5 Things Beginners Need to Know About E-Book Publishing


Amazon’s Kindle

The e-book publishing landscape is changing fast—with new services, new terms, and new formats.

Despite the pace of change, here are 5 things that have remained fairly constant this year—and that you must be aware of—before you undertake any kind of self-publishing process for e-reading devices. I promise to update this list should any of these facts change. (But don’t hesitate to leave a question or comment on this post at any time.)

  1. E-book publishing and distribution services (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble Nook, Smashwords, etc) are nonexclusive and do not take any rights to your work. That means you can use any or all of the services at the same time, and you can take down your work at any time. (You can also upload revisions/updates and change the price at any time you like.)
  2. There are single-device publishing/distribution services and multiple-channel distribution services, which can be used in tandem. Smashwords and BookBaby are examples of services that will distribute your e-book to multiple e-reading devices. Amazon’s KDP (Kindle) is an example of a single-device publishing service.
  3. Successful e-books generally require excellent cover design (appropriate for digital viewing and reproduction), appropriate pricing, and strong social currency (testimonials, reviews, blurbs). Appropriate pricing is constantly under debate, but for novels typically runs from 99 cents to $2.99.
  4. Amazon royalties favor pricing between $2.99 and $9.99. Authors who publish direct with Amazon Kindle will receive a 70% royalty if they price between $2.99 and $9.99. Pricing above or below that range means a 35% royalty. You are not allowed to undercut Amazon’s price on other sites (and that includes your own site).
  5. Calibre is free e-book conversion software used widely by people in the industry to output e-book files from many types of sources. However, this software might prove intimidating to an inexperienced user. To avoid handling the technical aspects of formatting and conversion for your e-book (especially if you have a range of styles or illustrations used in your book), use a service such as BookBaby, which charges a flat fee to get you going.

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Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
Posted in E-Books.


  1. Pingback: 5 Things Beginners Need to Know About E-Book Publishing | Jane Friedman | L'Editeur optimiste | Scoop.it

  2. CreateSpace (Amazon’s self-publishing arm) charges $69 to format your paperback book published with them to a Kindle format. It was so worth it after stumbling around myself trying to do it. They did an amazing job and now my book looks professionally done.

  3. Pingback: 5 Things Beginners Need to Know About E-Book Publishing | Jane Friedman | Writing and reading fiction | Scoop.it

  4. Great stuff. The only thing I would ad to #5 is for people to give the word processing software Scrivener by Literature and Latte a try. I’ve been using it for almost two years now, and have no idea why everyone isn’t. While originally for Mac, they do have a Beta for PC. The back end of the software can compile my manuscript into any format (.mobi, pdf, epub, doc, html, etc.) The software is extremely affordable and very powerful.

    Smashwords still requires that I convert to .doc and then do a bit more tweaking from there. This means that whenever readers point out a “where” that should be a “were” I have to fix it in Scrivener and Word in order to re-upload across the board.

    It took me several hours to get the hang of about 60% of the compiling capabilities, but now I can format for anything in minutes.

  5. I’ve been interested in #3, but I’m not sure everybody I talk to has the same definition of “excellent”. I think the traditional publishing world has some old saw they rely on (“red and yellow”, etc.), but other than that, I’m not sure what cover qualities are objectively great. I’ve seen some very, very bad covers (in my opinion) selling like hotcakes, and some really good ones that can’t buy a reader.

    Any suggestions for resources that could help me learn a bit more about cover design?

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  10. Step #1 is probably the most important as far as expanding your market. Be careful of create space though. They have some ridiculous prices on distribution packages that don’t even do all the work for you. 

    Createspace’s deal for kindle to PDF conversion is alright, but a lot of authors prefer to work from the original word document which can include more formatting and style options than the converted mobi. I’ve found a good resource for converting from word to a createspace specific PDF is http://www.beginnerebookpublishing.com

    Great blog! 

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  16. As a total newcomer to the Self-Publishing process, I’m not certain where to go once I have done the basic formatting suggested for my original Word.docs. Where can I look for the proper software to upload my work, in order to see how my editing and formatting converts to an e-Book presentation. I’m looking forward to being able to upload my first books and to determine if I am making proper lay-out decisions.

    • If you use Amazon KDP & Smashwords (the most popular combination of services), then you upload your Word doc and can evaluate how it gets converted by their systems before going live with the product. They also each offer formatting guidelines to ensure the smoothest and most professional conversion.

  17. Pingback: How to Publish an E-Book: Resources for Authors – Jane Friedman - Once Upon A Sketch

  18. Thanks for all the advice, but to me the more I read, the more complicated is the work and more choices I need to make.

    Is there someone who will just take my story, convert it, and upload it up to the most significant distributors, and take for example a 30% commission for their work?

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  20. Jane, your site is so helpful. I am still in the writing stage, but thought it’s never too soon to start my research. I’ve never published any thing before and didn’t know where to begin. You’ve given me much to work with. thank you

  21. Pingback: How to Publish an E-Book: Resources for Authors | Jane Friedman | Teachers Tech

  22. Jane – Seems like you’ve done some great and thorough writing on this subject. Before I delve fully in and read it all – would you say that everything (or at least most) of what you’ve written about publishing e-books applies the same if we’re talking about an e-single? Thanks.

  23. Pingback: 5 Things Beginners Need to Know About E-Book Pu...

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  27. Wonderful article,

    I personally struggle with formatting and do not like paying the expensize prices for formatting services. So I now use Ultimate Ebook Creator to format all my ebooks and it’s very easy and powerful to use.

  28. Thanks for the great advice. I just finished chapter one, so this page will be returned to in the near future.

  29. Pingback: How to Publish an ebook by b Jane Friedman | A Book is Born

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  31. Hi Jane,
    Thank you for all your great advice!!! Do similar principles apply to Children’s books? Could I use a service like you spoke about and just give them the manuscript, illustrations and audio and they do the rest? Just like the person that commented earlier, I’d rather spend my time writing…
    Kind regards, Kirstie

    • To some extent. You would need to choose a service that has the ability to handle illustrations and/or multimedia, such as Vook. However, most of them expect you to do some work. You can also take a look at iBooks Author—it’s a self-serve software/system, but it’s mean for everyone to use and isn’t complicated.

  32. One item I would add is hire professionals. Lots of free software, lots of free advice, but quality counts more then ever and poor quality done by bad software or outdated info really shows. Just like your car/truck, some things you can do alone, put air in the tires, etc, but not many want to attempt a brake job or even change oil. That’s where pros come in, editors, agents, designers for print, ebook, covers. Professionals in these roles understand the changing landscapes and especially for beginners, it’s great to work with them as they have often worked with hundreds of others before you.

  33. I wish it were 50% royalty for books priced under $2.99, but it’s actually 35%. (I’m not sure if the same is true for books priced above $9.99.) Great tips, though!

  34. Note that #1 isn’t true if you decide to go with Amazon’s “KDP Select” service. This program is optional, but Amazon promotes it heavily to KDP authors. If you accept this program you’re giving up your right to publish through other outlets.

  35. Hi Jane, I’ve read many of your blogs on indie publishing. I have a 5-book series written, where four out of the five are finished. I’m at the point of polishing off the first two and want to get them up for sale by Christmas season. I’m a reluctant author, by way of having “inherited” a story line from Above. I have a dream, and it is NOT to be an author by trade, but these books are only a gateway to my real dream. I am an philanthropist wanna-be in training. This series that was “dropped” into my head, is far beyond what I am capable of writing, so there’s definitely a “supernatural” aspect to it. In other words, God dropped this story line in my head, and I’m compelled to publish it in order to achieve my Jubilee Dream. It is the ONLY reason I’ve jumped into the authorship pool, trying my best not to drown, but to float successfully. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Loves-Muses/326814090757380

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