An Experiment in Digital Self Publishing


I’ve written quite a bit of technical and instructional text (perhaps you’ve noticed), but I’ve never been one for writing fiction. While I’ve certainly read enough of the stuff, the idea of actually creating characters, realistic dialog, scenarios, and all the other bits that make a good book have always been too intimidating.

But after seeing the recent successes of my peers on services such as Kindle Direct Publishing, I’ve felt the need to at least consider it. I’m not ready to hammer out a novel anytime soon, but I did think I should experiment a bit with the technical aspect of creating an eBook and getting it approved for distribution.

This article will document some of the things I’ve learned, software I’ve used, and my feelings on the whole concept now that I’ve made my way through the process.

Have Something to Say?

The first step in publishing something is, as you might expect, writing it. But what to write? As I mentioned, I’ve been contemplating facing my fears and writing some fiction, but it hasn’t happened yet. So for this experiment I decided to turn to my collection of previously published (digital and print) work to see what might make a good candidate for conversion.

For the last several years I’ve been writing for “2600: The Hacker Quarterly”, and I’ve developed the habit of putting those articles up on my personal site after their print run. Looking at my site traffic, it was easy to pick out a crowd favorite.

“Mobile Hacking with Android”, originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of 2600 has seen a steady increase in downloads on my site for the last year or so. I imagine the popularity of the article has been increasingly in parallel with Android itself. Since Android’s popularity doesn’t look to be decreasing anytime soon, I figured this was my best shot to get some downloads.

Licensing Concerns

But this title brings some interesting problems to the table, namely, that it is currently (and always will be) freely available online. Beyond being on my personal website, it’s also featured here on The Powerbase, not to mention the physical copies that are floating around from its original publication. Exclusive content, this surely is not.

In my mind, I consider any sales of this eBook to be something of a donation towards my personal research and work, not an actual purchase of the content itself. I wanted to make that clear when putting this work up for sale, so the first thing I did was look into the various licenses available and determine which one would be the most suitable; something that would not prohibit the reproduction and redistribution of the work.

I initially looked into the GNU Free Documentation License, but there are quite a few issues with that particular license; perhaps not least of which that the literal wording of the license could be taken to mean it prohibits distributing the work through systems that make use of DRM (there is some debate as to the intended meaning of this clause, but to date it has not been clarified). The GNU FDL also requires that the full text license be included with the work itself, rather than just being able to point the user to a copy of the license online. This is really a deal-breaker for short form articles, as the license could end up being bigger than the work it’s protecting.

With the GNU offering out of the running, I decided to look into the Creative Commons licenses. I eventually settled on the same license as used for Wikipedia content: “Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported” (CC BY-SA 3.0). The license gives the end user the right to distribute, modify, and sell the work, as long as the original creator is credited and any changes made to the work are made public. The CC license is also a bit more modern in that you can simply point the user to a copy of the license hosted online, rather than bundling the whole thing with your work.

eBook License Notice

eBook License Notice

I came up with this simple license notice page to start my new eBook off with that covers all the bases. It gives the title of the work, the release version and date for the eBook, and then goes on to mention the license (with a link to the full text) and the source material for the work on my website. It’s considered good practice to include the appropriate logo for the specific version of Creative Commons license you’ve chosen, which are available from the CC site.

Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: .

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  • Britt

    This article is very informative. Do you feel Sigil is a program that can be used by anyone, no matter their technological ability?