When considering leaping into the sea of self-publishing there are a few basics that you need to know, or know how and where to find the resources for.
This is a tough one and though the opinion varies from author to author, it is really the opinion of buyers that you need to listen to.
Ask people you know that read a lot what price they are willing to pay for an unknown author–ask yourself the same thing. Understand that times are hard and readers are looking for a bargain. That is particularly true when they have never heard of the author. Keep in mind that price can vary based on genre and audience so there is no ‘right’ price accept for the one that helps your novel sell.
Most readers I know think $2.99 is a fair price for an unknown author’s novel-length work and either .99 cents or $1.99 is a fair price for an unknown author’s novella. You will find differing opinions though, so in the end you’ll have to go with your gut and remember, you can always play around with the price. Once you become better known and are selling well, you can charge more. Even traditional publishers are starting to bring down their prices due to the overwhelming response of readers to great low prices, so don’t let it frighten you.
If you’re going to publish in eBook format only, the process of distribution is much simpler than if you are going to publish in printed format as well.
You can do all of your distribution through Smashwords if you like. They will take your uploaded word file and change it into ePub (Barnes and Noble), mobi (Amazon), PDF (good for reading on PC, or for home printing), RTF (readable on most word processors), LRF (Use only for older model Sony Readers that don’t support .epub), Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices), and Plain Text. They will then distribute to whomever you choose, iTunes (Apple), B&N, Amazon, Kobo, etc. If you can provide a clean word file, then this is a good option. If you can’t, then it can be complicated.
If you want to put your book free, then Smashwords is the way to go. The catch to using Smashwords to distribute is that on all sites your book is listed, it will put Smashwords as the publisher. It is also difficult and slow to get prices to change on other sites once you have established your price and are using Smashwords.
To control your price with ease (with the exception of setting your book free) you can upload directly to PubIt (B&N), Kindle Direct (Amazon), and iTunes (Apple). If you’re going to be playing around with your pricing a lot, then I suggest doing this. Another benefit is that you can list the publisher as yourself, or a publishing company name if you have one. A negative point is that this can be difficult using word files. I recommend a program that transforms your word file into ePub and mobi files for you, such as Calibre (free). Tech savvy needed is medium. Not tech savvy? That’s okay, there are a lot of formatters out there that can change your files over for you.
Print distributing: Print on Demand (POD) is the only way to go unless you have a small fortune that you’d like to invest in the traditional route of printing books and sending them to bookstores at a deeply discounted price to put on their shelf.
The quick and easy way to distribute POD books is Createspace (an Amazon company). They walk you through the formatting and do all the distributing for you. You pay for that ease of use though. Average royalties are a third of what you can get if you distribute through Lightning Source (Ingram based print on demand company). Expanded distribution (other countries) is an even wider gap, with Createspace giving a fraction of what Lightning does. That said, Lightning Source is not easy to learn how to use if you aren’t tech savvy and it costs to use their services ($75 to upload and distribute paperbacks, $100 for hardbacks. This is a one time fee upon upload). With Createspace, they are the publisher, with Lightning, you are actually establishing yourself as a publisher and they are merely your distributor. Both make your book available in POD format to all retailers such as B&N, Amazon, Kobo, etc.
Formatting: This is perhaps the hardest part, especially if you aren’t tech savvy.
Formatting is different for different sites/retailers. For example, Amazon uses .mobi files and B&N uses .ePub files. While you can upload a word file to both, if you don’t know HTML like the back of your hand, you’ll likely pull all your hair out trying to make it look right. There are great resources out there that can help you self-format, such as Calibre that I mentioned before. These take a bit of tech savviness though. The key is a clean word file, no strange formatting. When it comes to eBooks, simple is better. You’ll notice some of the traditional publisher’s books have glitches. That’s because formatting is HARD, even for the pros.
It is almost an art in itself. If you aren’t tech savvy, don’t let this frighten you though. There are a lot of great formatters out there who will format your book for you at a minimal charge. The most important thing to remember is to ask for help, and pay for it if need be, rather than put out a book that is less than stellar. Competition is fiercer than it has ever been and your book has to be the best it can be to succeed.