Ebook Publishing Tips from Joanna Penn

E-books have been causing some pretty dramatic changes in the publishing industry. Whether you're a beginning writer, a traditionally published author, or a grizzled veteran with a large out-of-print backlist, you need to know about this new medium if you want to make wise decisions about your career.

Joanna Penn from The Creative Penn recently released an online course on ebook publishing, and she was kind enough to give me a review copy. I'll first share some of my favorite tips and thoughts from her course, and then give a more general overview.

1. You know how writers groan about having to hook an agent within the first few pages? Now with the advent of e-books, the opening pages are even more important. This is because ebooks are sold by sampling. Sites like Amazon offer the first few pages as a free download, and many readers decide whether or not to purchase after they read those pages.

2. For some good marketing tips, download the free e-book marketing guide at Smashwords.

3. Also, if you're looking to hire someone to help you convert your e-book into different formats, check out the E-book conversion services directory.

4. Book review blogs are a great way to get the word out about your book. There's a good listing of them at the book blog search engine.

5. There's  a lot of talk about e-book pricing and the race to the bottom for fiction, but nonfiction books are often left out of the conversation. Joanna brings up the good point that people are often willing to pay more for nonfiction, especially if the information is useful in a practical way (and especially if it will help people make money). For example, Joanna straddles the fiction and nonfiction markets, selling her debut novel Pentecost at 99 cents while selling her epublishing course for $39.99.

6. Two of the major e-book retailers, Apple iBooks store and Barnes & Noble, currently require publishers to be US citizens with a tax number. If you're not a US citizen, you can get around this by publishing through Smashwords, which distributes your book to Apple, B&N and other retailers regardless of your citizenship. You can also sell directly from your website through a service like e-Junkie.com, which offers a shopping cart service for five dollars a month.

I was very impressed by this course. It's a comprehensive introduction to e-book publishing, starting with some background information and then going to a detailed walk-through of the publishing process. The course is comparable in quality to a Writer's Digest webinar, but at half the price and with roughly twice as much content. There's about two hours of video, and all the information is also written in a PDF file for quick reference.

The course is targeted to beginners and those fairly new to ebook publishing. If you're wondering whether you are at the right level to benefit, I've created a handy little quiz with a sampling of the topics covered.

1. What are the major e-book selling platforms, and which ones are most important to hit?
2. What are the pros and cons of different e-book pricing levels?
3. How do good ebook cover designs differ from good print cover designs?
4. How much does it cost to epublish? What parts should you do yourself, and what parts should you hire a professional for?
5. How do you deal with ebook piracy?

The course also includes two screen capture walk-through videos of the entire Amazon and Smashwords publishing process.

All in all, Ms Penn’s course is a thorough and comprehensive introduction to e-book publishing. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about diving in. You can learn more about the course
at her website. (Links to The Creative Penn are affiliate links).

Have you ever published anything electronically, or are you thinking about taking the leap?

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  1. I'll have to come back to that Book Blog Search Engine. There are so many book blogs out there, not to mention writers' communities, forums, Livejournal...not enough hours in the day.

    Very good point about nonfiction. I just paid fifteen bucks for one of O'Reilly's technical ebooks, yet I hesitate at, like, six or seven dollars for fiction. The mind is a funny place sometimes.

  2. Thanks for this review. I'm thinking about self publishing and if I do decide to go that way, I'll definitely do Joanna's course.

  3. Brendan -- well, I guess by looking at the difference between fiction and nonfiction prices, you can get an estimate for how much people value entertainment compared to other things :-)

    Cally -- good luck, if you decide to go in that direction!

  4. Thanks for this review. This is something that a lot of independent authors could benefit from.

  5. Gina! I'd love to hear your thoughts from your epub experiment so far.

  6. Great post, it's such an exciting time for authors! I'm a literary publicist and in my experience with self-published authors, non-fiction has a very specific draw, particularly when it's a memoir with an amazing story behind it. From my perspective, those stories almost always gain more media attention than fiction. However, with the rise of e-publishing, fiction success stories seem to be everywhere.

    I was also interested to read about the US citizen work-around. My client, Booktango, has recently launched a new e-pub service that distributes for the authors as well, but are there other reasons an author would choose to go to each distribution channel themselves than use a service?