For a few months now I have been on a mission to delve into that God-awful black hole which is e-book publishing. I mean, I have a completed manuscript and it’s about as ready as it will ever be. However… editing, polishing and seeking second opinions from beta readers was not what scared the living bejeesus out of me.
The first real obstacle was creating a cover. I design and print tshirts for a living so vector illustrations were never really an issue. Photo manipulation however is a completely different ball game and the branding of a document so precious (to me), which took almost three years to complete needs so much more consideration than a £10 t-shirt. Even so, I thought long and hard about the design and after a month of relentlessly faffing about with photoshop and sitting through hour upon hour of online tutorials (I can’t grumble about that, it was a lot of fun) I finally finished my cover art. I’ve blogged about it on here somewhere, feel free to check it out. Cover – check.
Then there was the matter of copyright info, back cover blurb, acknowledgements and author info. The cover blurb was written a long time ago, way before the story was ever finished, but it needed polishing and the rest is just as important. Nonetheless, all of the above is drafted. Blurb – check.
I looked at different places to sell my work. For example; Kindle Direct Publishing aka KDP (amazon’s self publishing platform for e-books. Createspace is what you’d use for paperbacks), and after trawling through a billion forum threads realised that that wasn’t as cut and dry as you might expect either. Copying and pasting your document into a pre-set form sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Well you’re right. It’s much harder than that! You could try it that way if you’re happy with formatting errors and what-not, but for me, as a perfectionist that’s not good enough. I want my book to be presentable and as near to impeccable as it can possibly be. And to boot, e-readers come in so many shapes and sizes and formats (.mobi, .epub etc) that I really didn’t know where to begin. *Sigh*. Amazon use a different format to Barnes & Noble to apple to… you get the picture. There are so many resources out there and the process of formatting correctly by pasting into HTML and then checking line by line after I’ve already read over it like four times looking for grammatical errors… *Sigh again*. This topic alone made my brain hurt so I decided to leave it on the back burner.
On top of that, because KDP (and other alternative publishing sites) are US based and I’m a UK resident there are a lot of forms to fill out to prevent them from retaining 30% of non-US author profits. If you’re in the same shoes I strongly recommend reading the following marvellous blog written by Catherine Ryan Howard: Createspace info for UK residents: the US/UK tax treaty. Then make sure you also read this one too: Update on the same saga.
Effectively, by law the publisher has to retain 30% of your profits to pay US tax unless you can obtain a US non-residential tax number known as an ITIN. If you’re a non US resident and dont pay US taxes, the ITIN along with a W7 and W8 forms have to be sent to your publishing company (KDP, Smashwords etc) which will ensure that you are:
1) refunded the retained funds for the current tax year (if you’ve published already dont delay, you’ll miss out!), and
2) You wont be subjected to the 30% tax in future. Bear in mind that the process of applying for an ITIN and then having it approved is very long winded and may result in hair loss and/or repeated tantrum throwing. Additionally, you are then responsible for declaring your taxes within your home country. Lastly, if for example you launched your book in April, applied for your ITIN the next December, received the number in March and sent it to the publisher in April, you might not be entitled to arefund for the “current” year. I’ve read that some people couldn’t claim it, and others had to wait until the end of the following year for the cheque. It pays to do this early.
So I downloaded all the right forms – check. Next thing to do was to look at marketing methods. I looked at a lot of sites dedicated to this subject, and found so much information I’ll probably blog the details another day when I have a little more time.
Then I looked at print on demand publishing (paperbacks). I’ve reviewed lulu, Createspace, Smashwords and a number of others, but basically, because they aren’t UK based whilst the setup fees may or may not be free, the shipping goes through the roof when they distribute to your UK customers from America. Assuming your marketing is UK based, that might cause you problems because you are the one who loses out as a result. Another reason is that many of these companies charge a setup fee which turned out to be three figures, and they were figures I just didn’t have. So, I settled for Lightning Source, a UK based company with minimal setup fees, no requirement for an ITIN, based only forty miles from my hometown and are very much affordable in terms of cost. But… that brought me to another bump in the road.
In order to print with Lightning source (and most other POD companies) you need to buy your own ISBN (this is basically the barcode number that is printed on the back of your book). Realistically, you can’t buy just one ISBN, you have to buy them in blocks of ten. Actually, that’s not entirely true; I did find a site where you can purchase individually, but you’re looking at £90 for one or £119 for a block of 10. The Nielsen agency are the place to buy them as I understand it.
“Do I need an ISBN for my e-book then?” I hear you say. In most cases no. KDP will allocate you one for free, but you can only use it on their website. Therefore Smashwords will give you a second number for their site and the next site probably will too.
Paperback publishing is something I’m not going to even second glance as of now, until I’ve got the e-book up and running but I’m glad I’ve at least researched it at this stage. As you may or may not know, purchasing an ISBN is only the first of many steps. You also have to decided on the size of your book, work out how many pages you’ll need, download a cover generator and faff with the internal format til you’re blue in the face – at least that’s what everyone else is saying on t’interweb. I’m not ready for that yet, my priority is the e-book.
So… with the exception of the ITIN application, finally my e-book is ready to rock! Except for that one last thing I keep putting off…. the conversion process. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thrown a massive hissy fit over this. It all seems so… complicated. Whilst I am computer savvy I am not by any stretch of the imagination a genius and with all that information out there talking about using HTML coding and what-not, I just buried my head in the sand and left it right to the last step. An online friend and fellow writer who has indie published a lot of e-books and is very familiar with the process tried to explain it to me (God bless you Ester!) but even that was a little too complicated for my understanding. Additionally, even the download page for the software was enough to make me shut down my computer and go to bed sans program.
Then, randomly, by chance I called into the online writing forum where I usually chat with said friend and someone linked me to a page set up by another FMWriter. This guide talks you through the process of converting your manuscript in plain, simple, jargon free English. Happy days!! It really isn’t as bad as I thought, in fact nowhere near! Everything I read in the past basically told me I can’t convert a word document, it’s just not an e-book friendly program. But that isn’t true, not at all.
Lisa J Cohen, the lady who very kindly put the guide together uses a program called OpenOffice to correct all the formatting errors (If you normally use MSword you can download OpenOffice for free and use it to open your word document. Don’t be scared, it looks pretty much identical!). The website says it is not available in UK English but I just downloaded the US version without a problem (spellchecked in MSWord anyway). Then she uses a program called Calibre to convert it to e-book format. You just change the output method to .mobi or .epub blah blah. I won’t go into detail because Lisa already did that but you can find the help guide here: ebook Creation: A guide for writers. I really can’t thank her enough for taking time to help save other people from trawling through all that incredibly complicated information.
I also hope that the above will help people thinking about self publishing in ebook format.