How to sell public domain e-books

Table of contents:

How to sell public domain e-books
How to sell public domain e-books

A book is in the public domain when it is not protected by copyright. Generally, it is possible to publish and sell e-books in the public domain. However, you will have to research which online platforms they can be sold on. Each platform has its own rules, which change all the time. For example, to sell on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you generally have to add original content to the public domain book, such as illustrations or a study guide. Before publishing, create an account with each online publisher and then format the book for upload. Set a price that is competitive.


Part 1 of 3: Review where you can post

Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 1
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 1

Step 1. Identify possible publishing platforms

You can sell directly on many popular ISP platforms, which also serve as publishing platforms. You must upload the electronic file for the platform to convert it into an electronic book. Then, you will need to include information about the book and choose a sale price. If you decide not to use any of these platforms, then you will have to create your own e-commerce website and fight for visibility. The most popular platforms include the following:

  • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing
  • Apple iBooks
  • Barnes and Noble Nook Press
  • Google play
  • Kobo Writing Life
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 2
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 2

Step 2. Get the vendor listing requirements

Each one has different rules for posting content. You should explore the sites and find the terms of service for each one. Read them carefully to see if the provider allows you to post public domain content and what the current terms and conditions are.

  • Kobo, for example, will only give you 20% royalties on public domain titles.
  • Apple iBooks and Nook Press have also previously refused to sell public domain works.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 3
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 3

Step 3. Check if a free version already exists

Amazon will not allow you to post a public domain title if a free version already exists in their store. You should search the Amazon site to see if a title is already for sale.

It's okay if a title already exists as long as it's not for sale for free

Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 4
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 4

Step 4. Determine how to make the book different

Amazon, for example, allows you to publish the title in the public domain if you make a differentiation with the book. The book will experience differentiation if you do the following:

  • You offer a unique translation. This means translating the book. Don't use an online translation app or a public domain translation.
  • Include unique annotations, such as literary critiques, study guides, detailed biographies, or historical context.
  • You provide 10 or more unique illustrations that relate to the book.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 5
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 5

Step 5. Confirm that the work is in the public domain

Don't assume that finding a book on the Internet guarantees that it is in the public domain. Also, you should not assume that a work is not copyrighted because it lacks a copyright notice. Instead, you should analyze each book individually based on the following:

  • Certain types of works are not eligible for copyright protection as they are common property, such as calendars or works produced by the United States government.
  • In the United States, a book is in the public domain if it was published before 1923. The safest material you can use is that which was published before 1923.
  • If the work was published after 1923 but before 1978, then it is in the public domain if the publication did not include a valid copyright protection notice.
  • If the book was published after 1923 but before 1964, it is in the public domain if the copyright has not been renewed. You can check if a work has been renewed by looking at the Copyright Office, if you live in the United States. However, be careful. The works may have been registered under different names. You will cause a lawsuit for copyright infringement if you publish a work that is protected.
  • Copyrights for books published after 1978 will not expire until the middle of this century. The only way they are part of the public domain is if the author has donated them to the public domain. There must be a notice of this on the work.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 6
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 6

Step 6. Stay informed

Online publications change rapidly. Vendors change their terms and conditions at will, and what was legal six months ago may no longer be legal today. Accordingly, stay up-to-date on the posting requirements.

  • Join different independent publisher message boards so you can stay up-to-date with changes to each publisher's terms and conditions.
  • Also check your accounts regularly. Books may be withdrawn from sale without notice, so always check.

Part 2 of 3: Create the eBook

Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 7
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 7

Step 1. Create publisher accounts

You can upload content directly to most publishing platforms, but you must first create an account. Each provider will guide you step by step to create an account with them. For example, do the following:

  • Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: You can create a publishing account by signing in with your Amazon customer account. If you don't have a customer account, then create one. Kindle will ask for your contact information and banking information so they can pay you.
  • Apple iBooks: You will need a Mac with OS X 10, 9 to create an account. Alternatively, you will have to use a collector, but many of these collectors, such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital, do not accept public domain books.
  • Barnes and Noble Nook Press - Provide your email address and password to create an account.
  • Google Play: You will need a Gmail account to create a Google Play account. Google only occasionally allows people to create publisher accounts on Play, so always check.
  • Kobo Writing Life: Visit and click "Create an account."
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 8
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 8

Step 2. Prepare the book file

Online editors allow you to upload different document formats, which are then converted into e-books. For example, Amazon KDP allows you to upload files in Word, EPUB, MOBI, Rich Text Format (RTF), Plain Text (TXT), Adobe PDF, or HTML. However, Amazon recommends that you upload files in Word, using the. DOC or. DOCX format.

  • Remember to include a title page on the front. You will need to identify the title and author of the public domain work. You will also need to identify any original contributions, such as the creator of the illustrations.
  • Include a copyright notice on any original contribution.
  • You should also include a table of contents. This is complicated. You should use the "Insert table" function in Word.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 9
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 9

Step 3. Format the book

Formatting needs to be done correctly, or else the book will look weird after it goes through the conversion process. If you're publishing to Amazon KDP, remember the following tips for a clean presentation:

  • Don't use the "Tab" key to create an indentation. Instead, go to "Layout" or "Page layout." Choose the indentation, such as 0.5 inches (1.5 cm). You must set the indentation of the paragraph before compiling the book.
  • It also inserts a page break after each chapter. If you don't, then the text will display all together.
  • To insert an image using Word, select "Insert"> "Image"> and then the file you want to insert.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 10
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 10

Step 4. Create a cover

You can create your own cover or use Amazon's Cover Creator. The cover creator will guide you through the steps to choose a design and the arrangement of the elements. You can wait to use it when you upload the files. Remember the following tips when creating a cover:

  • KDP accepts JPEG and TIFF files for the cover image.
  • The height to width ratio should be 8: 5. The shortest side must be a minimum of 625 pixels, while the longest side must be a minimum of 1000 pixels.
  • The cover image cannot be larger than 50MB.
  • Cover art that is white or very light in color should have a thin edge added to make it stand out.

Part 3 of 3: Publish and Sell

Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 11
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 11

Step 1. Create the details of the book

On Amazon KDP, you need to go to the shelf page: You will need to complete the information about the book, such as:

  • The language of the book.
  • Title of the book. Remember to include the words "Translated", "Illustrated", "Commented" in the title of the book. The tag you use will depend on the original content you have provided. For example, if you have provided detailed biographical essays or a study guide, then you should use the "Commented" tag.
  • Author's name. Remember to include the name of the person who wrote the public domain work.
  • Collaborators. For example, you can select "Translator" and then include your name.
  • Description. You can use 4000 characters to describe the book. Remember to include information about what you have added to the book. For example, "New Illustrations."
  • Public domain work.
  • Keywords. You can select up to seven keywords. These keywords help customers find the book. If you're posting Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights," don't choose generic keywords such as "goth." Instead, be creative.
  • The category, such as "Fiction", "Non-fiction", etc.
  • The age and educational level of the reader.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 12
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 12

Step 2. Upload the files

Now you are ready to upload your Word document (or other file) and cover image. If you need to use the cover creator to make a cover, then you can do it right now.

  • You can also preview the book using the Online Previewer. Check the entire e-book for errors.
  • KDP will also identify typographical errors. Please review them carefully as the program sometimes identifies words that are spelled correctly.
  • Common mistakes include using the "Tab" key to set the indentation and not inserting images correctly. If you find any errors in the format, then go back to the Word document and make corrections before uploading the corrected document again.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 13
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 13

Step 3. Select a price

Amazon KDP sets a minimum price of $ 0.99. To get 70% royalties, you need to price the book between $ 2.99 and $ 9.99. If the price is below or above those amounts, then you will get royalties from the 35%.

  • Generally, works in the public domain are only eligible for royalties of 35%.
  • If you want to be eligible for 70% royalties, you must post an original translation or add substantial original content to the public domain title. KDP does not define "substantial," which will likely be decided on a case-by-case basis.
  • You should also set a competitive price. Check the price for which the other versions of the book are sold on each vendor's website. You can price yourself a little higher if you are providing substantial additional value. However, in general you should not set it too high.
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 14
Sell Public Domain eBooks Step 14

Step 4. Obtain the copyright of your original contribution

If you are providing a study guide or academic essays in a public domain title, be sure to obtain the copyright to your material. You cannot copyright material in the public domain, but you must protect your own original contributions.

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