Self-publishing an e-Book

I’ve always been leery of self-publishing. For one thing, I dislike the idea of paying someone to publish my work. I feel it should be the other way around. Besides which, I know that the vast majority–and I mean vast–of self-published books sell almost nothing. Maybe a couple hundred copies if the writer’s lucky. When some self-published book breaks out and sells well, we hear all about it, but it’s news precisely because for every one that does, a thousand sell dismally. And some of the publications, such as, say, Writers Digest, that tout self-publishing benefit from it at least indirectly from the full page color ads vanity presses run in their pages.

All that said, I decided to self-publish an e-book entitled Through Their Strange Hours, a small one on the order of a so-called Kindle single. A collection of four interconnected short stories, it runs about 17,000 words. With all I said at the start, why did I do this? Well, for one thing it cost me next to nothing. I ended up paying someone forty dollars to format my cover, and I paid Library of Congress thirty-five dollars to register my copyright of the book, so I did spend a grand total of seventy-five bucks on it.

As far as most self-published books’ selling very little, I don’t care. Three of the book’s four stories are reprinted from literary journals and the other is a related tale that I included here without sending it around first, because it was connected to the rest. The way I look at it, rather than sitting in my desk drawer or computer, the stories are now out there available to anyone who cares to spend $ 0.99 to download them. If only a few hundred people end up reading them, that’s a few hundred more than would have otherwise. And hope, of course, springs eternal.

A couple of other things made this seem worth doing. One was learning that if I self-published an e-book through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), I didn’t have to release it exclusively through them. The other was learning that if I uploaded the e-book to Smashwords (www.smashwords.com), they would not only sell it on their site, they’d also distribute it to the online catalogs of Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, iTune’s book store, The Kobo e-reader store, and virtually anyplace else that sells e-books.

smashwords, coverAnother plus was that Smashwords has a free manual you can download that explains how to format your work into an e-book, Smashwords Style Guide. I downloaded it and by following its step-by-step directions, managed to format a good-looking e-book, complete with an interactive table of contents (the kind that allows readers to click on a story or chapter heading and go straight to it.) The book also has a picture of my smiling face in the back, along with hypertext links to this blog and other relevant sites. I won’t claim that the formatting was a breeze for me, exactly, but I’m not the world’s most techno-savvy guy, and I got through the process OK. Before I actually started formatting I read the entire manual two times, which took me probably three hours all together. Then I just followed the manual’s directions step-by-step.

If you really hate the idea of doing the formatting yourself, you can ask Smashwords for a list of finished cover, thru their strange...independent contractors who will do it for you. I checked out the list and most of the formatters want from fifty to a hundred dollars to format a full length book for Smashwords. The information Smashwords will send you also includes a separate list of people who will format your cover for you, and I did resort to using one these formatters, a lady named Rita Toews, for my cover. I probably could’ve formatted the cover myself, but I didn’t feel like it after formatting the text. I sent a photo to the formatter; for forty dollars she designed the cover, and a very nice job she did of it, I think.

building ur bk for kindleOnce Through Their Strange Hours was uploaded successfully to Smashwords, I tackled uploading it to the Kindle Store via Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP also has a free formatting guide, Building Your Book for Kindle, which is considerably shorter than Smashwords’ manual. There were some differences in how the formatting was supposed to be done, the biggest being that KDP wanted you to upload your e-book as an html file, whereas Smashwords wanted you to upload it as a Word file.

Anyway I uploaded my book following their directions and then checked it on KDP's simulator of various Kindle formats. I checked it first on the Kindle Fire format, and it was perfect. Then I checked it on the other formats and there was a problem: when you clicked on a story's title in the table of contents, you went to the story just fine, but the title there wasn't centered; it was on the left side of the page. Grrr. I spent a couple hours trying to fix this and only managed to give myself a really sore neck.

After a week of brooding over it all, I broke down and emailed one of the formatters on Smashwords’ list and asked her if she could help me upload my e-book to KDP. She said sure, send her the file, and she’d see what she could do. I did, and she wrote me back saying that the only thing needed was to save the file as a “prc” file instead of as an html file. She gave me a technical explanation, which was probably very simple, but which I’m not going to attempt repeating. Anyhow, a kind soul, she said that I owed her nothing because it took her next to no time to save the file as a prc file. Lucinda Campbell is the formatter’s name, and as far as I’m concerned she’s an exemplary human.

Anyway, long story short, I uploaded the prc file that she’d sent me, and now the e-book is up everywhere you can buy one.

I’m not sure I’m going to do anything to promote Through Their Strange Hours. Promoting a book on the internet is tedious to me, and how else would you promote an e-book? I’m not much worried about how the book sells, either: I was just interested to see if I could put together a presentable e-book, and happily I found out that the answer’s yes. The book looks beautiful in my unbiased opinion, as nice as any e-book I’ve read. If I follow Joseph Campbell’s advice to follow my bliss, I won’t be spending many hours on the internet promoting my e-book, but if I do decide to promote the thing, that’ll be another post, maybe Self-publishing an e-Book Part II.

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About kentmcdanielwrites

Writer and musician.

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