How to Publish an Electronic Book

There are three steps to publish an electronic book: production, distribution, and promotion.

Book Formats
While there are many electronic book formats, the industry is rapidly converging on the ePub format. The notable example is Amazon which uses the Kindle format. However, there are utilities for converting from ePub to Kindle format, so we recommend that the initial format for any electronic book be in the ePub format. Although most existing electronic books are text only, the ePub format allows the incorporation of color images, video, and audio. These assets can dramatically increase a book’s appeal, value and marketability.

Electronic Book Devices
Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iTouch currently provide the best display of color images, video, and audio. Heavy readers of text only books may prefer reading books on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook since the displays of these devices perform better when reading outdoors and are smaller and lighter. However, many indoor readers prefer the backlit Apple devices which do not require external lighting and thus are much easier to read in dim or poorly lit environments. As of June 2011, there was an installed base of 25 million iPads, and an installed base of 200 million iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, and iTouch). Amazon and Barnes & Noble currently do not disclose the installed base or sales of Kindle and Nook readers.

Starting with Paper
If your book is in a paper format, page scanners and OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software can be used to create a text file. The error rate will be a function of the print and paper quality. For out of print books, a hardback is preferable to paperbacks, since the print and paper quality are much superior. We recommend using several proof-reading passes, preferably with different readers to obtain high quality, error free text.

The Importance of Being Edited
Editors help a writer make the best impression. They clarify, simplify, and suggest how to better organize and structure a book.

Creating the ePub Document
For simple ePub books, Apple’s Pages editor can be used to create and produce ePub files. Books having tables, indexes, and wanting to avoid orphan and widow sentences; need to be produced at a more detailed level as a mixture of an HTML file using a CSS style sheet. It is highly desirable to use an editor containing HTML syntax and link checking such as BBedit, than a utility such as Sigil to convert the HTML file into an ePub. (We recommend and use Apple computers to produce our ePubs!)

Covers typically need to be at least 800 pixels in height. We recommend a 9” x 6” cover ratio, since on the Apple iBookstore app, this provides a cover thumbnail with the maximum height. We find using Adobe Illustrator to create the cover, and than using Adobe Photoshop to rasterize it and convert it into the appropriate formats to be very convenient. These applications are expensive, and there are many lower cost applications that can be used to create the necessary files.

In the United States ISBNs are sold exclusively by Books in Print. While single ISBNs can be purchased, they are quite expensive compared to the price per ISBN when buying 100 or a 1000 at a time.

The Book Industry Study Group has established standard subject headings and specific headings within each category that are used to classify a book. Apple requires the use of BISAC codes when submitting a book. We recommend listing the BISAC codes adjacent to the ISBN in your book.

Leading distributors of electronic books include are Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books. The financial terms and requirements vary considerably. For example, Apple requires an ISBN for a book and pays 70% of the list price. Amazon does not require an ISBN, but only pays 70% of the list price for books priced between $3 and $10. Barnes & Noble pays 65% of the list price. Apple and Google have no limit on the size of an ePub, Barnes & Noble limits it to a maximum of 20 MB, and Amazon imposes a surcharge based on the size of the file.

Self-Publishing Considerations
While small entities can submit books to Apple, unless they have the necessary technical skills, it is highly recommended that an aggregator or electronic publisher be used. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are more self-publisher friendly. As of mid-2011, Google is actively evolving its service, users are at best, doing beta testing of its site.

International Distribution
Apple currently offers the best international distribution. English titled books can be sold in the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are attempting to also provide United Kingdom distribution.

While the Apple iPad, iPhone, and iTouch have extensive international distribution; Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook as of mid-2011 are primarily sold in the United States.

Reader Lock-in
While there are apps for accessing the Amazon, Google and Barnes & Noble bookstores from the Apple iPad, iPhone, and iTouch; Amazon’s Kindle can only access books from the Amazon bookstore, and the Barnes & Noble Nook can only access books from the Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Electronic books are often found and selected by browsing and searching the websites of distributors such as Amazon, Apple, Barnes&Noble, and Google. Apple allows multiple BISAC codes to be used to identify a book, whereas Amazon wants publishers to furnish multiple search keywords. If a book’s title or author has name recognition, it will sell at a steady, but slow rate. Unknown books and titles are more challenging to sell; often requiring aggressive pricing and campaigns to generate word of mouth.

Although covers do not have the same importance as hardcover or paperback books, they help sell books. Limited screen size, particularly for thumbnails for covers, dictate minimizing text to the title and name of author, and striving for simple, compelling graphics.

Like a newspaper story, the first paragraph of a book description should capture the essence of the book. The following paragraphs provide the detailed narrative to help the reader decide to view the first few pages of the book.

One time emails to blogs, postings to relevant websites will result in short-term spikes in sales. Sustained marketing efforts or word of month are required to achieve sustained sales. Facebook and Twitter used intelligently can be effective. Be open, honest and transparent in your use of social media. Focus on providing quality information, not quantity.