Produce Your Own eBook
A Self-Publishing Tutorial
Are you Sure?
Everyone has a story. The difference is whether one wishes to take the time and trouble to share their story. At one point or another, every author is approached with some variation of the following… “I’ve got this great idea for a story that is sure to make millions. How about I tell it, you write it up, and we’ll split?” Some authors will politely decline, saying they’re way too busy at the moment. Other authors will glare, shake their heads, and ignore the suggestion. I’ll admit to both responses, depending on how late it was and how many times that day, I’d heard the same offer.
We ALL have stories.
Unless you’re willing to pay an hourly wage for a published, professional author, and cover artist, it is just not worth their time. If you have a story that you want to share, tell it yourself. The following notes are for those brave souls willing to put the long hours into actually doing it. It ain’t easy; but it’s incredibly rewarding.
If I’ve not scared you off yet, then let’s get to it.
Quick Tip: Visit the websites of publishing houses that focus on the genre you’re writing. Download their submission requirements. You’ll find these useful, later on.
This is a simple eight step script to follow on the road to self-publishing. We’ll be examining each of these items in more detail. One would be wise in not skipping these steps.
Learn the Tools
Tell the Story FIRST!
Here’s a list of common tools that you’ll need to create an ebook.
This is what is used to actually write the story. Some of the more popular choices are listed further down in this document. A quick tip: Do NOT use tabs!
At first glance, a text editor looks like a word processor, the difference is that it only handles the raw text. There are no fancy typefaces, headers, footers, notes, page numbers, etc. It is useful to strip all the extraneous code from a document prior to final formatting.
This type of software is used for internal graphics as well as cover art.
Research and Notes
I am occasionally surprised to realize a great many intelligent and educated people are unaware of some of the basic navigation tools. A few minutes of familiarizing yourself with common techniques will save hundreds of hours in the future.
If you’re already an experienced netizen then feel free in jumping to the next section.
A web browser is used for your email, research, backing up your Work in Progress (WiP), and eventual publication.
There are dozens of programs used for web browsing. The most popular are Internet Explorer (IE), Chrome, FireFox, and Safari. These four account for most of the browsers in use, worldwide. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m only going to discuss Chrome. All the images are from my Chrome browser.
All modern browsers have the ability to use tabs. The following image shows an initial startup page using the Google Chrome browser.
The red text points out the primary tools we’ll be using in the next few chapters.
This next image shows what happens when I’ve made the first tab PostOrbitalLibrary.com, then added another tab for the WordPress WooCommerce Themes page.
While researching your story, you will probably be keeping three or more tabs open most of the time. If you need to quote a website, Copy/Paste the selection into a Text Editor, first. This will remove all the hidden code that will make things difficult in your working document.
There are four control key combinations that will save you a lot of time. These key pairs are common to many operating systems and programs. The bottom row of your keyboard should have a control (Ctrl) key on each side. The following pairs require you to press and hold the Ctrl while tapping once on the second key.
Ctrl+A = Select ALL
Ctrl+C = Copy selected items (non-destructive)
Ctrl+X = Cut selected items (destructive)
Ctrl+V = Paste selected items
Experiment with these key pairs while in your word processor until you feel comfortable.
Each of the following programs are free to download and install.
LibreOffice – This is one of several free replacements for Microsoft Office.
GIMP – The Gnu Image Manipulation Program can be compared to Adobe Photoshop.
Inkscape – This is a vector art program similar to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw.
Chrome – A popular web browser to be used in place of Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer.
Firefox – Another popular web browser to be used in place of Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer.
No excuses! Just finish telling the story. There is always time to edit, so don’t stop in the middle. Keep going until the story is told. Ten thousand words or three hundred thousand words, don’t matter. Ignore the word-count. Ignore misspellings. Ignore misplaced commas. Just tell the damn story!
Let it simmer for awhile. Spend time with friends and family. Read a good book. Get your mind completely off your own work for at least a few days. A week or more can be good.
Open your first draft and immediately hit “Save As” with a zero two (02) at the end of the filename. You are not going to touch the real first draft because you might want to refer to it later. Now, you’re working on the first round of editing.
Read it slowly from the very first line. Now you’re going to be using those editing tools we mentioned earlier. This is where you pay attention to grammar, spelling, word usage, sequence of events, character voice, etc. Don’t be afraid to prune entire paragraphs or even whole chapters. I’ve often deleted or rearranged chapters to tell a better tale.
If your tale is a complex one, I would suggest you create a separate document with a time line showing the sequence of events and the characters involved at each step. You might add it to the bottom of your research notes.
Start over again. Take your time and read it out loud. You will feel dumb. Ignore that and just focus on what the words on the page actually sound like. I’m sure you’ll be amazed when you realize some of the sentences sound much different out loud than how they sounded in your head. This is probably the most useful tool for cleaning up your prose.
Meet the World
The moment someone finds out that you’re writing, they’re going to ask you, “What’s it about?” You need to have an elevator speech ready to go. The term “elevator speech” comes from the business world, where you might find yourself in an elevator with a VIP who asks that question. You have, at most, about thirty seconds to hook them with the excitement you feel for your story. Once the elevator door opens, the moment is lost.
So write a paragraph or two that gives some idea of what your tale is about. Keep it simple and plan on rewriting it on a regular basis. Once you’ve fine-tuned the text, memorize it and be prepared to deliver on cue. As your story evolves, this may become your back cover.
Amanda Patterson has a short blog post on how to write a one-page synopsis. Look it up.
Learn the Current Industry
I would hope you’ve read a bunch of stories from the same genre as your tale. Surf the author and publisher websites. This is part of your research chores. How are similar tales presented? What sort of blurbs (elevator speeches) are being used? What do the best-sellers use for cover art?
A group of like-minded folks can help with all facets of the production process. If you’re not sure about how to phrase something, it doesn’t hurt to ask. They can also warn of predatory publishers and agents. I recommend bookmarking and following these two.
Preditors and Editors – http://pred-ed.com/
Writer Unboxed – http://writerunboxed.com/
Social media pages such as Facebook and Ello have similar groups.
Preparing for Submission
Remember I suggested you make a copy of the requirements for each of the publishing houses you researched while learning about the current state of the industry? This is where you need to pay attention to those requirements. They are there for several reasons, but the most important is that it makes editing easier. Some of the things they have in common are:
Use a standard font, typically Times New Roman 12 pt. Do NOT use a fancy script font! It is a sure way to get an immediate rejection slip.
Double-space with one inch margins on all sides.
Do NOT use tabs! Setup a “style” with the proper indentation and line spacing. If you’re not sure how this works, look up stylesheets and how to set styles in your word processor.
While it is wonderful to share your tale with family, friends, and coworkers, they do NOT make good editors. They are too close to you and in most cases, don’t want to hurt your feelings. You need an impartial voice to tell you when a paragraph or a chapter is boring, or doesn’t make sense. While most editor/writer teams do become close friends, it is a business first. Treat it as such and everyone will be happier in the long run.
A Few Pages
Choosing an editor to work with can be a daunting task. Any good one is going to ask for money. If you can’t afford to shell out, then perhaps you should submit your tale to one of the main-stream publishing houses that include editing and cover art creation should they accept your manuscript.
There are many ways of collaborating with an editor, agent, and publisher. Here are two of the more popular ones.
Google Drive – https://drive.google.com/drive
DropBox – https://dropbox.com
If you’re not a graphic artist, and wish to produce your own ebook, without going through a publisher, I would highly recommend contracting for your cover art.
Publishing houses usually keep a professional graphic artist around that are familiar with the current market and with what works. One problem, for example, is that a cover for an ebook must be recognizable when viewed as a tiny “thumbnail” icon. Look at a list of books on Amazon, for instance. If it looks like a colorful blob, then it probably won’t get much attention.
Never, ever pay for publication! Any website that wants money up-front, to publish your work, is a vanity press and NOT to be trusted! Before signing a contract with any organization, be sure to check the reviews from Preditors and Editors.
WARNING: Read the contract! WARNING: Read the contract! WARNING: Read the contract!
There are a lot of warning signs for which you should be on the lookout. Here are a few:
Be clear and precise on royalties.
Verify a physical address for the publisher. A PO Box is a warning sign.
Keep every email and physical letter!
Do not, under any circumstances, sign a contract with a clause giving the publisher first rights of refusal on subsequent works.
Do not give the publisher exclusive rights to publish works based upon characters and settings of the work for the duration of the contract.
Do not sign multiple contracts until you have one book under your belt.
Is the termination clause clear and in your favor? You should not have to “show cause” if you want to sever your relationship with your agent. Be certain that you understand the process for terminating your contract before you sign.
Do you understand what percentage of sales you will be paid? How soon and how often will you be paid?
The publishing world breaks down into three major categories these days.
Big City Publishers
Most of them will ignore or automatically reject submissions from newcomers unless they are sent by a recognized agent. The few who do request independent submissions will take six months to a year to get back to you. Be patient and be sure to follow their submission guidelines to the letter.
I will repeat what was mentioned earlier… Please do your homework and find out as much as you can about any given company before submitting or signing a contract with them. There are some reputable ebook publishers, but way too many are scams.
These firms will take your “finished” document and cover art, convert it to an ebook, and make it available through various retail outlets.
Amazon Publishing is a branch of Amazon that handles both ebooks and printed media. They offer a variety of contracts. – http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller-account/mm-summary-page.html
SmashWords is perhaps the most famous of the self-publishing firms. It’s been around for a long time and can get your work into many different venues, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent book stores. – https://www.smashwords.com/
Draft2Digital is a relative newcomer, but also provides an excellent venue for getting your work out to multiple sites, including Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Etc. http://draft2digital.com
The key word above is “finished”. Way too often, someone will use one of the self-publishing companies to release something that has not been edited, has grammatical mistakes, has misspellings, or is mis-represented as to content and length. This hurts everyone and gives self-publishing a bad name. These companies are not responsible for editing content or producing your cover art material. Take pride in your work!
In the past, the major publishing houses would handle all the promotion. They would arrange for book signings, TV and radio interviews, submitting for reviews by the major news outlets, etc. Those days are LONG gone and will not return! If you want to get the word out, you and you alone are responsible. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are a ton of free options these days. They all mean you have to get involved yourself, however. The first step is to have a presence on social media sites.
FaceBook – Facebook is a social networking website that makes it easy for you to connect and share with your family and friends online.
Twitter – Twitter is an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets”.
Instagram – Instagram is a social networking app made for sharing photos and videos from a smartphone.
Ello – Ello is a safe and positive community where people everywhere discover, connect, and share inspiration through imagery and text. It was created as an ad-free alternative to existing social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. http://ello.co
MeWe – Engineered with privacy-by-design, MeWe turns the table on Facebook and other social media companies with a revolutionary service that emphasizes privacy and social sharing where people can be their true, uncensored selves. http://mewe.com
Get a Blog
You should also setup your own blog/author’s page and update it regularly. At least once a week, or more when the muse strikes.
If you’ve already acquired a gmail account, you also have a free webpage and blog as part of Google services. – https://www.blogger.com/
WordPress is a popular free blog site and is also my favorite. – https://wordpress.com/