We’re publishing (in three easy chunks) a really useful guide to self-publishing by digital guru David Gaughran. He blogs here and his book, Let’s Get Digital, is available from Amazon and other fine e-providers. This second part of the guide deals with formatting and upload.
Once your manuscript is edited, and your cover is ready, you will need to turn that into a neatly formatted e-book that will wrap and flow and resize, and have nifty features like a clickable table of contents (and links to your other books). If you don’t own an e-reader, and you have never read an e-book, I recommend downloading the Kindle software so you can play around with it (available for any computer, tablet or smartphone). Grab some free books while you are at it, and look at the formatting. Watch how the text reflows when you make the font bigger and smaller. If it is formatted correctly, it will all be quite neat.
Formatting can be a painful process the first time, but it gets much easier after that. I think my first book took a few days to figure everything out. My next one took a few hours. Now, after four books, I can even format a complicated non-fiction book very quickly. Essentially, it involves downloading some free software and playing around with basic HTML. Some of the most non-technical people I know have been able to master it, but if it’s too much, you can hire someone cheaply (for between $100 and $200).
What you absolutely mustn’t do is use one of the shortcuts that many self-publishers employ. Some of these “tricks” involve simply saving your MS as HTML document then uploading directly to Amazon. I can’t emphasise enough what a mistake this is. Your book will most likely contain serious formatting errors. And even if it looks fine on the Kindle, it may not look okay on an iPad or iPhone. Many self-publishers who used this shortcut were surprised when their books were a mess on the new Kindle Fire. I wasn’t, as this shortcut will leave all sorts of hidden code in your book that can cause problems as it is interpreted differently by different devices. To do things the right way, to learn how to format your books so they look perfect on every device, or to get some recommendations on paid formatting services, check out my formatting page.
Since December, self-publishers have a big decision to make when they upload: should they go exclusive with Amazon? The community is divided on this topic, and I tried to present both sides on my blog. Here is my initial post outlining the pros and cons of KDP Select, and explaining why I wasn’t participating. Here’s one author’s guest post on their success with the program, and here’s another. Finally, here’s one from an author who has seen sales increase by staying out. You really have to make your own mind up (and this is where keeping in touch with the latest developments on the above blogs and the Kindle Boards forum comes in handy).
If you don’t decide to go exclusive, the main sites you need to upload to are Amazon (details below), and Smashwords (who will distribute your work to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel, iTunes and all the global Apple sites, as well as Kobo and all their partners, such as FNAC and WHSmith). Additional sites such as DriveThruFiction, AllRomance/OmniLit, and Xinxii (who will also distribute to Casa del Libro in Spain) are worth considering, but please note the first two require ISBNs (Smashwords provide free ISBNs and Amazon and Xinxii don’t require them). I’ve detailed the steps below for Amazon, but all the sites are quite similar.
If you have decided to go exclusive with Amazon, then you only have one site to upload to. All you need is your cover and your formatted e-book file. Setting up an account is simple, and only takes a minute or two. You will need to fill out your name and address and your payment information for royalties (if you are in the UK, you will be paid by bank transfer for UK sales, but by cheque for everything else).
When you click “Upload New Title” you will be taken to a new page, where you will fill out all the information about your book: the title, the author’s name, the description/blurb (nifty advice here), and the publisher’s name – you can leave that blank, enter your own name or that of your publishing company. Whether you set up your own publishing company or not is something you must decide for yourself, and there is some advice on that, and other practicalities such as tax, copyright, and ISBNs here.
Next you must enter the book’s categories. You only get two, so choose them wisely. Try and drill down as much as possible. For example, under Fiction, you will find a sub-section for Romance, and further sub-sections for Regency, Historical, Time-Travel etc. Picking Regency will automatically include you in the general Romance and Fiction categories. You also get to pick seven keywords. Try not to make these too generic, as these decide whether your book shows up on searches on Amazon. As such “fiction” won’t be much use to you. “Paranormal romance” or “cozy mystery” will be much better. The last item on the page is the box to upload your book. I strongly urge you not to enable DRM. It does nothing to prevent piracy and only antagonises readers (some boycott books with DRM).
On the second and final page, you must select which territories you wish to sell your book in (which is usually all, but some self-publishers may have sold UK or US rights to a publisher and will then have to exclude that territory). Next you set your price. Amazon pay 70% royalties on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 (and £1.49 and £6.49 in the UK) and 35% outside that. Note that the 70% royalty rate only applies to sales in the US, Canada, the UK, and the countries served by the German, French, Italian, and Spanish Kindle Stores. Sales in all other countries, like Australia, Ireland, or South Africa, will only pay 35% royalties, no matter what price you set. For detailed advice on pricing, please read this extensive post.
The final box refers to e-book lending (Kindle owners can lend books to each other for two week periods, but can’t read the book themselves while it is lent out). I recommend enabling this feature. And then you are done. The book will take anything between a few hours and three days to go live on Amazon, but lately it takes less than 24 hours. When it does appear, congratulate yourself: you are now a published author.
One of the most crucial (and under-used) tools is the mailing list. I have a clickable link at the back of all my books which takes readers to a newsletter sign-up. I only mail this list when I have a new release, and now it’s responsible for significant sales every time I launch a book. Get it going from the start. I use MailChimp – it produces very pretty emails, you can track who opens your email or clicks on your links, and it’s free. It’s also a great way to announce your newly published book to all your friends, family, and colleagues. Don’t forget to include links to the free Amazon apps, as many people don’t know they can enjoy e-books on their smartphones and laptops.