How to publish an e-book

Life is full of opportunities to learn and teach. So, when the mood struck me to publish an e-book, I took it as an opportunity to have a good time and learn about the process. There are lots of blogs on this process, but somehow none of them told me quite what I wanted about the whole sequence, so I’m posting my own experience here. Good luck!

First, a flow chart showing the steps I took.

Second, the steps themselves.

Note that I chose to take a long, reasonably thorough route that provides for sale through various venues.  If you just want to sell on Amazon, they offer explicit directions on how to do that using just Word.  You can download a Kindle book on it, or just start here. If you want to be a little more thorough, here’s what I did.

1. Writing

Write your material, get it critiqued, polish it, and finalize it. I did the writing in Word and the critiquing at OWW.

2. Publishing as…

I chose to set up (in a purely nominal sense) a publishing firm consisting of two parts: Metaphorosis Publishing, and its subsidiary, Metaphorosis Books. This is in part to allow for the possibility that I may someday want to publish other people’s books, or start an online magazine.  It’s nominal in the sense that it’s just a name – it’s not incorporated, registered, or in any other way officially acknowledged. It is helpful to have such a name though, for ISBN, Amazon, and others.

3. ISBNs

If you want your book to have that official look, you’ll want an International Standard Book Number – that long string of numbers that identify your book.  You need one for each edition (e.g., print, MOBI, ePUB).  For the US, the ISBN sales monopoly is held by Bowker. You can buy ISBNs from them via (    One for $125, ten for $250, 100 for $550.  Once signed up, the website is reasonably user friendly, and allows easy tracking and management of your ISBNs.  You can also buy bar codes, if you’re going to physically print your book.

4. LOC

If you want a Library of Congress Record, you have to apply for it, through a non-user-friendly site.  There are two forms – if you hit the one that requires you to enter three books, that’s the wrong one. Go here, and click on the Application to participate. They’ll write back to you with a login and password.  Follow their e-mailed instructions, and they should eventually send you a record card.  (I haven’t gotten mine yet).  The whole process takes a while, so do this first if interested.

5. Text preparation

You already have your base text, nicely formatted in Word.  Paste that into Sigil, or save it to HTML, and you have … not quite gibberish, but a document with a lot of extraneous garbage.  Instead, save it from Word as filtered html.  Open that file in Sigil, and look at the HTML.  It starts with a style definition, including all the files you had defined in your Word template, but didn’t use. Create a new stylesheet by right clicking in ‘CSS’ in Sigil.  Now take all of the Word style definitions and paste them into the new stylesheet.  Delete the unused bits, tweak the rest, and add a stylesheet reference back in the main text file. It’s long and slow, but much easier than it sounds. You end up with a clean text that you understand.  Then, break the text into chapters in Sigil, and add the table of contents.

6. The cover

I’m no graphic designer, but that need not be an insurmountable barrier.

  • Image source – You can use Google advanced image search to search for photos that are free, alterable, and available for commercial use (this is a specific option). 
  • Size – while one site recommends 600×800 as suitable for most media, I learned (painfully) that Amazon recommends a minimum of 1,000 pixels on the longest edge, and prefers 2,500 pixels.  The ratio of long to short should be 1.6:1 for Amazon.
    If you plan to use CreateSpace to make a print-on-demand book, make sure to save all of your base images as at least 300 dpi.  Ideally, work from an image that’s at least 13″ x 9.5″ (front and back) and 300dpi.
  • Composing – I used to put everything together, because it allows the use of layers, and is generally easy to use.
  • Titles – allows only basic text formatting.  So, I used Powerpoint to generate WordArt (much better in Office 2010 than in 2003.).  Note: if you copy WordArt from Word or Powerpoint, it generates a bitmap that is harder to edit and has a white background.  If you R-click the WordArt object in Word, and save as picture, it has a white background.  If you do the same from Powerpoint, the picture has a transparent background – crucial for titles.  Open the resulting JPGs in to crop the image, then paste as a new layer in the cover itself.  You’ll need JPGs to upload to Bowker and Amazon, as well as to embed in the book itself.

7. Final prep

I put everything together in Sigil (including both metadata and semantics).  An ePUB is basically a set of (x)html files, and I chose to create separate files for each chapter.  ‘Semantics’ allows you to set a file as ‘cover page’, ‘title page’, etc.  I don’t think that does much on the Kindle, but the ‘text’ property defines which page your e-book opens on. On your cover page, you may want to set the image width tag to 100%, so that it stretches or contracts to fit available space.

8. Conversion

Amazon’s AZW files are really modified MOBI files.  After using Sigil, you have an ePUB document.  You need to convert that to MOBI, and Calibre is the tool to use.

9. Amazon

  • Agreement – I signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing, which was moderately straightforward. I also signed up for the Kindle select option, which requires 90 days exclusivity. It offers 5 free days of promotion, which seems to boil down to 5 days when your book is downloadable for no charge (and of course you make no money).
  • Upload – Enter data about your book, upload it, and upload the image..
  • Royalties – you can choose 35% or 70%. I chose 70% – the drawbacks seem to apply mostly to shipping fees, and I’m only selling an e-book. It does mean that your price has to be $2.99 or above.
  • DRM – I chose not to have any.
  • Review – Once you’ve worked through everything, Amazon says it needs 12 hours to review your book.
  • Pricing – I selected $2.99, since this I was publishing a short novella, and $2.99 was the minimum permitted. I chose automatic conversion to other currencies.  However, viewed from another country, when not logged in to my Amazon account, the prices showed as $4.99.
  • Author page – Once the review is finished and the book is live, you can set up your Amazon Author page to provide a bio, etc.

You’re done! Congratulations.

10. Print on demand

There are all sorts of print-on-demand sources, including:

  1. CreateSpace – an offshoot of Amazon
  2. Lulu
  3. Lightning Source

You can find comparisons all over the web. I’ve only tried CreateSpace, which was easy. You’ll need a large image (13″x9.5″, 300dpi, with nothing important in the outer .5″), and a well-formatted Word file or PDF.  I found that CreateSpace converted my Word file nicely, but had problems with a PDF Word created from my Word file. The smallest book you can print is 6″x9″, unfortunately. I set the Word pages to that size, with mirror margins, and margins of 1.9 cm top, bottom, and outside, 1.27 cm inside, and a gutter of .33 cm. You’ll get several chances to review everything, and CreateSpace will take a couple of days to review your final input. You can choose Amazon and CreateSpace sales channels for free, or pay $25 for access to other channels and libraries.

To recap:

Other sources

As noted, I got general ideas and advice from a number of places.  Here are some that you might want to check out:

Since I first posted this, I’ve also found this very thorough guide.  He’s done things a little differently (no Sigil), but his method looks good. He also covers a whole host of other useful advice.

Next up

How to publish an audiobook?

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