After a brief hiatus, valued contributor Ray Rhamey is back! We’re so pleased to have him share insights on both editing and the rapidly changing world of publishing. Welcome back, Ray!
Here are some of the options available for distributing your ebook:
Upload directly to ebook retailers.
The top ones include:
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing
- Barnes & Noble Pubit!
Amazon. Amazon is the elephant in the library, and the best way to get your ebook there is to create an account, create a Kindle format version (.mobi file), and upload it. The technically savvy can manage this with good results, others can call upon folks like me for an assist. Amazon has tools for creating the .mobi file on your account page. You can get it done with a properly formatted Word document (but it can be tricky). You will need a high-resolution cover image. ISBN not required. Go to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).  I’ve posted an article on techniques for cover design that work best on the web here. 
Mind your price on Amazon. You can get a 70% royalty on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99–and that price must be at least 20 percent below the lowest list price for the physical book. Outside of that price range, your royalty is 35%. You would make more on a Kindle ebook priced $5.99 than you would for one priced at $10.99.
Amazon’s price adjusting can affect your royalty, too. Amazon searches for prices, and if it finds your book in any ebook format listed on the Internet for less than your Amazon Kindle price, Amazon will drop the price to match the lowest one out there.
Barnes & Noble. You use the Barnes & Noble self-publishing site, Pubit!,  to upload your .epub file for sale on the B&N website. They, too, have pricing variations similar to Amazon’s. B&N pays 65% of list for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. However, it pays only 40% of list on books below $2.98 or above $10. You have to provide an .epub file that you create elsewhere. ISBN not required. You will need a high-resolution cover image.
Kobo. Kobo is a big retailer of ebooks that will be launching a new service for authors at the end of June 2012. Kobo Writing Life  will have a means for converting Word and .mobi files into the .epub format they sell. They will have new royalty rates, reportedly up to 70% on books priced under $12.99. Previously, they have required an ISBN, no word on that yet.
Apple. Apple, with its iBook store, is a good market. They pay 70% and have a tool for converting a manuscript to an .epub file, but I have not tried it. An ISBN is required, and they can be costly, as is a cover image.
Sony. Sony does not accept books from individual authors or very small indie publishers—but you can sell there through an “aggregator” such as Smashwords, and they will determine your royalty. Sony requires an ISBN number.
Aggregators. An aggregator will distribute your ebook to a number of ebook retailers. Some charge fees, some don’t , and they differ in to which retailers they distribute to. I found an excellent article on the possibilities here.  Some of them also distribute to Amazon, but there may be a fee involved.
Smashwords is the only aggregator I have experience with–I have 4 novels published there. There are some advantages to publishing your ebook through Smashwords.
- They have a tool for formatting your Word document into all the ebook formats you need, including Kindle’s .mobi–although Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon. Still, Kindle users can buy your book from Smashwords if you select that option. You will need a high-resolution cover image.
- Smashwords pays a royalty of 85% of net sales for books sold on their site, which works out to about 80% of the list price.
- They pay 60% on most sales to their retailers–here’s where you can make 60% on any price at Barnes & Noble–that can mean a 60% payoff instead of 40% outside their preferred bracket. Smashwords’s Baker-Taylor royalty is 45%–but they’re a wholesaler, and that’s better than nothing, I think.
- For Kobo, you earn 60% list for prices between $.99 and $12.99 and 38% for prices over $12.99. This could change with the advent of Kobo’s new Writing Life service.
- No ISBN required for Smashwords, and they will provide a free one for selling to Apple and Sony.
- You can track and manage sales to a host of outlets on just one site.
The combo that works best for me
I’m not encyclopedic in my knowledge and experience in ebook publishing, but I’ve researched it a lot, I do have four novels up there, and have done the ebook publishing for two of my book-design clients. For simplicity and the broadest reach for your ebook, it seems to me that signing up with Amazon Kindle and Smashwords are strong choices. I’ll be honest, I haven’t dug into the other aggregators, but the chart I found shows that some charge hefty fees upfront and, even though they don’t charge for the subsequent distribution (Smashwords takes 10%), it would take a long time to earn that fee back unless you have a huge hit on your hands.
The convenience of hitting so many markets with just one sign-up on Smashwords, plus the free ISBN number (worth $125 if you were to go to Bowker), and free conversion of your manuscript into ebook formats make it an attractive option. If they ever distribute to Amazon, then it could be a one-stop e-publishing.
If you have insights for ebook publishing to add, please do in comments.
For what it’s worth.