Ten things I wish I knew before I started my ebook conversion company

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Three years ago, Adobe released InDesign CS5.5 with a new export option…EPUB. At that time, I made a bold decision to start my own ebook conversion company SO&SO Co LLC. I was already part of the InDesign community, but then I moved into the even smaller EPUB community. Thinking about freelancing as an ebook developer? Here are some of the things I wish I had known.

1. Explaining your business to others

I started out saying I made EPUBs but that quickly changed to ebooks and, occasionally, the even more generic digital conversion. “Ebooks” is by far the safest explanation as digital conversion can still confuse many people. (And a confused individual will not become a client.)

2. Some things Amazon and Apple forgot to tell you

Authors/Publishers need a kdp.amazon.com account to upload an ebook file to Amazon. To upload to Apple, an iTunes Connect account is required and iTunes Producer installed (only available on an Apple computer – PC owners are unable to upload from any of their devices). Also, it can take up to 30 days to have a book show up on iTunes, so remember that when your authors/publishers are looking into release dates.

3. Tell your clients EVERYTHING

Our clients fill out a Manuscript Details Worksheet before we touch any of their files. This sheet automatically weeds out the faint of heart and, more importantly, gets them thinking about the big picture. Does the author have an ISBN? What is an ISBN? Have they applied for a Library of Congress number? Do they have a cover designer in mind? Here are the specs for the cover. Are rights to use all of the images secured? If so, prove it. I ask authors to acknowledge their responsibility for copyright, etc., at every proof stage. This is the one area where it is important to over stress your client because it prepares them for the whole process, which isn’t always a walk in the park.

4. File Management and Protection of Documents

Managing files is profoundly important with multiple proofing cycles and formats. Steer clear of using spaces when naming anything (folders, files, images, InDesign books, etc.). Anyone who has validated an EPUB file knows a space could possibly cause brain damage.

We end all of our proofs and ebook files with date and time (i.e., BookName_Proof01_0502v2036). Military time is very useful when you are trying to find the latest file, because believe me there will be more than one file. As Russell Viers declares, “Do you have files named Final1, Final2, FinalFinal, etc?” Stop doing that it makes for a file management nightmare.

Watermark all proofs to clients. Trust me, clients will do anything to get their book uploaded and out to market – even if their book is not completed. Watermarking safeguards against backlash and guarantees both parties know what part of the process they are in, whether it is the start of the proofing cycle or entering into the “extra charges” zone.

5. Remind your clients about extra charges

Right from the start and throughout the process, don’t treat “extra charges” as a dirty word. It lets your client know what they have paid for and when they step outside of that zone. By letting your clients know up front and when they are dangerously close to crossing that line helps them take the time to get it right, rather than haphazardly trying to get to the next step.

6. Where do you draw the line on services provided to your clients?

Are you just doing conversions? Are you full service? Are you selling retail items? This is extremely important for selling your services, as well as keeping your sanity. SO&SO does manuscript conversions into print, PDF and two ebook formats. We pick a handful of clients to assist from manuscript to uploading and are listed as their publisher. Otherwise, when we deliver the print and ebook products to our clients, we supply handouts for next steps, which they are aware of from the start.

7. Referral options for editors and writing coaches

You can’t do everything and neither should they – add on services can be a fantastic partnership. Editors can either work with us directly and charge whatever they want on their end, or refer clients to us for a 15% referral fee of the total end cost. We refer clients to editors and they refer them to us. Give and take is essential in any business.

8. Repeat business

What might bring clients back for more services? We offer every 6th book to our editors and every 10th book to our backlist clients for free. For the editors working directly with us, we wanted to reward them for being the project manager and once you establish a rapport, each project goes a little bit more smoothly. The amount of time you need to reeducate a repeat client is little to none, which is a time saver all around.

9. Handouts for next steps – Uploading & Marketing

I tell all my clients, “Writing your book was the easy part. Now the real work begins.” This is where being upfront about costs and responsibilities takes precedence. Promoting and marketing a book can be a full-time job and knowing that from the beginning can save your clients from tears.

10. Business licenses / accounting

In Nevada, we are required to get a state license, as well as, a city license annually in addition to signing up for usage taxes with the county. SO&SO does not sell retail products because that would double our paperwork and accounting responsibilities. Because our authors retain all rights to their books, regardless of whether or not SO&SO is listed as their publisher, the taxes are their responsibility. I thought about this quite a bit and have structured my business accordingly.

Taking the time to establish what your business offers and how you structure it from the beginning is worthwhile. Tunnel vision wasn’t always beneficial for my brand and I hope that this article helps you build a healthier business.

Aspen Kuhlman is an ebook developer and owner of SO&SO Co LLC, a full-service book conversion company taking publications from manuscript to marketplace. Aspen has been producing validated ebooks in both .epub and .mobi formats for clients such as the NCAA since 2011. Her comical Ignite presentation, Why I Married InDesign and Ran Away with EPUB can be found on YouTube. You can also find her at @soaspen.

7 thoughts on “Ten things I wish I knew before I started my ebook conversion company

  1. I’ve incorporated many of the same approaches to my work and business that you’ve described, but I picked up a few good new ideas with this post, thank you.

    I agree how important it is to describe the steps in detail. I think it must be done with proposal writing in general, but it really engenders confidence in clients with ebook development because it’s a complete unknown to most people.

    My client base has been mostly first-time indie-authors and many have difficulty even with setting up accounts with each of the online stores. So I’ve made that part of my services. I am not the publisher in any case though.

    Question: In cases where you are the publisher have you made managing each of the store accounts and royalty payments as part of your services?

    Thanks again.

    • You’re welcome. Marty I agree that ebook conversion is “the great unknown” to most of the population. I started educating anyone who would listen because I found so many individuals were paying exorbitant amounts of money to convert their books. I don’t care if they ever used my services, but I always educate on how much it should cost and what to expect. I find the more they paid the less they know, but end up asking me questions. Why couldn’t they ask the person they paid the small fortune to?

      As far as publishing goes, my authors maintain all the rights to their books and royalties. Like I said in the article, it is important to know what your business does and does not do. For my published clients, I can run reports for them or teach them how to do all the “work” that comes with self-publishing. Our pricing is reflected by the amount of work we do after the book is created. Before we deliver the print, PDF, and ebook formats to authors, we include detailed handouts on how to set up accounts. Step by step with lots of pictures.

      I am always on hand if an author, editor, or publisher handling the accounts needs help. I stand by my statement, “Tell your clients EVERYTHING.” If you spend the time to educate authors and publishers in the beginning, by the time you reach the end they are confident enough to tackle reports and uploading.
      - See more at: http://epubsecrets.com/10-things-ebook-conversion-company.php#comment-12553

    • We watermark in the spine area out to the margins on every page (our watermark also states what phase of the process you are in – Proof 01, Proof 02, Extra Charges, etc). We opted for this instead watermarking diagonally across every page. It only takes one author uploading an incomplete book and printing it to ruin the launch of a book. That author thought it was “done enough”, but later found out there was more work to be done and their brand looked bad because of it. Thank goodness it was early on and we were not the publisher or listed on the book.

      • Sorry AnneMarie. I obviously didn’t read your question correctly. We name the file Bookname_Proof01_EPUB_mmddvhhmm. We do not give the file the title name until it is complete and rename it accordingly. If they can change it then great they are one step closer to being a developer. Most of our clients wouldn’t bother getting into the code.

        You could always GREP in a “PROOF” at the end of each chapter as well. I like that, might start doing that. If we are doing backlists then no proofing is necessary. We validate and guarantee it is the same as the file they gave us (novels only of course).

    • You’ve presented some great ideas here, Aspen. Client communication, handouts, and file organization. I use a date, but not the time, which I am going to start doing…

      I also leave watermarks on everything. On EPUBs, I just add a grayscale (10%) logo with “Proof by…” which I will add to the back of a chapter or three. The clients know ahead of time and I take it out once they’ve paid their balance and release final files. Like you said, someone who knows what they are doing can easily take it out, but it gives me and my partner a little piece of mind.

      Thanks for the article!

  2. You’re welcome. Marty I agree that ebook conversion is “the great unknown” to most of the population. I started educating anyone who would listen because I found so many individuals were paying exorbitant amounts of money to convert their books. I don’t care if they ever used my services, but I always educate on how much it should cost and what to expect. I find the more they paid the less they know, but end up asking me questions. Why couldn’t they ask the person they paid the small fortune to?

    As far as publishing goes, my authors maintain all the rights to their books and royalties. Like I said in the article, it is important to know what your business does and does not do. For my published clients, I can run reports for them or teach them how to do all the “work” that comes with self-publishing. Our pricing is reflected by the amount of work we do after the book is created. Before we deliver the print, PDF, and ebook formats to authors, we include detailed handouts on how to set up accounts. Step by step with lots of pictures.

    I am always on hand if an author, editor, or publisher handling the accounts needs help. I stand by my statement, “Tell your clients EVERYTHING.” If you spend the time to educate authors and publishers in the beginning, by the time you reach the end they are confident enough to tackle reports and uploading.

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