E-Publishing FAQ

I get a lot of questions about e-publishing from readers and writers alike, so I thought I would compile some of the most common ones into a handy dandy blog post. Keep in mind that I'm not an expert on this topic. All of my answers come from my own personal experience. My hope is that anyone reading this will either feel compelled to e-publish their own work or maybe download a few ebooks to read. No, you don't necessarily need a Kindle or similar dedicated device to read an ebook, but we'll get to that.

1. What made you decide to try e-publishing? Isn't self-publishing for people who couldn't hack it in the real publishing world, i.e. people who suck? 

There are two answers to that last question: Yes and No. It's like one of those logic puzzles. Most sucky writers are forced to self-publish, but not all self-published writers are sucky. More and more writers from the traditional market are turning to e-publishing so they can have more creative control over their work and higher royalty payments. Others do it because their work has made the rounds, and though they were assured by many agents and publishers that their work was solid, the book deal just never happened.

I decided on e-publishing for a couple reasons. One, it's a very fast-growing market, and I wanted to be part of it. Two, I have a number of short stories, and I feel self-publishing is increasingly the way to go with them due to the ever-shrinking short story marketplace. I currently have my novel Scarlet Letters up on all the major ebook retailers. I never could quite get an agent to bite on it, but I didn't want it gathering dust either. And thankfully I made the decision to e-publish it, because it's doing quite well. This has spurred me to consider other novel projects for self-publishing.

Ultimately, I think people choose self-publishing because they want people to read their work. And who better to decide on whether a book is worth buying than people who read?

Maybe not this kind of gatekeeper, but close...
2. Aren't you worried about the lack of gatekeepers in the e-publishing world, and legions of terrible writers contaminating the talent pool with their terrible terrible stories? 

I used to be, yes. But honestly, I can't allow myself to become too fixated on that anymore. I only need to worry about how good my own work is, and how I can get it in front of as many eyes as possible and just trust that the Darwinian system that has guided all living things through the millennia will also work here. There are gatekeepers in self-publishing. They're called readers. And the readers will naturally gravitate toward the better work, and they will come to expect a certain standard. They want stories that are coherent and properly edited. They want authors who can competently tell a story. They want the same experience they get from any book they pluck from a Barnes & Noble or library shelf. Writers who fail to live up to those standards will gradually fall away.

3. How much does it cost to e-publish your work? 

First and foremost, the act of uploading a book onto Smashwords, Kindle Direct, or Barnes & Noble's PubIt is completely and totally free. If you have a story sitting in your files right now, you could click on either of those sites and get it uploaded in minutes and on the market place almost immediately (in the case of Kindle and BN, it can take a couple days to clear the vetting process). However, you don't necessarily want to go about it that way.

If you don't have extensive editing experience, it's recommended that you have your manuscript professionally edited or proofread. Your book will look and sell better if you do. If you don't know someone who can do this for you free of charge, consider an affordable freelancer. Aside from editing, there is the matter of proper formatting and a good cover. If you're handy with a photo manipulation program, you can crank out a cover pretty easily, following the dimension guidelines set by the publisher. You can search the Creative Commons site for images you can use. With the exception of the cover for Scarlet Letters (designed by the awesome Jeff Fielder) I did all of my covers myself using GIMP, a free open source photo manipulation software. As for formatting, each publisher has its own formatting and style guide that can make the process easier. I personally prefer the one at Smashwords, as it's more in-depth and works for all publishers. Once you learn proper formatting, the process of getting your manuscript ready for upload only takes a few minutes.

After you take all of these things into account, e-publishing is actually not all that difficult or expensive. But you have to put some work into it if you expect results.

4. Which publisher is the best? Kindle, Smashwords, etc?

Why not all of them? The key is getting your work into as many markets as possible. The beauty of Smashwords is that they will crank out your book into every file format. They will also distribute your work to places like Sony, Apple, Diesel, and Barnes & Noble. You can even get free or cheap ISBN numbers through them. However, distribution to these other stores through Smashwords can take a couple weeks, and they can also be slow on reporting sales through these other markets. So I like to upload to Smashwords and then Barnes & Noble and Amazon manually. That way, I'm in the top markets faster (where the big sales happen), and I can track those sales in real time.

Smashwords is also handy because they give you nice author pages, and they allow you to participate in more promotions and generate coupons. You can even make your work free if you want to (the other sites set a minimum price of $.99). They also have better sales analytics so you can track your downloads better. Smashwords is an essential tool in any e-publisher's toolbox.

These royalties were made possible by Amazon
5. What sorts of royalties do you get, and how often do you get paid? 

Things can vary slightly among publishers, but for the most part you get a 70% royalty on things priced $2.99 and higher, and 40% on things priced below that. Things change in foreign markets (Amazon UK and Deutsch all have different royalty rates because they have things like VATs and currency conversion rates to worry about, same with Canada), but it isn't a huge deal.

Royalties are generally paid out quarterly from the publishers. However, there are delays in paid sales from vendors Smashwords distributes to. So you might not get your money from the Apple store, for instance, at the same time you get paid by Smashwords for your direct Smashwords sales. It might take another month for those stores to pay Smashwords, which means those payments will be in the next quarter's deposits.

6. I wish I could buy your books, but I don't have a Kindle/Nook/iPad. Now what? 

Contrary to what you might think, you don't need either of these devices to enjoy an e-book. Yes, I know, it's certainly the more desirable way to do it. I have a Nook, and I adore the thing. However, if the purchase of such a device is out of your reach at the moment, you can download the Kindle and Nook reader apps for your computer free of charge. Also, if you happen to have an Apple or Android device (tablet or phone), you can also download the apps for that, and share your library between devices. I happen to love the Nook app for my Android phone, and often if I'm without my Nook device, you can catch me reading on my phone. I never thought that would be something I'd enjoy, but my phone's display is nice and big, and it's actually a comfortable experience for me.

If you purchase downloads from Smashwords, you can get them in HTML, Java, and PDF formats, all of which make it easy for you to read on your computer. So there are ways to enjoy ebooks that don't require the purchase of a dedicated device.

7. How do I decide what price to set my e-book at?

I discussed this to some degree in my last blog about why I'm currently giving my work away. But to sum it up, I believe that digital content should be priced in such a way that is compatible with current attitudes. People in general don't like paying for downloads at all if they can help it. I find $2.99 to be a fair price for a novel. Short stories, I'd price $.99, if I priced them at all. Keep in mind that when you're starting out of the gate, it's not going to be easy to get people other than your closest friends and family to invest in your burgeoning writing career. And if you are a writer, chances are, you're broke off your ass anyway and can't afford some kind of spendy marketing plan. And even if you could, chances are, you won't get a return on your investment anyway. Your writing is your best advertising, and the best way to entice people to read it is to make it as cheap as possible.

People might try to disagree with me, saying that a cheap ebook might reflect poor quality. I don't think that formula applies to digital content, where songs can be downloaded for a buck and awesome apps can be downloaded from Android or Apple mostly free of charge. I personally plan to always have a selection of free stories available on Smashwords, even when my sale ends after July. If they like my free work, they'll like my paid work too. Those writers who think they should never have to give their work away or at a price readers are willing to pay either are making bank on charging $5 per book, or are enjoying a readerless life at the top of their ivory towers. And if you're in this strictly for the money, then you're setting yourself up for perpetual disappointment. Worry about your karma first and your bank account later.

8. As a reader, how else can I support my favorite ebook authors?

Okay, I don't know if this is an actual question anyone would have, but I'm writing it and answering it anyway, because I think it's something important for all readers to know. If you have a favorite author who is struggling to get their work noticed, the very best thing you can do for them at this stage in their career is review, review, review. It doesn't have to be something long or involved. I just mean, after you finish reading the book, go to the site where you bought it and select the number of stars you thought it was worth. Or write a quick, "Loved it!" Or hell, even if you don't have something effusive to say, put that down too!  The important thing is just letting other people know you read it, because it can inspire other buyers to buy it too. Reviews, even the lackluster ones, are the best gift you can give a writer.

Who wouldn't buy an ebook off this guy?
9. What's the best way to promote my books?

This could inspire an entire blog topic all by itself. But I'll list the quick and dirty options here. Familiarize yourself with sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads if you haven't already. Offer your work up free of charge. Or, think up some fun giveaway contests related to the content of your book. If your book fits in with a particular holiday, for instance, maybe tie in a promotion with it. Also spend some time promoting work for your fellow authors, if you have the time. Do favors for them, and you may just get a favor in return. It's all about karma.

But perhaps the most important piece of advice I'd give to anybody who has a book to sell is this: don't spend too much time marketing your book. It makes you look like a self-absorbed writer. Not to mention a spammer. Instead, market YOURSELF. Make you the product. Show personality and realness, and be likable in some way. Make them want you to succeed. If you draw people to you, they may just buy your book. And if they buy your book and like it, they'll recommend it to other people. Your name is ultimately your brand, and you have to put yourself fully behind that brand by getting yourself out into the world and showing them that you're more than just a writer. They want to see the mind that's alive behind those pages. If you can't get people interested in the real you, then what makes you think they'll want to buy your book? People are connected through social media now more than ever, and they're not content with faceless names, let alone faceless names on book covers.

Some of the most famous authors in the world spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I can tell you this much: they hardly ever talk about their books.

10. Vampires are created that way? Seriously? What the hell were you smoking when you wrote that? 

(Okay okay, cheap self-plug alert. However, I ran out of questions, and my absolute insistence on nice, neat whole numbers meant I couldn't end this list at 9 questions). Alcohol and nicotine were my best friends when I wrote Scarlet Letters: The Tale of the Vampire Mailman. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, well then you'll just have to download yourself a copy  and find out exactly how vampires are created. It's available FREE on Smashwords until 7/31!


  1. Yes, but 9 is 3x3, and a lovely number in its own right :)

  2. Great article, Allison. Very informative. We need to talk about this on the show at some point.