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 that was supported Kindle, until June 28, 2021, and could be set up with or without digital rights management (DRM) during the Kindle book setup process. The DRM 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. The file format is still supported on older devices, so you can still send direct copies of your book to many reviewers using this format, but moving forward consider using one of the other listed here options.
  • 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. Smashwords is expected to be acquired by Draft2Digital in March of 2022, with the idea that the blended company will provide authors with the best of both service’s offerings, but time will tell if this proves to be true. 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.

5 Free Alternatives to Vellum – The Ebook Conversion Edition

Vellum Alternatives for Ebook Conversion - www.alliepottswrites.com

While downloading ebooks to your reader is simple, getting them up on the cloud in the first place requires some work. I write my books using Word, however, just because you can import your manuscript’s formatted-for-print-ready Word document into Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon), doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

For example, you may want to include a table of contents in your ebook for easy navigation, but don’t want one in the print version, or you may want to include links in your ebook pointing readers directly to your other books, making purchasing faster. There are also other distributors besides Amazon that require a specific format for ebooks called epub. This leads me to the next step in the book publishing process – ebook conversion.

Vellum

Vellum offers formatting for print as well as ebook conversion. However, lacking a Mac or a bottomless checkbook, I’ve only been able to appreciate its service as a reader. I can tell it must be awesome to use though based on the number of books I’ve read featuring one of its telltale templates. Don’t get me wrong – it creates highly readable ebooks. I’ve just seen enough of the same decorative flourishes to recognize a Vellum ebook as soon as a chapter opens.

  • Pro: Super easy to use
  • Con: Costly at $199.99, it’s not available for non-Mac users (unless you go through a third-party service like MacinCloud), and your book looks like dozens of others making it more difficult for your author brand to stand out from the crowd.

Smashwords

Smashwords is an ebook conversion service and distribution channel. It is also one of the most difficult ebook conversion tools I’ve ever used. This is because Smashwords distributes your book to channels like Apple books, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble for you, and those channels may have slightly different requirements for an ebook’s file’s layout. Therefore, Smashwords is VERY particular about how your manuscript is formatted prior to releasing it to partner sites and works best with Word files. Fail their checks during the process they call “the Meatgrinder” and your book goes nowhere.

  • Pro: Converts to all major ebook formats including mobi, epub, and pdf for free. It also offers a tool for self-certifying your content does not contain certain taboo subjects, which increases the chance those who publish more risqué material can distribute their books to a larger audience.
  • Con: I am serious when I say this service is NOT recommended for people who don’t know how to use Word styles or are unwilling to read through an entire book of “style guides” prior to attempting to convert their file. There is a reason you can find people to hire on Fiverr to get your file ready for you. Also, once your book passes inspection, it is put up for sale without going through a secondary preview approval step. This means there is a risk your book could be published with typos or with a missing chapter as long as stylistically it fit within the Smashwords Style Guides.

It is worth however noting that Smashwords announced in February of 2022, that it has been acquired by competitor, Draft2Digital in March and that moving forward the company would operate under that brand name. This leads me to the next option:

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital (affiliate link) is like Smashwords in that it is a distributor that also offers ebook conversion. However, it is much, much simpler to use. Upload your word doc, select a template, and then add in things like your social media links, mailing list link, or author page, and Draft2Digital spits out a book file you can either take and distribute through other channels yourself or distribute through them for a portion of future book sales.

  • Pro: It is fast, simple, and lets you download mobi, epub, and sample length versions of your ebook for free – even if you don’t distribute with them.
  • Con: Draft2Digital does not allow you to edit your file once it has been uploaded. Therefore, if you see a typo or a weird chapter heading, you have to go back to your original document, correct the error on the word doc and upload again.

As mentioned above, Draft2Digital and Smashwords are combining forces. Per their press release, the combined company will allow users to either take advantage of Draft2Digital’s existing, more user-friendly, but less customizable formatting tool for ebook conversion, or allow braver and infinitely more-patient authors the option of creating more unique ebook’s using Smashwords’ tool.

This merger will eventually make all Smashwords users, Draft2Digital (D2D) users, so if you are debating which of the two is best for you, I would recommend going ahead and signing up with D2D.

Kindle Create

Kindle Create is still somewhat limited in what it can do compared to some of the other ebook conversion programs out there. For example, there are only a handful of templates to choose from and it only exports a special non-mobi kindle-ready format. It also requires you to download the software rather than work online. However, it’s another free option that produces nice, clean ebook files, and unlike Draft2Digital, gives you the ability to tweak chapter headings or resize images without leaving the user interface.

  • Pro: It’s even easier to use than Draft2Digital, includes a kindle previewer tool that lets you see how your book will look on multiple device sizes, and free!
  • Con: It doesn’t export to epub or mobi file, which limits your ability to use it to create advance copies of your ebook that can be sent via email or service like ProlificWorks, Bookfunnel, or via email to early reviewers.

Reedsy

When you format a book with Reedsy (affiliate link) you have the option to either have them email you a print-ready file or send you an epub or mobi file you can then take to the ebook distributor of your choice. Like Kindle Create, you can edit your ebook’s appearance in the user interface, which is great, but its editing capability is limited compared to Kindle Create. For example, while you can correct a typo in your text without re-uploading, you can’t resize an image. I also had a very difficult time getting the program to properly format my character point of view sub-headings without messing up drop caps.

  • Pro: The ability to edit your book without leaving the user interface is a big plus over Draft2Digital the fact you can download in both epub and mobi is a great benefit compared to Kindle Create
  • Con: Reedsy does not allow you to select chapter-specific settings. For example, if you say you want to feature drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, the program inserts drop caps in every chapter—even in the glossary at the end, which can be distracting to the reader. Downloads aren’t as instantaneous as the other options either. You have to wait for an email and can only request a download every ten minutes. There are also only three templates to choose from. The service also makes it extremely difficult to delete a book from their service once it has been uploaded. You can archive it, but not delete it. Therefore, it is not recommended for those who aren’t yet sure they want to trust the security of other people’s servers with their manuscript just yet.

Calibre and Sigil

While you can technically use either of these programs by themselves, they really work best together. Calibre has the ability to take a Word Doc (saved as HTML) and turn it into epub or mobi file using the headers, fonts, or other decorative touches you specify. This makes layouts more flexible, and gives your books a more custom look than what you can do with the other programs.

Sigil is more of clean-up tool than a conversion program. You can import an epub file you created with Calibre or with any of the programs above (except Kindle Create as it doesn’t offer epub), then tweak it until it looks the way you want, giving you the ability to customize the files generated by other programs. It makes fixing those pesky typos that somehow managed to sneak past your edit process super fast once you get the hang of it, but until then…

To be clear, neither of these programs are for the technologically challenged, and both require some comfort with programming. Personally, I love Sigil now, but it was a hard-won love.

  • Pro: This combination gives you the greatest range of customization for your ebook’s appearance and both programs are free to us
  • Con: Both programs have a rather steep learning curve and may cause a person to shake their fist in the air, sob into the phone while wondering what they ever did to deserve such agony, or be driven to drink.

I am sure there are other programs out there, but these are the ones I’ve used the most. Now, one step done, one million other little things left to go.


Rocky Row Novels - www.alliepottswrites.com
An Uncertain Confidence: Now available

Box Sets Vs Omnibus Books: What’s the Difference?

Box sets are what we in the publishing world refer to as a collection of multiple books packaged together. However, while they are sold as a single sellable item, the end consumer is able to remove an individual book from the set at their reading pleasure. An omnibus edition, on the other hand, combines multiple books into a single bound volume that can’t be separated unless you were to slice through the book’s spine (the horror!).

Both options allow publishers a way to offer a complete series, or at least a larger portion of a series, to readers at a lower price than the cost of purchasing individual books. The terms can also be used to describe ebook collections. However, while the term box set is the trendier way to describe consolidated works, it is worth noting that Amazon, and other ebook distributors, frown on publishers describing ebook collections as box sets as there is no physical box around the set.

That said, while a publisher should not describe their ebook collection as a box set in its retail listing, a publisher can still use a 3D image of a box set on most sites. Apple’s ibook store is the notable exception here. The same cannot be said about listings for physical copies. Publishers must use an image that matches what a print consumer will physically receive once they place their order.

For example, this is how I am displaying my upcoming publication: Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series (which is available for pre-order now in ebook format and will be available in both paperback and ebook format after November 16, 2021).

3D rendering of multiple books titled Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series featuring a woman's face on the cover and a DNA strand on the back. There is also a tablet featuring a box containing three books.

Of course, with anything, box sets and omnibus editions have their pros and cons:

Box sets vs Omnibus Books: Pros & Cons

Box SetsOmnibus Editions
ProsMake great giftsMake great gifts
Save readers moneySave readers money
Allow you to take a break from reading a series without the guilt of leaving a bookmark in the middle of a volumeTake up less room on your bookshelf, allowing you to fill that space with more books
ConsForce you to take even extra care of individual book’s bindings in order to keep the book from warping or swelling and thus being unable to fit back into its boxy sleeveThe sheer size of these volumes can intimidate the casual reader
Take up more room on your bookshelf than individual books unless you throw away that beautiful box sleeveLess travel-friendly. The weight alone could force you to pay the oversized baggage fee at the airport.
Cost more than omnibus editions to produce and so are typically more expensive than their omnibus cousinsHave I mentioned how big these are? Seriously, I worry it is bullying the other novels on my shelf when I am asleep

Does a series have to be complete To Be Combined?

Does a series have to be complete to be offered as either a box set or omnibus edition? The answer is no, but it helps from a marketing perspective. This is because readers are more likely to buy a book (or a set) if they know they aren’t going to have to wait an age to learn how the series ends. Additionally, because a publisher does not have to include every book in the combined edition, sets can also serve as a convenient launching pad for later books in longer series.

Image of 4 books: the Bad Guys 1-3 and the fourth, fifth, and sixth book in the series

For instance, my youngest son, LT, is a huge fan of sharks and humor books, so I got him the omnibus edition of The Bad Guys Books 1-3 by Aaron Blabey, which features a shark (among other characters) who decides he’s tired of being stereotyped as a bad guy and goes on missions to save the world along with other often maligned characters.

I felt confident he would like the series based on the premise, so buying a single volume that offered 3 books in one just made sense to me. It then turned out the series is much, much longer. I immediately had to go out and buy additional books in the series one by one. In this case, I guess you could say that the omnibus acted as a gateway drug. (Absolutely worth it though to hear LT laugh with each page)

The same thing happened when LT and I read the Wayside School 3-Book Collection by Louis Sachar. The only difference was instead of being an all in one volume, the 3 books were offered together packaged in a cardboard sleeve. We then had to run out and get the fourth book in the series.

Picture of the box set of the Wayside School Complete Collection in front of the hardback edition of Wayside School and the Cloud of Doom

So which is better? A box set or an omnibus edition? The answer, of course, comes down to the preference of the individual reader, but I am happy to say I’m making the move to give readers like you this option.

Image of books in the Project Gene Assist series, which includes The Fair and Foul, The Watch and Wand, Lies and Legacy, and the Complete Series omnibus edition stacked upright together.

How to Set Your Self-Published Book’s Price

The following is the last installment in my I Want to Self-Publish – Now What? series.

How to set your self-published book's price - www.alliepottswrites.com

Let’s be clear, convincing people who don’t know you or haven’t followed your exploits on social media to buy your book is hard. I mean really, really hard. Luckily, self-publishing allows authors to do something those who have pursued other publishing paths cannot. Namely set your own price, which on the surface sounds easy enough, but there are a few steps you should take before advertising your book to the world.

1. Determine Your Book Pricing Strategy

In theory, you can set any price you want. Unfortunately, just because you can set it equal to your monthly rent or mortgage payment, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You need to be strategic. Speaking of pricing strategies, there are three that dominate in the self-publishing industry: permafree, 99c, and full-price.

Permafree

Permafree is a term publishers use to describe any book that is available indefinitely for no financial cost to the reader. I’m personally not a huge fan of this strategy because I’ve found it to be harder to give my books away than it is to sell them, but other authors swear by it as a strategy for gaining fans and email list building.

However, not all retail outlets will allow you to set a $0 price for your book. And why should they? They make their money by taking a portion of your earnings. So, by making your book free, you are costing them server space (as minuscule as that is) in addition to the manual resources it took to review your book’s files and maintain the listing on the site without any chance for profit.

To get around this minor detail, self-published authors offering their book for free on sites that allow it and then wait for larger sites, who like to be the low-cost leader, to notice and magically price check. Officially, the book will still be listed for sale at a price on the publisher-facing setup forms, but will show as $0 on the consumer/reader-facing pages.

99c

If you don’t want to go the permafree route, the 99c strategy can still make your book enticing for those who are less willing to spend their money on a relatively unknown author. However, it is worth noting that Amazon takes a larger cut of the sale for 99c books than it does for full-priced books, and by larger, I mean it takes the majority of the sale (65% plus delivery charge). In other words, 99c books, by and large, don’t make authors rich, they make Bezos (or the Bezos wanna-bes) richer.

That said, the average reader has been conditioned to expect a steep discount when it comes to self-published books. They expect to be entertained for hours for less than it costs to purchase and mail a greeting card. This conditioning is entirely on us and would effectively take a literary revolution to counter at this point.

As a result, 99c remains an effective pricing strategy, particularly for the first book in a series. You just have to hope that readers like book one so much they are willing to pay full-price for all the rest in order to make the loss worth it.

Full-price

This brings me to full-price. Full-price is a rather nebulous term that is the maximum value you, as the author, can expect a reader to pay for your work. I say nebulous because it can range widely depending on genre and, sadly, the publishing route.

The truth is there is quite a bit of bias against self-published books—they don’t get featured in round-ups in pop-culture magazines like Entertainment Weekly, and rarely get added to things like Oprah’s book club. Your book may be the literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa, but as far as some people are concerned, your book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless you are signed by an agent.

Sadly, this bias has forced self-published authors to price their books below that of their traditional counterparts in order to make them more appealing to the average reader. But on the upside, you don’t have to worry about earning back your advance or splitting commission with a third party.

So what is full-price for a self-published book?

If you ask Amazon, they will tell you that a full-priced book is $2.99. They even have a ‘helpful’ tool that will produce a pretty graph that will show you can expect maximum conversions at this price point. It doesn’t matter that the average traditionally published book costs closer to $9.99 at launch or that your book is 500 pages—Amazon will always suggest you price your book at $2.99.

While you are absolutely, positively free to charge $2.99, I want to be clear—you don’t have to take this suggestion. I price all of my books higher than $2.99 and I still sell them. You also don’t have to keep it at one price for the rest of time eternal. You can go back into setup forms at any time and adjust pricing as you see fit.

2. Research the Competition

When determining what you should charge for your book, research the competition. Take a look at the bestsellers in your intended categories and see if you can detect a common pricing trend based on the number of pages or date of publication.

The reason I am suggesting you pay attention to the date of publication in addition to page count, is that often a book will be launched at a lower price point as a way to drum up initial sales or reward early fans, but then gradually increase as the book gains reviews. Then, setting your book’s sales price can be as simple as matching the trend. That said, don’t feel compelled to discount your book just because others have if you think it is worth more.

However, it is a good idea to end whatever price you choose with ‘.99’. For example, $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, etc. People expect to see 9s in prices. Prices like $3.43 or $13.48 weird them out and make it seem to the reader like you don’t know what you are doing, which in turn, makes them think you are an amateur rather than an expert.

3. Adjust for International Currencies

When you enter your sales price into the various retail site’s setup forms, the sites will often suggest international prices for you. However, these suggestions are based on that day’s currency exchange rates, and not necessarily what is best from a marketing perspective. For example, a $4.99 price could result in suggestions like €4.24 or £3.87, which appear random and are off-putting.

This is why you should always go through and manually tweak your book’s price for international markets, making sure that all your prices end in .99 no matter the currency.

4. Hit the Submit Button

Pricing is usually the last step in the book setup process. Therefore, assuming you’ve already uploaded cover and interior files, and updated your categories, description, and keywords, all there should be left to do is hit the submit button.

Once you hit that button, your book’s information will then be flagged for review by the various retail sites. This step is intended to ensure your book doesn’t violate any of their content policies. If there are no concerns, they will send you a congratulation email. From that point on, all you have to do is plan a launch, which is a whole other topic, and hit that publish button.

I hope you have found this series interesting, even if you have no intention of ever venturing down the self-publishing path. If you are considering self-publishing, but aren’t quite ready to make the leap just yet, I’ve consolidated all of these articles into a downloadable pdf, which I hope comes in handy when the time is right.

Best of luck!


If you prefer to navigate through posts instead of downloading the consolidated guide, the articles in this series include:

Author SEO: Easy First Steps for Improving Your Book’s Chances for Discovery

This is another installment of my I Want to Self-Publish: Now What? Series.

According to the United National Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2.2 million titles are published each year—and that figure is based on data pulled from 2013, so it’s likely even higher by now.  This means if you do decide to self-publish, it isn’t enough to write a great book, you will need to put in some effort to ensure it is discoverable and enticing.

Ultimately, this means creating a marketing plan (and then executing said plan) and establishing an author platform, but that’s a whole other series. However, there are also a few things you can do during the setup process as good first steps.

Don’t Neglect Your Book Description

Your book’s description is also often referred to as a blurb. This is the text that goes on the back cover of a print book and next to an image of your book’s front cover on the retail site. The retail sites let you use things like bold or italic text to catch the eye, but be careful to use this formatting sparingly. If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. In addition, as a best practice, keep it between 100 and 250 words.

Fiction Descriptions

In fiction your blur should contain a short introduction of your main character and status quo, inciting action that launches the plot, the stakes—or reasons readers should care about your character and his or her journey, as well as a hook that incentivizes the reader to buy your book. If you are writing genre fiction, you want to be sure to sprinkle in words or phrases that make the genre clear to the casual browser.

Non-Fiction Descriptions

In non-fiction, you should use the description to establish what your text is about, how a reader will benefit from reading it, and why you are a credible expert on the topic. In this case, it is also a good idea to use words or phrasing that gives the reader an indication of the overall tone of the work. For example, if you write your non-fiction with a humorous slant, it is a good idea to include a joke or pun. If your non-fiction is data-driven, consider including a statistic that supports why your text exists.

Research Potential Categories

Next, research your book’s potential categories. Think of these as the sections of a bookstore. Does your book belong in the science fiction section or the self-care? If you aren’t sure what category your book belongs in, go to the retail site and see what the top sellers are in each of the categories your book could belong in. Ask yourself things like:

  • Does my book’s cover look similar to the top sellers?
  • Does my description match the tone / style of these top sellers?

If the answer to these questions is no, consider another category or consider re-writing your book’s description so it is more in line with what readers in that category expect to see. Ideally, you want your cover to look similar to other books in the category as well, but as that can be costly step—I consider it more of a last resort.

Most retail sites limit you to one or two categories, which you establish during the book’s setup. However, your book may be listed in additional sub-categories if you use certain keywords or if you contact the retailer directly. Kindlepreneur.com provides a great summary of what these specialized keywords are.

Use Long-Tail Keywords

You will be asked to add your book’s keywords during the setup process. The word, keyword, is misleading because it makes it sound as if you can only pick a single word. In truth, you can use a whole phrase as a keyword. This is known as a long-tail keyword. Keywords are also the terms and phrases people type into a site’s search bar.

A way to come up with keywords is to pretend you are a book shopper who doesn’t know your book exists. Ask yourself, what questions do your book answer? Should your book be the number one result on the page when a person types in the phrase ‘writing craft books’ or ‘stories of personal resilience?’ The phrases I have bolded are examples of long-tailed keywords.

Some keywords have more competition than others. This means that there are more authors attempting to get their book discovered using the same word or phrase. Longer keywords tend to have less competition than short words or phrases, which is another reason to use them. However, you don’t want your keyword to be so specific to your book that only one or two people are searching for it.

You can test keywords by entering them into a retail site’s search bar and paying attention to how many results the search returns. That said, I highly recommend a tool called PublisherRocket, which can help you analyze how competitive a keyword is while also providing you an estimate as to how many people are searching on a word or phrase.

Purchase an ISBN

If you are only publishing an ebook, then this last step isn’t as important. However, if you want brick and mortar stores (or libraries) to discover and order your book, you want your name (or publishing company) to be listed as the publisher of record—not KDP, which they view as a competitor. To do this, you will need to purchase an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

Why ISBNs Matter

ISBNs are the ID number that booksellers use to track sales of your book. The other reason purchasing an ISBN is a good idea is it allows you to set up your book with multiple printers and still be able to centralize reporting of your sales. If you do not own your own ISBNs then you will have to regularly review multiple sales reports and track your performance on a spreadsheet.

While you can use a single ISBN with multiple printers, be aware you have to have a separate ISBN for every print book format. That means that if you want to have a paperback and a hardback version of your book, you will have to purchase and use 2 ISBN numbers.

Where to Purchase ISBNs

You can purchase an ISBN from Amazon or IngramSpark, but this will cost you more than if you’d bought them directly from the source. In the US, the source for ISBNs is Bowker (www.myidentifiers.com). Canadians get these numbers for free. Lucky them.

You can buy a single ISBN or bulk ID numbers.  I take years to publish books because I keep getting distracted by other shiny objects, and yet I have yet to regret buying 10 ISBNs at the same time.

If you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the setup process, don’t be. As a self-publisher you can change your book’s description, cover, categories, and keywords at any time. You can even add or revise the subtitle. So, don’t lose sleep if you don’t get it right, right away.


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.