Friday, 9 December 2011

How to put your precious manuscript out there as an e-book

Are you an author who wants to publish independently using e-books? I'll try and start you off on the right road ;-]

Ingredients you will need
  • One lovely manuscript, as polished as you and your editing buddies can make it, as an electronic document, ideally in Word. Remember this at all times: version control is essential for all your docs.
  • A professional-looking front cover as a jpg file.
  • A product description - check pages like this and this to see what I mean.
  • Miscellaneous other things to spice and season - think about which genre your book is in, what tags best describe your book.

I've published 3 books on Amazon (2 of mine, 1 for a friend) and it feels like I've got the hang of it now. Key points for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP):
  • the best format to upload is html. I've tried uploading Word docs to KDP but end up with formatting problems that I can't fix like centred titles, uncontrollable indents etc.
  • I use Word to finalise the formatting and then save as a html. The 'nuclear option' is best - copy paste the entire manuscript into Notepad or some other text editor, then paste back into a blank doc of whatever word processor you use. That will get rid of any bad format habits you may have.
  • Then format all the chapter titles, indents etc to be uniform. Easiest is to 'select all' and format everything the same e.g. Times 12 pt first line indent 0.5cm, then step through the doc and format the titles how you want them. If you have a lot of italics or strange font switches then you'll have to pick them all out individually, best to avoid.
  • Don't use page numbers - keep the header and footer empty.
  • Add disclaimer, copyright etc. in title page.
  • If you like then add some links to blog, website, other books at end of the manuscript
  • Amazon doesn't need an ISBN. They allocate an ASN number that becomes the Amazon reference
  • Upload your html doc and step through all pages on the preview facility. This isn't exactly how it will look on Kindle but it's close. Watch out for any blank pages, misaligned text, html code, anything that shouldn't be there or looks odd.
  • Proceed through the KDP process, click publish and then about 48 - 72 hours later go and buy your own book on Amazon. Download to your Kindle or Kindle for PC and step through the whole book. Go back immediately and make changes to the doc that you uploaded, keep tight version control, upload corrected version. Best to get it right before folk start to pick up your book from Amazon. If you find serious issues then 'unpublish' during the revision process. Get it right, your reputation depends on it.
  • Things that go wrong include having two copies of the front cover in the Kindle book (KDP lets you tick a box to include your jpg within the doc), forgetting the disclaimer / copyright / contact details, typos etc (that confirm the public's worst thoughts about poorly edited indie authors).

I've published 2 books on Smashwords. They insist on a Word doc but the results seem to be more predicatble and better than KDP. You won't sell a lot of copies direct on Smashwords but they distribute to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple itunes, Diesel etc. I thought nothing was going on with my Smashwords efforts but just found the other week that I've given away (mostly) and sold (a handful) 1200 copies of Peril at B&N, 50 at Sony and 25 at itunes without even trying. Smashwords produces the mutiple format types required for all the different e-reader devices and also has voucher options which are useful for free giveaways.
  • Do the nuclear option as above, paste into Word and format it up how you like.
  • Upload into Smashwords - they call it 'The Meatgrinder' and your book sits in a queue to be processed, can take a day or two.
  • When processing is complete you'll receive a message which will probably the first once or twice tell you that you've missed out the 'Smashwords version' disclaimer or too many fonts or text too large or too many blank lines. It can be tricky to pin down exactly what the problem is but the Smashwords Style Guide can help. Fix the changes in your Word doc, version control etc.
  • Once your book successfully processes you'll be told if it's suitable for 'Premium Catalog'. This is necessary to get it distributed to B&N etc.
  • Smashwords will then ask you if you want to allocate an ISBN. They give one free if you're happy with Smashwords being named as the publisher. There's an option to buy one if you want your own publisher name.
  • If and when you have absolutely no errors then your book goes ahead to Premium Catalog and will appear in the various e-stores within a couple of weeks. If you look at my blog page here you'll get quick links to the various stores.

Here endeth the lesson. However, if you get stuck or don't have Word or something then there are people who will do such things for money.

A few facts and figures about Ruby Barnes 2011

I've been adding up my numbers and so far it's like this:


Peril launched end of February 2011
free copies 16,000
paid copies 300

The Baptist launched start of November 2011
free copies 4
paid copies 20

and social platform

Blog launched March 2011
58 posts
11,300 hits

Twitter launched March 2011
1630 tweets

Facebook launched January 2011
553 friends
12 groups

Goodreads since May 2011
338 friends
137 books
34 reviews

LibraryThing since August 2011
41 friends
115 books
33 reviews

Slow starts with both books. They've been building up reviews in the various e-stores and word-of-mouth referral sales are starting to come out of the woodwork. My stuff is a bit quirky so mainstream authors will likely have a faster start than I have.

After nine months I'd say that I need to stop networking and get more writing done, because the more books out there the better. However, I still think investing time initially in blog, facebook, Twitter etc to build a social networking platform with critical mass is important. I get about 100 blog hits a day from my Hootsuite tweets, I gain about 50 followers a week on Twitter and I mostly use facebook to interact with other authors.

Now, I'd better go do some more writing, reading, eating, drinking and being merry.

On the first Day of Christmas ...

If you've enjoyed reading Ruby's blog then please sign up to Ruby's News for freebies, advance review copies of upcoming novels and occasional updates. Thanks!


  1. Thanx for sharing your numbers, Ruby! You're doing great. I can only hope my SciFi Thriller does as well as your dark humor!

    I can't imagine why you think your numbers would/should/could be higher after a mere 9 months. It can take up to 2 years for an author to gain critical mass--and your stuff is not super quirky. It's mainstream enough, boyo :P

  2. Thanks Grrl. All relative, I guess. I think my paid-for numbers are modest but it is early days.
    Regarding the free copies, I'll admit to some luck there as a lot of sites featured Peril when it was free without any effort on my part e.g. Pixel of Ink. I'm sure that a lot of those 15,000 copies on were just swept up like free vouchers but hopeful the target readers will enjoy Peril and come back for The Baptist and subsequent releases.

  3. That's a really helpful post dude. Thanks for going to the trouble. I'm slowly getting there and will get my blog going! WORD.

  4. Quote: I thought nothing was going on with my Smashwords efforts but just found the other week that I've given away (mostly) and sold (a handful) 1200 copies of Peril at B&N, 50 at Sony and 25 at itunes without even trying. Unquote

    How did you find out? I have heard nothing about these outlets from anybody, so far.


  5. @Ronny, waiting on ya!

    @JJ, if you go to your Smashwords dashboard, then Sales & payment history on the left side, then 2011 under Choose a year, you'll get figures on the left of any sales per outlet. You can also download 2011 sales and payment report as spreadsheet.


  6. Wow - this is exactly the blog post I was looking for - and I got here through a follow from you on twitter and the latest hootsuite post (I assume!)

    I need to explore your site to see what the difference between the 'free' copies and the 'paid' copies is - Did you release free copies first then make them paid? Or are the 'free' copies samples from the paid?

    Anyway, thanks again! NEIL

  7. Hey, Neil. Thanks for dropping by and thanks for the endorsement!

    I ran the free ebooks process in a few different ways:

    1. I gifted a handful of free copies via ( doesn't have the same facility) to fellow members of my Kilkenny writers group, not for reviews but just to share as we'd lived through each other's books over the last years.

    2. I ran Twitter promotions offering a couple of free copies and then gave a 100% Smashwords coupon code to the successful applicants.

    3. I offered the first book as a LibraryThing Member Giveaway and 105 people were successful in that.

    4. I offered a more limited LT MG on the second book and 5 people were successful in that (Goodreads also do a similar thing but only for paper copies).

    5. I pushed the price of my first novel down to zero on Smashwords and, when it reached zero on Barnes & Noble and Kobo then put mine to zero. That placed me at #12 free on Kindle for a few days.

    All of the above free copies were full length, same version as the paid ebook.

    Amazon now do a KDP Select programme which gives the author choice of a few days to offer their book for free. This Select is tied to free loans to Amazon Prime customers and requires exclusive electronic distribution through Amazon. The scheme wasn't around when I was in the mood and Smashwords plus channels is very useful to me, so I'm not in Select at the moment.

    Hope that helps!


  8. Some good advice here. I particularly like the part about version control. That is so important, especially if one is dealing with a lot of separate files.