How to Publish an Ebook, Step by Step

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How to Publish an Ebook, Step by Step
Want to publish a book? You can either kill a bunch of trees, or get with the 2010s and publish it as an ebook.

If you haven’t noticed already, ebooks are no longer a niche market. As of June 2011, ebook reader adoption had reportedly hit 25 percent in the United States, with the market growing at a phenomenal 169 percent year over year. Today, most new releases are being published in ebook format.

An ebook can provide your small business a real competitive advantage by giving you instant credibility and visibility in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, the ebook sales market is fragmented. Publishing an ebook means working directly with numerous companies, each with its own formats, rules, and quirky systems. While Amazon is the clear leader, both Apple and Barnes & Noble have solid user bases for their respective devices. Industry watchers generally believe that Amazon holds about a 60 percent share of ebook sales, while Barnes & Noble has 30 percent and Apple claims the remaining 10 percent, with a smattering of other services filling in the cracks.

As a budding publisher, you will need to prepare your book for at least those three platforms. I'll walk you through the process here.

I have a couple of ebooks on the market, but for the past few years they’ve been available only for Kindle. To create these tips, I went through the republication of Five Stars! (my manual for aspiring film critics) on all of the major platforms.

Prepare for E-Publishing

Before you even create your Amazon or B&N account, here’s how to get ready for your career as an e-publisher.

Start with the book: First, write a book. That’s hard enough, but putting your book into an ebook-friendly format is almost as complicated, because each ebook seller has its own rules on everything from illustrations to indentation to the way bullet points work. Amazon’s “Formatting” Q&A forum has over 3000 threads in it.

The best advice I can offer is to spare yourself the headache and hire someone to format your book. Using a list from ebook aggregator Smashwords, I found a provider who formatted my book in a matter of hours for $65. Shop around: Pricing can range up to $100, and turnaround time can be up to several weeks. Just remember that formatters do not edit your book’s content.

Understand ePub: A few years ago the world of ebook formats was a mess, but today the ePub format is the most common standard. This open-source format looks a lot like HTML, but you don’t need to deal directly with ePub--every ebook publisher will convert a Microsoft Word document into ePub for you, and many will let you download the converted ePub file to check it out yourself. (Use Adobe Digital Editions to read your ePub file for free.)

After you send your document to a formatting service, you’ll receive it back in .doc format (older versions of Word, pre-.docx, are best). Take some time to make sure everything looks good; my finished file had some unsupported characters that I quickly cleaned up manually before submitting. Use this .doc as a master file for everything else you do.

Prepare multiple versions: While the master .doc file you create will be the most common one, you’ll want to have different versions available, mainly with variable front matter. Smashwords, for example, requires a Smashwords-specific notice that you’ll want to remove from the file for submission to Amazon and other providers. You’ll also want to have a PDF of your book available (which you can create in Word), as well as excerpts ready to go. Just save a portion of your book (the first 20 to 50 pages) as its own file to create an excerpt. While you’re at it, prepare descriptive blurbs at various lengths. You’ll need these as you submit the book to sellers.

Create a cover: Even though your book is electronic, you still need a high-quality (300 dpi), full-size cover, since this image will help to promote your book on seller sites and can get you placement in Web image search results. You can design a cover yourself using stock art or your own photos or illustrations if you’re handy with Photoshop, or you can hire someone to make one for you. It isn’t cost-prohibitive, but expect it to take some time during the revision process. While you’re at it, make sure to create a back cover and a spine. Some services require these items, and you’ll want them if you decide to print on paper someday.

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