Nontraditional publishing, part 2: E-books

Everybody seems to be talking about e-books these days. It’s Kindle this and Nook that.  Should I make my book into an e-book?

Yes, you should. The e-book is here, and it has changed how people read. Some people never buy print books anymore. They only read on the screen. They constitute a big share of the market that you don’t want to miss.

Ten years ago, I’d never heard of electronic books. Occasionally someone would send a book as a pdf that could be read on the computer, but it was so awkward I’d either never read it or print it out so I could carry the pages around and read them away from my desk.

Then came the Kindle, Nook, iPad and their various brethren. They were light, portable and easy to use. You could store hundreds of books on your e-reader, slip it into your purse or backback and read wherever you wanted to. They were expensive at first, but the prices keep coming down, and the books are way cheaper than print books. Click a button and poof, it’s yours, instantly. No trip to the store, no shipping fees, no worries about storing the book when you’re done.

The advent of e-books has not only changed the way we read but the way we publish. If you’re going to publish a print book, it needs to also be available as an e-book. And if you can’t find a publisher or can’t afford to pay to have your book printed, you CAN afford to publish an e-book. At this writing, it’s free. That’s right. It doesn’t cost anything except your time to publish an e-book.

So how do I publish an e-book?

Publishing an e-book is not difficult, although the formatting takes time, and it’s different for different kinds of readers. Online sites offer step-by-step guidance for each format. These include:

  •—all you need to know to publish for the Kindle
  •—guides you through the process of publishing for the Nook
  •—provides e-books for nearly all e-formats and offers its own free e-books full of e-publishing advice. Even if you don’t decide to publish with Smashwords, get the e-books. They offer great advice for all self-publishers.

Follow the directions, upload your book, set your price and voila, your book is published. The good news is that if you want to change something in the book, it’s easy to do, unlike with print books where your mistake remains in print forever.

Of course, there are things to consider:

  • You still need to provide a well-written and well-edited book.
  • You will need an attractive cover that will look good in ads online. If you are not an artist, don’t try to do it yourself.
  • You should copyright your book and you will need to purchase an ISBN number, the number which identifies your book. If you are publishing the book in different formats, you will need a separate ISBN number for each one.
  • E-publishing programs through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords put your book online and list it in their catalogs, but that won’t necessarily sell your books.You still need to market your book in the online and offline worlds to make people notice it among the hundreds of thousands of other e-books being published.
  • E-books are generally priced lower than print books. Although royalties are higher—Amazon offers 35 % and 70 % options—you’re not going to see big bucks for a while, if ever.

Is that it?

Pretty much. If you don’t own an e-reader, I suggest you get one so you can understand the e-reading experience. Reading books published by other authors will show what works and what doesn’t. And this is cool: You can copy your word files to the e-reader and read your own books as if they were already published. Suddenly it’s easy to see where you need to fix typos or do a little more revision.

Have fun! If you have questions, please ask.

Formatting Your Book Manuscript

I stayed up late last night reading the Smashwords Style Guide for formatting e-books. It’s not your grandma’s book formatting.

In the olden days (last week), book manuscripts were formatted like any other manuscript: double-spaced, indented first paragraphs, italics and other special fonts either marked for the typesetter or put in on the computer. Editing could be done online or on paper, no problem.

But now we have e-books, and they come in various formats, so we have various ways to format our manuscripts. In my role as publisher at Blue Hydrangea Productions, I recently formatted my Shoes Full of Sand manuscript for Kindle and for production as a paperback (out July 8!) The differences were maddening.

The paperback was pretty straightforward, except that it was single-spaced. I added a giant capital letter at the beginning of each section, and inserted headers and footers. I justified the whole thing with even margins on both the left and right sides. I produced it in Microsoft Word (2003 preferred by my production team) in the usual formatting.

Kindle,’s e-book reader, was a different story. All of the first-paragraph indentations had to be eliminated, along with the big capital letters, plus the footers and headers. This changed the spacing and page numbers. I went crazy redoing the table of contents, only to discover that on an e-book, page numbers are meaningless. They change according to what type of reader you’re using. It took several tries before I got it right.

Now I’m getting ready to reformat for Smashwords, a company that produces e-books in various  formats, such as Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony reader, and various smartphone apps. They want the most stripped-down manuscript possible. Tabs are taboo. Instead of indenting or typing spaces in for paragraphs, they want you to go into your MS word styles and set paragraph indentations and spacing between paragraphs so that they happen automatically when you type. Double-justified margins are out. Flush left is best, the guide advises.

What this means is that I will spend some hours redoing the manuscript in yet another format so that everyone can read it. Is it worth it? Do I want everyone to read my book?

In reading the Smashwords Guide, a free e-book I read on my Kindle, I learned a lot about book formatting and also about Microsoft Word. I’ve been using that program for years, but found out several things I didn’t know before. You don’t need a Kindle to read Kindle books. You can download the free program onto your computer.

It seems that we writers can’t just write anymore. We have to be computer experts as well–or we can find someone else to do it for us. If all this formatting talk stresses you out, just write. Worry about the rest later.