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How to create an eBook

This page details my experience of creating eBooks with Smashwords (I went with them first because they give you a free ISBN) and Amazon. This is provided free to you for your information only. You are welcome to copy and paste it into notes on your own computer for your own use in creating your own eBook, but it is not to be copied, emailed or used online elsewhere (with a link back to this page) without my written permission.

Also see subpages: How to create a Table of ContentsHow to create an eBook cover and Tax issues for non-US eBook authors.

***

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-book) explains … an electronic book (variously, e-book, ebook, digital book, or even e-editions) is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, and produced on, published through, and readable on computers or other electronic devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines the e-book as “an electronic version of a printed book,” but e-books can and do exist without any printed equivalent. E-books are usually read on dedicated e-book readers. Personal computers and some mobile phones can also be used to read e-books.

It’s sort of right; eBooks don’t have to be book-length – you can publish individual poems, even flash fiction. My shortest eBook (a monologue called Feeding the Father) is 1,087 words and that includes the heading and footer text.

There are two main ways you can publish your writing as eBooks:

Amazon (KDP = Kindle Direct Publishing)

  • Commission (currently): $0.99-$2.99 or $8+ = 35% to the author / $3.00-$7.99 = 70% to the author.
  • Pros: free to list, the most well-known and therefore generally higher sales. Has a KDP Select option where your book can fight for a share of an Amazon advertising budget (c. $500,000 per month) but there are thousands of authors signed up to KDP. The idea is that you go exclusively with Amazon for 90 days and sell for free for up to 5 of those 90 days. I did but it didn’t make a difference in sales thereafter so I’m not renewing and will thereafter be able to list on Smashwords.
  • Cons: only compatible with the Kindle device, $0.99 minimum (never free unless you sign up with their KDP Select programme). If Amazon spots you selling it cheaper elsewhere then it guarantees to match the price, although it doesn’t always catch the ones that are and certainly not if free. Amazon has to make money (and they do, a lot).. Take a look here for their Frequently Asked Questions.

Smashwords

  • Commission: Smashwords pays you “85 percent or more of the net proceeds we receive for your books from the retailers. For books sold at Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store, your earnings share rate is 60% of the retail price you set. Kobo’s 60% earnings share applies only to books priced under $12.99, and only sales denominated in US dollars.  Sales in other currencies at Kobo earn 38%.”
  • Pros: free to list, feeds to other ‘premium’ outlets (Apple iTunes, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader), provides free ISBN number (see below for explanation). Smashwords pay authors outside of the US via PayPal (“usually process payments the last two days of January, April, July and October”).
  • Cons: in theory sales aren’t so high but it varies. Generally, I sell more on Amazon, although I sold more on Smashwords when I’d just listed my books (it then trailed off).

Unless you’re going exclusively with Amazon, I’d recommend going with Smashwords first because they give you a free ISBN (valid for the eBook version only – you’d need a different ISBN if you’re going the paperback / hardback route (via CreateSpace, Lulu, Lightning Source etc.). Smashwords also accepts a (formatted) Word document, although converting to an htm is as simple as File / Save As (see below).

Both sites are American so you get paid in dollars. There are tax implications with both of them where you have to get the relevant paperwork (from the IRS) to prove you pay tax in the UK. It avoids you paying 30% US tax as well as in the UK. See here for details on getting paid from Amazon and Smashwords.

Getting your piece ready

Regardless of what your work is (poetry, short stories, novella, novel) you will be needing to use Microsoft Word. Smashwords is easier as they ask for your work as a Word document and they convert it. Amazon requires an html file which sounds scary but is actually just a case of getting it ready (and saved) as a Word document then File / Save as and instead of the file type being .doc (Smashwords won’t take .docx so you’re better off saving documents to .doc anyway) change it to .htm (same thing as .html you may have seen on some websites). This will create a new folder (same name as your document) containing a handful of .html and .xml files. When you come to upload it to Amazon, it will require just the one that is the same name as your document e.g. ‘April’s Fool – Amazon.htm’. I’d recommend keeping a template of your formats so you don’t have to keep doing them over and over again.

Smashwords and Amazon require specific formats but they’re very similar…

SMASHWORDS LAYOUT (Garamond size 12 font)

PAGE 1

(title)

(author)

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2014 (author)

(description)

Discover other titles by (author) at (link).

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy at Smashwords.com, where they can also discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

PAGE 2

(title)

story, poem etc.

(a novel would need a Table of Contents as page 2 then the story starts on page 3)

###

(these three hashes indicate the story, poem or chapter has finished)

PAGE 3

About the Author

(third person biography)

(website links)

 

Note from the Author

Thank you for downloading ‘___’.

(first person message, email address etc.)

 ***

AMAZON LAYOUT (recommended: ARIAL 12)

PAGE 1

Title

by (author)

PAGE 2

Title

by (author)

Amazon Edition

Story Word Count: _,___

Copyright 2014 (author)

(comments).

Discover other titles by (author) (link)

###

PAGE 3

Title

Story / poem / novel

(a novel would need a Table of Contents as page 2 then the story starts on page 3)

###

PAGE 4

About the Author

(third-person biography)

(website links)

###

 

Note from the Author

Thank you for downloading _________.

(first person message, email address etc)


Table of Contents (Bookmarks & Hyperlinks)

If you’re producing a book of poems, collection of short stories or have a novel with named chapters that you want to reference at the beginning, you’ll likely want a Table of Contents. These are quite straightforward to create.

Once your document is done you need to insert a blank page and write the heading of ‘Table of Contents’, ‘Chapters’, ‘Poems’ etc. Then create a number bulleted list (in Word there’ll be an icon at the top of the screen or you can go into Format / Bullets & Numbering) for however many headings you want to include. Then go to each of the headings within your document, highlight each one in turn and then at each one, select Insert / Bookmark from your main menu and type the relevant bookmark name (e.g. Chapter1), with no spaces, clicking Add for each one.

Once all your headings are bookmarked, either highlight each one or re-type the headings into your Table of Contents then highlight the ToC headings and either click on your mouse’s right-click button and select ‘Hyperlink’ (the last item) or select Insert / Hyperlink from the main menu. Depending upon which version of Word you have you want the ‘Place in this document’ option. In the latest version of Word (I have Word for Mac 2011) you’ll find it buried in Document / Locate / Bookmarks. Then select the relevant worded bookmark and you’ll (hopefully) now see a blue underlined heading which will take you to the relevant chapter heading. It does turn purple once you click on it so I’d suggest saving the document, making a copy of it and testing it in the copy.

I do have a more detailed page on how to do this here.

OK. So you have your document ready and formatted. You now need a cover (the fun part)…

Covers

The cover and book’s title go a long way to ‘selling’ your book. I’d recommend a smart but simple cover, nothing too dull (so it looks as if you haven’t tried) but nothing too flash so the text isn’t clear or it’s too complicated. Click here for details on how to make a cover.

Price

You have your document ready and your cover art. Do you know how much you want to sell it for?

I mentioned earlier that Amazon’s commission rates are:

  • If you sell for $0.99-$2.99 or more than $8.00 you receive 35%
  • If you sell for between $3.00 and $7.99 you will receive 70%

And Smashwords

  • 38% – 85%

(don’t forget that they’re American companies so once you start selling a few you need to have had the tax sorted out as they’ll start paying you once you hit – http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#Royalties will help).

Free is always popular and if you have several items to go up I’d recommend putting at least one of them up for free (an option on Smashwords only, Amazon’s minimum is $0.99 but will reduce once they twig that it’s free elsewhere). This allows a reader to see your work and if they like it, part with their hard-earned money to buy everything else you have, and I’d recommend waiting until you have more than one thing because if there’s nothing of yours to buy they’ll easily move on to someone else.

$0.99 (about 77p) is the most popular price for chargeable eBooks and I’d recommend you have at least one of your novels, short story collections etc. at this price and then larger or more cherished works at a higher price, and you can go as high as you like but realistically you’ll lose buyers as you do.

Free samples

Another option is to provide a free sample. Both Smashwords and Amazon will allow you to provide a free portion of your eBook at any percentage you choose. Depending on the length of work 20% is usually a good figure. Obviously free eBooks will be 100% visible.

ISBN numbers

An ISBN is a unique number that identifies your book (it’s the barcode). Many ebook retailers require an ISBN number in order for them to stock your ebook on their digital shelves. It’s how they keep track of orders of your book so they can report these orders back to the retailer so you can be paid. It’s also how they keep track of the book inside their own systems. For example, there could be two different books with the same title, like “How to Grow Tomatoes,” but if they have different ISBNs the retailer will know they’re really different books, associated with different authors.

Smashwords provides free ISBN numbers. Whilst Amazon provide their own ASINs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Standard_Identification_Number) unless you’re going exclusive with Amazon (see page 1 for details of their ‘Select’ option), I’d recommend getting a free ISBN number (as they’re usable everywhere) from Smashwords first.

Synopsis

Another thing you’ll need to think about is writing a synopsis or summary of your book. Amazon asks for one (up to 4,000 characters, I discuss this again later) but Smashwords ask for two (concise – 400 characters and expanded – 4,000 characters max). I’d recommend clicking on someone else’s eBook to see what they’ve done. I wrote the Smashwords ones first then used the shorter of the two for Amazon.

FAQs

Both sites have ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ sections:

https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq and https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help.

Getting ready and doing the deed – Smashwords

Smashwords’ website is www.smashwords.com where their home page displays the latest eBooks to go live, with a list of fiction and non-fiction categories on the left. You will need to create an account (just email address and password at this stage) – it’s free.

Once you’re in, the key areas are…

  • My Smashwords: this lists your biography (so have a think about what you want to say about yourself – I’d recommend third-person viewpoint), your website links (if you have any), then lists your books with the thumb-size cover art and summary of the book (review stars, price, length, when published, synopsis etc).
  • Publish: This is where you list your books (more on that in a minute)
  • Library: If you see books you like the look of but don’t want to buy them yet you can download the free sample (as mentioned above) then they stay in your library until you’re ready to read the sample and hopefully buy. Your readers would be doing the same with yours which will mean your downloaded total will usually exceed your ‘sold’ total (zero sold if it’s a free book).
  • Dashboard: this is a landscape table of your books’ status and where you can do your editing once it’s live (you can also click on the individual books and edit them there). NB. Once you published your book you’ll need to go into the ISBN Manager (on the left-hand menu of the dashboard to allocate ISBN numbers – worth doing as they’re free).
  • Account: pretty much what it implies – the finance bit. It’s also where you can convert your eBook into an audiobook (with www.podiobooks.com) if you wish – I probably will. :)

Publishing with Smashwords

Once you are completely happy that everything’s formatted click on ‘Publish’ from the top menu.

1. Title and synopsis

  • The title of your book – does it capture the essence of your book? Have you Googled it to see if it’s been used elsewhere? Is it more imaginative than ‘The Journey’… I used it once on a short story for Woman’s Weekly and they rejected it – probably for more than the title but on reflection it is bland.
  • Short description (400 characters max.) This isn’t much, the bullet point above is 304.
  • Long description (4,000 characters max). Whilst this is optional I’d recommend putting something here, especially if you feel your short description didn’t capture everything you wanted to say, and you get so much more room to say it in.
  • Language of the book (defaults to English – dialect unspecified)
  • Adult content – unless your writing seriously has some seedier content I’d avoid selecting ‘My book contains adult content’ as you will be lumped with some really dodgy authors. J

2. Pricing and sampling

  • There are three choices of pricing: free (recommended for shorter works), Let my reader determine the price (Barnes & Noble doesn’t accept this format and really I wouldn’t recommend it), Charge a specific amount (minimum $0.99).
  • Sampling – the default is 20% and I’d suggest a figure of around this. Once the book is up and running you can always change this figure but it allows the reader a fair chunk to enjoy (hopefully) your book before wanting to read more. This option isn’t applicable if you make your book free.

3. Categorization

  • Primary category – choose carefully. There are five main header categories: Essay, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Plays, Screenplays then they obviously sub-divide quite considerably from there.
  • Secondary category – the same again for adding a secondary category (useful if you have a cross-genre work e.g. romantic thriller).

4. Tags (otherwise known as keywords)

  • This is where you’d put the words you want to show up in a search e.g. novel, thriller, romance, spy, crime, writing, fiction, short story, free (i.e. anything a reader might look for)

5. Ebook formats

  • There is a choice of formats that your eBook can be published in (epub, Sony Reader, Kindle, Palm Doc, PDF, RTF, Plain Text). I would keep all the boxes ticked.

6. Cover image

  • This is where you upload your picture. They ask for jpg (the most popular and the one I’d recommend), gif or png formats and a minimum of 600 pixels tall (mine were c.800 tall x 500 wide) – whichever photo software you’re using (I use Picasa, mentioned earlier, and Photoshop) will tell you.
  • Click on Choose File then search through your files until you find the right one and select Choose / OK.

7. Select file of book to publish

  • This is where you upload your Word document. If you’ve saved your document as a .docx (newer versions of Word) you will need to File / Save as then change your file type to Word 97-2004 Document’, a .doc (I have my computer set up so it saves to those anyway as anyone without the later versions of Word won’t be able to open them).

8. Publishing agreement

  • This is their legal stuff / Terms of Service, basically asking you that your work is your own and not pinched from anyone else, and to behave yourself while using Smashwords. J

Once you click on Publish it’ll go in a queue. My first eBook took about 10 minutes but others have taken three or four hours, but in any case very quick. They have an automated system that vets your document (like a spell checker but also checks the format etc) and makes sure the boxes are filled in correctly then you’ll receive an email telling you it’s live. Then the book will appear in your Dashboard and My Smashwords. How exciting!

Getting ready and doing the deed – Amazon

Amazon’s main home pages are http://www.amazon.com and http://www.amazon.co.uk but we want their Kindle Direct Publishing arm which is https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin. If you have an Amazon account already you can use your existing email and password. If not, then again it’s just a case of completing the details and getting in. You’ll then be taken to your Dashboard (which will be blank the first time). The four menu headings are…

  • Bookshelf – the dashboard, similar to Smashwords where it lists what you have live or otherwise.
  • Reports – this is where you can see how many books you’ve sold. J
  • Community – this is a forum (known as Kindle boards) where you can chat to other authors, readers etc and get help.
  • Amazon has a programme called ‘Select’ whereby if you list your with them exclusively (for 90 days) they help promote it for you and your book fights for a slice of their Kindle Owners’ Lending Libraryfund (currently $600,000). You can list it for free for up to 5 days (which doesn’t help monetarily but gets your work known to a wider audience who can then buy something else if they like your freebie).

Publishing with Amazon

From your dashboard (in Bookshelf) click on ‘Add new title’.

  • At the top of the page you will see the option to join KDP Select. Remember it’ll need to be exclusive with Amazon for 90 days so if you’ve already gone the Smashwords route you’ll need to ‘unpublish’ with them first. You can always republish once the three months are up.

1. Enter your book details – pretty much the same as with Smashwords (detailed above) with the excepts of…

  • Series – if you’ve written, or are going to write, a series you would put the details in here.
  • Edition no. – if your book is, say, the 7th edition, then you’ll want to put that here.
  • Book contributors – this is where you say you are the author then if you’ve co-written the book, list the other authors

2. Verify your publishing rights

  • This is a public domain work – click this if you’re making an eBook of an old out-of-copyright (and you have no hesitation that it is – some authors have estates who hold the copyright).
  • This is not a public domain work and I hold the necessary publishing rights – this is most likely what you’ll be clicking on.

3. Target your book to customers

  • This is the categories and keywords options listed above.

4. Upload your book cover

  • Again the same idea as with Smashwords except Amazon only accepts jpg and tiff formats (which is why I’d recommend jpgs because they’ll do both website) and Amazon wants a minimum of 1000 pixels on the longest side (tall) whereas Smashwords was 600. My Amazon pictures are 1200×800.

5. Upload your book file –This is where you would upload your (already converted from .doc / .docx) .htm file (e.g. ‘mybooktitle – Amazon.htm’). There are two extra options here to…

  • Enable digital rights management – this means that anyone with a DRM-enabled document (Amazon eBooks are in .mobi formats) can’t share with a friend who has a Kindle.
  • Do not enable digital rights management – this makes eBooks easier to share.

Whilst the logical step would be to enable digital rights management, again it’s a barrier to getting your work known. If people want to copy your work they’ll find a way of doing it. By making it easy to share your book (as a reader can so easily do with a physical book) you’re also getting your name known and most likely lead to more sales. There’s an interesting article on it here.

Not happy?

If you’re not happy with your eBooks, or if a reader picks up a mistake, you can edit them any time… that’s the beauty of eBooks. All you do is amend the Word version and re-upload it (NB. saving it as an htm version for Amazon).

Customer feedback

Whilst on the subject of readers, hopefully once they’ve read your eBook they’ll leave a review. I learned pretty quickly to wallow in the good ones but not to take the bad ones (1*) to heart. Everything is like Marmite – love or hate – and some people just love to say they hate it (one of my reviewers on Goodreads has vowed (having read ‘Feeding the Father’) never to read my writing again… having previously said she enjoyed ‘April’s Fool’) so you can’t even please the same person.

It’s all trial and error, and once you’ve done one you’ll hopefully see it’s not really that scary and they will get easier the more you put on.

If you have any queries or feedback on this guide, feel free to email me.

Morgen

   
Smashwords home page Smashwords publish (upload) page
   
Smashwords book page Smashwords dashboard
   
Amazon KDP bookshelf (dashboard) Amazon KDP publish (upload) page
   
Amazon KDP book page Amazon KDP author page

 

 

24 responses to “How to create an eBook

  1. Nathan Weaver (@babylontales)

    October 9, 2012 at 3:10 am

    Thanks for this, Morgen. I’ve been putting off learning how to do this for sometime. I feel a little better now. I especially like the way Smashwords works. I’ll be reading this through again, and with a more careful eye and trying it myself.

     
  2. morgenbailey

    October 9, 2012 at 8:56 am

    That’s what I thought. It’s the old fear of the unknown. I’m sure you’ll have no problem but give me a shout if you get stuck.

     
  3. Rebeccah Giltrow

    October 31, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks for this Morgen. I’ve been considering e-publishing for a while but wasn’t too sure where to start. I have bookmarked this page and will definitely be following your advice in December, once NaNoWriMo is over!

     
    • morgenbailey

      October 31, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      You’re very welcome, Rebeccah. Once you’ve done one, you’ll then have the template to use again and, apart from Amazon’s htm requirement (which is only file / save as web page) it’s basically uploading a Word document. I plan to get a couple of novels online during NaNo. :)

       
  4. Jane Risdon

    November 7, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    OMG! I have read and understood, sort of, Morgen. Been putting off publishing anything because of all the palava involved. Your explanation is brilliant but will I remember it all and manage to do it? Goodness knows. I wish there was a publishing fairy out there to do it for me. I just want to write and that is enough of a headache at times. Thanks for this, homework and headache for after NaNo I think. <3

     
    • morgenbailey

      November 8, 2012 at 6:10 am

      I plan to keep this page for as long as the blog is going and will probably eBook a longer version (for free or nearly free) so you won’t need to remember and I’m at the end of an email.

      I know what you mean about just wanting to write. There are just so many distractions. I’m only up to 7K on NaNo and wish I could do more each day. :(

       
      • Jane Risdon

        November 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

        Well I guess others can do it so I am sure I shall manage it in the end…just the thought of it all. Good going with NaNo…keep at it. xx

         
  5. Michael McGrinder

    April 10, 2013 at 1:05 am

    This is terrific, Morgen, as is your entire blog This particular post is timely (for me) in several ways. Many thanks.

     
    • morgenbailey

      April 10, 2013 at 7:25 am

      Why, thank you very much, Michael. I wrote it to show it’s not that scary so I hope when the time comes it does help you work through the process. Do let me know how you get on.

       
      • Michael McGrinder

        April 10, 2013 at 7:56 am

        I will, Morgen, thanks.

         
  6. Christine Cole

    May 13, 2013 at 10:18 am

    When I put my novel into htm for KDP Amazon, the whole order of titles and chapters went out of kilter. Is there a special knack I don’t know? I am slow with technology and have registered with Smashwords, for instance, but still don;t know how to obtain an ISBN!

     
    • morgenbailey

      May 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      Hi Christine

      The htm should be exactly the same, the text in the same order, as the Word document but no page breaks. How did you create it? I do File / Save As and change the .doc type to .htm.

      When you load your book on to Smashwords they give you the option for a free ISBN. Amazon do the same but give you their version, an ASIN.

       
  7. Sheogorath

    June 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    People who want to create their own epubs without Smashwords or Amazon, and who have only a smart phone to create them on may be interested in this short piece of writing on AO3. Of course, the methods I outlined only work for oneshots, but they’re a lot better than the nothing that was on offer before I wrote the instructions.

     
  8. Christopher Farley

    July 11, 2013 at 6:32 am

    Great help although I’ve not managed to read all on this phone, I’ll definitely read up though Morgen, you see I have a cunning plan… :)

     
    • morgenbailey

      July 11, 2013 at 6:50 am

      eBooking your blogged fiction and poetry perhaps? :)

       
      • Christopher Farley

        July 11, 2013 at 6:58 am

        It had crossed my mind, although it would help to write a bit more… :)

         
  9. Reflex Reactions

    August 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks Morgen, for all this great information in one easy to follow place and the useful tips about ISBN’s etc. I have bookmarked and shared.

     
    • morgenbailey

      August 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      You’re very welcome. Thank you for sharing.

       
  10. Jade Kennedy

    October 28, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    There’s some fantastic information, hints and tips here Morgen. Like everyone else I’ve bookmarked this page for when I bite the bullet and have a serious think about self publishing :)

     
    • morgenbailey

      October 30, 2013 at 7:26 am

      You’re very welcome, Jade. Do let me know how you get on and you have my email address if you get stuck.

       

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