How to Publish an E-Book (Part 2)

Saul Bottcher,—Updated 11 October 2013

If you've followed the steps in Part 1, you should have your e-book files ready for distribution.

In this second part of the guide, I'll talk about how to get those files into the hands of your readers.


When I talk about distribution, I mean making your e-book available for sale in various places. There are three approaches you can take to distribution, and unlike previous steps, they aren't mutually exclusive. You can use any combination, and it's common to use two or even all three.

Deal with Vendors Directly

A vendor is a company like Amazon, Apple, Kobo, or Barnes&Noble that will display, sell, and deliver your e-book through their website. In exchange for this service, the vendor takes a royalty from each sale, typically around 30% of the list price.

Most vendors recognize indie authors and will deal with you directly, though a few only deal with publishers or distributors. Placing your book with a vendor is usually as simple as creating an account, uploading your e-book files and cover image, and setting a price.

Some vendors will offer to promote you or reduce their royalties if you sell exclusively through them. An exclusive arrangement usually lasts for 3 to 6 months. With some vendors you have the option to renew, but with others it's a one-time program.

Each vendor offers different options for pricing and promoting your book. Dealing with them directly gives you flexibility in setting each of these options to suit your needs. However, the downside is that you'll receive separate sales reports, which you'll need to keep organized and add up (probably in a spreadsheet) to figure out your total sales statistics.

Hire a Distributor

A distributor works on your behalf to place your book with multiple vendors. In exchange, the distributor takes an additional royalty (on top of the royalty taken by the vendor), typically in the neighborhood of 5%–10%.

Some distributors are able to place you with vendors that don't deal with individual authors, and in general, distributors usually place you with a large number of vendors, so they give your book wide availability.

Some distributors include e-book production as part of their service, however, the files they produce are for their use only, and can't be used on your own site or with other vendors outside their network.

Distributors offer aggregated sales statistics and a centralized dashboard to control the settings for your book. This reduces your administrative work. However, distributors don't always support all of the options that you could get if you dealt with vendors individually, so you may give up some control and flexibility.

Your Own Website

Selling through your own website means arranging your own sales and digital delivery systems. There are services that can help you with these tasks (see below), but you'll need either some technical knowledge or professional help to get them up and running.

However, once you have your own direct sales in place, you'll be enjoying a much higher percentage of the list price on your direct sales: usually between 90% and 95%, compared to about 70% when dealing with vendors or 60%-65% through a distributor.

The higher cut is a great reason to put up your own website. However, whatever you do, don't make the mistake of selling exclusively through your own website. You can never in your lifetime hope to draw in the number of shoppers that frequent the large vendor sites, so don't turn your back on them.

(Sales aside, having your own website is an essential part of promoting your book, and a great way to engage with your readers, so I definitely recommend having one.)

Sales and Digital Delivery

There are three steps involved in selling and delivering a digital file to a customer: checkout, payment, and download. When your book is sold through a vendor, their website handles all three of these steps, and they send you regular payments and sales reports.

When you sell through your own website, you need to set up these three capabilities yourself. There are two approaches you can use.

Use an All-in-One Service

You can partner with a service that handles all three steps (checkout, payment, and download) on your behalf. Usually, these services take a royalty of between 5% and 10% of your listed price. Keep in mind that, unlike a vendor, these services do not promote your book or make it available for browsing and searching. The only step in at the start of the checkout process.

To set up an all-in-one service, you first sign up for an account, which includes providing bank information (or sometimes PayPal or a local equivalent)so you can receive payments. You then provide product details (prices, pictures, and descriptions) to create the checkout pages. Finally, you link to the checkout page from your website.

Once set up, the process is completely automated, which is a great advantage. Because your time is so valuable, I recommend using an all-in-one service rather than building your own.

Build Your Own

The alternative to an all-in-one service is to combine several components and services to build your own sales system. You'll need three components: a checkout system to collect order details and contact information, a payment processor to accept money on your behalf, and a delivery system to allow the buyer to download the e-book file securely and easily.

Building your own sales system is time-consuming and requires technical expertise. Once you get it running, expect to deal with regular maintenance and administration, which will eat into your schedule.

The only real benefit of building your own sales system is that the ongoing payments are minimized—typically you pay 3%-4% of each sale to the payment processor and that's all.

However, the hassle involved simply isn't worth it. This is one of those times where squeezing out the last few dollars requires double the effort, and I don't recommend it.


The term promotion covers all the activities you do to make people aware of your book.

Every other step in this guide has, in fact, been setting the table for the most important thing you do other than writing: building your audience and promoting your books.

Unlike earlier steps, the choices here are countless, and many of them deserve guides of their own. However, here's a list of some common promotional ideas you should think about:

There are many more promotional concepts you can use. The most important thing is to always be doing something to build your audience and promote your books.


We've covered the most popular solutions for the challenges that every independent author faces: producing your e-book files and setting up your distribution and sales.

There's plenty more to learn about each of these topics, so I hope you'll explore some of the other guides I linked to, and don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Remember, one of the best things about independent publishing is that you get to make the decisions. Good luck!

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