Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Journey to E-Publication

Some of the comments from Friday's open thread started me thinking. Yes, yes, that's dangerous and you can groan all you want. In fact, you probably should since I'm still not completely well. Sarah, quit laughing! I know I'm never "completely" well. At least not like some people...I'm a writer. I'm also an editor. If that isn't enough to drive one around the bend, I don't know what it. But I digress.

This past year it has become increasingly "easy" to self-publish an e-book. Amazon started their DTP program. Barnes & Noble has PubIt. Apple started iBooks. Then there was the old standby of Smashwords. With so many easily accessible routes to publication, the number of self-published and small press published e-books has increased a great deal. There have been a lot of very good e-books come out and some very bad ones. The bad ones often suffer as much from poor editing and formatting as they do from bad writing. This increase in accessibility has also increased the vocal support and derision from the buying public.

If you google how to make an e-book, you'll get thousands of responses. That's the problem. If you follow any one of them, you can and most likely will wind up having issues if you publish your e-book through more than one outlet. (I'm assuming here you haven't gone out and invested the big bucks into commercial programs. There really is no need to.) So, what should you do?

My first piece of advice comes as a writer and not as an editor. If at all possible, find a publisher. It is extremely difficult to do an effective job as writer, editor, proofreader, layout artist, etc., on your own work. And all that has to be done before you can upload your book for e-publication. However, if you decide to go the self-publication route -- and understand that while there isn't quite the stigma about being self-pubbed digitally as there has been in the past, that stigma is still present. One way it manifests itself is in a general unwillingness to pay as much for a self-published title as they would for a title from a publisher, no matter how small.

So, you have your completed manuscript and you have it edited as completely as possible. You've had someone check it for spelling, punctuation and grammar problems. You've decided, for whatever reasons, to self-publish digitally. Now what? Now you decide what outlet or outlets you are going to release your book through.

For quite a while, Smashwords has been the standard for self-publishing. This is probably the easiest venue for uploading your work in that the only format they accept is an MSWord .doc file. However, they are very specific about how that document must be formatted and certain language must be included that makes it clear that Smashwords is the venue you selected to either distribute or publish your book or short story.

Smashwords also has two levels of review you have to go through should you decide to use them to get your e-book into other venues. Among the "stores" they can get you into are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, iBooks, Sony and Diesel Books. So far, so good, right? Not necessarily. If you decide to go this route -- what they call their premium catalog -- you have to have cover art and, in some cases, ISBNs for your work. Oh, and you are at their mercy as to when your book will be "shipped" to these other venues. There is also a delay in the review process. Assuming they find nothing wrong in the review, it can still take as much as 2 weeks or more to be approved for the premium catalog. And don't get all excited and think I'm talking editorial review. I'm not. This is all formatting and, believe me, just because it passes their check, it doesn't mean there aren't issues with the formatting. Converting from a Word .doc to the standard e-book formats often causes problems such as losing centering, odd word spacing, loss of bold or italics, etc. Finally, there's that pesky language saying the book comes from Smashwords, something that screams in a lot of readers' minds that the book might not be well-written or well-edited as other books might be.

While Smashwords serves its purpose and is the only way some can get into venues such as Sony and iBooks, it does have some potential pitfalls to keep in mind. The first thing to do if you are considering using them to publish your book is to download their how-to guide. If you follow it to the letter, you should have little problem passing their review process.

For publication through Amazon's DTP program or B&N's PubIt, it really is much easier, if a bit more time consuming. DTP allows for you to upload your book in a number of different formats. However, I recommend you upload it as a .mobi file. Why? Because that is one of the native formats for the kindle. You will already know how it looks and that way, if there are any issues when they "convert" it, you should be able to see it right away. PubIt requires you to upload with an .epub file, the format used by the nook. Again, this makes sense because you already have an idea of how your final product will look.

That raises the question of how to get from a word processing file to a .mobi or .epub file. You can save as an .html file or you can use a text editor to build your .html file. I recommend the latter, especially if you use MSWord because of all the coding junk MS builds in. If you want a table of contents, be sure to add it. NOTE: don't add page numbers because they won't be right once the book is converted. There are a number of very good text editors out there for free or for minimal cost. Komposer is free but slow, imo. NoteTab Pro is a commercial program, but one I like a great deal. Does this mean you need to know html coding? Not necessarily, but some basic knowledge is good, especially once you start converting into .mobi or .epub formats and you find problems you need to edit.

Now you have an .html file that looks right in your browser. (Remember, this is not only you novel or short story, but the title page, legal language, ISBN if you are using one, cover art credits -- and yes, you do need to credit the artist unless you are using art they have specifically said does not have to be credited. Also remember, the better the cover, the more likely a potential reader will be to at least download a sample. Art work very well may be the most expensive part of your book.) Your next step is to convert to whatever format you'll be uploading. Our tech guys at Naked Reader Press usually convert to .mobi here. The reason is the simplicity of being able to edit the html file the .mobi file is built upon if there is a formatting issue. Again, you can go out and spend a lot of money on commercial programs, or you can use MobiPocket Creator or a program such as Calibre. My recommendation is to start with MobiPocket Creator because you can edit the html without ever leaving the program. Also, your preview function is using the mobipocket viewer, so your book looks more like it would on an e-reader than it does in the Calibre preview window.

Once you have your .mobi file and you've checked it in the preview window for any errors, you are good to go for uploading to Amazon DTP. You set up your account and then follow their very simple step-by-step process. Once you've uploaded your file, you have the opportunity to review it again. Do so. You never know when you'll find something you missed or when the conversion process might break some of your code. Don't take anything for granted. Expect to wait approximately 72 hours before your title goes live on the Amazon site. One word of warning here, your book description will almost always show up 24 to 48 hours after your book goes live. For some reason, the description goes through a different review process than the book does.

Your .mobi file can now be used to create the .epub file for B&N's PubIt program. Calibre is a good program for this. It's easy to use and quick. It is also updated an a very regular basis. The one caveat I'll give here is that you shouldn't rely on their preview function. Download the free Adobe Digital Editions to see who your file looks in a native viewer. Once you're satisfied with the preview, you simply go to the PubIt site and follow the directions. It's a bit more detailed than the DTP site, but not by much. So far, it appears that it takes a bit longer for your first book to go live on B&N than it does on Amazon, but that later books appear more quickly.

If you want your book to appear in iBooks, you can publish there using iTunes IF you meet some pretty specific technical requirements. First, you have to have an iTunes account. No biggie there. Then you have to have your book in the .epub format. Again, no biggie. But, you also have to be uploading from an intel-based Apple computer. Oops! That can be a problem. The way around this is to use Smashwords or one of the repackagers approved of by Apple.

There are other outlets available. Some require you to have a certain number of titles available for publication. Others require you to make application to them. My thought is that if you can get into Amazon and B&N, you've got most of your potential readers covered, especially if you choose the "no DRM" option. Yes, children, you read that right. You can choose not to engage DRM. So why do the big publishers tell us DRM is a must?

This isn't a quick process. If you try to do it too quickly, you make mistakes. At least I would. More importantly, this is just the beginning of the process. Once you have the book or short story available, you have to get word out about it. You have to find ways to drive traffic to your book and get folks to buy it. And this is something you have to consider before you put the book up for sale. Just as you have to consider if what you've written will set off a firestorm of protest or will look and sound too much like too many other things out there just now and be lost amid all the other titles. If you guys want, we'll talk promotion next week.

Now, any questions? Have I totally confused you? I'm afraid I only glossed over the surface here. So if there are specifics you'd like to know, ask away. If I don't know the answer, someone will.

6 comments:

MataPam said...

And that's how the editors earn their part of the gross.

Even without printing, warehouseing, shipping and distributors taking large chunks, there is still a lot of value added by a publisher.

Especially in the area of merchandizing. Gah! Please, can't I just write?

Amanda Green said...

Pam, in a word, "no". Unfortunately, whether you are going through a publisher -- e-press or traditional -- or self-publishing, you bear a lot of what once was thought traditional publisher responsibilities. Copy editing and proofreading are mow part and parcel of an author's job. Promotion truly is up to the author now. The only exceptions are best sellers where the name alone will generate sales.

And believe me, what I posted today is a very compacted list of what needs to be done to publish electronically. If I'd posted each and every step, well, let's say I'd still be writing and you guys would be even more bored with the post than you are now -- I know it is like a lecture. I simply couldn't figure out how to make it fun. Sorry, guys.

Dave Freer said...

That's an excellent review. Except, Matapam, quite a lot of that is outsourced, or pushed back to the author.

Kate said...

Thanks for this information - there's a lot more to it than most people would guess.

It helps to keep some perspective on why it's not just pure profit for an ebook.

Chris McMahon said...

Great post, Amanda.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

This is why I decided to go with Naked Reader. I have trouble keeping my site up to date. I could NEVER do that.