Since publishing Lie Merchants and having it for sale on both the Kindle store on Amazon.com and as a NOOKBook on Barnesandnoble.com, several folks have asked "How can I do that?"
Converting your manuscript to an ebook format isn't hard, but it is more difficult than it looks. This post summarizes my experiences in publishing my ebook and includes links to other blog postings that I found very useful in bringing my book to market.
This post assumes that you have a completed manuscript that you want to make available for sale as an ebook. You may be a published author that has retained the electronic rights to your content and want to publish as an ebook, you may be a published author with a backlist of previously published works with rights that have reverted to you or you may be a new author that wants to self-publish. No matter what group you belong to, you have decided that your book has economic value and you want to bring it to market via an ebook.
So, what do you need to create an ebook? There are three things you'll need: (a) your manuscript (book content) in an HTML format, (b) cover art and (c) metadata.
Content. Obviously, this is the most important. It is the manuscript, the book itself. The problem is that most authors don't write in HTML, but use a word processing application, like Microsoft Word. That's fine, but the Word format needs to be converted into HTML. It is not necessarily just as easy as saving your existing manuscript in Word to an HTML file format. Depending on the formats you may have in your manuscript, there may be some extra work involved to convert any symbols, graphics and other files.
If you choose to convert your existing Word file to HTML by simply saving your .doc format file into .htm, then Word will include a lot of extraneous HTML code into the HTML version. That's not necessarily bad, but it certainly creates an HTML file that is not as elegant as it could be and it is much harder to make edits directly into the HTML file, because of having to wade through lots of unnecessary code. I did use this method to convert my Word manuscript to HTML, but if you are so inclined, there are alternatives. For example, the romance writer Nadia Lee wrote detailed instructions on how to format your manuscript for Kindle. Although I found her solution to be a good one, I found it somewhat inefficient for a long manuscript like mine.
Cover Art. You shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but people do when they are buying books. A compelling, beautiful and otherwise intriguing cover can make the difference between a sale and a pass. If you are not a graphic artist, I strongly suggest that you find one with experience in book cover design, if you want to bring a quality product to market, but that's a topic for another post. That said, you will want it in a digital format before creating your ebook file in either a JPEG or GIF format sized appropriately for the ebook format your choosing. I formatted my cover art at a pixel size of 1067 (height) x 733 (width). You can experiment with what looks best for your ebook.
Metadata. This is all the information other than the manuscript, that you will need for publishing. Metadata includes your ISBN (covered below), author names, contributors, book description, price, genre, publishing rights and other data needed to publish your ebook and make it available for sale.
There are two primary ebook formats - DTP by Amazon (for the Kindle ereader) and EPUB for just about everyone else (e.g., Barnes & Noble's NOOK device, Sony eReader and others). There are two free software applications out there that you can download and then use to convert source content into either one of the formats.
Here are the links:
DTP Format. I used the Mobipocket Creator software (available for free download). The software is fairly intuitive and easy to use. Mobipocket Creator will convert your source content into a Kindle ebook that you can upload and publish to the Amazon.com Kindle store. What if your customer doesn't have a Kindle device? No problem, Amazon.com provides the Kindle software for free making your book readable on a variety of other electronic platforms (e.g., PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc).
EPUB Format. Other ereading devices, including the NOOK by Barnes & Noble, use the EPUB format. EPUB is a more "standard" or generic format than DTP used by Kindle. If your customers use the Barnesandnoble.com NOOK device or anything other than a Kindle (or otherwise don't want to use the Kindle software), you'll want to convert your ebook into the EPUB format too. I used the Calibre software to convert my content to the EPUB ebook format. Although the process for creating an ebook using Calibre is substantially similar to that using the Mobipocket Creator, the Calibre user interface and publishing process is not as intuitive, so I recommend reading the user manual first. Don't have a NOOK device? No problem, as like Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com offers the NOOK software for free, enabling users to read NOOKbooks on a variety of other electronic devices (PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc).
You want to own your own ISBN. Some self-publishing sites, like Createspace by Amazon and Kindle will provide you with an ISBN, but every blog post that I have read on the matter strongly suggests you own your own ISBN identifier for your publications. As I understand it, owning your own ISBN makes it much easier to publish and sell your book on more than one site (i.e., not just Kindle). Bowker is the company that handles all ISBNs and you can buy a number at the comany's MyIdentifiers website. The website is not terribly friendly to use, but it isn't that difficult either. Pricing varies on how many ISBNs you purchase, I think mine cost ~$125 (I purchased the least expensive option).
DRM or Not?
Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a technology that ostensibly protects an author's digital content, enabling only those who have a authorized code to read your book. It sounds great from an author standpoint, but from all of the reading I've done on the subject, DRM has some downsides. Those downsides are significant enough that larger electronic content providers, like Apple's iTunes, do not use DRM.
Once someone buys a DRM ebook, then he or she can't really do anything with it (print it, move it to another device, etc). If you are a paranoid person, then you'll appreciate DRM. On the other hand, it seems that those who are truly motivated to steal your content can do so even with DRM, then using DRM just puts roadblocks up for your readers. If I believe the experiences of other authors who blog, non-DRM books outsell those with DRM. I have chosen to publish without DRM, trusting my readers to pay for the content (it is only $2.99), as I don't want to make it more difficult for people to purchase and read my ebook.
There are many ebook publishing/retail websites. The two that are the best known are the Kindle store at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
Amazon.com. Amazon.com makes it very easy to publish an ebook to their Kindle store. Go to Amazon's Digital Text Platform website and create an account. I won't go into the setup process in detail, but I will say that the site does a good job of holding your hand and walking the author through the process of setting-up the ebook and publishing it. I certainly didn't have any trouble and it took about 15 minutes to complete (once I had all my metadata).
Barnesandnoble.com. If Amazon.com makes it easy, then Barnesandnoble.com actually makes it easier. Go to the PubIt! website for Barnesandnoble.com and create an account. The site does a good job walking you through the publishing process and in fact, I found it easier than Amazon.com's DTP site (although Amazon.com had better analysis tools for evaluating different pricing and royalty scenarios).
It takes about 24 hours for your ebook to appear for sale on either site. There are other sites, but I haven't taken the time to publish to them yet, so that's a posting for another day.
The subject of pricing is still kind of up in the air in the publishing industry right now, because ebooks are still a relatively new medium. Without getting into too many details, the ebook buying public basically expects ebooks to be priced lower than published books (pbooks). The market's expectations are based on fact, the fact that it doesn't cost as much to publish and distribute an ebook as it does a hard or soft cover pbook.
Published author Joe Konrath published a very helpful blog post explaining why $2.99 seemed to be the optimal ebook price. I won't repeat everything Joe has to say here, but I trust his years of experience in the business publishing both ebooks and pbooks. Based on what Joe has to say, I priced my first ebook at $2.99. At that price, I net about $2.00 per ebook sale on either Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.
Print On Demand?
If your customers still want to own a hard or softcover book, then print on demand (POD) may be a cost-effective way to go. You already know about printing books and the volume/cost trade-off, so I won't belabor the point here. That said, it may be effective to go to a POD option if your unit sales are relatively low, but you'll have to do some analysis to determine if it is better to tie-up working capital in inventory versus give up some profitability by going POD.
I may offer Lie Merchants as a softcover via POD through Amazon's Createspace solution for books. I did some analysis for my particular manuscript and discovered that for me to make about the same profit on a softcover POD book, I would have to format it in 7" x 10" size and sell it for $14.99. To me, a $14.99 decision is a much different proposition than a $2.99 ebook. At the $14.99 price, I think people will be less willing to take a chance on a new author than a $2.99 "impulse buy." And, if they like Lie Merchants at $2.99, then they'll be more willing to buy one of my next books (I am working on two new projects).
I'll go with POD if I feel there is sufficient demand for a pbook format and if it is needed to reach a wider market. For now, it doesn't make sense (or dollars) to invest in creating a pbook version until I see what demand for the ebook version looks like.
Kindly post your experiences, questions and comments, as we can all learn from each other as the ebook medium matures and becomes a greater component of book sales.