Apr 04

E-Publishing Basics – Part 1

It is absolutely amazing how easy it is to publish your own work electronically on Kindle and Smashwords. These two are the biggest publishers and while Kindle only reaches Amazon/Kindle readers, there are people with Kindle apps on I-pads, Nooks, Sony Readers and all the other Android, Mac, Windows, and Google tablets out there. Smashwords, on the other hand, translates your material into the major e-book formats to be read by all the key e-book publishers.

Here’s what you need to know.

First, finish your story. And by finish I mean not only get to THE END but run the spelling and grammar checker on your work, even listen to it be read to you by your computer (Text Aloud is an example of these types of programs – some computers already have an onboard text reader you can use). Additionally you need to get someone who is actually good as spelling and grammar to at least edit your work so any readers won’t think you’re a dufus who can’t even get the most basic parts of storytelling correct.

(I say this knowing I am one of the world’s worst spellers and there are most likely spelling and grammar errors in some of my blog post here, even this one. I’m also aware of the Thomas Jefferson quote to the effect that “I have little respect for a man who can spell a word only one way.” But this is a case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” You should understand that I do run spell check and grammar check and listen to my blog post being read aloud to me before I post them. But I, like you, know what it’s supposed to be and don’t always hear, much less see, the mistakes. At least I try and I hope you do better than I do.)

Here’s the deal, when people who don’t know you read your material and stumble across spelling and grammar errors, they begin to discount everything else in your work. I know a reporter who makes it a habit to read every newspaper he reads (and there are a lot of them) with a red pencil in his hand to correct errors he encounters. Of course one of the definitions of journalism is “literature on the fly” meaning that everybody knows newspaper and magazine copy is written and published in a hurry – resulting in mistakes. This is not an excuse and it doesn’t make it right to either the writers, publishers, or readers.

Try your best to get it right before you publish it.

There are editors, professional editors, who will edit your material for a fee. You can find them on the Internet but you never know what you’re getting unless you know the editor yourself or have someone you trust recommend an editor. Here again is where a writer’s group can come in handy.

A good editor not only looks for the spelling and grammar, but for story holes, character names that are not consistent, and a myriad of other problems. You want someone you can trust and who is ultimately helpful to you and not someone who does a quick read, red lines mistakes and thinks you’re an idiot for even writing the kinds of things you do.

There are editors who specialize on every genre imaginable and that’s what you want. If you get a science fiction editor to edit your romance you’ll most likely not get any story help.

An example of the kind of thing a good editor can do for you is the story about Hemmingway’s editor who told him that his novel, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS ended when the main character died. Hemmingway had written an additional three chapters to the book but instantly understood what his editor was saying and agreed. He told the editor to just cut the last three chapters and that’s the book we have today.

All of the above is Step 1 — Getting Your Story Finished.

Now, Step 2 has to do with Formatting.

All I can advise you about is how to format straight words and paragraphs without graphic, drawings or illustrations. There is some excellent advice on how to add graphics of all kinds in the Smashwords Guide (available on-line for free). Even adding little things, like a first letter of each chapter which is bigger or different from the rest of you book or story, or adding a cute little curlicue at the end of each chapter becomes more involved than I want to deal with here. All this can be done but you’re adding work for yourself if these little things are important to you.

My advice is first learn how to publish a simple straight forward novel or short story, stage or screenplay before you look at what else is possible.

Your life is going to be one hell of a lot simpler if you write in Microsoft Word. You can use anything from Word Perfect, to Open Office, to Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft, but eventually you’ll have to get it to MS Word to easily handle your e-publishing.

Long time TV anchor and reporter, David Brinkley, wrote about a dozen books using the old word processor Word Perfect 4.2. For years his son’s kept trying to get him to switch to M.S. Word or even the Mac word processor. His response was, “Why should I? Word Perfect 4.2 works for me. It does everything I need to do and it does it easily.” His editor and/or publisher most likely transferred Brinkley’s books to MS Word because it is kind of the industry standard, but the writer didn’t have to do it.

If you’re self publishing, you’re going to have make the change. You can still write in whatever program you like, but there should be a way to “Save As” if not Word, then RTF (Rich Text File) which will preserve all your paragraphing so it is readable by MS Word.

The reason for using or translating to Word is that’s what KDF (Kindle Direct Publishing) uses. The other major publisher, Smashwords, uses M.S. Word ’97-2003 or Word XML Document which you can save from Word and from several other word processors as well.

When you read the Smashwords Guide (a must read) you’ll find out that you need to get down to a single font, and single paragraph style. You might be in love with some exotic font, but e-book devices don’t read all fonts and don’t read them equally as well. Smashwords recommends New Times Roman as your font.

Here’s something to understand. One of the major drivers of the e-publishing phenomena is that older readers were the first to fell in love with the resizing of font feature of e-book readers. And since older reader tend to read more than younger readers, that has driven e-publishing until it has become what MP3 is to music and CDs. After a great deal of experience and research, New Times Roman has emerged as the easiest font to read over all. Courier New is also popular but in side by side test, New Times Roman has been found more readable in all different sizes. And, bottom line, getting folks to actually read your book is still your goal. So why invest yourself in any font that may work but will turn off some readers. You want to attract readers not just to one work but to multiple books, plays, or short stories. So, don’t pick a font to spite your reader.

The next part of the formatting issue is paragraph style. You can indent the first line of each paragraph or separate each paragraph like a business letter and start each paragraph flush left. All e-book readers are looking for is consistency. The only command e-publishing really wants is paragraph returns, centering, and a few forced page breaks. Remember with the changing of font sizes, where your pages break will vary from e-reader to e-reader. You’ll want to force a page break after your title page, your copyright page and after “THE END” before you add your “About the Author” and other publication lists. That’s all.

This means that you need to go through and stripe out all print definitions and leave only those three – unless you’re willing to deal with adding graphics.

Step number 4 is that you’ll also need to create the book cover for your short story – yes this is a book – book, single short story, collection of short stories, or play. Again Smashwords has some wonderful advice about doing this.

Here’s the short version of what you need to know about it. The pixel size of your image is important and the catchiness and readability of your image as a thumbnail will help or hurt your sales. A JPEG image is what both Kindle and Smashwords wants.

Remember, this is going to be an electronic publication and most people will encounter it on a page with several other thumbnail size images of other book covers. Does yours jump out? If it only looks good full size and the mess when squeezed down, you’ll need to make some changes.

If you want to do this yourself, you can find some wonderful and free images on the Internet and you can even buy the rights to some copyrighted images for a few bucks at some other sights. Contrary to the best advice, people do judge books by their covers.

So, now you have your text finished, edited, and formatted, and your cover. The only other element you’re missing is one of the most important.

Number 5 has two parts. You need (1) a short description of your work and (2) a longer description (Smashwords requires both, but Kindle only requires one – you can use your longer description or the shorter one for Kindle. You decide. Spend a little quality time making your descriptions leap off the page and grab the reader without giving everything away.

Armed with these five items, your finished and edited text, properly formatted, your cover, and descriptions of your work (one short, one long), you’re now ready to create free accounts on both KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Smashwords so you can upload your book and be published.

Yes, that’s all there is to it.


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