November 8th, 2011
This is the first of my publishing guides for how to self-publish your book. For those with specific questions about how to do X or Y or deal with problem Z, I’m not your guy (though, you can ask in the comments below). I can only report what I’ve done and how it has worked for me. I’m starting with Amazon because, basically, when I self-published Bob Moore: Desperate Times, it was the first one I used. I’ll also be reporting on how to publish to Nook, iBooks, Smashwords, and possibly others. I’ve already had some thoughts on Smashwords in the past as well as how they report (or don’t) statistics which is why I’m doing so much of my publishing manually. Scroll down to for links to my other guides (I’ll make them active when they are available).
If you are intimidated by self-publishing, Amazon is the place to start. Out of all the outlets, it is very nearly the easiest and certainly has the largest audience. So relax, sit back, and don’t worry. It may take you an hour or two to get all the formatting figured out, but, after that, it’ll be easy as pie. As long as you take a few elementary precautions, all the rest of your books will be as easy as running your manuscript through a conversion program (it will take seconds), going to the Amazon website, hitting the button “Add a title,” and uploading the file. So exhale, this isn’t rocket science. We’ll be covering three main areas: Formatting, Converting, and Uploading
First, let’s talk about file type. For the purposes of all these tutorials, I’m going to be referring to Word. Yes, like you, I hate Microsoft. I really do. But most all these services love them so we have to work with them. If you don’t have Word, pick up Open Office (these are not affiliate links so I’m not making any money on them so click away) or Libre Office. Both are free, both output .doc files, and both work on PCs and Macs. I’ve used both and, frankly, I sort of hate them. Maybe it is the years of working with Word but they just don’t feel right to me. Also, I’ve used Word on both a Mac and a PC and Word is, without a doubt in my mind, far superior on a PC. It’s like they made it harder to use on a Mac. (But Microsoft wouldn’t do that, would they?) Basically, whatever program you use, you’re going to want to put out a .doc file. While I’m unclear on to whether a .docx file will also work, I KNOW that a .doc file will. It’s not a big deal; just chose the file type from the drop down menu when you hit save. Also, you won’t need your cover within your Word .doc so, if you cut and paste it there, remove it.
Next, let’s talk about formatting. The key to formatting is Styles. When you change something in a manuscript manually, you are modifying the original style. That’s fine. Amazon doesn’t care. But, for your readers, it is better if you make sure you aren’t switching out styles over and over (as this may create issues you can’t anticipate). This will particularly come in handy later on when you are working on getting your manuscript ready for Smashwords. What I did, and you should too, is create new styles with titles you’ll remember. For me it was “Book Body”, “Book Author”, “Book Chapter”, etc. That way, whenever I write, I know what I’m supposed to be using. The things you’re going to want to do are thus:
- Create a new style and give it a name
- Base the style on Normal
- Choose a font (I went with Arial for everything – don’t use more than 2 fonts per manuscript)
- Choose a size (I use 12 for everything but Title which I set at 14)
- Choose whether it will be Bold/Italic/Both
- Choose whether it will be Centered or Left Justified
- Set all Indentation and spacing to Zero and Line Spacing to Single
- If you want indented first lines, set “Special” under “Indentation” to First Line
- If you want block style (no indentation), set “After” under “Spacing” to 12 point (or whatever your body font size is)
“Ack!” You say. “That’s a lot!”
Okay, so you don’t want to figure all that out? Download this document (Kindle_formatting_Template - it’s just a Word .doc with all the styles I used for Bob Moore: Desperate Times) and use it. It’ll be self-explanatory. Just remember, if you are making major, systemic changes, do it on the Style level, don’t just grab a big bunch of text and do it manually. You’ll thank me later.
So, now you’ve got your manuscript formatted. Well, mostly formatted. Remember I said I used 12 point fonts for everything but the title? Remember, your manuscript page is MUCH LARGER than a Kindle screen. You may think your title looks wonderful in 24 point, but it’ll take readers three scrolls to see the first word. Don’t do it. Also, if you want to split things up onto different pages, just add page breaks. Amazon sees those just fine. I put page breaks after my title page, after the dedication (to my wife, of course), and after each chapter. I just think it looks nicer that way. I wouldn’t recommend more than a couple of carriage returns at the top of a page (you’ll be tempted to center it on the page – don’t. It’ll end up with way too much headroom for the small Kindle screen).
When I was going through the conversion process, I used information I found on KindleFormatting.com (you might want to refer to it if you have any questions). For this step, you’ll either need to download Mobipocket eBook Creator for the PC or Calibre for the Mac. I used Mobipocket so this guide will focus on that program. Honestly, if you are going to self-publish to iBooks, you might want to use Calibre (it comes in PC as well) as you’ll need it for the ePub file that iBooks requires. I’ve also read that Amazon will accept the ePub file type though I’ve not tried it. Again, Google is your friend.
You first need to save your .doc files as an HTML. To do this, hit “Save As” and select “Web Page (Filtered)” from the drop down menu. Mobipocket eBook Creator takes your HTML files and converts it into a .PRC (which is what Amazon needs). It allows you to edit the metadata on the file so that stuff like your name and the book title show up correctly when on your Kindle bookshelf. The process is fairly straightforward so I won’t go into tons of detail. I will say that you don’t have to stress too much about things like “Publisher” and “Publish Date” as Amazon will overwrite a lot of that. Through this program you’ll also be adding your cover to your document. Once you’ve done this conversion once or twice, it won’t take you but a few seconds to run through it.
If you have a device with a Kindle app, you can now upload your file to your device. What I do is use Dropbox to sync my files across my different devices. When you try to open the PRC file, it will give you an error. Using the “Open with” button, you’ll see that you can open it with your Kindle app. Now you can see what it looks like. Make sure you scroll through every page (or at least every one you think might have issues) to ensure that no weird formatting glitches have wormed their way in. If you want to be sure, Amazon offers a Kindle Previewer program (you need to scroll down, there are more than one program on that page) which you can use to double-check.
Next, go to the Kindle Direct Publishing page. You can use your Amazon account login for access or you can create a new account. You’ll have to give them your name, address, and some sort of Tax ID number. If you have your own business, you can use that. If not, you can use your Social Security Number. This is just so they can pay you.
Next (I know, you were expecting more in that last bit, right? I was too), you start to add your book. There are two sections: Details and Rights & Pricing. Under Details, you’ll list the book’s name, description, upload the .prc file and cover, and more. You can even preview the book right there on the screen. You’ve now checked and double-checked (and, if you are like me, septuple-checked) your manuscript. Don’t worry too much; if you upload it (and even publish) and find an error, it is literally seconds for you to re-convert and re-upload and maybe a day or two (often only hours) for the changes to show up on the website. Again, relax. It’ll be OK.
Under Rights & Pricing you’ll need to decide if you want to limit your book to specific countries (I don’t know why you would, but maybe there is a reason) and, most importantly, choose your royalty. Ever wonder why there are so many $2.99 books on Amazon? It’s because at $2.99 you start to receive a 70% royalty. If you price it lower, you’ll only get 35%. For those that want to give their book away…well…Amazon doesn’t like you. The lowest you can set your price is $.99. I’ve had some success getting books down to $0 but others haven’t been so lucky.
One thing that stresses out self-published authors is that pesky ISBN. That number, which costs an arm and a leg, really causes a lot of stress. Well (again) relax, Amazon couldn’t care less if you have an ISBN for your ebook (notice the qualifier there). So just skip that field. Amazon will assign its own number. Now, if you are thinking you still want one, let me give you one warning: an ISBN number if forever. It is my understanding that if you change just one thing, one word, in your book, you need to assign it a new ISBN. If you are positive that your work is flawless, fine. But for me, I’ll stick with Amazon’s number until I’m a bit more confident (or forever since it is FREE).
Why Amazon First
Here’s my reason for why to go with Amazon first – Speed and Reach. Amazon, by far, has the largest ebook audience. Getting your book on Amazon is imperative. But, for me at least, more important is speed. When I’ve posted to Amazon, it usually just takes a few hours for the book to go live. HOURS. All the other services will take you days. For someone that has worked for months or years on a manuscript, those last few days are torture. When you first set up your account, you may have to wait a few days for them to confirm everything but uploading books is absolutely effortless. Combining that speed with the largest audience makes Amazon the defacto first place to post.
If this guide has been helpful, please consider supporting me by buying one of my books.
Other Self Publishing Guides:
CreateSpace (coming soon)
Tags: amazon, amazon website, audience, authors, bob moore, calibre, conversion program, desperate times, doc files, ebook, formatting, html, iBooks, ipad, ipod, kindle, libre office, manuscript, microsoft, mobipocket, money, nook, open office, prc, rocket science, self publishing, smashwords, statistics, style, Word