By Linda Austin, Moonbridge Publications
Updated April 2014
Print books aren’t going away anytime soon, but e-books 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, particularly of fiction or narrative fiction or poetry, choose to forego print and produce only e-books. Creating only an e-book 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 e-books is disrespectful to the hard work and creativity of the author and disregards the cost of good editing and cover design. An e-book version, except if sold through Amazon, needs its own ISBN, different from the print book.
Formatting for E-books
Unlike with print books, e-books 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 (not so easy on the eyes in print). Traditional publishers usually take on the e-book version of any print book they acquire, but check with smaller publishers to see if they will create an e-book version—and where it will be sold. If a publisher will not produce an e-book version, the author should negotiate to keep e-book rights so she can produce the e-book on her own. E-book rights should be spelled out in the contract.
Self-publishing authors may want to hire someone to produce their e-books since formatting can be difficult for those not tech savvy. Basically, formatting must be very simple—no spacing over to create indents, no hard returns, ragged right margins are fine, automatic paragraph formatting is necessary. Illustrations should be centered and standalone—no text wrapping—and can be difficult to add properly.
E-book Publishing Companies
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
Amazon’s Kindle is the most popular e-reader, and Amazon outsells all other companies offering e-books. Kindle reads mobi e-files, while all other e-readers take epub, so Amazon is its own special beast when it comes to e-books. Fortunately, when readers buy e-books from Amazon, Amazon offers them the choice of formats—for computer reading or for any e-reader device except Nook. Amazon provides each e-book with an Amazon-specific ASIN number, so no ISBN identifier is needed.
KDP is the Amazon CreateSpace for Kindle e-books. Authors sign up and upload their front cover and text files (free) to formatting specifics per instructions available on the website. Authors approve an e-proof and the e-book then goes live on Amazon within days. Authors set their retail price and receive 70% of that price if the e-book is between $2.99 and $9.99 (minus a small KDP fee). If under $2.99 or over $9.99, the author receives 35%, minus the KDP fee. Authors can choose international sales channels. An e-book cannot be free except under the KDP Select program option.
KDP Select requires the author to sell their e-book only on Amazon. The exclusivity period runs for 90 days and auto-renews. The author can back out after a 90-day period. During each period, the author is allowed five days to offer his e-book 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. Authors need to advertise their free days.
Kindle Countdown Deals is a new program which allows the author to set a limited time offer sale on his e-book. If regular list price is in the range where the author receives 70% royalty, even if the sale price is below $2.99, the author will still get the 70% royalty – of the sale price. Another new program is MatchBooks, where the author can offer a discounted package deal for both print and e-book.
Authors can also choose to allow their e-books to be borrowed by readers with Prime membership. For each borrow, the author receives a small royalty calculated with Amazon variables.
Nook Press is the e-book 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 e-books 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 e-books 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 e-books from the Smashwords website, but Smashwords also works with Apple, Kobo and other “e-tailer” sites so its e-books also show up at their sites for purchase. Amazon does not allow Smashwords’ Kindle-version e-books on the Amazon website, which is a drawback, but Smashwords does allow authors to offer free e-books without any exclusivity deal.
Lightning Source and the new Ingram Spark now create e-books in both epub and mobi and distribute to many e-tailers (190+), which include Amazon and B&N. LSI-Ingram Spark charges a fee for e-book creation and has a library sales program. Author-publishers receive 40% of e-book list price minus a Spark fee.
BookBaby is similar to Smashwords but with a couple pricing options. An author who expects a lot of sales can pay $249 to upload to BookBaby which then converts the file to both e-pub and mobi for sales for all devices, including Kindle and Nook, through the BookBaby website and through other e-tailer sales sites including Amazon and B&N. No commission is charged for sales. A similar option costs only $99, but then BookBaby takes 15% commisson from net sales revenue. Authors can also choose to upload their files on their own for free, with BookBaby taking the 15% from net revenue. BookBaby is also a publishing services company that offers editing, cover design, and help formatting for e-book file upload. BookBaby provides one of their ISBNs and a bar code for $19, but then BookBaby becomes the publisher on record. BookBaby now offers print publishing, but does not appear to offer distribution.
Other e-book 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 Preditors & Editors website and look under Book Publishers.