Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author

A dear friend of mine recently got the rights back to a novel she published some time ago, and she is now nearly ready to brave the waters of indie publishing with it. Many of the questions she had, however, were not things that I immediately and / or spontaneously had answers to. So I promised her I would try to organize what knowledge I had in a series of blog posts. Of course, my experience is not exhaustive, but I hope it will help others as a starting point for getting their books out there.

Ebook format

The most common format required when submitting an ebook to online distributors is EPUB. There are many different ways of creating epub files for ebooks, and this list naturally only includes a few of the many available options. The prices for the various programs are as of July 2014.

1) Scrivener – This is what I use. It is extremely simple to create an epub file with Scrivener — all you have to do is compile your manuscript as epub. Scrivener has the added advantage that it’s also a great writing tool. Windows $40, Mac $45 (more features). More on compiling epubs with Scrivener here:

Youtube Tutorial

Scrivener: The Ultimate Guide to Exporting Ebooks (Kindle, ePub, etc.)

– Note: If you’re starting from a fully formatted DOC or DOCX file, rather than a file you have been writing in Scrivener, you need to divide the file up into sections at each chapter (Ctrl+K) and make sure the compile options in the meta-data pane are all checked (Include in Compile, Page Break Before, Include As-Is).

2) Mobi Pocket Creator – I tried this long ago but never had much luck. Others swear by it though — and it’s FREE. 🙂

3) Atlantis – Atlantis is a word processing program that will also compile documents as ebooks. Worked pretty well for me when I tested it a while back, but I did lose some formatting. It also has the disadvantage that it is yet another word processing program, of which I have too many already. $35

5) Jutoh – I haven’t tried it, but check out this discussion for a lot of rave reviews. $39

6) Sigil – I have no experience with the actual conversion to ebook with Sigil, but I do use it for testing the epub format of the files created by Scrivener. FREE

7) Calibre – I have not used this method, but a tutorial can be found here. FREE

Whatever method you use, it is important to validate your epub file before you upload it. You can do that here.

Formats accepted by various distributors

While ePub is the most common format required for ebook publication, a number of retailers also accept other formats. Here a list of some of the most important, including guidelines and my experience (if any):

Amazon – KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

Formats accepted:
Word (DOC or DOCX)
HTML (ZIP, HTM, or HTML)
MOBI (MOBI)
ePub (EPUB)
Rich Text Format (RTF)
Plain Text (TXT)
Adobe PDF (PDF)
Guidelines: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2MB3WT2D0PTNK
My experience: When I first experimented with publishing to Amazon, I uploaded a DOC file, since that was what I needed for the aggregator Smashwords. (I will talk about Smashwords and Draft2Detail in more detail in my next Indie Beginners post.) It was a mess. Luckily, soon thereafter Scrivener added the ePub compile option to their Windows version, and I haven’t had a problem with Amazon uploads since, with the exception of a bug with the Kindle Paperwhite a while back. I talked about that here.

Barnes&Noble – NOOK Press

Formats accepted: Word, HTML, Text, ePub
Guidelines: https://www.nookpress.com/support
My experience: After my experience with a Word file with KDP, the only file type I have uploaded to B&N is ePub. From what I can see on the Barnes and Noble store, my books there look fine. One problem with B&N for many writers is that it is so US-centric. For a long time, you could only publish if you had a US address and bank account. They have since expanded to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Nonetheless, that still leaves out many writers who have to find other means to publish there, such as through Smashwords or Draft2Digital.

Kobo – Kobo Writing Life

Formats accepted: .epub, .doc, docx, .mobi, .odt
Guidelines: http://download.kobobooks.com/learnmore/writinglife/KWL-Content-Conversion-Guidelines.pdf
My experience: I have only uploaded ePub files to Kobo, but that works fine. I sell next to nothing through Kobo, however, which makes me wonder if I should switch my books to an aggregator to earn the minumum amount for royalties to be paid out more quickly.

iTunes

Formats accepted: Only files uploaded through iTunes Producer
Guidelines: http://www.apple.com/itunes/working-itunes/sell-content/books/book-faq.html
My experience: None. I do not use a Mac, and since ebooks for iTunes can only be submitted through the submission app, iTunes Producer (requires OS X 10.8 or later), I have to rely on an aggregator. For authors with more serious sales, it might be worth it to buy a Mac just to be able to submit to the store yourself (and not give up the ~10% of your profits that aggregators take), but for me it is definitely not worth it at this time.

Google Play – Google Books

Formats accepted: PDF
Guidelines: https://support.google.com/books/partner/answer/166501?hl=en
My experience: None. I’m still wary of Google Play because of their policy of randomly discounting books. Lindsay Buroker has a good summary of why authors should still be careful about publishing to Google Play here.
I may eventually try and experiment with one or two of my short stories or collections that don’t sell all that well. That way, a deep discount and a price match by Amazon would not be a big loss of revenue. Naturally, if I do so, I will blog about that too. 🙂

For my next post in the Indie Beginners series, I intend to blog about aggregators (Draft2Digital and Smashwords), how you use them, and why you might want to.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

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11 thoughts on “Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers”

  1. I use Calibre in conjunction with Scrivener and Word. I seem to get better results with Calibre than with Scrivener, but that could be lack of knowledge on my part.

      1. Scrivener isn’t intuitive enough for me. If I don’t use it for any length of time I forget how things are done and then I get frustrated. I do like it, though, despite that. And I’ve done some first drafts in it. But I work a lot on computers that don’t have it, so there is the need to convert to rtf, export, import…

  2. Thanks for this. I always wondered how to go about getting a book on iBooks. Since I’m an Apple girl, I wish half the books I’d like to read were on there–it’s easier for me to get them. I want mine to be up there, too. 🙂

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