Monday, August 11, 2014

What I Learned This Week: DIY Ebook Formatting and Publishing

While many authors are scrambling to put their books into Amazon's new Kindle Unlimited program, I've been pulling a few of mine out. I've been a part of the Kindle Select program now for a very long time, and while Amazon has been good to me, I decided I wanted to start offering some of my books on other platforms such as Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and iTunes

However, doing so meant re-formatting my files to meet each reseller's specifications. To back up for a moment... I'd been wanting to update all my files anyway with new Call To Action (CTA) info at the back of each book, so now seemed like the perfect opportunity. I started by working on just two of my books: Millicent Marie Is Not My Name and Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas. 

Because formatting for Amazon was a relatively pain free experience, I decided to tackle this project on my own, rather than hire someone (Read:  I'm a poor struggling author. Okay, I'm cheap.)

My process for creating an epub file is pretty basic. I create my book in Word. I strip it of all formatting code (a la Smashwords formatting guide). I re-format (a la Smashwords formatting guide). I create my table of contents and NCX (a la Smashwords formatting guide ... do you see a trend here?) Then I save as an htm file and then  (and yes, you should all be cringing because I know this is not recommended, but it works for me ... sort of as you will see below...) I upload the htm file to Calibre and convert to epub. I check it through my Adobe and Nook readers to make sure it looks okay and remove any weird things that occasionally pop up (and they do - so you do have to go through it!)

Here's what I learned:

1. Every retailer is different.  The easiest way to have achieved my desired effect was to go directly through Smashwords. I do understand this. However, I wanted more control, and I naively thought I could have one epub file that I could upload to every retailer. Not so.

-Kobo was definitely the easiest of all the sites as far as uploading my epub file. I also like the interface for seeing sales.

-Google Play (not available through Smashwords) was a little fussy. It was fine for Pie, but for Millie, it said it couldn't "scrub" my epub file. On the second try, it was fine. Setting up a promo however, nearly drove me insane. Instead, I went in to the main screen to manually change the price. (A little off topic, but all in all, their process needs work - even the reports are not as user friendly as the other retailers).

-BandN took my epub file but wouldn't name my chapters "chapters" in the table of contents. Instead they were called "html1", html2"... it also wouldn't let me edit them in their fancy online editor. However, it would allow me to upload the word document instead, which I did. But again, it didn't recognize my chapters, so I had to go in and put a break and a label at each chapter. Millie only had 19 chapters, but Pie had 31. Were these problems due to Calibre snafus? Probably.

-iTunes is just a pain (sorry - for those who know me, you know I am Queen of the Apple pep club, but I have to give a thumbs down to this one). I set up a new account because I didn't want to use my personal account for uploading books. I had to give a credit card (What? I'm selling, not buying). Then they told me they'd get back to me in 7 days to let me know if my seller's account is approved. I'd have to sign a contract, send it back to them, and in the meantime they gave me a manual to read about all their requirements and specifications. They lost me only a few paragraphs in. I'd heard from others that  even after all that, it was a difficult process to get your file "just so." I decided to skip them entirely. I can still get to iTunes via Smashwords' Premium catalog - which is what I wound up doing.

2. Formatting and changing the CTAs is time consuming. I honestly thought I'd be able to get all of this done in a day - two at most. It took almost the entire week. Looking back though it was a lot of work (what started as two books ended up being nine books total). I had to format Holly's Wishes from scratch for Amazon. I added NCX table of contents and CTAs to the remaining 8 books, re-formatted for kindle ,and re-uploaded to Amazon. Then converted Millie and Pie to epubs and did the steps in number 1 above.

3. Formatting is not as fun as I thought. For the record, I never actually thought this would be fun, but I was coming off of writing Holly's Wishes which was EXHAUSTING and thought this would be a good mental break or at least a good mental diversion. NOT. It was a chore, and I'm glad to be done. Back to writing now.

4. I'm still not going to hire someone to do it for me. Well, maybe one day if I become rich and famous. But for now, it's not so difficult that I can't figure it out on my own. Especially if I don't have to do nine books at once.


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