Thursday, May 7, 2015
After lots of panicking and even more foot-dragging, I'm finally on the brink of creating my first self-published book. I've been working my way slowly but surely through the manuscript, following the Smashwords style guide. Why Smashwords? Because they distribute to more outlets than Direct2Digital, and I want my masterpiece available in as many markets as possible. Direct2Digital does the formatting for you, but I think they also take a bigger slice of your pie. No thanks. I want every penny that's due me. Anyway, if I get good at this, I can charge other newbies to format their books. Always think ahead.
Yesterday I put in chapter heads and learned how to create centered front matter. I'm turning into a regular tech wizard. Yay, me!
So what esoteric secrets have I learned that I can pass on to you, the eager would-be self-publisher? Glad you asked.
Formatting the basic manuscript is amazingly easy, once you know which buttons to click. I use the 2007 version of Microsoft Word, and it's so kind to Luddites like me. That's for the overall format, though. One of Smashword's pre-prep steps involves stripping all previous formatting out of your file, to make sure no hidden garbage slips through. That includes any bold or italics you might've used in the text. Now me, I'm a big supporter of italics, especially for dialogue emphasis and to indicate a character's thoughts. Too bad. All that's gone. I ended up having to go through all 132 pages, putting all the italicized words back in. My characters won't be thinking quite so much in any future books.
(Fortunately, here's where my obsession with print copies comes in handy. My ancient computer-and-printer combo system, the Troglodyte 1000, is so old it still indicates italics with an underline. All I had to do was flip through the pages and look for underlines. Here's to the old-fashioned methods!)
But wait, there's more. The manuscript, the actual story you're looking to tell, is only the beginning. If you're like me, you've got a couple paperbacks (or hardbacks, if you have a job) on the nightstand next to your bed. Pick one up and flip through the opening pages. See that page with all the Copyright By and Published By and We Own This So Don't You Steal It stuff on it? That's front matter. The blurbs, too. And the quotes from reviewers. The Table of Contents goes in the front, but I'm not sure if it counts.
Front matter, especially all the legal weasel words, is required by Smashwords. Leave it out and they won't accept your book. And it all has to be formatted. During my first attempt, I forgot about this part. I was going along, blissfully formatting my book file, when it got to the part about front matter and how to create a specific style for it. Style for what again? Oops. I had to put formatting on hold while I came up with a whole new section of the book. Then I had to learn how to create and change styles so I could format that. See how tricky this gets?
This is the kind of stuff a regular publisher handles. All you the author have to do is write the book. Well, guess what? You're the publisher now. Coming up with front matter is your responsibility. So is editing, proofreading, book design, formatting for upload and procuring a cover. Still want to self-publish?
Back matter is easier. For starters, you don't have to include it. However, it's still a good idea. Back matter is stuff like About the Author and Visit My Web Page and Here's a Bunch of Other Books I Wrote. If the readers like your book, they'll want to know these things. They may even want to buy your other books. The Smashwords style guide includes instructions on how to make hyperlinks within the book itself, so readers can jump straight from your Table of Contents to the back sections. I haven't attempted that yet. I just read the instructions a little while ago. Once my brain stops hurting I'll read the instructions again, then bite the bullet and give it a whirl. Pray for me.
Keep in mind all this is still the preparation phase. I haven't even tried to upload yet. That comes with its own set of problems. If the system doesn't like all that formatting you put it, it'll tell you about it. Then you have to figure out where you messed up and fix it and upload the book again. Then you have to check all the versions Smashwords produces to make sure they all look good. Who knows how long that will take.
I was hoping I'd be ready to upload today, because I'll be tied up this weekend. That's not happening now. I still have several tasks to master, like the hyperlinks. I'm not looking forward to that.
Once I go to upload, I'll want to set aside a couple of hours just in case there are problems. That means the library. I'll be damned if I'll hang out in a Dunkin Donuts on a Sunday wrestling with a stubborn computer program. After the first hour or two they might insist I buy something.
And this is just for Smashwords. What about Amazon? They don't offer a style guide. They won't even tell you squat until after you've signed in with your payment and personal info. That's why I'm going with Smashwords first. I should have all the kinks worked out of the file before I commit to Amazon.
I hear All-Romance Ebooks is tricky, too. Smashwords doesn't distribute to them, so I'll have to upload there separately. All for a book that may end up selling a dozen copies total, if I'm lucky. I love being a writer.
Those people who tell you, "Self-publishing is easy! Just write the book, click Upload, and you're done!" are lying. Next time somebody says that to you, kick 'em in the pants. I'll be back next week to tell you how I fared in the upload department. Either that, or I'll be in the national news as that woman who climbed to the top of the bridge in Harrisburg and hurled her laptop into the Susquehanna River. At least I'll get media exposure. The books I have out with actual publishers might sell better then. Every little bit helps.