Assuming the Risk for Your Own eBook

Assuming the Risk for Your Own eBook

Assuming the Risk for Your Own eBook

By Laura Dawson, Bowker, and Linda Cassola, DCL, with additional commentary by Sandra Poirier-Diaz, Smith Publicity

Turning to the pros for help in producing and marketing your eBook can increase your sales

One of the benefits of self-publishing is that you can choose your own path. You may be a great designer and a poor marketer – so you’d do your own design while hiring a marketing expert; you may wish to learn as you go, every step of the way. It’s important to remember that each step in the workflow will cost something – time or money or both. This is what we mean by assuming the risk for your own book – a role that traditional publishers have mostly filled up to this point. Publishers take on a manuscript in the hopes it will do well, investing in each workflow step, and hope to see a return on that investment through sales.

The publishing workflow consists of five primary steps:

Each step in the workflow has its own cost. The more you do yourself, the less your cash layout will be. But depending on your abilities and technical skill, you may not wish to do it yourself at every step – especially when you consider how costly a poor quality output might ultimately be if it delivers an equally poor user experience.


The editorial process takes several forms. Developmental editing, copy-editing, and fact checking (or, in some cases, legal vetting) all play a part in making your book the best it can possibly be. Multiple quality control checkpoints throughout the process will also avoid costly errors and heavy clean-up at the end.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing helps you shape your book. Rather than focusing on a line-by-line edit (though some developmental editors also do this), the goal is to focus on the structural organization of the book – does the narrative flow coherently? Are there plot holes? Are terms explained appropriately for the audience?

A developmental editor will help you trim areas of your book that are too long, and punch up details that need highlighting. They are sometimes called “book doctors.”

But do you really need a developmental editor?

Most books need another set of eyes to objectively review the content. It’s a rare author who can write a perfect book without feedback. A developmental editor doesn’t re-write the book but helps its evolution, in the writer’s own voice.


Most of us, even English majors, make grammatical mistakes. The difference between a copy-edited book and one that has not been copy-edited is enormous. Copy-editing doesn’t change the substance of what you’re writing about. In fact, it enhances it – clarifying meaning, correcting distracting mistakes.

A good copy editor will adjust your punctuation and spelling, question whether or not you really want to use jargon, make sure you’re using the right terminology, and keep you from embarrassing errors of usage. He will keep your language consistent from page to page, and ensure that you capitalize names properly.

Traditional publishing houses either have copy editors on staff or outsource this function to qualified professionals. In both cases, every book that passes through a publishing house gets a thorough going-over to ensure that the manuscript is free of mistakes and conveys the author’s message concisely.

Copy-editing is different from proofreading, which happens on a facsimile of the final product – while proofreading can catch errors of typography, copy-editing is focused on errors of meaning. Self-published books frequently suffer for want of copy-editing, and this is one of the differentiating factors that can make a self-published book appear less professionally-produced than a traditionally-published one.

Fact Checking and Legal Vetting

If you’re writing nonfiction, you may want to invest in the services of a fact-checker. Fact-checkers adhere to a rigorous standard, questioning assertions and asking for documentation and citations to support those assertions.

The self-publishing service Lulu has some good tips on fact-checking here. Probably the greatest portrayal of a fact-checking department was written by John McPhee about The New Yorker.

Magazines employ fact-checkers because their publication cycles are not as severe as newspapers, and magazine articles are shorter than book-length manuscripts and therefore not insurmountable for a staffer to fact-check.

Newspapers and book publishers generally don’t have fact-checking departments – for completely different reasons. At newspapers, the reporter is the source of the facts, and it’s up to him to maintain accuracy to the best of his ability (and report corrections later, if anything needs to be corrected). The deadlines for news publications are severe (even more so in the age of the digital newspaper).

At book publishers, the quantity of information being published is so great that holding up publication of any given book is too onerous a burden. Again, the writer is responsible for the facts in the book. And frequently, the writer must either be that fact checker himself or contract that work out.

If your book discusses the lives or actions of people who can be identified, you may want to have it vetted by a lawyer. This will help avoid potential lawsuits – defamation, libel, or other charges. The self-publishing service iUniverse offers a great checklist to help you determine whether you need a lawyer to vet your manuscript.

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Every book needs to be designed in a professional manner. This is true of eBooks as well as print books. Good design levels the playing field.

Every eBook format and print format has its own design issues; solving them thoughtfully provides a good experience for your readers. It is important to remember that the device controls how the text renders and can be different on all, so over-styling an eBook can only add to the concerns.

One great advantage of eBooks is also a disadvantage. Unlike print books, where the author controls exactly what the reader sees on each page, the eBook consumer controls the appearance of the book, such as:

  • Text size
  • Font, color, background
  • Orientation (landscape vs. portrait)

This has to factor in the constraints of specific readers:

  • Color vs. black-and-white
  • Screen size
  • Memory
  • Processing speed

EBook complexity is introduced by anything other than straight text, such as styled text, tables, lists, figures, photos, foreign characters, equations, multi-column, sidebars, callouts, footnotes, index, etc. Complexity is not inherently "bad," but design needs to be simplified so that the eBook will "flow" from one screen to the next, no matter which viewing options are chosen.

Common design issues for eBooks mostly revolve around reflowable eBooks. These issues include design traits such as text on top of images or layered elements, tables with many columns and data, image captions not always being on the same page, line breaks, etc. Generally, layouts for eBooks won’t exactly match the elements of the print book, and that is exactly why you cannot afford to go it alone.

“Good” design output is characterized by lack of typos, special characters captured correctly in Unicode, working links, clear images, and consistency of formatting throughout the book.

If you are publishing an eBook, you choose the formats you’ll distribute. So it’s important to know the difference between EPUB and MOBI. EPUB is the closest to an industry standard for eBooks, while MOBI is Kindle’s proprietary file type. You may also need a separate file type for iPad. The iPad is different, since it can use a different document format and you can present content in different ways.

When it comes to graphics, keep images less than six inches in width. At 72 DPI, this makes for an image that is 432 pixels wide. Right now, images at 72 DPI work for virtually all eBooks except the iPad, where you will want to create your images to a higher standard (144 DPI). Don’t rely on captions – they won’t always appear right under an image, and may show up on the next “page,” which is hard on your reader. Instead, refer to images by number and put the associated text in the body copy. Also, instead of referring to a graphic by its color – for example, “as you can see by the text in red” – use bold or italics, since the vast majority of eBook readers in use today are black and white.

There are two major formats for eBook types – fixed-layout and reflowable. The fixed-layout format is proprietary for each device, so a separate conversion is necessary for the Kindle and for the iPad. The Sony reader does not support fixed-layout. Although the Nook supports a fixed-layout format, it can only be processed through Barnes and Noble themselves. They do not accept self-published fixed-layout titles – only reflowable eBooks.

Reflowable formatting is suitable for books that mainly contain text with some images and formatting. The beauty of a reflowable eBook is that the “page” changes based on the size of the screen and the user-chosen font size. Please note that should you choose to convert with this format, the layout will be completely different from that of the source. You will have an image followed by text; the image and text may not always be on the same "page" as the image since with reflowable eBooks, the user has the ability to increase/decrease the size of the font; hence, image and text move accordingly. The reflowable MOBI format can be viewed on all Kindle devices and other devices such as iPad with the Kindle app installed. The reflowable EPUB format can be viewed on iOS devices, Sony, Nook and other e-readers that use EPUB format.

The advantage of fixed-layout processing is that it can follow the way contents are laid out in the source, but it is very device-specific compared to its reflowable counterpart. Reflowable content can be viewed in more devices. Also, fixed-layout conversion is more expensive than reflowable conversion.

Keep it linear – remember there is little room for sidebars or callouts on a small screen.

Design is impacted by conversion – a print design won’t simply convert to digital without work on the back end.

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Automated conversion software (free or paid) can present limitations in the conversion process since they may not be able to accurately interpret elements on a page. This is especially true when the content has any level of complexity to it, such as multi-column layouts, tables and so on. Issues such as missing random characters, footnotes captured as plain text, indented formatting not being retained, extra and missing spaces between words and more are regularly present.

Utilizing a conversion process that includes a combination of automation and human intervention, as well as multiple quality checkpoints throughout, will ensure that a quality eBook is created. To better help you understand what this approach should entail, we have outlined DCL’s eBook process.

DCL employs a 15-step eBook production process, a workflow that includes logging and reviewing materials, scanning (both destructive and non-destructive), proofreading, styling, and conversion to HTML, EPUB and MOBI. The detailed process uses DCL’s proprietary software to appropriately tag and preserve files, ensure quality, and convert to various eBook types.

The production process begins with a log and review of client materials. Upon receipt of the files, DCL’s editors log each document received into DCL’s Production Control System (PCS), and perform an initial analysis of client materials.

This analysis identifies which complexity level the source book has and if the source materials contain any anomalies that have not been previously encountered, and defines how those anomalies should be tagged. They also check if the files are duplicates of others already submitted and if the source materials are all legible and complete.

Using PCS, the documents are tracked through each step in the conversion process. In full production, there may be hundreds of documents at varying steps in the process at any given time. The PCS tracks where each particular document is in the process and generates continually updated statistics on the project’s flow. This information is used to project delivery and confirm that processes are working efficiently, and enables reprioritization as necessary. In addition, the system is used to provide web-based reporting, real-time and secure, on the project’s progress.

As such, DCL incorporates proprietary software combined with human elements to ensure accurate production and high quality that will work exactly according to client specifications. Software can do a far more effective job of tagging when provided with clues on how to interpret ambiguous sections of documents.

Proofreading and clean-up are important parts of the conversion process and are necessary to ensure accuracy. In addition to the proofreading, DCL has developed special Quality Control (QC) software to allow pinpointing of potential problem areas, such as special characters and accents.

There are many styles that are not supported by the Kindle device but are valid in the EPUB document, sometimes making this automated conversion inefficient. DCL ensures that only supported CSS styles are used to ensure that this automated conversion will work properly.

Final quality control is a critical approach, which ensures that the final files are correctly and consistently tagged. Automated packaging software will be used to ensure that all files are properly prepared for shipment. This software organizes all materials per customer requirements, assures that naming conventions are adhered to, and performs a series of checks to ensure that all needed components are included. DCL delivers the final documents which will be in accordance with the customer requirements.

Please remember… free eBooks are usually worth what they cost. Shortcutting the conversion process can severely affect the final result. Many authors and publishers have suffered the ill effects of bad ratings. Don’t be one of them!

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Marketing and Publicity

It is quite difficult to determine whether you are overspending or underspending on marketing – so proceed cautiously, spend incrementally, and try to benchmark any possible results. Doing it yourself saves money but can become a huge investment of time, so consider accordingly.

Books in Print lists about 28 million ISBNs that are actively being bought and sold in the US, UK and Australia.

This, of course, does not include books with no ISBNs and is not a global figure. But it's enough of a number to emphasize the point that there are an awful lot of books out there. And a self-published author, without the marketing and PR engine of a large publishing house behind her or the funds to take out TV advertising time, desperately needs her readers to find her book amid these millions of others.


More and more shopping is done via search. If your metadata reflects the keywords that are being searched, your book has a better chance of being found on the search engines (which link to your bookstore listing). The search engine is now the primary intermediary between your book and its reader.

The Book Industry Study Group has a list of 31 "core elements" of metadata – this is a good guide to what both online bookstores and search engines look for in a book listing. If your book is not sufficiently described in a way search engines understand, you run the risk of the book not coming up as readers are searching on the topics on which you're an expert.

It's also important to remember that there are many sources of book metadata. In addition to Bowker's Books in Print, book distributors send out data feeds. OCLC's WorldCat is used by search engines as well. And online bookshops have their own staff who make manual changes to the data. Any of these sources could be making changes to your book listing, so tracking down the source of incorrect or incomplete data can sometimes be difficult. Your best approach is to make sure that your data's correct at Books in Print and track the different places where your book is listed and correct data there as well.

Local Media

Here are some tips from Sandra Poirier-Diaz at Smith Publicity about local media (republished here with permission):

Contact your local library: If you are an author, chances are they already know you. Tell them about your book (circulation manager or acquisitions manager are titles to ask for). Brainstorm on ideas to get your book available in their library and send friends to check it out at the library to build demand. Ask about doing an event or reading.

Contact your local newspaper: Remember, the key is to start small. Reach out to your county or town daily and weekly newspapers to let them know that you’ve written a book. Provide them with a synopsis of your book, information about applicable audiences, and a review copy. Offer to email them an author photo and book cover. As a local author, you will be of interest to the local community – there’s a natural “angle” – which is key to attracting the attention of local journalists. Let them know about any book events!

Build upon your initial interest: So the small community newspaper wrote a feature about you, the next up-and-coming local author? Put it on your website. Share it on your Facebook wall. Tweet the review to your followers. Write it into the book synopsis. In sharing your media placements, you’ll show potential readers and relevant media contacts that your book is getting people talking!

Pitch to local television and radio programs: Does your book or message tie in with a particular event? Holiday? Community affair? Local history or settings? If so, tell producers/program directors that you have a timely message to share with their listening or viewing audience. If you don’t have such a tie-in for your book, remember that you are still “local news.” Share any print exposure you received and send them your speaking points. The less work the producer has to do to put together the interview, the better!

Set up a local book signing: Here are a few tips for promoting your local signing:

  • Rally up the troops: Send personal invitations to your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors to encourage their attendance.
  • Offer to speak: It’s always better to offer a presentation or even a mini-seminar rather than just sitting at table signing books. Offer something of value to the bookstore or wherever you will be holding the event.
  • Hang flyers in community stores and local businesses: Ask local business owners for permission to hang flyers in their stores. Find out if you can post an announcement on the supermarket bulletin board.
  • Encourage local and regional calendar event listings: Contact your local and regional newspapers and community blogs and event websites to encourage calendar listings of your book signing. Register at to create your own local event listing.

The bottom line is, don’t underestimate the power of your local media market. Starting with your hometown and expanding to surrounding regional outlets will help you start building media credentials for you and your book. Think of media placements as résumé builders for your book and message. By noting your achievements, you’ll have more appeal and credibility when pitching to national outlets.


Poirier-Diaz also offers the following advice regarding book publicity (reprinted here with permission):

When a book is launched, the goal is to create awareness about the author and his or her title for a variety of reasons, including sparking book sales, building the author’s brand, positioning the author as an expert, and/or attracting professional opportunities for the author, such as speaking engagements, professional advancement, and future publishing options.

Publicity and advertising are two strategies employed to create awareness. Most people have a clear understanding of advertising since they’re exposed to it every day as they watch television, read a newspaper or visit an online news site. Publicity, however, is seamless to most consumers as the author, person, product, etc. is part of the news.

In advertising, someone – the publisher or author – pays the media outlet for advertising space or airtime. The buyer has 100% control over what is in the advertisement and when it appears. The primary benefit of advertising is control. With publicity, it’s the book publicist’s job to introduce the media to an author and book and “pitch” why the author will provide readers or listeners with meaningful information. The author may be entertaining, insightful, educational, inspiring, or controversial. The author and book become part of the news story, rather than a paid advertisement. An author may be quoted (best romantic spots in the area recommended by a romance author), add insight to a current event (financial planner has tips on how to manage the rising cost of college), have a chapter in their book as the basis for a feature story (getting back into the dating pool after a bad breakup), television segment (baking demonstration on desserts for diabetics). There is no payment from the author or publicist to the media for this coverage. Each of the parties involved – the media outlet and author – get something they want and need. The media receives outstanding content for their audiences. The author receives exposure for their name, brand and book.

Put simply, the role of a book publicist is to make their authors newsworthy. The result gives the author immeasurable credibility. The benefit of being “seen on” or “featured in” well respected media outlets lasts long after a publicity campaign ends. The primary benefit of publicity is credibility, and when it works, it is priceless. The best way to explain the difference between publicity and advertising is to pick up a magazine and find a story featuring an author, and in the same issue find an advertisement for a book. The article gives the author and his book credibility as the reader knows the magazine thinks enough of the person to incorporate him or her into the story. An advertisement gives the author exposure; however, the reader also knows someone paid for this advertisement. Therein lies the key difference: credibility vs. control.

An important point authors should keep in mind is that when the media does a story or interview, the publicist and author lose control. Publicists suggest direction for the coverage, but publicists can’t control if they cover the author, how he or she is covered or when an article or interview will appear. A producer or editor can do whatever they want and go in any direction. They may sing the praises of an author and his or her book, or spin the story in an unforeseen direction, including writing a bad review.

When you want planned, controlled exposure, advertising is the route to explore. If you are considering publicity, know there are no guarantees, but again, when it works, it literally provides coverage, exposure and credibility you can’t buy.

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Writing and creating a book is half the battle. The rest is distribution. Unless you have thousands of people beating a path to your door, you’ll need to get your book placed in bookstores so potential customers can buy it. It may be that your publishing platform does distribution for you.

Physical Bookstores

This is probably the biggest challenge for any small publisher. Retail outlets for books are closing rapidly. Even within the existing bookstores, the shelf space devoted to actual books is shrinking. It helps to have a distributor. The two largest book distributors in the US are Ingram and Baker & Taylor. But even getting in the door at a distributor is difficult – your book is competing with millions of others, and bookstores may not select it for in-store sale.

One useful approach is to go personal. Most bookstore chains have a community events coordinator (otherwise, the bookstore manager is the person to cultivate a relationship with). And even within a chain of bookstores, individual shops are given some encouragement to stock the books of local authors. Introduce yourself to the coordinator or manager, and present your book. You can offer to do a reading or other event. The important thing to focus on is what your book can do for the store. Will a reading help attract customers? Does your book relate in any way to other books that people might purchase when they come in? What value are you bringing the store?

Online Bookstores

Digital shops have a much lower barrier to entry, because there are not nearly the same space concerns. Online bookstores like to offer as wide an inventory as possible. But each vendor has different requirements for book listings.

Amazon offers several different options, depending on your circumstances. Amazon is probably the easiest online retailer to get a listing on.

Barnes & Noble requires you to become a Vendor of Record with their warehouse, if you are interested in selling print titles. If you are interested in selling eBooks only, you can go to their Nook Press site and upload your eBook files.

The American Booksellers Association has a publisher partner program for those publishing 5 or more titles per year. This partnership gives you exposure to independent booksellers who are members of the ABA.

Keep your vendors happy – read their requirements carefully and follow their procedures. They have a lot of suppliers. As a publisher, the bookstore is actually your customer. And of course you want to give your customer good service.

Customers respond well when they are treated well. They buy more of your product. So it's very much in your interest to treat booksellers the way they want to be treated, even if it means a little extra work and thought; bookstores are the portal to your readers.

Some general rules of thumb:

  • Getting a person's name at a bookstore is not necessarily going to open a lot of doors.
  • If the person is in charge of technical issues, she'll have to forward emails and phone calls about merchandising issues (why a book isn't listed, metadata corrections, how to get your book to the warehouse); this will take extra time and cause some annoyance internally.
  • If the person is in charge of eBook issues, she'll have to re-route questions about physical book inventory.
  • If you're just writing to the only person whose name appears on the website, in the hopes of getting the attention of an actual human, that can backfire – actual humans can get irritated when instructions aren't being followed.
  • It's important to read the instructions provided to you – on the website, in documentation – and do what that bookseller requires. And yes, every bookseller's procedures are going to be somewhat different.

Bookstores have lots of suppliers of books. They are not vested in selling your book, particularly – there are many more publishers and distributors they can work with. Threatening them with excluding them from ordering your book is not very effective, even if you are a "big name" author. You only alienate your readers this way, by reducing the number of outlets from which they can purchase your book. It's unusual to think of a bookstore as a customer – when usually, we as readers are a bookstore's customers – but in the case of self-publishing, it's really important. Bookstores deal with thousands upon thousands of authors and publishers a day. You don't want to be known as the one who doesn't provide good customer service.

If you find that all the different vendors have requirements that are too difficult or time-consuming to follow, you may want to place your book with a distributor whose sole job is getting your book to the right place. There are many distributors for self-published authors who are quite highly regarded.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can the look and feel of the print book be retained in eBook format?

The simple answer is no. E-readers render each in their own way; certain elements display differently. Unique situations require customized answers, but as a general rule of thumb, the books with graphic images, tables, equations, sidebars and bullets are the kind of problems you may encounter when converting to an eBook format.

Important considerations in conversions:

  • Automation will only take you so far: Make certain you have the resources available to support the rest of the development.
  • Each device is unique and has specific features: Be certain to consider the variations between devices. What renders well on one may not on others.
  • Provide the user with a rich experience: Embedded videos for example are effective only if they are helpful to the user, such as in the case of a maintenance crew. Don’t overwhelm or underwhelm your intended audience.
  • Don’t skimp on quality: Poorly formatted eBooks will not be tolerated by the marketplace under any circumstances. But in the case of technical writing and other non-fiction, errors can mean disaster. Extensive checkpoints and validation should be a normal part of conversion.
  • DO IT RIGHT!: There is no more cost-effective means to the end than doing it the right way the first time. Delays in “time to market” drain on internal resources and exorbitant costs of redo are just the tip of the iceberg. Think ROI!

Why can’t I just use free EPUB conversion software to convert my files?

You can – but we have found that when authors try to use one of the free EPUB conversion software packages available on the internet, and submit them, they almost always fail the retailers' EPUB quality control tests. It often ends up costing more time and money than you’d expect.

How can I make changes to my eBook?

You can make unlimited changes prior to the conversion. You can edit anything contained in the book as long as it is documented clearly what changes you are requesting for the eBook.

After conversion, you can still make changes but you may incur change fees.

Note: production will faithfully reproduce any typos that made it through the editorial phase.

What is an eISBN? Do I need one for my eBook?

There is no such thing as an eISBN. ISBNs identify books of all formats, print and digital. You do need to assign a separate ISBN to each format (hardcover, paperback, eBook, large-print edition, enhanced eBook, etc.). ISBNs can be purchased from Bowker. ISBNs for digital products are in the same format as they are for print products. However, you cannot just use the same ISBN for print and for the eBook version of the title.

At last I have the final PDF, along with ISBN and tax ID. I want you to translate it into e-editions suitable for Nook, Kindle, iBooks, and whatever other (if any) major eBook outlets.

DCL can convert from paper/Word/PDF/InDesign to various eBook formats. EPUB is the standard format for most e-readers such as iPad, Nook, etc. while MOBI is for Kindle. The MOBI file should be uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing. The EPUB can be uploaded to iBookstore, Kobo, Nook Press, etc.

What is the likelihood of eBooks being adopted for technical documentation?

Technical documentation has already adopted eBooks. Looking ahead, probably everything is going to be available on eBooks over time, and technical documentation is what many people use, especially when they need to look up things and reference things while in the field or on the go. That is going to be a major development over the next few years and indeed we’re already seeing that.

A lot of medical documentation is certainly being done that way, and more and more we’re seeing medical books distributed as eBooks. We’re seeing technical documentation starting to be done that way. There are limitations of what is available, but clearly over the next few years the trail will be going in that direction.

Do you test your conversion on all e-reading devices?

DCL tests the files on several reading devices such as Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, as well as older versions of Kindle and Nook, plus the iPad.