I’ve been talking with a few people recently about self-publishing, and some of them are vaguely confused about what you need to do in order to get a book out if you’ve written it and want to publish yourself, so I thought I’d do a semi-comprehensive guide. This is for full-length books of 40,000 words or more – short stories are a slightly different beast.
First, you need a word processor that will output in both .doc and .pdf format. Microsoft Word will do both these, I think, and I know that LibreOffice, AbiWord and OpenOffice.org will. I actually use LyX, because it produces beautifully typeset work and you don’t have to fight it the way you do MS Word. If you use LyX, the book Self-Publishing With LyX (free PDF version) is a godsend.
First, we’ll look at print publishing. Export your book as a PDF, with all fonts included in your file – if you don’t do this, there may be typesetting errors with your finished book. Most typesetting advice will tell you to use a ten-to-twelve point serif font, but I use a fourteen point sans serif. This is because my wife is visually impaired, and she finds this much easier to read. I suspect this will be the case for other visually impaired people, and I don’t want to exclude anyone from reading my books. So long as you use a simple, plain font for this, not Comic Sans or anything equally horrific, your book will look professional enough.
You will want to set fairly generous margins on your pages in the PDF, to allow for the pages to be trimmed. I use the margins suggested in Self-Publishing With LyX – Top: 2.5cm, Bottom 2.5cm, Inner: 2.5cm, Outer: 2.0cm . If you’re using Microsoft Word or one of the Wordalike Free Software word processors, lulu.com have a template you can use that will make your pages the right size, but when I used this (on my first two books, before I discovered LyX) I found it extraordinarily fiddly to use with LibreOffice, and next to impossible in AbiWord. I don’t have a copy of Microsoft Word, so I have no experience with that.
Once you have your PDF, you next need your cover. If you can’t draw yourself, you have a couple of options. One that some writers take is to browse stock photo libraries, and pay a small amount (usually in the tens of pounds) for rights to use a picture. You can, however, also search Google Images for images that have been freely licensed for commercial reuse.
One thing to remember, as well, is that all images created by branches of the US government are automatically in the public domain, so lots of military, scientific or space photographs, as well as photos of various politicians and so on, are completely free to use.
Now create an account with a print-on-demand publisher. I have heard very, very good things about CreateSpace, but I use lulu.com myself. This is partly because CreateSpace are an Amazon company, and I don’t want Amazon to have a monopoly or to put my eggs in one basket, and partly because Lulu also offer very good quality hardbacks, and I like to have nice copies of my books.
Once you have an account, click ‘start a new project’ and follow the steps it tells you. You will want your book to be available as a trade paperback (this is a normal paperback of a standard size – Lulu also do larger, coffee-table style books), as a hardback, and as a PDF (don’t add DRM to your PDF – DRM doesn’t deter so-called ‘pirates’ and does deter actual readers). Lulu have an easy-to-use cover designer that will take your image, resize it to the right dimensions, and let you add the title, author name, back-cover blurb and so on. You will get a PDF copy of this completed cover – take a screenshot of the front cover and save it as a JPG, and you can use it for your ebooks.
While Lulu do publish ebooks in non-PDF format, I’ve had nothing but horrendous experience with them in that department, so don’t put your ebooks out through them, other than PDF versions.
You can either buy an ISBN for your book or get one assigned by Lulu. There is no reason I know of not to use Lulu’s. Once you have an ISBN assigned and have bought and approved a proof copy of your book, you can choose either Lulu’s ‘ExtendedReach’ service (which is free, and gets your book on Amazon and into bibliographic databases so other stores can choose to order it) or their GlobalReach service (which is expensive but gets you onto other sites like Barnes & Noble). Interestingly, they seem to be experimenting with merging these two services and making them both free, but I don’t know if that will be going ahead.
Now you’ve got your physical book sorted, it’s time to think of your ebook. For this you’ll need your book to be in Word .doc format. (If you have a choice of which .doc versions to output as, choose Office 2003. DO NOT choose either Windows 95’s version, which doesn’t have all the features you need, or docx, which the major sites don’t yet support). There are many programs that will allow you to produce your own good-quality epub and mobi files, but if you want to get on the major sites you actually want them to convert the files for you at the moment.
Read through the Smashwords Style Guide (free ebook in various formats here) and follow its instructions precisely, paying special attention to the section on Table Of Contents. Then create an account with Smashwords and upload your correctly-formatted .doc file. Smashwords will then convert your book into every format in which you wish to sell it. Select all formats except .mobi (the Kindle format, which we’ll deal with separately) and PDF (Smashwords’ PDF copies look horrible, sell PDFs through Lulu instead).
Smashwords will assign you a free ISBN for your ebook, and will sell DRM-free copies through their own site, but their real advantage is that they will get you onto other online bookstores. They’re the only simple way to get on iBooks, Kobo, Diesel and Sony’s bookstore. They’re also the only way for people outside the US to get on Barnes & Noble’s Nook ebookstore. (People in the US can use Barnes & Noble’s PubIt). These sites between them account for something in the region of 20% of the ebook market.
Smashwords will claim that they offer distribution to Amazon, but they don’t. Disable this option just in case this changes, because you’re going to put your book out through Amazon by yourself – no reason to give Smashwords a cut.
You will want to price your book on Smashwords at between $2.99 and $9,99 – this is not because of anything to do with Smashwords itself, but because Amazon price-matches with other sites, and that’s the price range in which you get the best royalties on Amazon.
Smashwords is a great service, but has two major disadvantages. The first is that they pay quarterly in arrears – so if they receive money from a sale on Apple’s store in February (and Apple take their time to pay Smashwords), you won’t see it until June. The second is that for non-USians they require you to jump through a lot of hoops in the US’ insanely complex tax system if you don’t want to lose 30% of your money, and this takes time. The combination of these two things mean that even though I’ve had books up on Smashwords for a year, I am yet to see any money from them. But when it does finally arrive it’ll be a substantial chunk.
Finally, you’ll want your book to be available on the Kindle. This is the simplest of all these options by this point. Take your Smashwords-formatted .doc file, remove the line about ‘published on Smashwords’ that you inserted to meet Smashwords’ requirements, add page breaks at the end of each chapter (Kindle like page-breaks, Smashwords don’t). Then create an account at kdp.amazon.com and upload your files.
Amazon will try to get you to join a program called KDP Select with your books. DO NOT JOIN THIS. It is a very bad deal for actual writers (as opposed to delusional fools who want to strike it big with a single bestseller), it limits what you can do enormously, and some of its provisions (like turning the money made from lending into a zero-sum game in which you have to compete with other authors) are actively evil.
You should price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, as outside this price range you only make a 35% royalty, but you get 70% if your book’s in that price range. Some people will advise you to sell your books for 99 cents to ‘get noticed’. This was possibly good advice two years ago, but when there are literally millions of books selling at that price (and people giving books away as part of the KDP Select programme), any advantage the low price may have had is gone, so you might as well charge an amount where you’ll see some money. (99 cents is, however, a fair price for a short story if you’re publishing those).
Do not enable DRM – all DRM does is put customers off, it doesn’t deter illegal copying. Enable text-to-speech unless you hate blind people and want them to suffer.
Finally, get an Amazon Author Central account. You will, in fact, want to set up two of these, one on the US site and one on the UK site. From a reader’s point of view, an authorcentral page allows you to see everything an author’s written in one place, as well as a bio of the author (see my page for an example of how this works) – useful if you’ve written multiple books and people want to find them all. From an author’s point of view, it gives you some extra tools to manage your books.
And that’s it. Once you’ve done this, post a link on your blog or website saying your book’s out, then forget about it until the money comes in, and write the next one, and the one after that.