iBook Lessons: The absolute beginner

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iBook Lessons: The absolute beginner

iBook Lessons is a continuing series about ebook writing and publishing.

I get asked this a lot: what is the absolute minimum it takes to get started in ebook publishing. The answer is this: a manuscript in Microsoft Word .doc or .docx format, an Amazon account, and a smile.

Everything else is gravy.

With just those items, you can get started publishing on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system and start earning money from what you write. Just agree to KDP's terms and conditions, provide Amazon with a bank account routing number for your earnings, and if you are an American citizen, a Social Security number. You can find all the information you need to provide on this webpage.

You can use a personal account to set up your direct deposit, although you'll probably want to set up a separate business account instead. Check around for whatever free checking deals are currently in your area. These days, in the US, expect to leave a few hundred dollars deposited in the account in order to skip fees.

Once you've signed up, you head over to your KDP dashboard to upload and describe your ebook. You won't need an ISBN, you won't need to pre-format your book for mobi or EPUB, you just select the doc file from your desktop, upload it, and let Amazon do all the rest. It's insanely easy. What's more, your Kindle book can be read on nearly any platform out there from iOS to Android, from Mac to Windows.

In exchange for selling your book, Amazon takes a fixed 30% of the sales price (which may range from $2.99 to $9.99) off the top plus "delivery fees," which amount to $0.15/megabyte. In other words, Amazon is not the place for you if you intend to sell image-heavy picture books.

There are two exceptions to this model. First, if your book costs under $2.99, you must sell it using a flat 35% royalty option (they keep 65% of list price). Second, if you want to bypass the delivery fee model, you may opt into the 35% program for higher-priced ebooks.

What if you absolutely need to sell through iBooks? Then, you'll either have to start doing a bit more work in terms of securing an ISBN, filling out paperwork and contracts, and converting to EPUB, or you can look into a third party-Apple approved aggregator.

Apple requires:

  • ISBN numbers for the books you want to distribute
  • Delivery in EPUB format, where the book passes EpubCheck 1.0.5
  • a US Tax ID
  • an iTunes account backed up by a credit card

An easy way to work through this is to sell through an agregator like Smashwords. In exchange for a further cut of your profits, they distribute your ebooks to a wide range of stores, including the iBookstore. Instead of earning 70%, you earn 60% and Smashwords handles all the distribution details, including ISBNs. They promise:

  • Free ISBNs
  • Free ebook conversion to nine formats
  • Free unlimited anytime-updates to book and metadata

Regardless of where you publish, spend as much time as you can writing a compelling book. And, don't forget the proofreading!

[For Federico Viticci, who asked]

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