The Road to Digital Publication – Part 9

by Amanda S. Green

I’m late this morning and apologize. Usually write these posts on Saturdays, but yesterday was one of those days when I didn’t get to sit until it was time for bed. I’m not complaining. I was a long — but fun — day. But it has put me behind.

Over the last couple of months we’ve been talking about how to get your manuscript ready for digital publication. It can be daunting when you first start out and there is a learning curve. However, if I can do it, anyone can. Today, I’m going to wrap the series up and answer any questions you might have.

1. Don’t use your tab button. Remember, and e-book is based on HTML-like coding.  Instead set first line indent in your paragraph properties box (or page properties, depending on your word processing program).

  • There is no definitive amount to set it for, but most set for .3 -.33.
  • Remember when you have first line indent set, to remove it from chapter headings, scene break markings, basically anything that needs to be centered.

2. Fonts should be kept to few and those that will read well on an e-reader. Times New Roman or Georgia are two popular fonts and are included with almost all word processing programs.

  • Set your font size to 12.
  • Keep your use of italics and bold to a minimum. This is especially true for bold, which doesn’t show up well on some e-readers.

3. Also on fonts, follow the KISS rule. Keep it simple.

  • Don’t use a number of different fonts within the body of your work.
  • Don’t use the special, fancy first letter drop caps at the beginning of a chapter like you see with so many novels.
  • Again, it might look good on a printed page but it doesn’t translate well to most e-book readers, especially those based on the e-ink technology.
  • Also, the underlying html coding of the page often burps on special characters, another reason to follow the KISS rule. You don’t want oddities showing up in the middle of a word.

4. Single space or 1.5 space between lines. Do not double space.

5. Whether you hand code the html or use one of conversion programs the convert your e-book through one of the conversion programs, always checked your work in native e-reader programs. The Kindle, Nook, Kobo and Sony readers all have PC apps. iBooks/iTunes can be previewed through the iBook reader on you iPad or iPod by simply pulling it into the program.

  • Check it in every format you plan on selling it in.
  • The main formats are MOBI and EPUB.

6. Remember to include the active table of contents.

  • While not all outlets require this, readers are coming to. The active table of contents is the TOC that shows up when you click the “Go To” option on e-readers. Usually, it will bring up “Cover”, “First Page”, “Table of Contents”, “Location”.
  • This is easily accomplished for all outlets except Smashwords, which has its own rules. By using the heading function in your word processing program for you chapter titles, you can not only build the internal table of contents, but also the active table of contents. A quick word here: if you use a program such as Sigil to convert from your base html file to EPUB, your active table of contents will be generated during your conversion process and you can check it in program to make sure it is fully functional.
  • For Smashwords, you can build the active table of contents either by including the word “Chapter” in each chapter title or by doing bookmarks withing the document. Explanations and examples of how to do it can be found in their style guide.

7. Don’t rely on the previewers in programs like Calibre to give you a true picture of what your converted manuscript looks like. Remember to preview in the native reader.

8. Be sure to set your meta tags during the conversion process. These are the search terms that will make your e-book easier to find.

9. Cover images — review Sarah’s post on them from two weeks ago.

10. Don’t obsess over your sales numbers — or sales ranking, for that matter.

  • Amazon’s KDP program, in my opinion, offers the best information (most complete, easiest to read and import into any accounting program you might use) of the retailers open to small press and self-published authors. Their end of month reports are by title and you can cross-check it against their prior six weeks sales figures. Another upside is that Amazon’s figures are updated on a regular basis each day, so you can basically see your sales in real time.BUT DO NOT OBSESS AND KEEP CHECKING YOUR SALES.
  • Barnes & Noble’s PubIt lets you download a spreadsheet that shows sales by day. Which is also good because you can see if your promo push had any effect there. The downside is that it does require another step for those of us who are number challenged and have more than one or two titles out with them to see totals per title. Also, PubIt is slower in reporting sales than Amazon, often lagging a day or more behind.
  • Smashwords is real-time in their reporting for their in-house sales, but reports coming in from their expanded catalog sales can take a quarter or more to show up. That throws a real wrench in the works when you are trying to track how promotions are working for you, not to mention how it slows the money coming in.

11. Amazon and B&N pay on a monthly basis. Smashwords is quarterly.

12. Smashwords allows you to generate coupons and offer your titles for free.

  • The caveat here is that your agreement with both Amazon and B&N states that you will not offer your titles for less that what you are selling them through that store.

13. Amazon KDP Select Program

  • The jury is still out on this but, for the moment, I am cautiously optimistic. Taking part in the program means your titles can’t be available through any other outlet for a period of 90 days. At the end of that time, your enrollment in the program will continue unless you remove it.
  • Amazon will check to determine that your title isn’t offered elsewhere. NRP found out the hard way that Smashwords had not taken one of our titles down when instructed to and Amazon found out. What happens is Amazon will send an e-mail describing the problem and giving you 30 days to correct the situation or your title will be removed from the Select program. We acted quickly and the problem was dealt with in 2 days. But the lesson here is don’t try to pull a fast one on Amazon. They might not catch the first time, but they will eventually.
  • The Select Program allows you to offer your title for free for a total of 5 days every 90 days. You also get a percentage of the Lending Program fund. So that is two pluses.  The downside is, you are losing potential sales from other outlets. So you have to ask yourself if the potential bump in sales from taking your titles free on Amazon for a few days is worth it.

14. If you use a DBA to make it appear that your e-book was published by a “publisher”, use common sense in naming it. Don’t call it “My Press” or “Buymybook.com” or anything that screams “Rookie!”. Readers are savvy and will and do google a publisher.

15. When writing your blurb, think about what you’d put on the back cover if you were printing the book. Don’t say, “This is the best book I’ve ever written.” Don’t say, “I wrote this book and no publisher would accept it so I’m publishing it myself.” And yes, I have seen variations on this. Don’t talk about how your mother, brother, sister or best friend loved it and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Don’t use the blurb area to talk mainly about yourself. This is the short synopsis of the novel or short story that will convince a reader to buy it. Tease them. Interest them. It’s about the book.

  • PubIt has an “About the Author” area you will fill in when putting your book up for sale. This is where you put your bio.
  • Amazon has “Author Pages”. This is where you have your bio, link your blog or web page, twitter, facebook, etc. If you haven’t set up your Author Page yet, do so. And be sure all your titles are linked to it.

16. Once you’ve uploaded your e-book, review it. Review it all the way through. Review it on every site you upload it to. Make sure there are no issues with it.

  • This is especially important to do with regard to Smashwords. Its meatgrinder program can do nasty things to your manuscript. I’ve gone back months later to look at NRP’s titles and found half of a book is now all in small caps. No reason why they should be. We don’t use small caps for anything. But the conversion process did it. There have been other formatting anomalies that can occur as well.

17. Finally — and most important — before converting and uploading your e-book for sale, make sure you have edited it. Most of us have a very difficult time editing our own work. So find someone to do the editing for you. You may need to hire and editor. If you do, get references and check them. Then, after you have reviewed and implemented the edits, have it copy edited and proofread. Remember, it needs to be professional quality OR BETTER. Yes, or better because self-published and small press published authors are fighting the stigma in some readers’ eyes. (And don’t get me started on how there are still authors and editors out there who think we are a step or two down the publishing evolutionary ladder.)

Hope this has helped. If you have any questions or comments, post them and I’ll do my best to answer.

And check back in next Sunday for the start of a new series by another of the MGCers.

3 comments

  1. Amanda has already cover this here about the blurb (in a sense), but I’m turned off by a blurb that tells me “what I’m going to get by reading the story”. I’ve seen blurbs that promise that I’ll be “enlightened by reading this story”. Sorry but if I want to be “enlightened”, I’ll read a religious tact not a story. [Smile]

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