So you want to publish an e.book…
There is a revolution going on in the publishing world. For hundreds of years, authors sent their manuscripts to publishers who piled them up in what was known as the slush pile – unrequested and often poorly written manuscripts would lie around until read by an editor. Then, in 99.9% of cases, a polite rejection letter was sent out. Just occasionally, very occasionally, a manuscript would catch the editor’s eye and would eventually find its way to publication. The book would then be published, along with thousands of other titles and was then at the mercy of the book buying public. Promotion for a new author? Very unlikely unless you were a soap star or married to the pope, preferably both.
Some authors, convinced that they have a bestseller but can’t convince the publishers of that fact, sometimes paid a lot of money to have 1000 copies printed. While there are some heartwarming stories of self-published authors becoming successful, I can well imagine there are thousands more that still have 990 copies in boxes under their bed.
How things have changed. Today, any Stoppard, Francis or Enfield can get their work published as an eBook. As long as you have a computer and an internet connection there is no financial outlay. I’ve been working with eBooks for about 3 years now and I’m happy to share my experiences.
Smashwords is run by the enthusiastic Mark Coker, and despite having thousands of authors signed up, Mark still personally answers many of the queries you send to Smashwords.
So how does Smashwords operate? You write a brilliant book in Word. To be accepted as an eBook it has to conform to certain guidelines – set out in Smashwords style guide. I find the easiest way to get the text ready is to copy the whole text, paste it into notepad (getting rid of lots of unnecessary formatting) and then pasting the new text back into a new word document. There are a few other things you need to tinker with but these are not too difficult.
You will also need a cover. If you are comfortable using photoshop, or similar photo manipulation software then you could produce your own cover. If you’re a photographer then you could use one (or more) of your own images. For Smashwords, the cover should be a JPEG file, a minumum of 600 pixels high. They suggest a width of 500 and a height of 700 pixels. Amazon suggest you provide a cover that is either JPEG or TIFF and should be 800×1200 pixels. If you think you can’t make a decent cover, consider employing a cover designer such as, er, me. Have a look at my eBook cover designs if you’re interested.
Once you have a great book, and a great cover, then you are ready to send it to Smashwords. You will need to register (for free) before sending your book. When sending it, you will be asked to fill in a short and a long description of the book. Put some thought into this text as this is what people will read and on the strength of it they may or may not download your book. You will also be given the option to offer part of your book for free. This way you can get people hooked and they will then be more likely to pay to read the rest of the book. Another important factor is the price. Unsurprisingly, more people will read your book if it is free. People also like to read books that have positive reviews from other readers. A popular business model is to offer your book for free for a while (until you get some good reviews) then start charging. You are free to set your own price but look at the prices of other books that are similar and don’t price yourself out of the market. Smashwords provides neat little pie charts to show how your cover price will be divided. Even in the worst case scenario, you will get a much higher percentage that you would from a traditional paperback publisher.
Once you have filled in all the information about your book, you then send it to Smashwords. They have some software known as the meatgrinder which will convert your word document into a variety of different formats and within minutes (depending on the speed of the meatgrinder) your book is ready for sale. On their website you have your personal dashboard showing all your titles and how many copies have been bought and downloaded. (Clearly downloads will be a lot higher than sales). It is then up to you to get out and promote your book. Smashwords is a publisher of e.books, but they don’t market the books for you. It is up to you to do the promotion. (A simple way is to add a link to your signature at the bottom of every e.mail you send).
The best thing that Smashwords does is to arrange deals with major ebook retailers. They currently have deals with Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple, Kobo, Diesel and Scrollmotion. This is where most of your sales will come from – the retailers. It takes a while for the money to move from the retailers to Smashwords into your account but I am very happy with the sales I’ve made through Smashwords so far.
There is a bit of a hurdle that you need to jump if you are not an American citizen. The American government will take 30% of your earnings in tax unless you provide Smashwords with a certain form. To get the form you need to jump through a lot of hoops as, unsurprisingly, the IRS doesn’t make it easy for you. Smashwords does its best to provide you with all the information you need and it is all explained on their website. You can defer payments until you have the magic form (I’m still waiting for mine) but then payments are very straightforward via paypal.
As you have probably noticed, I like Smashwords. I like the way they are honest about the modest percentage that they take and I like the way Mark Coker works tirelessly to promote the company and it has the feel of an exciting new company run by a small bunch of enthusiasts rather than corporate suits out to squeeze every penny they can from you…
Amazon’s Kindle is hugely popular and their downloading and payment system is a breeze to use. For authors, Kindle Direct Publishing offers a quick, easy and free way to get your books to the public. You can submit your books either as word files or as html. Quite a few people have had problems with this though I find using the same word files I use for Smashwords (having pasted the text into notepad and then back to Word) works well. Amazon pay a royalty rate of 70% for sales in the US, UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. For all other countries they pay 35%. I’m not sure why Amazon feels the need to take an extra 35% for sales from Australia or Sweden but that’s the way it is at the moment.
As with Smashwords, you will need to get hold of the Magic Form from the IRS or Amazon will withhold 30% of your income to help fill the American coffers. More painful for the non-American author is that Amazon pays you, for income you have earnt in the US, in dollars, by cheque! There seems no logical explanation for this. Banks outside the US will charge a huge fee for cashing a cheque in dollars (though I’ve heard Citibank has better deals than most other banks). I, and many other Amazon authors, hope that Amazon will start paying via paypal very soon.
So that’s my experience so far. I like Smashwords and am very happy with what they are doing. I’m less happy with Amazon though I do admire their product, payment methods (for people buying the books) and their customer base. If they can sort out their payment methods to authors, and reconsider their 35% cut for non US/UK/DE/FR/IT/ES sales, then I’ll be a very happy bunny.