Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

Formatting and Self-Publishing on KDP and CreateSpace

01 October 2012 by Jim

I’ve been writing a novel for three years now and finally finished, did double proofreading, revision, and so on, and finally the manuscript is ready.

In theory, at least.

As a freelancer, I find the Self-Publishing trend very enticing, because it promotes the same values of independence, self-determination and freedom of choice. So that was, for me, definitely the way to go. My first novel is in French and eBooks have not yet gained huge amounts of traction in France, but French geeks do use Kindles and other eReaders, so it’s not a problem.

First step: decision making. Where do I publish? The answer is easy. Use Amazon’s CreateSpace to get a Print-on-Demand paperback, then format the book for a digital Kindle eBook and finally format it again for use on Smashwords, a wonderful service that can get an eBook distributed to pretty much everywhere on the Internet, be it iBooks, Diesel, Sony, Kobo, or even the Kindle Store, for that matter. I simply choose to do Kindle conversion manually because I think their eReader concept is the most convincing right now. Using Smashwords for the other services is simply a means of offering the book in as many places as possible.

So the story begins. Formatting.

First: CreateSpace print formatting

CreateSpace offers templates to paste your manuscript in, and they work well, minus some minor issues with page numbering, weird footers, headers and margins. It’s possible to work all that out, though, even if it took me about 12h in overall work. I’m still not all done because I found out that somehow pagenumbers were missing and others shifted slighty right or left, so I’ll need to look into that before I’m done.

#Update 11.10.2012: The second proof I ordered was way better than the first, cream paper and Garamond making all the difference. I finally figured out how to correctly used “Section Break (Odd Page)” in Word, which allows you to have every new chapter start on the right page, and that makes the book as a whole a lot prettier. After approving the book, it’s now officially online as Liqueur de la Succession [Taschenbuch] on Amazon.de. I suppose the other Amazon platforms will follow within one or two days. Once everything is up I’ll announce the availability of the print edition on Facebook for those without eReaders, which includes most people here in Europe, I suppose.

Next: KDP (Kindle) formatting

This one is not quite as easy.

A few hints at things that you should definitely do to get it right the first time:

  • use the provided templates to get the tricky parts right by copy/pasting, especially the guide items “toc” and “text” as well as the cover file declaration which need to be in the NCX file
  • use the open source software Sigil to create a clean EPUB file that you then use to upload to KDP, this automatically creates fully working NCX and OPF files as well as an HTML inline TOC, you can then use kindlegen to test your final MOBI file; additionally, you can use EPUB ZIP to zip EPUB folder back into single files – zipping a folder with the os or a standard archiver will not create a valid EPUB file
  • center text not in Sigil but manually by digging into the HTML code in a text editor and adding align=”center” to any element that is supposed to be centered; this is the easiest way to do it correctly; one very neat way to do this quickly is with a little command line fu which I used to convert all my H2 heading tags to add the central alignment property (you need to cd into the correct directory before using this command, and pay attention to the file extensions, here it’s HTML): “perl -pi -w -e ‘s/TOBEREPLACED/TOINSERT/g;’ *.html”
  • keep it simple: my book had practically no formatting whatsoever inside, just H2 chapter headings and normal text, the only exception being centered text for the Acknowledgments and other similar parts
  • once you have a file that works, do not forget to SAVE/BACKUP/LOCK it so that you cannot accidentally destroy the file and start over, and if you’re using software like Crashplan, as I do, make sure your files are in a folder that’s backed up (I have the unhealthy tendency to work with files in my Downloads folder, which, for obvious reasons, is not being backed up)

Now let’s hope that everything works out fine and that my digital version will be approved shortly so that I can start getting some readers! Update: After some waiting the book is finally up and available on Amazon (in France, the UK, Germany, Italy and the USA).

By now I understand how people can actually charge money for this. It’s become somewhat of a niche that allows people to make money without having specific skills, because working your way through the documentation can be done by anyone, the only problem is it takes a lot of trial and error and a lot of time to get it right the first time, and many people aren’t willing to commit that much to something seemingly trivial like formatting.

The Smashwords part

Now I have to have a look at Smashwords to get my manuscript into the other sales channels, too. I hope formatting won’t be that much of a pain in the a**…

Update 7 october 2012: It wasn’t all that bad, and a lot easier since I already had a pretty good DOC file to work with from my previous Kindle formatting adventure. The essence is pretty much always the same. It’s all about using WORD correctly, meaning to use dedicated line indent, page break, style features, and not do the chaotic formatting dance that everybody does if they’ve never been told how to do it correctly. It’s not that hard, although I would like Smashwords to offer an easier option than that horrible “bookmarking-hyperlinking”-routine for the creation of the TOC. It’s dreadful. So, Liqueur de la Succession (French Edition) is now available on Smashwords. The good thing about Smashwords is that, even though the formatting may not be perfect, they offer every format imaginable and that increases accessibility vastly. You have to be present everywhere if you want to attract a lot of readers, and that’s what it’s all about.

I’ll keep updating this post along the way with more tips.

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