Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Self-Publishing Basics - Publishing to iTunes

All week, I'm doing a series on Self-Pub Basics.

Here's the series:

Tues: Where to Publish
Wed: Formatting Ebooks - The Easy Ways
Thurs: Formatting Ebooks - The Hard Way
Fri: Publishing to iTunes

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
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 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:
  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, 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.
  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.
In my experience, it can take several days (or longer) before your book will upload to the iBookstore, so prepare ahead, or be patient.

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).

That wraps up a week of mind-numbing Self-Publishing minutia!! Helpful (I hope) but rather boring (in the extreme). Next week, we'll return to more fun stuff.


  1. Great post, as usual in this series. But I have a question. Is the "preview" file you create, just for you to check the formatting on the various devices, or is that preview file actually used on iTunes?

    1. Great question! That preview is actually an option for the reader to download - I noticed this when I downloaded my free book Mind Games (which also has a preview!) onto my iPhone.

  2. Way interesting information. So glad you shared this. I hope you include this series in your For Writers tab. I'd love to use it as a reference in the future.

    I do think it's strange that iTunes backs it so difficult to upload to Apple, though. Wonder if that's strategy on their part to get authors to invest in 'their' way. Hmmm...

    1. Apple always silos their products, making cross-functionality difficult, if not impossible. It is a core part of their marketing. Being new to Apple (I've always been a PC girl), I'd say their philosophy is about making things easier for the user by limiting choices. The stuff that works well, works EXTREMELY well. And simply too. But as soon as you step outside the box, it becomes bearishly complicated. Apple is also focused on end-consumers not content providers, which is what authors are. I think they aren't really invested in the iBookstore yet - they don't sell the iPad as a reader, but as an app device.

  3. I'm so glad my writing friend has a Mac.

  4. I'm expecting some sort of cyborg dolphin show next week.

    1. The cyborg dolphin was booked until 2013. I’ll have to see if the swarm of nano quadrotor bots are available.

  5. Crap. Looks like I missed some good posts this week. Off to have a look ...

  6. Interesting. I got the (perhaps false) impression that PubIt was retailing not only Nook-compatible ebooks, but also Apple iPad versions. They gave both options for viewing the uploaded file.

    1. Nook (and Amazon) both have apps that can be used on the Apple. So, if you own an iPad, you can download an app that will read Nook books. The PubIt previewer only lets you preview on a (simulated) Nook or Nook Color, but not the Nook-on-iPad app (at least, not that I'm aware of).

  7. Hmm... Reading all this and considering my stage in the game, I might just give Smash a go. Just for this outlet. And just to see what happens. (But also b/c of the free review copies. ;o) <3

    1. Smash is handy for some things (like coupons for free copies, although I prefer emailing mine direct, so reviewers have the nicer version vis-a-vis formatting), and I do still have my books on Smash. I just don't use them for distributing. Hopefully your experience in distributing to Apple will be better! But at least you are forewarned. :)

  8. Well that kinds of sucks about needing a Mac. *rolls eyes at the devious thinking behind that* At least I don't have to worry about this for now.

    I have bought one book through iTunes. But that's because my 12 yo's grandparents bought him more iTune gift cards than he can possibly need, so I used one to buy a book. :D

    1. I think most people don’t think “iTunes” when they want a new book. And most iPad owners don’t read on their iPad – or use the Nook/Kindle apps. But there are still enough to make it a viable retailer.

      Now that I think about it, I may have an iTunes gift card lying around here somewhere … for my new iPhone … Hm….

  9. Thanks for this Susan. My daughter has a mac and I plan to try this as soon as I get home, sometime in November (lol). I'm bookmarking this page.

  10. You're really helping authors with this series, Sue. Way to go! I'll come back if I ever self publish.

  11. And this is totally out of sight for me. No Apple and I doubt I'll be getting one anytime soon.

    Thanks so much for all your work to present this information!

  12. Oh my gosh, this is such great information. I'm bookmarking this for sure.

  13. Great article. Couple of points--a PC user can upload to the iBookstore by

    a. Renting a "real" Mac: the nearest Kinko's will probably have one. Use of a Mac may even be available for free at a local college (but call the library first to check, and to make sure they'll let you). Take your epub files in a thumb drive, or email them to yourself and then download them when you arrive.
    b. Renting a "virtual" Mac: like Have your epubs ready to go, and you'll be done in no time.

    1. Excellent points! I found out about the "virtual" Mac after I posted this, and wish I had known about that sooner. But I can see renting a Mac being problematic, at least the first few times. I had to go back n forth, slightly adjusting the epub, so it wasn't just a simple upload.

  14. Susan: Thanks for the great post. Once you've uploaded books using a Mac can you check your sales and stats on a PC? Or do you really need a Mac to monitor the account?


    1. You can (and I do) monitor sales from my PC. :)