Would you like to be the next Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling? Perhaps your aspirations are less lofty, but you still have a story -- or expert information -- to share with the masses. Unless you are already a bestselling author, landing a publishing deal is easier said than done. Thankfully, though, tools are available for you to publish your own electronic book.
I'm no stranger to publishing, having written or cowritten a dozen books. A great deal of pride and satisfaction comes with seeing your written work sitting on the shelf of a chain bookstore -- a dying concept in and of itself. Would you settle for seeing your book on the digital shelf at Amazon.com?
For a small or medium-size business, self-publishing has a variety of potential benefits. Being published -- even self-published -- enhances your reputation and credibility. It establishes your business as an authority, and can lead to new opportunities, sales leads, or invitations for speaking engagements and other prospects for gaining exposure.
You have assorted options, including Amazon's CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing; Lulu; and SelfPublishing.com. Whether you want to create an actual paperback book to ship to readers (or a music CD or movie DVD, for that matter), or you just want to crank out an ebook for digital download, such tools make the project relatively simple.
If writing an entire book seems daunting, you might prefer to take an existing blog of yours and publish it via Amazon so that everyone with a Kindle can download and read your posted material. Kindle Blogs are wirelessly delivered and updated automatically throughout the day; the content downloads to a reader's Kindle and remains stored for local access even when no wireless network is available.
What You Need to Publish an Ebook
For starters, you need content: Self-published books don't type themselves.
Most ebook publishing services are at least capable of working with Microsoft Word files, PDFs, and the open-source ePub format. The Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing service -- which I'll focus on for this article -- can work with .doc, .docx, .rtf, .pdf, .epub, .txt, .zip, .mobi, or .prc files. Amazon recommends creating and editing your content in Microsoft Word.
You should also prepare cover art of some sort, as well as relevant information, starting with credits for the author, illustrator, or editors.
When the book is done, remember that with self-publishing comes self-promotion. You won't have a publisher with a marketing budget and a vested interest in the success of your book out there pitching it for you.
Use all of the tools at your disposal to let your customers or the broader intended audience know the book is available. Mention it in your email signature and on your website. Post a status update and link to it on your Facebook page. Tweet about it. Make sure to promote the book every which way you can.
Professional Consulting or DIY?
Although CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, and SelfPublishing.com provide the tools to do it yourself, many also offer professional services for a fee. For example, CreateSpace provides a comprehensive list of professional services, including copyediting, content formatting, illustration, cover art design, and even marketing services once the book is published. The CreateSpace Unique Book Cover service is US$499, though, so be prepared to spend some money.
You want your book to have a polished, professional look, but you don't want to invest a fortune self-publishing either. You have to find a balance, creating a book that looks good enough to buy, but not spending so much that you lose money in the process.
A suitable middle ground between winging it yourself and hiring expensive professional help is to use your network of family, friends, and business contacts to find someone with the knowledge and skills to contribute, but for a more affordable fee. Maybe you can work out some sort of trade of products or services with another small business to create a more professional book without breaking the bank. You might also consider Elance, Freelancer.com, and other similar services that can connect you with designers looking for projects.
Editing and Formatting
Unless you pay (or barter with) a professional, it's up to you to check the quality of your work. This is a book that you expect people to spend money on, and enjoy or gain some benefit from; the least you can do is to put your writing through a spelling checker, and to ensure that you haven't made any glaring grammatical errors or introduced any formatting issues in the document you submit.
You can use some text formatting -- such as bold, italics, or underlining--for emphasis, but don't go crazy. Decorations such as bullet points, fancy fonts, or information in the header or footer area of your document won't translate to the finished product. Tables can be tricky, too.
To ensure that each chapter will start on a new page and not just run together like one big chapter, insert hard page breaks at the end of each chapter. In general, any images you include should be centered on the page. Keep in mind that if you are creating a digital ebook, the Kindle and most other e-readers will render the page in black and white or shades of gray, so some things may not look as nice as you intend.
Creating Front and Back Matter
When you open nearly any paper book, you see pages at the beginning before you get to the first page of real content. This section contains elements such as the title page, copyright page, dedication, preface, and prologue, and is referred to as the front matter. The back matter includes things such as an index or any appendices you wish to add at the end of the book.
You are not obligated to include all or any of these things, but your book will have a more professional look if you at least include a title page. It can be as simple as placing the title of the book in the center of the very first page with the author's name beneath it.
Next page: The two-step publishing process, and how to set the right price.
As it happens, I am self-publishing a book -- two, actually. One on 30 Days With Google Docs and one on spending 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux, and publishing them as Kindle digital books.
The Kindle format is proprietary to Amazon, but the Kindle device is the dominant e-reader, and Amazon offers a free Kindle app for Windows and Mac computers, as well as for iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7 devices. Amazon also makes the process very simple.
If you want your book to be even more widely available, though, the open ePub standard is the way to go. ePub formats are readable on a wide variety of Windows and Mac applications, and can expand the audience for your book to include other e-reader platforms, such as the Nook, Kobo e-readers, devices from Sony, and more. To publish in ePub format, you can use one of the alternative services, such as Lulu.com.
Kindle Direct Publishing: Step by Step
Let's walk through publishing my book using Kindle Direct Publishing.
To begin, I went to the Kindle Direct Publishing site in my Web browser and signed in. Since this was my first attempt at self-publishing a Kindle book, my dashboard looked pretty bleak. I clicked the button at the top labeled Add a new title.
Essentially the process of creating and publishing a Kindle book takes only two steps. The first step involves supplying the basic details for the book. Amazon provides simple, self-explanatory fields--and if any of them don't seem clear enough, you can just click on the What's this? link for more details.
Step 1: The Basics
I entered the title of the book, and checked a box to mark the title as part of a series. I then entered 30 Days With in the Series Title field, and called this Volume 1. Then I typed a brief description of the book; Amazon describes this text as the sort of blurb you might find on the inside flap of a hardcover book. The field has a 4000-character maximum, enough to give the reader a basic understanding of what the book is about, and perhaps a little tease to entice the reader to buy the book.
Next, I clicked the Add contributors button. This area is where I added myself as the author, and where I could also add other people, such as an editor or a photographer, to give credit where credit is due. Beneath that button, I specified that my book was in English and that the publisher was S3KUR3, Inc. (my personal company). I left the publication date and ISBN fields blank. The date defaulted to now, which is what I wanted. If you want an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), a numeric code used to identify commercial books, you have to acquire an official one; it isn't required, though, so I didn't bother.
Next, I had to select my publishing rights. I could make the book public domain, or I could make it not public domain with me holding the necessary rights to publish it. I clicked the latter. Then, I selected two categories under which the title would be filed in the Kindle store, and assigned some keywords that might help the book show up in searches. Next, I uploaded the cover-art image. Amazon requires that the image be a .tif or .jpg file at least 500 pixels on its longest side, with the image being at least 1280 pixels. Smaller images may result in grainy or pixelated cover art.
After the cover art, I uploaded my Microsoft Word .docx file containing the content of the book. Once that's done, you can click the Preview book button to see what the material will look like when rendered on a Kindle. You can't make changes from the preview, however, other than to change the font size as you can on an actual Kindle.
Thankfully, before publishing you can still go back and change the content of the book itself, and reupload it. Once the book is published, you can visit your Kindle Direct Publishing Bookshelf to view the titles you have published; there, you can edit the book details, or change the royalties and pricing information.
After previewing my content, I clicked the Save and Continue button at the bottom.
Step 2: Rights and Pricing
That brought me to the second step: rights and pricing. I began by selecting where the book should be published. Amazon selects worldwide publishing by default, but if you have rights limited to certain countries or regions, you can click the Individual territories button and select specific countries. I left it on worldwide.
Then came the fun part--the money. I had two royalty plans to choose from: 35 percent and 70 percent. The decision seems like a no-brainer: Of course I would rather get 70 percent of the revenue than 35 percent. However, a couple of other factors affect the decision.
First, the minimum list price for books in the 70 percent plan is US$2.99. But many self-published Kindle ebooks sell for only US$0.99, and those must go under the 35 percent royalties plan. The trick is to figure out whether you will sell enough additional books at US$0.99 to make up for the difference in royalties, or if you are better off making your book US$2.99 or more so that you can choose the 70 percent plan.
Another factor is that books published on the 70 percent plan have the Kindle Book Lending feature enabled by default. If you choose the 35 percent plan, you have the option to enable or disable lending.
I decided that US$2.99 seems like a reasonable enough price--especially considering that the other books I have written had list prices more like $31.95, and that even the Kindle versions of my books are US$16.47 and up.
That's it. Just click the Save and Publish button at the bottom, and you are all set. It can take a day or so before the book shows up in the Kindle store--but just like that, you're an author.