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Self-Publishing Basics: Part 1 by Heather McCorkle

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.

Pricing:

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.

Distributing:

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.

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Heather McCorkle is an author and graphic designer (CP Design). As an author she loves science fiction and fantasy and as a designer she specializes in book covers and formatting.

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This Post Has 43 Comments
  1. You are misleading your readers and possibly taking money from them by making them think Smashwords will distribute to Amazon. You need to change that information.

    Status of Amazon
    Although we have a distribution agreement with Amazon via their Kindle Direct Platform, they’re unable to receive our entire catalog until they create of a bulk upload facility. In the meantime, we’re only distributing a few hundred titles to Amazon out of our catalog of over 150,000. We understand that many Smashwords authors would prefer the convenience of distributing to Amazon via Smashwords, rather than uploading direct to Amazon. If your book has earned over $2,000 at Smashwords and you would prefer to consolidate your distribution via Smashwords to Amazon as opposed to working direct with them, please click the “comments/questions” link and let us know you’re in the $2,000 club and would like to be considered for our distribution to Amazon.

    http://www.smashwords.com/distribution

    1. No, sorry, but you’re wrong.

      Status of Amazon
      Although we have a distribution agreement with Amazon via their Kindle Direct Platform, they’re unable to receive our entire catalog until they create of a bulk upload facility. In the meantime, we’re only distributing a few hundred titles to Amazon out of our catalog of over 150,000. We understand that many Smashwords authors would prefer the convenience of distributing to Amazon via Smashwords, rather than uploading direct to Amazon. If your book has earned over $2,000 at Smashwords and you would prefer to consolidate your distribution via Smashwords to Amazon as opposed to working direct with them, please click the “comments/questions” link and let us know you’re in the $2,000 club and would like to be considered for our distribution to Amazon.

      http://www.smashwords.com/distribution

  2. Another Scrivener user here…yes, I’ve found Scrivener easy to use–and you only need to learn part of the program in order to do the formatting (very easy to copy and paste chapters over…then create a mobi file for Kindle, epub file for Nook). And there’s a “Scrivener For Dummies” book available by Gwen Hernandez that’s great! I’m looking forward to exploring other parts of this affordable program (under $50, I think), but it’s worth its weight in gold just to be able to format/compile myself. I also have helped other authors simply use a “clean” Word file and it worked fine with having that as the file to upload for Kindle. It just has to have no wonky things (like always margin shifts instead of tabs, etc.). There’s lots of info out there on this topic. So, I’m a DIY fan!

  3. Just know – when you you do KDP – you CANNOT Give free copies to reviewers. there was some discrepency on that at another chat. NOt even as giveaways!

    here are KDP terms:

    When you choose to enroll your book in KDP Select, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP.

    During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc.

    However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.

  4. Great info! I second everything you said in your post! 🙂 Thanks so much, Heather!

    Smashwords rocks because you can easily create a coupon for use in reviews and giveaways. That way, readers around the world who use different types of e-readers are able to access your book.

    And, you are right, there are people to hire to format that manuscript to make it shine! 🙂

  5. Great information, Heather. Information I’ve been waiting for and all in one place.

    My question is: If you decide to use, say, CreateSpace through Amazon to self publish, can you also self publish with Writing Life through Kobo at the same time? Or is there some kind of exclusivity. I thought it might give us more exposure.

    Also, I agree with Heidi about Scrivener. I’ve been using it for about 4 months, and I love it.

  6. Heather, great self-publishing resource here! The only thing I’d add is using Scrivener for writing and formatting. It such a great tool for revising and publishing those mobis, epubs, and pdfs.

  7. Jennifer, you can’t be in KDP Select with Free and Borrows if your book is somewhere else. That’s the trade off and decision you have to make. Borrows versus exposure on other platforms. B&N (Pubit) is pretty quick, not six months. As is KOBO (Writing Life). Use Smashwords or others to get onto itunes, Sony… takes a week or a little more.

  8. Thank you for such great pearls, Heather. I am currently only on Amazon. When glancing at the guidelines, it appears once the book goes to other sources you could lose your kindle direct lending? Additionally, the B&N website indicates it takes 6 months to list a title? Hopefully I read these incorrectly and you can fill in the missing pieces. Thank you!

    1. Jennifer, my Nook version was available within 48 hours. Don’t know why it would take 6 months. I uploaded directly to B&N.

      Here’s info for the Kindle Direct Lending. 5.2.3 Lending Kindle Books. The Kindle Book Lending program enables customers who purchase a Digital Book to lend it subject to limitations we establish from time to time. All Digital Books made available through the Program are automatically included in the Kindle Book Lending program. However, for Digital Books that are in the 35% Royalty Option (as described in the Pricing Page), you may choose to opt out of the Kindle Book Lending program. This will disable lending of the Digital Book by customers who purchase it after you have opted it out, but this will not affect the right of customers who purchased it when lending was enabled to continue to lend it. You may not choose to opt out a Digital Book if it is included in the lending program of another sales or distribution channel. If we become aware that a Digital Book you have opted out is included in the lending program of another sales or distribution channel, we may enable it for lending. Digital Books that are in the 70% Royalty Option (as described in the Pricing Page) cannot be opted out of the lending feature.

      Melanie

    2. You’re very welcome Jennifer. And no worries, PubIt is quick and though they require a little bit different formatting than Amazon, they are just as easy once you figure it out. Feather is right, mine take less than 24 hours to show up on B&N. If you’re distributing to them through something like Smashwords, then it can take longer. I recommend distributing right through PubIt.

    3. Heather, what I found lacking with Pubit was community. There was no help whatsoever for an author. I made no sales so took it down. I have my novel in Createspace and KDP but I took it out of select so I can do KOBO.

  9. All good points. What surprises me is how everyone keeps saying formatting is so difficult. I’m not the most tech savvy person and everyone had me scared to death to even attempt formatting. Once I went through the very extensive (and free) Smashwords guide, formatting for Kindle and Nook were a breeze. I uploaded directly to each site and haven’t experienced any problems or readers saying the format is off. Plus, both KDP and PubIt have a previewer that pops up to show you what your book will look like. It was pretty accurate. The only problem I’ve really heard of is that the formatting isn’t quite translating to the Kindle Paperwhite for some reason. If you can set up a blog, I think, you’d be able to figure out the formatting.

    Melanie Macek

    1. I agree! While I struggled at first to figure out formatting, I finally got it down. It’s one of those things that you can do if you have the fortitude and tools to figure it out. Great suggestions on Smashwords style guide. It has helped many an indie!

  10. Heather, you forgot to mention Kobo as a publishing option. I find them very easy to work with, and they also allow you to set your price free. They allow you to upload various file types such as: .epub, .doc, .docx, .mobi, .odt

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