Saturday, September 29, 2012

Publishing Your Own E-book

Someone asked me how hard is it to publish your own e-book.  The answer is: It's easy.

The hardest things about it are (A) deciding on what to write about, and (B) spending the time writing and editing.  Besides that, the technical part is amazingly simple, but there are a few small things to watch out for. Ultimately however, this is an exciting time to try on your author hat and see where it can take you!

Tools

You can use all sorts of software products to "author" or write your e-book.  I prefer Microsoft Word, but some authors find that absurd.  However, you can make some adjustments in Word to avoid the pitfalls that many Word-haters cite as reasons to avoid using it.  I'll touch on that under "Tricks" later in this article.

The other "tool" you'll need is something to convert from the writing/editing output into the publishing format. Most e-book readers can open EPUB and MOBI files, however, Amazon Kindle won't open EPUB.  There are quite a few other formats as well, but EPUB and MOBI are the most common.  (for a comparison/explanation, check this out).

Amazon actually converts your content into their own AZW if you choose to lock down the digital publishing rights (something you should do if you don't want people making copies of your book and sharing it for free).  I have tried several such products, even Amazon's own KindleGen, but I've settled on Calibre, which is a free converter and library manager for Windows, Mac and Linux.

KindleGen is also nice, but it's a bare-bones converting tool.  In fact, it has no graphical interface (GUI), it's a command-line tool, but fortunately it's not difficult to use.  The download from Amazon is a .ZIP file, so you need to extract the kindlegen.exe file out from the .ZIP file in order to use it.  After you extract it to a folder, right-click on that folder while holding down your SHIFT key, and select "Open Command prompt here".  You can also click the Start button, and type CMD and press Enter, then use the age-old DOS command "CD" to switch to the folder, then type "kindlegen" to view the usage information. I figure if you can suffer through my idiotic ramblings this far, you're probably capable of figuring out the rest from here. :)


Tricks

As I mentioned above, if you want to use Microsoft Word to write your book, you'll want to make a few changes to formatting to avoid problems during the conversion process.  For Word 2010, click the "File" tab, click "Options", select "Proofing", and click the "AutoCorrect Options..." button.


Select the "AutoFormat As You Type" tab, and de-select (disable/un-check) the following options:

  • "Straight quote" with "smart quotes"
  • Fractions (1/2) with fraction character(1/2)
  • Hypens (--) with dash (--)
  • *Bold* and _italic_ with real formatting


Other things to be careful with are the use of borders and tables, and nested indenting.  E-book readers tend to apply their own formatting voodoo on top of the final output, and these objects tend to confuse some of them pretty badly.\

Tips

I don't recommend trying to write an e-book if you don't already have an e-book reader.  The good news is that today (in 2012), you can read e-books in a web browser, on your phone, in a dedicated reader application, as well as on smartphones, and physical reader devices and tablets.  The array of options is pretty amazing actually.

If you don't own (or borrow) an Amazon Kindle or Kindle Fire, or a Barnes & Noble Nook, or a Sony Reader, or whatever, I strongly recommend you go buy one first.  Why?  Two reasons:
  1. You need to become familiar with the end-user experience.  It helps to understand what your readers (customers) will see when they pay hard-earned money for your works.
  2. You need a means for testing the output prior to publishing it for purchase.  You'd be surprised how many times you will copy and re-copy your e-book to the device to fix formatting errors, and make corrections that you only happen to see on the reader device.
While the "cloud" readers are fine, most of your customers are likely to read your works on a dedicated reader device.  If you plan on publishing through Amazon, I recommend getting a Kindle or Kindle Fire.  Each market tends to favor a certain class of device however, so make your choices accordingly.

The Business End Low-Down

Each publisher has their own particular set of rules and guidelines, so I strongly urge you to review each of them, and weigh the potential marketing prospects, to decide which you intend to use.  Some will actually place limits on whether you can publish a particular work through other sites or publishers. Be careful!

I've used Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Play.  Of the three, I prefer Amazon.  Amazon offers two royalty rate options, and a variety of tools such as Lending, and Kindle Select, as well as control over free "offers" to help you tailor your marketing goals to suit your needs.

Basically, the way the "model" works is you upload and publish for "free".  Amazon earns revenue off of a percentage of each sale.  You can choose a 70% or 35% royalty rate, where each has its unique limitations and benefits.  For details about Amazon's KDP pricing options, go here.

Royalty payments are disbursed at the end of each sales period, or roughly every 30 days.  They will also send you an e-mail to let you know in advance what will be deposited into your bank account (if you choose direct deposit).

Unless your book is a major "hit", don't expect to retire from our day job (unless your day job happens to be writing e-books).  I will admit my book sales don't come anywhere close to those of Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling, but I earn enough to cover lunch costs and fill my gas tank most of the time.  Is that bad?  Not really.  I fully realize the niche market my books are aimed at, so I don't expect high volume sales.  But every bit helps.  As for taxes: Amazon, like all the others, sends you a 1099 form to help you file your tax return appropriately.

Conclusion

If you've been putting off writing a book, maybe now is the time to reconsider.  It has never been easier (and more affordable) to get your material out into the world, and earn a little income from it as well.  Anyone who has a little creative spark for writing stories, or writing about their own experiences, or skills or ideas, or whatever, can now produce their own e-books to a thriving market with the potential to do very well.  The traditional approach to getting a printed book published is becoming increasingly more of a challenge, and more costly.  E-book publishing makes it possible to do it yourself and with greater control over the process and the content as well.
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