It’s easy to publish an e-book (part three)

by limebirdsally

In this final post in the series I overview how to take a completed ms and transform it into an e-book. Bear in mind that the market is constantly developing, so I’ve focused on options at a broader level rather than going in heavy with detail. To the best of my knowledge the information here is accurate at the time of writing, but I would expect it to change over time!

Part One

Part Two

When it comes to publishing you essentially have three choices:

Go direct to publishing platforms e.g. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing; Barnes & Noble (B&N) (Nook); Borders (Kobo) – this avoids aggregator fees but is more laborious (also see bullet point three below)

Use an aggregator e.g. Smashwords; Lulu; FastPencil – an easier way to distribute your book to a range of stores but you pay greater commission and some charge up-front fees

A mix of going direct to publishers and using an aggregator for example if your aggregator does not distribute to a particular store (e.g. Smashwords are still working on a deal with Amazon) or if you do not have a US bank account (in which case you’re not able to publish direct to Barnes & Noble).

Before you do anything, ensure you have a completed ms (apologies for the lectures in parts 1 and 2 in this series, but all important stuff!). If you haven’t worked into a fresh document and set your own formatting, strip the existing formatting by pasting it into wordpad and then back into a fresh document. The Smashwords style guide is a very helpful step-by step process to getting your document ready and has little hints such as not using the tab bar for your paragraph indents, which can cause weird problems after conversion, but using the paragraph indents and spacing option. You will then need to take this document and use the relevant software to convert it into a format that can be downloaded to an e-reader (e.g. Kindle, Nook etc.). This is discussed in point three below.

Make sure you have a professional book cover (or you may be using a print on demand (PoD) package where this is part of the service), a compelling blurb for the book, and author bio.

The following are the key decisions you need to think about when choosing between your indie-publishing options:

1. Do you just want to produce an e-book or do you also wish to produce a paper version?

Many of the print on demand self-publishers offer e-book options (e.g. CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company, iUniverse, Lulu, Fast Pencil etc.) These companies will have greater fees than if you’re just producing an e-book, although the costs can be wrapped up in the whole package so it’s worth taking a comprehensive view on print and e-book when making your decision.

If you just wish to produce an e-book, it is likely to be cheaper to go to an aggregator that solely operates with e-books or go direct to publishing platforms, but do look at the options offered by PoD companies when making your decision.

2. Exclusivity versus wider distribution

Amazon has been pushing its KDP Select whereby authors receive royalties when customers borrow their novel through the Kindle Owners Lending Library, but the downside is that you need to offer them exclusivity for 90 days, which of course limits your audience. I suspect there may be retaliation in the market, so have a look at what different publishers are offering when the time comes!

There’s a strong argument for making your distribution as wide as possible by not tying yourself down to exclusivity deals (you can still publish on the kindle store without going for KDP Select exclusivity), but the lending option may be appealing to you if you have a low price point for your book and the revenue from lending will potentially be greater. You’ll need to look at such options in the context of your marketing strategy and think about how it fits with your book launch plans.

3. How confident are you in working with different software packages and how sophisticated are your formatting needs?

The DIY publishing options talk you through the conversion process from text document to a file that can be downloaded to the appropriate e-readers. For example Smashwords has an excellent style guide that you can use to put your format your ms before putting it through their conversion software into a range of formats; Amazon has instructions for using Mobipocket eBook Creator, which you use to convert your ms for Kindle; B&N have instructions on pubit for Nook etc.

You do not need to be a computer whizz to follow the instructions in converting your file so don’t be daunted if you’re used to working on computers, as it’s all intuitive. You do, however need to be sufficiently computer literate in following step by step instructions to format your document and be confident picking up software that you’re not familiar with.

If you need support it is possible to pay a freelancer to convert your document for you to the required format (for example Smashwords has a list of freelancers who can do this for you if you’re using their service). Alternatively, you may wish to use an aggregator that offers a more comprehensive service. For example, Publish Green has a tiered fee service from formatting your file for you through to managing and distributing your book for you. They sell themselves on a more bespoke service to enhance the look of your novel. Just be aware that you’re potentially going to pay upwards of $299 for formatting that you could potentially do yourself.

Essentially if you lack confidence or have complex formatting involving footnotes, pictures etc. it is still worth experimenting to see if you can do it yourself, but you may find it beneficial to pay for a freelancer or  publishing distribution package that is able to format your ms for you.

4. Upfront costs vs. commission

The publishing platform will take their commission from sales. Some aggregators charge an upfront cost and the commission taken from sales varies (and can be a little hard to decipher as the aggregator will take their commission and the publishing platform will take their commission!)

In choosing between them, related to point two make sure any upfront costs are for services that you require. For example if you’re paying for a package to produce your cover and format the document an upfront fee is understandable. If you’re paying an upfront fee to compensate for their lower commission on sold units you need to weigh up whether your volume of sales makes this a sensible trade-off. Naturally this is difficult to estimate, but it comes down to the range of appeal of your book and the marketing activity you have planned.

5. International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

A final point to mention is whether your chosen platform(s) require(s) you to have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). You can purchase these in blocks and you require one for each format of book (i.e. e-book, hardback, paperback). However at the time of writing you do not need to have an ISBN to publish direct to Amazon or B&N as they will create their own unique identifier which functions in the same way. Apple’s iBookstore, however does require you to have an ISBN. It is worth bearing in mind that your aggregator may supply an ISBN for free where required by the publishing platform (for example Smashwords allows you to choose whether you assign your own ISBN, or if you wish them to allocate one for free).


In conclusion there is a range of choices of publishing platforms and aggregators – far more than the few I have mentioned in this post! My advice is to really think about what is necessary and to not pay for services that you do not require. For example why pay for somebody to format your ms if you’re able to do it yourself; don’t pay-out for an ISBN before ascertaining if you actually need one. Take the time to look through your options before reaching a decision, but once you’ve decided on your approach, you really can go from completed ms to published e-book in a few easy steps provided you follow the cardinal rule that you have removed any rogue formatting from your ms prior to converting it into e-reader format!

A final word is that blogging and our Limebird site is fantastic for networking. Please feel welcome to use the comments sections in our posts and our forums to share experiences and ask questions (you’re able to start new discussions in the forums). We really appreciate all the people who take the time to visit and read our posts and will do anything we can to support those in the Limebird community whether you go the indie route or traditional publishing house, so do check in and let us know how you get on if you do publish. BUT I’m afraid you can’t just rely on networking – you will need to get out there and promote your book to your target audience if you want it to sell!

31 Comments to “It’s easy to publish an e-book (part three)”

  1. Great advice once again. I’m so proud to be part of your community. Keep up the awesome posts! If I publish indie, I’ll be coming back to this series for help. 😀

  2. Thank you very much Novel Girl. I’ve really enjoyed becoming part of limebirds and I’m so glad you’ve found it useful. Good luck with your writing and we look forward to hearing how it goes whatever route you end up going.

  3. I think your commitment to explain the whole process is commendable. What would be fabulous is if you could make available all three parts as a single pdf so I, and others, could print it out and use as a future reference. I’m mulling over whether or not to publish a book out of my labours in writing Learning from Dogs and doing it as an e-book seems a smart idea.

    So big vote of thanks from this Brit out in Arizona!

    • You’re welcome, I’m so glad you’ve found it useful! I’m flattered that you think it’s worth compiling into a single PDF for future reference. I don’t have the programme on my laptop, but perhaps limebirdbeth would be happy to sort that out. Go for it with publishing your work from Learning from Dogs.

      • Sally, thanks.

        I will wait to hear from Beth but if it’s an issue I’m sure that I could do it at this end and then make it available for others, if everyone is happy about that? Paul

  4. Great advice.

    I went the scattergun approach for my poetry collection. It’s available on:

    Hardcopy: Through Lulu (or direct from me in South Africa as the shipping of individual copies all the way here costs an arm and a leg). One thing to note, my book is in UK sizes (A5) and so was not eligible to be sold as hard copy via Amazon (my next book will be US Trade!).

    mobi: Through Amazon’s Kindle store.

    PDF and EPUB: Through Lulu.

    iBook (or whatever it is called!) Through iTunes. (This just happened – Lulu did it automatically for me a few weeks back!)

    Everything else! I have set up a Smashwords account and I’m just tweaking the formatting so that their automatic conversion software doesn’t mess it up too much…

    To be honest, I haven’t promoted as much as I could have (that wasn’t the aim when I put this one together) but I have a plan all laid out for my genre collection!

    • This is useful stuff, Dennis. I’ve never published hard copy so maybe you’d like to add a post to the series on your experiences?!

  5. Thanks for this great series, especially part 1 about formatting.
    We’ve been having a ridiculous time trying to get our short stories whipped into shape for selling on Amazon.

    Do you have any of your own works published online? Where can we find them?

    • Grr, formatting gremlins! I’m glad you’ve found the series useful.

      I did publish a couple of tween books directly through Amazon and via Smashwords (I’m based in the UK and called Sally Panayiotou) that I had creative edited and copy-edited BUT I didn’t go back for the second creative editing so while they were very good books I didn’t feel passionate enough about promoting them. I basically published them because after years of writing I decided to give up the dream, so I thought I would go the whole hog with these two just to make something of all the time I’ve put into writing various things over the years.

      In retrospect I shouldn’t have published them for two main reasons – I made the mistake of pitching them as young adult because I wasn’t familiar with the slightly younger tween audience when I published them so some readers were disappointed that they were too young for them; and I had a couple of great five star reviews (from people I don’t know), but making comments like: “Awesome, it’s a bit boring at first but the ending is epic.” I really think a second or even third round of editing would have picked up on that so it was simply “awesome!”

      As giving up the writing dream lasted all of three months I really thought about what I was doing and I realised I didn’t want to be writing tween books but young adult paranormal and I know I can do a lot better so I actually unpublished them a couple of weeks ago.

      So the short answer is currently no I don’t have any available (although I think they might still be up on the Smashwords-fed sites like Barnes & Noble while they action the removal) and the advice that I give in this series is based on knowing a lot more now than I knew when I published last November!

      • How did you settle on the ‘Tween’ demographic?

        Our stories take place in a high school, but there are adult situations. Also, I think a lot of the humor in them comes from having an adult’s perspective of what high school was really like in retrospect.
        I’m trying to remember what my mother would have thought was inappropriate for me in high school! I guess our target audience is “immature adults”. Grown-ups that still enjoy farts and make-outs. Ha!

      • It’s probably mainly to do with the age of the protagonist, which was fifteen and they were shorter than standard YA length and a lot cleaner than many YA books, where you can get away with adult content a lot more.

        I think the best way is to get someone in your perceived target audience to read it and see what they reckon – I don’t think you’ll struggle to find many immature adults (hey, who doesn’t love farts and make-outs)!

  6. Sally, as they say, ‘I can resist anything except temptation!’That may be translated into me idling away the last hour in copy and pasting your three Posts into Scrivenor. I am now in a position to send you the text in the format of your choice before outputting it as a pdf.

    If you want to drop me an email at paulhandover at good old gmail dotty com then I can attach a file and send it on it’s way to you.


    • Hi Paul,

      Do you still need me to do anything with this? If we were to put this out as a pdf for resources, I would need to add some copyright text as well as our logo etc.


    • Ha-ha, nice saying, I haven’t heard that one before! Hey, thanks for doing that. Could you email it to as a word document and Beth can add in the necessary bits and post it up? Thanks again and I’m glad it was useful.

  7. Beth, no! I just did it as it seemed like a good idea, see my previous comments. But very happy to stand aside and let you manage it. Thank you, Paul

  8. Wonderful post! Would you consider doing one about how to market your book? Or maybe point me to some resources? Thanks so much!

  9. Hi Sally-

    Let me share my recent publishing experience: I was fresh off of my first National Novel Writing Month 2011, and unemployed, so I had time on my hands. I was motivated to publicize my first novel. I saw a post on Facebook about Smashwords, and decided to investigate. I paid no money, and took my manuscript through their free, detailed formatting how-to manual. It was a lot of work, but paid off, as I was accepted into their premium catalog for maximum distributuion (iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, etc.). I created my own cover art. It doesn’t look like everyone else’s, but I like to be different!
    Next I published on Amazon, but chose not to be exclusive. I had to tweak my formatting slightly, but it was free and simple. The most challenging thing has been to market my book. I have learned a lot about blogging during the last two months, and continue to seek opportunities to improve my skills.
    During e-book week this month, I offered my book for FREE on Smashwordws. I had already had a few downloads of samples, and I got more, plus “purchases.” I am trying hard not to be discouraged, and taking a hard look every day at how I can publicize my book. There are still many things I haven’t tried yet. I will attend my first writing conference in May. The year is young, and I am feeling optimistic! Thanks to all you Limebird writers for your wonderful insights and support!

    • Hey, again as above sorry I’m only replying now but I’ve only just noticed this comment. This actually sounds a lot like how I went about publishing my two tween books (which I’ve now unpublished – reasons explained in my response to terribogard above). It’s really tough because so many people are doing the same thing there is that sense of elation in getting them out there, but then little else seems to happen! I offered mine for free although amazon was making me charge their minimum of £0.77, which I wasn’t happy with. I found B&N a lot better for people actually leaving reviews – amazon was very quiet aside from a couple of people and I guess there could have been a slow build to more readers, but as I realised I wanted to come back with a YA paranormal that I feel passionate about and worth investing in publicity instead of a couple of tween books that I just think are pretty good reads I’ve gone right back to the start of planning my new books!

      You’ve probably already read the smashwords marketing guide, although that’s possibly more about marketing within the smashwords community, which is only effective to an extent. I’ve linked to a blog post just above on book marketing, which I thought was pretty good.

      Good luck with it all and thank you for sharing your experience.

      • Yes, Sally, it is frustrating after the “glow” wears off. That’s where I am now. The only books I’ve “sold” are the ones I offered for free during the Smashwords e-book week earlier this month. This week I am sending out queries to agents. I am wondering if the self-published e-book will be an asset or a hindrance. Thanks for your thoughts!

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