My E-book Extravaganza


Having clicked the ‘Approve Proof’ button on CreateSpace and placed an order for my first box of stock, I now had a wait of about a week or so before said stock arrived, my listing went live on and I could officially ‘launch’ my self-published/self-printed book. But what to do in the meantime?

Why, turn Mousetrapped into an e-book, of course!

Why publish in e-book format? Because people read books in all kinds of ways these days. Because e-books are a cheaper option for potential readers. Because it costs you absolutely nothing to release one. Because you’ve already written the book and you might as well.

A word (or 697 of them) on price

The self-published author, having set the list price of their print edition to something reasonable like $14.99 and being only too aware of the hundreds of hours of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice that went into producing their book, might very well bristle at the idea of ‘giving it away’ for $0.99, $1.99 or $2.99 in electronic format, but that’s the kind of price you’re going to have to set if you plan on selling any copies.

Originally I set Mousetrapped‘s e-book price at $4.99. I happened to release it during E-book Week and agreed to participate in a 50% off promotion. Virtual copies started flying off the virtual shelves. But once the promotion ended, sales ground to a halt. I lowered the price to $2.99 and since then, my e-book sales have been nicely ticking over, especially – for some indeterminable reason – on Amazon’s Kindle store.

If the thought of putting such a low price tag on your work makes you queasy, look at it this way:

  • As more of that list price is yours, your royalties are only slightly lower than the print edition (in certain distribution channels). For example, I earn practically the same on every book sold on Smashwords as I do on every print edition sold through Barnes and Noble’s online store (the ‘third tier’ of my extended distribution plan).
  • The lower the price, the more copies you’ll sell. The more people who read your book, the more people know about it. They might tell their friends, or buy a print edition as a gift. As my brother and I like to say – it’s our patented Achieve Our Dreams in 2010 philosophy – sling enough shit and some of it’s bound to stick.
  • I believe it doesn’t affect your print sales (see below).

Here’s the other thing(s): if you were traditionally published, you could expect to earn around 10% of the cover price. So if your novel in paperback is $9.99, let’s just say, you’re getting about 99 cent every time someone buys your book. That’s about what I get from my e-book sales, so I’m not complaining. Furthermore, a big chunk of a printed book sales price (at least in the POD model) goes to cover manufacturing costs. I need to pay for the paper, ink, binding and delivery of the book itself. But none of these are a factor in e-book publishing – you just upload a file. Finally, an e-book is just not worth as much as a printed book. The experience is not the same. When I buy a book, my enjoyment of it doesn’t stop at reading. I have the book to display on a shelf, flick through, smell (yes, I do that sometimes), use to prop up other books and carry around with me.

I know that you spent a year of your life writing it. I know that it caused you headaches, stress, carpel tunnel syndrome and curved your spine. I know that the work of art you create, no other can ever recreate, etc. etc. But you can’t look for compensation for this from each and every purchaser of your book. Instead, think of it as a whole, print and e-book editions combined. And anyway, if you got into this to get rich, well… Good luck with that, sunshine!

Am I wrong about this?

Will it hurt my print edition sales?

A few months back I remember seeing on Twitter that after The Friday Project drastically lowered the price of their e-books (to £2.99 or less), e-book sales went through the roof but print sales weren’t adversely unaffected. I think this is because there’s people who will buy your print edition and people who will buy your e-book edition, but hardly anyone who would opt for the e-book edition instead of the print edition just because it’s cheaper.

I, for one, have never purchased an e-book. (Although, Jobs willing, this will change when I get my grubby paws on an iPad and iBooks is open to European customers.) If I did – for traveling, for instance – and I liked the book, I’d have to then go and buy the print edition. Why? Because I’m a book buying freak, for one, but also because I like to look at my bookshelves and think, There are all the books I’ve read. I keep bookshelves like other people keep scrapbooks. (Although I also keep scrapbooks. This analogy is falling apart somewhat…) But more on my crazy book habits another time.

I think, realistically, you only have to worry about e-books hurting your print sales if your book is – publishing technical term coming up – a big pile of poo. E-book stores offer samples, enabling the potential reader to download a portion of the book for free first to see if they like it. On-the-fence potential print customers might check out this sample before they fork out $15 or whatever for a hard copy, and if your book is about as entertaining as watching paint dry (or The TV Book Club), you’ll be in trouble.

Be the diamond in the rough

Print on Demand (POD) self-publishing is, for the most part, easy and cheap. This is why we end up with thousands of books about things like talking purple unicorns. But e-book publishing is even easier and it costs nothing, so what do you think that leads to? Try talking purple unicorns multiplied by a million. I’ve prepared this not at all accurate graph to show you what the average e-book reader will find on offer when they enter a typical self-published e-book store. (Click to enlarge.)

Publishing houses will release e-book versions of their lists, but most of them won’t be setting them to super low prices, or at least they won’t be anytime soon. But the average Kindle or Sony Reader owner – or even the person who downloads e-books to their iPhone – will want to pad out their library with a few cheaper purchases. What’s cheaper? Self-published e-books. They’re all pretty much priced within the same range, but if your book is the only one not about talking purple unicorns or stable sex then that’s the one they’re going to buy. (Unless of course, that’s what they’re into.) I sold 6 copies of Mousetrapped on Smashwords the day it went live even though I hadn’t told anyone it was available – I think it was because I was the only book on the front page (where Smashwords listed recently published titles) that wasn’t about sex with farmland animals.

(By the way, Smashwords has a ‘prude filter’ – an e-book version of Google’s Safe Search. And yes, that’s what it called. Also, this section was originally called ‘Be the diamond in the rough (sex)’ but I thought I’d get a LOT of spam comments. Clever, eh?)

Formatting your book for conversion  OR the easiest way to get a migraine

We all know how much I loathe formatting, but preparing my manuscript for conversion to e-book format made me want to never write (or even, at moments, read) another word again.

There are two things you have to keep to the forefront of your mind when you begin this e-book process:

  1. The less formatting, the better
  2. There is no page.

Understanding this is hard at first, especially because you’ll still be looking at your text in a word processing document, and starting a new chapter only a single line beneath the end of the last one will bring you out in hives. I especially struggled with the idea of using only one or two font sizes in the entire document. What about my chapter headings? What about my title pages? What about my footnotes?

You can download the very helpful and very straightforward Smashwords Style Guide to find out exactly what you need to do to your book, but here are some highlights:

  • Remove all tabs (my personal favorite); use first line indent function instead
  • No more than 2 or 3 empty lines at a time
  • One font size if possible, pt 12 recommended
  • All text left aligned
  • Standard font like Times New Roman or Garamond
  • No mention of your ISBN unless it’s at the very end and only to promote the print edition of your book
  • E-books have very different copyright notices; see Style Guide.

To DRM or not to DRM

You can assign Digital Rights Management or DRM to your e-books, which means that they can’t be ‘shared’ (like when you buy a song on iTunes). This will make your e-books more expensive, cut into your royalties and make me roll my eyes in exactly the same way I do when I see copyright notices at the end of posts about grocery shopping, or hear of idiots submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers with that cute little ‘c’ in a circle after the title. Give me a break. Guess what, sweetheart? The world isn’t out to steal your stuff. You should be so lucky.

I think inserting DRM is a bit of an insult. You’re basically saying to your readers: ‘Thanks for buying my book, but I don’t trust you and suspect that you might steal from me, so I’ve taken counter-measures.’ What’s next – putting a notice in your print editions prohibiting lending to friends? Come on. DRM is for books on bestseller lists around the world, books where there’s a very real chance people will pass them around. Unless you’re Stephanie Meyer, I really don’t see this happening.


Smashwords is probably the leader in e-book self-publication. Follow their Style Guide instructions to the letter, upload your document and Smashwords will convert it for you into the following formats: Online Reading (HTML and JavaScript), Kindle, Sony E-Reader, Palm and Epub (i.e. industry standard). They’ll also check your document to see if it’s eligible for inclusion in their Premium Catalogue and as of last week, Smashwords will be working with Apple to publish books on the iPad. The beauty of Smashwords is that they take an absolute miniscule cut of your list price. Moreover, they allow you to list your book for free, for which – of course – they get no cut at all. Honestly I wonder how they can afford to keep it going.

View Mousetrapped‘s Smashwords listing.

Mousetrapped on the iPad

Since I wrote the paragraph above, the iPad has launched and an e-mail from Smashwords informed me that Mousetrapped was one of the first 2,000-odd books Smashwords shipped to Apple. If you have an iPad, a) I’m sick with jealousy and b) can you do me a favor? I’m desperate to get a screenshot of Mousetrapped on the iBooks store, or even to find out if it’s really there at all! If you have an iPad, you might take a minute to have a look and e-mail me at info@catherineryanhoward or leave a comment on this post. Thank you – I’ll love you forever! (Once I get my own iPad and am done with being jealous.)

UPDATE: My friend David kindly sent me this photographic evidence of Mousetrapped‘s presence on iBooks. Woo-hoo! Made my day.

Mousetrapped Catherine Ryan Howard iPad iBooks

Amazon’s DTP (for Kindle)

Kindle owners will be able to download your Smashwords title for reading on their Kindle, but you may as well upload at the source: Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, or DTP. Amazon take more of a cut than Smashwords do, but it’s worth it – your book goes straight into the Kindle store and – squeal! – you get your very own listing which, if you squint, looks just like a print one. You can follow the sound advice in Smashwords’ style guide but just be careful: replace all mentions of ‘Smashwords’ – in copyright notices, etc. – with ‘Amazon Kindle.’ Um, obviously.

View Mousetrapped‘s Kindle listing.

Cover o’clock

I’m assuming that you have already self-published a print edition, and so have a PDF or JPEG of your front cover that you can upload to be the cover of your e-book too. If not, you’re going to have to make one. An attractive cover is just as important to an e-book listing as it is to a print equivalent, especially on your Kindle/ listing.

If you don’t have any design software and just want to make something simple, throw something together in MS Word or whatever word processing document you use, convert it to a PDF, crop it and ‘Save As’ a JPEG. Whatever you do, don’t put white text on a color-block background. BOR-ING.

Do me a favor

Before I started to write this post, I googled ‘e-book’s to see whether it was supposed to be ebooks, e-books, Ebooks or eBooks – I’ve seen all of them used – and came across the most unfortunate term in the history of the publishing world: treebooks.

Let’s just take a moment to say UGH.

Don’t use this word, okay? I may have to kill you if you do. Thanks.

An update: is it all about price?

As I type these words, it’s May 14th. Mousetrapped went on sale on March 29th. Yesterday I sold my 100th Kindle edition and yet my Smashwords sales remain stagnant at a paltry figure I can count to on my fingers. Both editions are the same price, $2.99*. Kindle, of course, is a readymade store and with a listing on Amazon’s website as well as on every Kindle in use today, it’s clearly easier to reach readers this way. Therefore I have to conclude that Amazon’s DTP service (see above) is the best way to go.

*Mousetrapped is priced $2.99 on Amazon’s Kindle store. However in other regions, such as Ireland, the price is higher as Amazon factors in VAT, etc. On an Irish Kindle, Mousetrapped is about €5.80. Isn’t there no VAT on books though? Does this extend to e-books? If anyone has a clue about this, do let me know. (Because I don’t have a notion.)

Read all my self-printing posts or read about the book I self-printed.

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3 thoughts on “My E-book Extravaganza

  1. Peter Jones says:

    Hi Catherine

    I for one will be nominating you for chairperson of the society of self-pub.. oops.. PRINTED authors.

    With reference to your VAT on e-books question, I suspect that from a tax perspective these are treated as ‘digital media’ and not ‘books’. In other words, whilst you, I and the rest of the world think that e-books are still books, the tax man doesn’t. Because it suits him not to. It took me several days of messing about on Amazon to set the UK price of my book to what I wanted – mainly because they apply the VAT rate in Denmark (15%) and not the the one in the UK! (20%)

    Anyway.. great post. All the best.


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