Introduction to eBook Self-Publishing

self-pubYou wrote a book and now you are thinking about self-publishing, but don’t know what steps to take. First, it’s important to understand what self-publishing means and what options are available to you.

When self-publishing a book, you can publish it to eBook, to print-on-demand, or both. Today we’ll focus on self-publishing an eBook. Next week we’ll talk about print.

Benefits of Self-Publishing an eBook

There are many benefits to self-publishing vs. going the traditional publishing route.

  • You are in control of all aspects including publication date and pricing.
  • You retain all rights, and can publish at any online retailer you wish.
  • You earn a larger piece of the pie (higher royalty %).
  • Implementing changes is easy and quick.

In addition, thanks to technology, self-publishing an eBook is a relatively easy, low tech option. There are tools and online services which help you format your finished book and upload it to retailers like Amazon where anyone can buy a copy of your work.

As always, there are pros and cons to both sides. For a deeper look, check out this article from Writer’s Digest.

So what do you need to know before jumping into self-publishing an eBook? Let’s dig into how this world works!

What is an eBook Retailer?

eBook Retailers are those companies which sell eBooks online. These include stores like:

  • Amazon Kindle
  • Barnes & Noble Nook
  • Kobo
  • Apple iBooks
  • Google Play
  • There are many more eBook retailers. Some are even genre specific.

As an author, you have the ability to sell your work on these online stores. For this service, a retailer collects a small fee–typically a % of your sales.

*Note we said SELL eBooks. Beware of pirate sites which give away unlicensed eBooks for free. The author never sees a penny for their hard work thanks to these sharks. Be careful as there are also sites which highlight when an eBook is being offered for free or a discount. But they will always point back to legitimate retailers.

What is an eBook Distributor?

depositphotos_21584609_s-2015eBook Distributors are 3rd party companies (a.k.a. middlemen) who push your eBook out to many (if not all) eBook retailers for you. Distributors for books include:

  • Smashwords
  • BookBaby
  • Draft2Digital
  • And many more…research them well before choosing.

The difference between a distributor and a retailer is that you upload one single formatted version of your book at one online site. The distributor then takes that one copy and formats it appropriately for each of the individual retailers (most of whom have different formatting rules), and then publishes for you. In addition, they will track your sales, gather the payments from all the retailers, and send you one check.

For this service, a distributor collects a small fee–typically a % of your sales. Remember, the retailer still takes a % of your sales too, so this is additional money out of your pocket. However, the convenience of the service may be well worth considering.

Opt In Exclusivity Programs

Publishing with retailers is non-exclusive. In other words, you can publish anywhere you want, and aren’t just limited to that one retailer.

Some retailers have exclusive programs you can opt in to joining. An example is KDP Select for Amazon. In exchange for publishing your eBook exclusively with that retailer for a predetermined amount of time (like 3 months), you get access to certain additional services from them, usually marketing driven.

If you do opt in for a program like this, just remember you may NOT publish that eBook anywhere else (retailers OR distributors) for the length of the agreement.

Formatting for Publishing

Once you are ready to publish your written (and hopefully well edited) book, it’s time to format the content to get it ready to publish via the retailers and/or distributor you have selected.

Nearly every retailer and distributor will require you format your own book before uploading to them. Each retailer has their own “rules” about how to format (tabs, spacing, font size, etc.) and even about what types of files to upload (.doc, .docx, .pdf, etc.). In addition, books can render differently on devices. For example, you only upload one file to Amazon for Kindle eBooks, however, they have many different types of Kindles, and what looks good on one may look off on another.

The good news is, each retailer and distributor provides detailed formatting instructions. Many provide online tutorials. Also, if you go with a distributor, you only have to format once before uploading. They’ll do the rest of the work for you to make your book look good at each retailer.

If your book is straight text with no images, the formatting piece is fairly straight forward and easy DIY. However, if you have images (like a children’s book or a non-fiction book), the formatting gets more complicated, and you may want to consider getting help.

Converting to eBook Files

End-to-EndFormatting your book appropriately doesn’t make it readable on eReader devices like Kindle and Nook. The file needs to be converted to an appropriate file type.

The most commonly used file types for eBooks are:

  • EPUB – The most common file type for eBooks.
  • MOBI – File type preferred for Amazon Kindle devices.
  • PDF – Can be read on most devices, but does not convert nearly as well and can be difficult to read.

In general, you do NOT convert your book to the eBook file type. You simply upload a word document (in most cases), formatted to the retailer’s or distributor’s specifications. They do the work behind the scenes to convert your book to the appropriate file type(s).

In the past, retailers have NOT provided authors the eBook file itself. This can be problematic if you are trying to send your book to reviewers who want an EPUB or MOBI version which allows them to read the book on their eReader device.

Consequently, software and online tools such as Calibre, Sigil, and Scrivener sprang up which will help you convert your book to one of the standard eBook file types. With Word, you can also save the file as a PDF, however, the formatting doesn’t always render well in the conversion, so be sure to check.

In the last year or so, some retailers, like Amazon, have started providing the eBook file upon request. But not all do this yet.

The good news…rather than converting the file yourself, most distributors–like Smashwords–DO provide your converted book in all the various eBook file types. Again, they do the work for you in exchange for a % of your sales.


We are not lawyers, so this is NOT legal advice. Make sure you research all legal advice about your books thoroughly.

Your Rights

When you self-publish an eBook, regardless of retailer or distributor, you retain ALL rights to that book. That means, if a traditional publisher comes knocking, you still have the right to “unpublish” your self-published work, and sign a contract to publish with that publisher. At that point, read your contract, because your rights change.

Copyrighting / Licensing

Your book is considered copyrighted as soon as you write it. You don’t have to put the copyright symbol on it. However, you definitely want to register your copyright as this makes it public record.

You can register your copyright through

While we’re on the topic, beware of any copyright infringement issues you may have with your own work–both text and images. Make sure you have the right to publish everything in that book. This is an entire topic by itself.

More Info on Copyrighting


An ISBN is NOT required for eBooks to be sold through most retailers. However, some retailers and distributors do require one, therefore, it’s a good idea to have one so you don’t limit yourself.

Some retailers and distributors (like Smashwords) will assign an ISBN for you, but that ISBN is only valid for the version of the book uploaded through them.

If you’re US-based, you can buy through Unfortunately, this is an expensive process for a block of ISBNs.

Gather Your Information


Once your book is edited and the content is formatted for whichever retailer(s) and/or distributor you will publish through, there is still some additional info you want to have at the ready for when you go to publish that book. Make sure you have the following:

  • Book Title
  • Book Subtitle (if any)
  • Series Title (if any), & Volume #
  • Edition # (if any – this is if you have multiple versions out there)
  • Publisher (if any, for self leave it blank unless directed otherwise)
  • Description (this is your book blurb)
  • Contributors (typically just the author, although you can put the editor, cover designer, graphic artist in if you wish)
  • Language
  • ISBN # (see above info)
  • Public Domain OR you hold the publishing rights (original work created by you)
  • Categories (differs by retailer and distributor – usually there’s a selection)
  • Age and/or Grade (optional, and not on all retailer or distributor sites)
  • Keywords (common search terms you think people would use to find your book)
  • Book File (formatted to the retailer or distributor specifications)
  • Book Cover File (also formatted to the retailer or distributor specifications – cover image sizes/types are fairly standard)
  • Pricing (your royalty % may differ depending on the price you choose)
  • Distribution (a single country, several countries, or worldwide where a given retailer is set up?)
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) – yes or no. More info…

One-Stop-Shop vs. Freelancers vs. DIY

Finally, if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with information, let’s talk about how to get all this done–whether you do it yourself (DIY), contract a couple of freelancers (like Authors On A Dime) to help you, or go with a full-service option.

Publishing an eBook is a multi-staged process:

  • Write the book
  • Edit the content of the book (plot, conflict, character development, etc.)
  • Edit the grammar (make it as clean as possible)
  • Design a book cover
  • Take Care of Legalities (copyright, ISBN, licensing, etc.)
  • Format the book for publication
  • Convert the book to eBook format
  • Publish the book with online retailers

Depending on your experience and skill sets, you may do all these steps yourself or you may get help.

100% Free – Do It Yourself (DIY): In today’s world of self-publishing, the process to actually publish an eBook (put the book up on retail sites like Amazon) is “FREE” and relatively easy. The retailers you publish with get a percentage of each eBook sold as their “fee” for allowing you to publish through them. But beyond that, you don’t pay to publish.

Free/Paid Combo – Freelance Services:  You may want help with various other aspects, like the editing or book cover. There are tons of freelancers (like Authors On A Dime) out there who can help you with different aspects of self-publishing as needed. From editing, to formatting, to publishing, to marketing, there’s help available for everything.

100% Paid – Full Service: There are several full-service vendors out there who not only publish your book, but have people to help with editing, creating the cover etc. They do this for an up-front fee. Just a heads up, the fee can be very pricey. In addition, some retailers or distributors also offer editing, formatting, and publishing services.

Pro und Contra, gut und schlecht, ja und nein

Which to choose? 

At the very least, almost every self-publishing book and article out there will recommend you get help with editing and with the book cover. But the actual publishing–formatting, uploading (converting)–through retailers and/or a distributor can be done by you, the author, for free. And we highly recommend taking advantage of that option.

Do you need help with editing or book cover? For the average author, the answer is absolutely. As Authors On A Dime offers those services, obviously we recommend using freelancers to help  you with those steps. Going with freelancers:

  • Allows you to pick and choose which services you truly need.
  • Aallows you to select a freelancer who YOU think will do the best work for your vision.
  • Will most likely save you quite a bit of money (vs. full-service) as well as time (vs. 100% DIY).

Our advice is to look at your skills and ALL the options before you decide on where you need help and who the best provider might be for that help.

Still Have Questions?

Feel free to ask in the comments or contact Authors On A Dime directly. We’re happy to talk to you about any of this! 🙂 Don’t forget to check out our full range of helpful self-publishing services!

We also have a workshop coming up in October: Get Started Self-Publishing! Sign up now!

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