Saturday, March 26, 2011

epublishing your novel

I'm so excited. I've epublished my novel, Broken Ones, on Smashwords, and it will soon also become available electronically on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Clicking the "publish" button on Smashwords was SO COOL. Seriously. So cool!

So I had to do a fair amount of research to get it all done, and I thought I'd bring my findings here so that perhaps someone feeling as overwhelmed as I did yesterday can get it all in one place.

First of all, publish to at least these three retailers: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.* Every retailer has their own format to follow for epublishing. This is annoying, and I suspect when we move out of this "wild west" era of epublishing, one of the things that will happen is standardization of formats. But in the meantime...

The simplest order to epublish is as follows (at least in my experience):
  1. Publish to Smashwords
  2. Publish to B&N
  3. Publish to Amazon
Why? Because Smashwords has this wonderful free guide: Smashwords Style Guide. Warning: it is 73 pages long. Don't be intimidated, though, the first two dozen pages or so just tell you why using their guide is useful. The bulk of the instructions exist from around page 25ish to page 68, and there are a lot of images. And it is totally worth doing what they advise.

One thing I didn't think they made clear is that they won't take a .docx file. Only .doc, so "save as" .doc (it's listed as Word 97-2003) if you're using the latest Word.

Once you have your Smashwords formatted document, it is way easy to convert it to B&N and Amazon. Just remove the Smashwords copyright info and replace it with the appropriate info for whichever format you're doing. On the B&N site, you can upload the Word doc as is. For Amazon, you have to convert the file to html. Don't worry, all that means is "save as" a web page or as html, depending on what your program calls it.

Always look at the preview. When I first uploaded my file to Amazon I saw I had lost my paragraph indents. Then I realized I'd uploaded the .doc file, not the .html file. Because Amazon will take a .doc file, but the .html file keeps all that nice Smashwords formatting you created whereas for some reason it loses some from the .doc file.

Alternately, you can use Guide Henkel's guide to formatting, which provides you with step by step instructions for creating a clean, issue-free html file. Note that you cannot use this file for Smashwords. You definitely can for Amazon, and I didn't try for B&N. I ran into one problem with it, and commented on Guido's blog, and he responded within like, an hour. Really supportive. If you do decide to go with this guide to format your Amazon Kindle, be aware that the first line in the style sheet needs to be changed. Quoting Guido here from the email he sent me:

Simply change the first line in the style sheet

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0.1em; }

to this one

       html, body, div, h1, h2, h3, h4, h5, h6, ul, ol, dl, li, dt, dd, p, pre, table, th, td, tr { margin: 0; padding: 0; }

and you will be fine. Kindle does not interpret the padding command properly and applies it only to the left side of the page.

When you're ready to upload your formatted book:

Have your bank account information handy when you are ready to upload your book. This will save you time and help you avoid annoying your significant other by asking him/her five different questions about your bank account. Believe me.

I created a paypal account for B&N because they pay you every time you earn $10 with paypal, versus every $75 if you choose to be paid by check.

A note or two about creating a cover:

You can do it yourself. I did. There are places online with free stock photos and illustrations, but in the end I went to dreamstime and set up an account, and paid $9.99 for 8 credits to buy a 4 credit image. So I paid, essentially, $5.00 for my cover and the right to use its photo commercially. I then used Paint to add the title and my name. I chose my photo carefully, as I wanted to combine the concept of "broken" with a sense of hope, and I also wanted a literal broken window since two windows get broken in the book. I also like to think the sunbeam could be a ghost image, but that might be stretching it. And I also carefully chose the font and how to format it. I suggest you look at your cover as a thumbnail in your file directory, because it will be that small (or nearly) in some of the directories Smashwords lists it in. If you can't read your name and title, start over.

You want an image that is minimum  800h X 600w because that's the minimum required by all three companies, I believe. At least two out of the three, for sure.

If the thought of creating your own cover gives you hives, you can, I'm told, go to DeviantArt and hire an artist on the cheap. One person told me it would cost around $35. One of my critiquing buddies is going to have his nephew do his cover. There are lots of possibilities.

Finally, some things to consider:

  • Price: if you go by what epublishing guru J.A. Konrath says and does, price your ebook at $0.99 for promotional periods, then raise it to $2.99. Why? For one thing, on B&N and Amazon this makes a big difference in terms of your royalties. B&N Nookbooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 65% while anything outside of that range earns 40%. Amazon Kindlebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn 70% while everything else earns 35%. So once you've got some momentum going on your sales and you have some five star book reviews, it may make sense to raise your price to $2.99, especially if your book is at least 65K words. Readers apparently judge value based on length a lot of the time. I've also read that some authors prefer not to list at $0.99 indefinitely because the $0.99 ebook attracts a certain kind of reader, and that kind of reader can be unpleasant. I wish I remembered which blog I read that on, because I'd link to it, but I don't, so do some searches for more information.

  • Don't publish your book until you've given it revisions and a thorough edit. I mean, don't get me wrong, I probably missed some typos in my novel--I think I catch them all, and they still slip by me, masters of stealth that they are. But I think typos are forgivable. What hangs me up when I'm reading are things like passive voice, overuse of to be verbs, etc. And stories that confuse me, etc. So don't put your book out there until it's been through some beta-readers, etc. Broken Ones had a total of six beta-readers and I still caught way too many gerunds and to be verbs in my last edit. And try to eliminate every "there was" or "there were" you find. And to quote Stephen King, "The adverb is not your friend." Apparently a lot of crappy self-published ebooks exist out there. I believe that while some of these are selling, eventually the cream will rise to the top. Make sure yours is creamy.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has epublished or is considering doing so. Please comment and tell me a bit about your journey!

*ETA: I have been asked, "Why go through the trouble of reformatting to submit to Amazon when Smashwords automatically formats for Kindle (as well as many other formats)?" My answer: because at this time Smashwords does not place your book for sale with Amazon. That means if you want your book listed on Amazon for people to buy for their Kindles you must submit it separately to Amazon. Smashwords does list your book with B&N, but only if you make their Premium List, and I'm not going to take my chances.


  1. Really excellent post. Thanks for condensing everything down so well. Will be looking for your book on Kindle (so be sure to tweet it!).

  2. Thank you, Lori! I will happily do that!