Are you struggling with the decision to self-publish your book as an ebook or keep sending it out to traditional publishers who don’t even acknowledge your submission? You’re not alone.
Hundreds of thousands of writers are taking ebook publishing into their own hands. But, of course, they have lots of questions — you may have too. Here are the answers to some that I’ve been asked.
The Joy of Cooking, self-published by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931, has sold over 18 million copies. Rombauer wrote the book after being widowed in her 50s.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is there really a chance for a self-published author to make any money selling ebooks?
Yes, there definitely is! Fiction sales lead the ebook market and 30% of all adult fiction ebooks sold are indie (independently or self) published. (Source: How do book sales stack up, genre by genre?) Amazon is still the leader in the ebook publishing market, and you’ll earn a 70% royalty on your self-published books there, compared to 25% on an ebook sold through a traditional publisher, or 10% or lower, on most trade paperbacks a traditional publisher sells. So, that means you only need to sell about 1/3 as many digital copies to equal your income from a publishing deal.
2. I use a MAC computer. Can I still create e-books with my computer?
Yes, you can use Windows or Mac computers to create an ebook. You just need to use software that will let you set up such things as styles and margins, and save in the .doc format. Microsoft Word is the standard in the publishing industry, and you can purchase Word on a monthly basis or as a package, for Mac computers.
3. You said I needed a .doc file, which is just an ordinary document file. Don’t I need to convert my book to different formats to sell it in ebook stores like Amazon and Apple when I’m doing ebook publishing?
You can upload your .doc file to Amazon and they’ll convert it to the Kindle format. Then, you can upload your .doc file to Smashwords and have them convert it for Smashwords distribution around the world, including Apple and Barnes & Noble, as well as Overdrive for libraries.
4. What’s the easiest way to get your book into all the formats that would allow you to be available to the widest audience possible?
The shortest route to a worldwide ebook market is to prepare a correctly formatted .doc file using Word, then upload it to Amazon directly (they convert it), and use Smashwords to distribute to everywhere else in the world (they convert it).
5. I noticed the royalty is only at 70% if self publishing on Amazon. Where does the other 30 percent usually go?
The bookstore needs to make money in order to provide you with all of their services that range from converting your book, to building the digital bookstore website, to all of the financial services and customer service.
6. Can you go through more than one book seller for self publishing at a time, such as Amazon and iBooks? If so, are there laws to be mindful of when e-publishing with more than one source who is distributing your book in several formats?
Yes, you’re a business and can choose where to sell your books. If you use a distributor, though, such as Smashwords, you can’t upload to the bookstore yourself and also have Smashwords distribute there — you must choose one way or the other. Note that Smashwords doesn’t distribute to Amazon, so you must upload your ebook there yourself to sell.
7. Can I see how bookstores and distributors track my sales; in other words, is there a graph or statistics that show what your monthly income is and where it’s coming from?
Yes, you can view detailed descriptions of your sales. If you’re using Smashwords, you select where you want them to distribute by checkmarking options on a list, and your sales statistics show you which bookstore (such as Apple or Barnes & Noble or Kobo) sold them.
8. Does it cost money to sell your e-books?
Yes, there’s a cost involved — you need to make a living from what you do and so do bookstores and distributors. There are generally two options, though: a percentage of the selling price, like Smashwords, or an upfront fee. For example, Smashwords deducts a small percentage from each book sold, while Bookbaby, another distributor, charges you a start-up fee and an annual fee, but no percentage on sales.
9. Do most writers just publish an e-book to start and then evaluate what the demand is before going with print or print-on-demand (POD)?
Not really. It’s usually better to start with a marketing plan that outlines all of the outlets you plan to use. It’s a different market looking for POD than for an ebook, so if you really feel your readership will want paper, then it’s wise to plan for the e-book and POD together.
10. I heard that I need a bunch of ISBNs to publish my ebook. Do I have to buy them?
There are two answers to this question. First, each format and/or edition of an ebook does require a different ISBN (if it’s being sold with an ISBN). The ISBN is the number used by booksellers to list your book in its catalog. So, since different e-reading devices use different formats, the bookstore needs to be able to deliver the correct product for the buyer. But as to needing to buy an ISBN, no, you don’t. In Canada, ISBNs are free. In the US and other countries you can just have Amazon sell your ebook with a product number and take the free ISBN that Smashwords provides for the format they distribute for you. While Smashwords creates a variety of formats for your ebook, only the EPUB is shipped to other bookstores, so all of the other formats are sold by Smashwords with a product number as well.