Getting ready to self-publish

From Rick:

If you’ve been following along in this series and have followed my advice, I think you should be just about ready to self-publish your work.

The ONE thing I have not yet discussed is cover design. I will, very soon, but it’s an involved process if you do it right, so for the time being let’s assume that you have a cover properly prepared for your book (front cover only for e-book, and a front-and-back full cover for a print version if you’re doing one).

Before I get into this discussion of the next steps, I want to add a couple of thoughts to the last post on interior design and formatting of print books. If you look at a number of books from older to modern ones, you’ll likely see variation and trends from book to book in terms of how the headers and footers are done. I’ve seen some running heads that go outside the margins of the print on the rest of the page, I’ve seen some that fall inside, and I’ve seen some oddly offset.

This drives home my point that you can pretty much decide how you want your pages to look. One thing I did not observe were running heads on introductory pages. While most books begin each chapter on a new page, I saw some books that began the chapter a couple of lines after the end of the previous chapter.

While I don’t recommend it, there is nothing inherently wrong with it, and it does have the advantage of solving the problem of a chapter ending with just a line or two at the top of a page and having the rest of the page blank. Yes, proper page layout can solve this, but it’s a lot of work to do manually without a program like Adobe InDesign. If you do this, however, make sure you do leave some space between the chapter heading and the chapter text before—by using Styles, NOT by adding extra blank lines!

If you want to get fancy in your print book, you can also put different headers for each chapter (although I really don’t see the point in a fiction book. It would add a nice touch to something like the Punctuation book (PFFW) or Write Well Award book (WWA) with a different header title for each short story. But, again, most readers will not care how fancy you get. Some may notice see it, but few will care. Remember: they’re interest in the content, not in the decoration.

Okay, so after you have edited and formatted your book and have a great cover, what’s next?

First, let’s talk about e-books. There are really only two best places (my opinion) to publish those: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Smashwords. There are other distributors, but Smashwords pretty much distributes to all of them, including Apple ibooks. I will say that Smashwords is a lot fussier with regard to format and clean files than is Amazon Kindle. They won’t approve your book for their Premium Catalog (distribution to other outlets) unless it meets all the rigid requirements. But if you’ve followed my advice and kept your files clean, you should have very little problem with Smashwords.

Before you can publish with either of these distributors, you will need to set up accounts with both of them. Further, you will also need to set up an Author Page with Smashwords (it’s optional for Amazon KDP). As I learned with PFFW, on which Scott is a co-author, each co-author must also have a separate Author Page before you’re approved for their Premium Catalog.

When you set up your accounts with these places, you will need bank account information for depositing your earned royalties into, and you’ll need your tax Id (Social Security Number or separate business Tax ID). If you happen to live outside the US, you’ll need to jump through some extra hoops here, so be prepared for that.

After all the bookkeeping has been completed, you should not need to do that again for successive books, just the first time, and Amazon in particular will let you know if you’ve not done something right. Just go through everything carefully and you should be fine.

With that out of the way, you can focus on the book itself. Before you can upload your book, you will need to select categories and keywords for it with both distributors. Look over your choices carefully and pick those that best fit the type of book you’ve written, yet also give it a broad enough reach. For example, if your book has some romance elements in it but is not a romance, do not classify it under romances. You’ll possibly misrepresent the book to romance readers who may buy it, discover it’s not what they expected, and leave a negative review.

You will also need a brief description/synopsis of your book. Amazon needs only one, but Smashwords allows two: a short one (limited to 400 characters, or about 50 words) and an optional longer one up to 10 times that length. The short description is very limiting, so you should definitely do a longer one as well. Or, write the longer one and shorten it to the essentials for the short one.

Book descriptions/synopses should be tight. A length of 100-300 words (and not more than 300) is a good guideline. If you’re doing a print book, this is what you’d normally place on the back cover, so keep it to a manageable length with that in mind.

I won’t lie. A good book synopsis is very difficult to write. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Writing one is definitely an art, and few authors have the knack of turning out a great one easily. But you must take your time and do it right because this is what will help sell your book to potential buyers. A flat description will tell readers it’s a flat story. Scott and I will try to do a book synopsis tutorial in the near future if we can come up with some good guidelines on what to do and what NOT to do.

What formats do you upload your documents to these sites? Amazon will accept several formats, including Word (.doc and .docx) and epub. For WWA I used .docx, but for PFFW, I had a table that had been formatted by the Jutoh program (where it was much easier to format properly than in Word), so I generated an epub file, but I used a .docx file for the printed version. Smashwords will not accept a .docx file, so I used a .doc file there. There are other options, such as PDF files, but I had no problems with the files I used, and the e-books came out fine. Use whatever works for you and you’re most comfortable with.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m taking a break from this topic to let Scott dive in on another subject. We’ll return to self-publishing shortly and finish up there.

–Rick