The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers
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How to Prepare Your MS for Self-Publishing: E-books
This chapter is not for the technically proficient. If you know HTML and CSS—and know them well—format your document in ePub and be done with it. You can submit an ePub file to any of the major e-book distributors. Freeware that will simplify your life is Calibre. Its documentation is written in techese and difficult for the untechnical to learn.
For the rest of us, there’s hope: it’s not difficult to format a Word document for Kindle if—and only if—it consists mostly of plain narrative, with no graphics. That means no pictures, no diagrams, no graphs, no maps, no boxed pull-outs: nothing but plain sentences, paragraphs, chapter titles, and basic subheads.
Anything more complex—such as the book you have in your hands—requires a format conversion program such as InDesign, Apple Pages, or Calibre. Unless you’re familiar with such software, you’ll find a professional e-book formatter’s services well worth the very reasonable cost.
In either event, your entire document must be formatted using Word’s “Styles” function. This includes titles, subtitles, paragraphs, captions, footnotes, and the like.
Do this whether you intend to attempt a DIY project or whether you will hire a professional formatter to do it right. Do not fail to set the formatting with your word processor’s “styles.”
Instruction on how to use Word is beyond this book’s scope, but you can find how-to’s by clicking on “Help” or by searching for the desired function in Google.
The font you select is irrelevant to e-book formatting. In Kindle, the reader can select fonts and sizes according to need or whim. So you can simply use Word’s default or, if you prefer a less unsightly font, select Times or Times New Roman.
Margin settings are similarly irrelevant in e-book formatting. In Word, then, use the default margins (1 inch top and bottom; 1 inch left and right).
So, using “Styles,” go through the manuscript and apply the chapter title style to each chapter title, the level 1 subhead to each main subhead, the level 2 subhead to each sub-subhead, the paragraph style to each paragraph, the bulleted list style to each bulleted list, and so on. Do not use the Format… command to accomplish this task. You need to have all the formatting set up with “Styles.”
This includes italic, boldface, and small caps as well.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by using an e-book format template. A number of these are available. These come with preformatted styles for all elements in your manuscript.
Remember: in any word processing program (Word, Pages, GoogleDocs, Open Office, etc.), what you see on the page is NOT what you get. An e-book displays “flowable” text. That means it changes to suit the reader’s preferences and to adapt to the device on which it is viewed.
Page numbers go away. So do your pretty running headers. Knowing this, remove pagination and running headers from your document.
Formatting for heads and subheads may be arbitrary. Do set the heads and subheads using your word processor’s “styles.” Their format will come out looking distinct, if you set them consistently. However, they may look different from what you expect.
The live table of contents needs to be formatted on a PC, not a Mac. You will need a ToC with live links; if you don’t know how to create one of these (in Word, go to Format > Document Elements > Table of Contents), you should hire someone who does or, preferably, hire a professional e-book designer to do the entire job.
Graphics of any kind (this includes photographs, drawings, tables, graphs, maps, lists, and anything else along those lines) are very tricky to install in an e-book. It’s possible to do so using a word processing program, but it’s difficult and requires real technical proficiency.
For this reason, a book that contains any complexity at all beyond A- and B-level subheads is best consigned to an experienced, technologically proficient e-book designer.
Drop caps installed in a word processor do not compute on Kindle readers. Do not use drop caps in an e-book. Doing so will create a mess.
If you want to fancify your first paragraphs, try setting the first few words in all caps, like this:
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT in outer Richistan, the wind howling through the mountain passes and…
Small caps would look much more professional. But not all versions of Kindle can read your DIY small caps. If you set your first view words in small caps….
…you may get IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT in your published e-book, depending on how it’s viewed.
The best candidate for DIY e-book formatting is a work of fiction with plain-vanilla formatting: one that contains nothing more complicated than chapter titles and an occasional subhead. If it contains a map, a diagram, dingbats formatted as jpegs, or anything even faintly out of the ordinary, hire an e-book formatter.
Before you upload your book to kindle . . .
First, write the keywords, category and the description. These are not things you want to scribble on the fly, as they’re presented to you in Kindle’s online form.
The keywords and categories will guide your readers to your book. Think, from a reader’s point of view, what category or keyword a person might search for that would bring up your book. You get two browsing categories (often they do not fit: this book will probably be classified under “self-help” and “crafts and hobbies” ), and seven keywords.
Converting and posting your book to kindle
It is possible to convert a Word document directly to Kindle (i.e., .mobi format) from your “Bookshelf” page. I strongly urge you to rethink this scheme if your book has any level of complexity at all. The book you are reading, for example, will be formatted by a professional.
You will need a correctly designed and sized “cover” image in JPEG format. Please see the previous chapter for discussion of this issue.
I have used Amazon’s online Kindle conversion software for Camptown Races books, which are short, very simple, and contain no formatting other than the book title, the chapter titles, and the paragraphs. For this purpose, it has worked satisfactorily—but bear in mind, readers do not pick up light erotica for its elegant design. Converting any layout more sophisticated than a very plain novel will give you a migraine.
Review your document line by line to be sure you have formatted everything, including single words set in italic or boldface, using the “Styles” function.
In a separate reading, proofread carefully. You may want to get a friend or employee to proofread the copy, since your eye will fill in what your mind knows to be correct, and even with Word’s spell-checker running, you will miss some typos.
Set up a book-seller’s account with Amazon’s Author Central. The instructions are posted online; it’s not as complicated as it looks. Select Kindle Direct Publishing.
You can go through CreateSpace, which has many services and tools for self-publishers. Personally, I use Kindle Direct because I have heard so many horror stories from people who have tried CreateSpace: bad design, second-rate products, poor customer service, various incomprehensible hassles—in my opinion, it’s better to have more direct control over production. You do not need CreateSpace to build an e-book file and publish it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
Once you’re registered with Author Central, follow the steps to publish your book from your “Bookshelf” page. This is rote and very simple.
All you have to do is upload your Word file, and Amazon’s software will automatically convert it to Kindle format.
Three things you should know about this process:
- Your book cover needs to be prepared as a high quality JPEG—at least 300 dpi—and sized at about 1200 x 1800 pixels. You can’t upload a PDF here.
- Amazon has a spellchecker. Even though you think your manuscript is perfect after the ten proofreadings you’ve gone through, and even though the spellchecker flags exotic place names or unusual proper names, it will catch typos that you missed! Every time. Be sure to look at the spellchecker’s results and go through each item.
- Amazon gives you two choices for reviewing the completed .mobi file:
- You can read it online in Amazon’s online Kindle reader; or
- You can download a Kindle reader to your computer, download the .mobi file, and read the thing in your terminal.
Your best choice, hands-down, is to download the Kindle reader, then download the .mobi file and read it in your resident Kindle reader.
While no two Kindle devices necessarily show a given .mobi file the same way, the online Kindle reader at Author Central is a disaster, particularly if you have even slightly complex formatting, or if you have changed the formatting within a document before uploading it.
The first book I published on Amazon contained a lot of lists and several levels of heads and subheads. It looked fine in the online Kindle reader, so I clicked “publish.”
Forthwith, up came an angry review from a reader who complained about a mishmash of weird formatting.
I downloaded the book to my iPad and opened it in the iPad’s Kindle reader and saw she was right: the whole thing was a mess!
I had to remove the book from Amazon, rename it, get a new ISBN, produce all new marketing materials, and hire an e-book formatter to completely reformat the 350-page book from beginning to end.
Back at Author Central, I downloaded the Kindle reader offered there and used that to open the delinquent .mobi file. It, like my unhappy reader’s device, revealed a formatting jumble. So, the message there is don’t, under any circumstances, use Amazon’s online Kindle Reviewer as a quick way to review your book during the upload process.
After you’ve downloaded Author Central’s kindle reader, you can also download the .mobi file to your computer. This allows you to save it to disk. Back up the book in every format you create and store it to an external hard drive: this includes your word-processed version, PDF, .mobi, ePub, and anything else you encounter.
Follow the steps through the online form. Set your price, click on the “agree” box, and click done. Your book will go online within a couple of days.
KDP Direct vs. KDP Select
Amazon will pressure you, at the time you upload your book and in various communications, to join its KDP Select program. Supposedly this step up from the entry-level KDP Direct will supercharge your sales.
Personally, I find KDP Select to be somewhat problematic. Primary reason: when you enroll in KDP Select, you agree to embargo your book. You can’t sell it anywhere but on Amazon: not at Barnes & Noble, not down at the local grocery store, not through Smashwords, not even from your own website.
If you have published the work as a series and also as a “boxed set” or complete book and you have put even one of the serials in KDP Select, the complete book containing the embargoed work is also embargoed!
Additionally, KDP Select limits your pricing to no more than $9.99. If you consider how many hours it takes to write and format a book and how much you could have earned during those hours on a freelance or employee basis, you’ll soon realize that you would have to sell a boatload of books at $9.99 to earn even minimum wage, to say nothing of covering your costs and making the book turn a profit.
KDP Select automatically enrolls your book in Amazon’s “lending” program, which essentially gives your book away for free. The theory here is that people who join the lending program will pay to do so. A pool of money is set aside from these fees, to be paid to authors whose books are “borrowed” in this way.
But Amazon spies on its book users. Those who “borrow” your book must open it and look at a certain number of pages. You are paid—if you’re paid—according to the percentage of the book the reader has eyeballed.
Let me put it this way: you can supercharge a snail. You’ll still have a snail.
To my mind, it’s just not worth giving Amazon full control over where you sell your book and who reads it. Some authors have reported good results from KDP Select; others have seen no change in sales. My guess is that those who are happy with it have strong marketing programs elsewhere and would have seen decent sales had they maintained their independence and stayed with KDP Direct.
I recently ran a one-week KDP Select “countdown” sale of six titles—a cookbook and five erotic romances. I hyped the bargains from one end of the social media to the other. During the entire month of that sale, I sold eighteen books. Revenues were $18.97: about the same as I earn month by month without slashing the prices to 99 cents.
Working with a professional e-book formatter
Let me say it one more time: you are best served by hiring an e-book formatter to convert your book to electronic format. Unless you love spending hour after hour after hour trudging up and down Himalayan learning curves, unless you like wasting your time, and unless frustration is a gratifying emotion for you, please do consider farming out your manuscript to an expert formatter.
E-book formatters not only can save you a great deal of time (and time is money if you write or edit on a contract basis), they also know how to get images to work in electronic files, how to optimize the files for viewing on a wide variety of readers, and how to set them up so that browsing buyers will see the most tempting part of your book first.
Here’s what the person will need:
- The manuscript, carefully proofread and thoroughly, accurately formatted in your word processor’s “Styles” function.
- Images in high-quality JPEG format. Each image should be sharp, clear, and at least 300 dpi.
- Your completed cover, also as a high-quality JPEG.
Be sure your manuscript is as edited as it’s going to get, so as to spare the formatter unnecessary extra work.