What You Should Know Before Publishing Your First Ebook

What You Should Know Before Publishing Your First Ebook

Publishing an ebook is a daunting task — so daunting many writers keep their brilliant messages to themselves rather than attempt to navigate the publishing process.

What if I told you it’s not as hard as you think?

That it doesn’t have to take as long as you think?

That it won’t cost as much money as you think?

The ebook publishing process involves a lot of steps and plenty of research, yes. But if you know what to expect before you get started, the process isn’t as intimidating as it seems.

Here’s what you can expect:

Writing and editing

You might be sitting on a semi-finished draft or a few Big Ideas, but not moving forward because you’re convinced polishing your words into a publishable product will cost a fortune. Industry gurus have scared self-publishers out of their wits about the costs of editing!

There’s another way. When you understand what your book needs, you can crowdsource or barter for editors and utilize beta readers to manage your own editing process.

Before writing, you’ll vet your ideas and set a purpose for the book. You can hire a developmental editor, work with a book coach, or bounce ideas off a mastermind group or other trusted colleagues and friends who understand your target audience.

During or after writing your first draft, you can work with a content editor or trusted beta readers for feedback to ensure the major organization of your ebook effectively meets your goals.

Once you have a draft, copyediting and proofreading will polish your manuscript and make every word pop off the page. You’ll benefit from hiring a pro at this stage, but you can also barter or trade with a critique partner or colleague, as long as you trust them to understand what your readers expect out of your book.

Formatting and design

Once you’ve got a manuscript finished, you can turn it into a book. You have to choose a font, page layout, and relevant images; create a copyright page and other front-of-the-book matter; and — oh my god! — create a cover.

Publishing a book is a whole new set of skills alongside writing a book. (Click to tweet this idea). If you don’t have any interest in or time for learning these skills, you can browse sites like elance or oDesk for affordable freelancers, and 99Designs to get the best deal on a cover design.

If you want to learn to DIY, give yourself time to study before starting — you’ll save a bunch of headaches later. I recommend Guy Kawasaki’s APE: How to Publish a Book for an in-depth overview, including formatting tips to avoid a shoddy self-published look. For cover design, follow Joel Friedlander’s e-Book Cover Design Awards for pro tips to guide you.

Conversion and distribution

As a digital publishing coach, I could not have anticipated how many writers would come to me simply baffled about ebook conversion! What tools will I need? How much will it cost? Who should I hire?

Hold the phone. Tuck away your wallet. And breathe easy. Unless your ebook relies on the placement of your images (e.g. a comic book, graphic novel, or scientific textbook), you shouldn’t need more than Microsoft Word (or free counterparts like OpenOffice or LibreOffice) and a free copy of Smashwords Style Guide.

Kindle, NOOK, Apple, and Kobo all make publishing straight from your desktop as simple as formatting a Word Doc and following their step-by-step instructions. If you want to simplify even more, you can publish through Smashwords, which will convert and distribute your ebook across those online retailers. Or skip them altogether, and sell a PDF from your site through an e-commerce tool like e-junkie, Ganxy, or Gumroad.

Launch and book marketing

Next to conversion, “finding readers” is the scariest undertaking cited by most authors. You were promised “passive income,” so why is selling your book taking so much work?

If you have an established audience and community before writing your book, marketing is certainly much simpler. Prepare for your launch by teasing them with updates on your process, free samples, or a cover reveal. Enlist your audience in book promotion by creating a launch team, as well as making sharing as easy as possible with tweetables and copy-and-pastable blurbs they can share through social media and email.

If you don’t have an established audience (your ebook can be a good catalyst to build one), marketing and selling your book will require a significant time investment in community- and relationship-building.

To do your ebook justice, build ongoing marketing into your schedule around other obligations. Planning ahead will help you grow an audience and consistently sell books, and avoid those panicky moments when you realize you spent months creating an ebook no one is buying.

How to prepare to publish

Spend some time (in between writing sessions, of course) becoming familiar with the ebook publishing process. Note where you already feel strong; where you think you can learn to DIY; and where you want to hire, barter, trade, or otherwise ask for help, and plan ahead to take the pressure off while you write.

Are you ready to start writing your ebook? Join us for ManiWriMo, and complete a draft for your manifesto in 30 days!

What fears do you have about ebook publishing? What about the process excites you?


  • This course provided me with all the information I needed to create my first course and have it accepted by Udemy. Thanks so much for creating it, Udemy team!

  • Lily says:

    If I publish with Smashword or another place, am I still able to take this ebook and sell it on ebay or on my blog?
    Thanks for the info.

    • Neil Larkins says:

      I have two books on Smashwords – Primary one, Mouse Hole You are the publisher and copyright owner so you can do whatever you want with your work within the boundaries of Smashwords rules which are quite liberal. Should you decide to publish with Smashwords they will send you their style/format book. They also answer all inquiries in a very timely and helpful manner. Go to their home page and check’em out.

  • Edwina says:

    This has been a HUGE help thanks Dana! You just confirmed that everything I intend for my novel is not only possible, but also not as overwhelming or expensive as some make out. Big sighs of relief as I read your article. DIYing brings the most authentic outcomes.

    • Dana Sitar says:

      Edwina, this is so awesome! Thank you 🙂 That’s exactly what I want to get through to would-be self-publishers: It’s not as scary or expensive as it seems. Best wishes for your novel!

  • Ken Casey says:

    Wow, Dana, what an eye-opener. I have content and and audience, and am ready to write my first eBook. Thanks for the advice, and good luck in your pursuits.

  • Writership says:

    Great article, Dana. I love the e-book process, and though I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a designer who helped me through the conversion, it really wasn’t as sticky as I anticipated–with either book. Honestly, the whole journey is creatively empowering! I love what you say about teasers. Building the anticipation is one of my favorite parts! /Jennifer Hritz

  • Neil Larkins says:

    Great help, Dana. I have two ebooks on Smashwords (their Style Guide is awesome) but can always learn more. Still working on the promotion thing but at least I got my foot in the door.

  • Neil Larkins says:

    Your post is helpful to me, Dana. I have already published a couple ebooks on Smashwords – and their Style Guide is great, easy to follow – but I can always learn how to be better. One of the nice things about epublishing is that you can always take your work down and improve it…or you can do that with Smashwords, anyway. Don’t know about the others. (Not a good idea to do that more than once.) I’m still laging on the promotion end, though. Just a matter of keeping at it. Thanks.

    • Dana Sitar says:

      Happy to hear that, Neil! You’re right; e-publishing gives you the freedom to update your book, and if you do it through Kindle (and probably NOOK, though I don’t know for sure), you can even notify readers who bought the earlier version that the book has been updated.

  • Dana Sitar says:

    Thanks again for having me, Write Life Team 🙂 I hope this overview helps calm some nerves about ebook publishing.

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