I recently ran a writing group in my adoptive home-town of Wellington which focused on self-publishing. The following are my notes from my presentation where I spoke about my experiences self-publishing my ebook.
A little bit about me
I moved to Wellington in 2017 from Leicester in the UK. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and before my kids were born I wrote and published three non-fiction books for education with Bloomsbury Press.
I always dreamed about publishing some of my fiction, but I just never made the time to actually do it. Being in Wellington and being a part of a writing group inspired me to get back into writing regularly, and I decided, on a whim, to enter a short story competition — the first one ever. I didn’t win, but I did get an honourable mention, and in some sort of fit of madness I decided that as I was turning 40 this year, I wanted to try writing a few more stories and publishing them as an anthology myself. It wasn’t really anything other than an experiment of sorts, just to see if I could.
I have to say that while I have — mostly — enjoyed the process, I wasn’t prepared for everything it entailed.
Self-publishing is, first and foremost, a labour of love. It requires many skills, or at least the willingness to learn them. It can be done with absolutely zero financial cost, or you can ‘pay-to-play’ as you wish. But one thing it most certainly is not, is easy.
You will build the house. You will decorate the house. You will furnish it and landscape the garden. You will deal with the real estate people and any queries and concerns from the council. Essentially, you will do everything there is to do, and it will take away a lot of your precious writing and creating time. At end of the day, your house still might not be up to code. Without great foundations, any structure will inevitably crumble.
• You have complete control over the entire creative and selling process. You don’t need to impress any “gatekeepers”.
• You will pay the full cost of producing your work (and that means financial and mental!) and you are responsible for marketing and distribution. The copyright, the subsidiary rights, and all profits are exclusively yours.
• Self publishing ebooks can be done without investing any money in the process at all — but bear in mind you might want to pay for certain services to make your life easier, or just for certain parts of the process which you don’t have the skills to do.
• Self-publishing is a labour of love. You are unlikely to make much money off your ebooks, in fact you might even end up making a loss.
Remember: If you self publish you will have to organise the editing and proof-reading process yourself.
You can get a good group of writer friends to be your beta readers or you can pay for a service to do it for you. I don’t recommend skipping this step and trying to do it all yourself. Friends and family are great, but they probably won’t be honest enough with you, nor always have the skills you want to help you. Unless you have a copy-editing uncle or professional proof reader best-friend.
For example, I signed up to SpecFicNZ who offer an editing and mentoring service for new authors. Places such as New Zealand Society of Authors are well worth joining for professional help and advice. YourBooks, who offer a book printing service, will also match you with a mentor and editor if you wish. A lot of people choose to self-publish to avoid the “gatekeepers”, but do bear in mind that despite what some people believe, they are actually very keen to see you succeed.
Take time to get your manuscript as good as you can. You will always want to tweak it and change bits, but it’s best to take your time and don’t rush it, and get the best version out there that you can. Once it is released, you can’t take it back.
(Of course, ebooks are a little different to print copies as you usually can upload new and revised versions very easily, but you don’t really want the headache of doing that.)
Remember: you can control what you put on the page — you cannot control how people respond to it. Keep that in mind when people review or criticise your work, but also view all criticism as being useful, even if that’s just that you know to ignore that person’s views in the future! Your book is your “paper baby”, keep positive throughout the process. The end result is worth it.
Where do you want to put your ebook to sell?
Amazon KDP — Kindle Direct Publishing — is by far the easiest. The downloadable apps Kindle Create and Kindle Viewer will do pretty much all of the heavy lifting for you and create a file that is what you see is what you get so there are no nasty surprises when your put your book in the online store.
Publishing takes less than 5 minutes and your book appears on Kindle stores worldwide within 24-48 hours. Plus you can earn higher royalties than most other publishing providers.
However, not every one wants to support Amazon, and if you want to take advantage of their marketing tools you need to sign up to KDP Select which then prohibits you from putting your book anywhere else. KDP Select requires exclusivity, which means you can’t sell your book in other stores such as Smashwords and the retailers and library suppliers
Smashwords and Draft2Digital are two other good options, but will require a little more technical knowledge. My personal preference is Draft2Digital as their website and user experience is much nicer, plus they also have an online eBook previewer so you can see straight away if there are any formatting errors.
ISBN’s are not required on eBooks but your book will be more successful if you have one because you’ll enjoy broader distribution. If you don’t attach an ISBN through the Smashwords ISBN Manager, Smashwords cannot distribute your book to Apple or Kobo.
Which retailers require a book to have an ISBN? Apple; Baker & Taylor Axis360 and Blio; Kobo; Library Direct; Overdrive; Gardners; and others.
Which don’t require an ISBN? Barnes & Noble, Inktera (formerly known as Page Foundry) and Scribd.
Amazon, Draft2Digital and Smashwords will all provide you with an ISBN if needed. Or you can contact the National Library of New Zealand to provide you with one. (You will need to provide them with an electronic copy of your book once it is available for sale.) You will need an ISBN for each format of your book — you cannot reuse the ISBN attached to an ePub for a hard copy. Likewise, Amazon will give you a specific Kindle ISBN which should not be used with other distributors.
What is DRM?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it refers to schemes in which a digital book is copy-protected, or limited to reading on only certain devices. Books on Smashwords do not contain DRM. However, these works are still the property of the copyright holder, and most are only licensed for the personal use of the purchaser. KDP does include DRM. It’s up to you if you wish to include it or not.
Smashwords distributes to such as Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive, Scribd and others. Amazon only reaches ebook readers in about 14 countries, whereas Apple Books reaches 51 countries (and dominates the Australian ebook market), Kobo reaches about 160 countries and the Smashwords store reaches almost 200 countries.
Where can Draft2Digital distribute my books?
• Apple Books
• Barnes & Noble
• Google Play Books
• Kobo (including Kobo Plus)
• Baker & Taylor
A couple of things to think about:
What software are you going to use?
Consider the devices people will use to read your book.
Mac users tend to use Pages, Microsoft users generally use Word.
Aldiko, Cool Reader, Bluefire, Kindle, Apple Books, Nook, Moon+, Wattpad, Kobo, Scribd and Google Play are all e-readers. You should get to know them and consider how your ebook will display on them all.
Smashwords and Draft2Digital can take your properly formatted .doc file and turn it into a wonderfully formatted ebook — but only if you format it correctly yourself! Exporting a Pages file into a .doc format can mess up the formatting. Some ebook readers are much more forgiving than others — Kindle and Apple Books tend to play nice with everything. Total Reader and Libby (by Overdrive,) not so much.
There are a whole wealth of different readers and apps and all of them can make your beautiful ebook look like minced beef if your formatting is not correct.
Consider what formats you want to make available — most commonly: epub, mobi, pdf, online reader (txt). Pages will export your file into an Ebook or Pdf very easily and you can even publish direct to Apple Books in this way.
A Note on Formatting
Scrivner — a great piece of word processing and writing software — can make some really great and complex ebooks where you have full control of the way it will look. But some readers still won’t play nice with them!
Do not use TAB key to make indents for new paragraphs! Always set indents in the document formatting and use clearly defined styles. Chapter titles should be Headings, while the rest of the text is Body. It looks very nice to use dropped capitals in hard copy books, but most ebook readers can’t cope with them.
In terms of general formatting you should do pretty much the same as you would with a manuscript you intend to print — 12 point, 1.5 or double line spaced, in Times New Roman or Helvetica is usually standard, but KDP will use their own formats and fonts. You don’t need to worry about page sizes in the same way as hard copy, but always use a Page break between each chapter to create clean sections — never multiple return key presses!
It s a good idea to turn on the “invisibles” in the document when you are checking over formatting so you can straight away for any unusual spaces, returns, tabs etc.
KDP will create a clickable table of contents for you, no muss no fuss. Smashwords you will need to make one yourself by adding bookmarks in your document. If you are not used to doing this it is not difficult but it is a pain.
Draft2Digital will create one for you but only if you have formatted it correctly in the first place (using Headings).
KDP will only allow you add jpegs and tiffs at the moment, so if your book is picture heavy they may not be the very best display format. Remember that ebooks can be scrolled and zoomed so pictures should look good and not pixelated.
You will need to create your own cover (or have someone do it for you). KDP have a cover creator tool which will produce something pretty fun, but if you want to make your own you should use an image that is a jpeg or a tiff file less than 50MB. Try to avoid compressing your files. This can affect the quality of your cover when displayed on reading devices. For the best results, images should have a minimum resolution of 300 PPI (pixels per inch).
The ideal size of your eBook cover art is a height/width ratio of 1.6:1. This means that for every 1,000 pixels in width, the image should be 1,600 pixels in height. To ensure the best quality for your image, particularly on high definition devices, the height of the image should be at least 2,500 pixels. Ideal dimensions for cover files are 2,560 x 1,600 pixels.
The minimum image size allowed is 1,000 x 625 pixels. The maximum image size allowed is 10,000 x 10,000 pixels.
As well as your actual book content you will need to include front matter and back matter:
Title page(s): A title page has, at a minimum, the full title of the work, including the subtitle (if any), and the name of the author and—if applicable—illustrator. Everything else depends on the type of book, but may include:
• Publisher’s name and address
• Copyright information
• Edition notice
• Date of publication
Dedication: A dedication is a part of the front matter that is written by the author and includes the names of the person/persons for whom the publication was written.
Epigraph: An epigraph is a quotation included by the author that is relevant but not essential to the text.
Table of Contents: A table of contents is typically in the middle of the front matter. It may be a very simple listing of what is in the book, or it may be very detailed and include descriptions of each chapter or section
Foreword: A foreword is an essay, or short piece of writing, written by someone other than the author. It often explains the relationship between the writer of the foreword and either the author or the story being told.
Preface: A preface is an introduction to the book that is written by the author. It usually covers how the publication came into being, where the idea for the book came from, etc.
Acknowledgements: Another part of front matter is an acknowledgement, which is written by the author and acknowledges those who have helped him/her in the writing of the publication.
The author is responsible for writing the preface, acknowledgement, introduction, dedication, and prologue.
About the Author
It is completely up to you how much you write for the front and back matter, but the copyright and publishing information is absolutely essential.
When you come to publish your book online you will also need to include a blurb and a short description of the books content. You want to write something immediately exciting and enticing — generally 150 to 200 words are enough for a full blurb.
The opening of your blurb has to be incredibly precise and dynamic. The synopsis is critical. You need to hook the reader in with your blurb’s first line. You have a limited amount of real estate to capture someone’s attention. Use keywords correctly without spamming the keyword algorithms.
For fiction — mostly novels — you will want to use the format of:
• Main character:
• Primary conflict:
• Genre keywords:
You might also want to include quotes and reviews from other people to use in promotion.
If you want to market on Goodreads and Amazon you will want to put together an Author’s Bio page where people can find out more about you, perhaps with links to social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. or your own blog or webpage.
I also recommend that if you don’t already have one, get an email specifically for your all your writing business and keep your writing life separate from your personal one — the last thing you really want to be doing is emailing potential distributors from email@example.com
You can publish your book in five minutes, that much is true, but you will need to put in a lot more time and preparation than that before you go ahead and click the button, and it pays to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this and staying realistic about the whole process.
Just for fun — Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing
2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
5. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
7. Laugh at your own jokes.
8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.