ePub Author Question – What Goes Into a Great Cover?

Why Is a Cover So Important?

People do judge a book by its cover and a great cover will sell a lot more books. In the online world, a cover can make or break a book. Your cover is the most important selling tool that you have. Quite a few self-published authors don’t understand the importance of a great cover. Your cover is your billboard that will convey your book’s excitement and uniqueness. Just like a billboard, your cover has maybe 6 seconds tops to grab the casual Amazon browser.

The book market is becoming crowded FAST – over 1,000 new books go on sale every day thanks to the recent advances of self-publishing. Your book must stand out. Period. An amateur cover will make your book look, well…, self-published. The bottom line is that you’ll sell a lot more books with a great cover.

Should You Create Your Own Cover Or Hire a Cover Artist?

Unless you are an experienced cover artist with demonstrated success, you should hire a freelance cover artist to do your cover. It will cost you at least several hundred dollars but will be one of the wisest investments you’ll ever make in your book. Cover artwork, editing, and marketing are three areas that you need to spend money. Skimping on any of these will knock the wind out of your book sales.

If you’re a writer, write. Leave cover design to a professional cover designer. There is almost no chance that an inexperienced person will create a more effective cover than a pro cover designer (or even come close, or… even do a good job at creating a cover). Cover design is definitely a job for a pro.

The few hundred dollars that a great cover costs should pay for itself with increased sales almost immediately. The money you spend designing all of your covers might be the most effective investment you can make toward your long-term success as an independent author.

Another article in this blog will discuss how to locate and work with a skilled cover designer to create a great cover.

Should You Create a Cover with One of the Cover Template Packages Available?

There a lots of packages out there that provide templates which enable anyone to create a cover in no time. However, with 1,000 new books coming out on the market every day, a template-created cover won’t give you an edge. It will make your book a “me too” book. It’s not that hard to spot a cover that was created from a template. Hire a pro cover designer if you want your book to persuade a casual Amazon browser of your book’s genre to stop and take a look. That is the crucial first step on the path to the “Buy” button. Your book will not standout in the crowded market if you create your cover with a template.

The Most Important Rules of Cover Design

– By far the most important rule in cover design is to know your audience. You need to understand your genre and who reads it. Inspect as many books in your genre as you can. What are the similarities? What differentiates cover art work of the best sellers? What about the ones that aren’t selling well? The top selling books will always be ranked higher in an Amazon search of your book’s genre.

– Don’t worry about trying to appeal to everyone. The more specifically you know your book genre’s audience, the more accurately you can target them with your cover. The more focused your cover is on your genre’s audience to the exclusion of everyone else, the more books you’ll sell. That might sound illogical but is based of one of marketing’s most powerful principles of focusing the marketing efforts on the target market.

– Know the USP (Unique Selling Proposition) of your book. If you are writing nonfiction, your book needs to be solving an important problem that faces your target audience. The cover must instantly convey that your book will solve this problem. If you are selling fiction, your book must be providing a desired experience to your target market. The cover must instantly convey the experience that your target reader is seeking. Do you have an intimate understanding of the type of experience that your target audience is seeking? Can you articulate how the covers of some of the best-selling books in your genre individually convey that experience?

– The cover must make the genre clear in a second or two. If your cover’s presentation of the genre is even the slightest bit confusing to the casual Amazon browser, they’ll move on and you’ll lose a ton of sales. Clarity often trumps cleverness here.

– The cover must look professionally done. It is easy to tell if the cover was made using a template or by a person without cover design experience. An amateur cover is a sales killer.

– The cover needs to be clear and look great as a thumbnail. The title and subtitle should be clear on the Amazon thumbnail.

– A poor cover thumbnail will absolutely hammer your book’s sales. Believe it or not, the thumbnail image of your cover is more important than the full-size image. People now buy books online much more than in book stores. This creates a quantum shift in cover creation. The cover thumbnail must grab the casual Amazon buyer of your book’s genre. If your cover’s thumbnail isn’t instantly clear or does not resonate immediately with your target audience, you’re handing over book royalties that should be yours to a competing author. Tragic!

– Simplicity is generally better with covers. Clutter on the cover is major distraction to the casual Amazon browser, who needs to be able to instantly figure what’s special about the book. Simplicity also translates to a much better thumbnail.

– The cover should be eye-catching to differentiate the book from the crowd. Always remember that 1,000 new books are coming online every day.

– If you are writing any kind of a series, the cover should quickly identify the book as part of that series. Your covers create your brand. Consecutive books in your series must be instantly identifiable as part of that series.

– Your book cover should look like others in its genre, but stand out in some significant way that resonates with your target audience. It is very important that you can articulate specifically what makes your book special to your target audience. Just being different is not the key. Being different in a way that is important to your target is the key. Your title and cover need to clearly reflect this difference.

– Your title should be large and usually at the top of the cover. Keep the clarity of the thumbnail in the forefront of your thinking when creating all elements of the cover.

– The typography should match or be similar to typography of other books in the genre. Check out the typography of best-sellers in your genre. You’ll probably see a lot of similarity in typography. You might also see several distinct styles of typography that most of the best-sellers in your genre will fall into.

– The outer edges of your front cover should not be white. Your book’s front cover should be framed on all edges with color, preferably a darker color. A white edge will fade into the white background of the Amazon space holder. The viewer won’t be able to see the book’s outline and the book will not look like a book at all. Any confusion will prompt a good percentage of casual Amazon browser to simply move on to the next book.

– Always remember that the main purpose of the book’s cover is to persuade the browser to take the next step. Maybe that next step is to read the online product description or to take a look at the online book reviews. Maybe that next step is to persuade the viewer to read a sample of the book.

– The book’s title and cover thumbnail need to be traffic stoppers. The first step in the book selling process is catch your target audience’s attention. That’s your title and cover’s main job. If they are not doing their job, you’re handing hard-earned royalties over to a competing author. Amazon browsers will keep browsing until a title and cover grabs them. Make sure your title and cover have stopping power in your genre.

– The book’s spine should have only plain colors. No designs on the spine.

– Establish what the principal focus of your cover is. The principal focus of the cover should be the  book’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition), which is the main benefit that a reader will get from your book. Everything on the cover should sell your book’s USP. Every element on the cover either adds to selling the book’s USP or detracts from it. Evaluate every element on the cover.

– The title by itself should convey the book’s USP. Very important. The title and cover thumbnail need to stop traffic. They will only stop traffic if they clearly sell a USP that is highly sought-after by your target audience.

– Too many elements on a cover will also distract from the USP that the cover needs to quickly convey to the casual Amazon browser. Once again, simplicity is usually best.

– Don’t use too many colors. It is a bit confusing to the casual browser because it will make the cover thumbnail overly busy. Once again, simplicity is usually better. Use just a few colors.

– Don’t take the cover too personally. Let the cover designer do his or her thing. You should of course have lots of input into the design of your cover. It is important to remember that covers (at least, good ones anyway) are not usually created by the authors. Authors often have to detach themselves personally from the cover and put on the hat of an unrelated publisher who is trying to sell the book.

– Important stuff usually belongs in the top and right side of the front cover.

– Back to the first and most important point in this list – know your genre’s audience and study lots of book covers in your genre. What makes a good cover good? What makes a mediocre cover mediocre? Get specific. You really want to understand what signals “a good read” to your genre’s audience and why. This is the number one rule of creating a great cover.

What Goes On The Front Cover?

– Brief and concise title and subtitle

– Images

– Bullet points

– Short lists (usually with bullet points)

– Very persuasive testimonials or endorsements

What Does Not Go On The Front Cover?

– A very long title

– Any visual or image that distracts from the main selling proposition of the book

– Anything related to the price

– Testimonials or endorsements that are not powerful

What Goes On The Back Cover?

– Genre category in the upper left corner. Here is a link to: http://www.bisg.org/what-we-do-0-136-bisac-subject-headings-list-major-subjects.php  which list all major book subject heading and all 2800+ subcategories of books of the Book Industry Study Group.

– Sales copy. The back cover should make the browser want to take a next step and find out what’s inside.

– The sales copy should have a headline (tag line) and maybe a subheadline which need to be compelling and tell the browser why he or she needs to have this book.

– The sales copy should be short, sweet, and direct. Use bullet points if nonfiction. If fiction, present just the important details that will hook the browser.


ePub Author Question – What Are the Parts of an ePub File?

Let’s open up the hood and see what’s inside an ePub.

The first thing to know is that an ePub file is actually a compressed collection of files, just like a .zip file. In fact, if you make a copy of an ePub file and change the ePub’s file extension from .epub to .zip, you would have the following .zip file that can be unzipped to extract the contents so we can view them: 

An ePub file and a copy of the file with the file extension changed from .epub to .zip

An ePub file and a copy of the file with the file extension changed from .epub to .zip

We can now unzip the .zip file and view its contents. After unzipping, we see that an .epub file consists of the following two folders ( the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file):

The main three parts of an ePub file: two folders (the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file).

The main three parts of an ePub file: two folders (the OEBPS folder and the META-INF folder) and one file (the mimetype file).

If we open the META-INF folder, we can see that it has one file (the container.xml file) as follows: 

The one file in the META-INF folder - the container.xml file.

The one file in the META-INF folder - the container.xml file.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file as shown in the following image. The content.opf file contains important information such as the epub’s metadata (author name, published date, etc.), manifest (a list of every item in the epub file), and the spine (the order in which items are viewed as the reader scrolls through the epub). The content.opf file will be discussed shortly.

There will be additional lines of code in the container.xml file if encryption or digital rights management has been added to the ePub file. The container.xml file has been opened up below in the text editor Notepad++, which works well on a PC. You might use a text editor such as Text Wrangler if using a Mac.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file.

The container.xml file provides the location of the content.opf file.

Below is the mimetype file opened in Notepad++. The sole purpose of the mimetype file is to indicate that this is an ePub file.

The mimetype file has just one line which states that the file is an epub file.

The mimetype file has just one line which states that the file is an epub file.

Clicking on the OEBPS (Open eBook Publication Structure) folder reveal the following three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file):

OEBPS folder's three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file).

OEBPS folder's three folders (the Images folder, the Styles folder, and the Text folder) and two files ( the content.opf file and the toc.ncx file).


Opening the content.opf file in Notepad++ reveal three main parts of this file. The first part of the content.opf file shown below contains all of the metadata (author name, publication date, etc.) for the ePub file. The second part of the content.opf is the manifest for the entire ePub file. Every item in the entire ePub file is listed in the manifest. 

The content.opf file's metadata section and the manifest section.

The content.opf file's metadata section and the manifest section.

The third part of the content.opf file is the spine. The spine, shown below, provides the order in which the parts of the ePub file will be viewed as the reader scrolls through the ePub eBook. 

The content.opf file's spine section.

The content.opf file's spine section.

If we open up the toc.ncx file in Notepad++, we can view the contents of the ePub’s built-in navigational table of contents as follows: 

The toc.ncx file showing the built-in navigational table of contents.

The toc.ncx file showing the built-in navigational table of contents.

 Clicking on the Text folder reveals the collection of XHTML files that are the contents of the ePub eBook. Each XHTML file is a single section of the eBook.

The Text folder's XHTML files. Each XHTML file is a separate section of the ePub eBook.
The Text folder’s XHTML files. Each XHTML file is a separate section of the ePub eBook.

Opening up one of these XHTML files (New_Manuals.xhtml) shows the XHTML code. This is the same code that appears on web pages. An ePub file is just like a mini web site. One line of code contains a hyperlink and the last line links to an image, just like the HTML on a web page. 

The XHTML code of one of the sections of an ePub file, just like a web page.

The XHTML code of one of the sections of an ePub file, just like a web page.

If we open up any of the XHTML files in a web browser, it will open up just like a web page. We will open the above file (New_Manuals.xhtml) in the web browser Firefox and we’ll see that it views just like a web page, as shown below. This demonstrates how similar an ePub file is to a web site. In fact, the best tool to create an ePub is an HTML editor used to build web sites such as Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression Web (my favorite).

Opening one of the ePub file's XHTML files in the web browser Firefox. This shows how similar an ePub file is to a web site.

Opening one of the ePub file's XHTML files in the web browser Firefox. This shows how similar an ePub file is to a web site.


Clicking on the Styles folder shows a CSS style sheet (stylesheet.css). The Styles folder will always contain at least one CSS style sheet. There can be more than one. Opening stylesheet.css in Notepad++ shows the CSS styles in this style sheet which control all formatting and styling in the XHTML pages. 

The CSS style sheet that controls all formatting and styling in this ePub document.

The CSS style sheet that controls all formatting and styling in this ePub document.

 The Images folder contain all of the images (jpegs, gifs, or pngs) in the ePub document as shown below:

All of the image file within the ePub document.

All of the image file within the ePub document.


Now you see how it all fits together and how an ePub document is very similar to a mini web site.

ePub Marketing – How Do I Set Up and Sell My eBook On My Own Site With ClickBank?

If you have written a book and also maintain a web site or blog focused on the same topic as your book, you may have a match made in heaven. You can monetize all that traffic to your site or blog if you can entice some percentage of your visitors to purchase your book. You could send interested prospects to your Amazon sales page but I suggest you close the sale right there on your site.

I’ve been selling my eBooks from my web site: http://excelmasterseries.com/  and my blog: http://blog.excelmasterseries.com/ a lot longer than I’ve been selling eBooks with Amazon Kindle. It has been a profitable undertaking for me because eBook sales from my web site is my second largest cash flow stream behind Amazon combined sales (Kindle  plus hardcopy print-on-demand units sold). The blog article written right before this one discusses the Pros and Cons of selling from you own web site using ClickBank for payment processing. This blog article discusses  how to set up your web site and account with ClickBank so you can sell your eBooks directly to visitors on your site.

First of all, what is ClickBank?

ClickBank was founded in 1998 and is a secure online retail outlet for more than 50,000 digital products and 100,000 active affiliate marketers. ClickBank makes a sale somewhere in the world every three seconds, safely processing more than 35,000 digital transactions a day. They serve more than 200 countries, and are consistently ranked as one of the most highly-trafficked sites on the web. ClickBank is privately held with offices in Broomfield, Colorado and Boise, Idaho and is a subsidiary of Keynetics Inc.

For me, ClickBank is my payment processor.

Visitors who purchase an eBook from my web site will go through this purchase and payment process with ClickBank:

1. A site or blog visitor arrives on one of my product sales pages: http://excelmasterseries.com/ClickBank/Students/Student_Excel_Master.php 

2. If the visitor clicks a purchase link on the above sales page, he or she would be directed to a ClickBank order form for the specific product Here is the ClickBank order form for the product in the sales page above: http://31.solvermark.pay.clickbank.net

3. When the visitor completes the order form, ClickBank processes the credit card or Paypal payment. As soon as the payment is approved, ClickBank redirects the visitor (now a customer!) back to the product download page on my web site. My product download page has links to  download the eBook in three formats (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) and links to download free e-readers  for each format (Adobe Reader for .pdf, Adobe Digital Editions for .epub, and the mobipocket reader for .mobi). I also provide my book in the .lit format but I don’t count .lit as a valid format any more because Microsoft has discontinued servicing that format. The following four consecutive images below show what the download page for this product looks like:



Download Page on My Web Site For a Product Sold Using ClickBank As The Payment Processor


There is really not much to setting your web site up with ClickBank to process payments for the sale of your digital downloadable products. After you have set up a vendor account with ClickBank and created your digital products, you are immediately ready to begin selling those products through ClickBank.

Setting up ClickBank to Perform Payment Processing For a Digital Product Involves Just the Few Following Steps:

1. On your web site, create a sales page and a download page for each product, similar to what is shown above.

2. Log into your ClickBank account

3. Go To Account Settings / My Products / Add New Product

4. Provide the name of the new product and a brief description. Finally, provide the URL of the sales page and download page (called the Thank You page by ClickBank).

That’s all there is to it. There are guidelines that must be followed when creating the sales and download pages. These guidelines can be found on the ClickBank site.

When a sale is made….

When a sales is made, ClickBank will immediately send an email to me with contact information for my new customer. I will then send the new customer a personalized thank-you email right away (nearly always that day). This has enabled me to start a number of deep relationships with my customers. It also goes a long way in reducing the number of refunds requested. In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been selling through ClickBank, I’ve only had a handful of refund requests and I believe the personal follow-up emails are a big part of that.

ClickBank charges 7.5% of each sale, plus $1. That’s a lot less than Amazon Kindle and Lightning Source charge. I gross 35% of the retail price of each Kindle eBook sold and about 30% of the retail price of a print-on-demand hardcopy sold from Amazon. Each eBook sold from my web site through ClickBank grosses me between 85% and 90% of my retail price.

ClickBank send out electronic payments three weeks after a sale is made. My payments have always been prompt and correct.

ClickBank is also one of the largest affiliate companies. You can drop your digital products into their affiliate network. I have not done so because I feel that my information products are not well-suited for sales through affiliates.

I’ve been using ClickBank for quite a while and I am a big fan of theirs. I especially like ClickBank’s ability to smoothly process payments from every corner of the world. I can’t recall every having had a problem with that aspect of ClickBank.
I like to use Paypal’s convenient invoicing system if I want to send an invoice through email for a service such as converting a book to epub format. For downloadable digital products however, ClickBank payment processing can’t be beat.

ePub Marketing – What Are the Pros and Cons of Selling Your eBook From Your Own Web Site With ClickBank?

Many self-published authors can create a strong and dependable cash flow stream by selling their eBooks from the own web site. I sell my eBooks from my web site/blog using ClickBank as the payment processor and the results have been very good. My web site/blog has now become my second largest source of book sales behind Amazon. The purpose of this blog article is to provide a list of pros and cons of selling your own eBooks from your own web site with ClickBank as your payment processor based on my own experiences of having done it for a few years.

Here are the Pros of selling your own eBooks from your own web site using ClickBank as the payment processor:

1. Top reason, the money! Every eBook you sell from your web site is nearly 100% profit to you, with a small payment to the payment processing company (ClickBank in my case). Amazon Kindle Direct doesn’t get to keep 65%. Barnes and Nobles doesn’t get to keep 50%. The print-on-demand company doesn’t get any of the loot either. The money is all mine, mine, mine! Downloadable information products such as eBooks are perhaps the most profitable thing that can be sold on the Internet. Every part of the sale can be completely automated and the overhead is negligible.

2. The payments from ClickBank are weekly. Everyone else pays monthly. The payments are electronically deposited and I’m happy to get them every week.

3. ClickBank payments are sent out much more promptly than any of my other sources of online sales. For example, Amazon Kindle Direct pays out at the end of the second month after sales are made. Lightning Source pays out at the end of the third month after any print-on-demand hardcopy sales are made. ClickBank pays out three weeks after sales are made.
4. ClickBank combined with my web site expands my global sales much wider than Amazon does. At least a third of the eBooks I sell from my web site are sold outside of the US.  You can take a look at the customer testimonials of one of my books to get an idea of how wide-spread sales can be from your own web site: http://excelmasterseries.com/ClickBank/Students/Student_Excel_Master.php None of the well-known online book stores seem to have a strong presence outside of the US. My own Amazon eBook sales from outside the US are a small fraction of my US-based Amazon sales. My ClickBank sales come from every corner in the world.

5. ClickBank can handle credit card or PayPal payments in just about any currency and from any location. I don’t deal with any aspects of payment processing for sales from my own web site. ClickBank has been a very satisfactory, cheap, turn-key, multi-national payment processing solution.

6. Second top reason – ClickBank sends me contact information (name, email address, and location) of every customer who makes a sale from my web site as soon as the sale is made. This is HUGE! Every time I make a sale from my web site, I email that customer a personal note thanking them for the sale. I also try to mention something nice and interesting about where the customers lives. These emails are usually sent out within a few hours of each sale. The customers are delighted to get a surprise personal email from the eBook’s author right after the sale is made. I have been able to create a quite a few very close relationships with my customers that all started with that one follow-up email. I also have a large email list of every customer whoever purchased from my web site. Is any of that possible when selling eBooks through an online book store? Nope. Amazon and B&N aren’t about to give up their customer lists.

7. When I sell my eBooks from my own web site, I can sell in any format. Amazon Kindle eBooks are all .mobi. B&N (and most other online book stores) sell .ePub eBooks. Several online book stores, such as the Google book store, provide downloads in the .pdf format. If you purchase any eBook from my web site, you get all three types of downloads at no extra charge.

8. When you sell from your own web site, you can include extra bonuses with each purchase as an extra incentive to make the purchase.  If you click on this link once again:  http://excelmasterseries.com/ClickBank/Students/Student_Excel_Master.php and scroll down the page a bit, you’ll see the extra bonus e-manual that I provide each customer. Certainly this extra bonus e-manual was the right nudge that turned at least a few fence-sitters into customers. To my knowledge, Amazon does not provide authors with the ability to offer bonus eBooks. That might be an effective sales tool for Amazon.

9. Selling eBooks on your web site through ClickBank allows you to create a very personal download page. When a customer’s payment is successfully processed, ClickBank directs the customer back to a download page that is on your web site. Your download page provides you with all kinds of great opportunities, such as upselling and writing a personal message to the customer. You have nothing of the kind going on with Amazon.

10. Unlike Amazon browsers, your web site visitors will not be shown eBooks that compete with yours. I’ve always wondered how Amazon customers who were just about to buy one of my books changed their mind at the last second as a result of being shown something else by Amazon?

There are more Pros that could be added to the list, but we should also discuss the Cons as well. I have found selling my eBooks from my own web site through ClickBank to be overall very worthwhile, but every good thing has downside.

Here are the Cons of selling your own eBooks from you own web site:

1. Your web site sale cannibalize your Amazon sales. The more units that one of your books sells on Amazon, the higher Amazon will rank that book in its search engine. The higher your book come up during Amazon searches, the more you will sell. Instead of making a sale on my web site, I could direct interested prospects to the Amazon sales page of the same eBook. If I did that, I certainly would have higher Amazon sales right now. Selling my eBooks from my web site no doubt has reduced my Amazon sales. How much, I’ll never know.

2. It’s a LOT of work put together an effective selling web site. I put my whole site together myself: http://excelmasterseries.com/ but I bet I would have saved myself an enormous amount of work if had I simply used a template available for such a  web site. You need to have pretty good graphic design skills and along with solid HTML, CSS, and PHP knowledge to do it yourself. You could hire someone to do it for you, but that’s not cheap.

3. If your works are nonfiction, you’ll need a blog, I believe. Nonfiction writers need to establish themselves as experts in their field and blogs are a perfect tool to quickly do this. Blogs are excellent traffic builders. Google loves a site with a blog because blogs normally provide up-to-date, relevant information on a topic. You can place a sales form right in your blog, as I do in mine here:  http://blog.excelmasterseries.com/  In case you are interested, the Excel Master Series blog is a Blogger blog and the blog that you are now reading is a WordPress blog, just so you can see the differences. The downside of a blog – It is also a LOT of work to regularly write good articles. Before you begin a blog, you’ll need to make sure that you have a passion for the topic and won’t run out of material after 10 articles. You can install analytics (I use Google Analytics) into your blog to find out how many of your sales are coming directly from blog visitors.  You will probably find you blog to be an excellent source of direct eBook sales, but, once again, it’s a LOT of work to maintain a blog.

4. Sales from your site are totally dependant upon the traffic to the site. You need to become a good Internet marketer to generate that traffic. Becoming a competent Internet marketer is a long road filled with countless fruitless, frustrating dead ends. I can’t tell you how many “sure things” that I’ve tried which didn’t move the traffic needle even a blip. It’s hard to predict what will work and what won’t. Sometimes only one out of five things you’ll try will bring more traffic. I haven’t hit a get-rich-quick speed bump yet in my pursuit of Internet marketing wealth. I know I’m a lot better at it than I was a few years ago, but each step forward usually came after a couple steps back. Generating substantial Internet traffic to your site is a long-term proposition involving a LOT of work.

So, there you have it. The Pros and Cons of selling eBooks from your own web site, based on my experiences of doing so. At the end of the day, selling my eBooks from my own site has been a profitable and worthwhile endeavor, but not the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Author Question – Why Does It Take So Much Longer To Create a Print-On-Demand Book Than an ePub?

You would think that a book is a book is a book is a book, regardless of its final, destination format. Quite the opposite is actually the case. Yes, the content will be the same,  regardless of final format. But, that’s where all similarity ends. The differences between creating the files for POD (print-on-demand) and the files for an ePub are greater than night and day.

Before we go into the differences between creating POD and ePub, here is briefly what they both are. If you are a self-published author and your books are available on Amazon, your hardcopies will be sold in the form called print-on-demand and your Kindle eBooks will be sold in the format of .mobi, which is very close to the .ePub file from which it is derived. You, the self-published author, interact directly with Amazon Kindle Direct. Any eBooks or updates that you upload to Kindle will go live the next day.

In the case of POD, you are interacting only with the POD company. The POD company is a third-party aggregator and will conduct all interaction on your behalf with all online book stores for the sale of your hardcopies. Any POD files or updates that you upload to the POD company will take much longer to go live in the online book stores.

Now here are the reasons why it takes so much longer to create the files for a print-on-demand hardcopy book an ePub eBook:

1. The number one reason is the amount of formatting needed for the print-on-demand book. The hardcopy book is…. a hardcopy book. Every page of the book will be formatted from top to bottom. Every element of every page of a hardcopy book will have its own place on that page. An ePub eBook has very little of the on-page formatting that a hardcopy book does. ePub eBooks don’t actually have “pages” due to the ePub’s reflow capabilities. The contents on an ePub “page” that would show up on your e-reader screen would totally depend on your e-reader’s screen size and the font size that is set by you. You’ll never see page elements such as headers, footers, or page numbers in an ePub eBook because ePub “pages” have no set page length due to the ePub reflow capability. The only significant formatting issues in ePub eBooks are where to start the beginning of  each “page” and the horizontal positioning of elements, whether centered, floated left, or floated right. All ePub formatting is accomplished with CSS. All POD formatting is accomplished by directly placing each element in its designated location on its page. Adobe InDesign enables the use of CSS through its paragraph and character styles. I, however, don’t use InDesign to create print-on-demand files because my clients usually don’t have InDesign. They would not be able to open up an InDesign file that I am working on for them in order to give me feedback.

2. Right on the heals of point number 1 above, the additional formatting requirements of a POD book usually result in significantly more interaction between myself and the author than is the case when I am creating an ePub eBook. It is my job to make the book exactly as the author wants. I use Microsoft Word when creating the POD so I can send updated versions to the author as soon as I change anything. The authors always have Word so they can see exactly what I am doing and provide instant feedback. That’s the way they like it and that’s the way I like it too. The back-and-forth interaction between myself and the author when creating a POD definitely adds to the total time it takes to complete the job – but the end result is that the author gets exactly what he or she wants. And that’s what I want. Occasionally authors will apologize for the amount of feedback they are giving, and that always surprises me. When that happens I try to remind the author that the more feedback that he or she can provide, the better the book will be. I want their feeback.

3. An ePub eBook is only one .epub file. Creating a POD book requires creating two .pdf files. One of the .pdf files contains the book’s content and the other .pdf file contains that cover artwork.
4. The required specifications of an ePub file are much less stringent than .pdf files that will be sent to the POD company. ePub files have to meet the guidelines of the most current ePub standard. I put an ePub through a process called “validation” to ensure the current ePub standard is being met. If I have been careful when creating the ePub file, very few errors will need correcting upon final validation. Creating the two .pdf files for POD is a completely different story however. There are no ordinary .pdfs. These .pdf files must be configured to meet all of the standards of professional printing presses. Without going into details, I found the learning curve to be steep when I first started creating print-on-demand .pdf files for my own books.

5. One final factor that significantly adds to time it takes to get a POD hardcopy out on the market is interaction that you’ll have with the POD company. Compared with setting up an account on Amazon Kindle Direct, an account with a POD company seems like it takes forever to get going. I use a company called Lightning Source for all of my POD and I highly recommend them. But, like any POD company, there are lots of forms to be filled out. Right now I believe Lightning Source has five or six forms that are part of its account set-up process. Really, that’s not a huge deal but just takes a little longer than setting up with any online store to sell eBooks. One consolation is that the POD company will handle all interaction on your behalf with all online book stores from here on out.

ePub Marketing – Should You Sell Your eBooks Directly or Use a Third-Party Aggregator?

In theory, third-party aggregators should be the most efficient way to sell your eBooks. You just submit your eBook to a third-party aggregator with the a large network of online retail partners (such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Apple iTunes Book Store, etc.)  and that’s it! The third-party aggregator places your eBook into its network of online retail partners and handles all details from start-to-finish. At the end of the day, you receive a royalty check from the third-party aggregator for cumulative sales from the entire network.

In theory, sounds great. The reality tells a different story. I tried a third-party aggregator for a while and I would not do it again. I heartily recommend going direct to each major online book store and not doing it indirectly through a third-party. Here is the experience that I had using a third-party aggregator:

I use a company called Lightning Source to create all hardcopy, print-on-demand versions of my books and all of my clients’ books. Lightning Source does an outstanding job at POD and also has the largest network of online retail partners through which your hardcopies will be sold. Lightning Source is a third-party aggregator for POD hardcopies and they are the best in the business. I wouldn’t use anyone else.

Lightning Source is also a third-party aggregator for eBooks. A while back, I was considering using a third-party aggregator for my eBooks. At the time I was already selling my eBooks directly through Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble. Lightning Source was also doing a great job as the third-party aggregator for hardcopy, POD versions of all of my books. Lightning Source seemed to be the logical choice to be the third-party aggregator for my eBooks as well, so I signed on the dotted line.

The experience didn’t go as well as I expected. I don’t want this blog article to be a knock on Lightning Source’s eBook distribution services because I really thought their service on this end of the business was quite professional and prompt. They probably do this as well as or better than anyone. Lightning Source is an outstanding company and I’m one of their biggest advocates. The main purpose of this blog article is to highlight the general issues that will occur anytime you use a third-party aggregator to distribute your eBooks.

Here are the issues that occurred during my experiences with a third-party aggregator which convinced me to go direct from here on out:

1. No Control Over Prices – You do not have control over the retail prices that your eBooks will be sold at throughout the third-party aggregator’s network of retail partners. Invariably some of the network partners will sell your eBook at a large discount. This will wreck your profits with Amazon. Amazon will set its retail price of your eBook based upon the lowest price that your book is sold anywhere else. You will then be paid your 35% or 70% Kindle royalty based upon that discounted price that your eBooks are now selling at on Kindle.

2. Retail Discounting Will Wipe Out Your Amazon Kindle Profits – You have no way to stop the above discounting of your eBooks except to completely remove your eBook out of the third-party aggregator’s distribution. Believe it or not, this is no easy thing to do. When my eBooks where being sold through Lightning Source’s network, they wound up being sold at a huge discount at the Borders online book store before Borders went out of business. Amazon Kindle Direct reduced the prices of all of my Kindle eBooks to match Borders prices. It quickly became apparent to me that Lightning Course could not control how Borders priced my eBooks. The only solution was to pull all of my eBooks from Lightning Source. That I did. It was definitely not an instantaneous shut-down. My eBooks remained in Borders’ online store for quite a while afterward. I had to make a number of requests to Lightning Source to get my eBooks out of Borders. It seemed to me that Lightning Source did not have firm control over their eBook retail partner network. I had a lot lower royalty payments from Kindle during that time than I would have if my eBooks had not been discounted. Amazon is the Big Dog. If you take care of the Big Dog, the Big Dog will take care of you.

3. No Sales Tracking – You have no idea where your eBook sales are coming from. As a marketer, I don’t like having no idea where my sales are coming from. Also, there was always in the back of my mind a sneaky little suspicion asking whether I was really being paid for all sales. How would I know if I wasn’t? I wouldn’t. I totally believe that Lightning Source completely on the up-and-up, but you will always be wondering whether you’re being paid for all of your sales if your eBook is being sold through a third-party aggregator.

4. Loss of Cover Images – Your front cover image won’t always make it out to all of the retailers in the third-party aggregator’s network. No one will buy an eBook online that does not have a cover image. That issue happened to me with Kobo. Kobo was one of Lightning Source’s third-party network partners. The cover images for all of my eBooks somehow did not make it from Lightning Source to Kobo. My eBooks were being sold on Kobo without cover images. I contacted both Lightning Source and Kobo repeatedly but it never got fixed.
5. No Control Period – Even though I have shut down all eBook sales  with Lightning Source’s third-party aggregator service months ago, my eBooks are apparently still be sold through them. I receive a little payment for eBook sales from Lightning Source every month. The amount is negligible, normally between $50 and $100, and it’s nice to get, BUT….. it worries me that they have that little control over their network that they cannot stop the sales of my eBooks at my request (actually, my repeated requests).

So, there you have it – my unvarnished experience with a third-party aggregator. Once again, this is not a knock at Lightning Source. They have all of my POD business and they’re great at it. With eBooks however, I highly recommend going direct with each major online book store. One of the most enjoyable parts of my day is to log on to the online retail books stores to see the latest eBook sales. Why deny yourself that pleasure? Go direct with the online book stores you can count your new money every day as well.

ePub Marketing – How To Use the Amazon Kindle Book Lending Program To Make More Sales

When you upload a new eBook to Kindle at 35% royalty, you are given the option to enroll your eBook in the Kindle Book Lending program. All Kindle eBooks sold with 70% royalty are automatically enrolled in the Kindle Book Lending program. If your eBook is in the 35% royalty category, I suggest enrolling the eBook in the Kindle Book Lending program because it can help increase sales.

Check the Kindle Book Lending Program Option When Uploading an eBook To Amazon Kindle

Check the Kindle Book Lending Program Option When Uploading an eBook To Amazon Kindle

 Before we discuss how you can use the Kindle Book Lending program to increase sales, here are the major details about the program:

– The Kindle Book Lending program enables customers who have purchased your book to lend the book to friends for 14 days.

– You, the author/self-publisher do not receive any royalties and are not notified when your eBook is lent.

– You, the author/self-publisher may also lend your eBook, but only once.

Here are a couple of great reasons why the Kindle Book Lending program helps your sales:

– Lending your book is a strong endorsement of your book.  A testimonial by a friend is the best testimonial that your eBook can ever be given.

– The Kindle Book Lending program can be thought of as another free marketing channel, and a very powerful one at that. The Kindle Book Lending program provides an easy way for an enthusiastic reader of your book to become a public advocate of your works. Ever lent a book to a friend? You’ve probably only done that for book that you really liked. Lending a book to a friend is nothing short of a ringing endorsement of that book. That’s exactly what you want for your eBooks.

– Contrary to the way it may at first seem, the Kindle Book Lending program will not cannibalize your sales. Most likely the people who are borrowing your book would not otherwise have had contact with it. They would therefore probably never have had the opportunity to purchase the book.

Here’s how you can use the Kindle Book Lending program to increase the sales of your eBook:

– Write more books! The Kindle Book Lending Program enables your best advocates to pass out tasty samples your works on toothpicks to their hungry friends. After they’ve had a nibble, they’ll want more. Got more?

– Make it easy for the borrowers to buy your other works. Place links to the Amazon sales pages of your other works prominently and liberally throughout all of your eBooks. I also sell my eBooks from my web site and here is an example of how I place a link to a sales page in my eBooks:

Linking To Your Sales Page on Your Web Site Inside Your Kindle eBook

Linking To Your Sales Page on Your Web Site Inside Your Kindle eBook

– Tell everyone how great your other books are! Place testimonials about your other works prominently in your Kindle eBook. If you are good at CSS, you can create a real nice testimonial page such as: 

Placing Reader Reviews of Your Other Books Prominently In Your Kindle eBook

Placing Reader Reviews of Your Other Books Prominently In Your Kindle eBook

These are just a few of the countless ways you can use the Kindle Book Lending program to introduce new customers to your other works, and make more sales. You are limited only by your imagination.