So, you’ve written a book — congratulations! What now?

Unless you just want your book to sit on your hard drive or print it out to share with a few friends, you have two main choices: (1) write query letters to traditional publishers in the hopes they decide to publish you, or (2) self-publish, releasing your book on your own. This article focuses on the self-publishing option, and specifically self-publishing your work as an e-book through Smashwords (check here for tips on print self-publishing).

Once you upload your e-book (as a Microsoft Word document) to Smashwords, they will convert it for you into multiple formats, and then will not only sell it from their own site, but will distribute it to a growing list of e-book retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple, and Diesel. The best part about this is that Smashwords doesn’t charge any up-front fees for conversion or distribution (they even give you a free ISBN, which is required to distribute through Apple), they instead keep 15% of the royalties you earn through sales. This allows you to get started with no out-of-pocket expense, and you can remove your books from distribution (or elect only certain channels) at any time. It is up to you to decide whether it is worth a 15% cut for Smashwords to convert your book for you, distribute it to multiple retailers, and consolidate your sales and payment reports in one place.

How to Get Started

The first thing you’ll need is a novel (or short story) in electronic format, probably in Microsoft Word. For purposes of creating an e-book, you generally want to strip out all the fancy formatting you might use in a printed book: get rid of fancy fonts (just put everything in Times New Roman), strange indents or block quotes, and weird symbols. You can keep bold and italics, and smart quotes and em dashes should translate properly, although they sometimes cause problems. It’s generally better to use first-line paragraph indents in Word (instead of hitting the tab key — and never use spaces to indent paragraphs). Do not leave blank lines between paragraphs, since some e-book readers add them and you’ll end up with triple spacing! The basic rule is: the simpler, the better. Various e-book readers will display your text in different ways, and users can adjust font sizes at will, so just forget about the idea of controlling every aspect of how the text will look and where pages within a chapter break (like you would in a printed book), and keep the formatting clean and simple. Do not use multiple line breaks, those look terrible on the screen — use a blank line and a row of asterisks to indicate chapter or section breaks instead.

The second thing you’ll need is a front cover, which should be in 2:3 ratio. It should be at least 800 pixels tall, although you’ll be using the same image (along with a spine and back cover) if you make a paperback, and that requires at least 300 dpi, so it’s best to make it high-resolution to begin with (1800×2700 pixels for a 6×9 paperback). Any interior art (like an “about the author” photo) should be black and white and at least 150 dpi. The less interior art, the simpler it will be.

Smashwords Formatting

Smashwords has an excellent free Style Guide that will help you prepare your Microsoft Word document for upload. It basically explains how to do what I said above: simplify and clean up your Word document, remove line breaks and extraneous formatting that translates poorly to e-books, etc. You can then upload your Word file and Smashwords will convert that file to all the e-book formats you need, including MOBI and ePub.

Like I said above, it definitely helps to keep your formatting simple, and follow the instructions in the Style Guide. E-book formatting can be an arduous process when you’re first learning, and it’s easier to follow the Style Guide instead of fighting it.

For a little more detail on a weird e-book formatting problem I had (which prevented my books from passing the dreaded ePubCheck), check out this post: Formatting for Smashwords and ePubCheck.

Conclusion

The simplest way to get your e-book distributed as widely as possible and looking pretty good is to: (1) read and follow the Smashwords Style Guide, (2) create a Word document with simple, clean formatting, (3) upload that Word document to Smashwords and let them convert it for you, and (4) enter your book’s information, description, price, etc. at Smashwords, and (5) opt in to all the distribution channels you want. You should end up with a nice-looking e-book, and it will be available on B&N, Kobo, Apple, Sony, and other e-book sellers. (At this time, Smashwords doesn’t distribute to Amazon or Google, although they have been working on Amazon distribution for a while. You can distribute directly to Amazon through their KDP platform.)

I do recommend the Smashwords service, and use it to distribute my own novels. Check them out on Smashwords here!

Read an E-Book Week Sale

Posted by Always Write at 12:32 AM Tagged with: ,
Mar 092011

Right Ascension

In celebration of “Read an E-Book Week” (March 6–12), I’m running a sale on my e-books at Smashwords this week. My e-books at Smashwords are DRM-free, and are available in multiple formats, including MOBI (for the Kindle), ePub (for the B&N Nook, Kobo, Sony, and Apple iPad), PDF, and more. You can also read a lengthy sample (25%) of any of my books there.

Until March 12, you can get Right Ascension or Declination for 25% off — just click the links below and use the coupon code “RAE25” at checkout:

And, just because I’m feeling cheeky and wanted to get into the “Read an E-Book Week” spirit, I’ve knocked 50% off the price of The Twiller. Just use coupon code “RAE50” through the link below:

I hope you enjoy them if you decide to give them a shot this week! Happy e-reading!

Mar 042011

I appreciate being in such great company!

I received a pleasant surprise tonight when catching up on my blog reading: Mark Coker, founder of the e-book distribution service Smashwords (which I use to distribute my e-books to Kobo, Apple, and Sony) mentioned me as one of “50 indie authors to watch” on his latest blog post, which includes a presentation about the upheaval of the publishing industry. As more and more self-published authors like Amanda Hocking and J.A Konrath “break out” (Hocking is closing in on 1 million e-book sales!), and e-books garner a larger and larger share of the book market, we will reach a tipping point where big-name authors wonder why they’re giving publishers the lion’s share of their book proceeds. They’ll compare the 8%–17.5% royalties they get from legacy publishers to the 70% they can earn on their own. They’ll realize they can pay a fixed fee to skilled editors and cover designers and formatters, and retain artistic control, pricing flexibility, and the majority of the proceeds. And they’ll realize they can achieve worldwide distribution through Amazon and services like Smashwords, without their legacy publishers.

The authors on the list above have proven that legacy publishers are missing out on — actually, rejecting is the better word — some very talented authors. Do check out Mark’s blog post and presentation here, and check out Smashwords to find some very good, inexpensive, DRM-free e-books in multiple formats from some of these talented indie authors.

To follow up on my earlier post about print-on-demand paperback self-publishing options, here is a primer to help you create, format, upload, and distribute your writing in e-book format. The best part is that the process I detail below is 100% free. Always be wary of anyone charging you money in relation to publishing your book — not that it’s never a good idea to get some professional help, but you should know exactly what you’re paying for and whether it’s worth it.

The down side to spending zero money on your e-book is that you have to do all the work. Cover design, editing, formatting, uploading, promoting, etc. Don’t expect to spend an hour and have a nice-looking, professionally-formatted e-book. I’ve spent many, many hours getting my e-book files just right (ensuring proper indents, special characters, interior images, and tables of contents in various electronic formats). Hopefully, my experience can save you some time.

The first thing you’ll need is a novel (or short story) in electronic format, probably in Microsoft Word. For purposes of creating an e-book, you generally want to strip out all the fancy formatting you might use in a printed book: get rid of fancy fonts (just put everything in Times New Roman), strange indents or block quotes, and weird symbols. You can keep bold and italics, and smart quotes and em dashes should translate properly, although they sometimes cause problems. It’s generally better to use first-line paragraph indents in Word (instead of hitting the tab key — and never use spaces to indent paragraphs). Do not leave blank lines between paragraphs, since some e-book readers add them and you’ll end up with triple spacing! The basic rule is: the simpler, the better. Various e-book readers will display your text in different ways, and users can adjust font sizes at will, so just forget about the idea of controlling every aspect of how the text will look and where pages within a chapter break (like you would in a printed book), and keep the formatting clean and simple. Do not use multiple line breaks, those look terrible on the screen — use a blank line and a row of asterisks to indicate chapter or section breaks instead.

The second thing you’ll need is a front cover, which should be in 2:3 ratio. It should be at least 800 pixels tall, although you’ll be using the same image (along with a spine and back cover) if you make a paperback, and that requires at least 300 dpi, so it’s best to make it high-resolution to begin with (1800×2700 pixels for a 6×9 paperback). Any interior art (like an “about the author” photo) should be black and white and at least 150 dpi. The less interior art, the simpler it will be.

Amazon

Amazon is the most important e-book distributor; it still probably accounts for somewhere between 50% and 80% of all e-book sales. You publish e-books to the Amazon Kindle store using Amazon’s free Digital Text Platform (DTP) service at dtp.amazon.com. There, you can enter info about your book (author name, description, price, etc.) and upload your e-book cover and interior file. Amazon pays either 35% or 70% royalties; there’s more info in my recent post here.

You can upload the interior file in MOBI (the Kindle’s native format), or DTP will convert it for you if you upload an HTML or Word file. MOBI is best; HTML should be OK, Word is iffy. You can create MOBI files using the free Calibre (Mac or PC) or MobiPocket Creator (PC only) programs. A full MOBI or HTML tutorial is beyond the scope of this blog post — but see below for an easier, non-technical solution.

Smashwords

You’ll probably also want to upload your e-book to the free Smashwords e-book seller/distributor service. Smashwords sells e-books through its own website, but also will distribute them for you to be sold on B&N.com, Kobo, Sony, and the Apple iBook Store. They charge nothing up front, but they take a 15% cut of royalties.

Smashwords has an excellent free Style Guide that will help you prepare your Microsoft Word document for upload. It basically explains how to do what I said above: simplify and clean up your Word document, remove line breaks and extraneous formatting that translates poorly to e-books, etc. You can then upload your Word file and Smashwords will convert that file to all the e-book formats you need, including MOBI and ePub.

The Easy Way

The simplest way to get your e-book distributed as widely as possible and looking pretty good is to: (1) read and follow the Smashwords Style Guide, (2) create a Word document with simple, clean formatting, (3) upload that Word document to Smashwords and let them convert it for you, and (4) take the MOBI file that Smashwords creates and upload it to Amazon’s DTP. You should end up with a nice-looking e-book, and it will be available on Amazon and all the major e-book sellers.

The Perfectionist’s Way

Some of us, especially after you start selling more than a handful of copies, want to craft the most pristine, best-looking, and most full-featured e-books possible. It’s a lot of work and takes a lot of time and effort and research (it’s also beyond the scope of this blog post). But it’s possible to create a proper cover, page breaks, special formatting, interior photos or artwork, a table of contents, and other useful e-book features. This involves creating an HTML file, which is trickier than it sounds, since Word’s “Save As HTML” produces code that needs a significant amount of manual cleaning up. That HTML file is then fed into an e-book creation program (like the two I mentioned earlier) and tweaked to produce a MOBI file that can be directly uploaded to Amazon, and that should retain all your exact formatting and features.

Conclusion

Basically, the aspiring e-book publisher (make no mistake: if you’re doing this yourself, you now become a publisher, not merely an author, and must take on all the duties of a publisher) has three choices: (1) go with a simple, clean e-book that will be OK but not spectacularly formatted, (2) spend a lot more time and effort producing perfect MOBI (and possibly ePub) files, or (3) hire a professional to format the e-book for you. Which option you select (I went with #2) depends on your budget, your technical ability, how much time you have, and how many e-books you realistically expect to sell.

I’ve just spent the day trying to figure out why my latest novel, The Twiller, hadn’t been uploaded to the Apple iBook Store through Smashwords, even though I had uploaded it over a month ago. Mark Coker was kind enough to email me back and let me know that the ePub file (which Smashwords’ “Meatgrinder” automatically generates from a Microsoft Word .DOC file that I upload) wasn’t passing the dreaded “epubcheck” utility. And Apple doesn’t accept e-books that don’t pass epubcheck.

After a good amount of research and frustration, I thought I’d share my findings (and simple solution!) here in the hopes that another author might stumble across this and save some time.

The errors that epubcheck was returning were:

ERROR: the-twiller.epub/tmp_03d606bf0366e819944069e10952257f _Mh81jI.fixed.tidied.xfixed_split_000.html(12): bad value for attribute “name”

ERROR: the-twiller.epub/tmp_03d606bf0366e819944069e10952257f _Mh81jI.fixed.tidied.xfixed_split_000.html(33): bad value for attribute “name”

(These were repeated several times, for each chapter or section in my e-book.) By opening the ePub file in Sigil, I was able to figure out that line 12 of each section was the “Author” attribute, and line 33 was an attribute called “Matter No.” The simple fix involves opening your Word document and clicking on File ——> Properties. Somehow, the “Author” name was set as “( )”, which epubcheck didn’t like. So make sure at least your title and author name are filled in, and they should probably be only letters (no weird symbols).

The second attribute, “Matter No.” appeared under the “Custom” tab of Word’s Properties window. For some reason, Word had added a whole bunch of custom fields into the document, including “Matter No.”, which I don’t think epubcheck liked due to the period. Maybe I had opened some legal document that had all those weird legal fields added, and Word saved them (I told you being a lawyer was frustrating!). Anyway, I removed all of these custom fields by highlighting them and clicking “delete.”

Since I didn’t have this problem with my first two e-books, and I recently “upgraded” (yes, I use the term loosely) from Word 2004 for Mac to Word 2008 for Mac, I figure that might be the culprit. In any event, fortunately, the solution is simple — just tidy up the “Title,” “Author,” and any custom fields your document has under Word’s “Properties…” dialog in the “File” menu.

I just uploaded the new version to Smashwords, and it passed epubcheck, so it will hopefully show up in the Apple iBook Store soon!

UPDATE: That did the trick! The Twiller is now available in the Apple iBook Store. 🙂

Apr 052010

Kindle on the iPad

I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of nice mentions of my novels around the web today:

• Mark Coker, founder of the wonderful author service Smashwords, posted about Right Ascension as one of the first Smashwords books available on the iPad.

• Over at True/Slant, Roger Theriault gave his thoughts about the new iPad, and reading on it compared to his Kindle. He also expressed chagrin at some of the high prices traditional publishers are demanding for e-books. He said:

Publishers want readers to pay more – but the alternative is the library or a used bookstore. Or independent authors…

David Derrico’s sci-fi novels Right Ascension and Declination are both $0.99 in e-book format from Amazon or Apple. I’ve read the first and I’m working on the second novel. Both are excellent alternatives to expensive e-books. There are many self-published authors in various genres, both fiction and non-fiction, with affordable and highly readable e-books. I think established publishers are sinking their own ships (and their authors as well) with their pricing strategies.

Thanks for the mention, Roger, I’m glad you’re enjoying them!

© 2010 David Derrico