s a Premium package that runs $199, as well as cover design services (the customer service rep recommended going with the $279 Deluxe option).

BookBaby offers distribution with all the major e-book sellers (see list here) and offers anAuthor’s Accounting Dashboard to track and analyze sales data.

In all, BookBaby seems like one of the better indie e-book operations out there. If you only sell a few books, that $99 entry fee (or $199 if you go with the premium package) may not seem like such a great deal. But if you sell a lot, you’ll quickly recoup your investment.

Barnes & Noble’s PubIt
Barnes & Noble’s PubIt self-publishing operation offers similar features to Amazon’s KDP, but the two platforms do have their differences. Barnes & Noble has set the PubIt royalty rate for authors at 65 percent of the sale price for titles priced $2.99 and higher. The rate falls to 40 percent if you choose to go lower than $2.99 or higher than $9.99, with B&N setting 99 cents as the lowest allowable price and $199.99 as the highest. (For books priced under $2.99 or over $9.99, you actually earn more by distributing your book to B&N through Smashwords, which pays 60 percent list for all prices 99 cents and up.

B&N’s 65 percent is close to Amazon’s 70 percent royalty, but not quite as high (Amazon also has pricing restriction to get its highest rate). PubIt includes a free conversion tool that takes your Microsoft Word, TXT, HTML, or RTF files and automatically converts it to an EPUB file, which you then upload to Barnes & Noble’s eBookstore (alternatively, of course, if your e-book is already an EPUB file, you can just upload it directly through PubIt). Barnes & Noble allows you to preview how your content will look on one of Barnes & Noble’s e-reading devices using the Nook emulator.

Barnes & Noble says that going forward it will offer some unique features and is looking for ways to tie-in the Nook’s in-store Wi-Fi streaming features and feature local self-published authors in stores specific to each location. For reference, here’s a look at the PubIt FAQ page.

Lulu
When you publish a print book at Lulu — and a lot of people do — you also have the option of just publishing an e-book. Lulu e-books are distributed to Apple’s iBookstore, Lulu.com, and Barnes & Noble (Nook).

The main benefit Lulu offers in the e-book realm is that it’s one of the designated aggregators for Apple’s iBookstore.

It appears that Lulu doesn’t charge you anything to create an e-book (it offers an EPUB conversion tool and eBook Creator Guide), but like some competitors it offers fee-based premium services.

Lulu has greatly improved its royalty terms in last 18 months. As far as I can tell from its royalty calculator tool, Lulu takes a 10 percent cut of your net earnings from Apple’s iBookstore and B&N’s Nook Book Store. That’s good.

It’s hard to say what advantages Lulu has over competitors like Smashwords but at least the royalty rates appear to be the same. Weirdly, I found the Lulu Web site to be straightforward yet convoluted at the same time. For instance, I couldn’t figure out whether Lulu distributes your e-book to any retailers beyond Lulu.com, Apple, and Barnes & Noble. From what I saw on the site, it appears they don’t.

Click here to check out Lulu’s e-book creation options.

Booktango

Author Solutions, one of the largest self-publishers in the U.S., has entered the DIY e-book market with Booktango. Whether Booktango should be called an “e-book generating app” or “self-publishing platform” is hard to say, but it basically provides a free and simple way to upload your manuscript, edit it for proper formatting, then automatically serve it up to various e-book stores, including Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks.

On the surface, Booktango, which bears the “beta” tag, looks fairly slick and should improve as the company adds more features. The ability to have WYSIWYG formatting capabilities is nice (even on the iPad) and you can either upload a cover image of your own choosing or design one using some provided templates. All in all, it looks like a perfectly decent way to get your e-book formatted and distributed to all the major e-book stores quickly. Like its competitors, Booktango also manages your e-book sales — it rolls them all up into one account — and you can have your royalties sent directly to your checking account.

Booktango is free to use, but the company is working off a freemium model and provides additional fee-based services, such as copy editing, custom cover design, and marketing packages.

Booktango’s Web site advertises a “100 percent royalty,” which is misleading considering you get that rate only from the e-books you sell on the Booktango Web site and Booktango charges a fee for each book you sell (30 percent of the list price — the same as Amazon). For other outlets, Booktango takes 10 percent of your net profits, resulting in a “90 percent royalty,” which is also misleading because the net profit in its sample royalty rates seems smaller than it should be. Honestly, Booktango’s royalty rates don’t look too good and can’t match its competitors’ rates.

However, in an effort to attract authors Booktango is offering a true 100 percent royalty rate until July 4. And the Web site says that if you publish an e-book with Booktango by July 4, you’ll retain that 100 percent rate for the life of that book. That means if you make a sale through Booktango’s e-book store, you’ll get the full amount of the sale (I’m not sure if credit card fees are deducted or not). You’ll also get the full 100 percent net of the sale when selling through other e-booksellers (Apple, Amazon, and others will take their 30 percent cut, of course).

Since the service is so new I can’t vouch for it, but Booktango’s limited-time 100 percent royalty offer certainly has some appeal.

iBooks Author
A lot of people ask me about creating children’s books or other types of graphically rich books and e-books. I can’t say I’m an expert in this area, but when you’re dealing with graphics and images, the self-publishing equation becomes more difficult and expensive (formatting costs tend to go up as you add more images). However, Apple’s trying to change all that with iBooks Author, which allows you to build multitouch interactive e-books that you can upload and sell in the iBookstore and view in the iBooks2 app on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

The software program is a free download for Mac owners and using it is not so different from creating a PowerPoint presentation. It’s not perfect, but overall it’s pretty impressive, and Apple will undoubtedly continue improving it with updates.

You work from a selection of templates and can add multitouch widgets to include interactive photo galleries, movies, 3D objects, and more. When you’re done, you then have to fill out an applicationto create an account before you can upload your creations to the iBookstore or iTunes U (Apple has billed iBooks Author as a multifaceted tool for creating everything from textbooks to cookbooks to picture books, and anything else you can think of).

If you can’t find a template you like, there are already third-party vendors, includingibooksauthortemplates.com, selling additional templates. (Yes, Apple’s spurred another cottage industry).

When iBooks Author launched, some people were upset by the fact that your project can only live in Apple’s e-book ecosystem and nowhere else. So it goes. At the moment, the iPad is far and away the best-selling tablet and represents arguably the biggest market for graphically rich color e-books, not to mention the best way to view them (particularly on the new iPad’s Retina display). Yes, Amazon has sold a lot of Kindle Fires and the Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color andNook Tablet have found their way into a lot of homes. But the iPad’s still king, and Apple’s calling the shots here.

I don’t have a problem with that and think it’s great that Apple offers iBooks Author for free. But the one thing that does bother me is Apple’s failure to provide a free ISBN for your e-book. Instead, it tells you to get your own and provides a link to Bowker’s Identifiers Services page. Bowker’s charges $125 for a single ISBN or 10 for $250. The price drops to single digits when you buy thousands of ISBNs as other self-publishing outfits do. (You can buy a single ISBN for less than $125, but I’d prefer not get into all that). In short, it’s patently absurd that Apple’s making its authors pay $125 for ISBN number, and I think it’s deterring a lot of people from publishing an iBook directly with Apple.

Apple’s the exclusive publisher here. It needs to provide free ISBNs to its authors. If Smashwords can afford to do it, so can Apple.

CreateSpace, iUniverse, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and other POD self-publishing outfits
Most of the large print-on-demand self-publishing operations offer some sort of e-book conversion service and distribution — and sometimes it gets bundled into a print-publishing package (these companies usually charge a few hundred dollars for converting your e-book). In some cases, this can work out OK for authors who don’t care about extracting as much money as they can from each sale and don’t want to work with a separate company to create an e-book once they’ve uploaded their PDF file for their print book. For those who don’t think they’ll end up selling a lot of copies of their e-book, this can be a fine arrangement, but just beware that in many cases you can’t set your own price and more money is being taken out of your net profits than should be. Again, you should strongly consider avoiding companies that don’t let you set your own price.

Scribd
Scribd.com offers one of the fastest and easiest ways to get an e-book or even a short story up on the Internet, though Scribd isn’t a serious player yet as far as e-book sales go. After you create an account, you simply create a PDF of your book with the cover image embedded in the first page of the PDF and upload the PDF to Scribd.

Its online software quickly converts your document into a file that can be viewed on a PC, iPad, or other portable devices. You can also choose to allow people to download your file for viewing.

Scribd has added HTML5 coding, so your document can easily be read on the iPad via the Safari browser (this allows you to use Apple’s finger-based, pinch-and-spread touch zoom controls). Currently, the majority of documents posted to Scribd are free to view or download (it’s a great way to post samples of your work), but you can sell your work on Scribd as well. (If you want to see an example, I posted a free excerpt of my own book to Scribd. Alas, I should have made my cover larger so it didn’t have a white border, but so it goes).

 

In sum

 

To be clear, there are other ways to go about self-publishing your e-book. For example, I haven’t talked about such outfits as Ingram Digital, Overdrive, or LibreDigital, because they’re geared toward larger publishing or self-publishing operations rather than individuals. To help focus your decision-making process, I’ve tried to stick to what I consider the important players right now.

I should also say that everybody comes to the self-publishing process with a different agenda — and a different book –and some e-book self-publishing options will appeal to you based on the type of book you have (aside from the iBooks Author reference, this article is slanted to publishing more text-based e-books rather than books with lots of illustrations or graphic images, such as children’s books). For those who are publishing an e-book as an experiment or “just to get it out there” and who are less concerned with making money and extracting every last dime out of a sale, aggregators offer a convenient solution to get your book in a variety of e-book stores and roll up your sales into one single record that you can easily track (most companies pay out earnings from e-books within 60 to 90 days; Amazon is 60).

It’s also worth noting that you can mix and match and go direct with Amazon (KDP), uploading your own file and managing your account, and then use an aggregator such as Smashwords for additional distribution to other e-book stores. At this point there are no hard and set rules and, as I said in the beginning, the e-book market is very fluid, seeing significant changes almost every month. As always, please feel free to post your opinion in the comments section, particularly if you’ve had experience publishing your e-book already and can share your observations with others. And remember, Google is your best friend for the finer parts of self-publishing, such as converting a Word file to a PDF.

Editors’ note:This story has been updated a few times, most recently on June 1, 2012, since it was originally published on July 27, 2010.

 

 


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