By Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications
Updated January 2019
Print books aren’t going away anytime soon, but ebooks are a popular alternative—or even addition—to print because of the lower purchase price (sometimes free) and the convenience of stashing many books in one small, portable device. Why wouldn’t an author want both print and e- versions of his or her book? Some authors choose to forego print and produce only ebooks. Creating only an ebook version is, contrary to what readers seem to think, NOT much cheaper than creating a print book. The book still needs to be edited and formatted and it still needs a front cover. The selling website still has database management costs. The cost of printing is the only difference. Offering free or 99-cent ebooks is disrespectful to the hard work and creativity of the author and disregards the cost of good editing and cover design. An ebook version, except if sold through Amazon, needs its own ISBN, a different one from the print book.
Formatting for Ebooks
Unlike with print books, ebooks are perfectly fine created using an MS Word file (preferred) and Times New Roman (TNR) font. TNR is easy to read on computers and electronic devices (but not recommended for printed material). Traditional publishers usually take on the ebook version of any print book they acquire, but check with smaller publishers to see if they will create an ebook version—and where it will be sold. If a publisher will not produce an ebook version, the author should negotiate to keep ebook rights so she can produce the ebook on her own. Ebook rights should be spelled out in the contract.
Self-publishing authors may want to hire someone to produce their ebooks since formatting can be difficult for those not tech savvy. Basically, formatting must be very simple—no spacing over or tabbing to create indents, use the styles function for paragraph formatting. Illustrations should be centered and standalone—no text wrapping—and can be difficult to add properly. Nonfiction books with a lot of special formatting for tables, graphs, etc., are not good candidates for e-books, so hiring someone to create the file for those (versus running a Word doc through a processor) is a good idea. For any genre e-book, you may want to first try Amazon’s free Kindle Creator program to convert your manuscript.
Ebook Publishing Companies
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Amazon’s Kindle is the most popular e-reader, and Amazon outsells all other companies offering ebooks. Kindle reads mobi e-files, while all other e-readers take epub, so Amazon is its own special beast when it comes to ebooks. Fortunately, when readers buy ebooks from Amazon, they are offered their choice of formats—for computer reading or for any e-reader device except Nook. Amazon provides each ebook with an Amazon-specific ASIN number, so no ISBN identifier is needed.
KDP has a formatting guide you can download, or just download the Kindle Creator program which will take your Word file and turn it into an e-book file for you—be sure to look it over to make sure everything looks all right. KDP also has a free Cover Creator you can try. KDP Tools and Resources
Authors create an account on KDP and upload their front cover and text files (free). Approve an e-proof and the ebook then goes live on Amazon within days. Authors set their retail price and receive 70% of that price (minus a small KDP fee) if the ebook is between $2.99 and $9.99. If under $2.99 or over $9.99, the author receives 35% minus the KDP fee. Authors can choose international sales channels. An ebook cannot be free except under the KDP Select program option.
KDP Select requires the author to sell their ebook only on Amazon. The exclusivity period runs for 90 days and auto-renews. Authors can back out after a 90-day period. During each period, authors are allowed five days to offer their ebooks free. Experimentation by authors has shown that, in general, free days work best if consecutive for 2-3 days at a time and not during holidays or weekends when people tend to be busy. The goal is publicity and hopefully book reviews. Free days is an excuse to advertise!
Kindle Countdown Deals is a program which allows authors to set a limited-time sale on their ebooks. If regular list price is in the range where the author receives 70% royalty, then even if the sale price is below $2.99, the author will still get the 70% royalty – of the special sale price. Another program is MatchBooks, where the author can offer a discounted package deal for buying both print and ebook.
Authors can also choose to allow their ebooks to be borrowed by readers with Prime membership. For each borrow, the author receives a royalty figured each month based on Amazon variables.
Ingram is a printer-wholesaler of books. IngramSpark is their arm for self- and small publishers. Spark requires an epub file for upload and will create the mobi file for Amazon sales. It distributes to many online sites, which include Amazon and B&N. Setup (upload) fee is $25, but if the print book is also uploaded, the total setup fee is $49—basically the ebook setup is free. Spark will convert a print-book-version pdf to required epub file for $.60/page, allow 15 days for conversion. IngramSpark e-book conversion
Author-publishers receive 40% of ebook list price minus a Spark fee. Spark also has a library sales program. The author must provide an ISBN for their ebook. Spark sells discounted single Bowker ISBNs, so you can keep ownership. When setting up your title, you’ll see the option to buy an ISBN. Spark has a lot of free helpful articles and videos to help you be successful. Interestingly, if you have uploaded any ebooks to Amazon in the past 12 months, Ingram cannot distribute your Spark-uploaded ebook to Amazon.
Nook Press is the ebook self-publishing arm of Barnes and Noble, offering free uploading of MS Word files for conversion. It works similar to Amazon KDP and has an option for a special exclusivity program, too.
Kobo Writing Life also offers free upload of formatted MS Word files, with Kobo taking a percentage of sales.
Apple iBooks offers free upload of epub files and sells through iTunes. It does allow an author to offer free ebooks through its Free Books Account option, but most authors will probably want to set up a Paid Books Account which allows sales as well as free offers. A US Tax ID is required to sell. Apple iBooks may be too difficult for most authors to format for.
Aggregators are companies that will accept an MS Word file and convert to both epub and mobi formats to accommodate all e-readers. They will sell the ebooks on their own site as well as distribute to other e-tailer sites such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Apple. Be aware that for sales at these other sites, both the site and the aggregator will take a percentage of the retail price.
Smashwords has an excellent free download of instructions which authors may find useful in helping to format for Kindle Direct Publishing, too. Authors upload MS Word files free and Smashwords converts files into epub and also mobi for Kindle. Readers (and now libraries) can buy ebooks from the Smashwords website, but Smashwords also works with Apple, Kobo and other “e-tailer” sites so its ebooks also show up at their sites for purchase. Amazon does not allow Smashwords’ Kindle-version ebooks on the Amazon website, which is a drawback, but Smashwords does allow authors to offer free ebooks without any exclusivity deal.
BookBaby will create an ebook for $99, and they offer formatting (conversion) plus distribution to Amazon, B&N, and other online sites for a package deal of $199. No commission is charged for sales. BookBaby is also a publishing services company that offers editing and cover design as well as marketing (be careful about marketing services options from any company). BookBaby provides an ISBN for $29, but then BookBaby becomes the publisher on record.
Other ebook publishing services/aggregator companies include FastPencil and many of the usual publishing services companies that also publish print books. Buyer beware of production costs and selling fees—see the Writers Beware website page (part of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America website).