Thursday, January 24, 2013

Publishing an Electronic Book - Part I

As I prepared to teach a free seminar on ebook publishing at Kennedy Library in Muncie, Indiana, I outlined the processes I used to get a 'clean' ebook.

After beating myself over the head for the better part of eighteen months to do my own ebooks, I had learned a lot.  It's probably about three percent of what there is to know, but it's the three percent that will get your books uploaded in a good format, ready to sell.

This is the first of a series of articles about the process. Toward the end of the series I'll talk about how to get people to buy your books, but early on that should be at the back of your mind. Of course you want people to buy them! But if they are not ready to sell (content and format) you might get a few sales, but there will be no repeat customers or word-of-mouth sharing about your book.

The points below deal with books that are text, except for the covers. I am also using a PC, though the concepts would apply to formatting a book using an Apple product.  In case you are wondering, YOU do not need to worry about formatting beyond what it presented here.

Online publishers called 'aggregators' will convert your book to work with various ereaders. That means you will load your work to their web site and they will put it in all formats (epub, mobi) for you--for free.  Two popular aggregators are and But, don't get ahead of yourself.

1)  Finish your book 100 percent before you start formatting for an ebook.  That means you have written it, given it at least a few weeks to settle so you review it with a fresh eye, read it with a cold eye, made revisions, and had someone else proofread it. Sound like a lot of extra work? If you want people to spend money on your books, you need the best possible product.

 Why? Because you only get once chance to make a first impression.  Done? Okay, what's next?

2) Take that beautifully written book and make an electronic copy of it. Save that copy in a different folder (or a flash drive) so you do not lose it or get mixed up about what copy you are working on. (You should always have a copy away from your computer. I email myself books as I work on them and when done.)

3) Using the copy, get rid of all the formatting.  What?! If you do not do this, you will have no end of problems with the copy you upload to Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon.  There will be crazy fonts, even symbols, in the middle of your text. If you try to remove these manually you will do it over and over again, and will spend far more time (and still have it wrong) than if you simply take out all the formatting and reinsert it.  How do you do that?

4) Copy your entire book.  In Microsoft Word (which can be the friendliest program for this) you do 'select all' and then copy.  You put this version in Notepad.  Notepad comes with every PC and basically has no formatting capabilities.  When you paste your book into Notepad it will look awful.  However, any formatting that could mess up an electronic copy will be gone. You do not have to save a copy of the Notepad version, but I do.

5) In Notepad, use 'select all' again and copy.

6) Open a totally new document in your word processing program (preferably Word 97-2003).  Paste the unformatted book into Word. If you have a later version of Word, save this new document as a doc, not a docx.

Below is a summary of instructions. For details and graphics, go to Part II of this series.

7) Turn off all automatic formatting.  In Word 97-2003 you click on the tools tab and then on autoformat. You will see lots of boxes checked.  Uncheck all of them. Then click on autoformat as you type and do the same thing. Make sure you click on 'apply' so you save changes. You do this because you are actually smarter than the computer.  You do not want it making any decisions about how your document should look.

(In later version of Word, Click on the colorful Microsoft logo, usually at the bottom left. Then go to Word Options, Proofing, Autocorrect.  At the bottom of this post you will see a link that will give instructions for these later versions of Word.)

8) Now you will reinsert all formatting using the Styles and Formatting menu. I'm going to list a couple of things to do.  There are more.  We'll get to that. Remember, whatever word processing program you use will permit you to do any of this, you just need to explore how. If you do not know how to do something, or my instructions seem unclear, use the Help program.

a)  Make sure you can view the standard and formatting toolbars. In Word 97-2003, click on view and toolbars.
b) Change the document to Normal style.  (Top left of page, usually.)
c) Take out all spacing between paragraphs. This will take awhile, but you have to do it because keeping spaces will make your book hard to read on an e-reader such as Kindle or Nook. Trust me. I leave an extra line between scenes.
d) The next instructions look like a lot, but they take almost no time.  Practice on a document other than your book, if you like.

Select (highlight) one line in your book.
Click on format, then styles and formatting. A long box opens on the right.
Click on new style (at top).
A box opens and you name your style in the top white space. I call mine Book Format

The box below says style type:  make it paragraph.
Then style based on: select Normal
At the bottom right is a box you click that says automatically update.  Click it.
At bottom left it says format. Click on that and select paragraph.
Then you do this:
Alignment is justify,
Outline level is body text.
Make sure these things are all zero: indentation and spacing, all boxes.
On the right it says Special.  I make that first line and .3 (paragraph indents, for fiction)
Click OK at the bottom.
Click OK again.
The line you selected (highlighted) has this format.

e) Here's the easy part.  Now that you have done this, you can select your entire document and click on the format you just created.  It will be on the right, with the name you called it. Wait, you say, I want some things centered.  You can select one paragraph (or ten) at a time, but since most of your book will be in paragraph form, it may be easier to center a chapter title than to do all the paragraphs/pages separately.
f) Whew!  This will take a lot of time.  Just pour a cup of coffee or tea and take your time.  If it is more boring than you can stand, take a break.

In the next post, I will tell you how to put back in centering, and bold and such.  In the meantime, be assured I'm not a genius. (You've already figured that out.)  I learned all this through trial and error and the Smashwords Style Guide, by Mark Coker.  It is very wordy, but Mark has an irreverent writing style, so you don't usually mind.  If you cannot wait until the next post, click on the guide and download it as a pdf document.  Do not try to read it all at once.  Much of it you do not need for a book of text.

There are also style guides at other sites. The Smashwords Guide is generic, and works for all.

Finally, before you do all this, make sure you proof your book! Sure, you can always make corrections, but you want to stop with the best copy you can produce.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Those Pesky New Year's Resolutions

Procrastination is my favorite hobby. You can tell because I'm writing this on January 8th instead of January 1st.  When it comes to writing I tell myself I'm mulling things over. That's probably ten percent true.  Maybe even twenty five; I was never great with math.

I have long since figured out that I delay starting or working on a longer project simply because it seems daunting.  When it comes to house or yard work I have learned to do a little at a time and it's better to start before the dust balls hide the cats or the ground is too frozen to plant tulip bulbs. Why not some writing projects?

There are files in my drawer with writing ideas going back to the 1980s.  I read through some of them a few weeks ago and they are so old I cannot remember writing the first few pages or short outlines--and I like them.

Nonfiction?  No problem, especially if it's a paid project. But even then, there is one I have worked on for years (it talks about worrying less and has an appealing title) and it looks as if this will be the year it will get done.  Not because I thought 2013 would be  the best year to release it.  Because I have finally parked my tailbone in the chair and said I can't get up for an hour.  And I do this at least a couple of times each day. So, maybe...

There is a final incentive to overcoming the I'm-not-sure-I'm-ready-to-tackle-that-project perspective. Money. You can actually publish something yourself and people will buy it--assuming it's good. That has not always been the case.  Publishers are good gatekeepers for readers. There is a lot of really bad writing that has never shown up in a book store. Now it may be on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  But guess what?  No one has to buy it! Readers can assess your book or article and decide whether to add to their electronic or paper pile and procrastinate about reading it. They can even return ebooks with the click of a mouse and get their money back.

This is wonderful.  My long-term career as a government analyst or congressional aide has merged with my fiction career--it's democracy in action.  The idea that I can write what I want and see a financial reward in a reasonable time means I should probably chain my tailbone to that chair.

So, in 2013 you will see a greater mix of fiction and nonfiction projects.  I hope people will want to read them.  Last year, 8,500 people bought my books.  Bestseller status?  Nope.  Does it make me happy?  Yep.  Fulfilling New Year's resolutions can bring you joy.  Especially if you don't wait.
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