How to Publish an Ebook

How to Self-Publish Your Ebook

How to Self-Publish Your Ebook

Every day I receive multiple requests from authors around the world who are looking for assistance or more information on how to self-publish an ebook.

And the answer today is very different than when our Publish Your Own Ebooks website started back in 2003.

Then, your best option was to get your ebook into PDF and start selling it from your own web site. While you can and should still do that today, if you want to be taken seriously as an independent author then you must also make your ebooks available at mainstream ebook stores such as Amazon Kindle Store that have emerged in recent years.

Here is a quick overview of the ebook self-publishing process and some of your options.

If you want to publish your own ebook then you need to consider the main online ebook stores where readers are buying and downloading ebooks. The major ebook stores are Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble Nook Books, Apple iBookstore, Kobo Books and Sony Reader Store. There are a few others to consider, but let’s keep this discussion to these main stores.

[Ed’s note: Sony Reader Store is now closed]


How to Get Your Ebook into these Stores?

Each of the major ebook stores has a portal for publishers to upload and manage their books. Remember as an indie author you are the author and the publisher.

You can choose to go to each store and publish your ebook directly or you can go through a distributor, sometimes called an ‘aggregator’.

An aggregator typically converts your manuscript into multiple formats and distributes your ebook to one or more stores on your behalf.

Some of the ebook aggregators commonly used by authors include Smashwords, BookBaby, and LuLu. They earn their income by a combination of upfront fees and annual fees for each ebook, or a percentage of the sales revenue from your ebook.

The process for publishing directly is different for each store and many authors use a combination, publishing directly to some stores while using an aggregator for the others.


Why Use an Aggregator?

One of the main reasons to use an ebook aggregator is to get assistance with converting your manuscript into the correct format. Amazon sells ebooks in their own proprietary Kindle format while the other stores use the EPUB format. There are sometimes complications encountered while trying to convert your manuscript from Microsoft Word into the appropriate format.

You may also decide to use an aggregator because you can’t meet the requirements to submit directly. Sony encourages indie authors to submit through an aggregator. Some stores require you to have a U.S. Tax ID or U.S. bank account if you want to publish directly. And in Apple’s case you need to submit from a Mac computer. Using an aggregator is a way to work around these obstacles.


Why Publish Directly?

Generally speaking it makes sense to deal directly if you can because you will save on costs and more of the profit from your ebooks will end up in your pocket.

If you are familiar with HTML you can probably handle the necessary formatting to successfully convert your manuscript to the appropriate ebook formats.


Getting Ready to Publish

Whether you publish directly or through an aggregator you will need to gather some important information for the submission process:

  • Book Title
  • Book Description – you need a professional-looking book description.
  • Ebook Cover – when your ebook sells in online stores it needs a cover image.
  • Price – decide on the price that you will charge. Sometimes different prices result in different royalty percentages so choose carefully.
  • Territories – you need to know which geographical territories you hold the rights for your ebook. If your ebook is an unpublished work then most likely you still hold rights for all territories.
  • ISBN number. You need an ISBN number at some ebook stores but not at others.

ISBNs for ebooks, ebook covers and pricing are all important topics which will be covered in detail in other posts.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is only a very brief overview of the self-publishing process and some of your options. There are many helpful posts on the topic on this blog. You may also be interested in my ebook self-publishing guide.

About the Author: Gary McLaren

Gary McLaren is the author of 'The Indie Author's Guide to Publishing Ebooks'. He also manages several web sites for professional writers including Publish Your Own Ebooks and Worldwide Freelance.


  1. Yes, this was quite helpful and I’m looking forward to more posts on the subject. Barbara

  2. My question is with children’s picture books. If you are not an illustrator, isn’t it very expensive to pay an illustrator for all the drawings that need to be done with a picture book? If I am calculating correctly, I could just pay to self publish a hard copy for about the same cost.

    • Hi Peggy, I’m sorry for the delay replying to you. I am not up with current fees for illustrators, but perhaps someone else can provide some feedback on this. Wouldn’t you need the illustrator either way, for a print book or ebook? Perhaps you could consider locating an illustrator offshore through a freelance job marketplace?

    • Vincent Gibbon says:

      Rather than pay for a professional illustrator, try using a local art college.

      Come to some deal with a artist, more sales = more money. Would seem the way to go.

  3. Looking forward to hearing details of the updated guide.

  4. Yes Gary, please enlighten us further. I am planning on doing several ebooks so knowing up front what to do is essential. I value your input.

  5. Dr, Dave says:

    Yes a very good source for myself the novice e-book publisher. Well done & looking for more!



    • Hi Janis, the major ebook stores do not usually try to tie you down at all. You can sell your ebooks at multiple stores including Amazon Kindle Store, B&N’s Nook Books, Sony Reader Store and Apple’s iBookstore.

      If you are considering using ebook aggregators (who publish or distribute your ebook to multiple stores) then you probably don’t want more than one as you could be paying an upfront or annual fee for each book. It probably doesn’t make much sense to use more than one.

  7. This is a very informative blog post. One of the best overviews I’ve seen. thanks! 🙂

    @Janis – you can publish anywhere however you want. You are not locked in to 1 publisher. In fact, if you wanted to, you could charge different prices or offer slightly different versions on different sites.

  8. Hi,

    I know it is a personal decision, do you think just picking one (i.e. Amazon) will get you enough exposure and sales? An aggregator seems like a great idea, but will it get enough sales to make up for the extra commissions? Trying to decide between self-publishing through one site at Amazon, using an aggregator, or just publishing on my own and selling it on a site like paydotcom…… ??

    • Hi Julie. Generally I advise authors to make their ebook available in multiple stores to reach as many readers as possible. However publishing on your own site only, and not through the major stores, is also a possibility. For one thing it makes it a little easier to charge a higher price since your ebook will not be listed directly alongside competing ebooks. I think this works best if you already have (or can get) plenty of readers coming to your web site.

  9. Thank you for explaining about aggregators, simply. I have been wondering what their purpose was.

  10. Ron Goedde says:

    I assume that if I sell my eBook for $37 at Clickbank then it wouldn’t make sense to also sell it on the Kindle, Nook, or Sony Reader given it would have to priced much lower?

    • Hi Ron, theoretically you could do it at both (regular ebook stores and ClickBank) but practically it might not work. Having a low priced product at ClickBank would probably mean you miss out on ClickBank’s affiliates promoting your ebook. Having a high-priced book at Amazon might mean missing out on sales, although not necessarily. I noticed that Yuwanda Black at Inkwell Editorial recently shared that her high-priced ebooks at Amazon had also been selling.

  11. What I cannot find in all the websites I consult about ebook publishing is the dreaded tax situation. Smashwords, etc., being based in the USA, require an IRS number even from non-citizens. So where can a non-US citizen go to have ebooks published without having to declare any information to tax authorities?

    • Hi Royston, tax withholding is a reality if you deal with US-based ebook stores. There is an interesting post here on the process of claiming back the withholdings. I hope this helps.

  12. Sarah Cox says:

    Thank you for this website! So many of my questions are answered here!

  13. Don’t forget about Kobo and Google.

  14. Looking fwd to your new ebook, seems like so much has changed just this year. I’m on the verge of publishing my first ebook, kinda more like a short, or e-article, but i have a full fledged ebook in progress also. Like Sarah above, I get a lot of great info in the comments too, thanks!

  15. Is there a way that an organization can produce an ebook of interest only to maybe a couple of hundred people in one community? Not meant for any wider circulation or needing booksellers… possible?

  16. Donna since you only wish to produce a book to a limited group, maybe you can try Apple’s new IBook Author software. Also I’ve created a new ‘E Book Writers’ group within LinkedIn to help members wishing to contribute and share information, experiences, ideas, etc on creating and writing an E book. You are welcome to join us.

  17. M.B. Lhowe says:

    Where can I get guidance on how to price my novel, for e-publication (I believe I am leaning toward working through an aggregator).

  18. Make certain that you are following the ISBN requirements for your country. Most of the ISBN advice on the Internet is incorrect. It took me a while to trace the problem back to the Wikipedia ISBN article, which was written from an American standpoint. It has since been re-written to a more International viewpoint.

    Each country has its own rules about how to obtain International Standard Book Numbers, and it is important to be sure you are following the correct rules.


  19. I have now made a ebook, and I want to present this book on my web-page. But this is a e-book. Do you have any tips to good coverprogram to make presentation of e-books?

  20. Gary,
    My friend and I want to write children’s books. She is an artist and I enjoy story telling. We’re also preschool teachers and work together.
    Since we’ve never published anything we thought Ebooks was the way to go. If we create a great website to sell our books, do we need to go through a distributor?? We think that nearly all the parents at our school would buy the books… 150 or so. I’ve heard that $4.99 and under is what an average children’s Ebook goes for. Could we sell ours for that?
    Also, What about making it audio? I also do voice-overs and I would want to add my narration. Is that possible with self published ebooks??
    Thanks so much

    • Hi Jen, you can certainly sell through your own web site without going through a distributor, using your own versions of the ebook (PDF, Epub, Mobi for Kindle etc.). If they’re popular you’ll probably want to get them into Amazon’s Kindle Store or B&N’s Nook Books – again you can do that without a distributor. You could create a separate audio version, or perhaps embed the audio, although that would require using an advanced format such as Kindle Format 8, or perhaps Apple’s new authoring software.

  21. Great site, thanks. Just wondering, any drawbacks to epublishing at all? Will it cause problems with a paper publisher that might want the book? Do you know of authors who started with ebook and got published on paper afterwards?

    • Gary McLaren says:

      If anything your sales of the digital version should help to prove the “marketability” of the book, and yes, there are now many authors starting with ebooks, then finding publishers.

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