Self-publishing an e-book

Hi there,

Let’s say I wrote a pop-science book that I think might have a small niche market. Has the internet come far enough along that I could self-publish the book in electronic format, and perhaps even make a little bit of money in the process?

If so, what are some common ways that people have achieved this?


Wrong forum :smack:

Please move to GQ. Apologies.

Man, and just minutes after I pay out on Gfactor for moving another thread of mine? That’s karma for you.

This sort of thing is going to present you with a few problems.

First, what will your profit model be? Do you want people to actually pay to read your book, or do you want to let them read for free and hope to make money out of advertising?

If you want them to pay for reading, you’re going to have to give them at least a sample for free, unless you have some other way to get publicity for the book. And you’re also going to have to figure out how to present the rest of the book to them in such a way that the purchaser can read the book, but no-one else can.

Then you have to consider the ease of transferring text-based materials. If you have an eBook in PDF or DJVU or LIT format, which people can just download, there’s basically nothing stopping them from easily sharing the whole book with other people via email or peer-to-peer networks. I’m not sure how easy it is to incorporate some sort of Digital Rights Management into these text formats, and that would also leave you with the problem that people have been rebelling against DRM over the past few years.

I guess you could try some sort of online reading technology that requires someone to sign in and/or install a plugin to read. The eBrary website does something like this, and it seems to work well enough, but they also have thousands of books available, not just one.

Publishing the book itself will be no problem. There are myriad ways to do it. Making money from it is going to be a more difficult proposition, even assuming it’s good enough that some people are willing to pay to read it. Your best bet might be simply to put it up for free, and have some sort of donation system (Paypal, etc.) where people can give you money if they like what you do. If publicity about the book spreads over the internet and lots of people want to read it, you might be able to make some money from ads, but internet advertising doesn’t pay very much unless you have a massively popular site with tens or hundreds of thousands of visitors.

It all depends on your definition of “a little money.”

The average self-published book sells less than 100 copies. That’s for print books. I don’t know the equivalent figures for e-books, but there is no real reason to think that they are much higher.

The only way to sell a book you’ve published yourself is relentless promotion. If you can do that, you might sell more than 100. But it’s a long, hard, and daily struggle.

There are two decidedly different approaches, which publishers are trying hard to confuse for you:


To self-publish, you do everything yourself. I did this with my first two books, before I got connected to the traditional publishers. You have to do the writing, hire an editor, hire a proofreader, either design your own cover or pay a cover designer, select the paper and book size, produce any illustrations, charts, etc., have the books printed (to get a reasonable price, you’ll have to print at least 1,000 copies), store them, market them, sell them, ship them…


The Internet is full of vanity presses. Send 'em your manuscript and write a check (typically $600 to $1,500), and poof you have a book. They use Print-on-Demand (POD) presses, so you can order just a few at a time. You still need to do all the marketing and sales work, but they handle taking online orders and shipping books, and they can usually get them listed with distributors.

No matter which you use, you’ll need to set up your own Web site and so forth.

Your wish is my command. Moved.

I have no problem giving away the first one or two chapters for free, in fact I anticipated as much.

How to solve the problem of mass distribution on free p2p networks… I’m not sure it’s a beast I want to tackle. Even the publishing giants are getting flogged in that war, and the only way they can “enforce” their copyright is to make it extremely annoying for the paying customers to access the content, and even in those instances they can still lose. I think accepting the inevitable p2p stuff just comes with the territory of being a publisher in the year 2009.

Check out Lightning Source. is another option, but not nearly as good.

The beauty of Lightning Source is that you can get set up relatively cheaply, sell e-books as well as in-print books, and they will get your print books listed with major distributors from the standard book-store Ingram to Amazon. (Furthermore, books sold through those distributors are printed one-at-a-time, as orders come in, and you never need to be sitting on twenty cases of product in your garage). I used that for a couple of my books, a couple of my clients’ books (back in the days before I did accounting strictly), and I know several self-publishers who have used them as well. All of us were able to average more than 100 sales per title… though I have to admit that our best titles were topping out around 600. I know someone who hit 1,000. The worst did about 12 copies. (The people I know selling e-books then often felt that 100 in sales was a successful title, so print was still more viable five years ago; Kindle might change that, but Amazon wants a monster cut of the sales).

Of course, the lady who got her first book published by a real publisher has seen 3,000 of them sold and she’s got a contract for a second book already.

Still, 600 copies can be enough to make self-publishing a worthwhile hobby, but you’re definitely not going to retire any time soon. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the fantasy that you can put a book out there and just have it magically sell 10,000 copies.

Your sales will benefit hugely by any involvement you have with communities of people who might be interested. For example, if you are a member of a club, go to conventions, or can sell the book to clients in your existing line of work.

People seem to thing that p2p will steal everything. Unless your book gets very popular I doubt it would be easily (if at all) available on p2p networks. I’d edge on the side of easy accessibility rather then trying to protect against a most likely non existent copyright infringement problem.

I’m sure that’s right. There are plenty of books out there that i wouldn’t want even if someone sent me a free copy. It’s usually the stuff that’s popular already that gets nicked.

I guess i was thinking that, if the OP’s audience is a small community of similar-minded people, they might simply share the book with one another by email or USB key or whatever. But i agree that this is probably a minor concern.

I also agree that the benefits of publicity and accessibility for a small publication like this would probably far outweigh any concerns about copyright violation.

This one looks interesting. You mention Amazon here… one thing I would really like is for my book to appear on Amazon, especially in the search results if keywords from the book title are entered. Are you saying that with, this is what happens? I have scoped around the website, but can’t find an explicit mention of this.

Yes, that’s what happens. There are multiple contracts that you can execute when you sign up with Lightning Source. One is the distribution contract that gets you listed with companies like Amazon and other book distributors. I think Amazon’s policy is to automatically stock one copy of the book and then see what happens.

Getting listed on Amazon is also easy through their Advantage service, but there’s an annual fee of $40 and you have to pay to ship each book to them. For most people, the shipping and listing fees cost more than you make through sales. (Really - we’re talking dozens or, at best, hundreds for small print books, not thousands). Lightning Source saves you both costs and gives you a cheaper printing cost for sale to distributors than you get when you buy copies for yourself.

I don’t know how things work with Amazon’s Kindle sales… it didn’t exist back in the day when I was more involved in the small print world.

Lightning Source has excellent customer service. If you’re interested, I’d give them a call. They do have a lot of resources on their web site, but it isn’t always easy to navigate.

Alright, I’m just going to throw this question out there, feel free not to answer it.

How much money can you make per book (whether electronic or paper-based), through LightningSource? Let’s just assume an average sized book selling at an average type price. Can you give a ballpark?

I apologize. I didn’t read the OP closely enough and told you about print publishing when you asked about electronic publishing.

Most of the vanity-press places will let you do both. From my personal experience in nonfiction, people tend to like a paper book that they can keep on their shelf, possibly writing in it, highlighting phrases, and dogearing it.

The majority of sales on my self-published books came from me going to conferences and tradeshows. I’d give talks and/or set up book signing tables, and sell more in a day than Amazon sold in a year. I did publish one of them as an ebook, and it accounted for less than 1% of the sales and probably 25% of the hassle.

Just having the book on Amazon may or may not help you. On my most popular children’s book (nature/science), I average sales of about 10,000 copies per year, and less than 100 of those come from Amazon. I’ve done much better than that on my own Web site.

On the flip side, I spoke with a woman who self-published a book and has over half of her sales coming from Amazon. I don’t know how much promotion she does on her own.

Sorry - saw this after I’d typed my other response.

Quite a few different vanity presses go through LightningSource. I’ve dealt with two of them. They give you a minimum retail price for your book, which you are free to raise as you choose if you want a higher income per book. Note that LightningSource books will always cost more than the equivalent book from a traditional publisher. My kids’ books sell for $9.95. A friend published one the exact same size (also color every page) through a LightningSource partner, and it sells for $19.95 retail.

On an ebook, you should be able to pocket half of the retail price. When a major distributor buys through LightningSource, you’ll probably get a buck or two. When your print books sell on the publisher’s Web site or you buy and resell them, you should easily be able to make 30-40% of the retail price.

It’s really hard to say, but here’s some ballparks from two of the “successful” books I dealt with closely enough to know the numbers:

300 page, 8.5x11" softcover, B/W interior, color cover. Retail price $29.99. Wholesale price to Amazon $13.50. Cost to print through LS: $6.42 each. So profit of about $7 per copy wholesale and $23 retail. About 50 copies were sold through Amazon, about 250 through other distributors at a similar price, and about 300 sold directly. Total net revenue: about $9,000 over three years. (Of course, this does not include promotional costs, which included conventions and mailings to distributors and stores. It also doesn’t include title setup, ISBNs, design, editing, artwork, etc).

120 page 6x9 softcover, B/W interior, color cover, Retail price $9.99, Wholesale price to Amazon, $4.50. Cost to print: $2.10. Sold about 200 through Amazon, about 200 through other distributors and about 200 directly. Total net revenue: about $3,000 over two years. (Again, other costs not included).

Thank you, dracoi.

You can find any book on Amazon through their search system. You do not need to go through Lightning Source. Books can be self-published.

When Amazon bought Book Surge there was a time - might still be - when they told other PoD publishers that only Book Surge books were eligible for one-click buying. That’s a totally different matter.

The real question is whether Amazon allows ebooks that aren’t Kindle onto the site.

There’s no such thing as a average book. A book is a creation. You mold it to the final product. Elements as basic as the type size can make the difference between a 200 page book and a 300 page book. Trade paperbacks are normally either 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 or 6x9. The former is cheaper per book, but the latter allows more words per page, so has fewer pages. Which is cheaper? Depends.

If you do a print book then you need good design and a good cover and to decide on paper stock and a thousand other little details. The PoD places will do much of this, but they will charge you for it and the quality, IMO, is always inferior. I do my own interior design and get a pro to do the covers. I also use a short-run press. They do not print up copies one-at-a-time like a PoD, but can give you good value for runs in the low hundreds. The downside is that you now have boxes of books in inventory that you have to get rid of. And don’t forget to account for them on your taxes.

You can avoid many of these expenses by going electronic only. Kindle is being flooded with these books, self-published and uploaded by the author. Many of these are extremely cheap, as low as 99 cents. You get what you pay for, probably, but the net is going to be pretty good because the upfront costs are so low. Kindle-only books show up in the search results just like any other edition.

There is no solution that is right for everybody. A pet peeve of mine is that people keep coming on here and asking for generic advice when specifics are crucial. It’s like saying: I have a body. What medical advice do I need? You need to study what other people with similar sorts of books have done and make a decision what route would be best for you. There are a hundred routes and any one might be best and any dozen might be good.

Is it hard to add the “Look Inside…” feature to my book once it’s listed on Amazon? Is it permission I need to explicitly give them? Can I specify which parts of the book can go in there?

It’s quite easy to do. When I did it with print books, you just sent them a request form with an extra copy so they could tear it apart and scan it. If you had any restrictions over the content they showed, you let them know.

Google books is pretty similar.

If you use, there’s no payment at all, plus they handle all the transactions and orders. They POD indivdual copies at a time. Print quality is excellent. They simply charge the customer the base print cost for the book plus whatever royalty you choose to give yourself on top of that. They also have programs to get the books listed at Amazon, etc. but that does have a fee attached (about $99 IIRC).

Downside - that makes individual books fairly expensive for your customers - probably twice what you’d pay in a bookstore.