Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Paperless Trail: Should You Publish Your Book Electronically? by Teresa Kennedy

Electronic reading devices have spawned a whole new wave in publishing and self-publishing in the past years. For the first time in the industry, we saw electronic books, or e books, surpass the output of printed books last year. Not only are e books out publishing print titles, they are outselling them, too.
There are a number of reasons behind the rise in popularity of e books: Consumers across the board have a strong desire to “go green” and scale back on printed materials, e books are eminently portable, easily accessible, and the cost is usually much more reasonable than that of printed books. The advent of’s Kindle reader sparked some healthy rivalry among its competitors, and now Barnes and Noble’s Nook Book; iPad’s Apple Reader and a host of others offer e book buyers a huge range of titles in a variety of easy to use, instantly downloadable formats.

Too, there are a host of e book services available for self-publishers who may want to circumvent more traditional publishing outlets. Self-publishing is relatively easy, inexpensive and offers prospective authors a much larger percentage of royalties on their work than might be gained elsewhere, ranging from 60-100 percent. The press is only too happy to tout the phenomenal success that some e book authors enjoy. YA maven Amanda Hocking used e books to launch her career, and according to some estimates earned upwards of one million dollars in less than ten months selling her titles at 99 cents per copy. She in turn used those sales to land a healthy deal to turn those e books into print. Blogger JA Konrath reportedly earned $68,000 in one month through his e book sales, and thriller author James Patterson tops the e book sales ranking with an excess of 3 billion copies of his titles sold.

As impressive as those numbers can be however, it’s important to remember that for all the e book hype, there are legions of un-successful e book authors, The truth is , it’s simply not enough to put your work “out there” and expect an instant return. Some books are more appropriate for e book publication than others; and some authors are more able to cope with what self-publishing demands of them than others.
So to help you better make the decision as to whether your book would make a successful e book, let’s consider the following points:
Is your book really ready for publication?

Has it been thoroughly edited, proofread and formatted? As the e book market grows, so does the competition. Can it hold its own against all the other books out there? Though the folks in your writing group may think its brilliant, and your Mom is telling all her friends, readers are not going to want to slog through a boring story or a less than professional quality presentation just because you chose to publish it. Your story needs to be appealing and engaging, your manuscript needs to be letter perfect, and you need to have a good enough grasp of the content to be able to sell it to others. Once a book is published, it’s not so easy to un-publish, so be as sure of yourself as you can be before you start. If you were a baker, you wouldn’t launch a new line of cupcakes that were only half-baked, would you?

Find Your Niche

To some extent all books are marketed by category, simply because readers buy books by category. E books may provide a more direct route from the author to a potential reader of their work, but that doesn’t change the rules. Hard core romance fans will not suddenly become aware that you have written a great mystery, and even if they do, they probably won’t buy it. You’ll find fans of young adult fiction read young adult fiction almost exclusively, and so on.
So establishing an appropriate category for your book is all important. If you don’t know what category your book falls into, do some research. Go to a book store and identify the category listings of titles similar to yours. Categories are usually found on the back cover, near the scan code. On the internet, two fairly comprehensive listings can be found at:


A majority of books fall into more than one category, so the more specific you can be when it comes to identifying the content of your book for a specific readership, the more copies you can expect to sell.
E book publishers are only too familiar with the power of correct categorization when it comes to selling books. According to a recent item from, Apple’s new ipod bookstore features:   “… a highly organized approach to bookselling. Apple has designated about 20 ‘top-level’ categories for books, including ‘Fiction & Literature’, ‘Reference,’ ‘Romance,’ ‘Cookbooks’ and ‘Comics & Graphic Novels.’ Below those categories lie more than 150 sub-categories, including some very specific genres, such as ‘Manga’ under ‘Comics & Graphic Novels,’ ‘Special Ingredients’ under ‘Cookbooks,’ and ‘Etiquette’ under ‘Reference.’”
The classifications will also include extensive subcategories. “Sports and Outdoors” contains 15 different kinds of labels, while “Fiction & Literature” will have 13 subcategories.

Keep in mind though, that some kinds of books will always sell better than others and adjust your expectations for fame and fortune accordingly. You may be writing cutting edge, experimental,  Pulitzer quality literary fiction, but the fact is literary fiction doesn’t often sell as well as some other categories and e books are no different in that respect.

You Really Can Tell a Book by Its Cover

A good book cover captures a potential reader’s attention through a combination of color, font and image. It gives a clue to content, and should distinguish itself from other books in the category.  If you’re not graphically skilled, it’s best to make the investment in a professional cover designer. Most are reasonably priced and more than willing to listen to your input. Dear to your heart as your book may be, don’t get too wedded to a specific vision or to seeing your name in the largest type possible. A good book cover is a composition of word and image that conveys necessary information without allowing one element to overwhelm any other element. Because e books tend to present covers as thumbnails first, it’s important to review your cover design as a thumbnail to see if it works. Once your ebook is published,  it’s also important  to add larger images to your storefront page on amazon or Barnes and Noble when possible. Finally, unless you are a visual artist yourself, avoid commissioning expensive works or original art or paintings for your book covers. Most cover designers have a more than adequate stock of images from which to choose in their inventory and the expense of original art is unlikely to be worth your investment.


As easy-breezy as most e book publishing platforms can make it sound, formatting your book for publication can get complicated and crossing technologies can seem a lot like crossing the Himalayas.

All e readers are not created equal, and so all formatting venues use different software with important rules to follow. Kindle formats in a very basic HTML; NookBooks has different options for color or black and white; formatting for ipads is more complicated still. And each and every venue will reject your book without hesitation if it’s not formatted correctly. So unless you’re very computer and systems proficient, formatting error free documents for upload is again, best left to the professionals.  Prices for this very basic service can range anywhere from $25.00 to $100 or more depending on the length and graphic complication your book presents, but in my opinion anyway is well worth it.

Keep in mind also that most e-publishers have very limited capability for publishing heavily illustrated works. So if you have plans to publish a photographic retrospective, a history of art, a children’s picture book, your original songs with guitar chords and sheet music, or even a cookbook with illustrations, hold off on an e book version until the technology can catch up.

Have you done the paperwork?

ISBN: Publishing an e book requires that you purchase an ISBN number for each electronic version of your book. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally. That means your Kindle version will have a different ISBN than your NookBook version, and a third will be required if you choose to publish through a distributor such as Smashwords. Purchasing single ISBNs can get expensive, so if you’re planning on publishing on any scale do purchase multiples at one time for greater cost efficiency. More information and purchase costs can be found here:

Copyright: Before publication it’s also important to establish that you, the author, own copyright to the work you are about to publish. You should therefore take the time to register your work with the US copyright office, which offers a number of options for both electronic and hard copy filing of your work, with fees ranging from $35.00 to $65.00 per work. For more information see:

DRM: Finally, do pay attention as you prepare to e publish your book, to any questions asked regard DRM, or Digital Rights Management. Digital rights management (DRM) is any technological method intended to prevent piracy or illegal content sharing. The three main DRM systems for ebooks are Adobe DRM, Amazon Kindle DRM, and Apple FairPlay DRM. Ebooks in any one of those systems are incompatible with the others, so if the kindle version can’t be read on your buddy’s ipad, you’ll have to publish an ipad version so he can read it. You may choose to enable DRM, or you can choose not to. The important thing is educate yourself as to what those rights mean and how they can be used to your advantage, or not.

What Should it Cost?

There’s currently quite a lively debate in the electronic publishing community about what e books should cost, but the fact of the matter is that as they become more popular, prices have been steadily rising. As traditional publishers join the party with bestselling authors in tow, some command prices of over ten dollars, comparable to a print paperback. Yet volume sales tend to favor lower prices. Who doesn’t like to feel as though they’re getting a deal? So most new authors, anxious to gain exposure, tend to price their titles in the 99 cents to $4.99 range. It’s your choice, of course, but a good rule of thumb is to calculate what you’ve invested thus far against your projected sales over the next six months. If you feel that you can make your money back during that period of time at a $3.99 cover price, go for it.

Are You Social?

E books are published and sold through the internet, and so the internet has to be the principle focus of your marketing efforts as an author. Social networking is the process of connecting with the book buying public, potential readers and fans through avenues such as FaceBook, Twitter, a personal blog, your author’s website, other authors and forums, book clubs and communities of readers around the world. Links, tags, diggs and hashtags will need to become part of your vocabulary, and if the idea of tweeting gives you the heebie jeebies, then maybe e book publishing is not for you.

If that sounds labor-intensive and time consuming, it is. But the social connections you make are essential to getting the word out about your book. Readers of ebooks are a willing audience, but the competition is fierce and getting fiercer. Kindle’s book store is currently carrying nearly a million titles, and e book distributor Smashwords publishes in excess of 5,000 new titles a day. So audience outreach and a solid platform means a lot.

Giving away reader’s copies and encouraging everyone and anyone to post their customer reviews is also invaluable for selling copies, because those reviews are posted right at the point of sale. Many outlets such as Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly are now offering paid review services for independent e book authors as well. If you haven’t the time or patience to launch your own publicity campaign, there are agencies and independent publicists willing to help--for a fee.

Some authors are more inclined to dive into the world of social networking than others, but know that e book marketing will to some extent involve marketing yourself as an author and an expert in your field.  Be willing to give interviews, to review others’ books and to offer insights and information to other writers about what you’ve learned from the process. Paradoxically, the wired world of the internet can actually create a sense of isolation so the more consistent and personal your outreach as an author, the more readers will respond.

Establishing a reputation as an author doesn’t happen overnight. More importantly, it rarely happens with just one book. So even as you publish that first novel, start writing the next one. Readers of e books are especially fond of series, trilogies and books that take a group of characters through a number of episodes or adventures. So when you’re thinking e books, think long term. With time, patience and some necessary effort, you’ll be sure to get your e books happily and successfully published and be well on your way to establishing an audience of willing fans just waiting for your next release.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Teresa, I REALLY learned a lot from this post. Thanks you for this great information. Sue Frederick (The Unwilling Spy)