E-books are fast becoming a legitimate way of publishing your manuscript. There are many advantages to e-books: for one, they are more cost effective and easier to distribute than hard copies. Secondly, if you are not yet recognized as an established author then self-publishing an e-book could be your answer.

There are various options available for publishing an e-book. You can go the whole process alone, get some help along the way or find a publisher to do all the hard work, but with each route it is important that you do your research before deciding on which method is best for you.

Self publishing:

Self publishing can be a great opportunity to get your book sold and earn high profits, but there is a lot more to it than merely creating a PDF and putting it on a website. If you choose to go through the whole e-book publishing process on your own then here are some aspects that you need to consider:

(1) A book cannot sell if no one knows about it! You’ll need to find a way to advertise your website and the book that you are trying sell. Sending out copious amounts of spam will work against you, but social networking can work to your advantage. Remember to advertise within your intended market and not to waste time promoting your e-book to people who won’t want to read it.

(2) You’ll need to find ways of receiving payment from your customers that is easy for both them and you to use. Tedious methods of payments such as cheques or postal orders and delays between payment and the customer’s receipt of the book can dissuade the reader from buying your book or recommending it to others. Sites such as Paypal offer quick and safe methods of payment.

(3) Your e-book should be created with a professional look and feel to it. Simple things such as a list of contents, page numbers, artwork on the cover and a blurb at the back can all be easily overlooked when you create your e-book, but will give your book a professional feel. A basic recommendation is to get an editor to look over your manuscript, and to hire a professional designer to create your book cover. Once your e-book is published, a 3D image of your book also helps with sales as it gives the impression that your e-book is a ‘proper book’ and not just another document.

(4) File format is an important aspect of e-books. While PDF’s are common, many handheld devices with e-book reading capabilities use specific formats such as HTML, ePub, Kindle and Open eBook. Creating your e-book in these formats may require specific software and knowhow, so make sure that you know what you are doing before you create your book in these formats.

(5) The price that you charge for your e-book should be reasonable. While bestselling authors can get away with charging over $ 15.00 – $ 20.00 (R 100.00) per e-book, you will have to adjust your price so that it is both affordable for readers and able to make you a profit.

Making use of established e-book sellers:

Sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble have a facility where you can sell your e-book on their site. While most of the work is still up to you, you will have the advantage of using their established site and sale facilities. Most of these sites will not charge you a set fee for this; instead they will take a small portion of the profit from each e-book sold (Amazon takes 30%). While your earnings may drop slightly, people are more willingly to pay online and download from sites they know and trust.

There is no guarantee that all websites will accept your book, as sites with good reputations will want to maintain them and may have strict requirements for the self-published books sold on their sites. Some sites do not accept e-books from unknown authors but the ones that do could be a useful tool for you.

e-Book publishers:

There are many e-book publishers available to publish your manuscript for you. Sites such as Lulu.com and Wordsmash.com can take care of the design and creation of your e-book and also publish it in the different e-book formats. They can upload your e-book onto a selection of e-book selling sites and so most of the work is done for you. These sites can also help you with copyrighting your work and obtaining an ISBN number for your book (which is not a necessary requirement for e-books but it can prove useful). Lulu.com, for instance, offers a “Best-seller Package” that includes cover design, layout and obtaining the ISBN design and one printed copy of your book, for under US $ 700.00.

However, the drawback again comes with the profit. Not only will the sites that sell your book be taking part of your earnings, but so will the middleman. You will have to decide on what is more important: the profit that you can make on each individual sale or the number of books that you can sell.

Pros and Cons:

A comparison of the pros and cons of e-books will help you to evaluate this form of publishing.


Low cost – compared to the cost of hardcopy publishing, the cost of publishing an e-book is low and thus the profits have the potential to be greater.

Acceptance – e-book publishers are more willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts and manuscripts from unknown writers. This can provide you with the opportunity to circulate your work and get your name known as an author.

Publishing time – the time it takes to publish an e-book is significantly shorter (possibly days) than the time it takes to publish printed copies of your books (from a few months to a year).

Print – some e-book publishers offer a print on demand facility where people are able to order printed copies of your book. This is a good feature as some people prefer hard copies to e-books.

Accessibility – as technology advances, access to and the use of e-books becomes increasingly easier. With the multitude of devices now available for e-book reading, people are able to quickly find and download your e-book twenty-four hours a day.

Availability – print publishers will remove slow selling books from their print list, while e-books can be kept on the market indefinitely.

Royalties – because of the lower costs involved in e-publishing, authors receive a higher percentage of royalties (100% if you market it yourself, and as much as 70% with an e-book publisher compared to an average of 8% from printed books).

While the pros of e-book publishing are making you ask yourself ‘Well what am I waiting for?’ you must bear in mind that are an equal number of cons involved.


Profit – while your publishing costs are lower and your royalties percentage is higher, the price that you charge for your e-book will also be less than a hard copy as people will not want to pay as much for an e-book. Also, it is extremely hard to market your e-book, and many first-time authors may only sell a few hundred copies at best – to family and friends!

Credibility – because there are a large number of e-book publishers willing to publish any number of manuscripts, yours may be grouped under the title of ‘vanity publishing’ and not receive the acclaim that it deserves.

Hard work – you will either need to hire an editor and proof-reader (highly recommended), or do it yourself. It is hard work to take over the role of the traditional publisher. Many people overlook this and end up with a shoddy product that does more damage to their reputation as a writer than good.

Professional advice – finding out the finer details of your contract and sometimes even the creation of artwork and planning the layout may be left to you. The low profit margin in e-book publishing means that the groups of professionals that assist with the process of publishing hard copies are not available.

Print on demand – the cost of buying a print on demand book is higher than that of a regular printed book and they are seldom available for purchase in books stores. This can deter readers from purchasing printed copies of your book

Advertising – it is up to you to promote your e-book. You will need to do a lot of marketing on your own to ensure that people know about your book. This can be difficult and may involve more costs.

Security – for all the benefits that technology brings, there are as many drawbacks. Check up on the reputation of your e-book publishers. The Internet will provide you lots of information on who is legitimate, who you can trust and who will provide you with the best value for money.

You need to be careful in every aspect of your e-book. Do thorough research on what companies you choose to help you, from your website host to your publisher. Make sure that you know all the costs involved, what you are entitled to and most importantly, make sure that you read the fine print. The last thing you want is to lose the copyrights to your own work to a scam artist!

A final but important note:

Taking the initiative and publishing your manuscript as an e-book is no guarantee that you will have your name or book succeed or that you will make money. The most influential aspect of your e-book will be its contents. Books sell because they are good books, and the form of publishing that you choose will not cover up bad writing! So make sure that your manuscript is the best that you can produce before taking any route towards publishing.

About the Author:

 H R Green is a writer of short stories and has a passion for teaching Creative Writing.

She recently won the 2011 SA Writers’ College Short Story Competition with her story “The Tokoloshe”. With a BA Degree in English Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand (2007) and an HonsBA Degree from the University of South Africa (2009) she is about to embark on her Masters Degree. She completed the Short Story Writing Course at the Writers’ College in 2010.

Photo credit: flickr.com_jurvetson