There are basically two ways to self-publish (and by self-publish I mean doing most of the dirty work yourself – not just the writing): the easy way and the hard way. The wide-open highway and the narrow, rock-strewn path with the 1000 metre drop on one side. The tourist charter trip, or the hoist a pack on your back and set off into the wilderness… I think you get the drift by now.
Now, most sensible people would take the easier option. In fact most sensible people would probably stay at home! The problem is, in the self-publishing world, all is not what it seems – and if it seems too easy, then the results will, in all likelihood, be crap. Readers will crucify you. Because, and I’ll lay it on the line here from personal experience, to self publish and make your product look as close to a mainstream published book as possible requires the mental and spiritual equivalent of a commando assault course!
When I started the self-publishing venture a few months ago, I had no idea of what things I needed to know or of how much time and effort it would take. Probably just as well as I’d have run screaming to the hills.
So here is a little resume of my experience, and what I’ve found that works (and doesn’t).
First of all, make sure your manuscript has been edited and proofread. If you have the appropriate skills then you can do many of the things I describe here for yourself, but I would firmly suggest that you always need a professional editor to edit your work. No matter how fantastic you are at picking out mistakes in other peoples’ work, you will, nine times out of ten, not see them in your own. Also, editors will pick out inconsistencies, style issues and grammatical issues. Another professional you may need if you don’t have the skills or software is a graphic designer for the cover and, if necessary, a web designer. In other words, when in doubt and if you value your ‘precious things’, get the professionals in!
Kindle is the most popular e-reader and so to put your e-book in the kindle store makes perfect sense. To do this you’ll have to sign up to having a free account with KDP. The easy road is just to make a PDF from your Word document and sling it up to the Kindle processor. Or else have it converted to a .mobi file elsewhere without any thought to how the formatting comes out at the other end. Please don’t – not if you want a quality product that people will want to read and, more importantly, not have a headache afterwards. I’m afraid the only way to produce a consistently good file for Kindle is to encode your manuscript in HTML code – because that is the way the document is actually generated for the screen. To have all the formatting laid out in HTML means that the book text will look exactly as you want it to.
I’m no expert when it comes to HTML and I’ll admit I was terrified of doing it. But actually, with a helpful guide and a book* which gives you a step-by-step guide, it actually wasn’t that hard at all. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this is the easiest formatting task of them all. I also recommend that you get yourself a good text editor. I’ve tried a few but the best one that I found (for Macs only)was one called Textmate. It’s not cheap, but if you plan on doing a lot of HTML e-book formatting then it will be invaluable. One other program you will need for this is a free one called Calibre which is useful for all sorts of reasons.
E-Pub and other formats
Kindle isn’t the only e-book platform of course, and if you want your book to be available to all, you’ll need to make sure it is also formatted for the other ones. Trust me when I say that the easiest way by far is to sign up to Smashwords, an e-book publisher that deals with all platforms. Saying that is ‘the easiest way’ may lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t be lulled – the way is still strewn with rocks, nettles and things with pointy teeth: you’ll need to say a wampum prayer! Smashwords requires you to format your work in a way that is all its own – although thankfully it also provides you with a guide to doing so. Personally, I think coding in HTML is easier than formatting the Smashwords way, but others may find differently. One word of warning though – follow the formatting guide to the letter otherwise the file you put into Smashwords’ Meatgrinder (the name given to its clever multi-formatting software) will end up coming out like a cheap, nasty and completely inedible hamburger instead of the perfectly formed and tasty little meatballs you expected.
In Part Two, I’ll look at POD, book covers, web sites and publicity.
* How to Format Your eBook for Kindle, NOOK, Smashwords, and Everything Else by Paul Salvette
COMPETITION: In this post and the next I’ve hidden six song-titles by an artist I listened to during the formatting process. The first three people to guess the artist and find all six titles will get a copy of The Devil to Pay and a little gift from my Rosa-Mundi store. There are three titles in this one and three in the next. Good luck!