Last time I wrote about my publishing process, I had handed over the reins to a professional designer who had agreed to format the manuscript. In the end, the designer couldn’t deliver my requirements, so it was over to me to do it all myself! It really was a steep learning curve, but I learned a lot in a short space of time. I would now like to share that learning with you, as it might be useful to anyone who is considering self-publishing a book.
If you only plan to sell a Kindle e-book, let me save you a lot of heartache right away: format your book in MS Word. Keep the formatting as simple as possible. I spent hours on a beautifully-formatted e-book layout, featuring all kinds of fancy fonts and features, only to find out the formatting was not Kindle-friendly. The MS Word version of my manuscript, on the other hand, worked just fine.
If you take a look at any Kindle e-book, you will notice they all have similar formatting: the fonts and layout are the same whether you are reading The Complete Works of Shakespeare or James and the Giant Peach.
I still have the original e-book I made, which is in EPUB file format. This works on my Apple Books reader, and should work with all non-Kindle e-readers (Kobo, Nook, etc), however, when I tried to upload the design to sell via other retailers (such as Barnes and Noble) the conversion didn’t look right. I may sell the EPUB file privately to those who would like to have a copy in this format.
If you do plan to create an EPUB file (using software such as Adobe InDesign), you should consider whether to make the text ‘flowable’ or ‘unflowable.’ In a ‘flowable text’ format, there are no fixed pages, the text just flows throughout the document. For my e-book, which is composed of poems and graphic elements, the fixed format worked much better, but this format did not convert well when I tried to upload to various retailers. Flowable text formats are better suited to manuscripts which only contain text (a novel, for example). You can always experiment with different file formats until you find the one that works best.
I used InDesign for my paperback layout. This is professional software, but a worthy investment if you care about your book having a professional-looking finish, and you can afford the overheads. I didn’t have a clue how to use the software to begin with, but Adobe have lots of simple tutorials which will teach you the basics in around 1-2 hours. I was very happy with the end result, though it took a lot of time and effort to get it right. For a text-heavy book (such as a novel) you might do fine with a PDF or Word file, but for my poetry collection I believe this design software gave the manuscript a professional edge.
In order to publish your book via major retailers, you will need to upload two documents: the manuscript (see above) and the cover. I used Adobe PhotoShop to design my covers. Again, this is a paid-for option, but the Amazon free-to-create covers could not offer me the design I was looking for. Another option would be to pay a one-time fee to a professional book designer. It all depends on what you are looking for, and whether you have an eye for design, plus the time to invest in learning new skills.
Creating the e-book cover was fairly easy in PhotoShop as Amazon specify the file size needed, and you can set up your file according to these specifications. For the paperback, I used a downloadable template from Amazon and layered my cover design on top of this.
What is an ISBN, and do I need one?
Paperback and hardback books need an ISBN. There is no requirement for e-books to have one, though you can add one if you wish. The ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, and you will need one to stock your book in physical shops and libraries. If you plan on doing this, it is a good idea to get your own ISBNs. In some countries, you can buy them from the agency responsible for creating them. In others, such as Slovenia (where I live) you have to apply to the agency, and I found I couldn’t get one as I was not an established publisher. You will also need a different ISBN for each book format (digital, paper, hardback). Amazon offer free ISBNs, but you won’t be able to use this if you go on to sell your book via B&N, for example. I opted for the Amazon free ISBN with expanded distribution, as I believe it would look unprofessional to have the same paperback for sale from different outlets with different ISBNs. I believe this is a good option for a first publication.
If you’re considering self-publishing your work, I hope you found this information useful. It is an exciting and fulfilling process, but it will take a lot of time and creative energy, so be prepared for this before you start. And after you’ve finished, remember that it won’t be time to rest on your laurels, but rather to work on your marketing strategy, as I am doing now! Don’t forget, The Anthropocene Hymnal will be published on Saturday 24 July, and the Kindle e-book is available for pre-order from Amazon. I will be donating all of my royalties to WWF.