To help you get started creating and selling e-books, you’ll need a handy list of tools and information to reference over and over again, so here’s an ever-changing and constantly growing list of e-book resources.
Understanding ePub Files
All you really need to know is that ePub is a standard file format for creating and distributing e-books. The idea is to allow e-books to run on any device (smartphones, tablets, computers, etc.) that can open an ePub file. The massive drawback is that such openness allows rampant piracy to occur, which is why many e-book retailers encrypt their files (a process known as Digital Rights Management or DRM) to make it difficult (but not impossible) to pirate e-books. In case you’re curious to learn more about the ePub file format, start with these sites:
- ePub Wikipedia entry — Briefly explains the history of the ePub file format standard.
- International Digital Publishing Forum — Official site promoting the ePub file format as a universal e-book standard.
Although ePub is the official e-book standard, Apple has created their own proprietary file format for interactive e-books called iBooks. You can still sell ePub files on Apple’s iBookstore, but if you create interactive e-books using Apple’s free iBooks Author program, you’ll be creating and selling your e-book in the iBook file format.
Basically the two e-book file formats you need to understand are ePub (used by everyone) and iBooks (only used by Apple’s iBookstore and only readable through the iBooks app that runs only on OS X and iOS). When you submit an e-book to sell through Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, or the Kobo e-reader, you just need to submit a single ePub file.
Amazon actually uses their own file format called .mobi, but if you submit an ePub file to Amazon, they’ll convert it to the .mobi (Kindle) format so you never have to worry about converting a file directly into the .mobi format yourself.
Online ePub Conversion Sites
You could buy special software to convert your word processor documents into ePub files, but there are actually free (yes, free!) online sites that will do this for you. Just upload your word processor document to these sites and they’ll send you back the ePub version of that same file. Unlike specialized software, these online ePub conversion sites may not give you much control over creating and customizing your ePub files, but since they’re free, give them a try and see how they work.
- Online Convert
- Zamzar — Only converts PDF (Portable Document Format) files into ePub format
ePub Creation Software
Not all word processors can create ePub files, so you may need to buy special ePub file conversion software if you don’t use an online ePub conversion site instead. Here’s a list of software to consider if you want to create ePub files. Just keep in mind that most ePub creation software will take time to learn because they rarely work as easily as you might hope. With the exception of Pages, be prepared to fiddle around with the technical details of creating an ePub file if you use any of these other ePub creation programs.
- Pages (OS X only) — Pages is Apple’s free word processor that comes with their iWork office suite. To get a free copy of Pages, you either need to buy a new Macintosh or you need an older Macintosh capable of running OS X 10.9 Mavericks, which is also free if your Macintosh is new enough to run it. With Pages, you can directly export your documents in the ePub file format.
- Calibre (Windows, OS X, and Linux) — Calibre is a free e-book creation program that can turn practically any word processor document into an ePub file. The drawback is that it’s just another program you’ll have to learn to use to convert your word processor documents into ePub files. Since the program is free, you have nothing to lose but time to try it.
- Sigil (Windows, OS X, and Linux) — Sigil is a free editor to help you create ePub files from scratch rather than convert existing word processor documents into ePub format. Still, you could just use your favorite word processor to write your e-book and then copy and paste the text into Sigil.
- eCub (Windows, OS X, and Linux) — eCub is a free program that lets you copy and paste your word processor text into eCub to turn into an ePub file. The eCub program is free as a way to introduce you to its more powerful, but commercial version called Jutoh, which lets you create your e-book directly in the program. Try eCub for free and if you like it, then consider buying Jutoh.
- Adobe InDesign (Windows and OS X) — InDesign is a powerful program designed for professional desktop publishers who need to create magazines and books. Like Pages, InDesign can also export files into ePub format. If you need professional-level desktop publishing, then you’ll want InDesign. For most people, InDesign is way too complicated to learn and use.
- Book Creator (iOS on iPad) — Book Creator is a unique e-book creation program that runs entirely on the iPad so you can create an e-book on your iPad and submit it to Apple’s iBookstore without ever touching a regular computer.
After you create an ePub file, you might want to verify that it actually follows the ePub file standard. If it doesn’t follow the ePub file standard, there’s a chance that certain e-reader devices and software won’t be able to open and properly display your e-book. Here’s a list of different ways to validate your ePub file:
- ePub Checker — Free download for Windows, OS X, and Linux.
- ePub Validator — Free service that lets you upload an ePub file to see if it passes all ePub standards.
If you plan to sell your e-book through Amazon’s Kindle e-book store, you should download and run Kindle Previewer (Windows and OS X). This free program from Amazon lets you preview how your e-books will look on a Kindle or in Kindle software running on computers and mobile devices. By testing your e-books in the Kindle Previewer, you can make sure your e-book displays text and graphics correctly.
Just be aware that e-books displayed in the Kindle Previewer won’t look exactly the same as they look when viewed on an actual Kindle e-reader or in Kindle software running on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Specifically, the Kindle Previewer program doesn’t display links from a table of contents to different chapter headings correctly, but the Kindle Previewer can help you spot major flaws in your e-books.
HTML5 Software for Creating iBook Author Widgets
HTML5 is a programming language standard for creating interactivity on web sites and also in interactive e-books created by iBooks Author. You can create HTML5 animation by writing code by hand using an ordinary HTML editor like Dreamweaver, but it’s probably far faster and easier to use a program that can create HTML5 files for you. All programs cost money unless otherwise stated as free.
- Google Web Designer (Windows and OS X) — A free HTML5 animation creation program designed mostly for creating interactive ads for display on a web page, but you can use it to create any type of animation.
- Keynote (OS X) — Apple’s free presentation program for the Macintosh that’s considered similar but superior to Microsoft PowerPoint. You can either choose to insert a Keynote presentation directly into an iBooks Author document or export your Keynote presentation as an HTML5 file.
- Hype (OS X) — An HTML5 animation creation program designed by former Apple engineers. If you use Hype, you can also use their free Hype Reflect app for iOS, which lets you connect an iPhone or iPad to your Macintosh and see exactly how your HTML5 animation looks on an iPhone or iPad screen.
- Easy Timeline (OS X) — An interesting program that creates timelines so you can display the progression of events. Then you can export your timeline to an iBooks Author widget that you can insert into an iBooks Author document. If you like the features of EasyTimeline, you might want to upgrade to the more complicated version known as Timeline 3D.
- Motion Artist (Windows and OS X) — An HTML5 animation program designed for creating interactive comic strips, although you can easily adapt it for any other purposes outside of the comic book field.
- Object2VR (Windows, OS X, and Linux) — By including different views of the same object, Object2VR can export an interactive HTML5 that lets you rotate an object to view it from different angles.
- Pano2VR (Windows, OS X, and Linux) — By including adjacent views of the same scene, Pano2VR can export an interactive HTML5 that lets you scan a panoramic view from left to right and right to left.
- HyperStudio Author (OS X) — Based on Apple’s old HyperCard, HyperStudio lets you create stacks of cards to make slideshows and animation that you can export as a widget.
- iAd Producer (OS X) — You’ll have to sign up for a free developer’s account to get iAd Producer, but iAd Producer can create iBooks Author widgets as well as creating interactive ads. iAd Producer contains plenty of templates to make creating widgets fast and easy with little or no coding involved so it’s a fast way to create custom widgets for your iBooks. Best of all, iAd Producer is free.
iBook Author Widget Libraries
While iBooks Author comes with a handful of widgets you can use and customize, you may need to buy additional widgets that do more than what iBooks Author can offer.
- Book Widgets — A site where you can download a free widget-making program so you can test them in your own iBooks. If you plan on using these widgets in any iBooks you distribute, you’ll have to pay a licensing fee.
- Bookry — A site that offers free widgets with the option of paying a license fee to remove the company’s own branding from each widget.
Where to Sell Your E-Books
Once you’ve created an e-book, you can sell it yourself or you can sell it through one of the following e-book stores. Many people sell e-books themselves when they have a specific audience that trusts that person or business. If you don’t have an existing customer base already, most people will likely sell their e-books through one of the following e-book retailers:
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing — Amazon’s Kindle publishing program is the largest e-book retailer around that pays the most generous royalty rate (70% for e-books priced between $2.99 – $9.99 and 35% for e-books priced outside that range while almost everyone else openly pays a 65% royalty rate), so you should definitely create an Amazon account and submit your e-book for sale as a Kindle e-book. Just upload your e-book in a popular file format such as .doc/.docx Microsoft Word, PDF (Portable Document Format), .rtf (Rich Text Format), or .epub file and Amazon’s site will convert it to a Kindle e-book. Then upload a cover image for your e-book along with a description of your e-book. You can’t afford not to sell your e-book through Amazon’s Kindle.
- Apple’s iBookstore — While submitting e-books and selling them through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program is quick and easy, selling e-books through Apple’s iBookstore is the complete opposite with lots of hurdles to overcome. First, you’ll need to set up an iTunes Connect account. Then you’ll need to submit your e-book for Apple’s evaluation, which insures that your e-book has no obvious errors, the graphics look correct when viewed on an iPad in landscape and portrait orientation, and doesn’t violate any of Apple’s policies such as hate material or pornography. For each e-book you submit to iBookstore, you’ll need to assign a separate ISBN that you’ll need to purchase from Bowker Services for at least $125. Finally, you’ll need to submit your bank account information and tax ID number (such as a Social Security number). Then you have to use Apple’s free iTunes Producer program on a Macintosh to submit your e-book. After submitting your e-book, you’ll need to wait several days for Apple to approve or reject your e-book. If they reject your e-book, you’ll need to fix the errors and resubmit the e-book all over again. Despite these numerous hurdles, iBookstore is growing quickly as more people buy and use iPads and Macintosh computers. Everyone should sell e-books through Amazon’s Kindle since it won’t cost you anything to do so. Only after your e-books start selling regularly should you consider selling through Apple’s iBookstore as well. Otherwise the cost of getting an ISBN for your e-book won’t be worth selling an e-book that doesn’t even sell well on Amazon.
- Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press — After submitting an e-book for sale through Amazon, you should also sell the same e-book through Nook Press since it’s just as easy to submit an e-book and won’t cost you anything to do so. Unlike Apple’s iBookstore that requires you to purchase an ISBN for each e-book you want to sell, neither Amazon nor Nook require you to pay anything to submit an e-book. The Nook market is far smaller than Amazon’s market, but you might as well submit your e-book to Nook as well since it won’t cost you anything and gives you a chance to reach additional potential customers.
- Kobo Writing Life — Although Amazon dominates in the United States, most of the rest of the world uses Kobo e-reader tablets. After you submit an e-book to Amazon and Nook, you should also submit the same e-book to Kobo as well. Like Amazon and Nook (and unlike Apple’s iBookstore), you don’t need to buy an ISBN for any of your e-books so you can submit and sell your e-book at no additional cost. Since the market share of Kobo is greater overseas where English may not be the dominant language, don’t expect lots of sales, but you might as well reach more potential customers by taking a few minutes to set up a Kobo account and upload your e-book to the Kobo online bookstore.
The basic strategy is to sell your e-book first through Amazon Kindle since it’s fast, easy to do, and won’t cost you any extra money. Then take that same e-book and sell it through Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press and Kobo Writing Life, realizing that both Nook Press and Kobo Writing Life will reach far fewer potential customers than Amazon. When you see which of your e-books sell regularly, that’s the time to invest money in buying an ISBN for your e-book so you can sell it through Apple’s iBookstore.
When selling an e-book through Apple’s iBookstore, you’ll have greater success if you take the time to add interactive features such as audio, video, or simple animation. Ideally, you should use Apple’s free iBooks Author program on a Macintosh to create an iBook (an interactive e-book) and then use Apple’s free iTunes Producer program to submit your e-book to Apple for approval.
Submitting Your Website to a Search Engine
One way to promote your e-book is through your own web site. To make sure your web site appears on a search engine, here are the sites you need to visit to tell a search engine that your website even exists:
- Amazon Associates — Amazon’s affiliate program that’s free to join so you can create affiliate links that give you a commission if someone clicks on your link and buys something from Amazon.
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing — Amazon’s free e-book publishing service for selling e-books through Amazon.
- Apple ID — An account you must set up with Apple, tied to a credit card, that lets you shop on Apple’s App Store, iTunes, and iBookstore. You must also create an Apple ID to create an iTunes Connect account if you wish to sell e-books through Apple’s iBookstore.
- CreateSpace — Amazon’s print-on-demand division that lets you submit a manuscript that CreateSpace will print and sell to customers.
- .doc — An older file format used by Microsoft Word 2003 and earlier versions. Although this file format is considered obsolete, nearly all programs know how to open and read .doc files so this can be the safest file format to use when sharing word processor documents between programs.
- .docx — A newer file format used by Microsoft Word 2007 and newer versions including Microsoft Office 2008/2011 for the Mac.
- DRM — Digital Rights Management, a form of encryption designed to limit potential piracy of e-books by making it difficult to share e-books from one device to another.
- E-book spam — A process where unethical people flood an e-book retailer like Amazon with content either legally purchased for republishing or stolen from existing copyrighted works. By flooding an e-book market like Amazon, e-book spammers can make a little money off each spammed e-book they post for sale.
- .epub — A universal file format designed for creating, sharing, and displaying e-books.
- HTML5 — A technical standard for defining a programming language that creates interactivity on web sites and in e-books such as Apple’s iBook format.
- iBook — Apple’s file format for interactive e-books that combine animation, video, and audio with static text and pictures.
- iBook Author — Apple’s free program for creating interactive e-books (iBooks) for the iBookstore.
- iBooks — Apple’s free e-book reader software for reading PDF files and e-books on iOS devices (the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) and Macintosh computers.
- iBookstore — Apple’s e-book store for selling to iOS devices (the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) and Macintosh computers.
- ISBN — International Standard Book Number used to uniquely identify a particular book in a specific format. You’ll need one ISBN for a hardcover book, a second ISBN for a paperback version of that same book, and a third ISBN for an e-book version of that book. The only e-book retailer that requires that you purchase an ISBN for each e-book you want to sell is Apple’s iBookstore.
- iTunes Connect — Apple’s website that you must join if you want to sell anything through Apple’s iBookstore, iTunes, or App Store.
- iTunes Producer — Apple’s free program for submitting content for sale through Apple’s iBookstore, iTunes, or the App Store.
- Kindle — An e-reader tablet sold by Amazon. Amazon offers free Kindle reader software for nearly all major operating systems such as Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android so you can read Kindle e-books on practically any device.
- Kindle Format 8 — A new Kindle e-book format that allows limited forms of interactivity.
- Kobo — An e-reader tablet sold by Kobo. Like Amazon’s Kindle, Kobo also offers free Kobo reader software for nearly all major operating systems such as Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android. Since Kobo is far less popular than Amazon’s Kindle in America but more popular overseas, Kobo e-books tend to sell far fewer copies than the same e-book sold on Amazon’s Kindle.
- Kobo Writing Life — Kobo’s free program for submitting e-books for sale through Kobo’s e-book store.
- .mobi — An older e-book file format that Amazon adopted for their Kindle tablet and software. When you submit an e-book to Amazon, Amazon’s site actually takes your file stored in a .doc/.docx, .epub, or .pdf format and converts it to the .mobi file format.
- Nook — An e-reader tablet sold by Barnes & Noble. Like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble also offers free Nook reader software for nearly all major operating systems such as Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android. Since Nook is far less popular than Amazon’s Kindle, Nook e-books tend to sell fewer copies than the same e-book sold on Amazon’s Kindle.
- Nook Press — Barnes & Noble’s e-book publishing site that’s free to join so you can sell e-books through the Nook’s e-book store.
- .pdf — Stands for Portable Document Format, a universal file format created by Adobe that lets you see and share documents that include all formatting and page layout exactly as if you had printed the page out. The standard program for viewing PDF files is Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader program. Although PDF files are useful for displaying e-books, they mostly display static text and pictures.
- Print-on-demand (PoD) — A service that only prints copies of a book when someone buys it, which avoids keeping a large inventory of books around.
- .rtf — Stands for Rich Text Format, which is a universal file format designed to share word processor documents between different programs and computers while retaining all formatting. If you need to share documents between different word processors, try storing your documents in the older .doc Microsoft Word format first. If that doesn’t work, then try storing documents in the .rtf file format instead. Finally if that doesn’t work, save your document as a Text file, which preserves all text but strips away all formatting such as fonts and bold.
- .txt — Stands for Text file, also called ASCII files. Text files contain text but no formatting of any kind.