Navigating the Trickier Parts of Self-Publishing Ebooks

111-19-13 Kylie Dunn
Photo by Kim S (Creative Commons)

I am a planner and a little bit of a control freak. My major events are usually planned within an inch of their life.

Yet, when I started writing my first ebook, I was concerned about writing and marketing, but I had put little thought into how I would actually self-publish. As crazy as that might seem, I was intending to publish an ebook without knowing the rules, or even knowing which self-publishing site I would use.

This meant while I was stressing over finalizing content, I also had to stress over learning how to self-publish.

It’s no surprise. Writers are generally focused on writing, not the technical aspects of self-publishing. But when I recently set a publishing deadline of 1st October, I suddenly had to learn how to do this, and pretty damn quickly.

I didn’t find many resources for these aspects of self-publishing — so I set about working this out for myself, with a couple of guideposts along the way.

Formatting for an e-Reader

The first thing I struggled with was that I’d done this all wrong in the first place. I had planned for an ebook, but I had formatted it like a print book. This caused me quite a few technical dramas when I set about converting the book into the required ePUB and Mobi formats – but the biggest issue was my unwillingness to let go of all of the work I had put into the layout.

I love playing with the design and visuals of the book, almost as much as I enjoy writing it. I’m a visual person, so I like it to be aesthetically pleasing. It took me five days just to choose a font, and I can’t use any of them in the flowable ebook formats!

Choosing Self-Publishing Service

The next major hurdle was picking a service, and I felt like I was flying blind a bit. With some research, I finally decided Smashwords would be the way to go. They have the largest distribution network I could find, and it meant there were some publishers (like Kobo) that I didn’t have to deal with myself.

Dealing with Taxation

Decision made, time to move on – or so I thought, until I hit a brick wall called the Internal Revenue Service. This was the first time I had to deal with tax requirements working with a U.S.-based service provider, and I did not want to know about it.

I finally decided the tax requirements were too hard to work with and gave up on Smashwords. I instead went back to Lulu, which I used for my print book, The Do-Pad, and started over.  In hindsight, I wish I had pushed through the tax obstacle; Lulu’s a fine service, but I have to do the tax work for sites like Kobo and Amazon anyway!

(By the way, IRS, is there a nicer turn of phrase you can use than “non-resident alien” – it does make me feel quite excluded, and when you break it down, U.S. companies will be making a profit out of the work I produce (I hope). But I digress…)

Getting it Technically Right

My last major obstacle was fixing stripping away the formatting in that lovely PDF I’d created to ready it for converting to ePUB and Mobi formats. This was harder than I anticipated, as there were more limitations than I expected; and we all know how nice MS Word can be with hidden formatting!

Had I originally written it for this flowable ebook format, this process would have taken a lot less time! But I learned a lot setting it up as a PDF as well, so it wasn’t time wasted.

A Free Resource for You

I was ill-prepared for this process, and I couldn’t find the resources I needed to help me through it, so I decided to capture some of the more pertinent points into a short ebook to guide the rest of you through:

  • Picking your ebook format
  • Formatting for an e-readable ebook
  • Picking your self-publishing site
  • Knowing their rules for publishing
  • Formatting for an online ePUB conversion
  • Converting your book to Mobi format
  • Metadata and author pages
  • Advice on taxation issues for non-resident aliens

It’s called After the Writing – A Short Guide to Navigating the Self-Publishing World, and is free for you to download.

I hope the book will make this self-publishing malarkey easier to navigate for other new authors. And for all of you “non-resident aliens” out there, I hope it will make you slightly more prepared than I was!

Don’t let the technology (or the IRS) stop you from self-publishing your ebook, as daunting as it might seem.

(And, remember: If all else fails, there are people you can hire to do the hard work for you.)

Are you put off by the technical aspects of self-publishing? Share your concerns — or tips! — in the comments.

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  1. says

    Hi Kylie,
    I knew there was a difference in formatting between regular publishing and e-publishing, but in my ignorance, I figured it was a few little tweaks and it’d be done. Your article reveals several things that will save a lot of time.

    So I do have 2 questions: 1) So what you’re saying is that if you want your book in both prints, you need to plan on two completely separate formats?
    2) Do U.S. citizens run into the difficult tax issues as well?

    Thank you in advance for answering my questions, as well as for a very helpful article. : )

    • says

      Hey, Lynn!

      1- You WILL have to format your manuscript separately for the fixed format and the flowable ebook format. These can be two vastly different designs, if you want to add fancy fonts, colors, and images to your PDF book. Or, they could be pretty similar, if you want to keep the PDF to simple, plain black and white text pages. Either way, you’ll probably add a little bit of formatting to the PDF that you’ll leave out of the flowable format.
      2 – As a U.S. publisher/author, I haven’t run into the tax issues Kylie mentions. I did have to provide any retailer with tax information to be paid, and claim my book income on taxes at the end of the year. But it hasn’t been any more complicated than claiming and paying taxes on any other writing income.

    • says

      Hey Lynn,
      Not sure how I missed seeing your questions, and thank you Dana for answering them. Might be a little late now but probably worthwhile updating the tax question – since Dana did such a fantastic job with the 1st question about formatting.
      The tax issue is only an non-US resident type issue, basically if you have an IRS tax number it’s not a problem.
      Interestingly, as an update, I have not resolved this one yet. My initial application was rejected and I’m still trying to work out which exemption clause I need to use to get it to work. I have a feeling that I will be getting up early one morning to call the IRS Help Line to sort this all out. I will let everyone know how it all went in the end though, and whether it is worth the hassle :-)