My journey into eBook self-publishing

by Pamela Jean Herber

When I began my quest to self-publish short stories as eBooks I thought my wants were straightforward and reasonable. Well, they may be that. However, putting those wants into practice has lead me on a journey of shifting terrain, populated with obstacles.

In this post I’ll pass along some interesting finds along the way. I’ll ease up on the grumbling. I hope this will help others on their paths through the eBook, eReader, self-publishing landscape. I also hope to garner some wisdom from those of you in the know.

First, I will assume that writers are readers. Second, I will assume that the vast majority of readers these days are writers. Third, most of us are at least considering self-publishing. Fourth, the eBook reader market is exploding.

Onward.

The criteria I hope to meet

  • Publish independent of the big ebook sellers, which tie purchases to particular devices (iBooks↔iPhone, Amazon.com↔Kindle, Barnes & Noble↔Nook, etc.). The big sellers have given us tools to publish to the world quickly and easily. And they’ve made the purchasing and reading process dead simple. I don’t suggest boycotting these outfits in favor of selling independently. I suggest complementing them with smaller, more personal means of distribution.
  • Provide a streamlined, ad-light purchasing experience for readers, which handles the payment processing and eBook downloading for me.
  • Connect to eBook libraries that facilitate public, private and selected sharing of highlighting and comments of eBook passages. As a writer I welcome specific feedback. Even from trolls. They show me where I’ve hit a nerve. Mostly, I’d like to have the option of sending out reader copies in eBook form. Or even drafts of a WIP to a selected audience.

Methods that meet some of the criteria, most of the time

Email

Take that ePub you own the rights to, attach it to an email and then send a free copy out to your 300 closest friends. When a recipient clicks on the attachment from their device there’s a high probability they will be given a choice of ereaders to open it with. Although, I have to say, nothing is certain in the evolving eBook world. Of course, this method only applies to free samples and previously purchased items.

Smashwords: eBook distributor

Upload a word document to Smashwords and they will convert it to multiple eBook formats. Then they’ll distribute it to a long list of sellers including Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Sony. Smashwords also has its own store where purchased eBooks can be downloaded in multiple formats (ePub: most ereaders, mobi: Kindle, pdf, and more). The store isn’t as slick as most, but it’s functional. They also provide customers with detailed instructions on how to download and open eBooks for a variety of devices. Note: Smashwords doesn’t allow the eBooks it generates to be sold independent of their distribution network.

Of course, Smashwords isn’t the only eBook distributor out there. They are one of a few that don’t offer print services. They also don’t require money up front.

Check out these ShadowSpinners on Smashwords: Elizabeth Engstrom, Eric Witchey and Christina Lay.

Gumroad: digital media store

Gumroad is designed specifically for selling digital media, which includes eBooks, music, images and videos. Upload your eBook, set a price (free is an option) and save. Copy the URL of the eBook’s purchase page, and then create a link to it on your blog or website. Or insert it into an email. Easy. The customer clicks on the link, is presented with the option to purchase the book, and then the payment is processed through Gumroad. Let me know how it works out for you. Also, let us know about experiences with other digital media stores.

Readmill: eBook Reader & Community App for iPhone & iPad

I like Readmill because it provides a means to share highlights and comments with other people reading the same book. Pretty cool. I also like that I can upload a book and set it to private. It also allows for syncing with Kindle comments. The drawback? Readmill is only available for the iPhone and iPad. I hope that changes.

Aldiko: Popular eBook reader app for Android

Aldiko is popular with the Android crowd, but that’s all I know. Would like to hear from those of you with direct experience, especially as it relates to public and private sharing of books and comments. Also, how easy or difficult is it to add books to the library?

What am I left with?

Currently, I’m taking Gumroad for a test drive with a short story of mine. If you’re interested in checking out the Gumroad customer experience, download Ghost Story, by Pamela Jean Herber for free (or an amount of your choosing). I would love to know how smooth or clunky the process goes for you.

I’ve also uploaded the story to Readmill, where I’m a newbie. Don’t know if it’s possible to share an uploaded book. Anybody Readmill savvy?

My hope is that tools and communities supporting the above criteria will grow in popularity and sophistication. What has your experience been in this realm? What am I missing? What works? What doesn’t? Is the DRM-free eBook community growing or dying out? What should I try next?

8 thoughts on “My journey into eBook self-publishing

  1. Thanks for this, Pam. What a crazy, complicated world it has become! Do you have any preferred tool for the creation of an ebook? I’m thinking about entering that short story arena myself.

  2. As a reader, I prefer easy. I have had trouble downloading smashwords and after purchasing it, and not being able to easily access it on my kindle was frustrating! So I think that if you self publish it should be available on multiple formats. (even amazon : )

    • I agree completely with publishing to multiple sellers, including amazon. And in publishing in multiple formats. I won’t consider Ghost Story fully published until it has been.

  3. I hired booknook.biz to do professional-quality formatting of my Writing Subtext booklet for sale at Kobo, B&N, and Amazon. By the numbers, Amazon is by far the significant outlet. I’m champion of DIY for writers, and self-pubbed my first book in 1980, but I’ve sold out to Amazon for sales.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      I think we met several years ago at a writer function at Tsunami Books. Nice to hear from you.
      Are you saying that you have switched to using Amazon exclusively?

  4. Thanks for this post, Pam. I’ll have to check out these sites. Some are new to me.

    Christina, I just went through the process of publishing a short on Amazon. I used Word and then a text editor to do key formatting and html cleanup. Happy to share what I learned over coffee if you want, but this was one of the most useful sites for info I found:

    http://guidohenkel.com/2011/01/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting-part-vi/

    It’s a multi-post guide but this page was key for me in understanding formatting requirements.

    • Matt,
      Thanks for the link to Guido Henkel’s excellent eBook formatting series. His instructions are flawless and practical. Nice find. I’ve been using InDesign and Dreamweaver, which do the job. Unfortunately, they are expensive and take time to learn. I don’t recommend going that route for people starting out when more straightforward and less pricey tools are available.

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