Self Publishing: Ebooks, who to choose?

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Even more attractive than print-on-demand technology is digital – there are no upfront costs, your royalties are generally higher, your book will never go out of print, and it’s cheap enough that readers will be more willing to “take a risk” and buy it. But with all these digital players out there, which site is best for you?

Well, the advantage with digital books is that you don’t have to decide on just one site, you can join them all if you have the time or the inclination! But is it really worth it? Here, with a bit of help from my writer friends, I’m going to look at a few of the major ebook distributors so you can decide whether to keep it exclusive, or spread it around.

Kindle Direct Publishing:

Here’s a screenshot of my Amazon author’s page.

KDP are probably the biggest distributor of ebooks on the interwebs. I have three titles listed via Kindle and my sales have been slow, but I have made some (although not enough to reach the payment threshold).

What they offer:

  • Free to join.
  • Straightforward set-up.
  • Pay royalties direct into your bank account (EFT).
  • Popular marketplace.
  • You can run promotions on your book: free days or countdowns (if enrolled in their KDP select).
  • Entering your NZ tax number reduces the 30% taxation. Do not require US ITIN/EIN.

The Drawbacks:

  • Their ebook format is unique to their site (use a mobi converter or Scrivener).
  • They do not keep a running total of earnings– you have to maintain your own records.
  • Cannot set title to be permanently free (but there are ways around that, see below).
  • You need to give Amazon exclusive rights if you want to take advantage of their special promotions (ie: not sell the ebook anywhere else).



Shelley Chappell’s Smashwords author page

What Smashwords offer:

  • Free to join.
  • A range of digital formats: epub, mobi, pdf and more.
  • Their infamous “meat grinder” which turns your original file into the aforementioned formats automatically.
  • You can price your book as “free” (if you set your book to free here, Amazon will price match).
  • Will pay out via Paypal ($10 threshold).
  • You can offer pre-orders.

The Drawbacks:

  • The meat grinder translator has issues with some format files (and instruction manual is written for Microsoft Word, not OpenOffice).
  • Does not seem to be very popular with buyers.
  • Seem to require a US tax number to avoid a 30% taxation on earnings (reduces to 10%).
  • Smashword’s layout looks cheap and non-professional (petty, I know, but I do judge books – and websites – by their “covers”.)



Fellowship of the Ringtails by Angela Oliver on Kobo books.

When I first joined Kobo, it was really hard getting your book up on their website. You had to format everything, create a metadata file and upload it via FTP. Then they introduced Writers Life and things became so much simpler. I have had the epub (with colour illustrations) version of Fellowship listed on Kobo for years, but I just re-trialed the site by uploading Aroha’s Grand Adventure as well. The process was so quick and painless it was wonderful. Of course, in several years I’ve sold exactly 2 copies of Fellowship, but ah well, might as well make it available, right?

What Kobo offers:

  • Free to join.
  • Extremely easy and straightforward platform, allowing you to upload your epub formatted files, or translating alternative formats. It’s even easier than Amazon!
  • Allows you to set your price in NZ$.
  • Pay via EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) into your bank account after you reach the US$50 threshold (well, 45 days after).
  • Royalties are 45/75% depending on sale price.
  • Canadian company means no tax withheld and no ITIN required.

The Drawbacks:

  • Does not provide ISBN, but you don’t actually need them for ebooks. And you can get one here for free.
  • Not as popular a marketplace as Amazon.


Wheelers: If your book is released in traditional form, it will automatically be listed on Wheelers book site, but ebooks need to be uploaded separately. Wheelers ebooks are available to schools and libraries. I signed up with Aroha’s Grand Adventure and get a lovely email once a month telling me I have no sales. The process is not too difficult as long as you have an ISBN, an epub file, metadata and a cover image, but is more time consuming (for little reward). Joining is done via email and involves filling in other forms as well.

iBooks: I have not looked too heavily into iBooks, as they seem to require you to have a Mac computer.From the website, their process looks fairly straightforward and very visually appealing, but appears more aimed at text books and  pictorials.

Google Books: Are not accepting new authors at this time. Obviously more targeted at publishers rather than independent authors.

Note: ISBN numbers are linked to formats, so if you have your book available in paperback, hardback, and epub they should all have different ISBN numbers. However, most ebook sites don’t require them and will give you their own number instead.



Tutorial: Creating ebooks for Amazon using Mobipocket Creator

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If you wish to sell your ebook via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you first need to create a mobi file.

If you are using Scrivener, you don’t need to worry about this tutorial at all! Scrivener has its own abilities to output directly as a mobi file.

I, however, currently use OpenOffice. Which does not.

There are various programs you can use to do this conversion, but the one I use is known as Mobipocket Creator. It is available from this site: Mobipocket eBook Creator

You will need to download both the Creator and the Reader.

First off, you must have a completed manuscript and a cover. To prepare your manuscript for ebook conversion, remove all page numbers, disable footers and/or headers and format the layout as simplisitically as you can. The conversion process will leave in some quirks – including double-spacing between paragraphs – so you may need to translate several variations first.

If your file contains images, these should be on separate pages. Ebooks do not generally display pictures on the same page as text and you will find that the addition of images may involve large blank sections in the book. I have found it most appropriate to position images at the end of a chapter or scene, thus they do not disrupt the flow of text.

This is the home page of Mobipocket Creator:


Whilst various options for importing exist, I have found that the HTML document format gives the best finished result. Once you have removed all the footers and other peripherals from your document, you should save it as an HTML file.

Now click on import from existing file -> HTML document

You can then Browse for your HTML file and Import it.

This will bring you to this screen:


You should then work through each of the options on the left hand side.

Cover Image: Select the cover image from your computer. This should be of reasonable size, but not too big (because mobipocket creator has issues with extremely large images). Click Update to upload it.  It will be resized automatically to an appropriate size by the files.

Table of Contents: I confess, I have never managed to successfully instal the Table of Contents. What it does is offer you a list at the beginning of all the chapters, with internal links in the ebook format to those chapters. It also allows the ereading device to show you how long you have on each chapter. As such, it is a very useful tool, and one I shall continue to play with until I figure it out. I suspect it may require the use of an HTML editing program.

Book Settings: You can set book type to “ebook”. Rest is probably irrelevant if your book is written in English and not a dictionary.

Metadata: Now this one is very useful. This is the data that is connected to your book and will aid in its distribution and hopefully encourage people to buy it. Fill in all applicable options. Note: ISBNs are unique to each version of each story, so if you have an ISBN number for a physical book it will NOT be the same as the digital version. Amazon assign their own number to ebooks and ISBNs are not necessary for this stage. I will do a later post re: ISBN numbers, how to obtain them and when you need them.


Main subject: Choose from the list, selecting the most appropriate option for your title.

Guide: I have so far ignored “Guide” but I suspect it is for the more technically inclined.

Once this is done, you can select Build from the top menu. Then Build from the screen that opens up.

Your ebook will now be created. Note that a Warning button may pop up, especially if either a, your cover illustration is too small or you’ve forgotten to upload it, or b, you have internal illustrations. See what the warning pertains to.

“Image file not found” comes up because the ebook is being built in a different folder from the one that your file has been saved into. There are two ways around this:

On the original screen, where you first uploaded your HTML manuscript, change the destination folder to the same folder that the original HTML file came from.

Or, as I generally do – transfer the image file from the original file into the destination folder, go back to Publications and Build the ebook once more.

Now, if there are no warnings then you can preview your book using the Mobipocket Reader you will have already installed. Click through it from beginning to end. You may notice a few funky things with formating (indented paragraphs, double spaces between paragraph breaks) and sometimes the font will seem to change size. If that happens, just double-check it by clicking back through it – it seems to be an issue with the Reader, not the actual mobi file. If you need to make any adjustments, go back to your original manuscript and repeat the process from the beginning until it is to your satisfaction.

(Please excuse the passive voice etc – this is a first draft, translated for demonstrative purposes).

Then it is time to move onto the next step:
Publishing your book through Kindle Direct Publishing.
(Tutorial to come)

avatar-angAngela Oliver is a writer and illustrator, a reader and a dreamer. She has three titles available on Amazon, both in physical format and ebook format.