There is a Learning Curve to Creating Ebooks

When I was formatting my first ebook, I found a lot of advice for Kindle and Smashwords, but much more random advice for PubIt and Nook. I am currently compiling useful tips so that my next formatting efforts go smoothly.

From a word .doc to .epub with one (or two) free programs: Calibre and Sigil. Both programs are fairly intuitive to use, and have decent documentation, but they can still trip you up. There is a learning curve of trial and error.

An .epub is a Nook-friendly file you can upload directly to Barnes and Noble Pub-It if you are publishing through their direct line. But it's also a legit file that you can load onto your Nook directly or read with Adobe Digital Editions.

Two Nice, Free Programs: Calibre and Sigil
Converting to .epub is made super-easy with Calibre. Download here. I have only used the Windows version, so I can't speak for the other OS. But Calibre has so far been a champion. (Though their previewer is a little flaky.) To find guides on formatting a word .doc for Calibre, help on the top bar of their website sends you to this guide and this general guide. Somewhat useful. Easy to find through the Calibre program's help, impossible to find through their site. Perhaps very easy to find, but if so, I got lost.

And if you have last minute changes to make and don't want to add more files to Calibre and reconvert the whole thing - Sigil is a good wysiwyg editor. Download here.

A Note on Kindle formatting: 
Epubs are not Kindle files. To make a .mobi file, you will follow most of the same rules for .epub formatting, but conversion is different. You will have to first make a .prc, which requires MobiPocket Creator (also free), and you'll have to check it with Kindle Previewer (note: this is the third orange heading).

Tips for Calibre: 

  • How you format the document in the first place matters a lot. Simpler is better. It's a good bet if you stick to the Normal style text except for Heading 1 and Heading 2. 
    • Note: there is a lot of overlap between Amazon formatting advice and a Calibre-friendly document - I used the same doc to generate both Nook and Kindle. Amazon KDP guidelines can be found here
    • Note: For fiction, the vogue seems to be to get your text to mimic the layout on a real book page. Thus use indents for first lines and avoid spaces between paragraphs, because that smacks of the internet. It is important that you go into paragraph styles to make these changes. The Smashwords guide has the best paragraph style tutorial I've read so far.
  • Within the .doc, you can use H1 and H2 to build a table of contents (TOC) - this works with Field Codes, and is great for .prc/.mobi (Kindle) and .epub (Nook). It creates an effective linking TOC
    • Note that field codes will jack up your Smashwords conversion (for Smashwords, you should definitely follow the Nuclear Method and strip the document). 
  • You will have to save the .doc as a "Web Page, Filtered" which will give you a .htm/.html file
  • Add your that document to your Calibre Library, edit the Metadata to reflect correct name, title, etc. 
  • When you press the Convert Books button, you will get a lot of options. 
    • Make sure under "Epub Output," you have checked the box to "Preserve Cover Aspect Ratio" otherwise your cover will stretch and your heroes will look abnormally wide. 
    • Under "Table of Contents," you probably want to check the box for "Do not add detected chapters to the TOC." I did not check this at first, and my TOC, which had H1 and H2 levels, had an extra set of Heading 1 chapter links frontloading the TOC. This was not desired.  


The Case for Self Publishing Today

This post continues the series of "To indie or not to indie? That be the question." We now present the case for self-publishing today. And there is a case. What pushed you one way or the other?

Ultimately, the case for indie is thus: you have written a book, a good one, and it is a crime against your creativity to let it rot in your desk drawer or hard drive.

Self-Publishing is a great idea, if:
  • You LOVE the internet, and have a good internet connection.
    • Internet is your friend, you need it for social networking, ebook sales, uploading, etc. 
      • Fun fact: I love the internet, but my wireless tower is being dismantled. Going from the flaky internet I have to the zero internet I will have until a good solution is found  will not help my self-publishing initiative. 
  • You have a very strong need for immediate gratification. 
    • Let's be real. If you want to publish a book, there's no faster way. Sure, it will take some time to muddle through the formatting. But if you have a book and can cobble together a cover, you can find your name on Amazon in about two days! You are now prepared to face the problems of building a platform while riding a bubble of self-satisfaction. 
  • You are really enthusiastic about all aspects of the publishing process.
    • You are excited to find editors and a cover artist, to explore your options for printing physical copies, and to learn all bout the formatting required of ebooks. But wait, there's more! You are stoked about platforming and marketing. You have good ideas for exciting ways to deliver the message of your book to your readers. Maybe you already know a lot about marketing. Maybe you want the excuse to learn. 
  • You want creative control.
    • You're an artist, damnit! There is no reason that a publishing house should rip your book out of your hands and stick some slapdash art on the cover. Other artists don't care about your project, they don't "get it." But your cover art captures the soul of the piece. 
For bonus points, Self-Publishing may be a great idea, if:  
  • You've already been banging away at your platform. 
      • Er, I was going for a hammer and nails and building metaphor there. Moving on.
    • If you have a presence, if you have contacts with bloggers, and you have a number of people who are interested in what you have to say in these webby platforms, you have a much better chance of generating some interest. 
    • If you have built a parallel presence in another context, like, say, a Twilight fanclub, this may only help you if you have written a similarly claustrophobic and sparkling romance. 
  • You have multiple books already that you want to do something with. 
    • If you've been trying traditional for a while and churning out books, now's a great time to try indie. 
    • If someone discovers your book and likes it, it helps if they have more books to buy at once. Impulse and immediate gratification can multiply your sales!
    • Bonus: If you debut with multiple books, you will not be hounded immediately for the sequel, so you will get to postpone the guilty conscience.  
  • You're in it for the long haul.
    • You don't expect your book to be an instant success. You know these things take time, and that you will face a learning curve. But you are committed to writing and promoting your work (without looking like you're trying, of course). You have to start somewhere. 
    • You can test-drive the self-publishing approach with a manuscript you think is solid, but doesn't seem to appeal to agents. It isn't for everyone, but you just might like being so closely involved with the process. 
    • Self publishing works very well for some people. These are the people that put in a lot of effort and do not give up, a few months in, out of frustration.
  • You want to write shorter fiction
    • Ebooks are a good solution for novellas and novella-chunk serials, which are an awkward size to print either in magazines or in very slim book format.
    • They (the grand They who give advice) used to advocate writing a lot of short stories and getting published in literary magazines. Some people still advocate this. I can't remember the last time I voluntarily read a literary magazine that I wasn't published in. However, this did give writers a chance to try different approaches to writing, and more quickly analyze what worked and what didn't. Writing shorter fiction is a good learning technique and opportunity to find your voice. 
    • It is good practice to write some stories on the shorter side to learn some valuable experience before breaking into fully epic length fiction. A novella is long enough that you can have a satisfying plot and character arcs. When sampling a new writer, I am more eager to read a story I could finish in a few hours--I tend to finish the books I read, so shorter fiction is less of a gamble. 
      • Full disclosure: Once upon a time I read an esteemed 400 page fantasy novel by an esteemed writer I had not previously read. I suffered massive burnout and decided I would have enjoyed a 200 pager a lot more. 
    Psychologically, Self-Publishing may be a good idea if,
    • You have trouble letting go of your WIPs
      • Some people have trouble giving up their manuscripts. It could be that you do want to pull an Emily Dickinson and leave all of your writing until your death, but then you would have zero control in how your works were treated. If you find yourself unable to label a manuscript 'finished' for fear that it isn't perfect, it might help you to turn one loose and publish. There is no such thing as a perfect manuscript. If the story is polished, the themes are clear, and you have already edited it many times, you maybe should let it into the wild. Though there are scary critics with dart guns, you have to give the story the chance to run free. 
      • If a reluctance to release is an issue, it might help you to release a story so you can move onto the next one. It can bolster your writing self esteem to release it and have a book. It'll be easier the next time, because you know you can do it. You can let go. 
        • Note: No work is perfect. This is not to say that you should write half a book and throw it online. This is not to say that "nothing is perfect" so you shouldn't bother editing. No. This is to prevent the hoarding the story and hiding in the safety in your own grand potential. 
    • You have tried and tried and tried traditional
      • They beat you down, but you get up again. Never gonna keep you down.
      • The Gatekeepers have turned you away, time and time again. As countless (Amanda Hocking?) examples have shown, readers genuinely enjoy things that get turned down and lost in the slush piles. 
      • If they are turning you down because they don't think the story is marketable - well, here's a chance to showcase your creativity and ingenuity! You will have the challenge of succeeding where they did not think they could.
    Especially if you have a body of work, self publish and market. Don't let the stories rot. If you're on your first full length novel, it might be wise to shop it around for a while. Not writing that long? Try self-pubbing. After all, who wouldn't buy a great story that's only a dollar!


    The case against indie publishing right now

    When is the right time to go indie? What with fanfare over outlier successes, some people have been diving in without stopping to check if there's any water in the swimming pool. Myself included.  Persuaded by the "anyone will read anything if it's 99 cents!" argument, I neglected to consider the question of when is the best method and time to become an indie writer. The goal is not to point you away from indie, but to point you away from stumbling blocks.

    So, friends, let's play a game of Epublishing Bingo as we go through the case against self-publishing. Make it a self-publish day or not: the choice is yours.

    Self Publishing may not be for you, if:

    • You don't want to pay a cent of upfront cost.
    • As much as KDP and PubIt make it possible to launch a book without paying a cent, it might behoove you to throw money at certain issues: 
      • The reader judges the book by the cover. If you do not have art skills, it might be in your best interest to throw some money at a (reputable) artist to get some cover art that doesn't scream indie newbie. 
      • Editing. You will need editors, proof readers, and beta readers. It may be that you have enough English Major friends that you can cover this for free, but a paid (reputable) editor should be more invested in the project, and perhaps more prompt
      • You don't want to interact with fans or social network.
        • You're screwed.  
      • You are a spammer, and post a book a day to Amazon.
        • Please stop. That's a horrible idea. 
      • You are an Amazon book pirate, stealing other authors work to post on Amazon. 
        • See above.

      You should postpone your first release effort if: 

      • No one has heard of your writing ambitions except for your mother. 
        • It may be wise to first develop an online presence and build interest, because if you just throw up your book on Amazon, it will be greeted with a fanfare of exactly one.  
        • You should take the time to send some ARCs to those kind reviewers who accept that sort of thing. Be aware that they have 2-3 month wait lists of other people presently jumping into the selfpub pool.
        •  Publishing works best if people are excited about a release date and then all buy the book at the same time. But this is an uphill battle.
      • You have never tried social networking, and think that Twitter is for twits.  
        • There is a learning curve, and there may be some floundering as you struggle to develop your personal brand, and how you want to present yourself to your fans. 
        • If you only have one book, you are in danger of beginning the social networking journey and discovering that while you thought you had no free time before, you aren't writing a word of fiction right anymore. 
        • Warning: social networking is a psychological trap. It's a variable interval reward system, which makes it addictive in the same sense as gambling.
        • Make sure that you know how to use social networks. If you begin by thinking that Twitter is an advertising platform instead of a networking platform, you will commit a faux pas or two that can cost you.
        • Note, and this is the most important thing to know, that if you use Twitter to post consecutive links to your book, you will fill your followers with hate.
      • You have never spent any time on Goodreads, but assume it is just there for you to plug your book.
        • Definitely do check out the community on Goodreads. There are some friendly people, and you can learn a lot about books, but you need to be interested in being a member and part of the conversation, not just in promoting your books. 
        • Note: you also need to be prepared for snarky reviews. 
        • And if you need to make yourself feel better about a bad review, look at reviews of your favorite books and read bashing reviews that are even more unreasonable and vicious. 
        • That said, pay attention to the substantial comments in reviews of what readers loved/hated. You should let feedback help your writing.  
          • Unfortunately, since the Hocking phenomenon, self published writers have swarmed to the site. They are ready to tell anyone and everyone about their books at inappropriate times. While I love hearing about new books and seeing what other people are writing, this has become a problem to the Goodreads community, and there is a lot of backlash when the indie writer becomes associated with spam.

            #Writetip: you do not want your name/book associated with spam.

        Reasons to continue the traditional path of searching for agent/house:
        • Most authors who do well quickly in self publishing do so because they already have a fanbase.
          • See JA Konrath, who began with traditional means. 
          • Amanda Hocking is an outlier. 
        • It may be worth at least trying to publish traditionally while you write your second and third books
          • If you think "No! I want to start making money now!" you should realize that the ten dollars you will make will not really cover your car insurance. Maybe it would be better to put most of your energy into writing? 
        • Even if you publish traditionally and your book doesn't do well, there should bump up your fanbase.
            • Chances are if your agent/publisher likes it, someone will buy it and love you.
          • I have heard it repeated over and over that traditional publishing houses are putting less and less money into promoting books and especially first novels. And yet. Their budget will be more than the zero dollars you are attaching to your self publishing budget. 
          • If you get some fans with a first novel, they might be even happier to buy your low-priced ebooks.
        • You do want a fanbase. 
          • And if your books are in bookstores and libraries, people can stumble upon physical copies. 
          • Ebooks sitting on the Kindle store without an easy way to be found are pretty much in an invisible and intangible store room, buried under other books. 
        • Disclaimer: I am not sure that publishing houses are fond of their authors doing self-pub on the side. Or a publishing house ding-dong-ditch.

        So, am I missing some important arguments? Have you self published and found yourself crashing into any unexpected obstacles? 

        Up next on Fictician: The Case FOR Self Publishing.