bigstock-Woman-Holding-Traditional-Book-91915880Recently, I was honored to have been invited to post on Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer on the subject of ebooks — a subject I love talking about, having been designing ebooks since 2010. (In this industry that makes me practically an old-timer.) This is the first of a monthly series of posts on the subject. It was originally released here.

There are lots of very complex questions when it comes to ebooks:

  • text and image formatting,
  • different file formats,
  • various workflows for creating ebooks,
  • and much more.

Defining “eBook”

For this post, before we get into the more esoteric issues of ebook design and publishing, I’d like to start by defining the subject: just what is an ebook?

This may sound like a very simple question to answer, but it isn’t as straightforward as you might think, and being able to answer it correctly will make many of the thornier issues of creating ebooks just a bit easier.

If I were to ask most folks to answer that question they’d probably say that an ebook is a digital file for reading text on a digital device — a computer, tablet, or smart phone. And that answer would be true, so far as it went.

Unfortunately, that definition would cover a wide variety of documents that aren’t ebooks. A Microsoft Word file, for example, is a great way to compose and share formatted text — heck, you can even add images and hyperlinks, just like an ebook.

Word docs, however, are by definition meant for writing and editing the text, not for distributing it commercially. We don’t want our readers rewriting sections of our books without our permission, do we? If they don’t like what we’ve written, fine; they can write their own books!

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Over on Quora, an anonymous reader asked me to answer the question, “How should I go about starting a small, independent press?

This question was asked by someone who was already publishing his or her own work, but who was considering expanding beyond that to publishing others’ books.

This got me thinking. Thinking a lot. Probably way more than the poster wanted. If you don’t want to read all of what I came up with, the TL;DR version is down at the bottom.

Here’s what I had to say:

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Books by telmo32 ( past Saturday at BAIPA, I led a roundtable about the reasons that every independent author and publisher (as well as every “dependent” author) needed to have an active presence on It was one of three roundtable sessions at the time, and I assumed that most BAIPA folks (who are pretty savvy) would already know most of what I had to say. I was surprised to find that not only did they not, but they were very hungry to hear about the world’s largest book review site

Because they all found the material I presented to be helpful, I thought I’d share my major points here. This is why you have to be on Goodreads: Continue reading

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An author I work with recently asked me, “What’s the big deal with the passive voice?” My first instinct was to answer, “Well, would that question have made as much sense as ‘The big deal with the passive voice is about what?’” Three things stopped me:

  1. First of all, that’s a very New York Jewish sentence construction and so I didn’t want to dis my forebearers
  2. Second of all, it was snarky, which isn’t a great way to communicate anything
  3. Third, she’s a bright, articulate, and talented writer who deserves a better answer.

So I thought I’d give it here. Continue reading

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As you probably know, Sir Terry Pratchett died today. His is a great loss to the world of letters — but I still can’t think about him without smiling.

I can’t help but think that he’s got Death chuckling. In small caps.

He was a very funny writer of wildly amusing fantasy novels, and so it could occasionally be easy to overlook how profound some of the ideas were that he was exploring in his books.

Here’s one of my favorite bits, a piece from one of his wonderful Discworld novels, Witches Abroad. It focuses on the nature of narrative: Continue reading

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Bookstore by Natalia Romay; used through a Creative Commons LicenseEvery author wants to know how to get the word out about his or her book — and most are frightened that it’s going to cost an arm and a leg. To be honest, the most effective marketing that an author can do doesn’t involve paying money. Just lots and lots of time and effort. So not free, really, but no-cost, at least!

Before you hire a publicist or start looking at paid ads on Facebook, Goodreads, Google Adwords, Bing, Twitter, etc., be sure that you have done everything that you can to let the appropriate people know about your book. Contact all of your friends and family, obviously, and encourage them to share the information about your book with everyone they know. Send well-crafted, focussed press releases to newspapers, magazines, and radio stations that might be interested in your subject.

Next (and most importantly) build your Author Platform — whether that’s just a blog on a site like Blogger or WordPress or your own hosted web page. Spend the money to register both your name and (if you can) the title of your book as URLs — this is probably the best money you’ll ever spend, marketing-wise, and it shouldn’t be expensive. You can forward those URLs wherever you want — either to your own site or a page on someone else’s. Wherever that may be, make sure that your book has a dedicated landing page (ideally with links to all of the retail outlets that carry your book) and that all press releases, comments, blog entries, and social media posts link directly back to that page. Post regularly, not just about your book, but on your thoughts on the subject matter, how current events relate to your book, etc. If it’s available (either on sale or presale), include links to buy your book — whether on your own site or elsewhere. Share the content that you create on your page/site on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Find as many online forums, newsletters, Goodreads lists and groups, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, Google+ groups, blogs, etc. that focus on your book’s genre or topic. Comment there — don’t just spam the feed with “MY BOOK IS COMING OUT BUY IT NOW!” but actually participate in conversations; get to know people, and let them get to know you. (Make sure that you include your book’s title/genre and a link in your bios and profiles!)

Many, many online reviewers and review services are free to the publisher (this is as it should be; paying for reviews has always struck me as ethically fraught, to say the least). Look for reviewers who like books similar to yours — or whose opinions you find you really agree with. Be very careful not to submit titles that they’re not likely to read or like!

Goodreads has a number of ways for you to promote your book without having to pay for it. First of all, make sure that they have a listing for each edition of your book (paperback, ebook, audiobook, Kindle, etc. If you publish through CreateSpace and/or Amazon’s KDP, they will create a listing automatically). As I said above, there are groups there for just about every genre or subgenre — find one or more that fits your book and become a regular there. Also, you can hold giveaways — Goodreads will promote a raffle for copies of your (ink-and-paper) book; people have to say that they want to read your book in order to participate, which not only means that your book is now on their to-read list, but their friends will get a notification that your book has been added, which will hopefully make them want to check it out. Typically, hundreds more people sign up for a giveaway than actually win it, so this can be a very effective form of marketing — even after a book has been out for a while. Make sure to create a Goodreads author page — even  if you only have only one book, link it to your blog so that readers and potential readers have a chance to get to know you and your book.

Create an Author Central page on Amazon — not only will you be able to create a page that includes information about you, with photos, videos, events, and links to your Twitter and blog feeds, but you’ll be able to keep track of sales and reviews on the largest book retailer site.

Once you have established all of that, then you might consider some paid advertising — though that needs to be carefully thought through and have a clearly defined target audience to be effective or you’ll end up spending far more than you’ll make back. Paid ads are most effective in large volume — so if you are trying to market a single book, your money might be better spent on designers and editors.

(When should you start doing all of this marketing? NOW. There’s a saying — and I wish I knew the source — that the proper time to start marketing a book is two years ago.)

Good luck!

Image: Bookstore by Nataia Romay. Used through a Creative Commons license

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More retro clipart at’s a question I’ve been asked a number of times: What’s the average income from self-publishing a book?

My answer isn’t necessarily a terribly helpful one. It truly depends one what you mean by average — do you mean the total amount earned by the number of authors (the mean), or do you mean the amount that the average KDP author/publisher earns (the median)? Continue reading

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Lady Blues coverSo, I’m in the process of wrapping up post-production on the audiobook of Aaron Paul Lazar’s Gus LaGarde mystery, Lady Blues: Forget-Me-Not. The book concerns itself deeply with memory and lost love, and so when I was looking for vocals for the theme music (to go over the opening and closing credits), I had a hard time — until I came across an amazing set of a capella scat recordings on ccMixter by an artist known as SackJo22 called…. Well, called “Love & Remember.” I dropped the vocals over my backing track, moved them around to hit the right rhythms, added some reverb… And that was it. They were perfect.

I’m using the recordings under a Creative Commons license. The originals are here:

Please check out some of her other recordings, and tell her how amazing you think she is!

The link to Aaron’s wonderful mystery is here:

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Video PixelsEnhanced ebooks have been a cause of much excitement over the past few years — and with good reason. One of the things that an ebook can do that a paper-and-ink book can’t is to add embedded video and sound. (There are many other ways to enhance an ebook— but those are the most common enhancements.) Here’s a chance to make the book something truly new!

At Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, we have a group that is meeting regularly, discussing enhanced ebooks, led by a long-time digital publisher, Joe Sinclaire. One of the members of that group recently shot me an email recently asking about how long a video she could reasonably add to an ebook — two minutes? Five minutes?

Here’s my answer: Continue reading

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Oriental Mythology
Just wanted to pass along an announcement from Joseph Campbell Foundation about the formal release of Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, the newest ebook in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell! It’s a project that we’ve been working on for more than a year, and are pleased to see come to fruition.

The ebook, the first release in a digital edition of the Masks of God series, explores the evolution of the myths of the Middle East and Asia from the dawn of history up until modern times, looking at how they have changed from country to country and millennium to millennium, and how they’ve remained the same.

The ebook is currently available only on the foundation’s website,, as a thank you gift for donations of $9.99 and greater. Continue reading

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