A Guide to Self-Publishing: Publishing eBooks

This one is the big kahuna. The full monty. The one that got away…

…but not this time.

This time you snagged it, reeled it in, and grilled it for dinner.

This is the future of book publishing, and we are living in it. It has never been easier for a writer to reach millions of people globally than it is right now. Amazon continues to push its prices lower on Kindles and get them into as many hands as possible. And contrary to recent statements by union-type elites loyal to the author and consumer gouging practices of the Big 6, successful companies that verge on monopolizing any field do not raise prices but lower them. Consumers and creators benefit. As J.A. Konrath so unabashedly pointed out, it’s cartels and unions that are suffering, and are therefore throwing a hissy fit.

What’s the point?

The fact that you’re missing out on free money as I type this should be at least one motivating factor in getting you to start, finish, or prepare your manuscript for sale as an ebook. Yes, I write because I believe words change culture; I also write because I am compelled to be obedient to what I sense the Holy Spirit is calling me to, and to steward the talent he’s given me; as a blood-bought Christian, I will receive a reward (or lack thereof) in proportion to how I stewarded my gifts here on planet Earth. But I also write because it’s added income for my family, and as a husband and father I care a great deal about being faithful to them. You may not share my spiritual beliefs, but you probably share some of my economic ones.

Selling ebooks is probably the simplest, fastest, and most expansive return on my writing investment I’ve seen yet.

Granted, some authors will sell only a very little. Good books sell, and you should never fault consumers for poor sales performance. Other authors will sell gobs. The man I’ve mentioned above has hit $75,000-$100,000 USD/week multiple times in 2012. He’s fascinating to study, and to read. [Disclaimer to my younger readers: Konrath is brilliant, but at times he’s very vulgar so please have a parent per-read a new post if you’re unsure].

Me? I’m already making more per month than I ever have with my legacy publishers, and I expect my ebook sales to catch up with 6 months of combined print sales in less than 40 days.

As I’ll discuss tomorrow, I’m still experimenting with promotional tactics and trying to isolate what works and what doesn’t. Proper marketing is a fascinating and ever changing beast.

eBook Conversion

Probably the easiest part of self-publishing, and ironically the most cost-effective and lucrative, waits until the end of this whole process. That is unless you have no intention of providing print editions (which would go against the ideology of providing your books to as many people as possible across every available platform).

All the work you did to organize, edit and layout your manuscript, and to craft and refine a cover, now translates easily into creating an ebook. Essentially the conversion process takes the guts of your text and the front face of your cover and merges them together. If you’re skipping the print edition, then having a finished Word file and a front cover design are all you need.

As mentioned yesterday, I use Glendon & Tabatha Haddix of Streetlight Graphics for all my ebook conversions (and I plan to for a while to come). Here’s a little reasoning on why.

Knowing I’m a geek (nerds don’t make money; geeks do), I felt strongly I could attempt converting my own books. I read multiple tutorials on using MS Word and Adobe InDesign to convert manuscripts to ebooks. Given the amount of extraneous code that Word puts on the back end of a document, and the fact that I generally loathe even opening it (I prefer less clunky, more resource friendly and sleeker applications like TextEdit, Evernote and Scrivener) I decided to put most of my time into using InDesign.

I read tutorials, watched how-to guides, and even had some great dialogue with Adobe staff and one noted independent industry guru (all of whom were very helpful, by the way). But my final products never seemed to add up to something I felt represented my books, and I was sure they’d infuriate my readers. Knowing I had one chance to make my e-reading public happy, I needed a better option.

Kindle will help you convert a manuscript – at least to Kindle. When you create your free Kindle Direct Publishing account, they have options where you can have a KDP tech look at your PDF and give you a quote for converting it. Their base price says $69.00 USD. But my quote came back as $179.00 USD for each title of The White Lion Chronicles, as my PDFs had some “layering issues” they would not elaborate on. Ouch.

But having KDP convert for me was only a quarter of the problem. Since they only convert for Kindle – and holding to my “provide my books in as many formats as possible” mantra – I still had to find a way to convert for all the other formats, including Nook, Kobo, Adobe Digital Editions, Smashwords, Sony eReaders and Apple iBooks.

And people wonder where all my hair went.

By this point in the process I was tired and frustrated. I was emailing my fellow Spearhead authors looking for answers. One of their generous friends from a church in Seattle attempted to assist me; but even he, a former Amazon employee and conversion tech, was having trouble because things had changed since when he left a year ago. (Gulp).

That’s when Wayne Thomas Batson forwarded us all a link to Streetlight. At first none of us could believe their prices were legit. (Their cover prices as well as their package deals are amazing too!). So I wrote them to inquire.

Within a few hours I had a personal reply. What seemed too good to be true turned out to be better than too good. It was great. Not only would they format for Kindle for under $69.00 USD like KDP had quoted me, but they’d also convert to all the other formats I needed for under $69.00 USD per title!

I was beside myself.

Following the recommendation of friends I went and purchased a few randomly selected ebooks Streetlight had done, and the quality was above anything I could produce (and to date I’ve received zero negative feedback – a first for any reading format for me). Glendon & Tabatha are first class communicators and converters.

Distributing Online

Within one month I had The White Lion Chronicles ready to upload to all ebook distributing channels. Here’s what you’ll need to do the same.

1.) Open a free account with Kindle Direct Publishing. This will allow you to distribute your ebook to the largest seller in the world. And my own numbers prove it: more than 90% of my sales are on Kindle. You don’t need an ISBN; KDP has its own internal means of assigning yours books identification, though you can use your own ISBN if you have one.

2.) Open a free PubIt! account with Barnes & Noble which will allow you to distribute to the Nook. The Nook accounts for 2% of my sales to date. Like KDP, PubIt! doesn’t require an ISBN number and will track your ebook internally, but they’ll use your ISBN if you supply it.

3.) Open a free Smashwords account. Smashwords is great because it will allow you to reach all the other digital devices and formats out there, including Apple’s iBooks, and making your manuscript available as a viewable or printable PDF (I feel sorry for that printer!). Unlike KDP and PubIt!, Smashwords does require you to have an ISBN. It’s important to note that you can not use your physical book’s ISBN for your digital books. Your print book and you ebook are separate products (even though they have the same title), so they require different identification. Smashwords has their own batches of ISBNs that – like CreateSpace – list them as an associated entity with you, but does not infringe on your legal or moral rights or royalties. Until I feel like shelling out $1,000.00 USD for a block of 1,000 ISBNs from Bowker, this is the route I went. (Yes, you can buy less ISBNs from Bowker at a time, but the price is ridiculous).

One last note on Smashwords: in order for your book to be listed in something like Apple’s iBook Store, your book must meet their Premium status. Essentially, it needs to be a properly formatted, clean conversion that meets strict guidelines. Which Streetlight’s conversions do. It took almost 3 weeks (as your books wait in line), but eventually they were approved (something you see noted in your Smashwords dashboard).

Why not publish through Apple directly? You certainly can. But Apple tends to work faster with large representation companies (like Smashwords) that funnel huge quantities of titles and authors to them. Plus there’s no guarantee they’ll accept your application (they tend to be picky). There’s no real cost benefit either way, and it’s just one less account I have to monitor. I’m used to this already as my digital music is distributed through a San Francisco based company called IODA that supplies over 350 online retailers with my music, including Apple’s iTunes.

Streetlight provides a free step-by-step guide on how to upload your books and list them, and they alert you to any pitfalls in the process. It needs revising for 2012, but is a very simple and methodical overview of what to expect, and outlines just what you get when they convert your manuscript. (Astounding).

Pricing your ebooks can be a bit daunting. And the truth is you’ll never really know what works for you until you experiment. KDP has set the standard for the most part. At the time of my writing, they have two royalty brackets you can operate within: 30% for books set between $.99 and $2.98 USD, and 70% for books set at $2.99 USD and up. There are many articles and opinions on the best performing price points and why, but you risk getting so distracted you never end up setting a price point at all. All my books are set at $2.99 USD across all digital platforms at present; I may experiment later with dropping that further to $.99 USD.

There is a lot of discussion about the merits of selling ebooks for free in order to grow a fan base. While PubIt! and Smashwords allow this, Kindle does not, unless you’re a directly endorsed Amazon-published author (a whole other subject outside of this guide). KDP will only allow $.99 USD as their lowest price point. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of free in tomorrow’s subject of promotion.

The Future Is Calling

Publishing in the digital world is still in its infancy. But one thing is clear: it’s not going anywhere. Innovators will emerge, new companies will be birthed, and world literacy will grow – one of the best results I can think of.

I’ve heard it rumored that 10 is the magic number. Once an author has 10 titles to his or her name, their money-making abilities are firmly ensconced in the digital world. Call it an algorithm, a hunch, or a marketing ploy by Amazon to get more titles on their virtual shelves, the fact is that that premise will most likely mean little to you if you’re not writing.

So stop reading this and get back to writing. ch:

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  • Billy Jepma

    Once again (again) this post just fills me with all types of excitement! I’m going to stop commenting and go write now!

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Good for you!

  • Gabe

    These are great! (bring on that $.99 cent ebook with additional content :P)

    What do you not like about using MS Word to format your books? Why is there a difference between the end product of the MS Word doc, and the professionally formatted ebook?

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      One of the reasons Word docs tend to look so good while they’re being created (ie, while you’re typing) is that Word has a slew of auto-formatting features that are employed – some of which you can amend, some of which you can’t. (Try copy and pasting various kinds of text into 3 generations of documents and eventually text will stop formatting properly, and mess of the rest of the document). As a result, Word can be a pain to work with. In the hands of a professional who knows the bugs, however, it can be powerful. For all the things I know about Word (which is considerable) I still don’t know enough to create clean manuscripts that could be easily converted – thus why I turn to a Gelndon Haddix. Interestingly enough, after you get their finished Word file (which is used for certain conversions), they warn you not to even open the document for fear of adding new back-end code to the final file that will mess up the conversion. Word is simply volatile when it comes to code.

    • Gabe

      ah. thanks.

  • Gabe

    Random question: what are you going to write now that you’ve finished The White Lion Chronicles (once Bernifell 3 is done)?

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Great question. I have a new trilogy I’ve been working on (first book is nearly done); I have three new action/thrillers I was to write; and I have at least two non-fiction boks on ministry and leadership in me.

    • Gabe

      New trilogy?! OBOY!!!!!!!
      What genre is it? When will you publish it??? *explodes from excitement*

      And nonfiction books on ministry and leadership sound equally awesome.

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Thanks man. No timeline now. I most likely will take a break from writing over the summer, so expect a fall or winter release. It’s a steampunk, epic aviation and underworld fantasy. How’s that for a description?

    • Gabe

      it sounds AWESOME.
      a fall or winter release. good things come to those who wait :D
      thanks!

  • Naomi

    Hey Christopher! So are the second edition books that are on Facebook re-edited? Or do they have the same text?

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Hi Naomi! Nice to hear from you.

      The second editions are the original manuscript, but have been reedited for integrity’s sake. In other words, there haven’t been any major plot changes or character changes – just major cleaning up of typos, homonyms, and general grammar stuff. There is a revised map, and a “From The Author” section that I wrote about each book.

      Obviously Athera’s Dawn is completely original.

      Hope that helps!

  • http://www.enterthedoorwithin.blogspot.com Wayne Thomas Batson

    Nice series, CH. I know you know how anxious I am to get some ebooks out there. It’ll be great to have this series of posts as a plug through the process. Thanks, Bro!

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Indeed bro. And I’m super stoked for the next epoch of your writing career. The best is yet to come!

  • Sarah

    Thanks so much for doing these posts, Sir Hopper. I’m hoping that eventually, I’ll write something I like enough to try and publish, and when I do, these will definitely be really helpful.

    On that subject, what’s the general price for publishing something, both for publishing ebooks and for having actual print copies available? My parents say it’s super-expensive, but a lot of what I’ve heard makes it sound like it’s not really expensive. So, can you tell me what the reality is?

    Oh, and I’m very excited to hear that you’re working on new books, especially the action/thriller ones, and even more so since you said the first one is nearly done!

    Thanks again for doing these posts!
    -Sarah

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Sarah: This is such a good question on the issue of costs! I can’t even believe I didn’t think about it. I guess I assume everyone knows so many of these services are FREE that I skipped it.

      CreateSpace – essentially your book printer – requires ABSOLUTELY NO upfront costs. Ever. No pre-loading payments for production, no warehousing fees, no nothing. They absorb ALL the upfront costs. The only thing you pay for on the production end is when you want a proof (about $5 – interestingly, it’s the same cost for when you want to buy copies of your own books). When CreateSpace/Amazon sells copies of your books, they send you a check. So no upfront costs for you, you just get whatever percentage is selected for your price points. What your parents may be referencing are the vanity presses (which are bad!). They say they “publish” your book, but all they really are is a printing press that asks you for up front costs for 5,000 books, then charge warehousing and shipping fees, etc. Stay away!

      The reason that CreateSpace is actually operating like a legacy press, is because with a true “publishing deal” of old, you never had to pay a single penny up front. THEY PAY YOU! That’s why CreateSpace is awesome, THEY PAY YOU.

      As for general costs associated with the process, here’s how you could budget:

      Writing: this is all you

      Editing: I spend about $420 for a 125,000 – 150,000 word manuscript from Sue Kenney. You could use an aunt or Proofies for your editing for free, I just chose to spend some money here.

      Interior design: I did this myself, but Streetlight Graphics can assist you for probably under $100 depending on the complexity of your needs

      Cover design: I asked friends to help me here for free, but Streetlight can also assist you for under $100

      PDF Creation for Print: an easy process for whomever created your interior design

      Conversion to eBook: as I wrote about, contact Streetlight for about $60/title.

      So theoretically, using Sue Kenny and Streetlight, you could produce an entire print book and ebook, ready to upload to your online distributors for under $800. Less if you do some of these processes yourself.

      I’d be happy to field any questions from your parents too if I can help.

    • Sarah

      Thanks so much for answering my question, Sir Hopper! I really appreciate it!

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      You’re welcome! May even include it in my ebook, it was that good.

  • Diana Nesbitt

    Thanks for these posts, Christopher! I’ve really been enjoying them. I’d heard a little bit about self-publishing a while ago but the information wasn’t as knowledgeable or positive as this, so I’m giving it a second thought now – that is, if I can ever discipline myself to get something ready to publish. ;)

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Hey Diana! Glad I could be of encouragement to family – thanks for your kind words. And YES! The world needs to hear what you have to say. Get ‘er done!

  • http://teenagewritingrocks.blogspot.com/ Jake

    Great post!

    I recently went through this process as well, albeit on a much smaller scale. The novella that I published is a bit over a hundred pages, so I didn’t have to deal with length and I also published with KDP only. It went live today, actually. Much excitement there!

    I did all the formatting myself, however. (The only thing I spent money on was a cover, actually.) I figured out how to do active links for the Table of Contents, page breaks, and whatnot. I just did it all in Word, converted it to HTML, converted THAT to PRC and then uploaded it. (It probably helps that the original draft of the novel was written in Word format.) As far as I know, the formatting of the eBook is fine, and it looks great on my Kindle Fire. But for future reference (and because I may look into other eBook formats), it’ll be good to know the stuff that you talked about in this blog post. :) Thanks for writing!

    • http://www.christopherhopper.com Christopher Hopper

      Thanks for sharing your story, Jake. Very cool. And congrats! Can you post a link to your book on Amazon here?

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