Going Indie with an Ebook?

Here I'm sharing a detailed article I wrote back in August 2013. Bear the date in mind.

To become an independent ebook author, as opposed to sheltering within the comfy stable of a mainstream publishing house or small press, you need three things:

                        1)         a great book well written
                        2)         the attention to detail of a nuclear scientist
                        3)         the patience and perseverance of a saint

Awaiting you are royalties of between 35%-80% of the cover price, and probably few sales. No writer, indie or agented and mainstream published, makes decent (or any) money on a single title.

The great book well written

Writing a book in the white heat of creativity, then giving it a quick proofread before uploading as an ebook, will enamour you to no one. Please be aware that readers who find they’ve spent their hard-earned money, and even worse their hard-earned time, on an ebook littered with spelling and punctuation mistakes and/or poor formatting, will take it out on you and your ebook very publicly in the Amazon reviews. It matters little if you withdraw the ebook and have it professionally edited before re-uploading; Amazon will not remove the vociferous one star reviews. Not only are you stuck with them, but they will follow your name through to later ebooks.

**Do it right first time**

http://prowritingaid.com can help with line editing, and a free version is available. A section/chapter can be copied and pasted into its window and a report on your use of English will be generated: repeated words, clumsy phrasing, poor grammar and spelling will all be highlighted.

There’s a section on editing and what to look for in my Reading A Writer’s Mind: Exploring Short Fiction – First Thought to Finished Story (useful for longer works, too). http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005L4KY4W

A structural edit – eg, identifying that a character is weak or redundant, that the climax is being foisted on to readers without the necessary earlier seeding of information to make the climax legitimate – cannot be undertaken by any software.

Agents and mainstream publishers do not take on poorly structured books poorly written; they also don’t take on well structured books with a great storyline but poorly written, because it is simply too expensive to undertake the necessary editing. They hardly ever give reasons but leave writers in the dark when passing along the ubiquitous …not quite right for us… rejection slip. It’s up to you to work out what is wrong with your writing and put it right. Small presses often undertake editing that a mainstream publisher won’t, but there are also small presses whose editing is worse than useless. Read books by the chosen publisher before offering your typescript for consideration.

Editing in all its forms is a time-consuming process and therefore costly, but there are freelance editors who will look at an author’s work. In the first instance never offer to pay for the whole book; you need an idea of how good/poor is your writing as well as the quality of the editor’s work. For a critique (an overview of problems) pay a straight fee for the 50 page industry standard submission and ask if a line edit can be made on one or two pages at the same time. This way you’ll get a good grounding of what to look for. The better your own editing, the cheaper future editing will be. If you are going for a line edit (more expensive than a critique) ask for a sample – the freelance editor will stipulate how many pages of your own work he/she will undertake, or you will be forwarded a marketing before and after to study – then you’ll see what you are getting for your money and also learn what to expect.

Many indie authors, and some mainstream published authors, have beta readers – friends or colleagues with insight who will happily query sections they don’t understand or feel do not flow. A good writers’ support group may offer the same facility via round-table reading and critiquing.

The bottom line, however, is that your book is your book. Take responsibility for it and research how to edit in the same way you research elements of the background to your story. You do research the background to your story? No? Oh dear…

Tell the World – An Author’s Platform

What? Marketing and stuff? The book’s not up yet!

If you think you can upload an ebook and the sales will roll in while you write another… welcome to the real world. Very often authors submitting to an agent or publisher will be asked to supply details of their “platform”; in a nutshell, their standing army of prospective book buyers. If this is liable to be your Granny and a work colleague, then you’d better clue up on the use of Facebook, Twitter and blogs, all of which are free. The rest – Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, etc – can follow later.  Ebooks in particular, but this applies to print books as well, are sold via the Internet, so the biggest proportion of your marketing/promotion needs to be aimed in its direction. Get it started early and have an on-going list of ideas and opportunities you can refer back to on a very regular basis.

Ebook Distribution – the decisions

The companies behind the major e-readers all offer direct uploading of formatted texts for ebook conversion: Kindle, Kobo, Nook (if you’re living in the USA), Apple iBook (if you have an Apple Mac computer). Smashwords has no dedicated e-reader but is a producer and distributor of ebooks to all of the above, and a widening range of library and service providers. If you are running short of perseverance, upload to Smashwords and you will only have one set of uploading vagaries and financial accounts to fret about. Most authors, however, upload to Amazon’s Kindle separately due to the control this offers. Now is the time to Google all the main portals and do your homework. Don’t miss out this step.

Ebook Formatting

Did I mention …uploading vagaries..? The document that is acceptable for uploading to Kindle will not be acceptable to Smashwords or Kobo and the rest, and the same applies to any vice-versa mix.

What is required in the first instance is a Master Document – the formatted book in a single file (Word, Open Office, Libre Office, etc). For ease during the various conversion processes I suggest using the software’s default margins, single spacing, left alignment, and Times New Roman font at a 12pt size. Never insert page numbers. Remember, users of e-readers can alter the font, font size and line spacing to suit their eyesight. There is no need to second-guess them. The conversion processes will automatically incorporate fully-justified alignment, and insert your book cover ahead of the text.

It’s your call whether you decide on block or indented paragraphing, but if your book is fiction the reader will be looking for a good reading experience. Double blank lines indicate a change of scene; having blank lines alternating a rapid exchange of dialogue can seriously wreck the pacing of the story and therefore the reading experience. If you use indented paragraphing as a norm and tabulate the indents (by pressing the Tab/Indent key prior to beginning a new paragraph), these need to be deleted and ‘First Line Indents’ used instead (in Word this is generally found under Format>Paragraph>Indentation: Special) or there could be a crisis during the conversion process leaving your ebook with the sort of formatting that gathers one-star reviews. Word, in particular, adds in all sorts of hidden formatting not shown when the Pilcrow (¶) is toggled, meaning that for no apparent reason you’ll find paragraphs of a converted ebook emboldened or centred or worse.

Whether or not you decide to go with Smashwords for conversion, it offers a free formatting “bible”, the Smashwords Style Guide, that I have not found bettered http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 and to save tears later I suggest the ‘Nuclear Option’ is followed – copy and paste your entire book into Notepad (*all* formatting will be removed), then copy and paste that into a new Word document set up with First Line Indent at your chosen size (I use 0.25”). Save this new document under a different filename, and using Styles (Format>Styles & Formatting) begin to re-instate the formatting: eg centring/emboldening/enlarging chapter headings, italicizing words, etc. When you have added the various front and back pages, and compiled a hyperlinked Table of Contents in accordance with the Smashwords Style Guide, this becomes your Master Document. Save it as such.

If you use your word processing software as a glorified typewriter and so find all this terminology confusing, practice on a short story not your full novel. Smashwords will allow you to upload a short piece (no need to apply for an ISBN or opt for extended distribution) which you can then download (for free as you are the author) to check the conversion and immediately ‘unpublish’ so no one else can see it. If the text hasn’t converted properly it is not the fault of the Smashwords conversion system; it will be the fault of the original document’s poor formatting. Fix it and learn by your mistakes.

Other free formatting/marketing ebooks produced by Smashwords are to be found on its Home page under ‘Publish on Smashwords’. Read them.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) uses ebook formats dedicated to its e-readers and tablets, as opposed to the ePub format used by Kobo, Nook, iBook, etc. It offers comprehensive Help Topics, and a ‘Simplified Guide’ via
Again, I urge time to study all the sections so as to save tears later. When you are ready to upload, a copy of your Master Document can be tweaked, if necessary, to fulfil KDP’s requirements.

No matter the conversion system, download a copy of your finished ebook the way a paying reader will to ensure that the reading experience is what you, as both writer and reader, are expecting.

If all this reads as more work than anticipated – return to the top of this file and reread the three requirements – there are a growing number of individuals and companies who will take on all this work for you for a fee that is sometimes excellent value for money and sometimes not. As ever, buyer-of-services beware. David Gaughran’s blog is very good at warning new writers about malpractice in the indie publishing service industries: http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/ Also, this is where it pays to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and in writers’ Yahoogroups and LinkedIn writers’ groups – all of which can be used to ask for up-to-date advice and recommendations from members.

Book Covers: Just as with print books, an insipid cover will not sell an ebook. Gone are the days when home-made was lauded. Unless you are blessed with true designer abilities, and genre book covers tend to be a niche unto themselves, outsourcing this aspect of your indie ebook creation can save a lot of grief. If you are going it alone, ensure your covers are of the right aspect and within the accepted pixel size range, the image/s conform to the genre you are writing, the titling and author name are readable, and the cover looks good at both full and thumbnail sizes.

www.kboards.com is an independent forum for readers and writers of Kindle ebooks. Join it, even if only to lurk. Its Writers’ Café is the haunt of ebook authors and at the head of its Topics page is pinned a link to “KBoards Yellow Pages for Authors”. The listing is not exhaustive but is a good first step to search for editors, formatters, cover designers and the rest.

Publication Day and Beyond

You’ve checked your own ebook download and it looks good. Sigh of relief all round. You are a published Indie Author. Yay-hee! Finished opening the champers? Back to work then.

Check your Authorpage on whichever e-publishing portals you’ve used. Tweak if necessary (and if possible). Announce the launch on all the promotion sites you’ve signed up to and are frequently using – you’ll be smacked down by other users if you only appear there to plug your own title – and interact with the guest-blog postings you’ve blagged (now do you understand the need for a pre-book author platform?) If you’ve not already done so open a free author account at www.goodreads.com and/or www.librarything.com and connect your blog to it/them so your own blogposts filter across to another audience.

Can’t think of anything else at the moment? Then it’s a good time to tackle the USA’s Internal Revenue Service. All ebook portals work out of the USA and therefore all their income – your ebook sales – is subject to the tax laws of the USA. This means that if the IRS does not personally know who you are, by law the portal has to withhold from you 30% of your sales monies and at the end of the USA tax year (December) pay it to the IRS.

Many countries have a reciprocal tax agreement with the USA, including the UK. Is your country one of them?

For the IRS to personally know you, you need a USA tax number, and that means paperwork.

Do you need a ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
or an EIN (Employer Identification Number) even if your writing business only ‘employs’ you?

Do read the experiences of Catherine Howard who lives in Ireland, and the comments from writers who have trod this route before you. It is updated regularly:

Either way, if you live in the UK and are asked for one, do not go to the expense of acquiring a notarised copy of your passport complete with apostille to send it and the downloaded forms to the IRS headquarters in Austin, Texas; it is far cheaper and quicker to complete the forms and visit the IRS office in the USA Embassy in London http://london.usembassy.gov/irs/index.html

Update June 2014: Gaining an EIN can take 15 minutes and be done via the phone - as long as you don't mind ringing America. See EIN link above.
Update June 2016: It seems that Amazon has got its act together and new authors may not have to jump through all these IRS hoops, but merely complete its form. Yay!

To repeat, to become an independent ebook author you need three things:
                        1)         a great book well written
                        2)         the attention to detail of a nuclear scientist
                        3)         the patience and perseverance of a saint

Best of luck – Linda Acaster

This informal overview was written in August 2013.
Goalposts move regularly.
Check details direct with the relevant websites.


  1. Hi Linda,
    Lots of good information and warnings to help the uninitiated E booker, so thanks for taking the time to post it.
    Question: How have you found Smashwords? (I read your post on Formatting Fairies)
    Is it doing what you hoped it would and why do you suggest manually uploading onto Kindle?

  2. Hello Kenny, thanks for dropping by. I've just returned from a holiday, so forgive the tardy response.

    I like Smashwords, and like to use it as my first upload. Why? Because it offers, for free, a download I can check on my Kindle. If, by chance, I've let a screaming horror through, I can unpublish it immediately while I fix the file. I also check the ePub version on Adobe's Digital Editions - http://www.adobe.com/uk/products/digital-editions.html.

    Being in the UK it is my easiest option to get into the stores of Apple, Nook, etc.

    Uploading via Smashwords to Amazon Kindle is still in its infancy, and Amazon KDP has made it much easier to upload direct than it was originally. I uploaded a Word.doc last time and it worked fine. My Master Document has already gone through the "nuclear option" as the Smashwords Style Guide suggests.

    The bottom line is that Smashwords pays quarterly, Amazon KDP pays monthly. For me, sales via Amazon far exceed those via Smashwords' distribution and I can see the Amazon sales click up as they happen. If an author has a promotion ongoing, that author can see whether or not the promotion is working. With Smashwords the author has to wait until the distribution stores send their figures through. It can take a while.

    Best of luck with yours.

  3. Wonderful information, Linda. Do you mind if post a bit of it on my indie arts blog with a link here to read the rest?

    A note: Amazon is so far not accepting files from Smashwords but I solve that by just linking to SW and telling readers they can buy the mobi format there. ;-)

  4. Hi LK. Certainly take a bit and post a link. No problem!

    Oh yes, the Smashwords' mobi format is read by (all, I think) Kindles. it's just that in my experience most people window shop on Amazon. Good luck with your own. Or is it all down to *good marketing*??