Was wondering – how does publishing actually work ? How do you get your books out as ebooks? If I have a novel I want to have published as an ebook, how do I make that happen?
In a thumbnail, you need to turn your book into an ebook file, and upload it to the appropriate vendor sites.
Now, the longer version.
To get your book on Amazon, you upload it through the Kindle Direct Publishing site. To get your book on Barnes & Noble, you upload it through the Nook Press site, and to Kobo, through the Kobo Writing Life site. To upload a book to Apple’s iBookstore directly, you need a Mac and a program called iTunes Producer. Fortunately, if you are a not a Mac person there is a way around that- there are websites called “distributors” that will distribute the book to Apple for you in exchange for a small percentage – Smashwords and Draft2Digital are the biggest and most reputable two right now. (I have used both – Draft2Digital is easier, but Smashwords has more features.) You can also have Smashwords & Draft2Digital distribute to B&N and Kobo for you, but since I get a larger percentage from uploading direct to B&N and Kobo and there are no technical obstacles in my way, I upload directly.
(I’ve just started experimenting with Google Play, which also offers a direct upload site. To my knowledge, no distributors currently distribute to Google Play, though given that there are something like a billion Android phones in circulation that will undoubtedly change.)
Amazon requires that ebooks be uploaded in the MOBI format, while almost everyone else requires EPUB. There are programs that allow you to create MOBI files, but doing so is complicated and difficult. It is much, much, MUCH easier to create an EPUB file, and then convert it to MOBI, so that is what I do.
To turn my books into EPUB files, I use a free program called Sigil. Sigil works both as a WYSIWYG editor (what you see is what you get), and it also lets you see the underlying HTML file of the ebook, since an EPUB file is basically just a collection of smaller HTML files bundled together. Honestly, the easiest way to learn to use Sigil is to find a non-DRM protected EPUB file (Project Gutenberg has tons of them), open it up in Sigil, and then see how everything is put together.
Once the EPUB is done, I use another free program call Calibre to convert the EPUB into a MOBI file.
Getting on Smashwords is a bit more difficult, since Smashwords requires a specifically-formatted Word document which their own software then converts into all the major ebook formats. I’ve done the formatting by hand, but to be perfectly candid, it is an enormous pain in the neck and it’s easy to miss things. In the start of 2013, I bought a program called Jutoh Ebook Creator which can automatically convert EPUB files to Smashwords-ready Word documents, and it has made uploading to Smashwords much easier. I heartily recommend it for ebook covers.
You’ll also need an image for your book cover. For my novels, I hire out the covers from Clarissa Yeo. For short stories and nonfiction books, I do them myself in GIMP. I’m adequate at it (some of my nonfiction ebook covers have been #1 in their category on Amazon US, UK, and Germany), but the ones I buy from Clarissa are vastly superior since I have absolutely no sense of aesthetics. When I do the book covers myself, I buy suitable images off stock photo sites, making sure to include proper attribution in the legal & copyright page of the ebook. Also make sure that the licensing for the particular stock photo includes the right for use as an ebook cover – a few photographers forbid it. (Though after you have browsed stock photo sites for a while, it is fun to walk through a bookstore and see how many traditionally published books make use of stock photos for the covers. Some models might achieve a form of literary immortality simply by turning up on so many ebook covers.)
I should note that there are companies that offer to do all this stuff for you in exchange for a percentage, but I don’t recommend that, since you are then legally obligated to pay out that percentage forever (and many of these companies are quite shady). Better to learn to do it yourself and then to keep that percentage forever!
And it’s possible to do everything yourself using free software – you can even write the book in LibreOffice instead of shelling out for Microsoft Word. (GHOST IN THE STORM and SOUL OF TYRANTS, in fact, were written in LibreOffice Writer.) There is a learning curve to self-publishing, but it’s not a very steep one – and once you’ve done it a few times, the knowledge stays with you, and the next time is all the easier.
This isn’t the only way to do it – many writers swear by Scrivener and have developed clever ways to automate ebook creation in the program, and you can create EPUB files using Apple iWorks and Adobe InDesign (though, honestly, using InDesign fees like a cruel punishment, though in fairness it is much, much less unpleasant than QuarkXPress used to be in the 90s, back before there even were EPUB files). Sigil can also be a bit finicky. But this is the way I do it, and it’s worked for me so far. As an added bonus, with the exception of Jutoh all the programs I use are free, and Jutoh did not cost that much.