Thursday, June 9, 2011

Self-Publishing Tips for the Uninitiated

I've been reading a lot lately on the published author loops about people paying BIG bucks to have their books formatted for self-publishing on Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. I've now posted five books with a sixth on the way later this month, so I thought I'd share a few lessons learned to help out those who are just venturing into this new territory. I'm not certainly not claiming to be any kind of expert at this. I've been to the school of trial and error. But since I've had no complaints from readers on the formatting of my books, I take that as good sign! I hope this information will save my fellow authors some money. Please watch out for people who are looking to profit by charging outrageous fees for this service. If I can do it, you can too!

First of all, don't panic. It's easier than you think. Here are a few critical steps to start with:

1. Set your paragraph indents to 0.33". To do that in Word, select all your text, go to Format - Paragraph. Under "Special" choose "First line" and then put 0.33 in the dialogue box. This will also indent your chapter headings. You can undo the chapter heading formatting by backspacing (at least on a Mac you can).

2. Only after you have completed step one, remove all your tabs. Do this by using the Find and Replace function in word. Find: ^t and Replace: leave blank. Replace all. I'm going to say this in all caps so there's no chance you can miss it: MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SET THE PARAGRAPH INDENTS BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE TABS. If you do these two steps in the wrong order, you may lose all your paragraph indents.

3. Insert page breaks at the end of every chapter and after your front matter (title page, copyright statement, etc.). To do this in Word, go to Insert - Break - Page Break. This is critical as it will ensure that your chapters flow smoothly in the ebook.

4. Another thing you can do to make your text flow smoothly is remove all those pesky second spaces after periods. To do that, again use the Find and Replace function. Find: hit the space bar twice. Replace: hit the space bar once. Replace all. Repeat until you have 0 replacements.

Front matter/copyright statement
You must include a copyright statement with each book. While most traditionally published ebooks have these statements in the back of the book, I've found the upload process goes more smoothly *especially with Smashwords* when the copyright statement is placed at the beginning of the book. Here's the statement I adapt for all my books:

Book Name
My Name
Published by My Name
Copyright YEAR. My Name.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to (INSERT COMPANY) and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at

All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

I do a different version for each e-retailer so the name of the company is correct for each one. For Smashwords, use this boilerplate at the beginning:

Book Name
Published by Your Name
Copyright YEAR. Your Name.
Cover by XXXX
Smashwords Edition

You need "Smashwords Edition" there or the Smashwords meat grinder won't accept your MS. Another important thing to remember with Smashwords is that your manuscript must be in "Final" format. To determine whether yours is FINAL, in Word, go to View - Toolbars - Reviewing. On the far left side of the Reviewing Toolbar, you will see a box that contains the status of your manuscript. It may say Final Showing Markup, Original Showing Markup, Final, etc. Make sure you accept all your changes, turn OFF the track changes function and set your manuscript to FINAL. I have found that it's easier to keep the file OPEN as I upload the FINAL version to Smashwords. For some reason it reverts to SHOWING FINAL MARKUP after I close the document. Why? I have no idea! Another interesting thing I learned recently about Smashwords has to do with including excerpts for future books in the back of the current book. If "Chapter 1" appears twice in your book, it sends the meat grinder into fits and your book may be rejected. So, eliminate the Chapter 1 heading on the excerpt to avoid this issue.

Helpful hint for Smashwords: You'll need an ISBN to be included in Smashwords' premium catalog. You want your book to be in the catalog to gain distribution to iBooks and Sony. Smashwords offers free ISBNs, but I chose to buy my own so I can take them with me if I decide not to publish with Smashwords any longer. Bowker sells ISBN numbers. I bought a package of 10 ISBNs for $250 because I knew I would use them all eventually. If you don't think you'll need that many, you can pay as you go. It's a bit of a chore to fill out the online ISBN form, but well worth the time to make sure you have an ISBN that you can use anywhere you need it.

Helpful hint for Amazon: Save your final file as an "Web Page: HTM" file. Do this in Word by clicking on Save As, in the pull down screen for FORMAT you will find Web Page HTM as an option. Amazon has advised me that saving in this format eliminates a lot of uploading issues. It worked perfectly when I tried it whereas the .doc format was problematic.

Another helpful hint for Amazon: Once your book is showing up online, go to Author Central and log in. If you don't have an Author Central account, you'll want to get one. (For one thing, we now have access to Bookscan numbers through Author Central for print books.) Once you're logged in, click on "Books" and under there you can "add" the new book so it appears on your Author Page. This is critical to boosting sales. If readers are looking for more of your work, that's where they're going to look. Once you've identified the book as one of yours, it can take a day or two to show up on your page.

Final word of caution: be careful forking out money to people and/or companies who are looking to take you for a ride. There's a whole cottage industry cropping up around self-publishing and e-books. Make sure you aren't paying for something you could easily do yourself.

I'm happy to answer any questions, so feel free to fire away!