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What is an eBook and How Does it Work for Authors?

POSTED ON Dec 8, 2023

Alexa Green

Written by Alexa Green

Home > Blog > Publishing > What is an eBook and How Does it Work for Authors?

eBooks make your book available anytime, anywhere, to any reader. So, how do eBooks work, and what do authors need to know about publishing one?

eBooks are incredible. They take up next to no space, reach your readers’ eyes within seconds, and can be much more cost-effective than traditional paper books. But what is an eBook? And how does it work? Is an eBook just a fancier Wattpad? 

Ok, that last one was a joke. eBooks are definitely different than blogs or social media posts, and they require just as much patient effort as a paper book – with a few twists. Since eBooks are digital, publishing them is a little different from publishing a paper book. Starting with a strong understanding of what an eBook is will help you navigate the unique challenges and perks they bring to the table.


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This guide answers “what is an eBook?” and more…

1. What is an eBook? And how does it work?
2. eBooks and PDFs
3. eBook formatting
4. Copyrighting an eBook
5. Should you publish your book as an eBook?
6. Advantages of eBooks for authors
7. Self-publishing your eBooks

What is an eBook? And how does it work?

In its simplest definition, an eBook is a book that is published digitally. Now, that’s pretty broad, so let’s dig into what distinguishes eBooks from any other online publication. 

Typically, when you publish writing online, you can come back to edit it later. Blogs, social media, even websites are editable after publishing. Most of the time, all you have to do is hit a button and start typing. An eBook, much like a paper book, isn’t easy to edit. Once it’s published, it’s published! 

So what is an eBook? Since it isn’t a physical object, an eBook is stored as a file that can be accessed from a number of different devices. eReaders are devices specifically designed for eBooks – like Barnes & Noble’s Nook or Amazon’s Kindle. But eBooks can also be accessed through smartphones, computers, and tablets! 

Let’s dig into a few details that set eBooks apart from other online or print publications.

eBooks and PDFs

Are eBooks and PDFs the same thing? If not, what is an eBook? After all, PDFs can’t be edited, and often they can have similar cover designs and formatting to an eBook. Technically speaking, PDFs aren’t eBooks. One of the things eBooks have in common with print publishing is an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). 

An ISBN identifies your book as unique material, and it’s essential for selling your book or distributing it to libraries. The steps for how to get an ISBN number will depend on where you live, so make sure to double-check when you’re ready to publish.

While a PDF can be given an ISBN, many of the eBooks you see online in PDF formatting don’t have one. Most of the time, when an “eBook” is available through a company or individual’s website, it’s a marketing tool. While these can have helpful information or moving stories, they aren’t books, strictly speaking. 

One of the biggest draws to eBooks is how accessible they are. With PDFs on shaky ground, what is an eBook format that authors can easily access?

eBook formatting

eBook formatting can come in many different shapes and sizes. We’ve already discussed PDFs, but eBooks can also be formatted as EPUB, TXT, or AZW files, to name a few. Different devices will support different formatting, and some – like AZW files – are only accessible through one platform. 

What is an eBook format that’ll work for you? That depends on what you’re publishing! You can always hire someone to format your eBook, but if you’re self-publishing, you’ll want to find the best eBook formatting software for your project. 

Formatting is one of the cornerstones of eBooks. The formatting is what allows the text in your book to change sizes and fonts, and maintain chapter, line, and page breaks. What is an eBook without the versatility of good formatting? The power of formatting makes eBooks fantastically accessible – even if the reader needs extra-large print or a specific font.

Copyrighting an eBook

You don’t have to copyright an eBook separately from your physical book (or vice versa), so you’ll only need to do it once. Copyrighting an eBook is different from ISBNs in many different ways, and this is one of them. You do need separate ISBNs for print and digital versions of your book, but you don’t need to copyright more than once.

Copyrighting your eBook is pretty straightforward. You’ll go to copyright.gov and register your book, then you’ll need to put together your copyright page. eBooks need copyright pages, just like print books, and they should contain your ISBN and standard disclaimers.

What is an eBook and how does it work in copyrighting? eBooks are intellectual property, just like physical books. With eBooks, the digital rights management (DRM) of your book will work alongside your copyright to ensure your book isn’t pirated or copied. 

DRM technologies – such as encryption – can be available through the platform you publish on.  You can (and should!) also manage the rights to your eBook yourself through DRM software.

Should you publish your book as an eBook?

Whether you publish your book as an eBook is entirely up to you! Learning how to publish an eBook can be helpful during your first time self-publishing since eBooks remove a few steps from the publishing process. You don’t need to worry about any of the publishing steps that involve physical copies of the book – like printing or distributing to bookstores or libraries. (Or finding space for extra copies of your book!)

What is an eBook distribution process like? Without physical copies, you’ll be distributing your eBook through different platforms, like Kindle Direct Publishing. And once your eBook is up on those sites, you’ll need to get the word out through social media, blog content, word-of-mouth, and/or search engine optimization. After all, once your eBook is published, you want to be sure people read it!

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Advantages of eBooks for authors

When it comes to benefits, what is an eBook and how does it work for authors?  Why would you publish your book as an eBook instead of in print? EBooks are increasingly popular, bringing in around $1.95 billion in revenue in 2022. And without the costs of printing, eBooks can easily be listed at lower prices than print without hurting your bottom line. 

eBook pricing is just one of many things that make your book more accessible. The formatting, portability, and ease of annotation all make eBooks accessible to people with all kinds of needs and wants. And that accessibility means your book can make it to more people than a print book ever could! 

What is an eBook publishing process like? It depends on whether you're self-publishing or not, but some authors find the publishing process simpler than print publishing. If you have your eye on writing multiple books, eBooks can streamline your process and ensure your fans have access to every book you release, the moment you release it. 

Self-publishing your eBook

Authors like you find themselves wondering about publishing almost from the moment they decide to write a book. What is an eBook? And how does it work for authors? What is an eBook format that will work for me and my readers? How do I copyright or get an ISBN for my eBook?

Having an answer to these questions can make you feel more secure in the process, but there’s something even more important to have in mind before you self-publish… writing your book! Writing your book is a difficult, rewarding process, and publishing is just one step in a very long journey. Once your book is written, you’ll need to make sure it reaches the readers who will love it most, on- or offline.


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