By Dave Lieber
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Columnist
Are you ready to publish an e-book? When I decided this summer to jump in to this rapidly-growing market, I searched the Internet for an up-to-date guide showing how to do it yourself, who to contact and what the difficulties are.
Couldn’t find one.
So I made my own – for you, the columnist. Kept notes of my travails and graded each of the major e-book publishers based on their degree of difficulty.
My goal is to take my existing book — Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong — and convert it to the proper e-book format. Then I wanted to upload it to the top e-Book pubishers: Apple’s iBookstore; Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon’s Kindle. These four represent about 60 percent of the e-book market.
Important: You don’t need a physical book to create an e-book. You can skip that step and publish straight to e-book.
First, you need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for your e-book (separate from the ISBN you used for your printed book). You can buy the numbers from bowker.com either singly or in a group of 10 or larger. I suggest the bigger purchase since the price is better (around $200 for 10) and once you get your e-book business going, you won’t want to stop. (Note: Bowker tells customers to buy a separate ISBN number for each e-book file format; but I found that not to be the case.)
Next you have to get the book formatted the way it will appear on the screen. All e-books must start as a Microsoft Word document. (I hired my book designer to copy and paste the original book from her files into a Word doc.)
Checked with publishing expert Jerry Simmons, who creates the popular www.writersreaders.com website. He recommended firebirdwebdesigns.com to convert my Word document into the various formats. (Remember there’s no standardization in the industry; different e-book readers require different formats. Ugh.)
For less than $300, my Word doc was converted to these formats: PDB (Palm Database File); PDF, Mobi, LRF, ePub (the evolving standard), PRC (Palm Resource File) and HTML.
Firebird provided me with a starter sheet, too. Several of the platforms listed were no-go’s for me. I couldn’t make contact, let alone get e-published with Mobi Pocket Reader, Sony Reader, Microsoft Reader and Adobe Digital Editions. But they aren’t part of the top four anyway. Here’s how it worked with the major publishers — and my grade for them:
Uploading the file is easy. My submission was quickly accepted and placed on sale. There was one slight problem. The “Buy it on Kindle” label next to my hardcover book, also for sale on Amazon, was linked to the out-of-print 2008 edition and not the actual 2010 edition it’s based on. Eventually, after two tries, I got it fixed.
For degree of difficulty, Apple is as tough as Amazon is easy. Getting to the point, Apple has earned a failing grade. Why? Let me count the ways.
Information about the e-book process on Apple’s website is nearly impossible to find. When you call customer service, staffers don’t know much either. Apple is not responding to e-mail requests for help or information either.
But I kept calling and writing. When I finally got in the front door, I learned you must upload your book on a MAC, not a PC, using Apple’s iTunes Producer software. I borrowed a friend’s MAC.
After the upload, Apple did not acknowledge its arrival. My book was listed as “Pending” for a month, and nobody in Apple would answer my e-mails. Finally, it was listed as “Removed From Sale.” Apple never notified me. Finally, when I pestered for an answer, Apple, taking its sweet time, alerted me that my cover image was too small.
It’s clear that Apple wasn’t ready to enter the book business. It got slammed, fell behind and keeps changing the way it runs this new business. I’m patient. I really want my book available on the iPad. That’s why I started this process. But as of this writing, no can do.
Learn about the process at apple.com/itunes/content-providers. To get the iBookstore Publisher User Guide and create an account, start at itunes.com/sellyourbooks. If you have problems, call 1-800-275-2273 and ask for a “senior adviser.” Or try this e-mail address: email@example.com.
Barnes & Noble/NOOKbook
Gosh, this was easy. I opened an account at pubit.barnesandnoble.com, uploaded the book and it was immediately for sale on the website as a NOOKbook. Apple could take a few lessons from this enterprise. (E-mail help is available at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kobo (the Borders platform) rejected me outright because they require vendors to have “a minimum of 10 titles.” A kobo.com staffer wrote me, “We have been known to settle for 9 or even 8 titles; however the point here is that the work required on your part and on ours to get set up as a vendor doesn’t always make sense for a small handful of titles.”
If you don’t want to do it yourself, “digital aggregator” companies can help you. The best-known is smashwords.com. Other digital aggregators include authorsolutions.com, fastpencil.com and ebookit.com. I can’t vouch for them, but wanted to present them to you as options.
Dave Lieber is an investigative columnist at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He has written a monthly column for the NSNC newsletter and columnist.com since 1995. Find him on Twitter @DaveLieber and WatchdogNation.com.