Dec 062012

Now that I have two…count ’em…2 books on the iBookstore that qualifies me to employ my PHD in slinging bovine fecal matter and help out anyone else who may be looking to get their manuscript published.  And besides, it’s a slow week and I need to post something.  So here goes…

If indeed you are looking to write and publish a book then you know as well as I do that the easy part is the actual writing.  You got your story, all you need to do is get it down on some sort of media.  The hard part is getting all the words organized in a readable order, chapters, sections, forewords, table of contents, and all that grammar stuff that I failed back in high school english class because my teacher was the most boring person on the planet.  Then you have to get the book out to the masses where they can buy it and make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.  Well, I’ll leave you to plan out the book signings, speaking tours, and movie rights yourself.  For this post I’m going to show you some handy tools to use to get your book from dream to reality, and pretty cheap too, I might add.

One thing, all that I will be discussing here is based on Apple products, the machines, software, marketing, everything.  So if you are not using an Apple computer go ahead and dump your pc or whatever you are using in the trash and go get a Mac laptop or desktop.  I’ll wait here…..

Got it yet?


Ok, take your time.


Ok, let’s get to some of that authoring thingy stuff.

To start with, I am going to suggest strongly that you forget all you know about books, at least in a physical form.  You know, all that paper, glue, ink, and bindings crap.  The way to go now is ebook.  Electronic books are more better for several reasons.  Firstly, cost.  With an ebook (or ibook if you are working with Apple) there is nothing more physical than the electrons you used to produce it.  No printing costs, no use of dead trees, chemicals, and damn little energy to get it out.  If you chose the old paper and ink route, and some still do, you will not only have to shell out more cash to print the book, you will have to charge more to cover your costs, you will have delivery costs involved, and in the very very likely event that your book doesn’t sell quite as well as you hoped, you will be stuck with boxes and boxes of your baby that will require storage, moving, and become useless as anything more than paperweights.  Trust me, if you dare, ebooks are the way to go.  No minimum to produce.   Little or no energy required to create it.  No unsold copies laying around.  And for those who still insist on using paper, they can always print their own copy out on one of those ancient machines,  what are they called?, oh yeah…printers.  So for this post, it’s all about electronic books.  It’s 2012, get with the program.

Speaking of programs, there are tons of software out there with which you can easily get your words into ebook form.  Word processing programs like Pages and Word for Mac do just fine for typing out your manuscript.  At least in rough draft form.  You gots your spell check, your paragraph styles, your choices of fonts, and all that neat stuff.  It’s real easy to get your draft down and then go back and edit.  You can move text around, experiment with different looks, even add in some media like images and links.  (Another important advantage to ebooks).  But most word processing programs don’t do much else.  They come with some basic templates but creating a full fledged book may take another step.

Ebooks can come in many different formats.  What format you chose will depend on how you want your ebook to look, where you want to distribute and sell it, and what the requirements are of any publisher or distributer you may work with.  Keep in mind that you can produce your book in different formats if you wish.  (Although some distributers may have restrictions as you will see later).  Here are the more popular formats:

PDF:  You’ve probably seen pdf files before.  Email attachments commonly use a PDF format.  It’s a fairly simple way to get something into a deliverable file and can be read on just about any type of computer or mobile device.  Anytime you want to save a file, more than likely pdf will be an option.  Because pdf files are so easy to create, they are one of the simplest ways to produce a book.  Nothing particularly fancy, just basically an image of each page in your book with the images and links all working.

PDF files are handy if you are just looking to sell your book yourself on your own site.  No publishers, no distributers, no middle man.  Using something like Paypal you can set up a page or widget on your website where the customer can purchase your book.  When they have completed the transaction they will be directed to the page where you so cunningly hid the download file.  There they can load the pdf file to their computer and everyone is happy.  You have money, the customer has a copy of the book.  You can easily go back in anytime you want and update or edit the book file, save it to the same pdf file, and keep on selling your book.

PDF files work fine if you are just looking to move a few copies out of your website to generate some side revenue.  How well your book would sell would depend on the amount of traffic you get back to your site.  It’s an easy and simple way for a beginner to get a first time book out.  PDF files also work well if you are only distributing to a select audience.  Say for example you want to rally your fellow worker bees to strike and bring down the man.  A PDF file showing how to tar and feather that annoying district manager will do just fine.  But for something a bit more, international, in flavor you are going to want to use some other options.

ePub:  The industry standard.  Virtually all distributers and publishers of ebooks use epub as the format for their books.  This is the way you will want to publish your ebook in most cases providing that your book is primarily text only without a lot of images, links, or other things require a set layout or format.  Think your average novel or paperback and you have a general idea.  ePub is a bit complicated and a pain to work with sometimes.  My first book sat for a long time because I was unable to get it to conform to epub standards.  As it happens though, something new from the minds of Apple came along and solved all that.

iBooks Author:  Back in Feb. of 2012 Apple introduced iBooks Author and suddenly, anyone who could string a few coherent sentences together with a picture or two had the means to become an author.  IBA is a free program where you can easily put together a book in a short amount of time.  The program comes with some templates you can use for your book design, has everything all set up so you can select and insert chapters, sections, forewords, and all the stuff.  It has all the fonts you will need, a nice interface that’s easy to use, and an inspector  pane that allows you to edit further.

The cool thing about iBooks Author is you can make your book interactive.  Go beyond just reading words.  You can add in images, video, links to other sites, and there are widgets to take that concept even further.  Sort of like a huge website but in book form.  And if you want, you can just have a book with text also.

IBooks Author was written with the teacher in mind.  Educators could put together their own textbooks or other learning tools to help the students.  But the program works every bit as well for a small time author.  Both my ebooks were published using iBooks Author.

When your book is ready  you can save it in a variety of formats including PDF or ePub, but iBooks Author also uses another format which has a .iba for its file suffix.  iba standing for iBooks author of course.  This is important for the next step, which is getting your book into the market.

There are many companies who publish and distribute ebooks.  I mentioned self publishing earlier but perhaps you want to reach a larger audience.  Amazon is one of the top right now.  They accept epub as a format and though I haven’t used them myself I understand they have a specific format for the Kindle.  But, as I said earlier, it’s all about Apple.

Apple has the iBook Store of course and anyone who has an iPad probably has iBooks as one of the apps.  Again, Apple is getting big time into education and the iPad is the tool of choice for many a school now, replacing a bunch of overpriced, outdated, and heavy textbooks with nice shiny interactive tablets.  And it’s working even better than they expected.  But, you don’t have to be a teacher to get your book onto the iBook Store.

What you do need to get however, is an account with iTunes Connect.  ITunes Connect is the portal through which you can get your book from your brain to your computer to the iBook Store to the millions of people with iTunes accounts, who have the money to buy your works.  It’s easy to sign up, just hit the link and follow the instructions.  Cost is $99 a year.  There is a free version if you just want to give books away for free, but I sorta kinda like the whole making money by writing stuff idea.  It’s up to you.  When you get approved you will be able to download a copy of iTunes Producer which is the program you use to send your book in.  On iTunes Connect there are lots of helpful things like guidelines on how to get your book ready for delivery.  When you are ready, put your book package in the iTunes Producer with all the associated information like author, pricing, summary, etc. and send it in, all over the interwebs.  ITunes checks the book to make sure it’s within the guidelines, lets you know if there is a problem so you can correct it, and once approved, your book is online and the path to eternal wealth and prosperity is yours….providing somebody actually buys your book.

You have the ability to set the price, you can even offer another version in a different language, and you can come back in and make changes if need be.  But, as you may have guessed, it’s not totally free.  Apple, who went to all the trouble of setting up the iTunes store, the iBookstore, built the iPads, and the Macs, and all that other stuff, gets a cut of every sale.  30% to be exact.  Some people have a problem with this.  Personally I don’t.  By using Apple and their vast resources my books are now available to nearly 1/2 a billion people.  A tad larger audience than the 3 or 4 lonely souls who read this blog.  So to me, it’s well worth it to give up a few bucks and let somebody else do the heavy work.  If and when your book sales reach a certain amount, Apple then sends you a big fat commission check directly to your bank complete with records so you can prove to the taxman that you made the money.

So, by employing the use of a Mac computer, an iPad, iBooks Author, an iTunes Connect account, and your brain thingy to actually do the writing, you can easily publish an ebook in little more than the time it takes to write the thing.  But, there are a few more minor details to cover…

Currently, if you publish a book using iBook Author you can only read it on the iPad or a Mac.  It will not work on the iPhone or iPod.  Unless you publish it using epub format.

If you agree to sell your book on the iTunes bookstore, Apple will not allow you to sell it any place else.  Another minor bit that has turned off a few people.  I don’t care myself, 1/2 a billion potential customers is plenty for me at the moment.

And then, you will need an ISBN for your book.  What the hell is an ISBN you may ask?  The ISBN is a International Standard Book Number.  It is the identifying number for every book ever published.  Think of it as a social security number for a book.  The ISBN, which is currently a 13 digit number contains all the information about the book it is assigned to.  Physical bookstores, which were old time actual brick and mortar stores that sold books needed the ISBN in order to get copies of any books that they wished to sell.  And now, ebook stores use the same methods.  To obtain an ISBN for your book is pretty simple.  Hit that link above and you can see what is needed to get one.  And as you can see, they can get pricey.  But before you plunk down any cash for an ISBN here are some handy tips:

If all you are doing is self selling your own book on your website or doing a small distribution like within a classroom, corporation or business, you can probably get by without needing an ISBN.  But if you are selling the book on the markets, through Apple or Amazon, you will need an ISBN.

Your ISBN is very specific.  It identifies not just the book but the format too.  So should you decide to sell your book in more than one format, say an ebook using iBooks author, an epub version, and an actual physical version, you will need an ISBN for each version.  It can get expensive but as you can see, the more ISBN’s you buy, the cheaper it gets.  And if you come out with a new version of your book, it will also need a new ISBN.  So, be careful before you buy.  If you are doing multiple formats and multiple versions, it would pay to buy a bunch of ISBN’s.  Me, I got one for each book.  If they really start to take off and make some real money then I may go back and buy a block of 10 ISBN’s for future writing.  For now, one each is plenty.

Okay, that in a very small nutshell, is the basics of publishing an ebook.  It’s really pretty easy to get a book out now using the tools that are available.  And I know I concentrated on using Apple in this post.  If there is anybody out there who has used a different platform to get their book to market, we would like to know about it.  Feel free to add your version to the comments.  In the meantime, if you have an idea for a book, take a look at all the resources I listed above.  Get to typing and put that puppy together, wrap it up and send off to the ibook store and see what happens. If it sells, wealth and fame are yours for the taking.   If not, you can brag at the bar that you are a published author.  Either way it’s not a wasted effort.

Happy writing!

Capt. Fritter