Friday, September 3, 2010


The Nuts and Bolts

by CJ Lyons

Being a cyber-klutz, I thought this would be the most difficult part of self e-publishing, but it actually was quite easy (if a bit tedious and time-consuming).

All the major e-pub sites have guidelines available.  All you need to do is to follow them.

The major e-pub sites I used initially were: Amazon, Scribd, and Smashwords.  I also loaded my books onto Lulu after several readers requested an avenue where they could purchase print copies. (Note: since books printed by POD technology are more expensive, I kept the price on the print books as low as I could, so I essentially make no profit from these sales, they’re more to generate good-will.)

The charge to authors to use these sites' basic services is nothing.  All provide more customized services (such as purchasing ISBN numbers, marketing packages, etc) for a fee.

Step one: create an account at the sites you’ll be using.  Through this account you’ll upload your books, track sales, make any revisions to your final product, and, at some sties, interact with customers.

Step two: read each site’s guide to formatting and follow it closely.  For all the sites I worked with, this basically came down to stripping all formatting from a Word doc of your manuscript and then exporting it in the format the e-publishing site requires. 

I found the Smashwords guide to be very thorough and in-depth with a lot of trouble-shooting tips, so I start there, transforming my Word doc to a document suitable for Smashwords and then simply export it as a html file for uploading to Amazon.

This step is the most time-consuming because you need to go through every line of the manuscript ensuring that no errant formatting remains behind and that the resulting manuscript is readable. 

Step three is almost as equally tiresome as step two.  You need to upload the re-formatted manuscript to each site and proofread it (yes, again!) to ensure that nothing is lost in translation.

Step four: add cover art, a description, tags, and set a price.  This is where using more than one platform comes in handy. 

I start by publishing my books on Smashwords because if they are qualified for their Premium Catalogue, then they'll be distributed to a variety of channels including the Sony, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and if you want, Amazon Kindle stores.  You can also inexpensively purchase an ISBN for each book. 

Smashwords also has an easy to use coupon generator, which is perfect if you're trying to target certain groups and want to measure your success. 

I preferred to distribute to all of the channels through Smashwords except Kindle—that I did myself.  I wanted the ability to control the Kindle channel myself since I knew it would be the one with the most sales.

Step five: Hit publish and you’re done!

Additional considerations for authors with previously published works.  There are many companies who will "package" your books for you, converting them from electronic files or even scanning the actual book pages to create an editable electronic file.  Some also provide services such as editing, formatting, cover art creation, and publishing to a variety of e-stores.

Do your research and compare prices.  Many will give you references to check.  Also, make sure that you do not sign any of your author's rights away when you contract with these services.

What about the money?

Some authors may choose to give their work away for free in order to gain new readers or as a promotion tied to other books.  But most of us will be hoping to earn some income from our e-published books.

Joe Konrath believes that the price point you set is the key.  “Make your books impulse purchases by keeping the cost low.”

When I first self e-published, I experimented with a variety of prices ranging from $1.99 to $3.99 a book.  I found no real difference in the average sales on Smashwords, but the $2.99 books were the best selling on Amazon.

Since Amazon has recently increased their royalty rate for authors to 70% of books priced $2.99-$9.99 (with some caveats, be sure to read their agreement for more information), I revised all the prices on my Kindle books to $2.99.

One thing I have noticed during my eight months of e-pubbing is that Amazon out sells all other formats by at least 10:1.  Yes, those Kindle readers, love, love, love to buy books!!!

Even though the Smashword sales lag behind Amazon’s, I’ll continue to use them because of the ability to distribute to the other major e-stores such as Apple. Plus, Smashwords offers inexpensive ISBNs as well as the ability to generate coupons.

The bottom line
It’s not a huge amount of money, but I’m on track to make more in a year than I would if I took any of the offers from NYC publishers that I’d received for these particular manuscripts.  All with no expenses incurred other than my time and a few dollars for the copyright, ISBNs, and the stock art I used in the cover design.

As Konrath says, “E-books aren't a substitute for print books. Your results may vary. But this is a very exciting time to be an author. It's free to post books on Kindle. For the first time in history, we can potentially reach a wide readership, all by ourselves.

Just make sure you're giving those readers something they'll enjoy.”

I firmly agree.  In fact, I plan to upload my first "free" Amazon book in the near future as a promotion to help boost sales of my new release.  I also plan to experiment with using a penname for manuscripts that don't fit my brand.

Self e-publishing has its place in an author’s career path, whether to keep a backlist alive, to try new genres and markets, to use as a promotional tool in conjunction with traditionally published books, or to generate a little income on the side.

Thanks for reading!


As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about.  In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker. 

Her first novel, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), received praise as a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" from Publishers Weekly, was reviewed favorably by the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, named a Top Pick by Romantic Times Book Review Magazine, and became a National Bestseller.  Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, and URGENT CARE) is available now and the series finale, CRITICAL CONDITION, hits stores November, 2010.  Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich.  To learn more about CJ and her work, go to


Ellis Vidler said...

CJ, thanks for all the information. We need to be as knowledgeable as possible before taking these steps, and you've been a huge help by sharing so much of your experience.

CJ Lyons said...

You're welcome, Ellis! I always say that the best way for all writers to get ahead is to pool our resources!

Thanks for dropping by,

Dorothy McFalls said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, CJ! Although I love Smashwords, I've had trouble with them distributing my books to B&N, Sony, Apple, Etc. It seems like one book will land on one site and another on a different site. It's not very consistent. Have you had that experience?

Like you, though, I do love being able to issue coupons for my e-books through Smashwords.

Kindle has been a boon for me. My sales have grown pretty much every month. I've ordered the K3 and can't wait to get my hands on it! I'm an e-book addict.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Dorothy! I haven't had any problems with Smashwords, but I did hear that their submissions increased by a factor of ten or more recently, so I wouldn't be surprised if they start having some delays.

Hope Amazon begins to have coupons soon, that would help so much!

Diane Vallere said...

Thank you, CJ, for this very informative breakdown on the process. With so much changing in the publishing industry, the potential new avenues can seem intimidating! I feel more informed having read your post.

Good luck with all of your books!

CJ Lyons said...

You're welcome, Diane! I'm glad you found it useful!

Generalissimo said...

Does self-publishing via Kindle in any way blackball you with traditional print publishers? Would a new writer be shooting herself in the foot by self-publishing via Kindle if her higher goal is to be published by one of the big houses?
Thank you.