Susan Kaye Quinn’s Self-Pub Basics (Part Four of Four): Formatting, The iTunes Way

Wavin’ atchya, WG2E-Land!!!

Here’s the fabulous Susan Kaye Quinn with Part Four of her superb Self Pub Basics Series. In case you missed them, take a peek at Parts One thru Three:

(Part Three)

Take it away, Susan…

Self-Pub Basics (4 of 4): Formatting, The iTunes Way
by Susan Kaye Quinn

Thank you D.D. for having me on WG2E!

We’ve talked about Where to Publish, and how to format The Easy Way and The Hard Way. Publishing to iTunes is a step harder than The Hard Way, simply because the iTunes interface is a byzantine maze all unto itself. But this is the Self-Pub Basic series! So, I’m going to make it easy for you.

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, especially if you can climb the charts with a free book (I’ve seen this catapault some of my friends to big time 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 (the royalty is higher on Apple as well). In my personal experience, it can take months to distribute to Apple through Smash. 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) (or use MacinCloud, but I haven’t personally done this)
  • ISBNs for every title
  • access to all the devices (iPad, iPhone – beg or borrow these)
  • savvy about how to make Epubs
The biggest obstacle? You need a Mac. Why? Because iTunes Producer will only run on a Mac:

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 have an Epub that’s nearly ready for showtime on iTunes/iBookstore. (An alternative: use Pages or Jutoh 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:

  1. Sign up for a Paid Books Account on iTunes Connect - this can take a couple days to get approved, so do this early
  2. Get some ISBNs (10 for $250, available instantly, from Bowker)
  3. Once you’re approved for a Paid Books Account, download iTunes Producer and BookProofer.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Resize your cover to meet Apple’s required dimensions (min 1400 pixels on a side)
  8. Load your Epub (and preview file, cover, and screenshots) onto your iMac and connect your various devices (iPad, iPhone) 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Once you’ve submitted, go to iTunes Connect, and log in to check the status of your book. It can take a few hours to a few days to upload. If more than a few days pass and your book is still not on iTunes, email Apple – they have great customer service. 

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 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.

(NOTE: this was all before I knew about the Mac-in-cloud option, which gives you access to Apple Direct Upload for a fraction of the cost of buying a Mac. This may be a better option for you; at the least, it makes it reasonable for anyone to upload direct.)

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 August, and they started selling as soon as they were up (with no advertising or announcements).

In summary, Apple doesn’t make it easy to upload direct, but if you have a Mac (or use Mac-in-Cloud), direct upload brings benefits that are (potentially) worth the hassle.
 I hope this Self-Pub Basics series has been useful to you! I wish you many happy sales!
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Series, which includes three novels, three novellas, and a trailer. She’s currently writing a steampunk fantasy romance, just for kicks. When that’s out of her system, she has ambitious plans to embark on a series about the Singularity (the time when computers become more intelligent than humans) that should appeal to fans of the Mindjack novels. Or possibly play on Facebook all day. Could go either way.
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  1. Julie Day says:

    I couldn’t find any instructions yesterday about doing a TOC. Could you let me know where it is? I am not that tech minded, so am going to keep doing it the easy way and let Smashwords distribute to Apple for me.

    • Julie – Here’s the bit about Table of Contents from yesterday’s post:
      Build a Table of Contents (instructions scroll down).

      I can understand wanting to do it the “easy” way of having Smashwords distribute to Apple for you, and I did that for quite a while… until Smashwords starting having problems with Apple distribution. I know many (many, many) authors who have had difficulty with Apple distribution, where Smash would take weeks/months/never to update prices or even distribute the title in the first place. That was the impetus that drove me to learn how to upload directly. I have a friend (a very high seller) who recently decided that all her future books would go direct, because she had such difficulty getting the last one to distribute.

      So, if Smash is working for you – GREAT! No worries. But if you have problems, know that you’re far from alone, and that there is another option.

  2. SK Holmesley says:

    I’ve watched the trailer to your Mindjack Series. It seems like an extremely effective sales tool. Are you able to get an idea of what sales are generated from the trailer versus word of mouth or serendipity from someone browsing on the iTunes by the reviews you receive or timing of sales?

    • I wish! No, the trailer is solidly in the category of “extremely cool, but not quite sure what the ROI is.” There’s some solid evidence that the trailer sells the book – I’ve had many people tell me exactly that: they watched it, loved it, bought the books. It also gave an opportunity for people who already loved the books to share something cool about it – so that is valuable marketing right there, the kind that enables word of mouth. It’s got over 2600 views on YouTube, so it’s getting some serious play. And there are the contacts that were made during the filming of the trailer that are leading to all kinds of possibilities in the film world (I’ve submitted it to three film festivals with trailer categories, there’s a film agent who saw it, loved it, and is currently reading the book and possibly interested in repping…). So… can’t really quantify the ROI, but the result is everything I hoped for, and I think it was a wise investment in the series.

  3. I don’t have personal experience uploading directly to Apple yet (I just started going through D2D), but it’s my understanding that ISBNs are no longer required to upload direct.

    • You know, I tried that, and had no luck. Apple tries to give you a “vendor number” instead and that didn’t work for me – maybe it would for D2D?

      • SK Holmesley says:

        ITunes producer 2.8, words it as:
        “A unique book identifier that must be entered without hyphens or spaces. Using the 13-digit ISBN is recommended.”

        So at 2.8, it’s a “recommendation”. I have read a few recent blogs that seem to indicate that you might be able to use an internally generated publisher id, but haven’t tried it yet. We always create a publisher ID anyway, but so far haven’t used all our ISBN’s we purchased a decade+ ago when we were trying paper publishing. I have 1 left to assign, then might try it after that. The Vendor ID is for the “publisher” so Apple can pay whereas the ISBN is unique to the book and may be the same on the ePub on Apple, B&N, wherever, depending on the rules of the site. The ISBN reflects the old trad-publishing days where one print run would go to multiple stores, so they really are two separate numbers.

        In any case, if you want to try it with an internally generated number, you might want to make sure that you edit at a minimum the .opf file in your unzipped .epub file to include that number in the appropriate places in your metadata, and to make sure that the id scheme does not show as ISBM if that’s not what you’re using.

  4. Dana Delamar says:

    Thanks, Susan, for such an informative post!

    Regarding the ISBNs, people should be aware that if you upload to Apple *without* an ISBN, Apple explicitly says that they will not report your sales to any lists, so if you start selling well there, you could potentially keep yourself from hitting the USA Today or NYT lists (I know, I know, for most of us this is a dream, but enough people have managed it that it’s something to think about).

    The cost of ISBNs is just another business cost. If you’re going to invest in a Mac, you might as well also invest in ISBNs. (And those ISBNs come in handy on Kobo and Sony, because you can use them to link up your Goodreads reviews to those retailers.)

    • I’m not saying that people shouldn’t buy ISBNs but I know for a fact (from two indies who have hit the NYTimes bestseller lists, in my Indelibles group) that you do NOT need to have ISBNs to have enough sales “tracked” to hit the lists. Neither bought ISBNs for their ebooks; both hit the lists (if they were on Apple, it was because the distributed through smash so had that isbn). I’m fairly certain they made the lists based on Amazon sales alone (or at least primarily).

  5. It’s been nearly 3 months since I ditched KDP and published my ebook on Smashwords and I’m STILL waiting for it to appear on Apple. Are they just slow? Is there a REASON why it’s perhaps being rejected (some minor .epub conversion snafu?). I have no idea WHY it’s taking so long, but it does not bode well for my ability to remain nimble and market my book. Your article has helped me realize I need to deal with Apple directly. Thank you!

    • You are most welcome and you’re certainly not alone in your frustration with Smash’s distribution (or lack thereof). I’m not sure where the glitch in the system lies, but I know when I’ve got direct to Apple my books have always been live within a few days, sometimes much, much faster.

  6. This is a very helpful article. Thank you, Susan. While the iBookstore is a major pain to publish at, it is the only platform that supports the EPUB3 specification in a halfway decent manner.