But Why Would You…. Not Publish to All Bookstores???

I was stunned by an e-mail I got from a writer who said he seldom bothered to publish his work to Pubit (B&N) and Smashwords and trade paper format.

I was so stunned, I have yet to respond.

The Amazon Kindle store is a bookstore. A large one, with a few overseas small branches. It does great stuff and is easy for customers to use. No problem with that at all.

But it is not the only bookstore on the electronic book-selling planet.

B&N is a bookstore for electronic books as well, a large one that also gets out overseas in a limited way. Small publishers can go direct to that store through the Pubit connection.

Smashwords is a distributor that not only is a small bookstore in their own right, but also gets your books with very little problem to the iPad store that deals all over the world, Kobo’s many, many stores around the world, and Sony’s many stores around the world.

In other words, by simply uploading your book to one place, (Smashwords) you can hit thousands of bookstores in hundreds of countries around the world.

And then there are the thousands and thousands of bookstores that buy paper books from Createspace. Not only can you slowly put together a list of stores you go to directly as a publisher, but through the extended program, the bookstores can order your books through the major book distributors such as Ingrams and Baker and Taylor.

So I am just floored at the idea that any publisher would base their entire income on one bookstore. That is just not a sound business practice.

And thus, I suppose, that tells you what I think of the Kindle Select program.

Sorry, I just don’t understand the business thinking of limiting your sales. As a business person, it makes no sense at all to me.

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136 Responses to But Why Would You…. Not Publish to All Bookstores???

  1. SL Clark says:


    As you mentioned, loan = paid sale. What most don’t realize is “free” is a quasi sale in the Amazon database, meaning your free downloaded title filters into the “customer viewed” and “customer bought” trays below the description. This is also powerful placement, especially if you can fill those first four slots with your own titles. This is hard to maintain, because Amazon changes their website dynamically, seemingly every hour with ranking changes.

    Gotta agree on making any Top 20 list, that first page is powerful, even in a tiny sales arena like Women’s Fiction. Armed with a new pen name, my favorite writer is jumping into Konrath’s territory. ;-)

    FWIW, initial research indicates well defined, dark almost creepy covers out download light and fluffy, even in Women’s Fiction. A great cover is your sparkling face, then folks notice you speaking through your book’s description.

    See Joel Friendlander’s excellent monthly book design awards for inspiration & clarification:

  2. Beth says:

    Smashwords will actually download to B&N & Amazon for you. (The royalties aren’t the same). But it seems like if you wanted to avoid extra work and reach the widest audience that would be the way to go.

  3. Todd says:

    You’re probably already aware of this, but Joe Konrath’s latest blog post (1/18/12) lends some credence – kind of – to the “Amazon Only” approach.

    Joe said: “The majority of my sales come from Amazon and my ability to use the tools they provide.”

    Further, the very first comment to his post by a writer named Kathleen Valentine said: “Over the last five months my book sales have gone from 3-4 a day to 300-400 a day and it is all on Amazon using Amazon tools. I’ve come to the conclusion that B&N, Smashwords, etc. are virtually pointless for me. Learning to maximize Amazon tools seems to be the primary asset — other than writing good books.”

    That said:

    1. Joe himself publishes to multiple ePlatforms.
    2. I, too, use Smashwords in addition to KDP.

    My opinion: Once you’ve got an eBook properly formatted for upload to Kindle Direct Publishing, it takes only (and literally) minutes to upload to Smashwords as well, covering virtually every other major market.

    So why wouldn’t you?


    • dwsmith says:

      Todd, my question exactly. Title of this silly short blog, actually. (grin) Everyone assumes things remain the same all the time. I would rather hedge my bet and make sure I have full distribution. But that’s just me and decades in this business watching very solid publishers just stop paying for one reason or another.

  4. Beth says:

    When you self publish on amazon, smashwords, B&N, do you need to get a copyright?

    • dwsmith says:

      Beth, Beth, Beth…. Run right now and get a copy of THE COPYRIGHT HANDBOOK published by Nolo Press. You MUST read the book.

      The short answer is copyright is vested in any work you create at the moment you put it to paper or screen or stone or whatever. You own it. You can not “go get copyright” as you put it. You create it with everything you type.

      Go get the book.

      And everyone, if you have any dreams of being a selling writer, you must understand what you are licensing. You don’t sell stories or copyright, you license it. And if you don’t even know the basic rules of what you are doing, how can you effectively make any money on your copyright and even understand enough to protect it?

  5. UPDATE: No, the new CreateSpace pricing doesn’t change my opinion on the viability for my short works. As best I can tell from their calculator, if I charge $4.99 for a novella — which is the price I would want to PAY for a book that short — I LOSE money for sales in the extended market. As in I pay Amazon for the privilege of that sale. It seems like the lowest price where I can make money in the extended market is around $5.49. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s the price I see as the low end for listed works, too. And over five bucks is more than I want to pay for a story around 64 pages. I’m thinking maybe if I do “doubles”, two novellas in one book, I get something long enough to justify a higher price and still make money in the extended market.

    As for Kindle Select… Dean, you’ve taught us to think long term in sales. The “initial burst” thinking is produce thinking. I don’t think an initial issue under Kindle Select has a lot of impact on the long term; but if done right to generate some buzz, it might pull the long tail forward, in a sense. The book could get a few more early notices, and so have a little early growth spurt. You don’t want it in there forever; but the minimum 90 days seems like a decent way to launch a book. (Just don’t extend it one single day longer! If you’ve generated any interest AT ALL, then you want to satisfy that interest across all platforms.)

    And the five free days you get could be a chance to put it in the hands of a lot of reviewers at low cost to you: you buy your own review copies during that period and send them out to whoever you think has some influence.

    Also regarding free… A couple months back, one of Kris’s books was a free promo for a while, and you were pretty excited about it at the time. Do you have any numbers since then to indicate if it did any good as a promotion? You’ve indicated before that there can be strategic reasons to temporarily make a book free, usually as a way to promote other books. Until now, Amazon hasn’t offered indie publishers that option, other than indirectly: if you made it free on another platform, they would price-match. Now we have another mechanism (though still imperfect).

    I have one book in Kindle Select right now, for strategic reasons. It’s full of web links, some of which are links to specific Amazon items. When I port it to Nook, I want those to be B&N links. When I port it to Smashwords, I want them to be Smashwords links. It will take me time to do that reformatting, but I want the book available in the mean time.

    And for Jodi, who asked this…

    “Is James Patterson or Janet Evanovich going to do this?”

    I can’t speak for Ms. Evanovich; but for Mr. Patterson, the answer is probably no, since he already has an exclusive deal with Nook! I saw a TV ad with him before Christmas explaining that his new bestseller was only available in Nook if you wanted an eBook.

    • dwsmith says:

      Martin and everyone, for Createspace, new or old pricing (new pricing has advantages and is slightly cheaper in some areas, slightly more expensive in others), I have found that the lowest level that can become a viable book is about 20,000 words. That’s short novels and collections.

      I have done the following. Trim size at 5.5 x 8.5, tan paper, and about twenty thousand words gets a 120 page or so book. I price the book at $7.99 (same price as a standard mass market paperback) and can make money on all distribution channels. About $2.50 per sale from Amazon and about 90 cents on the expanded. (That’s 11% profit, still far higher than I would get from New York mass market paperback royalty.)

      So short fiction collections and short novels do work on CreateSpace just fine.

      Martin, still not convinced on your thinking of 90 days on only one store. You get your book noticed and you frustrate all the millions of people with Nooks and other devices. Why take that chance for a short-term profit? I still don’t get it.

  6. Tori Minard says:

    I think what Beth meant was: is it advisable to register your copyright or can you get by without doing that? If I understand the Copyright Handbook correctly, your work is copyrighted as soon as you create it; however, if it isn’t registered and someone infringes on your copyright, you won’t get much in damages. Also, Stephen Fishman (author of the Handbook) says your work may be more likely to be pirated or infringed upon if it isn’t copyrighted.

  7. John Walters says:

    The last time I checked you had to be a US resident to publish on Nook, so that leaves me out. But I have discovered that the Smashwords distribution to Barnes and Noble works great, and that Barnes and Noble is my most successful Smashwords distributer.

    One other point about multiple distribution channels. My sales are still slow overall, but a few stories sell better than others, and I have found out that I have one story that far outsells any other on Kindle, and a different one that far outsells any other at Barnes and Noble (via Smashwords). I don’t know why, but it makes it very worthwhile for me to have my works available both places.

  8. Lee McAulay says:

    Half a million dollars is peanuts for an organisation the size of Amazon. Even half a million dollars a month. (I have worked for corporations that size and believe me, half a million dollars is loose change in their accounting system.)
    What they get, in return for exclusive distribution of all those ebooks, is domination of the search engine rankings for those titles. The effect is global, cumulative and enduring.
    In addition, announcing it before the festive season means that the exclusive title links accumulate to a higher level than at any other time of the year, which gives Amazon a long tail on the search engine rankings.
    It’s not about the writers.

  9. SL Clark says:

    “You get your book noticed and you frustrate all the millions of people with Nooks and other devices.”

    The question is noticed by who and how. A decent book, made free on Amazon will rise in visibility on Amazon only, or are you saying people look on Amazon for their Nook titles? LOL

    Those with big web platform traffic may not benefit from KDP Select, I get that. What I don’t understand is how one gets a book “noticed” on iBooks, Nook or ?? Making a title free had very little effect on these other platforms in the number of downloads, but once it went free on Amazon there was a significant difference in downloads and then real flow through $$. Free will now be less effective (in total) on Amazon because of Select, but breakthrough hits will still happen from the increased visibility.

    We only have one year of visibility to our credit, so we’re using Amazon to its fullest. By your logic, we should have worked hard to make our title available in the Oklahoma Borders, where a customer was frustrated it wasn’t *sitting* on the shelf. We had it in Extended Distribution, but when faced with a Borders order, they had it shipped from Amazon for less – and we made more profit in the process.

    If Apple, Google, BN and the rest don’t move fast, Amazon will succeed in their goal of massive lock-in to their eco-system; much like Apple did in music. There won’t be a #2, which something Big Publishing fears, but ruined when they sued Google Books.

    IMO and FWIW, unless a sea change happens in the next couple years for publishers, use Amazon & Go Direct in a big way in your niche or die – something I learned from O’Reilly, one of the best at it.

  10. Frank Dellen says:

    @ Edward M. Grant
    >>“For a “non-resident alien”, it’s a bit more difficult to publish on Smashwords and the iBookstore: You have to get an ITIN to get your 30% taxes back.”

    How’s that any different to Amazon?<>If you’re not American then I believe Smashwords is the only way to get onto a number of US sites, so the free ISBN is all you need.<<

    Only US site I'm interested in is the iBookstore because there's no financially independent european/german branch. And, as I said, they want an ITIN. (Not sure how relevant Kobo and Sony are here – will find that out some time)

    Now that you brought it up, I remember having read about Smashwords sending the paperwork for an ITIN – thanks for the reminder.

    This discussion is probably a bit off-topic and not as helpful to other readers, so I won't continue. Edward, you're right, there are ways, and I will find my own path this year.

    My point was and is: For non-Americans there are some more obstacles besides different formats. Information how to overcome those obstacles is scarce, so people choose the easy way which is Amazon.

  11. Mercy Loomis says:

    “Anyone who goes exclusive with a distributor (not a publisher) for nothing more than a chance at a relatively small sum of money and exposure is not playing to win, nor are they thinking big. And they definitely aren’t thinking like a businessman/businesswoman.”

    I disagree. (Such absolute statements like the ones above also tend to make me grind my teeth.) Adam (and Dean), consider this also:

    Using Select for a limited time is not that much different than selling a short story to an anthology for a share of royalties.

    Except for Scent and Shadow and Demon’s Asylum, every single item I’ve self-published was available elsewhere first. And almost all of those contracts stipulated a certain amount of exclusivity.

    I have several stories that were published with a tiny “advance” and a share of royalties.

    One of those stories has never hit the threshold where the publisher will send a check.

    Another of those stories has netted me a little over $100/year for the last two years.

    A third story was in an anthology that got picked up by St. Martin’s, whereupon I got a significantly higher advance. That story has so far made me around $300 in two years, as well as being my first qualifying SFWA sale.

    When you go for a share of royalties, you weigh the risks versus rewards and take your chances.

    When you sell a story to an anthology, your story is locked into that market for a while. I have several short stories that haven’t reverted back to me yet. People who want to read those stories have to use the “platform” of those anthologies.

    I don’t think KDP Select is really that different–assuming that you don’t leave your pie slices in there for longer than you have to, and you look at your usual pricing and compare to what you guess you might make per borrow by doing Select.

    Surprisingly, people are reporting good luck with shorter works in Select. That makes it, in my mind at least, just another “anthology” market. If I have a short story that I can’t find a professional market for, why not let Amazon have it for 3 months first? How is that different from letting a publisher have it for 3 months?

    Food for thought.

  12. Sotirios Fox says:

    Thanks for some of the smaller store suggestions, Dean. I’m working on getting into DriveThruFiction and XinXii right now, with Omnilit on the list for the future. I’m also starting to consider giving Google eBooks a shot just to see if it’s really as bad as some people seem to say it is.

    I should also mention that my post was just for how I want to go about distributing indie published works. I’ll still be pursuing legacy publishing options as well, but that goes without saying.

    It’s also nice to know that novellas (or short novels depending on your preferred lexicon) can be sold POD as well. I thought 20,000 words would be too short for that sort of thing but your last comment was pretty reassuring.

    Being able to put both novellas and even 5-story collections into POD on top of novels and 10-story collections would be fantastic, even if it meant more work. I’ll definitely give it a go once I start into that aspect of things.

    Also, I’ll be using POD for novella twofers; 2 same-theme or same-genre novellas and an introduction, around 40,000-60,000ish words, for the price of a novel, or $4.99. I’m planning to have plenty of novellas, so I figure it’s another way to combine to create products without being another short story collection. These same twofers (trying to come up with a better name for them) will be available as ebooks, of course.

    • dwsmith says:

      Those of you trying Google Books let us all know how it goes and how hard it is to set up. I’ve been frustrated by it twice so far, so haven’t really pushed. So links and experience would be great to post here. Thanks!

  13. Cyn Bagley says:

    @Nancy – I haven’t heard of Omnilit – I will have to look it up. Also I put up a couple of my books on Select. They are my memoirs on disease so I wasn’t expecting to make much money on it. When I first published it, I did it for free so that members of my Vasculitis group could afford to buy it.

    I finally changed my price to 2.99 when I realized that Dean was right and I was wrong – people are suspicious of books that are too cheap. And when the 90 days are up it will be out of the Select program.

    @Dean and everyone else,
    I am putting up some of my ebooks on google ebook, so we’ll see how that goes. And, CreateSpace is going to be my next project.

    Also, Dean -the weather sounds scary – like something that will end up in one of your books. :-)


  14. Ron says:

    Wow, one of the better discussions. : )

  15. The Createspace thing is interesting. Planning a longer article on it soon, but the thing I think most folks have missed is that this is a sneaky backdoor KDP Select style move.


    They removed the $39 fee Pro Plan, which used to allow you to get extended distribution, and get cheaper printing per book. You pretty much always wanted the Pro Plan, so that was just part of the cost of doing business with Createspace.

    Now instead they are charging $25 for extended distribution.

    Think about that a sec. For no fee, you now get the Pro Plan rates. But if you want *extended distribution*, you still have to pay.

    How many folks are going to publish via Createspace, then say “pass” on extended distro. After all, the book will be on Amazon, right? Why pay an extra $25 just to get on those other sites, right?

    See what I’m saying? ;) KDP Select was a sledgehammer. The new Createspace plan is the same sort of push toward making more books exclusive on Amazon; it’s just much more subtle.

    • dwsmith says:

      Interesting, Kevin, and more than likely right. But again, why wouldn’t any author not spend the $25 and get to the extended distribution into Ingrams, Baker & Taylor, B&N, and all small indie bookstores. Makes no sense to not do it.

      But alas, Kevin, I’m sure you are right. And as I have discovered over the last three years of this blog, writers and good business sense don’t often go hand-in-hand.

  16. SL Clark:

    Yes, Nook readers DO shop on Amazon. (It’s MUCH easier to find things there.)

    But the thing to remember is that most of the time people do not discover books on the bookseller sites. Online is very different from brick and mortar bookstores that way. They discover books via word of mouth — hearing friends talk about a book, or on blogs or wherever.

    So yes, it is very true that putting a book in Selects can frustrate a portion of your audience.

    HOWEVER…. as Dean points out, this is a long term game. The benefits you get from this will fade. But I disagree with his worry in that I expect the negatives will fade too.

    It takes years to build up real discoverability. And the way you do it is by creating a much wider footprint, as early as possible. You hamper that long term growth when you focus on narrower, short term gains early. That’s all.

    • dwsmith says:

      Camille said, “It takes years to build up real discoverability. And the way you do it is by creating a much wider footprint, as early as possible. You hamper that long term growth when you focus on narrower, short term gains early. That’s all.”

      I agree completely and had said as much in a post I had mostly done when a gust of wind kicked off the power for a few minutes earlier. But Camille said it better than I was saying it. Thanks, Camille.

  17. Brian says:

    Hi Dean,

    As far as publishing goes, it seems like you and the others have such and efficient system for getting things up so quickly.

    What do you do for cover art? I’d love to know what system you use that works best for you and would love to hear other self pub writer’s ideas as well.


    • dwsmith says:

      Brian, I use PowerPoint for most covers except for ones going to POD, which need a higher resolution. I use art from a large number of royalty free sites and sometimes we actually work with an artist on the larger projects. We have had a special artist on the Retrieval Artist series and a wonderful artist on the Fey novels. But mostly I get art for $3.00 to $10.00 and then make sure I credit the artist as is required. I got the art for this series and the artist name and site is in small print on the cover I did.

  18. Rick says:

    I no longer trust free. Even .99 is getting a bad rap. I got a Nook for Christmas (named it “Nookie”), and downloaded a bunch of free and .99 stuff, and, frankly, the writing sucked. As well as the editing. Wound up deleting it all.

    I know I still have a lot to learn about the craft of writing, but good grief. Some of the free and cheap stuff on Amazon and B & N (and especially Smashwords; it seems to proliferate there) seems to have been put up in hopes of a quick buck. Do you think the bad stuff winds up being weeded out in the end? I’d love to hear your take on this.

    • dwsmith says:

      Rick, LOL… Yup, you did the weeding. That’s how it’s done. Readers find what they like and don’t like, and a large number of readers are moving back up the price scale for the reasons you mentioned. Not all books at free or 99 cents are bad or have issues, but a huge number there do. But I bet you won’t go back to those authors again, huh? (grin)

  19. SL Clark says:

    Does anyone know how much a writer receives when a S&S size publisher sells 1,000 hardcovers to Public Library systems?

    • dwsmith says:

      SL, in all my contracts with traditional publishers, the amount I get depends on the discount given to the library system. It’s called a “discount schedule” in a contract and also applies to discounts given to Walmart and other places. Libraries don’t tend to ask for high discounts unless they are buying huge numbers, so I normally got my usual percentages with library sales. And a huge percentage of my 100 plus novels have gone to library markets.

  20. JR Tomlin says:

    Dean, I’m not limiting my sales. I’m limiting my venues. Those are two very different things.


    Because I tried it out. I put one of my novels in Select as an experiment, very skeptical but willing to try. It was a novel that was selling a couple a day at $3.99. Not my highest selling novel but not my lowest either. Not much happened although it got a couple of borrows. I used their ability to make the novel free. (Now I had made novels free in the past with Amazon price matching with not much success) It had a pretty good 2 day run downloading 9500 copies, but giveaways aren’t sales.

    Within a day after it stopped being free it was selling 25 a day. After a month it was still selling about 6 times as many per day as before it was on Select. So yeah, I put most of the rest of my novels in Select. Let’s just say I am now selling a heck of a lot more novels than I ever did before with my novels on all the other venues.

    How long will I continue that strategy? As long as it works. I never thought Amazon was the only one. I still don’t. But I am willing to go with what works for me.

  21. Niki says:

    We as writers are really pioneers in this new electronic age of publishing. No one can say right now if Select will be good in the long run or not, not even Amazon knows that. They could pull the plug on Select tomorrow if they want. But in the mean time, as a writer, I have a bottomless supply of creative works either written or waiting to be written. Over the long term of my writing career, I will spread my books out as wide as possible, and I will try new exciting programs, like Select as they pop up. It’s all the same to me. If I don’t at least try one thing or one place or another, then I am limiting myself and my career.

    So far Select has worked well for me. I have entered some of my books. Not all of them, and not for all the time. That to me is just good business. Being new at this I’m 99% sure doing so has saved me a lot of time, as many people have downloaded my books, that would not have found them until maybe a year from now when I have a much larger variety to choose from. Personally, I don’t have time to wait, if this program helped speed things up for me than that’s a good thing. If it’s only a short term gain, that is still a gain, where there was none before. I don’t understand all the fuss about it. Amazon isn’t asking us to be exclusive forever, or with every single book, now that would be a different story. And as far as frustrating people, I doubt it at this point in my career that anyone is really waiting in line for my next book. However, when there is a line someday, I will no longer need to put my books for free.

  22. Ramon Terrell says:

    Dean and Kevin:

    You’re both too late. Some nitwit already exclaimed that since most of his sales are from amazon anyway, why pay the ONE TIME $25.00 for the EDC.


    Okay, I see why you and Kris are ready to pull your hair out, Dean! Dude this is just plain common sense. Is foresight that uncommon?

    *just shaking my head*

  23. allynh says:

    This is clearly Silly Season. I suspect that it’s the January, I’m gonna make things happen NOW, adrenaline rush.

    I saw this thread when there were zero comments. Then I got busy chasing down cosmic insights(Don’t ask, it’s Santa Fe. HA!) and showed up to find over 90 posts, with people bouncing off the wall. Chill. I just discovered that my local Sam’s Club, just down the street, sells big slices of great pizza for only two bucks. This is momentous news. I can now zip over and get a slice of pizza with green chile when I need to get away from the page and celebrate.

    Somebody wise once told me long ago. If what you are doing won’t matter five years from now, why are you so upset?

    Everybody is bouncing off the wall defending their plan of the moment, forgetting that the moment will pass. The comment about the CreateSpace pricing change is a great example of missing the moment. Things are changing so fast that no short term plan will survive contact with reality.

    I have always looked long term(I survived 24 years in State Government. Retired, I’m much better now. HA!). I don’t make short term decisions with long term negative consequences. Five years from now I will be able to post back on how successful I was following Dean’s Five Year Plan.

    Will any of the people bouncing off the wall, right NOW, even remember five years from now that they were trying to publish their stuff NOW. Will any of their books even be available anywhere.

    Remember the concept of “Goals vs. Dreams” that Dean has talked about, and what is in your “control” and what is not.

    New World of Publishing: Failure is an Option. Quitting is Not.

    New World of Publishing: Shifting Goals in This New World

    The New World of Publishing: Keeping The Writing Going

  24. Cora says:

    When I read the initial KDP Select e-mail and got to the part about exclusivity, I thought “No way”. And in fact, I’m very surprised how many writers have decided to go the KDP Select route considering that they ask a whole lot (exclusivity) for comparatively few perks (lending library inclusion with a crack at a tiny share of the half a million pot plus free promotion days).

    Besides, I’m not in the US and while I am an avid Amazon customer (at Amazon.de), I’m not willing to throw those of my readers under the bus who have other e-readers than the Kindle or who live outside Amazon’s favoured 19 countries and have to pay the 2 US-dollar surcharge or who live in countries that Amazon doesn’t sell in at all (much of Asia and Africa). In fact, many of the most avid KDP Select acolytes are from the US, while writers from other countries are typically more cautious.

    Of the smaller vendors, OmniLit/AllRomance, XinXii and DriveThruFiction are all great to work with and I actually got paid by OmniLit/AllRomance before I was paid by Amazon. I’m also in the process of listing at 1PlaceForRomance, a smaller store. What is more, I’m looking into getting my books into national e-book stores, which often have a substantial market share in their own countries, particularly if Amazon does not have a store there. I don’t have anything of the length where a paperback would be viable yet, but once I do I will of course have POD copies made available.

    Frank Dellen, the process of getting an ISBN in Germany is a pain in the butt, since the German ISBN authority is still firmly stuck in the print ages. The prices for the actual numbers aren’t that steep, but there are set-up costs, costs for getting listed in the books in print catalog plus annual renewal fees, which is mandatory (never mind that e-books aren’t in print and those catalogs are dead relics anyway), etc… Plus, if you want to buy more than one ISBN number, you need to submit a “Handelsregistereintrag” to the ISBN authority to prove that you’re a legitimate publisher, which incurs lawyer fees and means you have to pay annual dues to the “Handelskammer”. At my sales volume, it’s not worth the hassle.

  25. Brian —

    Dean’s note about stock photography is a very good one. Another is self-produced stock. I shoot a few thousand photos a year, and sort them out to the stuff that is salable as stock, is salable as art, and the junk, then I tag everything that might work well as cover art in the future. When I have a new story to do cover art for, the first place I go is my photo organizer, then after that to Wikimedia to look for stuff with a friendly Creative Commons license, then to stock sites. If I don’t find anything that suits, I have an artist friend I occasionally hire or I knock something up myself using my 3D graphics program. Each project is a little different, but with the exception of the artist on tap and my own skills with 3D graphics, all the rest is pretty much available to anyone with a camera phone.

    For software, Powerpoint, GIMP, Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements), or pretty much any other paint program will do you just fine. If it’s an ebook, resolution isn’t that important. If it’s a piece that’ll go on the paper edition, work at a good high resolution and save the file at 300dpi or better.

    Everything you need to learn about each of those steps (including taking good pictures, even with a camera phone) you can pick up in a few days working through tutorials online–the rest is just practice.


  26. David Barron says:

    This post actually inspired me to further streamline my formatting workflow (Read: styles! templates! macros!). I timed it, for my own edification.

    From TXT to four formats — DOC (for Smashwords), PDF (for DriveThruFiction et al), EPUB (for B&N et al), MOBI (for Amazon) [ignore KF8]

    Not including editing, of course…
    Short Story Single –
    DOC format, 2 minutes.
    Use Word to convert to PDF & check, 3 minutes.
    Formatting the HTML file, 7 minutes
    Convert in calibre, 5 minutes.
    Check the EPUB in Adobe and using epubcheck, 7 minutes
    Check the MOBI in Kindle Previewer, 5 minutes
    [Fix any errors, +5 minutes]
    Done! ~30 minutes.

    With collections the DOC will take longer because I have to make a table of contents manually, and tweak the PDF so it’s not ugly. Books will take less time than collections, though, so it works out.

    I pay myself $50 for thirty minutes of work, so the labor is negligible if I only do four(!) a week. Since I won’t have to do this again in the near future…no excuse not to put it up everywhere and go on to write the next thing.

  27. Brian says:

    Thanks Daniel. You have some nice covers as well. I’m also a photog, so nice job!

    Thanks for the breakdown on your process David.

    This stuff is all new to me and I don’t want to have to shell out a lot of money on cover art and formatting if this is something I can do. I’m fairly artsy and tech literate with 10 years in IT.

    If there are some good tutorials on where to get good editing/art design/ebook formatting, I would love to have that as a future resource.

  28. Mercy Loomis says:

    A quick tip on covers for print-length titles: do the cover in print format first. Then save it under a different name with the ebook resolution.

    You can always make something smaller – change 300 dpi to 72 dpi, or change 6″x9″ to 800 pixels by 1200 pixels – but if you try to do it the other way around it will look like crap.

    I learned this the hard way with Scent and Shadow. Figured I would do the ebook and worry about the print version later. I ended up having to completely re-create the book cover for the print version. (Which on another book would not have been so bad, but redoing all those stupid blood splatters was a monstrous PITA.)

    David – I have yet to do a manual TOC. I make all my chapter headers “h1″ and all my titles/About the Author “h2″ in Styles, so when I’m using Calibre or MobiPocket Creator I just put in h1 and h2 in the table of contents part and it makes the TOC for me. Of course, I make really really basic ebooks, no maunally-generated hyperlinks or anything. Would love to hear if there is an advantage or benefit to doing the TOC manually.

  29. AlexB says:

    I would never buy an ebook from Amazon. Their business model attempts to lock people into their proprietary format and reader. Epub is the open standard and that is what I go for. As such, any author who publishes on Amazon doesn’t exist to me. This is my personal choice.

    Would I then purposefully not publish with Amazon for the same reason? Well, I’m still at the stage where writing is hard. Once the writing muscles get trained better and it gets easier, I’ll recheck the field of play. The answer will probably be no, I’ll publish there as well.

    If the people who want to read my work happen to be using another device, why should I penalise them for my own ideology? Make the book available to as many people as possible so that it has a better chance of finding all its readers, not just a single audience.

  30. Cyn Bagley says:

    @Dean and everyone else

    Google books –
    1. I was able to set up with my google account – blogspot and email.
    2. It took me awhile to get my files in pdf format.
    3. I put up five books yesterday. This morning 3 of the books needed a verified copyright. To make it easier I used the Smashwords free ISBN, apparently Google will give you an ISBN but it is a lot more paperwork.
    a. I had to go through a page and sign a legal document saying that the copyright belonged to me as the author.
    b. Then I sent them an email asking how they could verify if I was the copyright holder. I guess it is harder if the author holds their own copyright.
    4. The other two books are still processing.

    And so far, that is the Google Ebook experience. I will let you know if more happens.


  31. Carradee says:

    I originally got set up with Google eBooks last year, but it was such a pain in the neck (they’re very picky about what you name your file) that I just ported that book over to the Google Preview platform with a link to the site for the book.

    Today, I was able to get Google eBooks set up for that book, uploaded two others, and it takes a few hours for them to process a title before you can finish the information.

    If you’re going ISBN-free, only upload one file at a time. I uploaded 4, an EPUB and a PDF each for 2 titles, and it looks like Google interpreted them as 4 different books, and I currently have no idea how to figure out which upload is which book.

  32. I’ve been holding off on Google Books because they don’t do agency pricing–so if they discount something there (which normally would be a good thing) there’s a potential for a knock-on effect across my small inventory.

    However, now that I’m north of twenty titles and heading quickly on to 30 over the next month or so, I’m thinking my inventory is big enough for Google Books to be worth it–they could discount several titles, and I wouldn’t be in a position where everything I’ve published would turn, unintentionally, into a discount-rack book.

    Please keep us posted, Cyn, sounds like they’ve made it a lot easier since I first looked at it 14 months ago!

  33. David Barron says:

    I need to make a big ole’ list of everywhere my eBooks should be, then sit down and set all of them up. There’s so many places!

    Mercy: For table of contents, I mean for the Smashwords DOC and the PDF – going through and doing the bookmarks and hyperlinks in Word.

    I have done the manual NCX method for MOBI files, just so there’s not two Table of Contents lurking in the file and looking sloppy. It’s not esp. difficult, but it doesn’t really add much value for the extra time involved, unless it’s a really complicated table of contents. In my normal workflow for a ‘chapter book’ [chapter 1, chapter 2, etc.], I just use the calibre structure detection, as you describe. Quick and Not-Too-Dirty.

    • dwsmith says:

      Table of contents for novels, in my opinion, that do not have actual titles on each chapter, are worthless and no one ever uses them. If you are doing a collection, you need a linked TOC and if your book has cute titles on each chapter, you need the TOC. But otherwise, what we do is just what we call a “Short Table of Contents” It links to three or four areas. Start Reading (which when used clues Kindle to open there), Copyright Information, and Author Bio (which is at the end). I sometimes put in a link to a page with all the books in a certain series.

  34. allynh says:

    “Brian on 19 Jan 2012 at 5:36 am
    If there are some good tutorials on where to get good editing/art design/ebook formatting, I would love to have that as a future resource.”

    When I tried to post a list of example covers in the thread WordPress called it too spamy, so I created a Listmania page on Amazon with simple examples.

    Here is the link.

    For those people who have never made a book cover.

    Google the words, sample book covers how to

    This will bring up tons of sites about cover design. Then click on the IMAGES tab on Google and it will do an image search showing so many sample covers your brain will melt. HA!

    Find covers that you like showing the full front&back, and move your mouse over those images, the image will expand, click on SIMILAR. That will refine the search showing you more examples. There are enough examples of full front&back covers to get you started. (This is one of those OMG moments when I love the internet.)

    Once you have seen what is possible, from the simple to complex, the best thing to do is start with the CreateSpace template and start doing black&white covers. Then start adding color and art. You don’t need to have fancy pictures to make a great cover.

    Bookmark these pages:

    How to Create a Cover PDF for your Book

    Book Help > Artwork & Templates

    – Generate some sample templates to play with. Pick a size and number of pages to see how the spine changes with page count. I set the size as 6×9 and created covers for 100 pages, 250 pages, 500 pages, just to play with.

    You will need to open the sample template in a drawing program that supports layers. I use LibreOffice because it is free, but you may already have, and hopefully use, a similar program.

    The point is to learn how to work with layers so that you can build up the finished cover, layer by layer. Basically, just go wild! and have fun creating a cover each week.

    Above all, don’t panic, have fun!

  35. Googlebooks. I tried months ago to set up an account, signup page would state I already *had* an account under my gmail, but each time I would log into that account it would only take me back to the new sign up page.

    Tried again today, same thing, so I finally knuckled under a created a new gmail email account and signed up with that.

    Got as far as the upload page, and uploaded a pdf of one test book. On the upload page it says ISBN’s are optional for pdf. It *says* that, but I could not find away to move to the next step of ht process while leaving the ISBN page blank. So I skipped the rest of that page, and went straight to the next step and uploaded a pdf of my book. Waiting to see if it will be accepted.

    I could be wrong, but reading their isbn requirements page, it appears that they require an ISBN before they will accept any edition of the book in .epub format.

    It is also my understanding that ISBN’s are not transferable from edition to edition, that you can’t use the free Smashword’s ISBN on anything but the Smashword’s edition.(I could be wrong, like I said, but that’s my understanding).

    Right now, I am not buying my own ISBN’s because I’m cheap, and buying them has not, so far, been a requirement on any site I’ve used. Maybe when I get to the point of creating my own store on my website, I will buy a block of ISBN’s then, and can supply these to google. So this may be another temporary stopper on my googlebooks path, right now.

    Also I was interested to see @J. Daniel’s input on the googlebooks discounting. Good info, thanks! That’s a deal breaker for me. Kindle will usually price match any discount, which could cause google to further discount, snowballing you right down to no money.

    I hope they sort out some of these things, because I see a lot of independent brickandmortar stores are linking with google to sell ebooks (such as Elliot Bay Books in Seattle). I’d like to support that and have that access. But so far I’ve found GoogleBooks a lot more challenging than Kindle, PubIt, Smashwords, OmniLit, and DriveThruFiction.

  36. Regarding TOCs, If you set up your HTML/CSS right, the e-reader software takes care of it for you. Just use the and tags, they’ll show up heirarchically in the ebook’s metadata, which just about every ebook reader can access by hitting the “table of contents” goto. Really easy to do once you get your head around it.

    For collections and nonfiction books, I also do a human-readable TOC with clickable hyperlinks in addition to the autogenerated TOC. I find it looks sharper, and people who are sampling like to see the structure of what’s going on.


  37. Brian says:

    Great comment Allynh. Thank you for that – I’ll check it out.

  38. Annie Bellet says:

    I put a TOC at the front that just has a few links in it for novels. Link to beginning of novel, link to Author Bio, and a link to a “Chapter Index” which is what I stick at the very very end of the book with links to all the chapters. For collections, I do like Dean says, with a TOC listing links to the different story titles.

    Apparently I format my stuff rather differently from most people, but it makes a nice looking product and doesn’t take me much time. Plus I’ve never had a single issue getting into Smashwords Premium Distribution, so I figure I’ll just keep doing what I do. I’ve tried to play around with other ways of doing it and they just seem like more work for the same results.

  39. Cyn Bagley says:

    Okay more Google Ebook,

    I received on Email from staff that if they can’t verify copyright easily (such as if you are the author?) they require you to sign an electronic attestation. I have done that.

    Now 2 of my books are live, and the other three are processing.

    I believe that google ebooks has turned out to be a huge project and is a hassle to get my books up there compared to KDP and smashwords.

    BTW I don’t see my two live ebooks on their site yet. It is now 36 hours into this project.


  40. Cyn Bagley says:

    Yea – google ebooks is still picky about how you name your ebook file. I used the ISBN.pdf. I didn’t see any other way to do it for pdf. That is why I used the Smashwords ISBN, and the link to Smashwords. You might be able to do it w/o an ISBN in epub format.

    I think there is a disconnect from paperback to digital. I mean, I could be wrong, but paperback books use the same ISBN forever ? true?

    And then in digital, they want an ISBN for kindle, for smashwords, for every digital edition. It doesn’t make sense. It should by one ISBN for one digital ebook.

    It makes life too hard and too expensive otherwise on the writers.


  41. If anyone’s still reading: Just gave XinXii a shot because… why not? I have all the files for my self-pub novella long since done.

    It’s kind of buggy compared to Amazon/B&N/Smashwords/Omnilit. The currency type changed on me a couple of times, from dollars to euros and back again. The FAQ says it would offer me the option of premium distribution at the beginning of the upload process, and it did not – and darned if I can see how to GET into their premium program if I didn’t opt in during the original upload.

    But it doesn’t really matter. It was not even five minutes out of my life, and the book is now for sale in one more place. Thanks for the tip :)

  42. Cyn Bagley says:

    @Dean and everyone else.

    My next adventure in Google ebooks. So I am looking at my live books and not seeing them live. First thing I do is go to help.
    I find out the following:

    1. I have to activate the territories that I want to sell the books in –
    a. It took me awhile to find out that if I use the manual setting, I can change the price of each ebook. If I set it on automatic, it does it for me, so not good for ebooks.
    b. I have to find out what my pricing would be on each country I picked – it is then that I missed Amazon.com

    2. And then I find out that I have to go to the My Account tab and give them a business address – and no, they don’t tell you that you need it… you have to search.

    3. Plus they want you to put a bank account for money. And then verify your SSN or TIN with a credit card. About this time I was ready to throw google ebooks into the wastebasket.
    The reason for the credit card is if there is a chargeback … they want to charge (not your account, but to your credit card) … if someone decides to cancel the book.

    4. Now I am getting suspicious.

    5. I get a message saying that I will get my book online in about 2 weeks. uh-huh

    About right now I am beginning to like Amazon.com better and better. Should I continue with this experiment? Or should I consider it a failure?


    • dwsmith says:

      Cyn, and others. Now you see why I think Google books is a failure so far. Just too damned hard. I ran into the same kind of garbage a few times I tried and just gave up.

  43. Google books. I tried to get back in today to see the progress on the pdf I uploaded yesterday. I couldn’t even find where to look for it. My account is a now an almost blank page. There was a help link, and a read through many help pages with links that mostly went to other help pages.

    Cyn, thanks for reporting your progress, now I don’t feel so bad about giving up. I did a pass at this six months ago, and maybe I’ll do another attempt in 2013. I don’t understand the Google mind-set, I can’t grasp the overall picture of the process of setting up to sell books on google, and using the account is suppose to work. Well I do grasp this much: it’s a very different approach to any of the other stores I’ve come across.

    Amazon, BN, Smashwords, DriveThru, XinXii are all one-stop set-ups. There is some sort of screening process/delay that Omnilit/AllRomance puts new applicants through before they will allow one to start posting books, but I haven’t seen anything else like this.

    Barnes and Noble PubIt also takes requires a credit card for possible chargebacks, btw. Although I haven’t heard of anyone having a problem.

  44. Cyn Bagley says:

    @Dean, Michael, and others

    My conclusion is that it takes too much time and effort to set up Google ebooks. Plus they don’t give you all the information so that you can set it up properly the first time. It needs to be a much easier process before I will consider putting up new books.


    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Cyn, and everyone for reporting back in on Google Books and confirming what I had felt. It’s just silly.

      Anyone buy books on Google Books? How hard is that? I’ve never tried it and never talked to anyone who has.

  45. Michele Lang says:

    I once tried buying one of my out of print books that was listed for sale on Google after the reversion. Buying it was very easy, but when I opened the file, it was a different book, with my old book’s cover!

    I contacted Google by phone to let them know that (1) the book is out of print and shouldn’t be for sale by my former publisher and (2) that they had the wrong book up under my name. I also asked for a refund.

    The person I spoke with was actually very nice, and my money was refunded right away. And they did remove the book from sale, so that was good.

    However, the only way I found this book was via search engine and a diligent search. There is no way to find a book on a storefront there, at least not that I’ve been able to find.

    So that is my sole experience with Google Books. Despite the kindly customer service rep, I don’t think I’ll be shopping again with them anytime soon…

  46. Michele Lang says:

    Actually, I take it back — looking just now, I did find a storefront for Google Books:


    and it looks like you can use google to search the book store. I haven’t played with it so I don’t know how easy it is to search by category, or what comes up when you do.

  47. Just to let everyone know here is a NEW ebook retailer I just discovered today – they are run by an erotica ebook publisher.

    PLUS here is a New Zealand etailer – http://www.mebooks.co.nz
    Who pay me regularly and do a great job selling books – I don’t think they will have a problem selling your book – check them out.

    I strongly suspect that savvy writers will simply put up a short story or three or the first of a series in Kindle Select to raise awareness of their style and name; while keeping their other work out of the program. My take on posted news from authors in the program is that it is good publicity if you want to go ‘free’ but apart from raising awareness of your name as an author many of us will find it a loss-making proposition.

    My CONCERN about Kindle Select is that if you fail to be online just at the moment your 90 days expires, that the 90 days automatically rolls over into another 90 days which you cannot get out of until that magic moment arrives once more! Until I find out if people are finding it easy to get OUT of KS I am waiting and seeing and continuing to sell on ALL platforms for MONEY!

  48. My reasoning on KDP Select has changed after speaking to my husband last night. I’m going to try a new strategy with it. I am going to give a shot, but NOT on a new release.

    DWS posts about keep writing have inspired a butt-kicking publishing schedule for yours truly. My next book, a novella, is coming out in March. It will go out on all sales channels.

    CANCELLED, my debut is kinda old hat, but a great book. The sequel is coming out in September, but another novella comes out in June before that. So what I’m going to is span the KDP select period of CANCELLED from the release date of STONE (my next work) and PAST DUE (the story coming out in June). That way, I can utilize the free days to bring attention to the new releases as well.

    No earthly idea it’s going to work or not. AND, I have a POD version of Cancelled that will remain available on Nook the entire time at the cheapest I can make it (about $8). The ebook sells for $3.99. KDP Select isn’t going to make the difference I don’t think, but in conjunction with new content out there, it might be the marriage of two forces that works well. 2012 is about writing for me, less about marketing.

  49. Jodi says:

    Dean, I would love your opinion on what this article means:


    It’s wording is a little vague. I’m afraid it might mean a person will have to choose which distributor, Amazon or Others (B&N, etc). But I *think* it means that Amazon’s publishing branch, separate from its distribution branch, is affected.


    • dwsmith says:

      Jodi, if you sell Amazon’s publishing branch a book, as JA Konrath and others have done, at the moment B&N won’t carry that book. It means nothing to most indie writers unless Amazon comes to you with an offer like a traditional publisher. That’s all.

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