Self Publishing Guide: Apple’s iBookstore

Welcome to the fourth in the series of articles on submitting your ebook to the various outlets for publication. This guide will focus on Apple’s iBookstore. For the record, if you are thinking of doing this, be prepared to spend some time on it. While Amazon and Barnes & Noble seem to want your books, Apple takes a more, “If you want us to accept your book, you better make damn sure it is perfect” stance. They are not fun, not easy, and frankly, sort of suck. So, if you think you aren’t up for hours of formatting, filling out forms, and searching the Internet for the meanings behind obscure error codes, then read this for fun only. But, if you are like me and can’t stand how you get no stats from Smashwords (which, apparently, is only an issue if you price your book as free), you’ll probably plow through this anyhow.

Again, you’ll want to start with my Amazon Kindle Publishing guide focusing on the formatting. You need to have a word .doc ready to go. I used the same one I made for Kindle, changed appropriate links so that they pointed to the iBookstore rather than to Amazon, and changed the name of the file (for organizational purposes). That’s the easy part. Next, we’re going to have to go through a lengthy conversion process. But first, let’s talk about what you’ll need to even sell through Apple.

Selling in the iBookstore

There are two things you’ll need to even consider selling your book through Apple’s iBookstore. First, your book will need an ISBN. This is a number that identifies the EPUB version that you are selling. You can get one from here. And no, they are not cheap. If you buy them in bulk, they aren’t bad, but individually they are around $125 a pop.  But before you run out and start ordering them, you’ll also need one other thing.

A Tax ID number is something given, generally, to businesses. But, as an individual, you can get one with your SSN. Check out this link for more information. This will garner you a TIN (Taxpayer Identification Number) that you can use for Apple to pay you. You can’t sell books though Apple without it.

Back to the ISBN numbers. If you are going to go this route, you need to consider what you’ll be doing with your book in the future. If you decide you want a print version, you’ll need a second ISBN. An audio version for sale in stores? That’s another ISBN. As you can see, it makes sense to buy more than one. At $125 for one and $250 for 10, I can’t see why you’d buy less than 10. But of course, it is up to you.

Now that you have those two things, we can talk about formatting.


With your Kindle formatted .doc repurposed for iBooks, you need two new programs. If you haven’t downloaded  Calibre, now is the time. You’ll also need a second program called Sigil (I used that link to download it so I know it is safe). First Calibre.

Calibre is a program used to convert from one format to another. Oddly, it doesn’t work with Word .docs (probably just to keep life interesting). So, while you can use Word to save in a number of formats that Calibre will recognize, the one that worked best for me was HTML. When you hit “Save As” select “Web Page”. There is also an option for “Web Page: Filtered” but I didn’t use it.

Next, open Calibre. You’ll need to add your document to the list (there is an “Add Book” button on the left). Next, hit “Edit Metadata”. Here you’ll add your name, publish date, cover, etc. Shouldn’t take long. Last, you’ll hit the “Convert Books” button (these three buttons are all in a row). Make sure your output is EPUB (drop down menu on the right) and that under the EPUB output tab on the bottom left, make sure the “Preserve cover aspect ratio” box is checked.

That’s all I changed when I did my conversion. If you’ve used my Kindle_formatting_Template, that’s all you should have to do as well.


Now, if you take the outputted EPUB version and upload it to your iPad/iPhone/iPod, you’ll say, “Wow, that looks great! I can’t wait to upload it to Apple!” But what Apple will say is, “What’s this shit? Do it again.”

Yeah, I know. Why? Well, because they are Apple and they can.

So, the next step is to open Sigil. Sigil is basically a word processing program that works with the EPUB format natively. So, when you open your document, you’ll want to do two things immediately. First click the “Cleaning With HTML Tidy” button on the far right. This will do…something. I’m not sure what. I know, big help, right? But I had it checked and my book was accepted into iBooks so that’s something. I also had the next button (looks like a red circle with a white dash in the center) labeled “Checking for Well Formed Errors” clicked. Not sure what that does either. But, again, my book got accepted so it, at the very least, didn’t hurt anything.

Next, you’ll want to hit the green check mark (“Validate EPUB” button) on the far right. This checks for errors in your EPUB file.

“Whoa,” you say, “that’s a lot of errors.”

Yes, yes it is. Now the top few will refer to some strange errors talking about media types, OPS documents being reachable, and the like. I have no idea what any of that means. I started past that with the first error that said, “attribute ‘target’ is not declared for element ‘link'”. There were tons of those and ones that read, “attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br'”.

Now, remember: you created this document from another document. If you completely fuck it up, it is fine. You can go back to Calibre and just make a new one.

What is cool about Sigil is that you can click on each one of these error messages to have Sigil take you directly to the error. I did this, and, looking over the errors, I noticed that the first ones with the ‘target’ and ‘link’ had other link statements around them. The rest of the links didn’t have targets so I took out the offending target (from the word “target” to the last quote – make sure you don’t take out the /> because those are important). For the “clear” issues, I took out the text: “clear=”all””. I just deleted it. Then I hit the green check mark again and was left with nothing but those first errors which I had no idea how to fix. I saved the document (it is so nice how you can just hit ‘save’ instead of having to make changes in a word document and then reconvert) and prayed.

I tested the new EPUB file on my iPad and it looked fine. But the other one did too and Apple didn’t like it. So I crossed my fingers and uploaded. It went through without a hitch. Now, as of this writing, it is still under review and not yet in the iBookstore so I don’t know how the final product will look, but all evidence points to it being fine. I even checked it with Apple’s new “Book Proofer” application (under “Deliver Your Content” in the iTunes Connect menu) and it was error free.

Would I Do It Again?

Maybe (hard to say until it actually shows up in the store). As much as I love to badmouth Smashwords (and I do), this is one instance where I might let them take their cut of my sales. First, you don’t have to pay for an ISBN. Second, while I’ve always had weird issues with their formatting for iBooks (some things that should be centered aren’t, while others using the same style formatting are, for no reason I can ascertain), it’s a hell of a lot less pain than the DIY method. Technically (I could be wrong but I don’t think so), if you decide to make any changes to your book once it has an ISBN, you have to give it a new ISBN. And that SUCKS when you think about the cost. So, since Smashwords probably buys them by the thousands and pays less than pennies per ISBN, why not let them suck up the cost?

Lastly, a huge THANK YOU to the makers of Sigil. Without that program, none of this would be possible. If you use the program, I urge you to donate. They certainly deserve it. Again, if you run into any problems, feel free to comment below. I can’t promise to help, but I promise to try. I’ll post more info in the comments below (changing this document as needed) as it becomes available.


If this guide has been helpful, please consider supporting me by buying one of my books

Other Self Publishing Guides:

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble Nook


CreateSpace (coming soon)

15 thoughts on “Self Publishing Guide: Apple’s iBookstore”

  1. Great article and very helpful. I wish there was another source other than Smashwords, but their converter does work very nicely. And saves the ISBN number charges!

    I have managed to get a couple of small booklets onto iBookstore through Smashwords. They’re free, so no stats. My question, if you know: is there a way to clean up the formatting the book page in iBookstore. The text on Smashwords is nicely formatting, but it’s one long sentence on the Apple site.

    I also need to replace the cover image.

    Would this be a matter of just replacing the image on Smashwords?
    And to get the right formatting, so I need to code (HTML) the description on Smashwords so it appears properly on iBookstore?

    Appreciate your post and answer.

    1. Gary,

      Any changes you make to your Smashwords version will eventually be uploaded to all the outlets. If you are having a problem with formatting (long sentences), that’s a conversion issue which means you need to go back to your original document so that the styles are all correct. Most likely, that is your issue. Changing the cover on smashwords will change the cover (eventually) on iBooks.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I’m glad to hear that changes to photos and descriptions will eventually filter through. It’s been interesting to see how each service interprets the data so I can adjust as needed for each.

    BTW: While poking around, I discovered they now will submit ebooks to iBookstore, complete with a free, albeit Lulu-owned, ISBN. There is also some sort of “project control center” where you can opt-in or opt-out of iBookstore, and others, as well as check your stats.

    I have not tried this out yet, but am planning to on a small title.

  3. I think CreateSpace does the same thing but only for Kindle. Most of what I’ve read indicates that there can be conversion problems happen regardless of what service you use. The DIY method is the only way to be sure.

  4. I just checked titles i have in both Createspace and Kindle.

    Createspace can assign a free ISBN or you can purchase or provide you own.
    Kindle doesn’t assign ISBNs at all, but again, you can use your own.

    Lulu seems to have some problems with “price scammers” that a lot of folks get upset about (doesn’t really bother me — I tie in free stuff and support for original purchasers.)

    Ereader formatting was mostly difficult in figuring out what each system “liked.” So far, I just use vanilla Word docs for Kindle and Smashwords, and both conversion engines seem to like those OK. Just tedious to unwrap a carefull-designed layout and lose all control (but then I a control-freak art director…..)

    Isn’t is nice to have all these options?

  5. Thanks Tom! Yours was the ONLY document/place that I could find that offered any help on this matter. Not even Apple had the information you have! lol

    I’m questioning my own sanity at this point. Do I REALLY want to spend that much time on this? What are the rewards? Does anyone know how many books are sold through Apple on a daily, monthly or yearly basis?

    Thanks again!

  6. Suzan,

    For me, iBooks represents half as many sales as Amazon. Same with B&N. So, it isn’t an insignificant number for me. Regardless if you DIY or go through someone like Smashwords, I’d say it is important to be on iBooks.

    1. No doubt. I’m debating if I will even go through the hassle of doing it myself next time. Probably will, but that’s more because I don’t like the Smashwords black box of statistics more than anything else.

  7. Tom,

    Good stuff! You ended the Sigil paragraph saying the book was in review and you didn’t know how it would look. I’m wondering if it made it into the store and if so, how does it look compared with your Book Previewer?

    Thanks for sharing all the great info. I am another frustrated Ibook publishing pioneer.


    1. Jeffrey,

      Came out great. Certainly looks that way on all my devices. Haven’t had any complaints from buyers either.

  8. Tom,

    Congratulations! Can you tell me how long it took from delivering the EPub to Apple to it being reviewed and getting into the bookstore?


    1. Jeffrey,

      It took a few weeks but I submitted just before Christmas so that was, at least, part of the hold up. I eventually set an inquiry email and they responded that they moved my book up in the line. Still took a while after that though.

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