Friday, April 8, 2011

How to publish your ebook

I’d been busy writing My Particular Friend, a book that combines Jane Austen and Sherlock Holmes, when my friend Lee asked why I didn’t publish my first novel, Good Cop, Dead Cop, on the Kindle.

It was a sore subject because I’d put a lot of hard work into GCDC, only to fail to find an agent or publisher. The whole experience was so painful I locked it all away and devoted my time to other pursuits. But when Lee asked her question, I thought, sure, why not sell the book through Amazon? And while I’m at it, I could sell it through Barnes & Noble and even Apple’s iBookstore. How hard could it be?
It turns out to be surprisingly difficult and I’ve had to learn a lot about electronic publishing that I thought I would share here. Over the next few days and weeks, I’m going to examine the following topics:
  • Applying for a copyright
  • To buy or not to buy an ISBN
  • Emulators
  • Formats
  • Aggregators/distributors
  • E-readers
  • Software
  • HTML vs Word
  • Pricing/royalties
  • Marketing
  • Testing
I don’t pretend that I understand all these topics, but I will try to address them, if only so that I can create a knowledge base for when I’m ready to publish My Particular Friend. And I’m sure I’ll find out that a lot of what I think I know is wrong. In this post, all I plan to do is give some quick definitions. Look for full articles on each of these topics later.

Applying for a copyright
It’s surprisingly easy to submit your work, especially an electronic book, to the U.S. Copyright Office, and at $35, relatively affordable.

To buy or not to buy an ISBN
An International Standard Book Number is a 10- or 13-digit number that uniquely identifies your book, and it costs $125. You will need definitely need an ISBN if you plan to sell a physical book through bookstores, but it’s something you can probably avoid for an electronic book, especially if you use an aggregator to market your book. For a book published in the U.S., you can buy one at Bowker.

Software such as Kindle Preview will allow you to see how your book will appear on a Kindle when you don’t already own a Kindle. After all, it would be kind of expensive to have to own a Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Nook, Sony Reader, etc.

There are many ebook formats, from MOBI for the Kindle, to EPUB for the iBookstore and Nook and Word of all things for Smashwords. The first two listed are the most important. And do you know the difference between UTF-8 and Latin-1.

Aggregators, like Lulu and Smashwords, can take your files and make them readable on a number of devices and available through a number of distributors, like Amazon and the Apple iBookstore. And these aggregators can make a lot of the hard work I’m describing here unnecessary, for a fee. And aggregators can send your work out to a number of distributors, for a cut on top of the cut the distributor takes

I had never even heard of the Kobo eReader or the Pandigital Novel, but they do exist. The question is whether you need to make your book accessible to those devices, or just stick with the Kindle, the Nook and Apple’s iOS devices.

A lot of the software you’ll need to create your ebook is open source and free (donations requested) and poorly documented, but supported by fervent users. Apart from Word and Adobe Dreamweaver, I used calibre and Sigil to convert and create the various ebook formats.

HTML vs Word
Many of the ebook distributors prefer EPUB files, which are best created from HTML documents, although programs like Sigil will import Word documents. For the best results, however, I would recommend importing HTML documents.

What’s the magic price that makes a customer decide that a book is priced just high enough that it looks like a real book, and not just some vanity project, but not too expensive to pass?

You’ve got your book sitting on the virtual shelves of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, now how do you get people to find it. Frankly, I have no idea.

I was about to hit Publish and make my book appear on Amazon when I did one last check and realized that I had two Chapter Sevens and no Chapter Six.

— & —

I’ll try to think up more topics to cover and perhaps tweak the order of these topics in the next few days. Keep checking back.

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