Publishing An E-Book: A Checklist

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Have I convinced you yet that you should publish an e-book?

I hope so, because if you have a dusty manuscript in a drawer, a collection of short stories or even a novella that is good enough to get out there, you should seriously consider e-publishing it. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with your “main” writing career, be it established, in process or aspirational (although of course it can, if you want it to) – you can always release them under a pen name. No one has to know it’s you, unless you want them to. Alternatively you could use e-books as a stepping stone, a kind of advertisement, or to build that – I hate saying this, but we all know it’s relevant these days – good old author platform.

Whatever way you choose to use it, e-books can really help to keep you in ink cartridges.

So what do you need to do to publish an e-book? A few weeks back I made this kind of step-by-step checklist for a friend of mine about to embark on the e-book self-publishing process, and I thought it might be useful to a few more people if I put it on here.

(Of course, this is just what I did, and I’m not saying it’s definitive or comprehensive or even coherent. Use at your own risk, kindly refrain from suing me, etc. etc.)

Bottle of nail growth stimulator and nail file optional.

1. Prepare Your Manuscript

Get your manuscript reviewed by a professional. Depending on where you are with it, you might want to get your book overhauled – a full, structural edit – or just proofread (a copyedit). This is the one place where you’ll have to spend money. And it’s cliché o’clock at Catherine, Caffeinated, because I’m going to say that you have to spend money to make money. So spend it here.

At the very least, have a few trusted individuals read over it to check for errors. People tend to be more angry about typos when they’ve paid $2.99 for the privilege of finding them.

2. Design a Cover

You can also spend money here if you like, but you don’t have to. (You should, but you don’t have to.) What you do have to do, however, is make a reasonably attractive cover. They are just as important to e-book sales as they are to print sales; maybe even more so when there isn’t a physical book to study and way more low-quality competition that you can easily rise above. Remember: you only need a front cover. A picture, essentially.

Your cover:

  • needs to be in JPEG format
  • should clearly display a title, sub-title if applicable and author name (remembering that most people will see your cover in a thumbnail size, and possibly in black and white on their e-reader device)
  • needs to measure 500 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall (not strictly, but this is a good guide that works for both Smashwords and Amazon)
  • should contain an image. PLEASE, people. No text on a single color background, okay?

If you have already self-published a print edition, simply crop the front section and use that. You might want to redesign if the text is particularly small or the cover detailed. Don’t forget the thumbnail situation.

If can afford it, get a cover professionally designed to the specifications above.

If you’re starting from scratch and your budget is tight, you can make what I call a Poor Man’s (or Person’s!) Cover. It won’t win any beauty pageants but it might just do the job. (At least until you sell enough e-books that you can afford to get one done properly.) You basically build a cover a Microsoft Word, save it as a PDF and then save the PDF as a JPEG file. If you need images, you can either buy them or use royalty-free ones from sites like iStock and Shutterstock. Here are some Poor Person’s covers I made earlier, just to demonstrate:

I got the images from Shutterstock (if I’d paid for them, of course, they wouldn’t still be saying ‘Shutterstock’) and all I did was insert them, set the layout to ‘Behind Text’ and then make them big enough to cover the entire page. Text is either Word Art or a text box.

As I said, it’s not exactly Picassco but wouldn’t they do the job?

3. Decide on Your Price

I’ve said this before: you want to price your e-book at a level that encourages people to buy (to ‘take a chance’) but not so low that it implies, subconsciously or otherwise, that the book is worthless. I recommend e-books self-publishers work within the $1.99-$4.99 price bracket. (Mousetrapped is $2.99.) Right now you have a big price advantage over mainstream e-books (i.e. those published by major publishing houses) who are still clinging to the idea that someone, somewhere will pay a print price for an electronic book. This won’t last forever, so use it will you can.

And remember that in almost all cases you get to keep 70% of the list price.

You, while formatting your e-book.

4. Format Your E-Book

You now need to ready your manuscript for conversion. The e-book sites will do the conversion but you need to make sure you’ve formatted your manuscript in such a way that it comes out the other end looking as it should.

For a simple, straight-forward book, you can use my How To Format Your E-Book (the Non-Migraine Inducing Way).

For a more complicated book, I recommend you follow the instructions in Smashwords Style Guide.

NB: You’ll need to do two versions: one that says ‘SMASHWORDS EDITION’ and one that says ‘KINDLE EDITION’.

5. Prepare Your Listing Information

You’ll need to prepare:

  • a book description (usually your back cover blurb, if the book existed in the print world)
  • an author bio.

Don’t just scribble something down or do it off the cuff. This is the information that will accompany your cover image on every e-book store listing and convince people to or dissuade them from clicking the ‘Buy’ button. It should be thought out in advance.

Smashwords allows a short description (400 characters), an extended description (4000 characters) and a short author bio. Amazon KDP allows a description (4000 characters) into which you should also slot your ‘About the Author.’

6. Register Accounts

Sign up for free accounts at:

You can use your existing Amazon.com account, if you have one, to register for Amazon KDP.

7. Upload to Smashwords

Armed with your formatted manuscript, your cover file, author bio and book description, head to Smashwords to upload your book. Once you’ve logged in, click ‘Publish’ from the list of options towards the top of the page and follow the instructions on screen.

Some points to remember:

  • Make at least 25% – 30% of your book available for sampling (the amount of your book a potential reader can download for free)
  • Tags are key words that will help readers find your book – enter as many as allowed
  • All formats will be checked – keep it this way. You want as many formats to be available as possible.

Once your files have been uploaded and everything has been saved, Smashwords will then queue your book for conversion. You can leave the site; they’ll email you when it’s done. (If I recall correctly…!) Once it’s been converted, go back and submit your book for inclusion in their Premium Catalogue. (You’ll see this option on your author dashboard, the screen you see when you log in.)

8. Upload to Amazon KDP

Uploading to Amazon is even easier than uploading to Smashwords and – squeal of excitement! – when you’re done, your book will soon appear on Amazon.com. If you’ve never have an Amazon listing before, trust me: this is very exciting.

Some differences:

On the first page:

  • Under publishing rights select the “This is not public domain…” option
  • The product image is the book cover
  • DO NOT enable Digital Rights Management (DRM). Unless you’re James Patterson, you don’t need to do this.

At the end of the first page, you’ll get to see an approximation of what your book will look like on someone’s Kindle. If you’ve formatted your manuscript correctly, this will look good. (Correctly spaced, readable, no large chunks of blank space.) If it doesn’t, you need to start all over… Sorry!

On the second page:

  • Select “Worldwide Rights”
  • Select the higher 70% royalty option (um, obviously!)
  • Check the box at the end to confirm you have rights to publish.

Once you save all changes, your book will take 24-48 hours to go live.

NB: Double-check the address you enter. This is where your cheques will be sent.

9. Check Everything is A-Okay

So now your listing is live on Amazon.com and Smashwords has converted your book to all the major formats. But wait – don’t tell anyone about your e-book yet! First you need to check that it doesn’t read like hieroglyphics, or has 1,300+ pages like mine did first time round. We’re just going to check the Kindle edition and the EPUB version Smashwords produced because I believe if they look okay, the rest will be fine.

To check your Kindle book:

  1. Download the free Kindle application for PC or for Mac
  2. Download the free sample of your book (or, if you want to pay for it, the full version)
  3. Check it looks okay.

To check your EPUB book:

  1. Download Adobe’s Digital Editions – it’s free
  2. Download the EPUB version of your book from Smashwords (they’ll let you do it for free, from your dashboard)
  3. Check it looks okay.

What are looking for? You are checking for:

  • Correctly flowing text. No unscheduled page breaks, broken words or gaps
  • A normal number of pages
  • Cohesive font and text size.

Generally you want to ensure that your book is readable and looks professional prepared. If you’re not sure, download a free sample of an e-book produced by a mainstream publisher or an experienced e-book self-publisher and compare the two.

10. Wait Patiently

I know you’re dying to run out and tell the world you’ve published an e-book – but don’t do it! Not yet, anyway. Wait until your book is available and ready to download from at least a couple of major e-book stores, so that regardless of what e-reading device they own, anyone you tell about your book can run straight out and download it in the format they need. I don’t think there’s any point in waiting until you’re on all the major e-book stores, as that could take weeks or even months.

A little bit of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Smashwords.com website (available to download in all formats from there)
  • Amazon.com’s Kindle store.

A moderate amount of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle store
  • Sony’s E-Reader store
  • Barnes and Noble’s e-book store for NOOK

A saintly amount of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Apples iBooks store
  • Diesel
  • Kobo.

NB: Smashwords will also convert you book to Kindle format (.mobi). Don’t worry about it. I uploaded direct to Amazon as I’ve instructed here and have sold all my Kindle editions in this way. No Kindle sales have ever appeared through my Smashwords channels. I don’t worry about it.

11. Tell the World

Um… tell the world.

Oh, look – it’s MY e-book! How did that get on here…?

12. What Happens Next?

Hopefully people start to buy your e-books and the money starts rolling in. Or creeping in, anyway. Trickling in. Whatever. We just want it to come in.

How does the money get from the pockets of Smashwords and Amazon KDP into your pockets? Well, I can only talk about this from the point of view of a person in Ireland who is too lazy to register for an International Tax Number and so lets 30% of her royalties be withheld for standard US tax withholding purposes. (If you don’t want to be lazy, check Smashwords and Amazon KDP’s websites for more information about tax and the IRS and stuff.)

Smashwords will transfer your cash directly into your Paypal account. You can then transfer it into your bank account or give it straight to The Book Depository in exchange for other people’s books, which is what I tend to do.

Amazon I’m still trying to figure out. I thought they were paying me once every two months for the two month period that had ended 30 days before, but then they throw me out with a payment for one month that comes out of sequence. But as a minimum they seem to pay every two months.

Also, sales from Amazon.com come in dollar cheques and sales from Amazon.co.uk come in British pound cheques.

So… that’s about it. (All 2,154 words of it! Phew.)

Let me know if I’ve left anything out or got anything wrong.

And good luck!

Click here to read all my e-book posts. Click here to see a chronological list of all my self-printing postsClick here to read more about MousetrappedThanks to Chris for the Mickey/Kindle image.

My self-imposed deadline of Novel No.2’s first draft is just over a week away and so I’m going to take a little blogging break until it’s done (Monday 15th, with any luck). I’m also going to try to stay away from Twitter too, but based on past behavior this will not prove possible. So I’ll catch you on the flip-side. I’m off to make a vat of coffee. Don’t miss me too much!

33 thoughts on “Publishing An E-Book: A Checklist

  1. Hot Cross Mum says:

    Simply excellent advice and I have to thank you so much for inspiring me to just get on with it! Am a couple of weeks away now – you’re an inspiration. x

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      No one demands exclusivity although I think Amazon stipulate that you cannot charge a lower list price for the e-book anywhere else. Not 100% sure of this though. As long as you own the rights and you set the same exact price everywhere, there’ll be no problem.

      • Howard says:

        MANY thanks for that Catherine.It is something that stuck in my worry cupboard for a while 🙂

        Needless to say all writers going ‘commando’ need to realise that sales don’t happen on their own and writers need to work hard to promote their eBooks. This will be a bigger and bigger problem in the future as readers have more choices and more places to find eBooks.

  2. emerging writer says:

    Very interesting. It’s piqued my interest now. I would think that the book cover, even for ebooks, is very important. (And what I know about design fits on the back of something very very small and insignificant) Any suggestions?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      If you trawl though Smashwords ‘Site Updates’ or the Smashwords blog, you’ll see people who advertise e-book design, etc.

      You can also google or have a look at some of the e-book author’s websites to see if they recommend their book designers.

      If you are stuck for a designer feel free to email me via the contact page and I’ll forward your message to MY book cover designer who did Mousetrapped (see cover above, in side bar.)

      I would recommend however that you do the ‘Poor Man’s Cover’ as I said above and then if you make some money out of your ebooks, put it back into getting a good cover done. That way you’re not risking any money loss.

      • Jan Carr says:

        Thanks very much Catherine, for some very interesting, helpful and practical posts.
        the whole ebook thing is certainly worth considering and not the first I’ve read evangelising for ebooks.
        I’m experimenting with audioboo for my current story.
        I’ve blogged too and linked here http://jancarr.wordpress.com/ but you probably don’t need the distraction right now.
        Good luck for a speedy output on novel 2.
        Thanks again

        • catherineryanhoward says:

          Thanks Jan! There are so many ways to share stories these days. I think it really is quite an exciting time to be a writer. 🙂

          (And p.s. Your comment was number 1000th on site!)

  3. des greene says:

    Excellent ‘to do’ list for creating an ebook – having gone through the process with Smashwords five times I think you have captured all the ‘ins and outs’ of the process.

    The greatest obstacle as always faces the hapless indie author when the ebook is created – that is the problem of marketing or letting people know of your work.

    Would there was an easy way round that …

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Des! You’re right though re: marketing – if only there was a step by step surefire guide to that. But with ebooks I actually believe – and I’ll prove this one day, just as soon as I figure out how! – that most purchases come down to chance, like people doing key word searches on their e-reading devices and/or Amazon, etc. throwing up recommendations for them. That’s why e-book sales build steadily over time – because every time you sell a copy, your book becomes more visible on the site/app, leading to more sales, etc. etc. (I THINK, anyway!)

  4. Jack W Perry says:

    Thanks for the excellent recap. There are also some excellent services from INscribe and BookBaby that will help with conversion and distribution to Amazon, Nook, Apple Kobo, Sony, etc.

    Must have a good editor and professional-looking cover. If you expect people to pay for your work, it should be done well.

  5. Bernadette Farrell says:

    I met you at the Self Publishing conference in Dalkey last year. I was really inspired by your presentation. At that stage I had almost finished my book “What the Hell are we Going to do Now? I am happy to say, that I am now a published author. I went the smashwords’ route. The smashwords’ guidelines are very easy to follow. I got some help with the cover as design is not really my forte. I want to publish on Amazon and appreciate your guidelines on how to go about it. I am planning on doing a blog, but haven’t a clue as to what to blog about. My background is in psychology and my book is about helping people to overcome worry and anxiety. Is that what I should be blogging about?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Bernadette,

      Delighted to hear you’ve embarked on e-book publication! Just make sure you upload to Amazon as well because that’s where the majority of sales will come from. As for blogging there is no right or wrong. I would recommend deciding if you want to blog for the enjoyment value mostly, or purely to promote your book. If it’s the former, then a general, more personal blog is the way to go. Otherwise, stick to the subject matter of your book. But there is no “should” – that is the beauty of blogging! Best of luck!

    • Howard says:

      Hi Bernadette – I hope you don’t be commenting on your question re blogging.
      My suggestion … start blogging on your experience of self publishing. MANY (such as me) are interested in the nuts and bolts and the experience of successfully doing it.
      Then blog on the topic and wider implications of your eBook…. and go on from there.

      Congrats from Killiney btw !

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I second Howard, Bernadette, but only if you can put some sort of slant on it as there are plenty of bloggers (myself included!) already chronicling their self-publishing adventures. You have to find a little gap and slot yourself in. Mine, for example, was sanity – everywhere I looked online I could only seem to find blogging self-publishers who were utter evangelists and hated “Big Publishing” (ugh – even hate the phrase) with a passion. I was kind of snobbish about self-pubbing to begin with, and I went into it with lower than realistic expectations, if that makes sense. So if you’re going to blog about producing your ebook and the results, carve out a little niche for yourself in the way you do it. Also, if you follow this route, keep in mind you’ll be expected to publish your results, good or bad.

      But I think you could incorporate this into a blog that also highlights the subject matter of your book.

  6. Lani says:

    This is a treasure of helpful information thank you! Your posts on publishing e-books are now my Bible…

  7. alltentoes says:

    Hi Cathrine. Still find your blog the best for SP. Problem: I’m struggling to determine how I get my e-book listed on Amazon’s website in other countries like Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand etc. I selected ‘Worldwide rights’ on KDP when I uploaded it. Also how I get my print book listed on same. Former is more important obviously since there’s no complications with postage.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      When you publish on KDP, your book is automatically for sale in every Kindle store in existence. The countries you mentioned don’t have Kindle stores. For instance I live in Ireland which doesn’t have a Kindle store, so Irish Kindle owners go to Amazon.com for their Kindle books. Rest assured if you’ve selected worldwide sales then your ebook is already for sale in every country it can be.

      With CreateSpace, you’re only guaranteed Amazon.com and European Amazons; after that, it’s pot luck.

      • alltentoes says:

        Thanks Catherine for putting my mind at rest. You are a big help as always. Japanese people are telling me they can’t get it. Truth is, I believe, they really want the print version. I tell them to order it from amazon.co.uk. Either they pay the postage from UK or if (as I’m currently trying to do) I open an amazon advantage account on amazon.co.jp, I will have to charge an amount to cover my sending books to amazon fulfilment centre in Japan. Same difference I would guess. The latter seems a nightmare because I’ve already discovered you need a Japanese bank account and you have to fill out all the form pages on amazon advantage.co.jp using the translation feature, which is not very accurate to say the least.

        What would help a lot of course, is if amazon had a feature in each country to say ‘include books available on amazon in other countries’. Users could then transfer via a link to amazon in that country and order it from there. Come the great day eh…

        Any thoughts on ways around this from other readers would be gratefully received. Thanks

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