A few months ago I decided I would try self publishing. I was curious about the process. How is it done? Is it as easy as everyone says? What does the final product look like? I didn’t have a novel to put up but other fellow writer’s that I knew were posting short stories and I decided that I would post a short too.
How to get started
First things first; write a story! You can do a novel, a novella or even a short story. Just be sure your shorts reach a certain guideline for certain sites. When you’re done - polish, polish, polish and once you’re sure it couldn’t get any more perfect, give it to some beta readers and let them point out all the things you’ve missed. Don't be in a rush. You want it to look its best. Now you have your final product, but what’s next? The cover? Not yet.
I made my first mistake by creating a cover before investigating how the process of self publishing works. My advice to you is to wait until you researched and decided where you’re going to offer your story. If your goal is to sell your story on Amazon or Smashwords or Barnes & Noble or even to offer a physical copy through Createspace - they want specific dimensions and specific file types. Some sites vary slightly( especially when you're talking print vs e-book ) so you might have to save several copies in different formats. Read everything. Take notes.
Also, invest time exploring bestsellers in your genre to get an idea of what’s trendy. Pick clear images that best represent your story. Don’t over clutter your cover with fancy techniques or symbols. Google for articles like - Good Fonts for Book titles. There are a lot of fonts that are considered awful or overused, or worse - scream amateur. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Show your cover to people whose opinions you trust ( and who know something about design or art. ) Get some feedback before you make your final decision.
If you’re open to investing money in creating a cover check out Shutterstock. They have amazing professional photos. Or if you don’t mind investing money but Shutterstock is too pricey Google book cover artists or something of the like ( but there are no guarantees about these sites so use caution. ) Fivver also has some fantastic artists. But if you’re not up to invest any money yet, ( this is the route I took -savvy - a.k.a cheap ) scout around for some free public domain picture sites. But always double check, some pictures have loopholes - like free but only for personal use.
Calibre & Sigil - I was pointed to these two programs by a fellow self pubber. Unfortunately it took me ages to work out one kink I didn’t like. When you’re formatting with Calibre the program automatically puts spaces inbetween your paragraphs. I didn’t like this look. I thought it looked a little too much like self help books with all their mini paragraphs. If you like them, it’s no problem, but if you don’t - here’s what you do. Open the program to its full size and you’ll see a tab called Preferences. Click on it. A list will pop up. Click - Common Options. There’s a little box that says Remove Spacing between Paragraphs - that’s what you want to click.
I have no idea how to remove the paragraph spacings in Sigil. I wasted many hours trying to hand remove the coding and re-saving my story only to have them reinsert themselves. It was very frustrating. If anyone knows how please let me know!
Calibre is a good program. It lets you organize and format your story in many different files - Mobi, Epub, Zip etc. And it lets you see the results. But frankly, depending on where you’re going to self publish I found it & Sigil to be, both, a waste of time. Smashwords will convert your story into most of the same formats with one click of a button. All you need to do is save your book in a microsoft worddoc file FOLLOWING THEIR GUIDELINES and they’ll do all the conversions for free and in a matter of minutes. Ditto for Amazon but I think with less options - definitely something to double check on.
Compatibility & Formatting - Or *&^%$#!! Wordperfect - Here’s where I hit a lot of my snags. The world, or at least the computer world, seems to revolve around Microsoft Word. That’s okay if you have Microsoft Word but if you’re like me, one of the few who bought WordPerfect, you have no idea what trouble you’re in for. Thank God, it’s relatively easy to fix. Download a free version of OpenOffice. It’s virtually Microsoft Word’s hick cousin. Most of the programs want a clean worddoc file before they convert to Mobi or Epub, or which ever one you’re choosing, and OpenOffice lets you save in this format.
How to get that Book Look - There are numerous free book templates out there for you to download to make your story look professional. Some are a bit of a pain though as they’ll add bogus words inbetween their chapters that you have to highlight and cut before pasting in your story. A little time consuming but worth it. Also if you're offering a novel with lots of chapters make sure you study up on creating an active table of contents for your e-book.
If you're working with OpenOffice it has a few hitches. Namely - if you’re moving your story from Wordperfect ( or whatever program you’re working with ) into a book template in OpenOffice ( or even without the template ) your paragraph indents will have little arrows. The arrows are not good. You have to remove them. Go to your right-hand side bar and under Paragraph look for the little barbell symbol indenting what looks to be a paragraph made of slashes. It will be set at 0.00, you’ll want to change that to 0.30 or something along those lines. I had to do this by hand for each paragraph erasing each arrow. ( I have no idea if there is an easier way to do it. ) Also glance over your text, one of the hardest to spot errors ( hitting the space twice bar twice ) is made a little easier by the appearance of two instead of one dot inbetween words.
SmashWords - Smashwords is a great site with the dual opportunity to show your work for free or offer it for sale. Download their Smashwords Style Guide https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 though, because you’re going to need it. If you’re working with OpenOffice don’t fret just because everything is written towards Microsoft Word. Like I said OpenOffice is like its hick cousin just keep the Apache Openoffice Wikipedia page open that has all the details on OpenOffice and it will make it easier.
I also found this free pdf helpful - http://www.taming-openoffice-org.com/self-pub-book/SelfPubBookR1-eBook.pdf
Read everything in the Smashwords Styleguide and take notes. One of my mistakes was missing a little number that gave the Smashwords upload limit. This is especially crucial when you want to insert pictures or drawings into your book. Also, make sure when you use a book template and you’re going to upload to Smashwords tweak things that need tweaking, for instance - the copyright & edition. Smashwords has a copyright example in their guide asking you to word it in a certain way entitled Smashwords Edition - do it. If you don’t word it verbatim, they won’t offer your books to other sites - until you fix it. One of them is Barnes and Noble. *** * Just learned that the Smashwords Edition Copyright wording is now being made optional ****
Amazon and CreateSpace - You might want to approach Amazon before Smashwords as Amazon is highly competitive and offers a program KDP Select in which they claim a lot of promotional advantages. But it comes with a small price. You can not sell your book, or offer it, anywhere else during the program’s set time period. No Smashwords, No Barnes and Noble etc. But you don’t have to enter this program it’s only an option. Whoops! Came back to add if you're going with Amazon - sign up through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Also if you want a Createspace book from the get go - work it out first and that way you don't have to do two separate formats as it will allow you ( at the push of a button ) to sell your Createspace book as an e-book.
If you plan on selling your book for money - get ready to fill out some forms. I suppose it’s easy peasy if you’re a resident of U.S. ( although some other foreign countries somehow make the grade. ) But as a Canadian I hit one major snag - an ITIN number. Here’s the link I think I used in order to get one - http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/
( I looked at a lot of sites ) But make sure you read everything! Don’t just go by my information.You can either fill out a form and wait for it to come by mail or you can simply phone the number. If you go the phone route, you’ll probably have to wait a half an hour ( so watch using your cell phone! ) to get someone on the phone and make sure you have all your information ready. I got a real sourpuss who did not like repeating herself. Keep it simple - just tell them you’re a self published writer setting up your own business.
Createspace - Createspace is a wonderful site allowing you to offer a physical copy of your book. This is tremendous if you want to see your book in print, do book tours, give them out as gifts, or hustle your way into a local bookstore. You'll also be delightfully pleased that even a short story given the right dimensions - I went with 5X9 - can look like a nice size paperback. Createspace however does have some snags - mainly it doesn’t like OpenOffice or even its own templates. Their formatting isn’t too different from Smashwords - but you’ll probably want to have two worddocs handy. One that doesn’t say Smashwords edition and the cover might have to be changed depending on what you saved it in and what you choose as your book size. When you upload your story it goes through certain categories check marking off each one when they’re accepted either by you or them. One stage allows you to see what your book will look like in print. * Flip through every page - it’s very important! * OpenOffice and the templates, are not the most compatible ( I won't even recommend downloading Createspace's template ) and will put in weird gaps and blank pages. I solved my issues ( after hours of fruitless attempts to fix ) by asking around and came across a very helpful guy who offers these templates for free http://bulldogpress.ga/self-publishing-101/print-formatting/formatting-templates/. It worked beautifully. No more gaps or blank pages.
The Do-dads - Even if by now your book has been formatted and uploaded there is still a bit missing. Readers, for some reason, want to have some information about the author. The bios are very important and good publicity - remember every time you comment on Amazon your picture will give information linking back to your page. Write your bio in the third person. Use key words that will help people when they’re searching come across your page. Scout around for some inspiration ( I talk a good game but my own could use a major overhaul. )
And don’t forget to include a good, professional photo of yourself. It helps readers connect with you and makes you look like you’re taking the act of publishing seriously. Stay away from blurry selfies!
Work hard on that blurb/description that tells readers about your story. Look up how to articles, learn, write, rewrite - get feedback. Seriously, the blurb will be probably the hardest thing youll write and one of the most important things you'll write. I’m still not satisfied with mine. Think about it, when a reader goes to your page they’re probably drawn by title or cover. The first thing they’ll do is read that description of your novel or story. If it’s dull or confusing they might not even bother clicking on the sample read, they might just leave the page. Your book could be amazing but if the blurb is lackluster - they'll never know. Go above and beyond for that description.
Categories - Amazon has oodles of categories but they only let you pick two ( maybe if you click on their special program they might broaden that number but for the most part you get two options ) This is pretty hard when you think about it. Because by they time you pick - if it’s a children's book -Juvenile, you’ve got one option left. Choose wisely. Also Smashwords ( and Amazon ) allows you to pick key search words. Seven is usually the number. Think carefully about those words, as they’ll be the words that allow you to come up in searches.
Also, don’t forget to add yourself on Goodreads!
And when all this is done. And you feel somewhat elated. Relax. And while you’re waiting for that first download, or sale - keep writing - it may take a while. Lol.