There’s a ton of material online about how to publish an ebook and I’ve been rummaging through it for ages. Some of it’s quite confusing but if I can understand it, anyone can. I’ll publish my first ebook (a fairy tale) soon and that, I’m sure, will be my best learning experience.
Meanwhile, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned so far and try to get across my main point, which is that everyone should be doing this. I’d also love to talk to anyone who wants to do do an ebook and needs a friendly voice to talk them through the options (something I would have really valued over the last year). What I don’t discuss is the tricky subject of how to write a book but this article looks at writer’s block, the main reason for not doing it.
Amazon claim that their Kindle platform has revolutionised publishing. Now anyone with a manuscript and a cover image can publish an ebook.
A more useful description of the ebook “revolution” is that the distribution of books has been democratised (and there is an interesting story about Amazon’s failed attempt to monopolise that market).
It’s worth remembering that just a few years back the only new books that came out were from publishers. The cynical often say ‘now everyone is a publisher’ and ‘everyone’s writing a book’ but that is nonsense. It’s like saying everyone is a painter because paintbrushes are cheap and easy to come by. Actually writing a book involves a long journey through the deserts of self-doubt and the mountains of confidence.
The fact is that now we can all distribute e-books, if we just have the patience to read through the guidelines (some good ones can be found on Smashwords, a worthy challenger to Amazon’s attempted monopoly of the sector).
The problem is, how to get your book noticed? There are now millions of ebooks for sale on the internet and publishing companies, with their marketing departments, have the advantage. There are countless books on “how to make money with an e-book”, but I don’t believe in them. The ones I’ve read make it sounds too easy: they say things like ‘get thousands of enthusiastic followers on social networks and then sell them your book’ – advice that would be fine if you were a Paris Hilton with your own PR guru but is rubbish for mere mortals with a few hundred followers. (I use Twitter but am convinced that almost nobody sees my Tweets, which raises another question: why do I do it?)
Having explained some of the drawbacks to ebook publishing, I’d now like to offer five reasons why you should go for it.
Five reasons to publish an ebook
- It’s easy: If you can’t get publishers to give you the time of day (I know the feeling) this is an easy way to get your books out there. All you need is a manuscript, a blurb and a cover. Apart from publicity, the one tricky phase is typesetting but this is getting easier and a new e-book distributor – draft2digital.com — have a programme which makes it easy for anyone to do it. Kindle have also introduced a new programme for typesetting your own book.
- You’ve got nothing to lose: I have an inner voice telling me that my next book will fail. It’s held me back for years but when I accepted that I’m not going to get rich and famous, I was able to tackle the ebook challenge and now I’m about to publish my first one, and that will be followed by many more. Even if nobody buys a copy I can list it on my CV and this blog. If you’re not convinced, think about this question: would you rather your manuscript (or academic paper) sits on a shelf for the rest of your life or gets published?
- They’re great for families, students and organisations: there are some great stories in my family and I’m sure there are in yours too. Why don’t we write them down? I suspect it’s because our celebrity culture tells us it must be a bestseller or it’s a nothing. I’ve come to realise that, for family books, my family is my audience. As for organisations, why not turn your specialist reports into ebooks? And students — just organise your essays into themes, whack them into order and Bob’s your uncle (I wish I’d done that rather than chucking them all out).
- You can go global: the most exciting thing about ebooks is that you can get instant global distribution. People in Peking, Penang and Pennsylvania can download your ebook. Smashword is particularly useful for having signed up e-book distributors in other countries, like Flipkart in India. Rather than bitch and moan about Amazon’s attempted take over of world markets, why not take advantage and jump on the bandwagon? In fact, you can be like me and do both.
You can actually earn money: the secret to selling ebooks has little to do with social networks (non-celebrity authors confirm that their online ‘friends’ don’t buy their books and it makes sense as they’re not real friends after all). It’s all about niche and categories within the actual platform (e.g. Amazon). If you publish a novel or a poetry book you’re competing against millions of others and it may vanish without trace. But if you publish an ebook about fishing on the River Ythan you might find that you’re one of a select few who have an e-book on that issue (actually there are probably loads as the Ythan is a great Scottish salmon river and fishing is a subject that seems to generate millions of words).
I published a short version of this article on the blog of the Scottish Book Trust. You can see it here. If you’re wondering about publishing your tome in ebook form and would like some friendly advice just get in touch with me at wolfemurray [at] gmail.com (for a long time I yearned for friendly advice, which is really why I wrote this article).