Writing and Publishing an E-book

by Mike Shea on 10 July 2010

30 Second Version

  1. Write your book. Don't worry about formatting and editing. Just write.
  2. Edit your book. Recruit friends to edit it. Edit it again. Edit it a final time.
  3. Wait for your cover and any internal art you've commissioned.
  4. Use your favorite word processor to format and export a PDF version. If you want to stay simple, this is all you need to do.
  5. If you have a small run, host the PDF yourself and use Paypal to process payments. You can make 94% of the cover price this way, but you'll handle a lot of the transactions yourself.
  6. If you want to publish to the Kindle Marketplace and iBookstore, convert Markdown to HTML.
  7. Use HTML and CSS and Calibre to convert to ePub and Mobipocket.
  8. Import the Mobipocket version to the Amazon Kindle Marketplace.
  9. Publish the print-on-demand PDF and ePub versions with Lulu.com, Lulu can publish it to the Apple iBookstore.
  10. Profit!
  11. Start writing again.

Expletive-filled Longer Rant

Over the past three months or so, I wrote an ebook on Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master Tips. I wanted to do nearly all of it myself, save artwork and editing, so I ended up doing the writing, conversion, publishing, financial transactions, and marketing all myself. The following are my experiences and instructions on writing and publishing your very own beloved ebook. Let's dig right in.


First, start by writing your goddamn book. Don't get all high and mighty about the fact that you're going to be an e-publisher. Don't start reading a thousand tutorials about formatting HTML for Kindle. Just write your goddamned book. Write it in markdown using a text editor. Don't buy some fancy schmancy software. J.D. fucking Salinger didn't need fucking Scrivener, neither do you. Just open your favorite raw text editor (I love Textmate) and start writing.


Second, edit your goddamned book. Don't start formatting the minute you're through vomiting up your brilliant idea into ASCII. Actually edit your book. If you need to, convert your Markdown to HTML and print it. Give your HTML printout to a couple of people you trust to actually do a decent job editing your book. Give them a free pen for their efforts. Don't monkey around with your CSS to make it look just right, just print the fucking thing out as it is. Don't even think about converting your document yet. Don't "just experiment to see how it goes".

Edit more

Don't start dorking around making a PDF copy just so you can feel like fucking Stephen King. Any time you're thinking about your book, go read it. Read it, cut shit out, switch passive to active, cut out every needless word, remove all the anecdotes you added in to make you look smart. Cut it down until it just says what you wanted it to say.

Once you've edited it a bunch of times and your drafted friends and loved ones have given you at least two edited drafts, give it one last look. Again, don't start monkeying around trying to get it on the Kindle. Just hold your goddamn horses, you'll get there.

Wait for art and edit again

If you're commissioning a cover or any internal art, wait until you have all of it in hand before you start to do any conversions or formatting. Again, don't waste your time experimenting. If you want to spend time "working on your book" than work on the words, not the formatting. You'll have plenty of time to dick with the formatting once you've put every word is in its place and removed every needless word.


So now you have a perfect markdown-formatted book and a nice pile of images. Now you can start formatting.

You have a choice of formats to publish your book. If you want to go simple, just publish a PDF version and sell it yourself. PDF can be displayed on computers, printed to paper, and exported to both the Kindle and the iPad. It won't look perfect on all devices, but it can mostly work. If you want, you can make two PDF versions, one for small devices and one for larger devices.

If you want to publish to the Apple iBookstore and the Kindle Marketplace, you'll need an ePub and Mobireader version of your book. To export to these versions, you'll want to convert to HTML, write some custom CSS, and use Calibre to take your HTML+CSS and turn it into ePub and Mobipocket.

I'm not going to get into all of it here because it will simply take your time to monkey with the software to get it to work with your book. Read up on how to use Calibre and how to do some CSS formatting for ePub distributions.

If you don't know what HTML and CSS is, stick to writing it in Word and dumping it out to PDF.


Once you have these four versions, you're ready to publish. You have a choice about how and where you are going to publish. If you're going to have a small run, like 50 to 100 copies, you can host the book yourself on a website and use Paypal for your transactions. Check out their Payment button merchant services. If you use this method, you can get 94% of your cover price.

If you're going to sell a lot more copies (unlikely, let's be honest), you can use a number of services that either take a bigger commission or charge you a flat fee. A lot of folks have had luck with E-Junkie. If you want to sell a print version, I've always had great luck with Lulu.

Lulu also offers a service to sell your book on the Apple iBookstore as long as you format your book in ePub and validate it properly.

Amazon's Kindle Marketplace requires a Mobireader version to import into their own proprietary version of the book. Like the iBookstore, you get 70% of the cover price.


Now you should be ready to ship. Write up a nice website about it. Offer up some sample PDFs so people know if they'll like it or not. Get over your asinine ideas that you don't want to give up good stuff for free. Sell it like drug dealers do. Give them a taste and then take their money. Tweet about it. Push it on your Facebook friends. Get involved in whatever social circle exists around your topic. Don't spend money, spend time and energy getting to know your potential audience directly.


When you're done, go treat yourself to a nice steak dinner. Then go home and start writing your next one. After all, this last one was shit. Time to do better.