Friday, June 3, 2011

How To Publish Your Own Book At Zero Cost

 In an earlier post, I wrote about the wealth of free and cheap material available for readers. Starting today, I'm going to show you how you can publish your own material--a novel, memoir, short stories, poems, cookbook, how-to book, family history, or whatever--at little or no cost. I'll do that by describing exactly what I do to take KING OF PAINE from finished manuscript to e-book and trade paperback.

Over the past ten years the barriers to becoming a published author have been breaking down. When Redfield Publishers, an imprint formed by my wife and I, published THE JINX in 2000, on-demand publishing was in its infancy, and the poor quality of the output made it an unattractive option. We worked with a top quality graphics designer, Rivanne Advertising, and book printer, Maple-Vail, to produce a hardcover book with jacket. We did an initial print run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $5 per book. When that sold out within a couple of months, we ordered a second run of 3,000 books at a cost of about $4 per book (lower cost  because we used most of the same plates). Unfortunately, though, the publishing model works on a consignment basis, and returns from the big box bookstores began to come in at about the same pace as new orders, so we were left sitting with a large inventory of books when THE JINX ran through its six-month shelf life.

Today, if you're a hands on computer user--not necessarily a desktop publishing whiz--you can create an e-book at low cost (you might want to shell out a little cash for a professionally designed book cover). With a little more perseverance and work you can even have your book printed on-demand for free (the print service takes its fees out of gross proceeds from sales), with no minimum purchase requirement--so no inventory! Marketing a self-published work is a topic I'll cover in a later post (and no small problem, although marketing a commercially published book is not much easier).

Your first step is to produce a first-rate manuscript, thoroughly edited and proofread. It should be in Microsoft Word file format. The 106,000-word manuscript for KING OF PAINE came in at about 425 double-spaced pages. It contained only a title page and the story, with traditional headers and footers.

It took me less than eight hours yesterday to reformat the manuscript for e-book conversion. Here are the steps I took, most of which were gleaned from The Smashwords  Style Guide, a free publication:

1. I deleted the title page and added traditional front and back matter--(a) praise for my first novel, THE JINX, (b) title page with the book name and byline, (c) copyright page, (d) dedication, (e) author bio, and (f) acknowledgments. I did not worry about formatting yet.

2. I searched for formatting glitches that would not be visible in a typical proofreading session. Some of these modifications are good practice for preparing a manuscript for any form of publication, others are more important for e-book conversion because e-readers can create unexpected (and ugly) results if the format isn't perfect.

            a. The first "find and replace" I did was for extra spaces. I do this by entering two spaces in the "find" field and one space in the "replace" field. This will still leave you with multiple spaces if you have more than two to begin with, so after the first "replace all" you might want to just do a "find" for extra spaces to see why they're still there. You might have used the spacebar for formatting, a definite no-no.

            b. I did a similar drill for extra paragraph marks. You generally should not use extra paragraph marks (the "enter" key) to format text. Don't separate paragraphs with an extra line. We'll use the space before and after functions in Format/Paragraph to align text when we get to formatting.

            c. I went to Format/Autoformat/Options and turned off everything except replace straight quotes with smart quotes. Then I ran Autoformat. Smart quotes look better.

            d. I searched for three periods and replaced each one with ellipses. E-readers can produce irregular formatting if they find multiple periods. There may be an automated way to do this in more modern versions of Word, but in my version I replaced each one by hand with Insert/Symbols/Special Characters. (If you use autoformat when typing, most of the time you enter three periods, Word will automatically convert to ellipses.)

            e. I searched for two hyphens and auto-replaced with an em dash.

            f. I removed all tabs. E-readers hate tabs. We'll use Paragraph/Indent to format normal paragraphs. I had to figure out a work-around for a special format I had used to emulate instant messaging conversations. The work-around actually looked better, even in print. More on this below.

            g. I removed all headers and footers.

3. After I was comfortable that my electronic text was pristine, I reformatted the entire manuscript using Format/Styles and Formatting. I knew I would have to go back and alter the format of front and back matter and chapter headers (and possibly unique to me, the special IM format), but to me it was easier than going through the text page by page and choosing how to format each paragraph.

            a. I opened Format/Styles and Formatting and modified the "Normal" style. I chose Times New Roman font, 12 point, Left Alignment (don't Justify), Indent, First Line .25" (instead of using tabs to paragraph), Line Spacing: single. I removed widow/orphan protection and all other functions that were already defined in Normal.

            b. I tested how "Normal" would work on a paragraph that had special font effects, like bold and italics. Make sure your version of Word is configured to preserve these effects when you apply a style.

            c. I did an Edit/Select All and applied the Normal style to the entire document.

            d. Next, I went to work on formatting my chapter headings. I decided to spell out the chapter numbers, so I typed those in by hand on a first pass (using Edit/Find to quickly get me to each "Chapter"). Then I created a new style called "Heading, Chapter." It was based on Normal, but changed the font size to 14 pt., Center Alignment, Bold and Italics, Indent, first line 0", Space Before: 18pt, Space After 18 pt. On the next pass through the document, I inserted a manual page break (Control/Enter) at the end of each chapter and then applied the new Heading, Chapter style to the next chapter heading.

            e. As a matter of personal taste, I changed the case of the first few words in each chapter to uppercase. A bold drop cap looks good in a print version, but some e-distributors won't accept them in an e-book.

            f. I created a new style for my IM format and applied it where necessary. This took a lot of time for me, but you will not have to deal with it if you keep away from unusual formatting.

            g. On my next pass, I created a new style "Asterisk Break" which I used to separate paragraphs in the text where I had a sharp break in the setting or point of view. I typed in three asterisks separated by a single space and then applied the style (no first line indent, centered, 6pt space before and after).

            h. Finally, I reformatted the front and back matter to my taste.

4. I skimmed through the reformatted document and looked for obvious errors, then ran Spellchecker.

I'm starting work today with a clean, well-formatted document that's probably ready for conversion to e-book format. I'll review The Smashwords Style Guide one more time to see if I forgot anything (I haven't reread it since I converted THE JINX a couple of months ago). Then I'll convert my file and tell you how I did it in tomorrow's post.

I also already have a book cover image, which I will include in my e-book. I worked with one of the members of my writers group, Michael Mollick, to produce the image you see in the right column here. I worked out a barter arrangement with Michael, a professional designer, but you can make your own for free or hire someone for a modest investment. If you want to market your book, a well-designed cover is an important tool.

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