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How to Self-Publish an eBook – KDP, Smashwords & PubIt! Comparison

By Sandra Parker

reading an ebookAbout a year ago, I finally decided that it was time to quit dreaming and start writing fiction. As with most of my endeavors, I learned as I went: I honed my writing skills, and learned how to edit my own work as well as utilize graphics programs, such as Photoshop and Gimp. Eventually, I published my own ebook.

The ebook market is constantly shifting, and many publishers now offer e-publishing as part of their print marketing packages, which adds a whole new layer of complexity to the process. However, if you forgo the print market, creating and publishing an ebook can be quite simple.

Tips to Create a Successful eBook

  • Write a Solid Manuscript. An author published by a traditional publisher has the benefit of having an editor, a marketing team, and graphic designers looking out for their best interests. However, by going it alone, you must wear many hats. Write a great manuscript, polish it until it shines, and then send it out for others to read, review, and revise.
  • Create an Eye-Catching Cover. The cover is what compels a casual browser to stop and read the blurb about your book. If you have the money, do yourself a favor and hire a professional graphic artist to design your cover. If you have a more limited budget, hire a college student. If all else fails, you can do it yourself – but be sure to take the time to learn the basics before attempting to do so. A poor cover can derail your sales.
  • Create a Catchy and Unique Title. Your title must be catchy and intrigue potential readers. Be sure to do a little research to ensure that your title stands out – you don’t want your book to be lost among hundreds of others with the same name.
  • Determine a Price Point. You might think that your novel is good enough to command the same price as well-known authors, and you might be right. However, you need to create value for your readership. You can do this by offering an outstanding product at a cheap price. Keep in mind that when it comes to retailing on Amazon.com, the price point you choose dictates the royalty you earn. If your book is priced at $2.99 or less, you can only earn $0.35 per sale. However, books priced above $2.99 net you a $0.70 royalty. But before you automatically choose the higher price point, understand that a higher price may result in fewer sales.
  • Publish With a Firm That Lets You Set Your Own Price. The service you use to self-publish your ebook should allow you to sell your book at whatever price you wish. If you would like to sell it for $0.99, it should be your choice.
  • Avoid Firms That Charge You to E-publish. There are too many legitimate free services out there to pay for e-publishing. Don’t pay anyone to e-publish your book. Traditional print publishing is a bit different.
  • Create Marketing Buzz. Creating buzz about your book simply takes time and diligence. First, let your friends and family know about it, as well as your Facebook friends and folks you have met on Twitter. You may also want to create a website or a blog with links to your book. Furthermore, you can create some affordable business cards and flyers to distribute in local coffee shops, library branches, and locally owned bookstores. Send out review copies of your book to websites and blogs that cater to your target audience, and approach local bookstores about hosting a “meet the author” session.

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eBook Publishing Options

I had three major questions when I began looking for a publisher: First, what is the fastest and most cost-efficient way to transfer a manuscript from Microsoft Word to a published ebook? Secondly, how can I get it distributed so that readers would be able to find it? And lastly, how much money per sale could I earn? With those questions in mind, I explored some of the more popular options available.

1. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

kdpAs the name suggests, this is the Amazon platform for ebook publishing. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing allows you to put your book into the format required to be readable on the Amazon Kindle, as well as on the free Kindle apps for PC, iOS, and Android-powered portable devices. The best part of the KDP program is that authors can self-publish for free directly with Amazon, cutting out the middleman and getting book titles in front of millions of people instantly.

Since this is a true DIY platform, you need to do a little research to properly format your manuscript so that it properly converts to the .mobi Kindle format. You also must create and upload a cover yourself. If the DIY aspect of this service intimidates you, you can still pay a professional to format your manuscript and create your cover (most likely for a few hundred dollars). Then, you can upload the professionally formatted documents.

If you don’t know someone off-hand who can assist you, I suggest checking out J.A. Konrath’s “How to Make Money on eBooks.” You can also peruse Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s “Mark’s List” for a listing of low-cost ebook formatters and cover designers. The prices for these services start at around $50.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing eBook Specs

  • Acceptable Manuscript Formats: Microsoft Word (DOC or DOCX), Adobe PDF, HTML (ZIP, HTM, HTML), Mobipocket (Mobi, PRC) , ePub, Plain Text (TXT), or Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • Acceptable Cover Art Formats: Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), Tagged Image File Format (TIF), Portable Network Graphics (PNG), Bitmap (BMP), or Joint Photographics Expert Group (JPG).
  • Cost to Publish: Free
  • Royalty: $0.70 per sale for books priced at $2.99 and up. $0.35 per sale for books priced from $0.99 to $2.99.

Amazon Kindle Select is also worth looking into. This service, which is free to the author, allows Amazon Prime members who own Kindles to “borrow” your book for free. Amazon sets aside a pool of money to compensate authors for lending their books, which can be quite lucrative for the author. And the added exposure your book gets when read by thousands of people for free is priceless.

The only downside is that you have to be exclusive to Amazon for a minimum of 90 days, meaning that you cannot make your book available on any other platform. You do not have to make this concession unless you “opt in” to the Amazon Kindle Select program, and you can opt out at any time.

2. Smashwords

smashwordsSmashwords is another well-known DIY platform authors can turn to for e-publishing. Smashwords was actually one of the first companies to offer such services, and maintains the designation as one of the largest distributors for such works.

Its platform allows you to dump your Microsoft Word manuscript into the “Meatgrinder” application and churn out your ebook in just about any format you can imagine. Then you can sell your book directly through Smashwords, or through any number of major ebook sellers, including Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Sony, Kobo, and more. Smashwords even allows you to distribute your book through libraries. As a matter of fact, the only place you won’t find your Smashwords title is on Amazon – at least, not as a direct distribution partner.

Smashwords has stated that it’s merely a matter of time before Amazon updates their KDP platform so that it can accept Smashwords titles, like so many of its competitors. This isn’t to say that you can’t upload your Smashwords book to Amazon – you just have to do it manually through the KDP platform.

Smashwords eBook Specs

  • Acceptable Manuscript Formats: Microsoft Word (DOC or DOCX)
  • Acceptable Cover Art Formats: Portable Network Graphics (PNG) or Joint Photographics Expert Group (JPG).
  • Cost to Publish: Free
  • Royalty: Varies based on retailer, price of your book, and the country in which it’s sold.

Smashwords, like Amazon, is free for authors to use. The company takes a cut of the sales price, rather than charging up front – and this is a huge benefit for unknown authors who are looking to get their feet wet. The cut that Smashwords takes is small, and in my opinion is a small price to pay to receive massive distribution, as well as sales tracking.

Smashwords is exceptionally transparent when it comes to disclosing to the author exactly how much it would be receiving in royalties, as well as where the book is distributed. The publisher even provides a pie chart to display compensation for each book sold according to each distributor. The author receives a set royalty for each book sold, and these amounts are transferred to his or her Smashwords account within a few hours of the recorded sale.

3. Barnes & Noble PubIt!

pubitThe Barnes & Noble PubIt! platform works similarly to Amazon KDP. The main difference is the percentage of each sale you receive. In fact, for books priced below $2.99 or over $9.99, you actually net more by publishing with Smashwords and distributing through Barnes & Noble, rather than by publishing directly with Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble PubIt! features a DIY upload platform much like the KDP platform. It allows you to upload your manuscript and your cover art in one of many different formats and convert it for free to EPUB, the ebook format of the Nook. Of course, if your book is already in the EPUB format, you can upload it directly into the Barnes & Noble bookstore through their DIY platform, no conversion required. And PubIt!, just like Amazon, lets you preview your file before you make it public through the Nook emulator.

Barnes & Noble eBook Specs

  • Acceptable Manuscript Formats: Microsoft Word (DOC or DOCX), HTML (HTM, HTML), Plain Text, (TXT), or Rich Text Format (RTF)
  • Acceptable Cover Art Formats: Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), Tagged Image File Format (TIF), Portable Network Graphics (PNG), Bitmap (BMP), or Joint Photographics Expert Group (JPG).
  • Cost to Publish: Free
  • Royalty: eBooks priced from $2.99 to $9.99: $0.65. eBooks priced below $2.99 or  above $9.99: $0.40.

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Final Word

There are many other viable options available for self-publishing your ebook. Notable names include Lulu, CreateSpace, iBook Author, and Book Tango. Each has its own merits and drawbacks, so you have to decide for yourself which service is the best for you.

I used Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing to publish my ebook. I like the DIY aspect, and love that it is made available for sale on Amazon.com. I also enjoy being a part of the Kindle Select Program. Even though my distribution is limited to only Amazon.com, the additional exposure from being able to lend my book for free, as well as the availability of free Kindle apps for folks who don’t have Kindle devices, has made it a great decision.

Have you published an ebook? Are you looking to get published?

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  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    These are all great tips! I have a couple of ebook ideas in the back of my mind that I plan on pursuing in the near future & my wife has a novel idea that she has been putting off. This is very helpful and I simply need to get started on mine.

  • Todd Troutt

    Great article! I’ve been playing around with the idea of using KDP Select myself. Thanks for the informative article that has also served as a motivational tool.

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