Selling an eBook: Post for Free, Pay Only When You Sell

If you write ebooks that you plan to sell, most likely you’ll want to use a Digital Distribution Service.

What’s a digital distribution service? A digital distribution service (DDS; or, sometimes called a content delivery service) sells your digital product, handles the processing of payments, and then pays you. It’s not just for authors of ebooks, it’s a way to sell audio, video, software and video games too. For authors, depending on the service, a DDS can help the author format, publish, and distribute their content.

Does a DSS cost anything? Yes, either up front or later. After all, they’re in the business to make money.

There are services that let you post your ebook for free, then you pay them a commission only when your book sells. Or, there are services that you pay up front with membership fees or if you join a book sales club. The latter could be a better choice if you’re established and your sales are high. For the beginner, selling by commission would be more practical.

You could try to sell your ebook yourself. Do you have your own website? Fine. If you plan to use an e-commerce plugin like WooCommerce on your WordPress site (for example), then you’ll need a way to accept on-line payments, perhaps through Stripe or PayPal. Do you have an SSL certificate authentication (https://) for your site? If not, obtaining one will add another expense.

Setting up a website devoted to e-commerce can simply be a hassle, too difficult for non-techies, time consuming, or too expensive. The alternative is to go back to Plan A: Use a digital distribution service. Using a DDS saves you money by avoiding website overhead, and the time it would take to create and maintain a site.

My Top Three Picks to Sell an eBook at No Cost Until Sold


Basic Facts:

  • Payment/Commission: “15% commission on net royalties (which is approximately 10% of the list price)” is from their Terms of Service page.
  • Draft2Digital pays monthly (minimum payment of $10 needed for most payment methods, $25 for checks).
  • Format published: EPUB.
  • Uploads accepted: Word .doc/.docx, RTF, EPUB.
  • Partner stores they distribute to are: iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo (including Kobo Plus), Inktera (formally Page Foundry), Scribd, 24Symbols, Tolino, Playster.

D2D is one of the easiest and most straightforward ebook distribution services that I’ve used. Their Sign Up page is clean and uncluttered, which means it’s not overwhelming or intimidating to newbies.

Before you decide to sign up with D2D, or any distribution service, read their Terms and Conditions page. It’s dry, boring stuff, but you should read and understand what you’re getting into.

Once you decide to get into the registration process, you’ll have to specify your payment options and provide personal data. D2D, like most distributors, will give you the option of receiving payments by check, direct deposit, or Paypal. Regardless of your choice, prepare to provide more personal information on whether you can sell in the U.S., your tax identification number, and so on.

At first, giving out this information puts some people off. If you’re hesitant to provide your tax ID number and bank info, you’ll have to get used to it. By selling digital content on-line, you’re now a business person. It’s just the way things get done. However, like any site on the Internet that you give information to, take time to research what you’re looking at and who you’re dealing with. Check out the company on-line. Be sure you’re comfortable doing business with them.

D2D launches an “Interview” that’s designed to make it more user friendly, kind of like those interviews when you’re using personal tax software. When you’re finished, you’ll get a “Status: VALID TAX INFO ON FILE” on your payment method page.

Be sure to go through the rest of the options to complete your author profile, and then write your sales blurb. Give that a little thought. You may want to read samples of how other authors write theirs.

Publishing your book

D2D states that “Anything Word can read, we can read.” Upload your file for conversion. Once conversion is finished, you’ll have the option to distribute your book to (currently) eight of their partner stores. You can also download an EPUB or MOBI version of your ebook after D2D converts it.

You’ll receive updates through your email when your ebook was submitted and published by their partner stores.


Basic Facts:

  • Payment/Commission: “5% per transaction. No setup fees, no monthly fees, no hosting fees to worry about.”
  • Formats published: PDF, EPUB.
  • Uploads accepted: Word .doc/.docx, RTF, EPUB.
  • People buy direct from you. You choose where to sell your product.

There are quite a few reasons to like Payhip. Some Payhip features are:

  • Offers discount coupon codes.
  • Provides Google Analytics integration.
  • Protects your PDF files with PDF stamping (your option).
  • Sell digital ebooks using your Paypal or Stripe account.
  • The interface and sign-up pages are clean and simple.
  • It sells PDF’s when most others sell only ePubs, MOBI, and other non-PDF formats.
  • A WordPress plugin available.

Payhip isn’t an on-line ebook store as most sellers you’re used to visiting. Although it still hosts your digital product(s) and automatically delivers your content upon purchase, you decide where to place your ebook sales link: on your website, Twitter account, and so on.

If you decide to sell directly from your own site, Payhip has different styled “Buy” icons that you can use. They are designed to link directly to your Payhip product page. Simply take that code and insert it onto a page that people visit.

When you create your sell page, you can change a few website elements (colors, for one) that help reflect your brand. That may not be a concern to most people, but it’s a nice touch that’s available.

They have an affiliate program too. Novice ebook authors are hardly the target audience that would be using an affiliate program, but it’s good to know that Payhip has one. Google Analytics integration is a good feature to have, and so is the option of offering discount coupons to loyal customers.

Payhip states that they optimize “headings and titles” for SEO. “Search Engine Optimized” is one of their features. “We let your customers find your digital product on search engines by optimizing headings and titles.” Quite honestly, I didn’t look into that so I have no opinion on it. However, it’s simply another feature Payhip provides.

I like Payhip’s uncomplicated flat rate of “5% per transaction” as there’s no guessing whether net royalties, lists price, download file size, or other factors that could affect your payments.  Yet, it should be mentioned that you, as a seller, should consider the full per-transaction fee when you  add your Stripe or Paypal payment processing fee onto their five percent.

Amazon Self-publishing

Basic Facts:

  • Payment/Commission (Kindle Direct Publishing): Royalty received: 35% Option, or 70% Option. (Difference in royalties received depends on territories sold, file size, a “Promotional List” price, using KDP Select, and other factors.)
  • Format: Kindle eBook.
  • Uploads accepted: doc/docx, html, txt, PDF, MOBI, ePub, KPF (Kindle Package Format).
  • Distribution areas: Global. “Sales Territories” depend on the payment system arranged: Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP Select.

There might be a few things that seem intimidating when you first start to read on how to publish your ebook through Amazon. There’s simply a lot to read and wade through to understand their various programs, Terms and Condition pages, formatting guides for conversion, their guidelines on formatting pictures, cover photo, and so on. But taken a step at a time, you’ll get to know how Amazon does things.

The royalties paid to Amazon may seem a bit exorbitant compared to D2D or Payhip, but who’s to argue with their popularity and massive sales. Amazon simply sells a lot of everything, especially ebooks.

According to a recent Author Earnings’ report, published Feb. 2017, Amazon topped the list of ebook distributors. Relative sales volume of top ebook distributors showed the following:
– Amazon: 406,000,000 (86%)
– Apple iBooks: 44,041,000 (10%)
– Barnes&Noble Nook: 19,395,000 (4%)
– Kobo: 1,246,000 (1% <)

Amazon is worth considering when promoting your ebook.

Sign up process

You’ll have to go through the standard procedures to create an account. At first you’ll sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). (Later you have the option to sign up for Amazon’s KDP Select.) Do the typical user name and password thing, fill out your company/publisher information, and choose your preferred payment method.

Submitting tax information is more involved. Amazon must establish your tax identity, and requires some tax withholding information.

If you’re a non-U.S. publisher, you can still provide a tax identification number (TIN), which is easy enough to obtain on-line. To make it easier for everyone, it has an interview process that takes you step by step until you’re finished providing all the needed information.

Understand Amazon’s criteria for ebooks

Amazon devotes quite a number of pages to help a writer prepare their ebook properly for publication. Don’t overlook Amazon’s “File Formatting Tips” page. If you upload something not in compliance to their guidelines, you’ll have to reformat your ebook until you get it right. It’ll delay getting your book published.

For those that aren’t familiar with formatting of digital formats other than PDF’s, it’s necessary to understand that a lot of formatting is lost when converting a Word doc/docx to a Kindle, ePub, or MOBI format. Table of contents, images, tables, margins, and so many other typographical oddities can occur. Even if your Word doc or PDF looks perfect before conversion, there’s a chance that it will get radically changed when converted to Amazon’s Kindle format unless you follow their guidelines.

Uploading to Amazon

Amazon states that you can upload doc/docx, HTML, MOBI, ePub, RTF, Plain Text, and Kindle Package Format (KPF). Regardless of how well you’ve followed Amazon’s advice and your skills in converting digital content, you should always look over any final conversion through Kindle Gen or Kindle Previewer before your upload to publish.

Obtaining an ISBN

You may want to read over a post I wrote of whether an ISBN is needed or not.

Some distributors provide you with one as long as you’re selling your ebook through them. Amazon does not require one. “Kindle eBooks are not required to have an ISBN.” Amazon uses an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). That’s pretty good that they have their own system available. It saves you money and the hassle of adding an ISBN to a product. If you happen to have an ISBN that you want to use for your Kindle ebook, Amazon allows that too. Just be certain that your ISBN is dedicated for only that Kindle format, as ISBN rules do not allow one number to be used on more than one format.

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