14 July 2015

7 Tips for Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 2

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week I shared my first three tips for self-publishing an ebook:
1. Start working with a cover designer early-ish
2. Ask your cover designer for a JPEG, not a TIFF or PNG file
3. Publish with both Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Today's post contains four more tips to help you have a smooth ebook publishing process (and avoid learning the hard way).

4. Format for Smashwords first.
You've finished the book, which is to say you have a finished manuscript that has gone through several rounds of editing and revision and has been copy edited. You are 99.9% sure you will not be making any further changes to the content of the manuscript. Does this describe you? Yes? Okay. Then you are ready, young Jedi. It's time to format your manuscript as an ebook.

First, if you've never formatted an ebook, you should know that it's detail-oriented and time-consuming, but it isn't hard. Especially since both Smashwords and Amazon offer free, easy-to-use, step-by-step manuals. Behold:

As to why I format for Smashwords first: The Smashwords formatting guidelines are more restrictive than Amazon's because they distribute to other retailers, who each have their own requirements. But the same formatting guidelines that work for getting into the Smashwords Premium Catalog also work for Amazon, so after formatting the manuscript for Smashwords, all I have to do to prep it for Amazon is change "Smashwords Edition" to "Kindle Edition" on the copyright page and I'm done. Seriously, that's it. Easy peasy.

Smashwords is also on the cusp of distributing through Amazon, so in the future I expect that I'll only have to publish once at Smashwords in order to have my books available in all the major ebook stores.

5. Start the publishing process when you have all the needed materials and information.
I like to upload my books to Smashwords before Amazon (more on that below), and you can't save a draft in Smashwords. Annoying but true. If you start entering your book's metadata and then realize that you don't have your cover image in the appropriate format or size, or you don't have a short description written, or [fill in the blank], you'll have to start all over later. [Note: Amazon does let you save a draft and come back later if you realize you're missing something you need.]

Here's what you need to publish your ebook on Smashwords:
  • A Smashwords author account (free)
  • Your book's final title (and subtitle, if applicable)
  • The Smashwords edition of your book file
  • Your cover image, formatted according to their guidelines (see "7 Tips...Part 1")
  • A short description (max. 400 characters)
  • A long description (max. 4000 characters)
  • The price you want to charge for your book
  • The two categories you want your book "shelved" under (Smashwords will ask you to choose from a predetermined menu)
  • Up to 10 tags (which are search keywords or phrases that someone who doesn't know your book exists might use to find it)
Amazon requires the same things, with the following differences:
  • A KDP account (free), and they require you to enter your payee and tax information before you can upload anything
  • The Kindle edition of your book file
  • Only one description (max. 4000 characters)
  • Amazon's categories are different from the Smashwords ones; again you'll choose from a predetermined menu
  • Up to 7 keywords or phrases
With both Smashwords and Amazon, you'll need to fill out some additional fields and make some decisions (e.g. about how much of your book you want to allow people to sample, whether you want to enroll in the MatchBook program, whether you want to enable digital rights management, etc.), but these are things you can read about and decide on when you upload or come back and change later.

6. But preorders!
Now that I've counseled you to wait until you have all the needed materials before you start uploading your book, I thought I should mention that both Amazon and Smashwords will let you offer preorders of your book - up to one year before the projected publication date for Smashwords and up to three months in advance for Amazon. The Smashwords Ebook Preorders page has some great info on why you should consider preorders.

In order to set up a preorder on Amazon, you have to have a draft of your manuscript you can upload so they can review it "for compliance with [their] Program Policies." Smashwords, though, launched an Assetless Preorder program on 17 June 2015, which means you can now set up your book for preorder without having a book file to upload. Woot! Very exciting! (I also suspect that one might be able to use the preorder feature to get around the whole can't-save-a-draft-in-Smashwords issue, though I haven't tried it yet and there might be unexpected consequences of trying to do this.)

What you need to set up a preorder:
  • Your book's final title
  • Your book's cover image
  • The book's short and long descriptions
  • The categories and tags
  • The release date
  • The price
  • A draft of the manuscript (Amazon only)
Because of the way I work, it would be difficult for me to set up a preorder a year ahead of time - I often haven't determined what the final title of the book will be by that point and might not even be able to accurately describe it - but I'm toying with the idea of setting up preorders of my next book a month or two in advance of the release. Could be an interesting experiment.

And finally...

7. There's no need to buy an ISBN.
When you upload your book to Smashwords, they give you the option of having them assign you a free ISBN, which you can then use on Amazon (and anywhere else you sell your ebook). Because I value efficiency, this also means that I like to upload my book to Smashwords first so that I don't have to go back and edit my book's data on Amazon to include the ISBN after I've already done all the other stuff.

Bonus tip: To ensure a successful release of your book, formulate a launch plan 3-6 months in advance of your target publication date. 
There are a lot of pieces involved - both big and small - in launching a book and letting the world know it's out there: building your author platform, choosing promotion strategies, writing descriptions, setting up a preorder, deciding whether to offer your book in print as well as electronic format, formatting your book, sending out Advance Review Copies (ARCs) and getting reviews, creating a long-term post-release marketing strategy, etc. In order to get all the pieces to align on schedule, you have to start thinking and doing well in advance. Yes, even before you're done writing the book. Unless you are a patient person and would be fine waiting 6 months after the book is finished to release it, 

Want more information or support during the process of preparing to launch your ebook? I use my first-hand knowledge of the self-publication process to help my writing coaching clients formulate a book launch plan and stay on track. Email me at sioneaeschliman (at) gmail (dot) com with questions or to set up an initial coaching consultation.

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