How to Publish an eBook (+Why Self-Publishing is the Right Move)

Jordan Wahl
Jordan Wahl  |  August 8, 2018

All of you aspiring authors out there, listen up.

Have you ever had an idea for an eBook, but because you weren’t sure how to move forward with actually getting it published, you threw the idea out the window?

Or how about the overwhelming thought of trying to get an agent to even consider helping you through the publishing process? No thanks.

There’s nothing worse than obstacles like these stopping you dead in your tracks from pursuing your ambitions as a writer.

But I’ve got good news. Long gone are the days of hoping you find an agent to get your manuscript in front of the eyes of a publisher.

Instead, we’ve found a better method: self-publishing.

Why? Because self-publishing gives the author complete control of the creative and selling process. What more could you want really?

So, now that you’ve got this solid eBook idea, and I’ve convinced you it’s time to learn how to publish for yourself, let’s get to it.


How to publish an eBook

For starters, what is an eBook? In order to publish an eBook, you’ll need to know what one is and go through the steps of putting your eBook together and getting it ready for publishing. This article will not only give you an overview of every step you’ll need to take to prepare your eBook for publishing, but it will also cover your publishing options, and how to move forward in the publishing process.

Create an eBook

First step in publishing an eBook: writing one. Whether you’ve set out to write a personal eBook or an eBook as part of your marketing strategy, writing one can be fairly simple, if you approach it the right way. While I won’t give you a step-by-step walkthrough on how to make an eBook in this article, I will remind you of a few things to keep in mind while making your eBook. In other words, some common mistakes to avoid.

Don’t write an eBook for the sake of writing one

If you’re going to write an eBook, make sure there is a purpose for it. Writing something your audience doesn’t want or need to know about is setting you up for failure from the start.

Don’t make your eBook too long

Obviously your eBook length will vary depending on the purpose or topic you’re writing about. But only write what’s necessary to get your point across, nothing more. Shorter eBooks are ideal, considering people don’t want to spend hours staring at a digital screen.

Don’t skip proofreading

Failing to proofread can make the difference between a subpar eBook and an eBook that’s well-polished. If you want to be a source that people trust, don’t skip on the proofreading.

Don’t skimp on visuals

If I can tell you one thing about long-form content, it’s that it’s B-O-R-I-N-G without visuals. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your readers with big blocks of text and no images or graphs to look at. Visuals will make your content easier on the eyes, as well as enhance readers’ understanding of the material.

Put thought into your eBook design

You’ve spent time writing your eBook, but don’t forget to put time into designing it. If you have a designer readily available, prepare a creative brief for them so they have a clear understanding of your vision. If you’re designing the eBook yourself, you’ll need to consider the following:

  • Formatting
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Branding

Keep these consistent with your brand and it’s messaging. I’d also recommend keeping your eBook fun, yet simple. Don’t choose contrasting colors or fonts. You want the eBook to look professional.

Design an eBook Cover


We’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover. But in this case, that’s exactly what readers are going to do. In order to have a successful eBook you not only need to have great content, but you also need to make that content look appealing. If you don’t, people won’t even make it to your content, no matter how awesome it is. So, here are a few things to keep in mind while designing your eBook cover:

Choose the right color

Recognize that the psychology of color plays a huge role in people’s first impression. Our brains process colors quicker than words. This means that potential readers will notice the color before they even get a chance to read your title. So, the color scheme of your cover is important! Choose a color scheme that matches the emotion of your eBook, is consistent with your brand, and sets the right tone for your eBook’s content.

Own photo rights

Designing a simple cover with just colors and text can work great, but using images is an option too. One thing to be aware of with this route: copyright laws. If you decide to use photos on your cover, make sure you own the rights. The last thing you want is to slap a photo from Google on the cover and hope you don’t get in trouble. If you’re going to use photos, use them right.  

Make it eye-catching, yet professional

Sounds easy, but strangely enough, many people miss the mark. Eye-catching doesn’t necessarily mean plastering your cover with obnoxious colors and images, it means you want to give people a reason to stop scrolling and consider reading your book. A huge part of that includes having an intriguing title and a professional look.

Here are a few examples of eBooks with great covers. Some have images, some just colors and text, but all have a classy, professional look with an intriguing title.

ebook covers

Choose an eBook format


You’ve figured out how to make an eBook, written the manuscript, and spent time on the design. What’s next?


It’s time to convert your eBook to an eBook-supported file format. This is an extremely important step when publishing an eBook because it ensures that your content isn’t edited and is actually readable. By readable I don’t just mean on eReader devices. I mean on the everyday devices your audience is using, including smartphones, computers, and tablets.

Depending on what type of eBook you’re writing, there are several formats that you can choose from. While there are actually dozens of potential eBook formats, I’m going to touch on the five most commonly used and widely distributed formats: TXT, EPUB, MOBI, AZW, and PDF.

TXT (.txt)

A standard TXT file is the simplest it gets, as far as format goes. These files do not support any type of images or graphics, so they can only be used if your eBook is strictly text. They also lack formatting, fixed layouts, digital rights management (DRM) protection, and interactivity.

EPUB (.epub)

EPUBs are by far the most common eBook format. When you think of an eBook, you’re most likely thinking of the EPUB format, whether you know it or not. EPUB files are DRM protected and have strong copy protection, which is appealing to many authors. There are two types of EPUB files:

  1. Reflowable EPUB – These files are reflowable, meaning no matter what the size of the screen, text, or images, it will reflow for best fit. Although this format will adjust to fit any screen size, it does have a flat, linear design, so images will float with the text. With that, I’d recommend it for more text-heavy eBooks, but it’s a very versatile format.
  2. Fixed layout EPUB – This type of EPUB format allows for a much more sophisticated design. Fixed layout EPUBs support interactivity, animations, and high-end designs, so they’re great if you’re all about a “pretty” eBook. However, they are limited in distribution compared to reflowable EPUBs, so that’s something to consider.

MOBI (.mobi)

Within recent years the MOBI file was discontinued and replaced by the AZW file format (which I’ll cover next). This file was the first file format to be used by Amazon for the Kindle. Although this type of file are no longer supported, it is still widely popular and often used on Kindle devices.

AZW (.azw)

AZW files, also known as Kindle files, were developed by Amazon to replace MOBI files. This format is very similar to MOBI, but has DRM protection that restricts readers from using on devices other than Kindles or Kindle apps.

PDF (.pdf)

The PDF format is similar to the fixed layout EPUB file format in the sense that it is not reflowable. PDFs are known for their ease of use and ability to maintain high-end designs and formats. While they don’t have great copy protection, they are still one of the most commonly used eBook formats, especially by marketers. Keep in mind that PDF files can’t be sold in the iBookstore or Kindle store.

Choosing the right format has everything to do with:

  1. Who you’re writing the eBook for,
  2. Where you will best reach that audience, and
  3. What is in your eBook (i.e. plain text eBook vs. eBook with images and graphs).

A mistake that many authors make is choosing a file format before considering any of these things. What they don’t know is that there are file types that are better for different types of content, some file types aren’t compatible with certain devices, and retailers have specific file type requirements as well (which I’ll cover later). So, failing to acknowledge these variables could lead to trouble in the publishing process.

For more clarity on finding the right eBook file format, I’d recommend learning more on eBook formats and how to choose the best one for you.

And if there is ever a case where you need help converting file types, say, from EPUB to MOBI, check out Calibre.  

Pricing an eBook


Chances are you’re not going to let people read your eBook for free. Not after all of the blood, sweat, and tears you put into the darn thing. In order to earn that well-deserved cash, you’ll have to price your eBook. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as throwing out a number, there is a strategy behind making a well-informed decision.


While there are several factors that should be considered when pricing your ebook, including delivery costs and your eBook’s length, quality, and genre, there is one that I find predominant: royalty percentages.

Book royalties are a percentage of the eBook’s retail price. This percentage changes depending on the retailer and list price. To illustrate how royalties vary, I’ve included this chart that indicates what percentage of the price you would receive. (Note: These are for example only. The other factors I mentioned above would affect actual royalties.)

eBook pricing

Confused? Let’s walk through an example. Say your book is on Amazon for $5.99 with a 70 percent royalty. This means you’d receive $4.19 of that $5.99. At the same price, you’d receive $4.19 from the iBookstore sale, $3.89 from a Barnes & Noble sale, and between $2.40 and $3.29 from other retailers.

If you decide to distribute through multiple retailers, you have to agree to sell the eBook for the same price on all platforms. Don’t “work the system” to make up for royalty percentage differences.

As shown in the chart above, most major retailers provide the highest royalties for eBooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. So, I’d suggest aiming for this price range. Remember, because you’re self-publishing, you can adjust your price if you find it isn’t working for your goals.

If you recall, I did mention that you probably aren’t giving your eBook out for free. But, there is one exception: marketing. In marketing, eBooks are generally not distributed for revenue purposes, but rather with a goal of attracting new business (i.e. collecting email addresses as potential leads). Although that business doesn’t include you directly receiving a monetary payment for your eBook, you are, in turn, reaping the long-term benefits of growing your business.

eBook publishing options


Before starting the publishing process, you’ll need to consider who you want to publish with. You can go about it two ways:

  1. You can hire an eBook aggregator to format, publish, and distribute the eBook for you
  2. You can DIY-it like a pro and self-publish

What’s the difference, you ask?

eBook aggregator vs. direct self-publishing

An eBook aggregator, sometimes called a distributor, acts as the middle-man in the publishing process. In other words, they deal directly with the eBook authors for publishing and then coordinate with eBook retailers, like Amazon and Apple, to move forward with distributing the eBook. You might consider using an eBook aggregator in the case that you don’t meet the requirements to self-publish (i.e. Barnes & Noble requires you to have a U.S. bank account and U.S. Tax ID) or if you simply don’t have the hardware or technical expertise to format and publish your eBook.

Sure, eBook aggregators can take some weight off your shoulders and do the work for you, but their service does come with a price. They generally provide additional services, like sales reporting, in addition to the actual publishing and distribution. Here’s the catch: they make money by charging fees and/or collecting a percentage of the total sales. To some authors, this is a fair trade, considering the increased circulation they’re getting. But for others, this is not the case.

For authors who don’t want to pay an aggregator (aka our DIY-ers), self-publishing directly with retailers is the way to go. This is the option I’d personally recommend. Why? Because you not only save money by not having to pay someone to do it for you, but you also have greater control over things like pricing, how fast your book is published, and the ability to manage and make changes to your eBook.  

While directly publishing with retailers will take more time, the popular opinion seems to be that it’s worth it. In return for you time, you’ll get more control and a bigger cut of profits.

So, next let’s take a look at how to move forward in each scenario.

Publishing an eBook


Now that you know your publishing options, it’s time to choose which one is right for you. While making your decision, ask yourself a few things:

  1. What’s the easiest, most cost-efficient way to publish your eBook?
  2. Where do you want to distribute your eBook?
  3. How much of a cut do you want to get?

If you discover that using an eBook aggregator is for you, great! Check out these reputable companies:

For reference, here’s a quick comparison of the two:

eBook aggregators

If you decide to go the direct self-publishing route, awesome. Below are the top eBook retailers in the industry. In other words, the names of every store you’ll want to publish your eBook on.

  • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
  • Apple iBook Author
  • Barnes & Noble NOOK Press
  • Kobo Writing Life

Now, let me walk you through the self-publishing process.

eBook self-publishing checklist


To publish your eBook, you’ll need more than just the content itself. There will be information regarding your eBook that each retailer requires before publishing. Although these may differ by platform, here is a list of general information to have ready before publishing:

Book title

You’ll need to have a title for your eBook (obviously). When you go to publish your eBook, be sure to enter in the exact title that’s on the cover, nothing else.

Subtitle

Having a subtitle is completely optional, but if you’re going to have one, I’d recommend fitting some of your keywords (we will touch more on keywords shortly) in here, if they fit.

Series information (optional)

If this is your first eBook, this might be something you skip. Unless you’re planning to keep writing on the same subject and creating a series. In either case, if the book is part of a series, include the series title and volume here.

One cool thing that most retailers do is link eBooks in a series together and notify customers at the end of the book that there are others in the series. This is a nice feature not only for the reader, but also authors trying to promote multiple eBooks.

Edition number (optional)

If your eBook is updated regularly, you can use edition numbers to ensure readers know your eBook has new information.

Publisher (optional)

This may be something you include, but you don’t have to. Generally, readers don’t shop by publisher. But if you do want to put something here, you can simply say your company name or a trade name you decide on.

Primary author

Whoever wrote the eBook should surely get credit for it! Include the name of the primary author and an ‘about the author’ section so readers can know a little about who wrote the eBook.  

Book contributors (optional)

If there were any co-authors, translators, editors, etc. that made a contribution to the eBook, credit them. They had a part in creating your awesome eBook.

Description

If readers don’t decide on your eBook by its cover, they will decide whether or not to read it based on the description. Write a short sales description that’ll sell the readers on why they should read your eBook. Make sure it’s intriguing and introduces key concepts of your eBook.

Publishing rights (owned or public domain)

You’ll want to verify your publishing rights. This means you’ll need to specify whether the book is a public domain or if it’s owned. In this case, you’ll most likely want to verify that your book is not a public domain and you hold the necessary publishing rights.

International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

ISBNs are optional. They’re more common with print books, but if you do decide to use them, find more information on eBooks and ISBNs here.

Keywords

In order to maximize your reach, you will want to do research on what your customers are searching for. This keyword research will play a big part in how people find your book, so be sure to have a list of keywords here. Sites like Ahrefs and Moz are easy-to-use keyword explorers.

Categories

Before publishing, research your target market and choose niche categories that align with that audience. You’ll want to add these categories in order for readers to find your eBook when searching for these categories.

Age range (optional)

Choosing an age or grade range is definitely optional, but it will improve the discoverability of your eBook by refining readers’ search.

Pre-order status (optional)

You have the choice to release the eBook immediately or make it available for pre-order. If you decide to make it available for pre-order, customers have the option to order early and have it delivered to them automatically when the release date rolls around.

Once you have the information above prepared, you’re ready to start the publishing process.

Publishing an eBook with the top four eBook retailers


Below, we’ll walk through how to go about publishing with the top four eBook retailers in the industry: Amazon, Apple, Nook, and Kobo.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

If you’re trying to reach the widest audience, Amazon is the place to start. Amazon has dominated eBook sales throughout the past decade and has become one of the largest eBook retailers in the industry with its publishing platform, Kindle Direct Publishing.

In order to publish with KDP, your eBook file needs to be exported in AZW or MOBI file formats, also known as Kindle files. To get started, you’ll have to either sign in with your Amazon account or sign up for an account if you don’t already have one. Once you’ve signed in, be sure to read the terms and conditions before beginning the publishing process to ensure you understand royalties, payments, distributions, etc.

With Kindle Direct Publishing you have two eBook royalty options: there is a 35 percent royalty option or an option of up to 70 percent royalty on sales in select American and European countries. To incentivize authors to work exclusively with Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon offers KDP Select, a program that grants you access to a new set of promotional tools.

For a step-by-step tutorial on how to publish your eBook with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, check out this article.

Apple iBooks Author

Coming in second to Amazon is Apple’s eBook publishing platform: iBooks Author. iBooks Author is a free macOS app (available in the app store or on a Mac) that can be used to both create, and publish eBooks. This app has templates, layout tools, and image galleries available that enable authors to create media-rich, interactive eBooks that can be viewed with any Apple device that has iBooks.

To publish from iBooks Author, you will need to export your file as a PDF, TXT, EPUB, or iBooks file. If you are looking to create an eBook in iBooks Author, you can create it in an EPUB (.epub) or iBooks (.ibooks) format and publish your work directly to the iBooks Store.

In order to sell your book on the iBooks Store, you’ll have to set up iTunes Connect for iBooks, download iTunes Producer, and your eBook must be in iBooks (.ibooks) file format. You can also sell your book on the web, but it must be in a non-iBooks file format, such as EPUB or PDF.

For a step-by-step tutorial on how to publish your eBook with iBooks Author, check out this article.

Barnes & Noble Press

Unlike Amazon and Apple, Barnes & Noble’s sales have declined in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a major player in the eBook industry. In order to use Barnes & Noble’s publishing platform, Barnes & Noble Press (formerly known as NOOK Press), you’ll need to sign up for an account on its website. From there, you can easily create, publish, and promote your eBook.

To publish with Barnes & Noble Press, you can upload a doc or docx, txt , rtf, html, or EPUB. The NOOK store sells EPUBs, so if you upload something other than an EPUB, Barnes & Noble Press will convert your document to an EPUB file. In addition to creating and publishing your eBook, Barnes & Noble Press offers resources to help you sell your eBook. From marketing advice and tips to exclusive merchandising programs, Barnes & Noble Press helps drive awareness and sales.

For a step-by-step tutorial on publishing your eBook with Barnes & Noble Press, check out this article.

Kobo Writing Life

Last but not least: Kobo. Kobo is the smallest of the major retailers, but don’t underestimate the company’s value. It’s slowly but surely growing and has an international presence. Kobo’s self-publishing portal, Kobo Writing Life, allows authors and publishers to easily create, edit, and publish content to its eBook stores around the world.

To start publishing with Kobo Writing Life, you can upload your content in file in DOC, DOCX, EPUB, MOBI, or OPF. Kobo uses EPUB files, so if your file isn’t already in this format, it will be converted before it’s ready for publishing.

Kobo sells eBooks in well over 150 countries every month and its global expansion continues. Depending on the price of the eBook and territory it’s sold in, Kobo vendors can receive up to 70 percent royalty on eBook sales.

For more information and a step-by-step tutorial on publishing your eBook with Kobo Writing life, check out this guide.

eBook marketing and promotion


Now that you’ve published your eBook, don’t forget about one of the major reasons you published in the first place (aside from marketing): revenue!

Unfortunately, you can’t just publish your eBook and call it a day. Your book won’t market and promote itself. With that being said, plan to put in time and effort to make sure that people not only see your eBook, but read it.

Here are a few ways to increase your eBook sales instantly:

Don’t depend on one retailer

Putting all your eggs in one basket is bad idea. If you want to maximize your reach and increase sales, plan to sell your eBook through various retailers globally. We discussed how to publish with the big players in the industry above (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo), but that doesn’t mean additionally publishing with smaller retailers in the industry is bad. Check out smaller retailers like Scribd, Baker & Taylor, and Gardners.

Help your readers find your eBook

How do you guide your audience to your eBook? You build a strong web presence. Building that presence takes a combination of tactics:

If you focus your efforts on tactics similar to those above, you’ll build a strong web presence, reel your audience in, and increase eBook sales in no time.

Get your eBook reviewed

Nowadays, people hesitate to purchase something without getting a second opinion first. With that, if your eBook doesn’t have at least a few customer reviews, you’re going to have a tough time getting people to buy it. To avoid this, you’ll want to find ways to get to get readers to leave a review. Word-of-mouth can be one of your most powerful tools, so put effort into getting readers to generate a buzz about your eBook!

Time to publish your eBook


With that, it’s time to publish your eBook.

If you’ve been considering publishing your eBook, but have yet to make a move, now’s the time to take action!

From how to create an eBook to how to market and promote it, we’ve covered everything you need to know about publishing your own eBook.

So why wait? Start publishing today!

Interested in learning more about eBooks? Be sure to check back for updates and new articles!

Jordan Wahl
Author

Jordan Wahl

Jordan Wahl is a content marketing specialist who joined G2 Crowd after graduating with her BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She loves anything that puts her in her creative space – including writing, music (her absolute favorite), and art. Follow her on Twitter @jordwahl for updates on her latest articles!