5 Myths About Writing an E-Book

By Ovetta Sampson

“Yes, of course I can do that!”

The words of affirmation flew out of my mouth faster than the reality that I had no idea how to do it hit my brain. I was close to sealing the deal to write a book for a client. She’d provide the brilliance; I’d wrap it up in lovely words. We’d sell books. But she also wanted to publish an e-book. I had never done that before. But I said yes anyway. I mean, it couldn’t be that difficult to publish an e-book? I mean you just send your Microsoft Word document to the ether and it comes out whispering on your Kindle right?

Yeah. Not right. It took me longer to find a credible answer on e-book publishing than it did to write the book. I asked on LinkedIn, I asked people I knew in the business, I even asked established publishing houses, everyone had a different answer and no one convinced me they had it down. The reason is they don’t. But you will. Read on.

Myth #1: I Need to Write a Book to Make Money

Do you know how many books you’d have to sell to get on the coveted New York Times’ Bestseller List? Industry insider estimate 20,000. Think about it. At $26.55, the average price for a hardcover nonfiction book sold in 2011, you’d gross $531,000. But you’d have to give at least a 1/3 of that to your distributor or publisher, take another 15 percent or your agent or publicist, maybe another 10 percent for marketing, and you’re down to less than half your sales at $221,220. That’s nothing to sneeze at but nothing to retire on either. No wonder people are self-publishing. But do you really think you can sell 20,000 copies of your book? If you think so here are some sobering facts from Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publisher:

  • The average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 250 copies per year
  • The average U.S. nonfiction book sells less than 3,000 copies over a lifetime
  • Competition is increasing—in 2003 the U.S. published 300,000 books. In 2011 that number was THREE MILLION!

So making money should not be your motivation to publish a book. Spreading brand awareness, though, is a good return on your investment.

Myth #2: All You Need is a Word Document

By far this is the No.1 fallacy I heard when investigating e-book publishing. Everyone said, “All you need is a Word document.” While it’s true that the publishing world is firmly ensconced in Microsoft Word and e-book distributors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble accept Word docs to create digital books, a Word doc is by far the beginning step not the end. But why?

To put it simply: a print book is created by imagery. An e-book is created by code. In printing you take an image of your written text as designed and reproduce it. In a digital book, you take your text and use code to manipulate it so that it flows and changes to fit the e-reader. A printed book is static. An e-book is flexible.

Read this if you want to know what exactly what happens during the conversion, but otherwise take my word for it. Publishing an e-book is not even remotely the same as sending your Word doc to a printer and having your book typeset at a printing house.

Myth #3: I Can Do It All Myself

If you want a crappy e-book you can upload a Word doc and be done with it. But if you want an e-book that looks professional and can gain respect, you need to have your text doc converted to a major digital publishing language namely: MOBI, for Amazon or E-PUB for everyone else. You can get all the dirty details of conversion in Guy Kawasaki’s new book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish Your Book. It is by far one of the most comprehensive books on self-publishing I’ve ever read. He also gives step-by-step instructions on how he took his book digital as it was designed with InDesign.

But here’s what you need to know: If you want all the bells and whistles found on e-readers such as navigation, searchable text, clear graphics and tables, hyperlinks, you need special code or formatting, much like HTML for a website. Author service providers can offer you this service. There are several including:

  • Smashwords (free but takes a cut of royalties)
  • BookBaby, charges an up-front fee but offers you 100% of the royalties
  • CreateSpace, owned by Amazon, very aggressive in marketing but print-on-demand is great if you want a real-live book as well as a digital one.

There are tons more. Prices for these companies range from as little as $100 to north of $4,000. For my project I paid $100 for e-book conversion to both MOBI and E-PUB and formatting from the Indian-based SunTec Digital, (Hi Rahul!) and had my client sign up for Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program to distribute the book. The book, It Takes Work to Be Happy, came out fantastic and looks fabulous on my iPad.

Myth #4: I Don’t Need an Editor I’m a DIYer

While there are plenty of tasks you can complete when you self-publish, I mean it is called self-publishing; editing is not one of them. No matter how great of a writer you are, if you want your book to be taken seriously by your audience, the media, clients and even your mother, you need a good copyeditor. I’m not just saying that because I am one.

What’s the first thing you think about when you get an e-mail with a misspelling? Nigerian fraud right? Ever read a Facebook post with someone using “there” for “their?” Makes you cringe doesn’t it? I was contemplating dating a guy but his Facebook posts were so riddled with misspelling and errors I just stayed away.

Communication replete with incorrect spelling, bad grammar, and faulty sentence structure signals carelessness. Correcting those mistakes is about more than pleasing English teachers. It’s about putting your best foot forward. And at just $35 an hour (the average copyediting cost) isn’t your first book worth that kind of attention? Hire a copyeditor this is non-negotiable. Then you won’t be like the losing Mitt Romney whose campaign asked supporters to “Stand with Mitt,” for “A Better Amerca!”

Myth #5: I’ll Write It Then Market It

Nope! Market it as you create it! It’s the only way to rise above the din. In the past authors went to big publishing houses for marketing chops. But thanks to social media and the ‘Net you don’t have to. Still, you’ve got to be Barnum and Bailey to get rich in the Obama era.

Guy in his book APE, notice I keep mentioning it, yeah, you need to read it, gives a crash course on marketing and self-promotion. You can also check out his practical advice reading this Q&A I did with him about marketing for startups. Guy likens publishing an e-book to beginning a startup.

Because even he, an established author, Penguin is one of his publishers, with millions of social media followers, even he spent more than a year promoting his self-published book before it was even written.

When I sat down with business guru and CNBC star Carol Roth and asked how she promoted her New York Times best-selling book The Entrepreneur Equation the answer was simple—she did a yearlong marketing plan. That’s before she wrote a word. Yeah, you can buy her doll here!

Bottom line: When you think of writing a book is when you should create a social media profile for it, tell everyone you know, start soliciting pre-sale e-mails, and bug your local book seller and plant seeds on book-centered websites and groups. Don’t wait until it’s done, besides opening your mouth will give you a reason to actually write it.

Look, publishing is pigeonholed into a paradox. Book sales are dropping just as technology is allowing more people to publish. It’s not enough to have a good book; you need to have a well-designed, well-edited, well-marketed book to rise above the din. So Write. Revise. Format. Market. and Sell!

Author’s Bio: Ovetta Sampson is a freelance digital writer for BlueSodaPromo, a promotional marketing company based in the Chicago area. BSP offers an amazing selection of eco-friendly tote bags and thousands of stress relievers. An avid triathlete, she still finds time to run her own content marketing firm and blog.

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