About the only thing that remains constant in ebook publishing is that it changes—everything from the services to marketing strategies. Here, I regularly update best resources I know of related to learning to publish an ebook, finding the right e-publishing distributors and services, and staying on top of changes in the industry.
Creating Basic Ebook Files
Assuming you have a finished and polished manuscript ready to be published, your first task is to create an ebook file; EPUB is the industry standard ebook format accepted by nearly all retailers. Unfortunately, this cannot be done through a simple Word export, but many tools and services will help you prep an EPUB file. (While most retailers and distributors try to offer good Word-to-ebook conversion, results and quality vary tremendously. Use them with caution.)
- Vellum: easy-to-use software for Mac users only to produce EPUB files
- PressBooks: a WordPress-based system for producing both EPUB and print files
- Scrivener: this writing software is not free, but it can export EPUB files
- Apple Pages (can export EPUB files)
- Sigil: an open-source software for producing EPUB files, requires some tech savvy
- Reedsy: you can copy/paste your work into its free online editor, then export EPUB files
- Draft2Digital: you can upload your Word doc for EPUB conversion even if you don’t use them as your distributor
- Calibre: free software that’s useful for file conversion to/from EPUB, but some find it difficult to use
If you don’t want the headache of creating your own ebook files, check out the services at eBookPartnership.
Creating Enhanced, Multimedia, or Full-Color Ebooks
If you’re publishing a highly illustrated work, such as a children’s picture book, an enhanced ebook, or need to have a fixed layout book—where text doesn’t reflow from page to page—you’ll either need to hire someone or use a special portal for publishing and distributing your work.
- KDP Kids’ Book Creator: for creating children’s picture books
- Blurb: produces print + digital full-color books, with distribution to major retailers
- Book Creator: iPad app for illustrated books, great for children’s authors
- Again, if you need assistance preparing your ebook files, try eBookPartnership.
Choosing Your Ebook Retailers and Distributors
Ebook distribution to major retail outlets is free and fairly straightforward, at least once you have ebook files ready to go. (Your upfront costs are almost always connected to the effort of designing, formatting, and producing those files, whether the cover and the interior—not distribution.)
Assuming you have ebook files ready to go, you have a choice to make: Would you rather deal with each online retailer directly, or would you rather reach them through an ebook distribution service?
- Working directly with online retailers usually means better profits, more control, and more access to marketing/promotion tools (but not always).
- Working with ebook distribution services usually means giving up a percentage of your profits to the distributor, in exchange for the centralized administration and management of all your titles. Some ebook distributors can also reach outlets you can’t on your own, such as the library market, and may offer you helpful tools to optimize book sales and marketing.
The good news is that you don’t have to choose between working directly with online retailers and using ebook distributors, since it’s rare for any distributor to demand exclusivity. For example, you could choose to work directly with Amazon KDP to sell your ebooks on Amazon, then use an ebook distributor such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords to reach other retailers. Or you could choose to distribute directly to Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Nook (by using their do-it-yourself portals), then use Smashwords to capture the rest of the market (such as Scribd and libraries).
Bottom line: There’s no one right way to go about it, since it depends on your time and resources, your books, and your marketing strategy. You can also change your mind at any time (although not without some administration hassle and sales downtime).
Most important ebook retailers in the English-language markets
- Amazon. Probably sells 80% of all ebooks, more for some authors and titles.
- Apple Books. Widely considered the No. 2 ebook retailer in U.S.
- Barnes & Noble Nook Press. Sales have been dropping significantly over the last couple years.
- Kobo. Gaining ground, international presence. Important for the Canadian market.
Key ebook distributors
- Smashwords. The largest ebook distributor of self-published titles that’s been around the longest and has the widest reach, particularly to the library market. No upfront cost; they take a cut of your sales.
- Draft2Digital. Similar to Smashwords, but smaller and more customer-service focused. They take a cut of your sales.
Optimizing Your Product Page and Description
When you upload your ebook to retailers, you need to craft strong book descriptions, research your best categories and keywords, and do whatever you can to increase the likelihood that someone who sees your book page on Amazon will make a purchase.
- Writing Your Book’s Back Cover Copy (Jessi Rita Hoffman)
- The Importance of Categories, Keywords, and Tags (M. Louisa Locke)
- How to Improve Your Amazon Book Description and Metadata (Penny Sansevieri); also here’s another article by Penny on the same topic
- Amazon Sales Rank: an explanation of what it is and what you need to know about it (ALLi)
Sales, Marketing, and Promotion
By far the hardest part of ebook publishing is making readers aware your book exists—then convincing them to buy it.
- Indie author Nicholas Erik offers loads of advice on book marketing and promotion
- Is Amazon Exclusivity Right for You? (Rob Kroese)
- How Authors Can Find Their Ideal Reading Audience (Angela Ackerman)
- Hit the eBook Bestseller Lists with Preorders (Mark Coker)
- Social Media Marketing That Reaches Your Audience
- Six-Figure Book Promotion Strategies for Authors (Written Word Media)
- How to Write and Market Romance with J.A. Huss (The Creative Penn)
- 98-item list for planning a book launch or re-marketing your book (BookBub)
- How an Enterprising Author Sold a Million Self-Published Books (Copyblogger)
- How to Self-Publish Children’s Books Successfully (Darcy Pattison)
Giveaways and Discounts
Most self-published authors gain visibility in the market by giving away their work or offering discounts. To work, it has to be done thoughtfully and strategically.
- The Strategic Use of Book Giveaways (Jane Friedman)
- Do Goodreads Giveaways Work? (J.M. Ney-Grimm)
- Read in-depth analysis and overview of major book promotion and discount sites (ALLi)
Wondering how to get readers (and others) to review your book?
- Putting Together an ARC Team and Getting Lots of Reviews (SFF Marketing Podcast)
- The Ultimate Guide to Goodreads for Authors (The Creative Penn, Mayor A. Lan)
- 10 Ways to Find Reviewers for Your Self-Published Book (Empty Mirror)
- The Indie Reviewers List (The Indie View)
- Author Tools and Promo Sites (Martin Crosbie)
- 7 Strategies and 110 Tools to Help Indie Authors Find Readers and Reviewers (Digital Pubbing)
- Are Paid Book Reviews Worth It? (Jane Friedman)
Facebook has more than 1 billion users and can be an important part of your book marketing arsenal. But it requires you to acquire new skills if you don’t want to waste our time and money.
- 5 Ways to Use Facebook Groups to Build Book Buzz (BookBub)
- Facebook Advertising for Authors with Mark Dawson (The Creative Penn)
- How to Get Your Book Sales Moving with Facebook Ads (The Creative Penn)
Advertising and Other Monetary Investments in Book Marketing
Before you pay to hire help (or to advertise), make sure you’ve identified very specific goals you want to attain (beyond “sell more books”), and a very specific audience you’ve decided to target.
- Why (Many) Publicists Don’t Work With Self-Published Authors (Dana Kaye)
- Top 5 Money Wasters in Book Publicity (Dana Kaye)
- Using Amazon KDP Ads to Sell Your Ebook on Amazon (Rob Kroese)
- How to Sell Books With BookBub (Skipjack Publishing)
- Case Study: Using NetGalley and Goodreads for Book Marketing and Publicity (Jane Friedman)
Excellent Book-Length Guides on Self-Publishing
These guides give you an overview of what you need to learn and accomplish to sell books, in any format.
- Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
- How to Market a Book by Joanna Penn
- Let’s Get Visible & Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran
- Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl
- Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success by Mark Coker (free)
To Find Freelance Help
Usually a referral is best; ask successful authors in your genre who they recommend. Otherwise, here are a few options for finding editorial and marketing assistance.
- Reedsy, a vetted marketplace of publishing-focused freelancers
- Editorial Freelancers Association, where you can post your jobs on their job board for free
Great Sites That Cover Self-Publishing and Ebook Publishing
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.