How to Publish an E-Book

Saul Bottcher,—Updated 11 October 2013

You've worked for months to complete your masterpiece, and after all the sweat and tears, you're ready to publish it and enjoy the fame, fortune, and adulation that's sure to result.

But... well, how do you publish an e-book, anyway?

In this guide, I'll give you an overview of the process, breaking it down into specific steps and looking at the pros and cons for the different approaches you can take at each step.

My goal is to help you plan ahead and understand your options. We also have some detailed guides (linked below) that will walk you through specific tasks, and even more on our Resource Page. Don't forget to contact us if you ever have questions.

Manuscript Preparation

The first thing you need is a final draft of your manuscript that you're happy with. (If you're still doing revisions, it's not time to start the publishing process yet.)

The goal of manuscript preparation is to make the visual formatting clean and consistent: the fonts, the paragraph justification, the use of bold and italics, and so on.

Properly preparing your manuscript will greatly speed up copy editing and e-book production, and improve the final result.

If you want to do your own manuscript preparation, the rule of thumb for body text is as follows: all text should be in one font at one size, left-justified, with emphasis indicated by italics (not bold or capitals).

If you're writing a non-fiction book with charts, tables, graphics, or photos, you can ask your e-book producer how to format those elements. If you're doing your own e-book production, pick one way to format each type of graphical element and stick with it.

Some authors prefer to hire someone to handle manuscript preparation for them. If you're not sure how to properly format a manuscript, this option may be for you.

(Note: if you plan to use Smashwords as your e-book producer and distributor, you'll need to do a little more work to get your manuscript formatted. Their Smashwords Style Guide outlines their requirements. Smashwords formatting can get a bit technical, so hiring someone for manuscript preparation is more common when you're working with Smashwords.)

Copy Editing

Copy editing means going through your entire manuscript to find and correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, phrasing, and terminology.

Copy editing is essential because the reading public expects an error-free text when they pay for a book. Even a free book will receive negative reviews if the text contains errors, and negative reviews can kill sales. There are three approaches you can take to copy editing:


Your first option is to self-edit. You can only accomplish so much with self-editing, because you are blind to most of your own mistakes, which makes it impossible to correct them.

However, self-editing is a good first step, because it removes the most obvious errors so other people can focus on the remaining ones. To learn how to self-edit effectively, read our three-part guide:

Ask a Friend or Family Member

Your second option is to have a friend or family member check your manuscript for errors. You'll need to pick someone with strong language skills if you want the results to be worthwhile. Some potential candidates are English teachers or professors, journalists, copy writers, and fellow authors.

Don't forget that editing a novel-length manuscript takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be hard to stay motivated as time grinds on. If the person does it in their spare time, expect it to take several weeks.

Hire a Professional Copy Editor offers:
Copy Editing

Your final option, and the one that almost all experienced authors recommend, is to hire a professional copy editor.

Aside from the discipline that comes with years of practice, a copy editor can also offer you benefits like stylistic editing, conforming your text to a style guide, and producing a style sheet for you to use in future.

Prices vary depending on the copy editor's level of experience. You can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 to have a novel-length (60,000 word) text professionally copy edited.

Cover Design

While your manuscript is being copy edited, you also need to get a cover image for your e-book. Your cover isn't just a pretty picture—it actually handles several important jobs for you:

There are a few ways you can get a cover image. Whichever method you choose, keep these priorities in mind so you get an effective cover.

Do it Yourself

Your first option is to create the cover yourself. You can use free software, free fonts, and public domain images to create a cover without spending any money.

However, expect to invest a lot of time instead. Image editing is technical and complicated, and it will take you some time to learn how to use your image editing software properly to produce attractive results.

If you create your own cover, make sure you get honest feedback. Most friends and family will be reluctant to say anything negative, so you might try posting it to an indie writer's forum for feedback instead. You can also contact us at and we'll give you some unbiased feedback and suggestions.

Crowdsource / Hold a Contest

Your second option is crowdsourcing. This is a process where you ask a large number of people to create cover images for you, with the promise that you'll choose one winner and pay them for their work.

You can manage your crowdsourcing as a contest through your own website, but you'll get a much larger response if you use one of the dedicated crowdsourcing websites that have sprung up recently.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $2000 to get a book cover through these websites. There's usually a time limit on the contest. Sometimes this limit is as short as 7 days, which can create unnecessary haste in the designer's work and your final decision.

The designers who participate in your contest may not speak your native language, so be prepared to encounter some language barriers as you work to communicate what you want.

Finally, you should be aware that some people consider crowdsourcing unethical, because they see it as a form of unpaid work for the participants who don't win. Regardless of where you stand, keep in mind that some people may think negatively about you or your book if you use crowdsourcing.

Hire a Designer offers:
Cover Design

Your final option is to hire a cover designer. This might be a graphic designer or visual artist, and they may specialize in book covers or work more generally.

You can expect to pay somewhere in the range of $50 to $2000. (To get the best value for your money, you should probably spend at least $200.)

If you don't have the cash to hire a designer at these rates, you should be aware that most established designers won't negotiate on fees. Instead, you might ask about different license terms, or ask if you can trade services as part of your payment.

The main advantages of working with a cover designer are their experience and professionalism, their access to high-quality tools and content, and the one-on-one creative relationship you'll enjoy. If you pick the right designer, the process will be relaxed and fun, and you'll be proud of the final result.

E-Book Production

Now that you have your cover image and your edited manuscript, it's time to produce your e-book files.

There are a bunch of file formats for e-books, but the two you really need are EPUB (the industry standard) and Kindle (the proprietary format used by Amazon). Two other formats to consider are PDF (used by some people with older devices) and HTML (can be integrated into your website and is widely compatible like EPUB).

There are three ways you can get your e-book files.

Do it Yourself

It's possible to produce your own e-book files using a variety of different tools, including Adobe InDesign, various WYSIWYG e-book editing tools, or 'by hand' using a text editor.

Some authors swear by this method because it gives them complete control over the final product. However, you'll need to be meticulous and computer-savvy to produce a valid file, which many vendors require.

If you decide to produce your own e-book file, there are tutorials and templates available on the internet to help you. Remember to prepare your manuscript (as described above) to make your job easier.

Hire a Service Provider offers:
E-Book Production

A second option is to hire a service provider to create your e-book files. You can expect to pay a one-time fee of $100 to $250 for a novel (often less for a shorter book), and the process should take about a week or less.

Non-fiction will typically cost more if it contains graphics, photos, or links.

Look for a service provider that offers more than just delivering the completed files. The files should be validated, field tested in a variety of e-reading environments, and there should be some kind of guarantee against defects.

Use a Producer-Distributor

Your final option is to use a service that both produces and distributes your e-book files, such as Smashwords.

You should be aware that producer-distributors typically do not give you the files they produce. If you decide later that you want to use a different distribution method, you'll need to produce new files to distribute.

Most producer-distributors don't charge an up-front fee to create your e-book files. Instead, they take royalties from your sales, typically around 5%–10%.


Your e-book files are prepared and ready to go. Next we'll talk about how to get them into the hands of your readers!

Continue with How to Publish an E-book, Part 2 to learn about distribution, sales, digital delivery, pricing, and promotion.

Do you have a question about e-publishing?
E-mail us at and we’ll help you find the answer.