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The Self-Publisher's FAQ


In the last ten years, ebooks have gone from a little-used PDF feature to the star of the publishing world. Several books only available in electronic form have skyrocketed to success and gone on to be physical book best-sellers, too. But while ebooks have grown exponentially, they have leveled off in recent years, taking up about one-third of all books sold. Those jumping in to ebooks need to be aware of several trend changes that word-of-mouth erroneously supports.

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Should I Only Release My Book in an Ebook Format?

There is much to recommend this path for the self-publisher, especially when releasing poetry and fiction. Novels and poetry by unknown authors are the hardest books to sell, primarily because the American audience has become so fixed on "brand name authors." An ebook is usually priced at such an attractively low cost (see the discussion a little later) that a reader/buyer might take a chance on an unknown.

An ebook-only release frees the self-publishing author from spending a lot of money on development costs (a full cover design, printing set-up and run costs, warehousing and distribution), and lets the author spend the money where it is most needed—marketing.
Personally, I favor doing a dual launch of a POD book and ebook. That way you can appeal to readers who like the feel of a physical book, plus capture the ebook fan.

In the end, you must understand who your reader/buyers are and their preferences. (Read the section chapter on marketing!).

What Are the Types of Ebook Formats?

There are currently only two types of ebook formats: Mobi/AZX-files and ePub.

ePub is an open-source code developed by the International Publishing Forum. It is based on XHTML and works on Apple iPads, iPhones, iTouch and iPods; Barnes & Noble Nooks; Kobos; and Sony devices.

The Amazon Kindle uses Mobi-files in a highly compressed version called AZX. It can be read by all versions of Kindle, as well as any other hand-held and stationary device.

The PDF (Portable Document Format), developed by Adobe for their products, is rarely used as an ebook format.

What Are the Most Common Ebook Readers?

They are as follows in popularity:


Do I Need to Buy an ISBN If Amazon Will Assign an ISBN to My Kindle Edition?

While you can allow Amazon to assign one of their ISBNs to your Kindle version, remember that this number points to Amazon as the publisher/owner of the ISBN. It's your work, why allow anyone else to have any sort of claim on it? A block of ten ISBNs is not that expensive (

Do I Need to Assign ISBNs to All the E-Versions of the Book (Kindle, Sony, Apple, etc)?

In theory, yes. In practice, no. Publishers are supposed to assign a new ISBN when the book is in a different format, or has changed significantly from a previous edition.

What has developed with ebooks is that publishers will assign one ISBN to a Kindle version, one to all of the ePub versions, one or two to the paper book(s) (paperbacks and hardbacks get separate ISBNs), and one to audio versions. You can see why I recommend buying ten ISBNs.

Can I Skip All the Traditional Steps to Publishing a Paper Book?

You can skip many aspects of physical book production. However—and I cannot emphasize this enough—do not skip having the book edited. Just because the book is in electronic form doesn't mean people won't care if your book is riddled with typos and horrific grammar goofs.

Do I Need to Have My Ebook Typeset?

I've seen many people put their ebooks out using a direct Word document. Given that your reader/buyer may increase the font, or the particular program may simply block formatting, this is an important consideration. Even if you use a Word document directly, you need to format it with page and chapter breaks. See this article for tips and tricks:

Note that typesetters can easily produce an ePub and Kindle file from a book typeset in InDesign for a nominal add-on price. This—at least to me—makes the decision to put out a book in both paper and e-versions quite easy.

Can I Make My Own Cover or Use one a Template the Ebook Company Offers?

If you have some talent at graphic design, you can certainly try your hand at cover design. Don't use the templates the various services offer. They look just like generic templates... and I bet you don't think your book is generic!

Keep the visuals simple and clean. Most ebook images are only about one- to two-inches tall on the screen. Make it something interesting related to your book. Make the main title font simple and clear. Don't make the subtitle very large, nor your/the author's name.

The same rules apply to ebooks that apply to physical books: an amateurish cover tells the reader/buyer you have amateurish content. A great cover will make the reader/buyer want to click that buy button! Ask a professional cover designer what they would charge you for an ebook-only cover.

What Should I Charge for My Ebook?

We've found through experimenting that somewhere between $2.99 and $7.99 are very compelling prices to buyer/readers. If your book is heavy on the information and has high value for its intended buyer, then you might even go as high as $12.99. Novels I'd sell at $5.99 to $7.99. Poetry and short stories I might offer at $2.99 to $4.99.

Should I Offer My Ebook for Free Initially, Then Charge for It Later?

Back in 2007, when there were relatively few ebooks, it was a great strategy to offer your book for free for a while. People would load a bunch of the freebies on their readers and then, if they liked your free book, look for more you'd written. That doesn't happen much any more. There are thousands and thousands of free ebooks out. People who scoop up the freebies and don't care who they are by, because there are lots more where those came from. And thinking you can ask for a high price after giving it away? Well, that might be wishful thinking.

How Do I Get My Ebooks Formatted into the Various Programs?

You can simply put your formatted Word manuscript into the various formats (look in the distribution section). You can have files created when your full manuscript is being typeset for a paper book. You can hire someone familiar with ebook formatting to do this. You can sign up with ebook distributors who will do this as part of a package (see the discussion further on).

Should I Use an Ebook Distributor to Get My Title into All the Versions There Are?

As with many things in publishing, this depends on your interest in spending time and energy getting the book into all the channels, or allowing someone to take some of your money to manage this.

If you prefer to let someone else handle it and charge for doing so, I recommend two services: Smashwords and BookBaby. Both distribute the books as well as put the book into the various formats (for a fee).

Can I Distribute Ebooks Myself?

If you are interested in doing the distribution yourself, know that Amazon is a breeze to work with, but Apple is complex and grumpy.

Here are the links to the respective programs:

Sign up with the KDP program. Make sure you sign up for the 70% royalty program (it only applies to ebooks priced over $2.99).

Sign up with the Nook Publishing (formerly PubIt!) Program.

Sign up with the Writing Life progra.m

You must first create an AppleID. Do that here:
Then you must create an iTunes account (if you don't have one already) so that you can read your own book. Do that here:

Next, set up your iTunes Connect account to distribute your content. Select "books." Make sure to read the agreement carefully.

What Else I Should I Submit When I Set Up My Ebook?

You'll need to have your metadata prepared. That is: your ISBN, LCCN, BISAC categories, length of book (word count and page count), cover image, a brief description, a brief author's bio, any endorsement/blurbs, reviews. If any of these terms are unfamiliar to you, please go back to the "Alphabet for Publishers" section. The metadata will be used in the various databases to let people know about your book. Places like Amazon will use this material to flesh out your ebook page.

What is DRM and Should I Use It?

DRM or Digital Rights Management is a way to lock an e-document so that it can't be copied, printed or transferred. On the surface, this looks like a good idea. You want only the people who have paid to own the book. The problem is, most ebooks don't have this feature, so a reader/buyer may choose someone else's book instead of yours.

Consider this analogy: you have a store and expect to sell things. You've gone to all the trouble of setting up shop in a great area of town, and your shop windows are enticing to customers. However, you have a mean-looking guard at the door who demands customers pay before going in. Unless your store is something like Prada or Tiffany's, you'll probably go out of business soon.

Don't make it hard for you customers to acquire or use your ebook.

Should I Worry About People Selling My Book Illegally—Otherwise Known as Piracy?

It is a concern for all publishers. That's why DRM was initially invented. However, it just made customers mad—and making you consumers unhappy is the short road to no sales.

You need to set Google Alerts to look for your book title so you can spot piracy when it happens. If your book is on a website without your permission, contact the webmaster and demand they remove it immediately. Most will. If they don't, find out who they use to host their site (ISP). Contact them and inform them that a website they host is behaving in an illegal manner. The pirates will be out of business pretty quickly.

But here's the amazing thing: there is a whole lot less piracy than is talked about. Usually the content pirates go after high profile books. The reality is that your book is unlikely to attract their interest. At the point where they are ripping off your book, you'll be able to hire flesh-eating lawyers to handle them.


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