HOW TO: Self-publish an eBook with Apple iBooks – formatting, aggregators, royalties and more!

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ibooks-author.jpgTech Digest eBook Self Publishing Season – How to self-publish an eBook with Apple iBooks

Tablets and smartphones make for great reading devices, and you don’t get better tablets or smartphones than Apple’s iPad and iPhone. Through Apple’s iBooks store, self publishing authors have a great market through which to tout their wares, and this guide will walk you through how to get your work onto the platform.

Note: This guide assumes that you’ve already written your book, at least as a draft. We won’t be giving you advice on how to tie up that plot hole or name your main wizard character!

What is Apple iBooks?

iBooks is Apple’s own eReader platform, and the name of its associated digital storefront. Available exclusively to iPhone, iPod touch and iPad users, it offers a slick touch based interface for readers to use and an easily navigable eBook store to browse. Thanks to the quality of the Apple devices’ colour screens and processors, books published to the iBook store can take full advantage of multimedia features including colour images and videos.

Why publish through Apple iBooks?

It’s incredibly easy for a writer to get their work onto iBooks, without ever having to deal with agents or publishers, while retaining 100% of the rights to the contents of their eBooks. In terms of royalties, Apple take a standard 30% cut of all profits. You claim all the rest, though you need to use an aggregating service to help with the publishing process, as Apple don’t accept submissions from individuals. They too will take a cut of the 70% you’re left with. It’s by far the simplest way of getting your work on the store though as otherwise you’ll need the backing of a traditional publisher, even if the aggregators take a cut of the profits too.

A new area of the iBooks store dedicated to promoting self published authors has also recently been introduced to Apple’s iBooks. Called Breakout Books, it’s an editorially curated section of the store picking out the very best from up-and-coming self published authors. Get your book on there and sales quickly go through the roof.

Apple also offer the iBooks Author publishing tool. It’s a free piece of software for Mac that lets you make rich, multimedia-filled eBooks, complete with multi-touch touchscreen controls. It’s as simple as dragging and dropping content onto a page, allowing you to easily make interactive texts. It’s particularly useful for those looking to self-publish educational text books, and even has built-in tools for getting the books on sale in the Apple iBooks store.

Also, unlike Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, you can offer your books for free through iBooks without limitations. This can be an incredibly valuable marketing tool, especially for authors working on an ongoing series – lure readers in with a gripping first novel, then charge them for the subsequent adventures in the franchise.

Limitations of publishing through Apple iBooks

There’s an obvious one to begin with – publishing to the iBooks store only puts your novel in front of iPad, iPhone or iPod touch owners, as iBooks is exclusive to iOS devices. That’s a user base far smaller than publishing to Kindle, seeing as Kindle eBooks are available across Android and iOS devices through the Kindle apps, alongside PC and Mac versions, as well as on Kindle eReaders. For the most part that shouldn’t be a problem though, as Apple are pretty liberal in allowing self-publishing authors to sell their wares through other stores too.

However, there’s also the fact that, if you make a book using iBooks Author that is sold through the iBooks store as a .ibooks file rather than given away for free, you will be unable to sell it elsewhere. That’s obviously not a problem if you’re not using the powerful iBooks Author tool, or using it to output in .pdf or .epub rather than the proprietary .ibooks format, but should definitely be taken into consideration if you do. What you gain in ease of creation through it you may lose in potential sales elsewhere.

Getting Started

First of all, you’ll need to have that mind-blowing book written.

Finished? Great! That’s the hard part done!

Before your would-be bestseller can be published, you’ll need to make sure it’s well edited and properly formatted. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure you’ve added a Table of Contents for the document, which is easily done using Word’s and Page’s built-in tools.
  • Insert page breaks after every chapter. It’ll avoid inserting unnecessary stretches of white space when your final eBook is ready.
  • Make sure your cover image is added as a .JPG file, or it won’t work properly. It’ll need to be rectangular in shape and at least 600 pixels tall, and cannot contain hyperlinks or website addresses, nor any nudity.
  • Keep a check on your spelling and grammar if you don’t have an editor. Have multiple grammar pedants read and re-read your text if possible to scan it for errors.
  • There’s an upload limit of 2GB for the iBooks store, so make sure your eBook is smaller than that. That may be tough if you’re using lots of multimedia content, so consider either cutting some, shortening some, or lowering the quality of audio, video and image files.
  • Apple will not publish materials that include erotica involving underage people, nor any texts that promote intolerance or discrimination. And rightly so.

Make sure your finished manuscript is in ePub format. There are plenty of free apps that will do this for you. We recommend Calibre, which is free and can output in a number of formats, and doubles up as an excellent eBook management application.


There are a number of companies that will go through the hassle of putting your book together in a form that Apple finds acceptable for submission. Which is great, as Apple won’t accept submissions from individuals regardless. Either way, it’s very useful to employ one of the aggregators – they’ll go through the hassle of putting your book together in an attractive form, assign your book an ISBN number (as is required by Apple – a service that can cost a pretty penny even separately), and many will also help push your book out onto the Kindle, Nook and other digital stores alongside Apple’s iBooks too. Pricing of the aggregators varies – some will take a cut of the sale price of every eBook sold, others will accept an up-front fee that covers lifetime sales of the book (which usually works out cheaper providing your books sells in reasonably significant numbers).

Click here for a list of services that can help.

Finding a Cover

Can you judge a book by its cover? Totally! The importance of great cover design is perhaps even greater for eBooks than traditional printed books, as they have to be attractive in a number of sizes, sometimes appearing tiny on mobile device store browsing lists. With just the image to work with, you can’t employ any of the eye catching tricks that different materials provide to designers of physical books either.

Our advice? Make sure your cover communicates clearly what your book is about, and do it in an obvious rather than evocative way. If your book is about vampires, pop a good-looking blood sucker drooling the red stuff on the front, and then those looking for the latest Twilight rip-off will get all swoony. Hire a designer if possible – it’s their natural habitat, and they’ll know all the tricks to make your book leap out to a potential buyer.

And with all that, you should now be done! With much of the Apple iBooks submission process taken out of your hands by aggregators as a mandatory requirement, it’s arguably even simpler than publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing.


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Gerald Lynch
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