So, I’ve decided to kick things up a notch and tell you what you need to know about epublishing in a single post rather than in multiple broken-up posts for two reasons: one, it’ll be easier for you to keep everything straight and two, I’m getting tired of writing about epublishing. I know, how dare I? Trust me, when all you do all day is think about ebooks and writing and sales numbers, you’ll know what I mean. But I made a promise, and I’m not one to break my word. I said I’d tell you about the nitty gritty, and I’m going to do it. We’ll just do it in a quick sweep rather than an elongated, uh… sweep. Here we go.
We already talked about what it takes to become an indie, and we discussed the pro’s and con’s of using pseudonyms. We even went into the mysteries of whether or not you need an ISBN, so that’s all covered. We won’t backtrack.
Where To Publish Your Ebook
The main platforms to publish to are: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, the Sony ebook store, Borders Kobo, and Smashwords.
Amazon and B&N make up over 90% of the ebook market, so you’ll want to get published on these two platforms without a doubt. For Amazon, you’re going to sign up for a Kindle Direct Publishing account. For Barnes & Noble, you’re going to use their PubIt platform. Both pages will walk you through the process of signing up.
Apple, Sony, and Kobo are where it gets more complicated, and this is why many authors turn to Smashwords. The only effective way to get published on these devices is to upload your file through a third party vendor.
Unfortunately, Smashwords is not my favorite place. Their web layout is cumbersome and their system of uploading your file through their ‘meat grinder’ to obtain these various book formats is both unnerving and hit-and-miss. I’m not going to go into Smashwords in this tutorial because I’m not a fan, and I’ll end up telling you more about why I dislike them than why you should use their system. If you’re dead-set on getting onto Apple, Sony, and Kobo, you’ll more than likely have to go through Smashwords to do it. Sign on to the site and search for their ‘Style Guide’. This will explain how to go about getting your files onto the site and uploaded to various vendors.
If you tackle the Smashwords process and think ‘god, this is impossible’ (and you very well might), some advice: don’t sweat it. If you’re on Amazon and B&N, you’ve got the market covered. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. And from what I’ve heard from Apple users, they hardly use the iBookstore themselves. They download the Kindle app to their phones and iPads and buy directly from Amazon.
Ebook formats are confusing because at the moment, different ereaders require different formats. I’m sure that eventually we’ll only have one format; Amazon has recently announced that rather than .mobi files, they’ll soon be switching to .epub files, which is what Barnes & Noble uses and is a much simpler file to work with. But for now, we must continue the struggle.
Formatting for Kindle and Nook
I don’t do my own formatting, so I’m going to let my husband Will take it away on this one.
Formatting is tedious but pretty easy.
The Smashwords style guide, while containing some tasty tidbits of useful info here and there, is organized poorly and there isn’t really a way to just cut to the chase. I found myself becoming frustrated while reading it. What I wanted was a step by step checklist of “how to take my b-e-a-utiful novel in MSWord .doc format and turn it into an ebook”. At 71 pages, the Smashwords Style Guide just wasn’t cutting it. Fair warning–my simple guide will work best for most fiction, since there isn’t much complicated formatting in a novel. So here it is: my simple “how-to build an ebook”.
The first thing to realize is, you’re doing it wrong. No matter what you’ve done to prepare, no matter what style sets you’ve been told to create in MSWord by other people or “how-to” guides… there are going to be about ten thousand things to fix in your existing document to convert it seamlessly, successfully, into an ebook. This is why my step number one is
1. Start by throwing away all your existing formatting.
“But why?” you may ask. Listen. It’s going to take much longer to comb your way through your manuscript and fix every little formatting inconsistency (which you may not even be able to do) than to start from scratch, and use some of the wonderfully handy tools Microsoft has built into Word since the beginning of time. The Smashwords Style Guide calls this method the Nuclear Method.
- This should go without saying, but number one: save a copy of your unmolested novel in a safe place. Just create a copy of the dang file and put it on your desktop. Thumb drive. CD-R. Whatever.
- Then, open your masterpiece and select all (ctrl+a), copy it (ctrl+c), open Notepad (or its equivalent on a Mac, I’m just not savvy enough to know what the heck that might be) and paste the entire novel into Notepad (ctrl+v). Notepad is beautiful in it’s simplicity. It understands extremely simple formatting… carriage returns, tabs, and not much else. It will throw away all the stuff you’re not going to need, like styles that may have been selected back and forth (even without you knowing) by uh, I dunno, perhaps opening your document to work on it on multiple machines during the course of your writing? We’ve all done it. And it creates ugly formatting when your novel makes it to the finish line. So just…follow step one, okay? At this point, leave your original MSWord document open. We’ll come back to it later.
2. Create the style sets in MSWord that you’ll use to format your book.
Instead of using tabs at the beginning of paragraphs, making different indents for certain passages and the like, use the style sets feature in MSWord to do all the formatting for you. Many people don’t know that you can create a style set in Word that automatically indents for you at the beginning of each paragraph. Or that creates additional line spacing (if you want it) at the end of each paragraph. These style sets save you from needing to use tabs and carriage returns they way many of us are used to, which can confuse some e-reading devices and make our books look ugly. Let’s start with the style you’ll use most, for the body of the novel. In 99% of cases, the body of a novel will not have spaces between paragraphs and will have the first line indented. Here’s how to create this style set.
- Open MSWord and create a new document.
- Assuming you’re using Word 2007 or later: open the “styles” menu (ctrl+shift+alt+s). Click the “new style” button in the bottom left corner of the box that appears.
- Name this new style whatever you want (“ebook body”, “main text”, “dirty hobo”, whatever), style type: paragraph, style based on: normal.
- Right below that, modify the “formatting” section: choose your font and font size. Times New Roman size 12 is recommended. If you choose an unusual font, something may be lost in translation when your document is converted to ebook format. And even if you don’t like size 12, that’s pretty much tough. Ebooks give the reader the luxury of choosing their own font size anyway. Most devices will display your ebook by default on what the device thinks is an “average” size, which is roughly size 12 font.
- Click the “format” button in the bottom left corner of the window, and select “paragraph” from the drop down menu.
- Look at the “indentation” section in the window that pops up. Under “special”, select “first line” in the drop down menu. To the right, select the size you want your indent to be. I would recommend at least 0.5″ but no more than 1.0″.
- Look at the “spacing” section. Under “line spacing” select “single” in the drop down menu.
- Click “ok”, and then “ok” again on the next menu.
You can create additional style sets for different sections of text. For example, if you want your chapter headings to be big and bold and to take up half a page, you can create a different style set, add extra spacing (see above) below and after each paragraph, zero indent if you’d like, and use whatever font choice you’d like. Stick with Times New Roman, but have fun with the formatting (bold, italic, font size, whatever). Just know that some formats of ebooks really aren’t compatible with crazy font sizes. You may select a size 30 font for your title, or chapter heading, and be disappointed to see that in some ebook formats, it doesn’t appear much bigger than your body text. That’s just life I’m afraid.
3. Paste the body of your novel back into MSWord
You still have Notepad open with your stripped down novel inside, right?
- Bring up Notepad, select all (ctrl+a), copy it (ctrl+c), bring up the empty MSWord document that you created your style sets in, and paste your novel into it (ctrl+v).
- If Word didn’t do this automatically, make sure to select the correct style set for the body (“dirty hobo” for me). Select all (ctrl+a), and then click the appropriate style set above.
4. Start editing.
You’re not done, Sunshine. First you’ll need to display all the proofing marks in your document, and then remove redundancies.
- Click the round “Office Button” in the top left corner. Under “prepare”, select “properties”. Use the window that appears to fill in the meta data for your document. Author name, book title, keywords, etc. This is important.
- Click the round “Office Button” in the top left corner again, and select the “Word Options” button at the bottom of the menu.
- In the left hand column, select “display” (ctrl+d). In the middle section, “always show these formatting marks on the screen”, select “show all formatting marks” (alt+a). Then click “ok”.
- Your document now looks very different. The first thing to do is remove all the tabs from your document. For this, use the “find and replace” function in Word (ctrl+h). In the “find what” box, type “^t” (no quotation marks please). Leave the “replace with” box blank. Click “replace all”. This will get rid of all your tabs in the document, and allow the style set indent you selected earlier (0.5″ to 1.0″, remember?) to appear correctly.
- For blocks of text you would like to appear differently, like the title page, chapter headings, indented paragraphs, etc. just highlight them and select the style you created for those passages earlier, in step 2.
While you’re at it, get rid of instances of multiple empty lines. Pressing “enter” four, five, six times in a row will create large blank spots on the page that might look okay on your computer screen, but will confuse most ereading devices and may create blank pages. Remember, use custom style sets to create those same effects. This is a great time to go through and create page breaks (ctrl+enter) at the end of each chapter, after the title and copyright pages, etc. While you’re at it, insert your cover image at the beginning of your document. You do have a cover image, don’t you?
Next: you may have noticed that using the Nuclear Method described above erased all bold and italicized effects. You’ll now need to manually re-do this formatting. Here is the easiest way I know how:
- Bring up the original, unmolested Word document you left open earlier.
- Bring up “find” (ctrl+f).
- Click the “more” button at the bottom of the window.
- Click the “format” button at the bottom of the expanded window, and select “font”.
- Under “font style”, select “italic”. Click “ok”.
- Now, the “find what” box should be blank. Under that, it should say “format: font: italic”. Click the “reading highlight” button, and select “highlight all”.
- Every italicized word in your document is now highlighted.
Repeat the last few steps for bold. Now your bold and italic text in the original document are highlighted, and easy to find. Here comes the tedious part: click back and forth between the original and “clean” versions of your novel and use the highlighted (original) copy to show you which words in the clean copy need to be italicized and made bold. To make this easier, I like to use a keyboard shortcut to flip back and forth (alt+tab).
5. Prepare to submit your novel for conversion to ebook format.
Here’s the thing. I kinda, sorta, dislike Smashwords’ Meat Grinder. It tries to take a single document and convert it to many different formats. I’ve seen the output, and I am almost always disappointed with the results. So when I can avoid using it, I will. I recommend authors submit manually to Amazon (http://kdp.amazon.com) and to Barnes and Noble (http://pubit.barnesandnoble.com), and then just let Smashwords do the rest for you (submission to Sony, Kobo, and the Apple iBookstore are notoriously annoying–if not impossible–for indie authors to tackle themselves without the help of a service such as Smashwords). Here’s what to do:
- Save the fresh copy of your book you’ve been creating. Save two extra copies, too. You’re going to submit one to Amazon, one to B&N, and one to Smashwords. The reason you need three versions of your book? Amazon supports page breaks (ctrl+enter) and for the most part, B&N and Smashwords prefer section breaks (breaks menu–>next page). Soooo… go through the B&N and Smashwords copies of your book and replace the page breaks with section breaks (next page). Then, edit the title page of the Smashwords copy with the required copyright information (they require that you mention something like “copyright 2011 by John Doe, Smashwords edition” to get past their Auto-vetter. Obviously the Amazon and B&N versions won’t want that extra verbiage.
That’s all I have on the subject. There are little things you might discover you need to do along the way, but I trust you can handle the small stuff. The nice thing about submitting to Amazon and B&N on your own? Your book shows up on their site within days, instead of weeks or months, if you rely on Smashwords. Happy editing!
Digital Rights Management
Digital Rights Management, otherwise known as ‘DRM’, is a way to protect your ebook from illegal downloads. Every author has a different opinion on DRM. Some say that it’s our right as writers to protect our work, others say it’s an ineffective way to protect something that, if someone really wants to, can hack anyway. I’m of the second group.
Ultimately, it’s your decision whether you want to put DRM in place for your work or not, but I’ve chosen against it. If someone wants to rip off a $.99 ebook, good for them. As long as I don’t know about it, it isn’t going to make me lose sleep at night. If you want to delve into DRM further, here’s a good article on the topic.
You’ll be prompted to select or reject DRM for your book when you’re publishing to various vendors.
The Myth That Publishing An Ebook Is Free
Everywhere you go, you’ll hear that one of the pro’s of publishing your ebook online is that it’s fast and free and awesome. Let me burst that little bubble for you: if you want to publish your ebook and you don’t want to spend a penny doing it, don’t bother, because you aren’t going to make a penny on that sorry state of affairs once it’s available for purchase.
As an indie, you’re your own publisher, and as such, you need to treat yourself like a business. No business person who wants to be taken seriously is going to hand-write their business cards. No business is going to make signage out of poster board and colored markers. Sure, you could do that, but you’ll end up looking sloppy, unprofessional, and the people who stumble onto your book are going to blink at your clumsy cover. If you get any sample downloads, it’s going to be out of sheer morbid curiosity rather than a serious consideration for purchasing your work.
The areas you should seriously consider spending money to make your book the best it can be are as follows:
Editing: Don’t fret, there are plenty of freelance editors that will work on your manuscript on the cheap. To find someone who will help, visit KindleBoards. Do not try to do your final edits yourself. I repeat, do not try do do your final edits yourself. As the writer of your book, you know what the story is about, you know what the flow is supposed to be like, you know how certain sections are supposed to read. This makes it so easy to miss mistakes. Your brain auto-corrects them, and you won’t find them even if you read your manuscript a dozen times.
I had four people look over Seed before it was published, and people are still finding typos. They’re minor, but that’s what you want: minor typos. If you have major ones, you’re in a heap of trouble.
Book Cover Design: Unless you’re amazing at Photoshop or your best friend is going for their masters in marketing design, you should really consider hiring a cover designer. This was where I spent the most money, but its paid off. I’ve had people tell me that my cover won them over when they were considering whether or not to purchase Seed. This is coming from people whom I don’t know personally, people who are real-life book buyers. Have I recouped the amount of money I put into my cover design via sales? Not yet. Will I? Absolutely.
Cover design is another one of those things where if you don’t get it professionally done, people can immediately tell. Book buyers are smart. They’re savvy and they know what they’re looking for. The moment they raise an eyebrow at any part of your presentation is a bad moment. You don’t want to make them doubt your writing ability, especially with crappy cover art. At the worst, visit some stock photography sites and buy yourself a stock image. There’s some stunning photography out there that you can use for a cover, but it comes at a price. My favorite cover art sites are iStock and CanStockPhoto. (CanStock is the most reasonably priced stock photo site I’ve been able to find so far.)
Advertising: This is optional, though some indies like to experiment with it. I haven’t invested much into advertising, but I have tried Facebook ads. I can’t say that I’ve seen any real change in my sales, so I’ll probably discontinue that when my ad campaign comes to an end, but there are many more advertising opportunities that may strike your fancy if you’re into that sort of thing. If you are, you’ll need money for it. It isn’t a requirement, but it’s nice to have some funds set aside just in case you see an opportunity way too good to pass up.
Copyrights: People assume that because you wrote your book, you’re automatically granted the copyright. It’s your book, after all. Who else would own the rights? But rights are tricky. They’re like an insurance policy, and as we all know, insurance isn’t free. You do not need to legally copyright your work in order to publish it, and I’ve heard many authors say that they don’t bother. However, if you get into a legal battle with some jerk for using parts of your work–say, a cool quote your character said–to market lame t-shirts on Zazzle, you’re going to need to back up your claim to rights in a court of law. Contrary to popular belief, sticking your manuscript and mailing it to yourself (poor man’s copyright) does not a copyright make. You have to apply for a copyright through the copyright office. It costs around $35 bucks to do.
ISBNs: We’ve already talked about ISBN’s in a previous post, but these cost a pretty penny. If you absolutely want one, you’ll need to buy these for yourself.
Web Presence: I’ve seen so many writers tell each other that a website isn’t necessary in this industry, that any old blog will do. I beg to differ. Yes, you can host your blog directly on your site, but to do that you need to have a site in the first place. Sure, there are places out there that’ll let you make a site for free with ads and pop-ups and all of those horrible things that send your visitors running for the hills. My advice: buy yourself a domain name. It makes you look like you’re serious about what you’re doing. I use Moonfruit. They’re super user-friendly and have a bunch of templates you can use if you aren’t too keen on stuff like designing websites.
What About Pricing?
Pricing your ebook is one of those things that you have to decide for yourself. There are multiple arguments for pricing your book at $2.99 and above straight out of the gate, and even more for pricing at $.99, especially when you’re just getting started. I can’t tell you which method is right for you. It all comes down to what you’re comfortable doing, and whether you’re willing to give up profits for a wider readership.
I decided to price Seed at $.99 because it’s my only available novel at the moment. When my second novel is released toward the end of the year, I’ll more than likely hike up the price on Seed to $2.99 and price the new one at $.99. Doing it this way gives readers that liked Seed a bonus of being able to buy my second book for the cheapest price possible, while also giving people who haven’t heard of me incentive to try out my work without more than risking a dollar of their hard-earned money. At this point it’s more important to me to have good sales numbers than a hefty paycheck, so this is the approach I’ve chosen. Ultimately, you’ll have to make your own choice on what’ll work best for you.
I’m Published! Now What?
There are a lot of authors out there that put in the time and effort to produce a book only to abandon it after it’s ‘on the internet’. I don’t understand why authors do this. Just because your book is available for purchase doesn’t mean people will know it’s there, let alone know how to find it. Fresh novels need a good amount of coddling before they’ll be able to sustain sales on their lonesome.
Social Networking: That’s right, you’ve got to be social… and not just social, but approachable and friendly. Social networking is a scary concept to some. You’re essentially putting yourself out there and hoping people will take a liking to you. Some people aren’t cut out for this sort of thing in the least, their personality just doesn’t lend to it. Unfortunately, in this day and age you need to learn how to market yourself, and a big part of that is being active on social networks. If you don’t have one already, make a Twitter and Facebook account. Learn how to use these networks to your advantage. The more people you know the wider your reach into a potential book-buying market.
Another good place to make connections is Goodreads. This is an online community of authors and readers where you can participate on message boards, meet new people, create lists of your favorite books, and connect with like-minded readers.
Blogging: Should you have a blog? Yes. Do you need to update it every day? No. As a new author, your job is to try and make yourself as visible on the web as possible. A blog is just another way to get your name out there. You can blog about anything, be in the genre you write in or your upcoming vacation. People are curious and they like to delve into the lives of others, especially if those ‘others’ are authors of books they enjoy reading. I suggest going through WordPress simply because it’s the service I use. WordPress is user friendly once you get the hang of their platform, and they offer dozens of templates to customize your blog with a click of a button.
Well, that’s it for me. If I went into more detail I may as well write a book and charge for it, right? Lucky for you, some successful ebook authors have done just that. If you want more guidance, Zoe Winter’s book Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author is a great book to add to your arsenal of information.
Karen McQuestion has also provided a helpful page with tons of links that will help you out along the way: Helpful Sites For Self-Publishers
In closing, I hope that this quick overview has answered a good deal of your questions. Self-publishing is intimidating until you get elbow-deep in it. It isn’t impossible, so don’t let the naysayers tell you otherwise. All it takes is some hard work and patience, and you’ll eventually get to where you want to be: a published author.
Good luck, and happy writing!