Several years ago I got fed up with sending out query letter after query letter and decided to publish my own work through Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. My reasoning was pretty simple: it was taking a lot of time, time I could spend writing, and most first-time writers don’t make anything on their first deal anyway. (The average is something like $5,000.) That money is paid back through royalties which may never materialize as your book gets lost in bookstores that no one goes to anymore.
I realized, hey, I could keep not making anything and write more if I cut all that out and self-publish. As much as print publishers want to drag down e-publishing, and as much as people claim to prefer reading ‘real’ books, the market is trending towards eBooks. Online you’re competing with publishers who are still trying to charge print prices for books that have a dramatically reduced production cost and who may or may not know how to properly optimize or tag their work. What are the odds someone picks up your book walking into a bookstore looking for fantasy fiction versus performing a search online? Granted the internet is going to present them with far more choices, but it’s also going to allow them to search more specifically. In a bookstore you’re hoping your cover is good enough for someone to pull your work off a shelf.
I started with Kindle Direct Publishing and then found out about Smashwords, which distributes books through a number of platforms. (Most of my sales come from iBooks, which makes sense since Apple tablets are the most popular.) I initially did both to cover all my bases, but when I started making tangible money, almost all of it was coming from Smashwords. The only downside to Smashwords is that they demand a Word file (their epub upload is in beta) and Word is pretty crappy for some formats. But their upload process is much simpler and easier and, if you’re writing text-heavy books, the obvious choice.
After editing and fixing up others’ eBooks for my actual job I learned a lot about what makes a good book and a good user experience. It’s not all that difficult. Though I have experience with several different types of books, I will be speaking mostly to reflowable books. Also, let me know if you’d like me to do a more in-depth piece on self-publishing or using Word.
Simple is better. It’s not always possible, but if there’s an easy way and a hard way…choose the easy way. It will make it less of a headache if and when you need to fix a book, it will make it more likely it will render well on a device, and it will give you a greater chance of getting Enhanced Typesetting if you publish for Kindle.
Preview your work. If you’re making epub files, download Kindle Previewer. If you’re just uploading Word documents to Smashwords, download your mobi or epub (this is free for you for your books) and preview it on Kindle Previewer. You want to be sure you’re giving your readers a good experience.
Use common sense formatting. Using a header tag for chapters not only looks good, it makes it so that Kindle or Smashwords can automatically create a table of contents. Page breaks before chapters help your book look like something produced by a big publisher. You can set all this up in the styles bar on Word and it gives your book a nice clean look.
That’s actually kinda it. Making sure your text formatting looks good will go a long way.