Welcome to my guide to self-publishing. Here you’ll find everything you need to know about indie publishing, with loads of resources, blog posts, and advice. Every few months I’ll add another step in the process, and don’t forget to check out the links at the end for more posts of interest.
Step 1: Write a great book
Before we consider just what exactly makes a ‘great’ book, let’s hear from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords:
“Write a great book” might strike you as common sense, but it’s the most common mistake of many authors. Some indie authors – intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish –rush their book to market before it’s ready to be seen by readers.
Is your book ready? By considering this difficult question, you’ll find the path to a better book revealed. With the power to publish comes the responsibility to emulate the best practices of the most professional authors and publishers.
If your book is poorly-conceived or poorly-edited, readers will reject it. If you write a great book that satisfies readers, they will reward you with their word of mouth.
Honor your readers with a great read.*
“Honour your readers” is a phrase of Mark’s that is very close to my heart. Keeping readers at the forefront of your mind at all times – I’m going to repeat that – at ALL TIMES is, in my humble opinion, what makes a great book.
I’m not talking about a literary classic, or a book that will win awards. I’m not talking about a prescribed set of writing ‘rules’, either. There are authors, reviewers and bloggers out there who will rail against using the passive voice, or head-hopping, or awkward structures, or incomplete characterisation. Before I started my masters in creative writing, I might have joined in from time to time. But not any more. My world has now expanded to include the glaring fact that ‘good’ writing comes in all shapes and sizes, and no one should set themselves up to judge anybody’s writing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ unless they have the credentials to do so. And here is the fascinating thing: anyone with the credentials to do so (creative writing tutors, experienced literary critics, highly regarded authors of long-standing), are more likely to praise a writer for unconventiality - for breaking the rules – than for blindly following them and producing a read that is bland and deriviative.
Stop digressing, Jo! OK, so if I’m not talking rules here, what does make a great book? Well, you guessed it – one that honours the reader. If you write a book that entertains, satisfies expectations, follows its own rules of narrative and form, is well edited and as free from errors as humanly possible; if you make it look good so it’s a delight to read or hold, then you have succeeded in Step 1. And, as Mark says, this is harder than it sounds.
Sometimes a certain amount of stepping back is necessary, looking at the story from an imaginary reader’s point of view. Yes, that part where you’ve added tons of information about candle making is a good use of the research you did, but is it integral to the plot? Readers like to be entertained and educated, they don’t like to be bored or lectured. You might want to keep that long description of how it feels to walk along the sea front because you love the poetry and it took so long to get right … but will the reader really enjoy it as much?
Learn your craft, and watch out for your own weaknesses (mine is using too many adverbs, amongst others). Get feedback – an essential part of self-publishing, that I will return to later in this guide – but don’t let the feedback discourage you. Walk that fine line between self-belief and dispassionate appraisal of your work. It’s a tough call, and it will never get any easier, so best get used to it now!
*This is an excerpt from Mark Coker’s The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, available for free here.
Step 2: Choose your self-publishing route
When I started my research into indie publishing way back in May last year, there were so many routes open to authors it was mind-boggling. I made pages and pages of notes, and in July wrote this post optimistically titled: Self Publishing Options: All you need to know. I distilled my research into this useful spreadsheet comparing the most prevalent options in the UK.
I’ve just checked most of the companies compared on this list and the information is still up to date. But I no longer stand by my claim that Matador are ‘the best of the author solutions companies’. They are fab for sure, but companies like Silverwood are just as viable.
While this comparison is undoubtedly useful – and should save you a bit of legwork – I can now narrow down the options to two main routes:
Do it all yourself.
Pay someone else to do it all for you.
Neither of these routes are as simple as they sound, however. For a start, doing it all yourself doesn’t mean literally do it all – it means source the skills and services you need individually. Editing, proofreading, cover design, printing etc – this is the route I have taken, and there are both pros and cons (explored below). Equally, paying someone else to do it for you won’t actually cover it all – there are some things you simply can’t buy. You still have to get out there and sell your book! Plus, there is a marked loss of overall control and manageability in taking the second route. So, let’s look at them in a bit more detail:
Option 1: Putting the ‘self’ into self-publishing
What some might call the true indie route, if you choose this path you will be the project manager of your book. We’ll be looking at each of the steps in this guide so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed – many authors have successfully navigated this route and you can too.
Total control! While route 2 also offers control over such aspects as cover design and (to an extent) the size and feel of your book, there are limitations. If you go it alone you get to choose everything – trim size, paper thickness, typeface, cover image and style (some publishing solutions companies have limited access to design), price, royalty, where and when it’s sold, e-formatting design, listing categories, keywords … OK, I’ll stop now. You get the picture. Total control means you choose your own editor and cover designer – you choose how much you want to pay, ask for referrals and negotiate etc – or you can do it yourself, of course. Total control means the end product is exactly the way you want it to be.
Instant information. With Amazon KDP the indie author gets instant feedback on sales and downloads; Lightning Source and CreateSpace provide regular reports on paperback sales. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that you can track marketing activities and see which, if any, are working.
Monthly royalty payments. Many author solutions companies pay royalties six monthly. This is, if you don’t mind me saying so, rubbish. Amazon, Lightning Source and CreateSpace all pay monthly (Amazon: 2 months in arrears; LS: 3 months in arrears; Amazon US and LS wait until earnings reach $100/£100 respectively before issuing payments). As an indie author, it’s important to be in control of this stuff.
Total control! That’s right, it’s both a blessing and a curse. With complete control comes complete accountability and a lot of stress. If your proofreader’s a bit rubbish and misses tons of errors it’s your fault because you chose them. If you do your own cover, or approve a bad design, ditto. So many decisions to make can be overwhelming – which is why lots of authors do chose to have a company help them out and hold their hands through the process. But hey – that’s what I’m doing right here, guys …
If you do decide to go it alone, in my current opinion, there are really only 2 options for printing in the UK. (There are, of course, many options, but these are the main two my research has thrown up.) Lightning Source and CreateSpace. These days there’s very little to choose between them if you are a UK author – even six months ago there were big differences, which was why I went with Lightning Source. But now … well, let’s just say that novel number three from the pen of yours truly will probably be printed and distributed by CreateSpace. The only main differences I can see right now are that CS don’t offer a matt laminated cover, and that they send author copies from the US with costly shipping. BUT they get your book for sale on Amazon much quicker, and their upload process it very easy to use. Lightning Source are fast and efficient, and they will list books with Gardners for possible book shop distribution (you have to get the shops to stock, of course).
Option 2: Throw a bit of money at it
Now let’s look at the pros and cons of route 2 – choosing an author solutions company. Well, what do they do, exactly? The short answer is pretty much everything; the long answer is more complex. At its worst, you could end up spending £thousands and have a product that is no better (or possibly worse) than if you’d taken the route above. Many companies use Lightning Source for POD printing so there’s no difference there. You’ll be paying them an all-in sum that will (should) include editing and proofreading and cover design – but you have no control over the quality of these. Some companies offer distribution – Matador have a very good track record of this – but you will have to pay for the printing of all those copies up front, of course. Will you break even? This is something you will need to investigate fully. (Watch out for the next post on costs and breaking even.)
Expertise and hand-holding. If you choose a really good company, like Silverwood Books, you will have the benefit of someone’s publishing experience and a colleague to bounce ideas off. Many authors are too close to their books, and make mistakes with cover design, say, or in the final edit. A reputable company will mimic the values of a good trad-publisher and ensure your book is of the best possible quality.
Distribution. As mentioned above, if you choose a company with a proven track record in distribution – and choose to pay for it – you will get your book into bookshops. Without super-human effort, this is almost impossible for the indie author going it alone.
Kudos. I debated with myself whether to add this as a pro, but decided I would, as for many authors having a publisher’s name on their book is important. Matador and Silverwood are both recognised quality brands, so if this is important to you it’s certainly a pro.
Cost. Well, of course it isn’t cheap! Expect to pay at least £800+ for a basic package (and if it includes proofreading and cover design it should be at least this – beware of companies that are too cheap). Then add on extra costs for additional services. Some companies ask you to pay for warehouse stock (for distribution) – this can run in the £thousands. As a minimum you’ll need six copyright library copies and a few for yourself – POD is the most cost effective printing option. Many authors who have used an self-publishing company have incurred upfront costs of between £1,500 and £3,000.
Loss of control. As we talked about above, if you hand over control to another company you lose something. Factor in the lack of available sales figures and instant information – or at least remember to ask the questions about reporting and royalties before signing up.
Step 3: Budget for success
Budgeting. Now why does that word strike fear into the hearts of many potential indie authors? It shouldn’t, because there really is nothing to be scared of. We’ve redefined self-publishing, and moved away from the stigma of ‘vanity’, by making publishing work as a financially viable activity. So if you’re going to be indie and proud, you have to get a grip on the numbers.
The Costs of Going Indie – Totally DIY
How much you spend on publishing your book used to be a matter of ‘How much is your budget?’ But that was in the bad old days – now there’s no need to overspend, and there is no excuse for not making your initial investment back – if you plan and forecast carefully, of course. Let’s look at ebooks first, and take as an example my own first novel, Can’t Live Without. Here are my costs for this book:
Cover (front cover image only) £50
Cover image licence £9
Total: £384. If you set your price around the £2.00 mark (£1.99 is a popular price in the UK), you’ll make around £1.30 per copy downloaded, depending on the size of the file (this is a 70% royalty from Amazon’s KDP programme). This means the number of ebooks you would have to sell to break even is 295.
Not many, right? Well, do you know 295 people who will definitely buy your first book? Here are my weekly sales figures for Can’t Live Without for the 10 weeks following publication:
Notice the big jump there? That was following my free promotion, when the book went back to paid. Forgetting that for a moment (more about free promos later in the series), up until that point I had sold 150 copies in 9 weeks. And this was with the help and support of my family and friends, with articles in the local press, a Facebook and blog launch party, and all the associated marketing activities I could think of at the time. At that rate I would have broken even after 18 weeks, or about four and a half months. But at least I definitely would have broken even – if my costs for the ebook had been far higher, it could have taken years.
What about the cost of producing the same title as a paperback? Obviously the proofreading has already been paid for, so the additional costs were:
- Cover (addition of back and spine): £75
- File upload to Lightning Source: £50.40
- Proof copy: £21
- ISBN: £18
- Distribution (information sent to Amazon etc): £8.40
Total: £173. The economies are similar for a physical book – Amazon take 40% discount on cover price, and a single copy of a 260 page book priced at £7.99 and sold via Amazon (or any book shop offering the same terms) nets a profit of £1.49. So for the paperback set up to be cost effective with these figures, you would need to sell at least 116 copies. And they don’t fly off the shelves without a lot of pushing – at the time of writing I have sold 100 paperback copies of Can’t Live Without via Lightning Source’s distribution to Amazon and other retailers, although I have broken even on costs by hand-selling quite a few and supplying two local bookshops.
So, for a total outlay of under £600 you can have an ebook with a fantastic cover for sale on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, and be looking to break into profit after a few months with a good, concerted effort at gaining sales. Before we look at the other option – using a self-publishing solutions company – let’s just consider some of the costs that are missing from the lists above:
Formatting and typesetting: Formatting is what is done to your Word document to turn it into a mobi file (for Kindle) or an epub file (for Kobo etc). Formatting is not easy, and badly formatted books are anathema to readers. I formatted Can’t Live Without myself, using Jutoh software, but this a technically demanding job and no one would blame you for outsourcing this job as well. For this you’d need to set aside around £50. Typesetting is how you turn your Word document into the interior file for the paperback. Again, it’s a difficult job, and badly typeset books look horrible. I did it myself, but I do have a background in text-setting, and I spent literally weeks researching fonts and styles and getting to grips with the software. Costs for typesetting are high – I had quotes which ranged from £80 to £380. A self-publishing solutions company will supply this service, or you can outsource it.
Editing: Another necessary job, as your first (or even your second and third) draft is unlikely to be perfect. I’m lucky that the proofreader I use offers a service that includes a line-by-line edit, so for the earlier stages I use beta-readers. Beta-readers are wonderful people who offer to read your book pre-publication and give advice and criticism. They are worth their weight in gold. For a thorough edit by a professional editor, expect to pay upwards of £400.
Self-publishing Solutions companies – DIY with a lot of help
If the above fills you with fear, if you’re not technically minded or you just plain wouldn’t enjoy managing the whole publishing process yourself, you should think about partnering with a self-publishing solutions company, such as SilverWood Books or Matador. There are others, of course, but these two seem to offer the best value for money – and added value – at the time of writing. Putting together all the direct and associated costs we’ve talked about above, the whole package of publishing, with someone else doing everything for you, will probably cost upwards of £1150. (If it costs a lot more, ask what exactly you’re getting for your money above and beyond what you could source yourself.) This should include formatting an ebook, typesetting the paperback, editing and proofreading, a cover (front, back and spine), ISBN and standard distribution, which just means sending details of the book via Print on Demand to Amazon etc. This won’t include marketing or any actual copies of books, and if you choose to forgo Print on Demand and print your book in large quantities for distribution via bookshops, the upfront costs will of course be a lot higher.
Step 4: Your Timetable For Success
Now it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty, and come up with a workable plan to make sure you don’t miss out any important parts of the process.
I did all this wrong the first time. I didn’t buy my ISBNs ahead of time, so I had to pay more for them to be rushed through (I’d set a publication date and I was loath to miss it). I didn’t list it on Nielsen’s early enough either, so the information didn’t filter through in time for it to show on Amazon etc by the launch date. I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be able to get my paperback cover sorted until I knew the exact number of pages after typesetting, so that was a last minute rush too! And I failed to do a ‘soft-launch’ of the ebook – more about that in a bit.
Now I have a super-duper spreadsheet with all the timescales laid down, and from this I can see what I should be doing and when. Your timescales will be different to mine – some writers will need to start listing information while they are at the editing stage, others may be happy to wait until their book is proofread and ready to go. Really it depends on your own deadlines – but what you must do is be sure to set a date for your launch that is achievable! And the following information will help you do just that.
Lead Times – Paperback
So, let’s assume you are going through the usual process of planning, writing, and editing your manuscript. If this is your first ever venture into publication, I’d wait until you are ready to send your work off for final proofreading before starting the publishing process detailed below. Nine times out of ten you will find stuff you want to change even at this stage, and everything takes longer than you expect. There’s nothing worse than telling all your friends and family that you are launching on a particular date, and then feeling the horrible pressure as that date approaches and you’re not … quite … ready. Argghhh!
If you’ve done it all before, you’ll likely have a better idea of how long the final editing stages will take you, and you can start planning the process accordingly. Let’s start with the task that needs to be completed first, and work our way up to launch date from there.
Launch minus 8 weeks – Buy ISBNS. Only necessary if you are planning a print version and want your own publishing name listed as the publisher of record. In the UK at the time of writing, ISBNs are available in batches of 10 priced at £126. Click here for more information and to order. Takes about 2 weeks for the list to come through – and you need this before you can register with Nielsen.
NB: If you are publishing a paperback with CreateSpace you can use their free ISBN (the publisher of record will be CreateSpace). Ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN. This is a major expense, so think carefully whether you really need them. I bought them because I was printing via Lightning Source, but for my next book I’m moving to CreateSpace so they may well be redundant!
Launch minus 8 weeks – Source Cover Design. You will want to start using your cover image as soon as possible to build pre-launch interest. It’s also nice to upload the cover to your Nielsen listing (see below), but this can be added later. Allow a couple of weeks for your cover to be completed. Although the designer will no doubt be able to produce something a lot faster than that, if you are paying for a couple of rounds of changes this will take time. If you have a really popular/busy designer you’d like to use, remember to book them up in advance! It’s a good idea to ask for the ebook cover first (you’re doing an ebook as well, right?). This is the most time-consuming part for the designer, and once you are happy with the main cover image, the back and spine can be designed to fit. Anyway, by this point you will have to be ready to provide a title and brief synopsis. A blurb is even better, but this can be added at paperback template stage (see below).
Launch minus 8 weeks – Beta Readers. The other thing to do around about now is get your book out to some Beta Readers. These are wonderful people who will read your book pre-publication and let you know if there’s anything that doesn’t work so well – great for the wider view that an editor may lack. And if you’ve done all your own editing then Beta Readers are essential. You don’t want to be putting your book up for sale when the only people who’ve read it are you and perhaps a member of your family. Get other opinions – it’s better to find out about holes or inconsistencies now, and not from reviewers on Amazon (who can be very cutting indeed). How to find Beta Readers? Just ask. On your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter – try to get at least 6 and a wide cross section. By the way, if you just said I don’t have a blog, Facebook or Twitter account you need to go back about ten steps and set them up!
Launch minus 6 weeks – Notify Nielsen. Again, only for print books, but it’s worth notifying Nielsen as this is the database bookshops, wholesalers and eretailers like Amazon pick up their information from. For a basic listing you need the ISBN (see above), meta data (publisher, title, author, category etc), list price, trim size and number of pages. Nielsen listings are managed via their portal PubWeb - it’s really easy to use.
A note on number of pages: If you are scheduling this before typesetting your book it will be hard to know exactly how many pages it might be for paperback. As a rough guide, a 5 x 8 inch paperback at 260 pages contains a 70,000 word novel. Obviously if you choose a large typeface, larger or smaller trim size (book size) the pagination will be different. You can always change this data later.
A note on CreateSpace: If you are using CreateSpace’s free ISBN you won’t be able to list with Nielsen until you start the process of uploading your book to CreateSpace. You can get around this by uploading a file you don’t intend to use, get the assigned ISBN, then simply replace the file with the real one when the time comes. Just don’t press publish!
Launch minus 6 weeks – Advance Information Sheet & Marketing Materials. If you are planning to try and get stocked in bookshops, you need to send out AI. Ideally you’d send it 2 to 3 months before, but you can’t send it until you’ve got the ISBN. For a great example of an AI sheet see here. It’s also a great idea to order any marketing materials around about now. Think bookmarks and postcards – places like VistaPrint are cheap, but they charge a lot for quicker delivery, so you can save money on postage by ordering in plenty of time.
Launch minus 6 weeks – Proofreading. So, you’ve got your manuscript back from the Beta Readers and made any necessary changes. Now it’s time to get it proofread. This is non-negotiable, to be honest. Get. It. Proofread. Expect this to take from 1 to 2 weeks.
Launch minus 5 weeks – Blurb. While the book is with the proofreader, work on your blurb. Take your time over this – it’s the product description on Amazon and the stuff that will go on the back cover. Make it sing.
Launch minus 4 weeks – Typesetting. Once you’ve had your book proofed, and made any necessary changes, you have your master copy. Don’t make any other changes to it after it’s been proofread! Don’t suddenly decide to change a character’s name, or anything else. I see this so many times and it drives me insane. It’s really easy to avoid – just don’t send the thing to the proofreader until you are 100% happy with it. Okay, end of rant. Now is the time to typeset it for print. Coming up next time is my template for doing this easily in Word – anyone can do it, and you can save a packet and make your book look amazing. Once it’s typeset you’ll have the number of pages and you can pop that in your cover template calculator and get the spine width. Check out CreateSpace’s cover template and spine calculator - it’s brilliant.
NB: If you are producing an ebook, you can format for Kindle and epub at the same time, albeit in different programmes. More on this below.
Launch minus 4 weeks – Paperback Cover. As soon as you have the spine width and cover template – with barcode including ISBN (don’t worry, CreateSpace or Lightning Source produce this template for you), send it to your cover designer so they can produce the final paperback cover. Remember this needs to be a pdf, not a jpeg (the ebook cover will be a jpeg), and must be in CMYK, not RGB. If you don’t know what that means you cannot do your own cover. Also remember bleed. Ditto comment above it’s that foreign to you.
Launch minus 3 weeks – Upload Files to Printer. We’ll go with CreateSpace here, as the lead times are slightly longer than if you are using Lightning Source. That’s only because of shipping times to the UK (I’m in the UK, which is why this guide is written from that perspective, but of course the information here is universal). You’ll need to upload an interior file (pdf) and an exterior, or cover, file (also pdf, see above). CreateSpace have a brilliant online proofing widget, but if it’s your first book, or your first time with CS, or you just want to be doubly sure it’s perfect, order a physical proof copy to be sent out.
Launch minus 2 weeks – Approve Proof and Order Author Copies. Wow, we’re getting so close now! Once you’re happy with the proof (you can make changes and upload a new file to CreateSpace for free – Lightning Source have a fee), you should order your author copies for your launch party etc. Remember we are allowing for shipping times here – LS in the UK are super fast, so this can be done later if necessary. But there’s another difference to take into account, covered next …
Launch minus 1 week – Publish. This is the moment. You are basically clicking a button and telling your printer that it’s fine to start distributing to Amazon and elsewhere. Once you’ve done this, people will be able to order a copy of your book when it shows up for sale.
CreateSpace: Once you approve your copy and click publish, your book will show up on the Amazon sites very quickly, usually in a day or possibly up to three days.
Lightning Source: It takes longer – sometimes much longer. Once you approve your title with LS it goes into their distribution network, but this takes a while to filter through. My first title printed via LS showed up for sale on Amazon in 2 weeks; my second took nearly 2 months! This, by the way, is one of the reasons I’m moving to CreateSpace next time. But LS do have lots of benefits. There are other posts on the blog about this, so I won’t go into it now.
So, give yourself plenty of time to get your book available before your big launch. The same goes for the ebook, of course, but that’s a lot easier. Let’s look at that next.
Lead Times – Ebooks
If you are publishing both a paperback and an ebook, and want them to hit the market at the same time, you can incorporate this timetable into the one above. With my first title I did the ebook first, then worked on the paperback; with my second I got them both out at exactly the same time. The second way was much more stressful! In future I’ll probably do the ebook-followed-by-paperback model, but each route has its benefits and downsides.
A note on ISBNs: Remember that ebooks also need ISBNs, but Amazon assign their own ASIN, and Kobo will also let you use a free one. If uploading via a distributer like Smashwords you can also use a free ISBN.
Let’s assume you’ve decided to use Beta Readers, and already had your book back from them, and made any changes based on their feedback. Okay, so …
Launch minus 4 weeks – Proofreading. As above. Get. It. Proofed.
Launch minus 4 weeks – Cover Design. Also as above. The ebook cover should come to you as a jpeg and be the right size/ratio for Amazon and other eretailers (1:6 is a good ratio to aim for). Get the cover right. It needs to work as a thumbnail – i.e. really small! Study your genre, and try to get it fitting the genre, but not copying. Fresh, but recognisable. Tricky, but that’s what you’re paying for, right? Expect to pay from £50 up for a cover.
Launch minus 3 weeks - Write blurb. As above. Also start thinking about categories. This applies to paperback listings on Amazon too – choose the best categories, and remember that if you are publishing via Amazon’s KDP interface, you can only choose 2 categories.
Launch minus 2 weeks – Formatting for Kindle, epub and others. This is called formatting because it is distinct from typesetting. Formatting is harder, and should be done by a professional if possible. Ebook text is reflowable - readers can change the font size and orientation, and will be reading your book on so many different types of ereader it’s impossible to be too precious about how it will appear. Simple and user-friendly is the way to go. There are conventions which should not be broken – for fiction you should have the first line of a paragraph not indented, subsequent paragraphs indented and no line breaks between paragraphs, for example. A new chapter should start on a new page.
Nepotism Time! My brother-in-law, Bryan Hamilton, offers a brilliant ebook formatting service, starting from only £50! Save yourself the nightmare and contact him.
Launch minus 1 week – Upload to KDP. And other eretailers if you are planning on opting out of Amazon’s Select programme. You’ll need your interior file – a mobi for Amazon, epub for others – and the cover. This only takes half an hour or so to do, it’s very easy, but it’s still best to do it a good week ahead of the launch for a number of reasons. 1: You can check it’s all working properly by downloading it yourself. 2: It gives you time to refine categories and your product description. (Use Amazon’s Author Central US for this, wherever you’re based – it has more options.) 3: It allows you to do a ‘soft launch’.
Phew, bet you’re exhausted after reading all that, but there’s just one more thing I want to talk about. Launching softly, or quietly, a couple of days ahead of your official launch is a great idea. Not only can you check the stuff mentioned above, you can also get some good early reviews, which will show up on Amazon and encourage new readers. Who do you get these reviews from? Well, not friends and family, obviously. No, they come from your Beta Readers. Ask nicely, and your early readers will no doubt be happy to post a review. You can also stagger sales a bit for extra exposure in Amazon’s rankings – but that’s a topic for another post!
Step 5: Typesetting Your Book In Word
Now it’s time to take one of the key tasks from the publishing timetable above and look at it in a bit more detail. I’ve produced the following guide to help you typeset your own book in Word – you can also download my template, which is ready for you to drop your own text, title and name straight into. This template is set to the same size and other parameters as my books – 5×8 inch trim size, generous margins and line spacing – but you can adapt it to suit. What’s perhaps most useful is that some of the hard work is done for you, for example getting the page numbering to start at 1 on what is, in effect, page 7 was something that took me quite a while to work out!
Feel free to ask questions about the guide or template in the comments box below, and I’ll update this guide as and when I learn new ways to improve the template or the process. Happy typesetting!
1: First of all you’ll need to open the template. Click here to download it. Also open your final, proofread, perfect version of your book. You REALLY do not want to be making any text changes after typesetting your book, so don’t even think about doing this until it’s as perfect as you can get it.
Check the initial settings are correct by going to Page Layout and clicking on the arrow for Page Setup
Above you can see the settings for margins and orientation. If you want to alter your existing Word doc instead of using a template, you can use these settings as a guide. Don’t forget Mirror Margins. This is what will make your recto and verso pages sit together as mirror images. Don’t know what recto and verso mean? Read on.
The next tab shows you the settings for Paper. This is where you’ll need to change the size if you are not going for a 5 x 8 inch trim. Ignore the other options here.
The final dialogue is for Layout. The template will have the following settings:
Header: 0.8cm, Footer: 0.6cm, Vertical alignment: Top
Un-check different first page if it’s checked.
You’ve now got your document set up as a book. Yippee! Now it needs some text.
2: Ignore the title pages for now and go to first page of the text of novel (numbered page 1 in the template, with Chapter 1 at the top) and copy and paste your text into here from your proofread master copy.
Select all the body text (but not preliminary title pages, so you’ll have to do this manually and not with Select-All) and choose the font you wish to use for your book. I use Sabon, which can be downloaded, along with many other professional fonts, at Dafont. Don’t worry if your book has different fonts or styles within the text – changing the font should not lose any italic or bold formatting (although we will check this later), and you can change specific sections on your final check-through.
With all the body text selected, click on the arrow for Paragraph in the top toolbar.
As in the image above, you might find the alignment changes to something like Centered – you don’t want this, so change it now to Justified. Outline level should be Body Text, and then follow the settings in the box above. Indentation, none. Don’t add space between paragraphs should be unchecked.
Under line spacing, select multiple and type 1.04 in the ‘At’ box. NB: Play around with this to find the line spacing you like for the font you are using. For Sabon, my personal favourite, 1.04 works well but it may not be as effective for other fonts.
For Line and Page Breaks, only click Don’t Hyphenate, leave Widow and Orphan control unchecked. Note that in the image above this box is checked, but you must uncheck it. You will sort out widows and orphans manually, but if Word does it for you, you won’t have even text on each page. Trust me!
Now you should have all your body text in the right font, with the right margins and line spacing. Next go through each chapter and define the styles for different paragraphs. For example, the first paragraph of each chapter should have no indentation, so I use a style I’ve called ‘First Para’. Defining styles is beyond my scope in this post, but it’s really easy and if you search on YouTube you’ll find loads of short tutorial videos. I define styles for Body text – which has an indented first line, but is otherwise the same as First Para – and Breaks (for those 3 stars you placed between sections) and also a style for my chapter headings which tells the next line of text to start a certain distance beneath the heading. This saves me having to do lots of carriage returns – I can simply click on the chapter heading and choose ‘Chapter’ from the Styles box (under Home tab), and Word automatically shifts the text around and formats the chapter heading to whatever font size and format I’ve set. If you’re really stuck, here’s my quick tip:
Put the first chapter title into the style you like, select it, then right click on it and go to Styles and choose ‘Save Selection as New Quick Style’. Give it a name, like Chapter Heading. Do the same for the first paragraph (no indent) and second, or body, paragraphs. Now these new styles should show up in the box called Styles, and you can simply select your text and choose the new style.
NB: A word about styles and consistency. Many people think typesetting your own work is really difficult, but clearly it isn’t. What it takes is a small amount of knowledge of Word (or whichever software you are using) and the willingness to spend time making it uniform. Using styles means that if you suddenly decide to make your chapter headings a bit bigger, or make them all italic, all you have to do is modify the Chapter Heading style once. That’s right – once only, and all the chapter headings in your document will change. If you choose to ignore using styles you’re making a lot more work for yourself and run the risk of not having a consistent design flowing all the way through your book.
3: Now it’s time for the fine-tuning. With your master document open alongside, double check all italics and bold text are intact. Check for windows and orphans – basically just words left alone on one page at the end of paragraphs or sections – and adjust as necessary. If you want drop capitals at the start of your chapters, select the first letter, click on the Insert tab, and you’ll see the button for Drop Cap right there. Easy!
4: Once you’ve been through the manuscript and made sure it looks the way you want it to, turn your attention to the prelims. These are the pages at the front of the book before the main body begins. Remember that the first page appears on the right (recto) and then next page is on the back of this (verso). It’s customary to have your prelims as follows:
First page: Title and author
Reverse of this: Copyright (there is a sample copyright on the template)
Third page: Repeat of title and author with publisher or imprint
Reverse of this: Blank or ‘also by this author’ or reviews/praise.
Fifth page: Dedication, if including
Reverse of this page: Blank
Seventh page: Chapter One or Prologue, numbered as page 1.
Don’t forget to add end-matter too. An Acknowledgements page is included in the template, but you can have any number of material at the end of your book: also by this author lists; an excerpt of your next book; notes on the text; or book-club questions. Can’t Live Without was all about a list, and at the end of the book I printed a blank ‘Write Your Own Can’t Live Without List’ section, which I thought was kind of fun. Remember every extra page will eat into your profit, though, so don’t get carried away!
5: Once you’re happy with the layout, save your document as a pdf ‘standard for publishing online and printing’. View the pdf in the Two Up layout, so you can see what the printed book will look like with the recto and verso pages together. See how the margins allow for the gutter in the centre of the book so you can read the text nicely without having to break the spine? Make sure the numbering works, check chapter headings are consistent – well, you know what to do. Check, check and double-check. And then check again. When you’re happy, you have the interior file for uploading to CreateSpace or Lightning Source, or whoever you’re printing with. Good luck!
Step 6: Formatting Your Ebook
Now it’s time for the penultimate step before publication: formatting your ebook.
For all the talk of conversion programmes and formatting software and epub and mobi, there are really only two ways of turning your Word document into an ebook: the easy way or the hard way. Let’s tackle the hard way first. The hard way is to do it yourself. Well, this is self-publishing right?
Okay, you don’t have to do it all yourself (see ‘The Easy Way’ below), but if you want ultimate control over your ebook files you will need to tackle this. Let’s fast forward to the day when you have three books published, and book number four is due out. You want – need! – to update the page at the back of your ebook to include the Amazon link to the new book, because readers who loved any one of your previous titles are going to want to know about the new one. If you didn’t do the formatting or conversion yourself, you’re stuffed. You’ll have to pay someone else to make these changes, even though they are simple and take seconds. Another scenario – despite paying over £300 for professional proofreading, it comes to your attention that there are a couple of typos in your book that escaped the net (this has happened to me with each of my books). You want to make those small changes and upload a new version to Amazon et al. And you want to do it for free.
Ebook formatting in practice falls into two camps: conversion or compiling. Conversion means simply that you take your Word document and run it through a programme that converts it to either mobi (Kindle) or epub (all the others) format. Don’t do this. No, really – don’t do this. Unless you have produced your Word doc in 100% perfect format – including Styles, no tabs anywhere ever, the right size and types of font, the right paragraph settings, and lots more stuff you don’t even want to learn about, the result will be horrible. Messy, inconsistent, horrible. There is one possible exception to this, which I’ll talk about in a minute.
Compiling is much safer, and there are a number of programmes you can use for this – the two I’m most familiar with are Jutoh and Scrivener. I use Jutoh, mainly because I bought it and now I have it so I use it. I use Scrivener for writing, but I haven’t mastered the compile function, hence sticking with Jutoh. I’m reliably informed that Scrivener does an outstanding job of formatting your manuscript into an ebook, and I know for a fact that Jutoh does too. Choose one, download it, and learn how to use it. (Click on the icons above to find out more.) Jutoh is very easy to master. How it works is like this:
- Import your file (your Word doc saved as ODT)
- Tell it how to section the book into chapters. You will have used page breaks in Word, or a heading style for new chapters, so simply tick the right box.
- Upload the cover file.
- View your book chapter by chapter in the easy to understand viewing panes.
- Make any necessary changes to paragraphs, spacing, fonts etc.
- Add your front matter and back matter if you don’t already have them.
- Tell the book where you want it to open when the reader clicks ‘beginning’ (email me if you have trouble with this, it’s easy).
- Choose either epub or mobi, and click Compile.
And that’s it. You can now send the file to your own ereader and check it out. Anything you don’t like, simply go back to the original Jutoh project and change it. The software cost me about £25, and every time I use it I find something new to love. When I read a badly formatted ebook I literally stare at the ceiling and scream, “WHY?” There is no need for it when software like this exists to make it so easy.
Here are some ebook formatting Dos and Don’ts:
- Don’t indent the first line of a new section or chapter.
- Don’t put spaces between paragraphs, just indent the first line.
- Don’t try and use fancy fonts. Kindles and most other ereaders only pick up a version of TNR and Arial, and some will render Courier New style fonts, but no more. Don’t bother complicating things.
- Don’t make your font size too big or too small. Yes, I know I can adjust it on my Kindle, but if I ever have to it annoys me. Readers like things simple, so keep it to 12 point as standard.
- Do add some space above and below the Chapter Headings – it looks nicer than everything being rammed to the top.
- Do add in some kind of call to action at the end of your book. You should include a link to sign up to your mailing list, and links to buy other books. You could also ask for a review – some authors think this is a good idea.
- Do include a table of contents – yes, even for fiction. Some ereaders need them to render the book properly. But …
- Don’t obsess about whether it should go at the front or the back. If you’ve set up your start tag properly it won’t matter anyway.
- Do read the entire book again (yes, again!) on your own ereader. You will find another mistake, I guarantee it.
The Easy Way
Well, obviously the easy way is to find a really good ebook formatter and pay her or him to do it for you. You should be looking at somewhere in the region of around £50 for this service (correct at the time of writing). If it’s a lot, lot cheaper then bear in mind the ‘formatter’ will probably just run your Word doc through a conversion programme, which you could have done yourself for nothing. If it’s a lot, lot more then look around for someone else or ask the formatter what extras they are offering. Maybe you get unlimited changes to your file, or five free updates. If you do decide to pay for formatting, here are your must-dos:
- Only send them the absolutely finished, proofread, perfect in every way file. If you find a mistake in the final version and it’s your mistake you’ll have to pay them to format the whole thing again. Annoying.
- Be very clear upfront what you want. If you have images to be inserted it may cost more; if you have any special elements like poetry or diary entries or lists that need to be set out a certain way, say so. Formatters can’t read your mind.
- Check the files, both epub and mobi. Read them on your ereader, or use the Kindle app and Digital Editions to check them over. If there are mistakes that are the formatter’s they should be happy to correct these for free.
This wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Meatgrinder. Mark Coker’s brilliant but much maligned programme will take your Word doc and convert it into all the main ebook formats, including mobi, for free when you upload your title to their site. And, it does a pretty good job of it too. Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t, but there are caveats. First, you have to have formatted your Word doc PERFECTLY for the Meatgrinder to work. If you haven’t followed the guidelines (available on the Smashwords site) it will reject you and tell you to resubmit. Second, even though it converts to mobi, in my opinion it’s a bit low to then download this file and upload it to Amazon. Smashwords don’t have distribution to Amazon at the moment, so this is a bit of a grey area. Look into it yourself, and make up your own mind. Also be aware that if you have listed your book with Smashwords you can’t use Amazon’s KDP Select as you will be in violation of their terms.
Coming soon: How to produce cover files for ebook and paperback
Useful blog posts:
Self-publishing companies compared
Formatting and Typesetting
Formatting for Kindle
Judging self-published books by their covers
We’ve Got It Covered series:
Interview with cover designer Berni Stevens
Interview with cover designer Bryan Hamilton
Interview with cover designer Chris Howard
Essential cover design info
Indie Cover Hall of Fame competition and results