How to publish your own ebook

Your literary empire starts here.

The internet has transformed just about every industry out there—including publishing. Anyone with a web connection can now post their thoughts for the world to see. And if you have literary aspirations, you can publish digital books on your own terms, rather than waiting for a nod from a publishing house or agent. In this guide, we’ll show you the ropes of putting out your own ebooks.

If you’re looking for help creating convincing characters, bleeding words onto the page, and editing your work, then you’ll need a different set of instructions: We’re not going to cover the whole process of writing a book from scratch. Instead, let’s assume you’ve already written your masterpiece and put it in a digital text-based format like Microsoft Word. Once you’ve reached that point, here are the next steps you need to take to send your literary baby out into the world.

Choose your platform

Your first step is to decide where you want your ebook to live. If you just want to share your brainchild with family and friends, you might opt for a simple file-sharing program. For something more professional, you can choose to publish your ebook on a variety of different platforms, reaching a potential audience of millions. Here are a few of your options.

File sharing: The quickest and easiest way to publish your ebook is to upload it to the web, create a shareable link, and then pass it around to your friends, Twitter followers, book clubs, and so on. Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive all let you share files for free online. This isn’t the most sophisticated publishing option out there: Readers will have to manually load the document onto their e-readers, and it won’t show up in any ebook stores. On the bright side, you can get your book live in five minutes—and you won’t even have to reformat your manuscript. If, however, you yearn for a more official product, then consider using this method to build up some early buzz about your work, or maybe to offer a preview chapter.

Kobo Writing Life
Kobo has its own self-publishing platform, Writing Life. Kobo

Kindle Direct Publishing: One of the most far-reaching and easy-to-navigate platforms is Kindle Direct Publishing from Amazon. The retail behemoth has sold millions of Kindles over the years, so you’re guaranteed the opportunity to reach a wide audience on its platform. This free service is also relatively generous: You can set your own price for your ebook, and depending on what that price is, you keep up to 70 percent of what it brings in. We have more information on how this pricing works below.

Kobo Writing Life: Kobo’s e-readers aren’t as well known as Amazon’s, but like the larger company, Kobo has its own ebook publishing platform, Kobo Writing Life. Again, the publishing process is simple and free, and your royalties can be as high as 70 percent, varying with the book’s cost.

Smashwords: To go live on several ebook stores at once, including Kobo, consider Smashwords. This platform gives you 80 percent of the royalties from its own store, and 60 percent of the money your ebook earns from other stores. Like the other options, Smashwords is free and easy to use. The only downside is that books published on this platform won’t be available on Amazon.

In terms of mechanics, these three publishing platforms are all very similar. If you have trouble deciding, then start with Amazon, where your potential audience will be bigger. That’s the platform we’ll focus on in the rest of this guide.

Publish your ebook

We won’t take you through the self-publishing process for every platform. Instead, we’ll show you how it works if you sign up with Kindle Direct Publishing. Of course, you can always upload your ebook to several platforms, but Amazon will offer you a few perks if you stay exclusively on the Kindle, like extra promotion for your book and inclusion in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Amazon’s process for self-publishing ebooks is refreshingly polished and straightforward. To begin with, you must make sure to put your document in a digital file and to format it properly. The Kindle Direct Publishing system can recognize simple formatting like bold and italic text and paragraph indentations. But don’t push it too far—avoid using special fonts or headers and footers. Hit the Enter key to indicate new paragraphs, and use page breaks to indicate the ends of chapters. Amazon provides a full help page on the formatting guidelines you need to follow.

While you’re formatting your work, take the time to proofread it as well. If you want your would-be audience to take you seriously and buy your work, your text must be free from weird formatting, spelling mistakes, and bad grammar.

Apple Pages
Exporting your work in Word format is straightforward. David Nield/Popular Science

Next, you need to put your literary creation into the Microsoft Word format, with a .doc or .docx extension. Most applications, including Google Docs and Apple Pages, can export in Word format. In Docs, choose File and Download as; in Pages, select File and Export to.

Once you’ve formatted your file and given it the proper extension, it’s ready to upload to Amazon’s servers. To do that, start by signing into your Amazon account, or creating an account if you don’t already have one. Next, head to your Bookshelf page. The site will ask you for some details about your book, such as a title (obviously), a category, some keywords, and a brief description. Don’t rush through this part: The information you enter now is what will attract readers to your ebook. At the moment, the Kindle Store shows that more than 100,000 new ebooks became available in the last month, so you’re up against a lot of competition.

Your Bookshelf
You’ll need to enter metadata about your book, including a title and description. David Nield/Popular Science

Speaking of attracting readers, your book also needs a cover. A beautiful, striking image will make a big difference in setting your ebook apart from the pack, so, depending how artistic you are, you might consider hiring a professional to create original cover art for you. A quick web search will turn up plenty of freelance designers, or you can head to a marketplace like Reedsy. Covers must be in JPEG or TIFF format, with an aspect ratio of 1.6:1, and ideally with dimensions of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels.

Filling out this information and then uploading your manuscript to the Kindle Store is so quick and simple that you might be tempted to rush the process. But we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to first clean up your copy and then double- and triple-check your work. While you’re looking at designers on Reedsy, you can also find editors, publicists, and others who can help your book make the best possible impression.

Kindle Store
You’ll have plenty of competition on the Kindle Store. David Nield/Popular Science

As you set up your Bookshelf profile and upload your book, Amazon will also ask you for your address and bank details, for when those royalty payments start flooding in, and the price you want to charge for copies of your ebook. The price is completely up to you, but most readers won’t risk paying much for an unknown author. If you’re just in it for the creative satisfaction, meanwhile, you can give away your work for free.

With Amazon, the royalties vary depending on how your book is priced. If you charge less than $2.99—which first-time self-publishers should probably do—then you will earn a cut of 35 percent. The higher the price, the higher percentage of the profits you’ll earn; you can pull in up to 70 percent when your ebook’s price is higher. You can find plenty of advice on Kindle pricing strategies online, but keep an eye out for special sales and promotions on price, such as an initial, time-limited $0.99 offer. These deals can help boost interest in your work.

Once you’ve entered all that information, you upload your manuscript, and you’re done—your ebook is published and available on any Kindle device. It really is that simple. And you run into any snags during the digital self-publishing process, Amazon offers a bunch of tutorial videos that can help you out. Of course, actually turning your ebook into a sales success is much harder. You’ll need social media buzz and good reviews to make any kind of impact on the digital self-publishing landscape.

Get physical

If you want to put your book into actual physical form, then you have a couple choices. Amazon owns a service called CreateSpace that will print and bind your book so you can sell paperback copies. CreateSpace will handle all the details for you, like calculating the sales tax and making sure your book has an ISBN so it can be distributed and sold in stores. However, this service is not free: If you’re self-publishing, you’ll have to pay for your physical copies.

CreateSpace will charge you $0.85 to $2.15 for each copy it prints—the price depends on the number of pages and whether you need color printing. The service also takes a slice of any money your book earns in sales, leaving you with 40 to 80 percent of the profits. The price and royalty options depend on several different factors; CreateSpace provides a full breakdown on its website.

Lulu can help you put your book into physical form. David Nield/Popular Science

If you’d prefer more guidance, you can work with a more traditional self-publishing house. These agencies usually request minimum print runs in the region of 1,000 copies, though you can find some houses who will go lower. Your options vary hugely depending on how much assistance you want with the process and how much money you’re willing to spend. No matter what you decide, you can find plenty of companies willing to help you become a published print author. To begin with, we’d recommend focusing on the much simpler process of digital self-publishing—and then deciding what to do from there.