Self-Publishing 101 — Step 4: Ebook Distribution

Self-publishing 101: How to Self-Publish a Book or Ebook

Are ebooks a passing fad?

There was once a time when self-publishing meant vanity publishing. Instead of a traditional publishing house paying you to publish your book, vanity publishing meant you were paying to have your book printed.

Much of the stigma attached to self-publishing comes from this era. Part of the stigma grew from the fact that vanity-published books were not vetted by the gatekeepers at a publishing house—whether large or small—and therefore did not benefit from editing, professional cover design, typesetting, and marketing.

The advent of desktop publishing began to change all that, but the real paradigm shift came with the creation of ebooks.

Ebooks are not new. The concept dates back to at least the 1930’s, and there was work done in the 1960’s to begin building hypertext documents. Even television shows in the late 60’s, namely Star Trek, predicted the rise of a tablet-like device on which people could read and write. The beginnings of Project Gutenberg date back to the early 70’s, and the first commercially available device that could read an electronic book was the Sony Data Discman in 1992.

But it’s only in recent years that the promise of ebooks has come to true fruition, and the rise has been rapid. E-ink technology made serious advances in the late 90’s which led to the Sony Librie in 2004, the Sony Reader in 2006, and finally the Amazon Kindle in 2007 (which was so popular that the original Kindle sold out in the first five hours).

Unless you’ve not been paying attention at all, you’ve seen the recent glut of devices capable of reading ebooks. Besides personal computers themselves, you’ve had the additions of Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Kobo, the Apple iPad, numerous Android tablets, the Kindle Fire, and other lesser-known devices too numerous to list here. Let’s also not forget that almost any smartphone can read ebooks as well.

Not sure that ebooks are worth your time? Listen to this. In July 2010, Amazon—who was already the world’s largest book retailer—reported that they sold more ebooks than hardcovers during the second quarter of the year. By January 2011, ebook sales at Amazon had even surpassed paperback sales. Now keep in mind that this was only at Amazon. Overall, paperback sales in the United States still outpace ebooks.

But for how long?

Where Should I Distribute?

The Publisher You Can’t Ignore

Here’s where the second, and possibly largest, aspect of self-publishing’s stigma begins to be erased. Back in the vanity print publishing days, most self-published authors could only print up a bunch of their books in bulk, buy them from their printer, then schlep them across the country at their own expense and try to sell them from the trunk of their car.

Amazon almost single-handedly changed that equation when they allowed self-published authors to create, upload, and sell their books via the Kindle ecosystem. This gave self-publishers something they’d never had before.

Distribution.

I’m setting Amazon aside in its own category because it’s by far the biggest player in the ebook world—at least it is currently. Ignore their platform at your peril. There are many successful self-published authors who have distributed exclusively through Amazon’s KDP Select program and have made five, six, or seven figures doing so. I’m not suggesting you will as well, and neither am I suggesting you go the Amazon-only route. What I am suggesting is that you inform yourself and understand the pros and cons as best you can.

The Basics of Publishing on Amazon

I’ll address Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing more in depth in a later post, but here are the basics you need to get you started. To publish on Amazon Kindle, you need to open up an account here at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. (I’m skipping ahead a bit and assuming you’ve already prepared your document for upload, or have converted it to Kindle (mobi) format, or have hired someone to do so. If you don’t know how to go about doing any of these things, I’ll also cover those items in a future post.)

Once you’ve uploaded your book to Amazon, it soon becomes available for sale on Amazon.com—available for anyone who owns a Kindle-compatible device to purchase and read. Remember, this isn’t only Kindle devices, but also iPads, iPods, iPhones, Android tablets and phones, and personal computers as well. Literally millions of people have the ability to read your book almost instantly. And did I mention Amazon’s distribution is almost worldwide?

When you have an account with Kindle Direct Publishing, you will also have access to Amazon’s KDP Select program. There’s been much talk about the program’s changes of late, but I still think the advantages are worth giving serious consideration. In short, the KDP Select program lets you earn a commission from borrows of your book (through Amazon Prime), and allows you to promote your book as a free download five days each quarter. I did this with my debut novel and have been pleased with the results.

One very notable restriction with participation in the KDP Select program is that while you are enrolled, the content of your ebook cannot be available in electronic format anywhere else.

The Other Distribution Players

While Amazon may be the biggest name in ebook self-publishing, they’re not the only players. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the other options you should give serious consideration.

  • PubIt by Barnes & Noble – To publish directly to the Nook, you can upload your book to B&N via their PubIt program. In many ways it works similarly to Amazon’s KDP offering, but it has much smaller distribution. Keep an eye on the news about Barnes & Noble and the Nook, however. There are signs that both could be on their last legs. Nook ebooks are in the ePub format.
  • Kobo Writing Life – The Kobo is a device you may or may not have heard of. It’s not tied to any particular bookseller, though you may have seen the device sold in some stores (such as Borders before they went bankrupt). Kobo lets you upload and sell your book through their ecosystem, an ecosystem which has apps available for just about any device. Kobo ebooks are in the ePub format.
  • Apple’s iBookstore – As with nearly all things Apple, the iBookstore looks to be one of the ebook retailers that has continued to grow in the face of Amazon’s dominance and appears will still do well for the foreseeable future. The main problem with getting your book into the iBookstore is how difficult Apple makes the endeavor. You pretty much have two options. The first option is to use their iBooks Author software to create your ePub book, purchase an ISBN for your book through Bowker (which costs over $100), then publish your book only after you’ve filled out their application and been approved to sell your content. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m an Apple fanboy from 1984, but for a company that prides themselves in simplicity, their publishing model is far too complex. The second option is to distribute your book to the iBookstore through an authorized aggregator like Lulu or Smashwords. I explain Smashwords below. Apple iBooks are in the ePub format.

The Utility Knife of Distributors

There’s another option to consider, and it’s called Smashwords. When I first started self-publishing, I was a big fan of Smashwords, but I’m not so much anymore, mainly because I’ve decided to go exclusively with Amazon’s KDP Select program with my own novels. But I may reconsider in the future.

The real advantage to Smashwords is that it’s the easiest way to widely distribute your ebook to several distributors at once—including Apple’s iBookstore. You can simultaneously distribute your book not only to Apple, but also Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and several others—all through Smashwords. They’ll even supply the ISBN for free, but be aware that your publisher will be listed as Smashwords if you obtain your ISBN through them.

Until recently, Smashwords required you to upload a Word doc version of your manuscript which their Meatgrinder software then converted into all the various formats—HTML, mobi (Kindle), ePub, PDF, RTF, LRF (Sony), PDB (Palm), and plain text. You had no real control over how the final product turned out. This recently changed for the better when Smashwords began accepting uploads of ePub manuscripts, which gives you much more control of the final product.

Do your homework, and then decide if Smashwords is right for you.

The Almost-Print Option of Distribution

There’s one final distribution option I’d like to discuss, and that’s PDF. PDFs are a pretty much a universal format into which you can have your book converted. PDFs can be as simple as text on the page, or they can be elegant documents full of color, interesting fonts, and unique layouts.

But where do you sell PDFs? There are many options. You can sell through a third party website like E-Junkie or Scribd, or you can sell them through a website of your own. If you use WordPress for your website, there are premium plugins that allow you to sell digital content easily from your website.

Summary of Distribution Options

When you consider distribution of your ebook, you obviously have many options. Here’s a quick recap.

  • Amazon (mobi format)
  • Barnes & Noble (ePub format)
  • Kobo (ePub format)
  • Apple iBookstore (ePub format)
  • Smashwords (multiple formats)
  • PDF (then distributed via a third-party or directly through your own website)

P.S. Hire a Professional Before You Distribute

You may be feeling overwhelmed with all the options available. What’s listed above is really only scratching the surface, though I’ve mentioned the major outlets. Do your research and take it one step at a time.

My advice? Once you’ve figured out where you want to distribute your book, hire a professional to help convert your manuscript to the proper formats, especially if you’d like to have an elegantly-designed PDF.

In the next post, we’ll discuss print book distribution. Yes, despite what you may have heard, print isn’t dead—yet.

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Self-Publishing 101: Step 3—Manuscript Preparation

Self-publishing 101: How to Self-Publish a Book or Ebook

So far in our Self-Publishing 101 series we’ve hit upon the all-important topics of revision and editing. Let’s assume now that you’re satisfied with your manuscript and you’re ready to prepare it for the world to see. You might be asking yourself, “How do I publish my manuscript?”

Preparing Your Manuscript

There are several questions you need to stop and ask yourself at this point. You may need to take some time to educate yourself first before you even know what the right questions are. Here are a few I think you should consider:

  • Do you want to self-publish in both ebook and physical book formats?
  • Where do you want to distribute your book? Amazon only? On the Nook? Apple’s iBookstore? SmashWords? CreateSpace? Kobo? Diesel? Local bookstores? Where and how you distribute will have bearing on your manuscript preparation.
  • Do you want to sell Kindle, ePub, and PDF versions of the book from your own website?
  • Do you know how to properly prepare the manuscript yourself? If not, can you learn how, or are you willing to invest the money to hire someone to do it for you? Keep in mind that preparing the manuscript for the ebook version is much different than laying it out for print.
  • Have you thought about your metadata? How are people going to find your book?
  • Have you had a cover designed? Does it look professional?
  • Have you written an enticing book blurb? Back cover copy? An “about the author” page?

Overwhelmed Yet?

There’s a lot to think about, but don’t despair. We’ll talk through many of these issues as the series progresses, especially as we move into Self-Publishing 201 territory. Let’s take a few moments and address some of these concerns.

I’ll talk more about distribution options in the next post, so for now let’s focus on some general rules for preparing your manuscript for any distribution method. This preparation will get your manuscript ready to convert to an ebook for ereaders or to lay out as a PDF or printed book, whether you do the conversion yourself or hire a professional.

  1. Fonts: Gone are the days when it’s necessary to worry about manuscript formatting that calls for Courier at 12-point size with double-spaced lines, but that doesn’t mean you can go crazy and make silly choices with your fonts. In general, stick with Times New Roman or another clean serif font at 11 or 12-point size, and always write in black unless you’re specifically preparing your book for color tablets. Depending on the device, the reader will have control over the font face and size of the text. You don’t want to do anything that will end up frustrating your reader and make them give up on your book. Additional text elements like bold, italics, and underlining, are safe, but stay away from strange characters such as symbols and dingbats unless they’re absolutely critical to your manuscript. Many of those special characters have to be converted into images to display universally across all ereader devices.
  2. Tabs: Don’t use the tab key or spacebar to create paragraph indents in your manuscript. Learn how to properly set up automatic first-line indents in your word processor of choice.
  3. Line-Spacing: As you’re writing your manuscript, you might be using extra-wide line-spacing. I personally do this during the writing and revision process because it makes the manuscript much easier to edit. However, once you’re ready to output a final manuscript, make sure you change the line-spacing to something close to 1.2 or so.
  4. Double-Spacing: Old-school typing rules required us to double-space after periods and colons and other punctuation. This was because typewriters used fixed-width type faces, but this is no longer necessary with modern computers and typesetting. In fact, double-spacing looks odd within an ebook or a properly formatted print book. So make sure you use only one space following punctuation. Also make sure you don’t double space between paragraphs. A single return at the end of each paragraph is all that is needed. Additional spacing after each paragraph can be added globally later if necessary.
  5. Page Breaks: You will want to force page breaks at the beginning of each chapter. This not only helps with the visual layout of your book for both ebook and print versions, but it is also important when generating the Table of Contents page for the ebook.
  6. Text Justification: Unless you use a special layout for something like poetry, keep your text left-aligned and don’t use full text justification. You may think full justification makes your manuscript look cleaner, but it’s actually harder to read than text that is left ragged on the right hand side. Text justification can also create some very odd and hard-to-read word spacing within the body of your manuscript. Leave text justification alone until it’s time to create a print version of your book, then consider hiring a professional create your book’s layout.
  7. Images: If you’re using images in your book, make sure you have the proper permissions to do so. You must secure permission from the copyright holder; simply crediting the source of a copyrighted image in your book is insufficient. Also make sure to compress your images properly. Using high resolution images that are simply shrunk down (leaving the file size larger than necessary) or using images that are too low resolution are both problems. You need to find a balance between good resolution and small file size.
  8. Front and Back Matter: Don’t stop working on your manuscript until you’ve added front and back matter to your manuscript. Typical pages found within the front matter include the following: title page, copyright page, half title page, dedications, acknowledgements, forewords, other books by this author, and prefaces. Back matter often includes an about the author page, appendixes, bibliographies, indexes, glossaries, and colophons. What you choose to include is up to you, but make sure you’ve thought it all out ahead of time.

That’s a good list to get you started. What questions do you have about manuscript preparation that I haven’t covered? Please let me know in the comments.

In the next post, we’ll discuss distribution options for self-publishers.

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Self-Publishing 101: Step 2—Editing

Self-publishing 101: How to Self-Publish a Book or Ebook

We’re continuing our look at the ins and outs of self-publishing. Last time we looked at the art of revision, so now we’ll move on to one of the most crucial steps in the writing process—editing.

What’s the Difference?

I can hear you thinking to yourself, “I’ve already edited my book. I did all the stuff you talked about last time during the revision process.” That’s all well and good, but much of what you did during revision needs to be done again at a higher level, the editing level.

As the author, you’re too close to the manuscript. You may see the big picture well enough, but little things slip through the cracks. Another set of eyes can help find and point out those problems.

There are several issues you need to consider during the editing process:

  • How much can I budget for the editing process?
  • How long am I willing to take for the editing process?
  • Am I willing to potentially cut or rewrite large sections of my manuscript?
  • Can I take the constructive criticism of others without getting offended?
  • Am I sure my manuscript is ready to be read by others?

There are also several ways to go about the editing process:

  • Hire a professional copy editor. A copy editor will go through your manuscript line by line and look for grammar and punctuation errors, as well as sentences that could be tightened up or rewritten to make better sense. A copy editor will not necessarily help you with the story itself. Copy editors usually charge by the word.
  • Hire a professional manuscript editor. A manuscript editor does everything a copy editor would do and then some. A quality manuscript editor will help you with your story itself, looking for weaknesses in your writing (passive voice, head jumping, plot holes), and help you craft a better final product.
  • Get people you trust to read your book. Conventional wisdom says to avoid close friends and family members. People who are close to you may have a hard time giving you the sort criticism you need to hear, which leads to what I call American Idol Syndrome. This is where our loved ones don’t have the heart to tell us how awful we are, which leads us to believe we’re awesome. Give people permission to rip your manuscript to shreds—in fact, encourage them to do so. Though painful, your manuscript will be better as a result.
  • Find beta readers. There are many sources for beta readers. I found many of my best beta readers by asking for them on Facebook. Old college friends, former co-workers, people from the neighborhood, acquaintances you hardly know—all of these are potential beta readers. They are also potential disasters, so choose beta readers judiciously.
  • Join a local or online writers’ critique group. While this might be an excellent option for some, it may or may not work for you since group members are often required to critique other writers’ works as well. You may not be willing to spend the time necessary to edit someone else’s work, or you may not have the time available.
  • Post snippets of your work to a writer’s’ critique forum. This has limited returns for several reasons. Depending on the forum, the quality of feedback can vary widely. I experienced this recently when I posted a snippet of a chapter on a forum for feedback. The only person who offered me any feedback honestly didn’t know what he was talking about, even though he was an aspiring author himself. In addition, like critique groups, the downside to this option is that most forums ask that you offer at least as many critiques as you receive, sometimes more.

There are other ways you can get more eyes on your manuscript. Be creative in your search and don’t be afraid to ask for help. But here’s word of caution: don’t fall into the trap of believing that the more people you have reading and offering feedback the better. My own opinion is that you shouldn’t have more than a handful of readers critiquing your manuscript at any given time. The amount of feedback can become overwhelming, not to mention the fact that your readers will often have conflicting opinions. You’ll need to give yourself time and space to sort things out.

Above all, remember that the manuscript is your manuscript. No one can force you to change a single word, nor should you feel obligated to make changes. Take the criticism you asked for and use it constructively, realizing that not every piece of advice is worth implementing. What’s important is that you’re open to what your critics have to tell you.

In the next post, I’ll discuss how to begin preparing your manuscript for distribution.

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Self-Publishing 101 — Step 1: Revision

Self-publishing 101: How to Self-Publish a Book or Ebook

You’ve written your book, made it all the way to the last sentence, and finished with a flourish. It’s your masterpiece, your Pietà, your magnum opus—and it’s ready to publish.

Not so fast.

Hold on There, Shakespeare!

Of primary importance is your manuscript itself. All the beautiful covers and fancy marketing in the world won’t help a bad book sell. (Well, it might, but the returns will be short and small.) The fact is, simple grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes can kill a great story.

Many self-published authors spend far too much time on the layout, design, and marketing of their book when they would have been better off spending that time revising their work. Why build a platform only to watch that platform dissolve when your readers discover you didn’t take the time to make your book as good as possible?

Nothing kills interest in your sophomore release like a shoddy first book. -Tweet This

Revise, Rinse, Repeat

You’ve spent months, possibly years, getting your thoughts into written form. Trust me, I know first-hand the creative toil necessary to produce the written word. My first novel, one I’ll be publishing soon, is a concept I’ve had in my head since my high school days. (I’m over 40, so do the math on that.)

Even after spending so much time writing out the first draft, self-published authors often rush through the editing and revision process. They feel like they’ve got a bestseller and want to get it in the hands of their imaginary, adoring fans ASAP.

Stop.

If you think your book has been revised enough, you’re wrong. Take the time to revise it three, four, or nine times. Find friends and family, or—dare I say it, enemies—to read through your manuscript. Give them permission to be brutal. Take their legitimate feedback and get back to work. You’ll be glad you did.

“Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” -Michael Crichton

In the next post of this series, we’ll address the issue of editing.

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I’ve Written a Book and I Want to Self-Publish. Now What?

We live in a world that has radically changed in the last couple of decades and the internet has fundamentally changed our lives. One of the most significant aspects of the internet age has been the rise of the independent artist and producer.

The advent of both MP3s and indie bands have helped bring about a revolution in the music industry. Blogs and new media have brought about the near-implosion of magazines and newspapers. YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu have challenged the dominance of network and cable television. And Amazon heralded a new era of publishing in which brick-and-mortar bookstores—not to mention the Big Six publishers (Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster)—are struggling to stay alive.

Self-publishing 101: How to Self-Publish a Book or Ebook

Self-Publishing 101

So, here you are. You’ve written a book and are wondering, “What are the steps I need to take to get this thing published?”

I’m assuming that you’ve decided against traditional publishing. If that’s not the case, this post—and much of what we’ll talk about here at Five J’s Design—won’t really apply to you. There are some basic foundational concepts we’ll talk about that you can apply, but the majority of the following advice is for the do-it-yourselfers out there.

I’ll be taking time over the next several posts to break down the components necessary for preparing, publishing, and selling your self-published book. Here’s a list of what we’ll be covering together:

  • Revising, Editing, and Beta Readers – Get that manuscript polished.
  • Manuscript Preparation – Prepare that manuscript for conversion.
  • Manuscript Conversion – Convert that manuscript into an ebook.
  • Cover Design – Give that book a great cover design.
  • Print Publication – Ready that book for print.
  • Marketing – Let people know that your book is out.

Along the way I hope to give you as many tips as I can to help you successfully self-publish your book. We’ll talk about things you can do on your own and give you the tools you need to get those things done, but we’ll also discuss those components that might be better left to professionals.

The comments are open for any questions you might have. I look forward to hearing from you and helping your dreams of published success come true.

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