All week, I’m doing a series on Self-Pub Basics.
Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes sells books. Lots of books. It’s not a huge retailer like Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, but it’s one of the Big Four retailers, so being on Apple can potentially net you substantial sales.
The Easy Way to get on Apple’s store is to distribute through Smashwords. The downside is that you lose control of uploads, pricing, and timely distribution. Uploading directly to Apple gives you control over these things. The trick is knowing how to do it and having the right tools.
The bad news about direct-publishing to Apple is all the stuff you need to have:
- an iMac (or Macbook)
- ISBNs for every title (EDIT: ISBNs are no longer necessary! Yay!)
- access to all the devices (iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone – beg or borrow these)
- savvy about how to make Epubs
iTunes Producer 2.7.1 for books requires a Macintosh with an Intel Core processor, at least 512 MB RAM, and Mac OS X v10.6 or later installed. (from the Users Guide)
Don’t have a Mac? Don’t stop reading. Neither did I – I’ll talk about this at the end.
The good news is that if you’ve already done your formatting The Hard Way, you’ll at least have an Epub that’s nearly ready for showtime on iTunes/iBookstore. (An alternative: use Pages on your Mac to create an Epub. You can also use iBooks Author, but that doesn’t create epubs, but rather produces ebooks that are usable only on iPad. NOTE: A Calibre-formatted Epub will NOT work on Apple.)
Here’s the step by step on how to get your books on Apple/iTunes/iBookstore:
- Sign up for a Paid Books Account on iTunes Connect – this can take a couple days to get approved, so do this early
- Get some ISBNs (10 for $250, available instantly, from Bowker)
- Once you’re approved for a Paid Books Account, download iTunes Producer and BookProofer.
- Copy your Epub formatted in Sigil to a new version just for Apple – because you will need to make some tweaks. Also remove any links to competitors (Amazon, B&N), and put in links to the iBookstore. Here’s a guide on how to get direct links to iBookstore.
- Create a “preview” file of your epub in Sigil- basically delete all the chapters except the first one, or however much you want to allow for preview. Don’t forget to recreate your Table of Contents in Sigil.
- Create a screenshot (or three) of the inside of your book (title page, first page, etc.) by viewing in Adobe Digital Editions and screencapping it.
- Resize your cover to meet Apple’s required dimensions (min 1400 pixels on a side)/
- Load your Epub (and preview file, cover, and screenshots) onto your iMac and connect your various devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod) to the iMac (with a cable). If you don’t have the devices, then email your Epub to a friend who’s willing to check the formatting for you (if they can open email on the iDevice, they can use the option “open in iBookstore” on your attached Epub to view it). Check your Epub thoroughly for format errors – the most common ones I found were images needing to be resized and extra (blank) pages. Tweak your Epub until it’s showing up nice on all the devices.
- Upload your Epub (and other files) using iTunes Producer, filling out all the metadata. When you attempt publish (“deliver”) your files to iTunes, you may get more Epub errors that you will have to correct before being able to sumit.
- Once you’ve submitted, go to iTunes Connect, and log in to check the status of your book.
Is Apple Worth It?
When I decided to pull my books off distribution through Smash, my main loss was having books on iTunes. I didn’t sell tons there (although some indie authors do), but I was steadily selling 20-30 copies a month of my first book. The problem was that I couldn’t get ANY MORE books to distribute through Smash – they were getting snarled in the system somewhere. But I didn’t have a Mac and I couldn’t see buying one, just to upload to Apple.
Then I did the math.
Assuming I sold 30 copies a month of Open Minds and 15 copies a month of Closed Hearts (these are very conservative numbers), I would net $100/month income just from Apple.
This was money I was leaving on the table by not being on that retailer. At that rate, I could pay back the cost of an iMac in about a year. And that was assuming I wouldn’t publish any more books in the next year, or the year after that, or the year after that. Which was clearly ultra-conservative.
It may seem crazy to buy a Mac just to publish to Apple, especially when distribution through Smash is a (free) option. But between higher royalties, greater control on pricing, and the fact that you actually CAN get your stuff published (days vs. months or never), going direct to Apple makes a lot of business sense. And sometimes, in a small business (which self-publishing is), you have to invest money in order to make money. I was fortunate to be able to use funds already generated by my books to invest in accessing a platform that will sell more books.
Maybe you will have a better experience with Smash distribution, or perhaps you will want to wait until your self-publishing portfolio is more established and generating funds to support an investment like this. But if you don’t already have a Mac, I would encourage you to seriously consider borrowing your sister’s Mac or make the investment yourself at some point, and upload direct to Apple.
Note: another advantage of retailing on Apple is that you can set your books to FREE. I uploaded all five of my stories (two novels, three shorts, including one free short story) on Apple in the last week, and they started selling as soon as they were up (with no advertising or announcements).