Going Global with Your Book

My latest book just appeared on the iBookstore, so this is perhaps a good point to write up my first experience with a book that I intended from the start to give the widest possible distribution, print and digital. It’s part of a ‘hospital series’ of three books based on a time when I worked at one of the top children’s hospitals in the country.

I’ll be brief here, perhaps coming back to this topic later and describing the process in more detail. Feel free to add your own experiences taking a book from Scrivener to the market.

First, this book and the other two in the series would have been vastly more difficult without the many features of Scrivener. For the first, Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments: A Teen Girls’s Guide to Hospitals, I had to explain hospital care, not as I experienced it as a member of the staff, but as a teen girl would see it. That required a lot of rewriting and rearranging. The next book in the series, Nights with Leukemia, describes when I cared for children with leukemia, a highly emotional topic that also requires a great deal of care. I’m still wrestling with it, taking particular care since it’s likely to be read by children with leukemia, their parents, and those who care for them. It’s not a light topic.

Second, I intended these books to include a high quality print version. Not everyone who wants to read them will have digital gadgetry. That meant that Scrivener book was imported into my standard tool for print books, InDesign.The learning curve is steep, but for creating an excellent looking print book, nothing beats InDesign. For print books, I send them to Lightning Source, which gives excellent distribution via Ingram to brick-and-mortar bookstores in almost every country and automatically appears on most online bookstores including Amazon. They’ve been the only real hitch in this entire process. A simple revision has locked up the not-so-well-designed system, so the print version hasn’t been available for almost a week. Very frustrating.

One Scrivener Zen trick here: When I move that book to InDesign, I create a fake first chapter in the Scrivener version called “MOVED TO INDESIGN.” That helps me keep straight which version is now the canonical one.

Third, the latest version of InDesign includes a combined print and digital workflow, something I wanted to test. That was good news. It meant I would have one text body to maintain and could output it to ePub for Apple’s iBookstore through Adobe’s own export engine and to mobi format through a plug-in created by Amazon. That let me provide both Apple and Amazon directly, giving me the most control and the largest royalties.

I was actually quite impressed with how easy it was to create the epub and mobi versions. Go to Export or Export to Kindle, select a few options, and it’s done.

The only hitch was that Apple’s upload software complained that the epub that InDesign created was encrypted. A Google search told me I could decrypt it by turning off ‘include fonts.’

That done, the epub file passed Apple’s standards checks for inclusion in the iBookstore and the mobi file passed Amazon’s checks. That was totally and utterly marvelous. For months, I’ve been refusing to create ebook editions because I don’t want to edit ebook code by hand. Now, with InDesign CS6 I don’t have to. Even Amazon’s Kindle driver now tells me (within InDesign) when it needs updating.

If you’d like to view the resulting files, you can download sample versions of the book here:

For Apple’s mobile devices:

itunes.apple.com/us/book/hospit … d583160797

For Kindle readers on all platforms:

amazon.com/Hospital-Gowns-Ot … B00AFMVJ4Y

For samples, I prefer Apple’s approach. I uploaded a separate epub with just the parts of the book I wanted. That let me include chapters from all over the book. Amazon’s sampling approach is cruder. They simply grab the first 20% or so of the book. Apple’s approach let me include a most important chapter to those teen girls telling them how to charm their nurses into giving them extra special care. That’s so important, I wanted that chapter read by even teens who don’t buy the book.

Amazon’s speed was amazing. I uploaded my mobi file late Friday afternoon and when I got up Saturday morning, it was available from their US store, with other stores getting it in the next few days. They promise 11-hour turnarounds and they deliver.

Apple was a bit slower. I uploaded a revision correcting a major typo on a Saturday afternoon, and it became available just under five days later. Apple does claim they check their books with more care than Amazon which may be a plus. You don’t have to compete with as much trash.

Apple also offers a big plus. An author/publisher can get up to 50 Promo Codes for free copies. While you can always bypass that and send reviewers your epub or mobi file, it’s definitely more impressive to give them a code that they can use on the iBookstore. And buying with a code means that they benefit from all the features accorded to those who buy. Reviewers are important. Amazon needs a similar coupon scheme.

Fourth, to reach almost everyone else in the digital book arena, I decided to go through Smashwords. That one stop lets me distribute to Barnes and Noble (Nook), Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and others, including some distributors to libraries. You can see that version here:


Smashwords is very independent-author friendly and offers quite a few benefits, including the ability to set up time-limited coupons codes for special offers. That can help with book promotions. You can also set a different price for ebooks going to libraries. You might, for instance, make your first novel in a series free for libraries as a way to draw in readers for the later versions.

The downside of Smashwords is that the file you send them needs to be in Word’s .doc format to certain specs. That disrupted my InDesign to everyone workflow. The upside is that those specs aren’t that hard to meet if you follow their style guide:


I simply cut and and pasted my text from InDesign to Word, using PlainClip to strip out all the rtf formatting that could have made things messy. Then I applied paragraph styles to format the headings and body text properly. Send that .doc file to Smashwords and they have software that turns it into versions for all their retail channels. If you want to keep things simple, you might use Smashwords for all your distribution. The only downside it that, right now, their distribution to Amazon is very limited, only ebooks that sell very well are likely to get taken up by Amazon.

That’s pretty much it. It took much of a week’s work to take care of the distribution, but my latest book is now available, in print and digitally, on all Amazon’s stores and digitally in Apple’s iBookstores in fifty markets around the world. In the next few days, the few remaining digital distribution points (i.e. B&N) should appear.

And since I did the distribution myself, I control–as much as those outlets permit–how the book appears with them. For instance, for the print version, I created a more lengthy, formatted book description and author biography that you can see here:

amazon.com/Hospital-Gowns-Ot … 158742066X

If those descriptions don’t migrate on their own to the digital version, I can add them myself. And one of my former gripes against Amazon, that it ignores small publishers and authors, seems to no longer be true. They responded within a few hours to one of my requests.

All in all, it’s been a bit laborious, but it has also been a most satisfying experience. I spend a lot of time writing my books and getting them just right. It feels good to be able to give them the widest possible distribution and to have some control over how they’re marketed and distributed.

And, given that the process has finally become workable, I obviously need to bring more of my print books out in digital. More distribution means more sales and the chance to upgrade my six-year-old iMac to a new Mac mini.

Last of all, if the topic of Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments interests you, feel free to buy or download a sample and give it a review. Much of what it says is helpful for anyone facing hospitalization. I explain the often-frustrating culture of hospitals and tell how to use it to your benefit.

–Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

This is all interesting and useful Michael, many thanks and sorry to be picky - but, as this sentence is key to your post, do you actually mean the opposite here? (i.e. is there an ‘out’ missing after the ‘with’?) :question: :slight_smile:

I should mention a few more things.

Amazon’s mobi/Kindle formatting plug-ins are getting useful. The one for InDesign can now handle the formatting for most ebooks (i.e. those with quotes and multiple levels of headings). I suspect the same is true for the Kindle plug-in that Scrivener uses.

Apple has two handy apps that they should publicize more. All their publicity seems directed at promoting their showcase app, iBooks Author, and if (like me) you don’t care for it, these two make life easier. You can create epub files in other apps (i.e. Scrivener, Pages or InDesign), preview, and upload them to Apple.

  1. If you’ve got an iPad, Book Proofer is a delight. It’s watches an epub file on your Mac, and every time it changes, uploads to the version to the iBooks app on your iPad, connected by USB cable. That means you can tweak, check, and tweak again without all the hassle of doing manual transfers. Amazon needs something similar. I get tired of emailing myself proof versions.

  2. Despite its name, iTunes Producer is what you use to upload ebooks in epub to the iBookstore. It simplifies including the metadata (i.e. author’s name) and adding the cover image, illustrative pages, and the like. A real time-saver.

For the last two years or so I’ve been complaining that digital book publishing was a major hassle. It finally seems to be coming together. That’s absolutely wonderful. I’ve grown tired of seeing my income from print sales go down and down. It’s depressing. I’ve felt like buggy makers must have felt when Henry Ford’s Model T first hit the market.


That’s fine. I like picky people, particularly when they catch serious typos like that one. I wish I could hire you and pay you a fabulous salary to proof what I write. I’ve now changed that “with” to the proper “without.”

Typos can be painful. The print version of Hospital Gowns has gone unavailable on Amazon and elsewhere for almost a week as Lightning Source’s ill-designed update process labors to handle a revision that simply fixes a chapter number. In the original upload, I had two Chapter 20s and no Chapter 21. That’s where people with eagle eyes like yours would come in handy.

Print on Demand is supposed to offer uninterrupted availability of a title, but as currently configured at Lightning, a book becomes unavailable for new purchases until all existing orders are processed. In the busy Christmas season, that can take almost a week. After that, the new file has to be processed, adding 2 or 3 more days to the process. This is more like PODM–Print on Demand, Maybe.

I’ve already ‘had words’ with the staff at Lightning about that, although there is nothing the production team can do. The proper solution would be that no title ever becomes unavailable for purchase. The revised file is processed immediately. As orders, old or new, come in and hit the print cycle, they print with the old version until the new version is approved and then they print with the new version. No interruptions and no delays.

I suspect doing it that way will require some work on their order processing code, but it is much needed. As I plan to tell their CEO, having a print book unavailable at online stores for a week just before Christmas thanks to that hangup, gives publishers a reason to also print and sell a book directly through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

That’s not hard. For most book sizes, Amazon can take the same interior PDF file that goes to Amazon. Only the cover image needs to be tweaked because Amazon uses a slightly less thick paper, making the spine a little smaller.I use InDesign for covers, and all that means is dragging the cover content from one document to another and tweaking the positioning slightly.


This blog posting explains how to get and use Apple’s Book Proofer, along with a few glitches that may have been fixed by now.

pigsgourdsandwikis.com/2012/ … books.html

If you’re into doing your own digital publishing, Liz Castro’s blog is an excellent one to follow.


Both Adobe and Apple use her as a consultant. Just be advised that she loves all that geeky, HTML-like stuff.


:smiley: In my case - to misquote - you can take the man away from sub-editing, but you can’t take sub-editing away from the man.

I downplayed Smashwords as a way to distribute ebooks in my first post, but I’ve just discovered something that sets them in a better light.

Apple and Amazon include samples of ebooks, as does Smashwords. But Smashwords also makes the full text of its books searchable by search engines, which may give the a better ranking. (Amazon and Apple have those samples as downloadable files.) That may explain why, in five days, my new book has jumped to the very top of an over 2 million hits Google search result.

Of course, that is a bit of a cheat. The search words I selected—hospital embarrassment teen girl— almost perfectly mirror the book’s title. But it is still a good result to see. And Amazon’s page for the book did come in as Hit #6.

Having your text searched and indexed by Google probably matters little if you’re writing fiction. But if you’re writing non-fiction and covering a variety of topics, it might be a plus.

Smashwords is also simpler. Just export your book in Scrivener as a .rtf file, import it into Word, tweak it according to Smashwords style guide, and export it as a .doc file. You’ve got what you need for Smashwords to convert your book to formats all the major and most minor ebook distributors use.

The one exception is Amazon. It does accept some ebooks from Smashwords, but Smashwords says it is not yet setup to take mass transfers. It only takes select ebooks, meaning those that are already selling well elsewhere. If Amazon ever decides to accept all titles that meet Smashwords Premium specs, it should be a handy one-stop publishing solution.

That is, if you don’t mind managing your books remotely via Smashwords rather than directly inside Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBookstore.

Smashwords also provides you with a free ISBN, which in single lots, costs an incredible $250. That’s particularly bad given that I bought 1,000 for $600 in 2000. Interestingly, when I gave Smashwords my ISBN, it displayed a message claiming it was registering that ISBN with Bowker, saving me that bother.

With Apple, you must supply an ISBN of your own. With Amazon, I believe an ISBN isn’t needed. You can just use their internally assigned ASIN. Just be aware that some consider a book without an ISBN not a ‘real’ book.

Libraries often won’t consider a book real unless it has a Library of Congress Control. They’re actually easy to get and free. You can find the details here:


Libraries use the number to get the Dewey and LC cataloging numbers for a book. They’re only for print books, however, not ebooks. More details here:


–Mike Perry, Seattle

Many years ago, I did contract proofreading for Microsoft, and one of my projects was a book called Working with Word. What was interesting was that the book itself was done with the Mac version of Word, then at 4.0. Even more interesting, the book itself didn’t look have the typical business memo look of books done in Word even today.

Accomplishing that, however, required an enormous amount of tedious work. There were hundreds of styles, for instance, covering every possible transition, such as bullet list to second-level heading. There was also customer Postscript code for effects that Word itself could not do. It wasn’t practical for most writers, but it was a useful exercise in the possible.

The advantage of InDesign is that you can produce those same effects without all the kludging. It isn’t merely an application designed to produce typeset magazines and books. It is THE application to do that and it has a host of tools to make that easier, faster and more efficient.

If you need an analogy, think of a typical text editor such as Apple’s TextEdit as a single tool like a screwdriver. From that POV, Microsoft Word is a bit like a Swiss Army knife. It does a lot of things, but it does almost none of them well. That’s why writers tend to either love or hate it. They love what it can do. They hate how poorly it does it.

Following that analogy, InDesign is like one of those 600-tool chests on wheels with all the drawers. It’s got almost every tool you need, and the few tools it doesn’t have (like Kindle file generation) can usually be handled by third-party plug-ins. Its learning curve is steep, but once learned, you can do a lot and often with amazing speed.

With InDesign CS6, Adobe took a big step toward making the app output multiple digital and print formats. You can now have a common text, but create different versions of that text for print and different digital mediums. That’s what has me delighted. I hate situations where ‘publishing’ means I now have several different files that each has to be individually edited for typo correction etc.

That ability to go from one source to many outputs is what now makes InDesign so handy. The same text that creates a book’s print version, can also create an ePub for Apple and a mobi for Amazon. The one lack is that Smashwords, which is my distributor of choice for all the other ebook outlets, stubbornly insists on getting ebooks as Word .doc files. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll eventually accept epub input.

Those are some of the reasons why, earlier in this discussion, I suggested that writers wanting to ‘go indie’ and self publish might want to look into InDesign. With it, you can create a book that, if you master the proper skills, looks like it comes from a major publisher.

But there is a downside. In addition to that huge learning curve, there’s another reason that make scare readers off. That’s the cost. At $700 for your first version, it isn’t cheap.

There is a work around though, one that I used. A lot of people in business get InDesign in a burst of enthusiasm because someone told them, “It’s a great way to make sales brochures.” It may be, but it also takes a long time to learn. They grow disenchanted and don’t use it. Over time, the version they have slips one of two versions behind, decreasing its value. Eventually, they decide to sell it.

That’s where you can pick up InDesign quite cheaply, often for a $100 or less. Just make sure:

The copy you’re buying either has a registration that can be transferred or has never been registered.

Is recent enough (usually one of the last two or three releases) to be upgraded to the latest version.

That should get you into InDesign for about $300 rather than $700. For learning it, you might try:


You can get a monthly membership for $25 and then pour it only watching their videos fast enough to watch all you need to watch in a month or two.

My writing work flow is Scrivener until the text is almost final and then what I’ve written is moved into InDesign to make it look good on paper. Once I’ve created print, Kindle and iBooks version, I move the raw text into Word, grit my teeth, and create a Smashwords version.

That workflow has finally reconciled me to accept publishing digitally despite the added grunt work. And there is a plus. My latest book,Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments, retails for $14.95 in the print version. I make almost the same income pricing the digital version for just $4.95, making both me and my readers happy.

Next to having a brilliant and capable assistant eager to do all the stuff I don’t like doing, this is best publish-for-yourself option I’ve found thus far. If you’re particularly concerned about having books that look good, you might consider it.

Canadian authors can get their free ISBN numbers here:


InDesign costs $700, and you have to kluge to get to Smashwords. As it was, you stripped out all RTF artifacts, which wouldn’t work so well in my context as I use italics and monospacing to communicate internal dialog and technology. Wouldn’t an alternative be to convert to LaTeX and use any one of a number of good templates?

Reviving a dead topic here, but as I’m getting close to the end of my current book, I wanted to start looking into where I’m going to go once the manuscript is completely finished. Michael, when moving from Scrivener to InDesign, I’m curious how you went about this. I’ve worked with InDesign for all my books, but the book I’m currently working on is the first I’ve written with Scrivener. Prior to this, I used Word, so I just imported regular .doc files into InDesign. What do you find has been the best file type to compile in Scrivener and then import into InDesign? For that matter, what compile settings do you use?

I’ve yet to learn the intricacies of Scrivener’s Compile process. My two most recent books and the ones I turned to for the untainted Scrivener to InDesign workflow, Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments and Tolkien Warriors, were both relatively simply in format. And for a previous book that was complex, Chesterton on War and Peace, I simply wrote it inside InDesign. The chronological order of Chesterton’s articles determined the book’s structure. I simply added commentary.

For those two recent books, I simply imported them as text without any formatting and added the little stuff, mostly italics, later. Doing layout for other publishers, I’m forced to deal with Word importation issues, so when I can I keep Word out of the loop I do. Too much other trash comes in unpredictably.

In short, I create the content as content in Scrivener and when I feel that only tweaking and a little editing is required, I bring it into InDesign. That lets me separate content-creation from formatting and only do the latter when I’m in the application I’ll use for my final output. There are few things more frustrating than carefully formatting a text in one app and having it get lost or corrupted in another.

For more complex books, I plan to text tag such as set-apart quotes, for instance, in some way i.e. , so I can spot that text inside InDesign. That’s a bit clumsy, but it is better than the alternatives. And with InDesign, I can key off that term to automate style assignment.

When I get a chance, I plan to write Keith and suggest he create a paragraph tagging scheme for Scrivener that’d make that easier. Most page layout programs have a simple import feature that uses specially tagged text to assign paragraph style formats. That gets around the chief failing of most text work flows–the obsession in both the Windows and Mac worlds that moving text ought to include the fonts and font sizes. And adding a compile to InDesign or Quark function to Scrivener shouldn’t be that hard. It’s just writing a header and tagging the opening of each paragraph with something like .

Having these other apps understand Markdown would also be handy. I’ve tried to convince both Adobe and Apple (iBooks Author) to add Markdown import, but so far to no avail. Markdown import would take care of about 90% of the hassle of moving a book from Scrivener to a final layout app. Even chapters and headings could be handled with # and ## tags.

–Michael W. Perry, Tolkien Warrors—The House of the Wolfings: A Story that Inspired The Lord of the Rings