Publish Yourself!

Last month, Amazon announced that they now sell more e-books than physical books, hardcover and paperback combined. E-books are continuing to gain popularity, driven by demand from readers who love being able to carry 1000 books in a pocket and book publishers who see hugely reduced costs and bigger profits in the e-format.

Physical books aren’t going to disappear but it’s clear that e-books are here to stay. I recently successfully added a series of books that I’ve written to Amazon’s Kindle store and I was amazed at how easy it was.

One of the advantages e-books offer writers is how simple it is to publish your own books. No more struggling to find an agent or a publisher, no more vanity presses where you have to order hundreds or even thousands of copies to get a decent price, no more expensive shipping to fill orders and no more storing unsold copies in your basement.

Instead, by following some simple directions, you can create endless copies of any book you want to publish and sell them around the world. I wanted my book to be protected against piracy so I needed a process that would include Digital Rights Management, (DRM). If you don’t want this, you can easily save your book in PDF format at several websites online. You might also want to look at CreativeCommons.ca as another way to protect your work. I know not everyone is concerned about copyright; as someone once said, “My problem isn’t piracy. It’s obscurity”.

Amazon is still the leading seller of e-books so they’re a good place to start. Amazon makes the Kindle E-Reader and their Kindle Direct Publishing website helps you format and upload your book, all for free.

Their guidelines are spelled out clearly with lots of access to FAQs and support. One tip: ISBN numbers are required and they’re available for free through Library and Archives Canada.

All three of my books were approved by Amazon on the first try and I’m told this is pretty rare for a self-published book so I’m comfortable sharing how I did it with you. Unless your book has lots of illustrations, creating the book is fairly straightforward.

● I wrote and edited the books in Word. I’m comfortable with Word and it has very powerful and easy to use tools to create an Index and Table of Contents. (Note though that page numbers aren’t used in e-books because the number of pages changes with settings like font sizes that vary from one user to another). Word lets you make the Index and Table of Contents clickable, so that clicking on text in the Index or the Table of Contents will take the reader to that chapter. This is an important feature for e-books.

● Next, I copied and pasted the finished version of the book into Notepad. This step removes all the hidden code that you can’t see, that has all the revisions and formatting and other things embedded as part of your book. But the Kindle reader can see this code and finds it confusing, leaving your book with strange font sizes and other unintended weirdness. Notepad removes all of this code and presents your book as a simple text document.

● From there, I copied and pasted the book back into Word and then used its Styles feature to set the front content, chapter headings, fonts and anything else related to how I wanted the book to look on the Kindle reader.

● I then saved the book, (if you’re using the more recent versions of Word, you need to save the book as the ‘Word 97 – 2003’ type’), and uploaded it to Amazon for approval.

You’ll still need a cover image and, of course, the real work comes once your book is published and you want to spread the word. But that’s a different story.

Next up for me is the Kobo reader, that partners with Chapters/Indigo in Canada and Barnes & Noble in the U.S. I’ve got their contract but their books are in a different format from Amazon, called ePub, and I haven’t quite decided how I’m going to do that conversion yet.

There are companies like INGrooves and Lightening Source that will take care of all this for a fee, (usually $50 per title for each sales outlet), plus a piece of your commission from ongoing sales. Smashwords will do it for free, and though they’ll help, you have to get an ETIN number from the IRS for them to release your funds. In addition to making it easier to get paid, these companies are worth considering for their services and to get access to the Apple Store and the millions of users of the iPad and iPhone.

Then there’s Calibre – free software for managing e-books, including converting formats, but without DRM.

I know that these directions are a little bit like the old Monty Python sketch but the point is that e-books make it much, much easier to get published.

This is one of the great things about the Internet; you don’t have to be in New York or Toronto to publish your book and you can sell it to the world from right here in Elgin County.

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