This post, by David Carnoy, originally appeared on CNET on 6/1/12.
A while back I wrote a column titled "Self-publishing: 25 things you need to know," which was mostly about how to create and sell your own paper book. After folks asked me to do something similar for e-books, I created this article, which has now been updated a few times.
I begin with one caveat: The whole e-book market is rapidly evolving, and a lot of self-publishing companies are offering e-book deals bundled into their print book publishing packages, which makes them harder to break out and evaluate. It’s all quite complicated, and in an effort to sort through the confusion, I’ve decided to offer a few basic tips and present what I think are some of the best options out there for creating an e-book quickly and easily. As things change — and they will — I’ll do my best to keep this column up to date.
It’s gotta be good: The same rule applies to self-published e-books as it does to print books. You have to start with a good product if you have any hope of selling it.
Create an arresting cover: When it comes to e-books, everything starts with the cover image. Creating an eye-catching, professional-looking cover that also looks good small (it has to stand out as a thumbnail image, since it’s being sold online) is easier said than done, but it can really make a difference in terms of sales. Ideally, you should hire a graphic designer who has some experience creating book covers. From a production standpoint, an e-book cover is easier to create than a cover for a print book (you just need a JPEG with decent resolution), but it shouldn’t look out of place among traditionally published e-books. I can’t tell you how many bad self-published covers are out there.
Price your e-book cheaply: You should sell your e-book for $5.99 or less. According to research done by Smashwords, an online e-book publishing and distribution platform for authors, publishers, agents, and readers, $2.99 to $5.99 yields the most profit for self-published authors, and although 99 cents will get you more downloads, it’s a poor price point for earning income (see Smashwords’ presentation on pricing here). On the other hand, Lulu, one of the bigger online self-publishing operations, says that authors who price their e-books in the 99-cent to $2.99 range "sell more units and earn more revenue than those in any other price range."
It’s important to note that Amazon’s 70 percent royalty for authors only applies to Kindle books priced between $2.99 and $9.99; otherwise, the rate kicks down to 35 percent). As for going free, well, Smashword data indicates that free e-books get about 100 times more downloads than priced e-books.