Workflow or workslow? Navigating the murky waters of ebooks for photographers

The advent of Print on Demand has made the production of our own photographic books relatively straightforward. A whole new marketplace has emerged.

We can choose high end software such as Adobe InDesign/Affinity Designer and premium printers like Asuka. Or we can opt for the mass market convenience of Blurb Booksmart/Apple Photos and print facilities via Amazon Create Space, Bookbaby, Lulu, Smashwords and many more including Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world.

So far, plain sailing but when it comes ebooks, the storm clouds start to gather. In creating my haiku and photography ebook my workflow dipped into workslow more than necessary. So I thought I’d share my learnings. I’ll start with Assumptions to define what we’re talking about, examine some of the Complications of this market, highlight some Solutions and close with links to Resources.

2 assumptions


This is about production and publishing workflow, not the earlier stages of design/layout.

You are not employing a designer. Obviously if you have the budget, it is a great idea to tap into professional expertise, their contribution will be invaluable and they will hand over ready formatted files. But in the context of this post I’m talking to those who’ve decided to prepare an ebook themselves and don’t work with Adobe InDesign.

This is about ebooks, not printed books.

3 complications


The market evolved around novels for ereaders. So whilst there are plenty of on and offline book creation software options most prefer input from manuscripts and are not suited to design heavy books. Indeed most ereaders aren’t either except for the Kindle Fire.

There is an obvious exception, Apple iBooks Author. An excellent program, with little learning curve especially for anyone familiar with Pages or Keynote, it creates multi-touch books in an .epub format – but is limited to the iBookstore.

Amazon Kindle requires it’s uploads to be in .mobi format. So you’ll need to find converter software or pay to have your book converted from .epub.

Blurb have Booksmart which is simple to use and convenient, especially if you have the Lightroom plug in. Whilst output is not limited to the Blurb bookstore, it is expensive to use if you want to reach Amazon or the iBookstore as you lose 50% of profits in commission.

Enter Blurb Bookwright. This seems like a more developed version of Booksmart. It promises to create files in every format. But judging by the number of complaints on the web in Dec 2015, it is a long way from prime time – perhaps that is why Booksmart is still available.

Then there are the Aggregators. Despite sounding like ‘beings’ from Star Wars, they actually offer a vital range of services. Their main focus is on book printing and global distribution. Amazon may account for 65% of ebook sales but these will be mostly novels and there are many subscription services, hundreds of retailers and tens of thousands of libraries which might provide sales revenue. Additionally Aggregators offer ancillary services such as; book format conversion, cover design, obtaining an ISBN number, book scanning, author promotional packages…etc.

Commission. Again this is complicated. As a rough guide, Amazon Kindle/iBookstore will take 30% commission on ebooks. Blurb will take 20%. The Aggregators each have a different set of packaged services. I found two of the best value to be Bookbaby (0% commission but the retailer takes their %) and ebookpartnership (£35 p.a. flat fee, author retains 100% revenue, they look after US withholding tax issues)

US withholding tax. Royalties from your US book sales will be subject to a 30% withholding tax, unless you are a US Citizen or claim exemption under double taxation agreement. In which case you are liable for the taxable income in your own country. Whether you go direct to Amazon or via most Aggregators you will need to complete the withholding tax paperwork.

Sales tax. This is a particularly important complication. As of 1st January 2015 if you sell an ebook to a consumer living in the European Union you need to charge and account for VAT at the rate applying in their country. Then pay the VAT to that country. As this is complex to implement EU Member States have created the Mini One Stop Shop system (MOSS) where you submit a return to your own tax authority and they distribute the VAT. I recommend reading up on this and asking your accountant for advice.

Selling directly. You may want to bypass all these complications and sell directly from your own website or mix and match the two. Again this requires buying in specialist advice or alternatively doing serious groundwork. The basics you’ll need are an ecommerce plug in like woo commerce or shopify, plus a payment gateway like Paypal or Stripe and an SSL certificate for security if you are considering taking payment by credit card. Each of these carries a cost that needs to be compared to the commission deducted by the main publishers and set against your estimate of likely book sales/profit.

4 solutions 1


There is no one right answer but here are three questions and the answers which helped move me forward.

Who is your target reader?

People generally interested in art, specifically poetry and photography.

Where are they most likely to buy?

If they are browsing, the iBookstore but I lose 30% commission

Also potentially the Amazon store for the Kindle Fire, again losing 30% commission

Where I use social media to direct buyers to a ‘buy now’ link, it makes more sense to use a specialist hosting platform like Payhip who only take 5%

What software should I use?

I used iBooks Author for the epub.

Additionally I discovered a terrific piece of software, Vellum. Founded by two people who worked on blockbusters at Pixar Animation Technologies, this is an elegant solution, allowing real time proofing, which creates a set of files for any or all publishers you choose. Although geared more for novels and lacking some of the sophistication of iBooks Author, the UI is flexible enough to create a visually heavy book. Their support is excellent. The software is free to download, create and proof your book. Producing a set of files for all publishers then costs $29.99.

If, instead of re-creating you have an existing file you want to convert, try Calibre. I haven’t used it but it is free and reviews well on the web.

So my production solution was iBooks Author for epub and Vellum for mobi.

My publishing solution was to upload those files to Payhip and use social media to direct buyers to that site for payment/download. Additionally the ebook is on Amazon/iBookstore for browsers.

(My thanks to fellow admin on The Leica Meet, Stephen Cosh, who alerted me to Payhip :)

5 resources 1


There are a host of options at all stages of the production and publishing process. Here are those I found useful. There are many other good pieces of software out there. If you care to recommend any, please let us all know via your comments.

iBooks Author




ebooks partnership

If you have an epub book but don’t have an iPad, here are some options: – enables reading in Firefox

MagicScroll for Chrome – enable reading in Chrome through this plug in – Adobe Digital Editions is an epub ereader which runs on Windows or Mac.

So we weathered the storm and published our book. But the truth is that we’re only half way through the journey. Now we need to consider Author Marketing! Good luck on your journey.


The ebook I’m referring to here is, ‘On Tongue Tip, Turn a Thousand Times, Moments Frozen in Haiku and Photography’. The title isn’t exactly catchy but it borrows from the definition of haiku by a 17th C master, Basho.

More than simply a book illustrating haiku poems through photography this tells the story of……well I don’t want to spoil it, find out more here!

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