For the last 14 months I’ve been learning how to become a self-published author. And by that, I mean not only PDF ebooks available on the blog, but also printed books on Amazon, Kindle versions and, of course, for the latest hype in town, ePub-based ebooks in Apple iBookStore. What follows is a (very) distilled story of my own experiences. But as distilled as it is, prepare for a few thousands words article (I suggest putting aside at least 20 minutes to read it from the top to the bottom).
Digital versus Printed
This used to be a very hot topic a few years ago. Traditionally, the printed books industry was very hard to penetrate. The most common approach was to use a publishing house (or, to be more precise, to be used by a publishing house). It was also the most difficult one. But it worked.
During the last few years, things have changed dramatically. Now you can use online tools to make your book available in printed format and you can do this at a very affordable price. Just keep in mind the following differences between digital and printed:
- printed books are slower to reach the market. It can take weeks or months until they become available to major book resellers
- digital books have a huge variety of formats (ePub being one of the most populars) but they can also have a high rate of piracy
- in both cases, if you are a self-published author, you will need a (very) strong presence online to promote your books. Because nobody else will do it for you. Getting them “in the system” is just the first step.
Now, let’s get practical.
Self-Publish With CreateSpace
If you don’t know what CreateSpace.com is, it’s time to find out that this is Amazon’s self-publishing company. The site offers a variety of tools to make your content available on Amazon’s online selling platform (which happens to be the largest in the world, by my knowledge). You can publish a variety of content, from multi-media DVDs to songs and, of course, books.
Signing up is free and there are no upfront costs. When you sign up, you can chose what type of product do you want (a book or a mp3 or a downloadable video) and then the type of setup do you want (expert, if you’ve been there before, or guided, if you’re just starting up). Feel free to start with the guided setup, just to get s glimpse of what you can do around. Here’s how the dashboard of the guided tour looks like (the red dots means those steps aren’t yet completed, click on the image for full view).
Once you added the title of your book, it’s time to add the rest of the metadata (author name, contributors, subtitle, volume, etc). After that, you go through the physical setup: what type of interior do you want for your book (black and white or color – of course, the color interior will mean you’ll pay more for each copy). An important step is what they call “Trim Size” or the actual physical size of the book. I recommend using an industry standard size. If you created your book with a standard word processor, you can mach the “Page Setup” sizes of the word processor with the sizes you can have in CreateSpace. In my experience, it’s better to go with a standard size, at least for your first titles.
The next step is to add your ISBN. Very shortly, an ISBN is a unique identifier for your book, which is now an international standard. ISBN used to be a tough rock for many self-published authors and, in some respect, it still is. Luckily, CreateSpace can give you an ISBN for free if you don’t have one. If you want to buy your own, you can go to Bowker if you’re in US, or you can get one for free, provided that you will send copies of your books to the national library of your country. This is the case in Romania and New Zealand, for instance.
What’s the big deal with these ISBN numbers and why is important to have your own? Because if you have your own ISBN number you will be listed as the publisher of your book too, not only the author. So, if you want to make a business out of publishing books, you should consider getting your own chunks of ISBN numbers. Other than that there is no other major impact of ISBN. If you use CreateSpace assigned ISBN, the only difference is that CreateSpace will be listed as your publisher.
Once the ISBN thing solved, you can add a cover for your book. Now it can get tricky. You can either use their online cover creator, or you can get smart and do your own. Either way, CreateSpace will provide a few templates, based on the format of your book. This is where the “Trim Size” thing become important, your cover will obviously have to match the size of your book and if the book is non-standard, well, there will be problems. A printed book cover is not just a plain PSD file with fixed margins, you have to leave some tolerances and be sure to have enough space from the margins for your title or images. Once again, start exercising with the templates offered by CreateSpace.
A very important step after you did all of the above is to upload your book. CreateSpace allows PDF file formats. That’s relatively convenient, since many word processors can save your content in PDF too, but it can become tricky if you have embedded fonts. You must be sure that you will embed your fonts in the final PDF uploaded to CreateSpace.
The Review Step
Once you uploaded all the necessary data for your book (including the actual book file and the cover) you gotta review it. This is the place where you can start spending some money, Because you will have to order a proof copy for your book. If you don’t live in US, this could add a lot of time to the entire process. You do have several shipping options, but the fastest one will be actually more expensive than the book. I usually choose the medium one, which is only a couple of weeks and around 10 USD.
Be aware that you get in the mail (in the snail mail, that is) is the actual book that will be shipped to your readers. Do not try to overlook this step. Once the whole publishing machinery is started, it’s becoming very intertial and any change to your book may take weeks or months until it is propagated. Not to mention that you will still have “wrong” items on the market.
So, make the necessary changes and restart the whole proofing process.
The Selling Process
Once you are ok with the proof copy, you can move to the selling process. In this step you’re adding a description for your book (the one that will be seen on Amazon book page) a BISAC description (a standardized, category based descriptor used by libraries), search keywords, publication date and so on.
Once you’re satisfied with it, you can go to the next step, which is the price of your book. The interesting part comes immediately after that, in a zone called “distribution channels”. With CreateSpace you have 3 options:
- sell it through CreateSpace store (which is like your own ecommerce site) by giving the direct link to your potential clients.
- sell it through Amazon (and making it available to Amazon searches and ranking system)
- sell it with the Expanded Distribution Channel (which comprises, among others, libraries and academic institutions or other online book sellers)
The royalty you can get for each channel will decrease proportionally, meaning the highest royalty will be on CreateSpace and the lowest on the Expanded Distribution Channels. But there is more than that. The royalty calculation is a little bit more complex and it involves the enrollment in a so-called “pro-plan” (where you have to pay upfront and only once a fixed price for each book you want to enroll) and the number of pages of your book. The “pro-plan” is an interesting option, because it doesn’t only guarantees bigger royalties but it will also gives you lower prices when you order your own copies.
And Now We Wait
After you completed all the steps, your book will be published shortly. And by shortly I mean hours or, at worst, days. But, as I already told you, getting your book out is only the first step. Now it’s time to start your marketing campaign (if you ever thought of something like this) and start creating some buzz around your titles.
Self-Publish On Kindle
Another interesting option for self-published authors is Kindle. Until a year ago, Kindle was just a device. But in the last 6 months, Amazon made a very interesting move with this. Namely, they created Kindle apps. These apps are book readers connected to the Kindle repository, just like the actual device, only they “live” in other operating systems. So now you can have access to your Kindle books not only from your device, but also from your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android or whatever device you may think of. That makes Kindle a very interesting option for self-published authors.
The Easiest Thing
Compared with CreateSpace, Kindle publishing is a breeze. Just a word of caution: if you previously published your book on CreateSpace they do offer a conversion service. Namely, they will take your printed book and convert it into a Kindle ready file. But at 69 USD I consider it pretty much a robbery. Read on and see why is that.
In order to start publishing on Kindle you gotta sign up at kdp.amazon.com. You may use the same username and password you usually use with Amazon, or you can create a new one, just for that. Here’s what you see when you log in (this is my real dashboard, with all the titles I published so far, click for full image)
After adding your title, you have a two steps wizard. In the first step you add your book metadata and files, while in the second you manage your publishing rights, add the price and choose your royalty level. More on that in a second.
When you add your book files, you can also add a separate file for the cover, just like at CreateSpace. But you can also choose to protect your book content via DRM (digital rights management). I’m not a big fan of DRM, so I didn’t went for it. The file format accepted by Kindle is PRC, and you can use a variety of tools to convert your book to it. But it also accepts ePub file formats and that’s quite a relief. Because the latest version of Pages for Mac is transparently creating ePubs from any document you want (as long as it is a WordProcessing based document). If you’re on Windows, I recommend checking out the Kindle formatting guide.
In the second step of the wizard, you establish the price and your royalty level. Also, you state what your distribution rights are (worldwide, or differentiated for countries / territories). I always chose “worldwide” because it was my own content, but your mileage may vary.
For the royalty, you have two plans, a 35% royalty and a 70% royalty. The 35% applies to titles under 2.99 USD, while the second plan applies to titles priced between 2.99 and 9.99 USD. You can also have the option to choose the price for Amazon UK and DE separately or based on the US Amazon price (I usually let it do it automatically).
And that’s it. Publishing your book may take a few days after you completed the two-steps wizard. In my experience, the shortest waiting time was 2 days while the longer was 5 days (but it included a week-end too). Once the ebook is published you can test it on your Kindle by partially downloading it (Amazon allows this for many of its titles).
One last word: the formatting of a Kindle ebook is very different than the formatting of a printed book. So expect your Kindle ebook to look strangely different than the printed version. Also, keep in mind that Kindle automatically converts your color illustrations to black and white.
Self Publish With iBookStore
Backed up by Apple legendary hype, iBooks is a recent player in the self-publish area. To be honest, I came to it after a (very) long detour. As you may already know, I do write iPhone and iPad apps for a living (iAdd being one of them) and that made me quite familiar with the AppStore. So, at some point I decided that it would be interesting to publish my ebooks on the AppStore, by creating them as standalone apps. It seemed like many people were doing this. I created an app, imported the book content on it and submitted to AppStore.
Surprise! My app got rejected. The message said something about publishing my app as a book, in the iBookStore. I went back and forth a few weeks with the Apple support guys until I finally got somebody on the phone. Yes, Apple is legendary for its opacity too, it may take weeks until you get a support guy to talk to you on the phone. After I discussed with him for like half an hour, I finally understand that I have no other option than to publish my books in the iBookStore.
For hose unfamiliar with the Apple ecosystem, publishing a book in the iBookStore means it will be available in the app iBooks, not under the Books category in the AppStore. It’s a little bit confusing and it took me a while to understand that. Apparently, Apple has an AppStore for apps (which may include a category called Books) and another store for books, called iBookStore, which mimics the same structure of the AppStore.
Well, it all came into pieces when I read the requirements for publishing in the iBookStore. Among other common sense things you need in order to publish your book, like an Apple account, there was something new: an ITN number (or, if you’re an individual, a Social Security Number). And that is because the revenue you get from selling a book has a different taxation process than the revenue you get from selling apps. I don’t know why is that, it’s just the way it is. Apparently, royalties have also a different cross-country taxation, so if you get royalties from US into a company based in New Zealand (which is precisely my case) you can get some sort of tax credit back. Luckily, my accountant, which whom I spoke a number of times on this topic, knows much more than me about that.
To make a long story short, I applied for an ITN number for my company, Mirabilis Media (NZ) Limited and after I got it, I started the publishing process.
The Apple Uploader
Another well known tradition of Apple is that it makes things extremely difficult for its contributors (iPhone developers are well aware of that). So, after incredibly long logistic delays and lack of information, I was finally in the position of uploading my ebooks. From this point on, things were starting to get extremely smooth. Apple created a Mac app for uploading your book. It’s called iTunes Producer and it has a very simple, wizard-like interface and it makes uploading your book to the iBookStore a really pleasant experience. I’m absolutely honest about it, it’s really simple to use and a big step forward made by Apple towards a better user experience.
I won’t go through the whole process, because the metadata is pretty much the same as for CreateSpace or Kinde. One important thing that has to be mentioned, though, is that the format accepted by Apple is ePub. As I already told you, converting a Pages document to ePub is just a matter of two clicks: “Export” and choose “ePub”.
Another important thing is that you may have free ebooks in iBookStore. Important if you plan to make available some of your content for free, for whatever reason you may think of.
Oh, and the royalties you earn in Apple iBookStore are following the general AppStore rule, 30% Apple – 70% you.
After you submit your book to iBookStore you gotta wait to be reviewed. In my experience, iBookStore had the longest delay from the moment you finished all your job, until the book is live. Minimum two weeks. So it’s a little bit of a time consumer, you should take that into account when you start publishing your books. Here’s how my iBookStoe dashboard is looking right now.
Well, this is it. As I told you, this process started 14 months ago, when I first published my books on Amazon. It wasn’t a continuous process (I’m not that slow in learning ) but rather one based on the opportunities. Basically, when a distribution channel looked both affordable for me and mature enough, I went for it.I started with CreateSpace but when Kindle and iBookStore became affordable and worthwhile, I started to use them too.
Now, here’s how my self-publishing portfolio is looking like:
If you clicked through the links you may have noticed that there are very significant price differences between the same editions of the same book, based on the publishing channel (Kindle, Amazon, iBookStore) but also based on the territory too (in UK prices are slightly higher). Wonder why?
It’s a little bit more complicated and it will not fit in just one blog post. What I can tell you though, is that it’s partially because of some limitations in the distribution channels (Kindle doesn’t allow a difference wider than 30% between a printed title and its Kindle version) but also because of some personal marketing strategies.
Now, if you have any more questions about this article, feel free to ask them in the comments, I’d be happy to answer.
Wait! There’s More!
Seriously? Yes, seriously. If this article gave you a bird-eye view of what self-publishing is, then the ebook based on it will take it to the next level. Please note it tool me one day to write the article, but more than one month to put together the ebook.
You know, I had a very nice story about how this ebook was created, because there is a nice story behind it, but after a while I decided to keep it for the foreword. So, if you’re curious, you’ll have to get the book. And you’ll also want to get the book if you want to have a look at the newly added chapters, like: How To Write An Ebook, How To Promote And Monetize An Ebook, and so on.
Just to give you an idea, this article has around 3.000 words. The ebook has 16.000. And it’s only
$6.99 $4.99 $.3.99.
You do the math