Thursday, May 19, 2011

Uploading eBooks - Read the Directions!

Yes, friends who've known me for years can faint now, I've come around to ebooks as a publishing venue.

Stories that were scattered across long out-of-print collections are getting new life and new readers. Because of ebooks, my old words are earning money again. Not much, but it's early days yet.

Since the first book went up for sale on Smashwords last Sunday, it's earned more in 5 days than all the stories together have made in the last 15 years. Upload cost to me?  Zero + some time stolen from other projects.  (As busy as I am, I have to steal time now.)

I began with Smashwords. It has a comprehensive instruction book (free download) and sells books in all the most popular formats. I also met the guy who runs the place at the RT Booklovers Convention last April and got a positive vibe from him. These days I've learned to trust my gut just like Gibbs on NCIS.

But that aside, they were a solid business-based choice for a beginner.


Following directions for Kindles from this helpful blog,  I stripped formatting from each short story by running it through Notepad, then copy/saving it as a .doc file. This takes out all the hidden stuff like tabs and blank pages. If you don't do that, their vetting software will send you an error message and the book won't be listed.

The Smashwords book tells how to prep your book in detail--so READ it until all the stuff makes sense. I was on the right track with the blog, but the book was more detailed and specific.

Smashwords' "meatgrinder" software can convert files from a .doc, but you want it cleaned up from the get-go.

 I put in page breaks, but for some reason they didn't seem to translate, so I centered and put in these: * * *  followed by this on the next line _______  and then the title of the next story in caps and bold to let the reader know it was time to change gears.  I expect I should do the same for chapter breaks on future works.

I had to put in hanging indents and reinsert all italics, etc. again. Notepad takes them out.

This was a pain in the neck, so have a copy of your original file with italics and bolding highlighted so you can put them back more easily.

Then--and this is MOST important--read the directions on how to upload.

Sounds bleeding obvious, but you kinda have to do that to make this stuff work. I envy people who intuitively know computer tech. I'm not one of them. I have to work harder to get there. Happily, the directions are not rocket science. The file uploaded and the vetting bots didn't find problems.

Then I did the usual file checking, etc. to make sure what they would publish would look the way it's supposed to look.

Well, it didn't.  Every other line was a different size font on the "page". I knew I'd not done anything wrong, so I fiddled with the font size option on the left side and hey, presto, it evened out for reading. I've assumed that works the same for others with reading devices, so I stopped worrying about it. If the formatting is a problem, I think that readers will let me know. The world is full of nitpickers. Be grateful for them.

I challenged nitpickers to "spot the typos!"  I want the book to be error-free and one's best friend for that goal is an obsessive reader who loves to point out mistakes. If this describes you, proofing my book makes you my new best buddy.

If readers tell you about typos and grammatical errors, don't get mad, get busy FIXING them. Be a professional about it.  There is no story so wonderful that poor spelling, typos, formatting errors, bad grammar, and a worse attitude won't destroy it and make you look like a wanking moron. Don't be one of those. It's bad for sales.

Smashwords offers "coupons" so you can send either price discounts or free downloads to specific targets like book review sites. (And free copies to friends).

Many review sites do not bother with self-published books.  Despite the fact that I'm a pro with a 20-year track record and that the stories have been previously published for real money cuts no ice;  this collection is still a self-published book.

Before sending work off for review, check their guidelines first. I did with one site, and while they wanted to review the book--they'd heard of me, yay!--they were upfront about not having the time.  I told them to give away the free download as a prize if they liked.  Free is always fun!

A few days later, with fixes in place, it was time to get the book up on the other big ebook selling sites, Kindle and PubIt! (Nook).

They each have their own way of doing things and it 's about a 24-hour wait before your book is approved and listed.

All of them will need your real name, addy, and social security number. If you sell books you're earning money and they will mention that detail to the IRS.  So should you. On your Schedule C Form next April.  They may also want a bank account and the routing number if you opt for direct deposit over a check or Paypal, which I did.

Again--read the directions!

Kindle required that I download their Mobipocket software to convert the book to their system. Ignoring that, I just uploaded the same cleaned up .doc file I sent to Smashwords, but quickly found that indents were wonky and it didn't look good.

I read the full directions, downloading the free Mobipocket software.

I then tried uploading the book to it to get it formatted. It kept stalling, sending me an "error" message and refusing the file. A few times the system locked up and shut down. Being a techno twit, it's par for the course for me, I only screamed in frustration once.

I read the directions AGAIN and found that I should save the file as an .htm or .html. I wasn't sure why, but tried it.

It uploaded fast, and I could see the "proof" on the website.  Yay!  It looked the way it should look, italics, bolds, and breaks in place.

Then I tackled PubIt!

They also like the .htm / .html kind of file, so I converted the PubIt!-specific .doc to that and it uploaded fine the first try, but I couldn't find a way to preview the file. I don't know if it came out okay or not.

But it was pretty easy.

I have a separate file copy for each venue.

Why? The front matter. This is the part of the book that tells who's publishing it and who owns the copyright. So I've one for each. Don't sell a PubIt! edition as a Kindle edition. It's just more tidy to keep them separate, like Coke and Pepsi.

Why put the same book up on all three sites?

Because more people know about Nook and Kindle than know about Smashwords, even though the latter offers the book in all formats and is user-friendly.

And I want the book for sale in as many "stores" as possible.


The book has to be the same price in all venues.  You can't raise the price on PubIt! to compensate for their lower "royalty" rate of 65%. Like one's exes, the sites all "talk" to each other. If the book is 4.99 on Kindle, Nook will not accept a 5.99 price. Books will list for the lowest posted price on each site.  Deal with it.


I figured 4.99 was a fair price for a 132,000-word opus.  That's under half the price of a trade paperback and just over the half the price of a mass-market paperback.

There is much discussion on price points (should one sell at .99 or 1.99???), and while I agree that pricing a book at .99 makes a good bargain for the reader, it can also send the message that the book might not be worth buying simply because it IS so cheap. People are weird that way. I know I am. 

Since this is a product of my own tiny little imprint, VampWriter Books, I decided to follow Dean Wesley's Smith's advice and think like a publisher: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3940

He recommends 4.99 for a 10-story collection or full novels.  As this is a 16-story collection, the price seems more than fair.

It also gives wiggle room on sale pricing later on. When the time comes for me to promote Volume 2 in the "Lunch Time Reading Series" (that's WAY down the road yet), I can drop the price on Volume 1 as part of the promotion and perhaps tempt in new buyers for both books.

But for now, I just want the book out and selling and so far this seems to be working just dandy.

For those who do not have a an E-reader, you can download the FREE reading software app to your computer and be buying Nook and Kindle titles within minutes.  I have both on my computer. It's not as convenient as a little reader, but works fine for me for the present.

For those self-publishing for the first time, you'll be well aware that you may never make any sales to people other than family and friends who love and want to support you.  To increase your sales to readers take J.A. Konrath's advice to heart: "Don't write shit."

And have a read of this brutally entertaining blog for the self-published. Those rules apply to pros as well as first timers.

Am I going to make 100K a year on ebooks? Dear gawd I hope so, but I'll keep writing and selling to print publishers for the time being. Like they say in the fine print on those get-rich-now infomercials: "results not typical."  Believe that until your sales (if any) tell you different. Not everyone is going to repeat what Mr. Konrath and Ms. Hocking have done. 

They put some WORK into it, by the way. It just didn't happen.

However, in the time it took to write this blog, another reader bought a copy of my Omnibus from Smashwords.


Now that's pretty danged cool.

3 comments:

  1. Have you tried using Mobipocket to format a book for Kindle publishing?

    I haven't uploaded anything to the store, but I converted my novel into a mobi file to see how it looked on my e-reader and it took less than a minute with the free Mobipocket creator software. I didn't even have to strip the formatting, just save the file as HTML then convert with mobi.

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    1. I like to make friends with you,haha.


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