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How to Publish an eBook

Writing.ie | Resources | Digital Publishing | Getting Published

Catherine Ryan Howard

For the last few years e-books have been revolutionising the publishing industry. In 2010 Amazon’s e-reading device, the Kindle, became its best-selling (and most gifted) product of all time and to date, Apple has sold something in the region of 17 million iPads, the hi-tech tablet computer that enables users to buy and read e-books through their iBooks application. E-books’ percentage share of the book market is growing at a remarkable rate.

Meanwhile the ease of publishing and selling e-books is opening up whole new worlds to writers at all stages of their career – best-selling authors are rejuvenating their back lists; others are finding readerships for previously rejected manuscripts; and self-published novelists, short-story writers and even bloggers are finding it remarkably easy to e-publish and sell their work.

mousetrappedAnd trust me: it’s worth your while. I self-published my travel memoir, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, in paperback in March 2010. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to release e-book versions as well. That first month, my e-book earnings were $11 (€8); I’d sold about 6 books. In January 2011, just 10 months later, I sold around 900 e-books, earning about $1,900 (€1,400). And my book is non-fiction – fiction writers are faring even better. Way better, in some cases. In the United States, a fiction writer called JA Konrath is selling 1,000 e-books a day and will earn the best part of a million dollars from them in 2011.

Now don’t you want to get onboard? This simple guide to basic e-publishing will help you do just that.


The beauty of e-book publishing is that it works for everything. As long as you price your e-book right, you can publish full-length books, novellas, short story or flash fiction collections, individual short stories – even your blog. As long as you own the rights, you can e-publish it.


I always recommend that writers publish their e-books simultaneously in two places: Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (previously Digital Text Platform). This will ensure that your book will become available for all major e-reading devices and on all major e-book stores. Just remember to set the same list price for your book on both sites.


In my experience, e-books will not sell unless they are priced significantly lower than their print counterparts. Mine is $2.99 (working with Smashwords and Amazon, all prices will be set in US dollars). Most of the e-books that sell in significant numbers are priced between 99c – $4.99 (with the exception of major titles released by publishing houses). You want your book to be priced low enough so that e-book readers will be encouraged to ‘take a chance’ on it, but not so low that you send them a subliminal message that the book isn’t worth much. Remember: the royalty rate on e-books is 70% in most cases and you have no manufacturing costs to pay.


To publish an e-book on Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you will need the following:

-· A correctly formatted interior file (i.e. your manuscript) – see below for instructions

-· A cover file in JPEG form. Use a picture or get someone with a little know-how to make one for you. Remember a good cover is just as important to an e-book as it is to a print book.

-· A blurb and ‘About the Author’ description for your book (max 4000 characters)

-· A Paypal account (so Smashwords can pay you)

-· If you don’t already have them, sign up for free Amazon and Smashwords accounts.


To publish your e-book, you’ll upload a Microsoft Word file to Amazon and Smashwords and they will then convert it into the correct e-book formats. In order to make this work correctly, you have to prepare your manuscript in a very specific way.

In e-books, there is no page. In the words of Smashwords’ Style Guide:

“E-books are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your e-book look like an exact·facsimile of a print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted,·unreadable e-book.·

With print, you control the layout.· The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want·them to appear.·With e-books, there is no “page.”· By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your·readers gain much more in return.·Page numbers are irrelevant.· Your book will look different on every e-reading device.· Your text·will shape shift and re flow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader·to customise the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book·looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment.·By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers·can enjoy them.·At Smashwords, the motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to·consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point·Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background colour, and triple spaced lines.”

For example: in my e-book, there are less than twenty page breaks. This is because I only inserted them after the end of each chapter. I did this because I know that my “page” has no relationship whatsoever with what my readers will see when they open Mousetrapped on their e-reading devices. Your goal is to make your document flow, like a scroll rather than a sheaf of pages.

So are we ready? Good. Let’s go!


Step 1: Prepare Your Manuscript

Open your manuscript file, whether it be the plain old Word document you and your editor have been working from or the interior of your POD paperback, all laid out nice and stuff, and eliminate anything that just doesn’t work in an e-book. You can either let them go, or leave the pure text in there to do a little work around with it later on, e.g. take the text out of a text box, delete the text box and put the text in a paragraph in all italics instead.

The following are e-books no-nos:

Automatic footnotes

Text boxes

Headers and footers



Any other fancy word-processing stuff.

Then click Edit -> Select All -> Copy.

Use a simple text editor program, like TextEdit.

Step 2: Go Nuclear

Now open a simple text editing program. If you have a PC, this will probably be NotePad; on Mac, it’s TextEdit. Paste your work into here. (On Mac, select “Paste and Match Style” so it matches the style of TextEdit, not the style of the text you’re pasting in as that defeats the purpose.) This will strip your work of all formatting and images. Once you’ve done that, click Edit -> Select All -> Copy. Then open a brand new MS Word document, save it as .doc (not .docx) and turn off Auto-Formatting and Auto-Correct by un-checking the boxes in Preferences. Paste the stripped text in and save.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Format by un-checking the relevant boxes in Preferences.
Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Format by un-checking the relevant boxes in Preferences.

Step 3: Style It Up

Working now in this new, start-from-scratch MS Word document, again with all text selected, go to Format -> Style. Your style will be set to Normal, but chances are that normal won’t be what you want. (It’s that damn horned demon again.) So click Modify and make Normal Times New Roman, point 10, left-aligned and single spaced. Click Okay to modify that style and then Apply.

Modifying your Normal style in MS Word.
Modifying your Normal style in MS Word.

Keeping all the text selected, then go to Format -> Paragraph and make the settings single line spacing with no extra space before or after, left-aligned with first line indent to 0.3″. So that it looks like this:


Save your document. Switch to Draft View (View -> Draft View) and make your paragraph returns visible (click the little paragraph return symbol in the toolbar that looks like a backwards P). Your book should now be looking like this to you:


Step 4: Put What You Need Back In

Now go through your document and put back in what you need in terms of formatting. Here’s what I do as I go through the book:

Insert e-book appropriate front matter including license notes, centered (tip: create a new, modified style where text is not first line indented but is centered – this will keep our formatting pristine all the way through).

What goes at the front of your e-book is not the same as what goes at the front of your print edition. You should have the title, your name and then your copyright notice. We’re going to use a Smashwords copyright notice and license note for this example but you can just modify as need be. NB: This is required for Smashwords upload, and it’s the only thing I’ll let you centre.


by Soon To Famous Author, i.e. Me

Smashwords Edition |·Copyright 2010 My Name

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. ·This ebook may not be re-sold or given·away to other people. ·If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase·an additional copy for each recipient. ·If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it·was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your·own copy. ·Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




If you need some centered text, for example for titles, don’t just click “Center.” Instead, go back to Format -> Style and create a New Style for this purpose.
If you need some centered text, for example for titles, don’t just click “Center.” Instead, go back to Format -> Style and create a New Style for this purpose.

Insert page breaks between chapters (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or between parts (fiction/20+ chapters). Because some formats ignore page breaks, always have a paragraph return above and below the break so that if this does happen, the text doesn’t get all squashed up. To insert a page break, select Insert –> Break -> Page Break.

Insert bookmarks at chapter headings (non-fiction/not a lot of chapters) or at the beginnings of sections or parts (fiction/20+ chapters) so you can create a working table of contents later, i.e. readers can click on the table of contents and be taken straight to a certain point in the book. Insert a bookmark by clicking Insert -> Bookmark and call it what it is, e.g. Chapter One, Part II, etc.

Inserting bookmarks. You can also see in this image that to start a new chapter, I simply skip a line and make my heading bold. Keep it simple!
Inserting bookmarks. You can also see in this image that to start a new chapter, I simply skip a line and make my heading bold. Keep it simple!

Format headings. For chapter headings I just use bold + italics and for section headings I switch the text to all caps and make them bold.

Put back in italics and/or bold where you need them in the body text.

                Remove the first line indent where necessary, e.g. the first lines of chapters, chapter headings, etc. (The quickest way to do this is by moving the slide rule at the top of the page, I think. Just be careful to only move the first line and not the whole paragraph.)

                Make all URLS live, i.e. Insert -> Hyperlink.

                Insert e-book appropriate end matter, such as links to your blog, the titles of your other books, etc. Your last line in the e-book document should be “###END###’ centered, so that the reader knows they have come to the end of the e-book.


Change your font size. All my e-books are now 10 point right the way through. I make text look different using only bold, italics and all capital letters.

Have more than four paragraph returns anywhere in your book. E-book reading devices allow readers to change their font sizes considerably and if you put too many paragraph returns, your readers will end up with blank pages at some font size settings. You really should never have more than one except for the pairs on either side of a page break, which technically aren’t together anyway.

Justify your paragraphs. Left-align is the only thing that really works properly across all formats.

Refer to retailers. Do you think Barnes and Noble is going to want a link to Amazon in your book? Hardly. I normally do two files, one for KDP (Amazon) and one for Smashwords. I keep the Smashwords file clean because it goes to so many different people, but in the KDP file I say things like, “Look out for [TITLE] in the Kindle store.”

Step 5: The Bells and Whistles

You can stop right here and skip to step 6, Upload and Check Your E-books, if you’re happy with your book as it is, or you can add in some bells and whistles, like:

The live table of contents in the e-book version of Backpacked. The links under the copyright notice/license notes link to the web, i.. my blog, Twitter account etc., but the links in the table of contents link to bookmarks, i.e. locations within the document.
The live table of contents in the e-book version of Backpacked. The links under the copyright notice/license notes link to the web, i.. my blog, Twitter account etc., but the links in the table of contents link to bookmarks, i.e. locations within the document.

A live table of contents. These are very helpful for non-fiction and reference books. The idea is that you insert a bookmark at the start of each chapter or section, go back to the start and type a table of contents and then make each entry in the table a live, working hyperlink that if clicked, will take the reader to the bookmarked location. To insert a link to a bookmark, click Insert -> Hyperlink and then in the window that appears, click “Document” for in-document links and select the appropriate bookmark.

Inserting images in e-books.
Inserting images in e-books.

Images. Yes, I’m talking about adding images to your e-books. Have I ingested some crazy pills? Didn’t I always say you shouldn’t put images in e-books? Didn’t I claim that trying to do it was just bringing on a world of pain? Well, when you use the nuclear option, images are easier to work with just because the body text is already behaving well. To insert an image, you must Insert -> Picture -> From File. (You cannot copy and paste.) You must ensure that the image’s layout is set to “in line with text.” To check, right-click the image and select Format Picture -> Layout. Keep the image small; I make sure mine don’t stretch further than 3 inches across the screen. Centre them for cohesiveness, and for safety, leave a page break before and after. In the image above, I created yet another style for the image caption. Don’t forget that for now, at least, most people read their e-books in black and white.

Work arounds. Everything that’s in your paperback can go in your e-book – you just have to use your imagination. Text boxes are easy: just take the text out and either give it its own paragraph with a return above and below, or just insert it like any other paragraph but in bold and/or italic. A formatting client of mine had a worksheet in her physical book – you can’t put that in an e-book (and there’s no point in doing it, anyway), so I advised her to make a PDF of it, and tell her e-book readers to go to her website to pick it up. They still get the worksheet and she gets a website visit. For footnotes, I went to the text where the footnote appeared in the physical book, went to the next paragraph return and then inserted it using square brackets (see highlighted section in the image below).

Adding footnotes manually (see highlighted section).
Adding footnotes manually (see highlighted section).


The only limit, really, is your imagination. For instance in my novel that’s out next month, Results Not Typical, there are several sections that are supposed to be branded literature from the company at the heart of the plot. They’re in a different font to the main text. In the paperback, those sections look like this:


But how to accomplish that in the e-book? Well, this was a true work around. I took a screen shot of the header as it appears in the MS Word document that forms the interior of my paperback book. Then I inserted that as an image into the e-book. The rest of the text, i.e. the rest of the text in each of those literature sections, will remain the same, but at least those image headers will alert readers to the fact that they’re different. So in the e-book, it looks like this:


Step 6: Upload and Check Your E-books

Checking your e-book is really easy and can be done with your Smashwords converted files. (When you upload to KDP you get to see an on-screen Kindle preview which is great but not ideal and anyway if it’s working at Smashwords, it’s definitely working over at KDP.)

Pre-nuclear: Ugh. It’s all, bad and stuff. Yuck!
Pre-nuclear: Ugh. It’s all, bad and stuff. Yuck!

Upload your file to Smashwords and while it’s converting, download Adobe Digital Editions and Amazon’s Kindle reading application (both free) to your computer. Then when your book goes live, download the .epub and .mobi (Kindle) versions from your book’s page and check them using the programs you just downloaded. If you followed the instructions above, they’ll look great. If they look anything other than great, immediately unpublish your books (click “Unpublish” on your Smashwords dashboard) and try again.

If you’re having problems, download the Smashwords Style Guide. Honestly, you don’t need anything else – if you follow its instructions, your book will look great on Smashwords and Amazon KDP. It’s where I found out everything I know about formatting, along with trial and error. And caffeine-induced epiphanies after a very long day of e-book formatting.

Post-nuclear: Oooh, look how pretty and correctly formatted and stuff!
Post-nuclear: Oooh, look how pretty and correctly formatted and stuff!

A note on sampling: e-book stores generally offer a free sample of the first 25% of your book. DO NOT DISABLE OR DECREASE THIS. It is just the same as being able to flick through a few pages of a book in a bookstore, and the more of the book a reader reads for free, the more they’re invested in it, and therefore the more like they are to pay to read the rest of it.

Upload Your Cover Image

Smashwords offers a lot of technical information about the required size, shape and quality of your cover image; I say ignore it. (I had to, as I didn’t have a clue what they were on about anyway.) Instead, follow Catherine’s Hit and Miss But Ultimately Simpler Way of Uploading Your Cover Image:

1. Get a JPEG of your book cover

2. Upload it

3. If it doesn’t upload, re-size it and try again

4.· Repeat as required.

If you don’t already have a print edition, chances are you won’t have a cover image. (Unless you’ve been doing some serious visualisation/vision board work.) Covers are just as important to e-books as they are to print editions; they give you a big clue about what level of quality you can expect to get in the book behind them. If all else fails, consider making something in MS Word or whatever word processing program you use, then save that as a PDF, then save the PDF as a JPEG. It won’t be a high resolution and it’s really the poor man’s way of doing things, but it’s better than nothing.

Congrats! You now have an e-book for sale.


According to Smashwords, the top 5 formatting errors are:

1. Improper indents. Don’t use tabs.

2. Repeating paragraph returns. No more than four empty lines together, and as few as possible.

3. Improper paragraph separation. I haven’t mentioned using the block paragraph style here because as a reader it makes my blood boil, but use either it OR first line indent. Using both equals disaster.

4. Font and style mistakes. Use the same, simple font throughout, no more than 2 or 3 font sizes and nothing bigger than pt 16.

5. Copyright notice mistakes. Don’t forget to include it, as above.

It took me a few tries to get my e-book right, and I found that the mistakes I was making included:

•· Using page breaks. Be ruthless; get rid of them except for the end of chapters

•· Using font sizes that were too large for chapter headings

•· Not having all my text set to ‘Normal’ paragraph style.

•· Not having my paragraph spacing set to ‘O’ between paragraphs, or not having the box checked for ‘Don’t insert extra space after paragraphs.’


Once everything has been okayed and converted, your e-book will appear for sale online. If you want to reach maximum coverage on Smashwords, you must submit your book for inclusion in their Premium Catalogue. If you do this, and taking into account your Amazon upload as well, your book will appear, in time, on:

•· Amazon.com

•· Amazon.co.uk

•· The Kindle store available to all Kindle owners through their devices

•· Smashwords.com

•· Sony E-Reader store

•· Kobo e-book store

•· Diesel e-book store

•· Apple’s iBooks (for the iPad, iPhone, etc.)

•· Barnes and Noble’s e-book store for Nook (US only).

You will be able to see how many units you’ve sold by checking your Amazon KDP and Smashwords accounts online. Amazon updates in almost real time; Smashwords once a month or so and on a delay.

You will get paid once every two months from Amazon by dollar (from US sales) or British pound (for UK sales) cheque, and from Smashwords once a quarter via Paypal. Both sites withhold 30% of royalties earned for US tax unless you provide them with alternative information. See here for details on how to avoid this.

And with any luck, you’ll become a best-selling e-book author in no time at all!



About the author

Catherine Ryan Howard is one of Ireland’s most successful self-publishers, she has been interviewed in The Sunday Times, interviewed on BBC and RTE Radio and on TV, and her book is just as good, buy Mousetrapped here.

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