Ebook Formats: The Quick Guide for Getting Your Book On Digital Shelves

The following is a continuation of my I Want to Self-Publish – Now What? series.

I was, and am, a reader before I was a writer. I take pride in my overstuffed bookshelves. I love the look and feel of a printed story. Unfortunately, I have only so much space in my house for books. Tragic, I know. Thank goodness for the invention of ebooks and the ereader.

ebook formats

Ebook Formats

Ebooks are the digital version of your book that people can access on dedicated devices known as ereaders or on their phones, tablets, or on desktop reading programs. They require little to any cost to setup, don’t require you to carry any inventory, and can be updated on the fly if you find a pesky typo or two immediately following publication.

Their low production cost also makes it possible to offer them to readers at a low price point or for free, making ebooks a great option for authors who are just getting started growing their following. That said, there is more than one accepted format for ebooks.

The major types are:

  • Mobi: this is the file format supported by Kindle and can be set up with or without digital rights management (DRM) during the Kindle book setup process. This feature was designed to help protect books from piracy, as it prevents the book owner from lending their licensed copy of the ebook to another reader. However, the feature has proven to do little in that regard except to cause additional frustration. Therefore, many authors in my circles turn this setting off.
  • epub: is more device-agnostic than mobi files, meaning it can be used on Nooks as well as other readers. This makes it a useful file type to have on hand if you want to sell your ebook, or send advance review copies of your book directly to readers outside of the Amazon ecosystem.
  • pdf: you absolutely can offer your ebook in pdf format, and in some cases, like instructional non-fiction, this format makes sense as it is best for desktop viewing. However, I do not recommend it for novel-length fiction.

If you are wondering how to convert your manuscript from a .doc file to an ebook, you should check out my article on ebook conversion.

Kindle Select vs Going Wide

Kindle Select is an Amazon program that provides authors with advertising incentives and an alternative revenue stream for their ebook via its Kindle Unlimited platform for the exclusive right to sell the ebook. This means that by signing up for the program you agree not to sell your ebook on any other website—including your own. In return, you will get paid a royalty for book sales while also getting paid for pages read by Kindle Unlimited subscribers. You also can offer countdown deals or temporary price reductions to your readers.

Please note, you can grant Amazon exclusive rights to sell your ebook while still offering print books for sale on other platforms.

Going wide is the practice of putting your ebook up for sale on multiple retail sites. While this strategy prevents you from earning money from page reads, it means that you’d still have a sales channel if, heavens forbid, Amazon decided your book violated their terms of sale or was forced out of the publishing industry altogether through some anti-trust ruling. Yes, that last one is unlikely to happen, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

I took part in the Kindle Select program for the first year or so of my publishing career and as a new, unknown author, I loved being part of Kindle Unlimited as it encouraged readers to take a chance with me by eliminating their financial risk, while still paying me for that effort. However, I’ve since gone wide as I feel more secure with diversification.

How to Distribute your Ebook for Resale

Once you have decided on whether you want to be exclusive or go wide, the next step is getting retailers to agree to sell your ebook on your behalf. I will say this process is significantly easier for ebooks than it is for print books, which I’ll discuss in more detail in another post. All you have to do is create an account, fill in a form (or five), supply a site with your tax forms and bank routing information (so that you can get paid), upload files, and hit a publish or approve button.

Most sites will send your files to a human reviewer just to make sure the quality of your book conforms to their requirements, but in my experience, it only takes between 1 and 3 days before you book is available for purchase.

Ebook Retail Sites

To publish directly on Amazon, you will need to create an account on kdp.amazon.com. You can convert your manuscript to an ebook format like epub or mobi in advance, but you don’t have to as Amazon will accept word doc files.

Outside of Amazon, the next big distributors in the ebook space are Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble Press (Nook) and Kobo (Writing Life). Please note, up until very recently you could only publish directly with Apple if you use a Mac. This meant that non-Mac users who wanted to publish their ebooks directly had to use a service like Macincloud in order to ‘rent’ a virtual Mac if they didn’t have a Mac-owning friend willing to their device for a few hours.

Google Play is another distributor, but personally, I’m not a fan of that platform as its rules can be confusing and I’ve seen a number of books pirated from that channel. Pirating, by the way, is the term used to describe what happens when someone downloads a copy of your book and republishes it on another sales channel without your permission and without sharing any of the profits.

Each site has its own slightly different setup process. Therefore, you will want to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of whichever site you choose at least a week before you start telling your audience where you will be publishing your book. That said, if you plan to publish directly on multiple sites, you can save yourself some administrative headache by using a program called WideWizard which helps auto-populate set up forms.

Ebook Retail Aggregator Sites

If you’d rather not deal with the joy of managing logins, finicky user interfaces, and multiple tax forms,  but still want your ebook to be available for sale on multiple resale sites, you will want to use an aggregator service. Some, but not all, will take care of converting your book from a word doc to an ebook format before sending your book to retail sites. Additionally, some will also take a portion of your profits in return for taking care of distribution for you.

A company called Draft2Digital (affiliate link) is my favorite of these services for ease of use, but does take a small percentage of your sales. Smashwords is both an aggregator and a retail distributor site, which I’ve also used in the past. In addition, Smashwords is completely free, but is significantly more difficult to use. BookBaby and PublishDrive are two other aggregators, however I don’t have experience with either of them.

If you can’t decide whether you want to publish directly or use an aggregator, guess what? You can use both! I personally publish directly on Amazon and use Draft2Digital to publish the ebook everywhere else, however, I have heard from many authors that it is also a good idea to publish directly on Kobo too just because by doing so you are able to use Kobo’s ad services.

Once again, the best part about self-publishing is, the choice is up to you.


The next post in this series is: Print Book Formats & Printing Options

However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

I Want To Self-Publish – Now What?

I recognize that not all of my readers are also writers, nor are all my reader-writers considering the self-publishing path. However, for those that are, I thought I’d peel back the curtain, so to speak, and provide another glimpse at the wild and wonderful world that is taking control of your literary destiny. The next few articles are for you.

self-published: now what

So you’ve made the decision to self-publish. Congratulations! You, like me, are now in control of your book’s publication. Unfortunately, that was only the first of a number of decisions you still need to make before you will get to see your book on the shelf. So perhaps I should be offering my condolences instead.

You may have decided self-publishing is for you before you’ve finished writing your manuscript. If so, nice work! This means you are already thinking about how you want to go to market, which will only help you build your author platform well before your launch date.

That said, if you don’t have your manuscript ready it’s probably better if you simply bookmark these instructions for future reference as there is little that you can do with them until you have a completed (and preferably edited) manuscript. Bonus points if it is formatted too, but I digress.

Now, if you have your completed manuscript, fantastic! That’s an enormous accomplishment and I hope you took at least an evening to celebrate.

So now what?

From here, it is time to familiarize yourself with publishing terminology while answering a number of questions. This will, in turn, help you determine what your next steps are. Luckily there are no wrong answers—just some answers are more work or more costly than others.

Some of the most basic questions you need to answer for yourself are these:

What do I want to publish?

A book, sure. But let’s get more specific. Exactly what kind of book do you want to publish and what format do you want that book to take? There are three different formats you can choose for your book: Ebook, paperback, and hardback, although paperback and hardback are fairly similar. Each have their own audiences, benefits, and drawbacks.

How do I want to distribute my book?

Amazon, or simply the ‘Zon as it is called in some circles, pretty much owns the book market at this point. Therefore, your best chance of earning a living wage off your writing, and your writing alone, is to publish on their platform. However, you don’t have to have an exclusive relationship with them if you don’t want to. Some authors take advantage of their Kindle Select program for ebooks, which offers things like countdown deals and enrollment in Kindle Unlimited (their subscription reading program), while also publishing the print version of their books on other platforms. Others publish ebooks and print books alike on multiple publishing platforms.

Who do I want to list as the Publisher of Record?

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this question isn’t as important. However, if you want your own name or brand name to be listed as the publisher of record for a printed book, then you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for each version of your book before you publish. In other words, if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will need to have two ISBNs.

How do I want readers to find me?

ISBNs help booksellers keep track of which book sale belongs to which author, but if you want readers to find you, you will need to hone up on your SEO knowledge. SEO stands for search engine optimization and it is just as important for improving your search rank on retail sites as it is on Google or Bing.

How much do I want to charge for my book?

Some authors set their first book in a series at an extremely low price point, knowing it might cost more to advertise the book than they expect to make off the sale because they expect readers to buy the follow-up books in the series at full price. Others decided to charge full price for all of their books as they believe it shows the reader that the book is high-quality. The choice, like everything in self-publishing, is up to you.

If this seems overwhelming, don’t worry, I will be expanding on some of these topics so that by the end of this series, you’ll feel a little less apprehensive about the publishing process. It’s only as scary as you let it be – just don’t expect it to be easy. Otherwise, everyone would do it.


Other posts in this series include:

However, if you would prefer not to navigate through a number of posts, I have also consolidated the entire series into a single downloadable PDF, which you can access by clicking here.

Lies and Legacy is go for launch

I’ve hummed the refrain from It’s My Party by Lesley Gore more than once over the last few days. You see, I had every reason to celebrate this week. After seven years of work and over a quarter-million words, I’d finally added the phrase ‘The End,’ to my science fiction trilogy, Project Gene Assist.

Unfortunately, the universe has a funny sense of humor. My series, which, I repeat, germinated in my brain seven years ago, set before and after a perfect storm of abusive technology, economic collapse, and a mysterious illness. The first book is the events leading up to the panic and societal upheaval, the second and third take place in the aftermath.

It was supposed to be thought-provoking, cautionary, and/or escapism.

It was supposed to be set in the future.

Most importantly, it was supposed to be fiction.

My book’s launch was supposed to include a number of things like:

Lies and Legacy

  • Signed paperback copies: sadly, orders of non-essential products that weren’t currently on the shelves have been delayed by major retail outlets. By all means, please order a paperback if interested—just understand it just might not reach you for a few weeks.
  • Light hors d’oeuvres & finger foods: bread and flour are in short supply around here, but that’s not the worst of all. According to my co-workers, there’s even been a run on dinosaur-shaped frozen chicken nuggets in some places.
  • A full house of close friends: if groups weren’t already limited, my current paper product inventory would have required me to ask guests to bring their own roll of toilet paper as an entrance fee.
  • More than one glass of wine: okay, this is still part of the plan—it’s just now happens to be a major part of the plan and the reason hosting a Facebook live event is unlikely to be the best idea for me this week.

So, yeah, the timing stinks. However, while it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (but I’ll try not to because there are a lot of people out there suffering more than me), I’m going to launch this book and celebrate its release anyway. In fact, I’m making an even more conscious effort during these times to celebrate all my daily wins—big and small.

Other notable wins:

  • Maybe it’s the quarantine/social-distance enforced cooking or maybe it’s the six months of dedicated meal tracking & step counting using the Noom app (affiliate link) but I’ve officially lost all the weight I put on bringing my non-book babies to life.
  • The local paper interviewed me about life as a reluctant homeschool mom & remote full-time worker (my advice to other parents: let things go—like housework or expectations that your kids will quietly sit in the background looking charming and well-behaved while your world is being filmed for strangers to see) – https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article241329721.html
  • I KNOW what my kids did all day at school instead of just hearing a grunt or ‘I forget,’ when asked, and have been enjoying a lively discussion of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (affiliate link) with my 8yo.
  • My kids actually WANT to go back to school (though tell me they are glad I’ve been home with them).
  • I’ve gotten most of my garden planted

Speaking of gardening, the leaves on the trees are budding, which reminds me that just like winter gives way to spring, this time too will someday become a distant memory. While that day can’t get here soon enough, at least I can take some small comfort knowing I controlled what I could. I did my best. I released a book.

You can order Lies & Legacy or start at the beginning with The Fair & Foul

 

 

5 Reasons Your Book Takes Forever (and a Day) to Launch

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — writing the book is the easy part. For the past several weeks I have been practically chained to my desk getting Lies & Legacy ready for its big debut. Why does it take so long to publish a book after announcing the manuscript is done? I’m glad you asked.

If you are going to market via the traditional, or in some cases, the small press route, this is because the publishing house only wants to release a certain number of books at any given time so as not to compete against themselves. It’s an understandable concern, but frustrating from both the reader’s and the author’s perspective who are eager to get their hands on the book.

If you are publishing independently, it’s because of the following reasons:

1. Title Setup Forms

To independently sell a book, in a bookshop or online, it needs to first be setup in a retailer’s database. This means there are forms. So many forms. You have to register your book’s ISBN, which is an identification number used in the US and other markets by booksellers to ensure that books with the same title or author name don’t get mixed up on orders.

Then there are retail setup forms that need to be to filled out. If you are feeling masochistic ambitious, you can set up your book on each of the retail platforms individually. WideWizard is a browser extension that can help speed up this process. However, a distributor like Draft2Digital (affiliate link) will do this for you (but some take a portion of your sales, so there’s that).

2. Author Proofs

If you’re only interested in publishing an ebook, you can skip this step. However, if you are like me and want an actual physical book to gaze at lovingly, place on display like a trophy for all the world to see, or simply read, there’s the proof stage.

Technically, you can approve a book on Amazon or IngramSpark without ever actually laying your hands on a physical page, but I don’t particularly recommend it. I’ve learned the hard way that gremlins delight in sneaking in last-minute typos — the type you can’t catch in electronic format, no matter how many times you run your manuscript through editing software.

Unfortunately, this means you have to wait for your book to be printed, bound, packaged, and shipped to your door before you can move on to the next step. That said, there is something magical about receiving that first proof copy — even if it is has a big banner on the cover making it clear the book is ‘not for resale’ or if it does contain more than a few errors.

3. Revisions

As I mentioned, there are gremlins in publishing. I’ve received proofs with my name cut off on the spine, page numbers missing, length too tall, and random blank pages inserted in the middle seemingly with no sense of rhyme or reason. Seriously, NEVER publish a book without requesting a physical proof.

This means your files will require a round of revision. You’ll have to update your files and make sure that this time you REALLY take the time to visually inspect each and every single page (all 300+ of them, in my case). I don’t care how sick you are of reading your own story. DO IT.

4. Buzz Building

Superfans are awesome. Superfans count down the minute to your launch. They add your launch date to their calendars in permanent ink and put in a request to take the day after your launch off of work if only so they can stay up all night reading. Unfortunately, most people aren’t superfans — no matter how much they say they love your work.

excerpt of Lies and LegacyYou have to build excitement while reminding people you have a book coming out. There are a number of ways to do this: post repeatedly on Facebook (but not too much or you can get yourself reported as spam. You can hop around other people’s blogs or post sneak previews on your own. (Psst – You can see an excerpt of Lies & Legacy on mine).

You can pay to get featured in a newsletter or negotiate a swap. You can also signup with a service like BookSweeps.com to be a part of a giveaway. Just note, you often have to schedule these at least six weeks in advance.

5. Reviews

While there’s no one way to launch a book, you’ll have the most success if you have reviews to go with it, as apparently few people (outside of the superfans) enjoy being the first to give your book a try. But it’s getting harder and harder every day to ensure your book has reviews when it is time to go live.

Amazon will flag reviews it deems as coming from a potentially biased connection. Sure, occasionally a real-life friend or acquaintance’s review will still get past Amazon’s quality checks, but I know of reviews being reduced to digital ether simply because the review came from an author’s Facebook page follower.

I’ve reached out to known book bloggers in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, offering an advance copy in the hopes they might provide an honest review. However, they are under no obligation to do so and there is always the risk Amazon won’t accept the review, which is why they also are free to post it when and wherever they want. It’s totally up to them.

This is why I have also started using BookSprout.co to handle my advance review requests. It takes me out of the equation. (It also has a sales report and keyword research tool if you are interested).

All I had to do was give them my ebook files and links where I’d like to see reviews posted. They take care of all the rest.

I worried about pirates the first time I used them, but the site seems to police itself. I also worried about the quality of the reviews, but all I’ve thus far received have been thoughtful and well-written.

By the way, if you want to give them a try as a reader, I should mention there are a handful of advanced review copies of Lies & Legacy still available.

T-minus next to only a few more days to go.

Lies & Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 launches March 26, 2020

Editing Tools For Writers

Writers, whether they pursue traditional publication under the writer-agent model, publish under their own name, or sign with a smaller imprint, need to edit their work prior to submission. However, while some authors believe their background makes them a grammatical expert, the truth is no one should rely on a single set of eyes.

Unfortunately, professional editing services cost money, and as most reputable editors charge by the word, the cost to help you polish a full-fledged novel quickly adds up. I understand the temptation to do without. That said, I’ve also spent more than I would like to admit on editing services for words that, upon hindsight, never stood a chance of making it to the final proof copy.

Thankfully, while no online editing tool or plug-in is good enough to replace a set of human eyes—for now, there are several programs on the market today that can help you identify more than the occasional typo. Many can now check for tone, misused words, readability, and even provide recommendations to help your pacing. Even better, many of them are offered for free or at a price point that is low enough to pay for itself in short order.

As a result, editing software programs are critical applications for every aspiring author’s toolbox and can help you bridge the gap between rough draft and editor ready. I’ve used dozens over the years, some with more success than others. To save you from making many of the mistakes I have, I’ve compiled this list of those I’ve found to be the best for fiction and non-fiction writing.

editing tools for writers

Grammarly

According to my Grammarly dashboard, the program has been correcting my text since 2015, so it’s a tool that has definitely impacted my writing. In fact, it has caught at least three errors in this paragraph since I started typing. That said, I’ve found the program misses errors occasionally when I’ve used it with Google Docs and I’ve had to disable it altogether on certain websites, like VistaPrint, as it doesn’t play nice with their text box editor.

Occasional bug aside, Grammarly has a free plan that works well as a spellchecker online via its browser extensions or as a Word plugin. However, there is also a premium version of the service, which can help you check tone, sentence variability, and make sure you aren’t inadvertently plagiarising online content.

Grammarly Achievements

  • Pros – It’s hard to beat free and is great for catching things like passive voice, incorrect punctuation, or misused homonyms in your daily writing. Plus, Grammarly sends out weekly progress reports telling you fun things like how unique your vocabulary is or how long you’ve kept your writing streak going which is great for staying motivated.
  • Cons – It’s much better suited for shorter business or online writing than creative long-form writing as it requires you to disable features like track changes in Word to operate.

ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid is another editing tool you can download and run as a plug-in with Word or Scrivener to check your writing or to check your writing online using its browser extension. Like Grammarly, its Chrome extension is free, however, in my opinion, its paid features, like its overused, cliche, echo, and consistency reports are well worth signing up for the premium version if you are a novelist.

prowritingaid reports

  • Pros – I can’t even begin to describe how much time this tool has helped me save looking for things like a missing quotation mark at the end of dialogue and identifying my clutch words and phrases. It is also more stable than Grammarly in certain web forms.
  • Cons – The plug-in for Word doesn’t always load correctly the first time, which has caused me to shut down Word and re-open my file on a semi-regular basis. In addition, the reports it runs can be somewhat overwhelming and do take a while to complete a check for a full manuscript.

Fictionary

Full disclosure, I am somewhat biased as I was invited to help test an early version of Fictionary, but I absolutely love what this program has to offer (they’ve also added a ton of extra features since then). Unlike all the other tools in this list, which I consider more copy-editing software, Fictionary is designed to help you automate a development edit.

To use it, all you have to do is upload your manuscript and tag where your plot points are located. Fictionary will then tell you if your pacing is too fast or too slow with a graphical representation of the story arc. It can also help point out things that can help strengthen your story like are the five senses represented in each scene of your writing, has a character gone missing from the story, or are you varying your openings and closings enough to keep your reader interested.

Fictionary Story Arc
graphical representation of the story arc from Fictionary.com
  • Pros – While I still put more stock in beta reader feedback than I do a computer program, allowed me to perform a proactive developmental edit before I risked my reputation or burdened advance readers with a two-dimensional story.
  • Cons – Fictionary advertises that it can help you evaluate and revise your manuscript against 38 story elements. This sounds like a pro, until you are actually ready to make all those edits. If you are a pantser rather than plotter, you may not have had a goal for each scene in mind related to the overall plot or may have included scenes you loved to write, but don’t serve any purpose. Tagging all these elements in the software can be overwhelming as well as time-consuming. It’s also not free, which is understandable given its value but does offer a free trial.

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App, also known as the Hemingway Editor is offered as either a online editing tool or as a desktop app designed around making your prose more like Ernest Hemingway’s. That is to say, it will help your writing get right to the point, which is clearly something I need more help with. The tool highlights sentences that it deems too long, identifies adverbs that are keeping you from showing rather than telling, and warns you about passive voice, and gives you a readability score which can help you better connect with your target audience.

HemingwayApp

  • Pros – The free online tool loads quickly and features easy to interpret color codes which change in real-time as you edit your copy. The paid desktop version also lets you publish directly to WordPress and Medium, making it a great editing option for serialized stories.
  • Cons – Not everyone is a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s style of writing. Was I forced to read 127 pages about an old man trying to reel in a marlin? Yes, I was. Did I enjoy it? No, I did not. Also, it does not integrate directly into other word processing programs, meaning you can use it to tweak your copy, but then will need to export it to Word, text, or PDF before you can do anything with it.

EditMinion

Before I bit the bullet and purchased the premium version of ProWritingAid, I used EditMinion to help polish up my work before sending it out for a professional edit. EditMinion is a completely free online editing program, that helps identify cliche phrases, passive voice, adverbs, and missing dialogue tags. However, it relies on copy and paste, and can only check a chapter of your text at a time.

EditMinion

  • Pros – It’s simple and you can’t beat the price point. Also, because there is absolutely nothing to download, you don’t risk corrupting your files or crashing other applications.
  • Cons – Copying and pasting each chapter one by one into the program can feel agonizingly slow, especially when you feel like you are so close to the literary finish line you can practically taste it. The tool also does not help your writing outside of the app or let you know if you have accidentally misspelled a character name. As a result, I use it when I need a second opinion but rely on the other products for heavier edits.

I am delighted to report I have reached the end of an editing project yet again and will be releasing my fifth full-length novel, Lies and Legacy: Project Gene Assist Book 3 to the general public in March 2020. You can read more about this series by visiting my Project Gene Assist book page, or by visiting your favorite online retailer to pre-order a copy.

Project Gene Assist Series Banner