Mark Victor Hansen wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul — a book that made him millions of dollars and spawned countless spin-offs. His book got rejected 140 times. Still, Mark refused to accept rejection.
Fortunately, today, you have Self-Publish. You will want to create a manuscript that is well formatted and ready for publishing on Amazon Kindle, Amazon Paperback, Apple Books, Google Play, and many others. The good news is that Self-publishing is free for both paper and ebooks. The bad news is that the solutions are all over the board.
You write a manuscript in say Word. Then you want to create an eBook ready document. The universal eBook is an .ePub file. But there are two versions right now: ePub2 and ePub3.
Amazon has a product called Kindle Create that supports importing Word documents. The problem with Kindle Create is that the output is proprietary. It creates a KPF file for publishing to Amazon Kindle Direct. You also have the option to publish on KDP right on their website. The online publishing is a good place to start with your paperback book.
Apple has three of tools for making ePub files: Pages and iBooks Author for editing and iTunes Producer for publishing your document. iBooks Author produces ePub3 files is probably being sunset and the ePub it produces has the chapters from Word all lumped to gether. So stick with the new Pages for converting Doc files to ePub. Just open you book in Pages and export. It’s easy and does a good job.
But again, the problem is that the final eBooks they produce from your manuscript are nice but limited. They do have some nice typsetting designs to chose from though.
One more tool you will want to know about is Sigil. Sigil is an open source ePub editor. This tool lets you get to the internals of an ePub.
The many publishing tools and strategies are confusing. But here are some solutions and ideas (1–10) that I found while publishing my first book. Then I will follow up with some cool tips.
ONE — I wrote the initial manuscript in MS Word. I recommend getting the latest version. I used the Word grammar checker but found it entirely lacking, so I grabbed a copy of Grammarly. Unless you are a descendant of Virginia Woolf, you should let your computer help. Grammarly is the best grammar checker I’ve found.
On Word for Windows, Grammarly plugs right in. But on Word for Mac it does not. The people at Grammarly blame Steve Jobs for making grammar checking on the Mac Word impossible. The odd thing is that Apple did not write Word. Anyway, on the Mac, for now, you will have to copy from Word into the Grammarly’s App and then back again.
TWO — Signup for an account on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Obtaining an account is free. Kindle is the best place to start because they have 80% of the self-publishing market.
THREE — Build your Amazon Paperback first. I’ll show you how to generate your Kindle and eBooks from this original manuscript later on. Find a Word template on Amazon KDP after reviewing the docs here. I discovered these templates after torturing myself with all the required specifications that are acceptable to Amazon.
FOUR — You will need a cover. The KDP cover builder is not great. It is limited in fonts and designs. But there is a KDP cover template that accepts your own imported front cover page. An excellent place to design a front cover is on Canva. I grabbed a free cover photo image from Pexels and used it with Canva. Next, download your Canva cover as a PDF and use Photoshop to convert it to a JPG for uploading to the KDP cover maker. You may want to hire a designer for the cover, but the combined free result so far for me was this:
I should point out that you will need to check the specs for the front image size based on the manuscript book paper size that you selected from the KDP template. Then use those dimension in photoshop to tweak your Canva cover.
FIVE — Publishing on KDP has three steps. Here’s what those steps look like:
These steps are straight forward. Fill in your details on Tab 1, Upload your Word Manuscript and build your cover on Tab 2, and then set your Pricing on Tab 3. The final step is kind of tricky. I was excited to finally publish my book when I got an error on Pricing that said I could not publish because I needed to fix the highlighted error. But of course, with my luck, there was no highlighted error.
I noticed that each of the countries had my US price converted to their currency. That was convenient, but if you look closely, there is a minimum price for each country. My Japan price was below their minimum. So I bumped their price and the book published. It’s always fun working around bugs with no explanations.
SIX — Now it’s time to make your digital Kindle eBook. Lets use Kindle Create to convert original Word manuscript into a Kindle eBook. When you first launch Create, you are asked to select a Word DOC or DOCX file.
After conversion, you have a chance to customize your Table of Contents. A TOC is important for a digital book. The Create App is kind of fun to work with and make adjustments to your Kindle book. There is even a preview to help you see what the book looks like on a mobile device.
Finally when you publish, Create produces a .KPF file for uploading. See the second Tab-the content Tab online. KDP lets you publish both a Kindle version and a paperback version. Both kinds of books have the three step tabs as shown above.
Later I tell you about the universal ePub format that is used almost everywhere, so don’t get too attached to Kindle Create. Create is a good starting place though.
SEVEN — Let’s not forget about Apple. These eBooks are readable on all your Apple devices and computers. They are part of Apple’s big marketplace, so you want to be there.
As I mentioned, Apple has a product that is similar to Kindle Create called iBooks Author. This free App can import Word Docs and prepare for publishing to iTunes. But an imported Word doc directly into IBooks Author is — well weird. If you import into an ePub template, your chapters get clumped together. You want each chapter in its own XHTML file.
Enter the new Pages App. Pages now lets you import Word documents, create a table of contents, make modifications, and export an eBook ready for publishing to iTunes Connect or anywhere else. So, for now, that is our solution.
But there is a problem with Apple’s Pages when exporting to an ePub. If you search the web, you will find writers complaining that Pages exports ePubs with a blank line between each paragraph. If you decide to indent the first line of each paragraph, as most books do, then this is a redundant notification of a new paragraph and a big waste of space.
So let’s fix this with Sigil. Remember, Sigil is a low-level editor of ePubs.
Open your Pages generated ePub with Sigil and look around. Then, if you double click on the content.opf file, you see that Pages generated a version 3.0 of the ePub. Also, look at the Fonts section. If you used any non-standard fonts in your manuscript, Pages embeds those fonts automagically into the ePub. Now, anyone viewing the eBook will see the text using those exact same fonts.
This is all great, and Pages seems to be the ultimate ePub generator. But now in your xhtml files (your chapters) look for “white-space:pre-wrap;” This is the culprit. What you want to do is replace this in every chapter with nothing.
In Sigil you are able to make a global change to all xhtml files. See the following snapshot I used to fix this pesky problem. By doing a find and replace of white-space:pre-wrap; with nothing, you can see the blank line between all paragraphs will be removed.
EIGHT — Time to Publish your eBook to Apple. Create an iTunes Connect account for Apple Books. If you are an App developer, you will not find any books in your iTunes Connect portal when you login. This is because you need to create a separate Itunes Connect account for books only. You have to use a different email address for Books than the one for Apps. That is confusing in my opinion, but nobody cares what us developers think.
Once you have your iTunes Connect account, you can simply login and upload your eBooks (.epub) from Pages, just like on Amazon right? Wrong! To publish your eBook to iTunes Connect, you will need a special App called iTunes Producer. I’m not kidding. Anyway, this App will accept the eBook you export from Pages and publish it to iTunes Connect.
- update The latest Pages now lets you publish to iTunes Connect directly with a cloud account, but you should export to an ePub anyway so you can publish the same book everywhere.
One more trick. Itunes requires that you maintain a version number for your ePubs. If you try to republish a book with iTunes Producer, you will get an error saying this version is already published.
You can fix this problem as well with Sigil. Open the content.opf file. Then look for the ibooks.version tag. Simply update this with Sigil. See the snapshot below where I bumped the version of the epub ibook to 4.
The interesting thing is that iTunes Producer also has three tabs similar to Amazon KDP: Detail, Pricing, and Files. But here you upload your cover image in Details, and you upload your eBook on the Files tab. Here’s a snapshot of Producer.
…. More Useful Info….
ISDN (International Standard Book Number)
Before publishing, you will need an ISDN. Each paperback and digital edition of your book require a unique ISDN number. In the US there is only one legitimate distributor of ISDNs. Bowker Is the exclusive provider of ISDNs.
They have the website MyIdentifiers for selling the ISDNs.
Some groups buy from Bowker in bulk and resell at a price better than Bowker’s. You can purchase these numbers in the aftermarket, but you will not be able to identify yourself as the publisher. This means that you will need a different ISDN for each distributor such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Barns & Noble.
I decided to buy a batch of ISDNs from Bowker so that I have one identifier for my paperback and one for my digital, regardless of where the book gets distributed.
NINE — EPUB summary. If you want a universal solution for building eBooks, generate an EPUB file. Upload EPUBs to anywhere, including Amazon, Google, and Apple. My recommended sites and Apps for generating and editing EPUB files are Draft2Digital, SmashWords, Pages and Sigil.
Note* SmashWords is the worlds largest non-Amazon eBook distributor.
Again, some sites specialize in helping you self-publish. A good one I found is Draft2Digital. D2D provides free conversion tools that take your original Word doc and convert it to an EPUB2 file. They will even do all the work of pushing your book to the different channels like Amazon and Apple for a rev share of around 10%. You choose the channels where you want them to publish. The trick for them was to generate the EPUB2 file. And you can download the file they generated for free.
I’m using Draft’s free conversion tool because it handles things like putting Drop Caps on each new chapter automatically. Their free tools are available without using the distribution partnership.
TEN — Embedding Fonts. Font embedding will let you go beyond the standard fonts with any font you want in your publication. Embedding is excellent for children’s books or any books that could use a wide variety of text designs. Custom fonts are an easy way to improve the quality of your eBook vastly.
There’s a gotcha though when publishing to Apple Books. Apple requires both EPUB3 file format and a unique tag in the content.opf file:
There’s a product called Jutoh that works well for building EPUB3 books. However, unlike Draft2Digital, Jutoh is not free.
I like the great open source EPUB editor called Sigil. I use it for tweaking the internals of an EPUB. It works with both EPUB2 and EPUB3. You can generate your EPUB2 or EPUB3 with Draft2Digital or Jutoh and then edit the EPUB with Sigil. Here’s a trick. Jutoh has a free trial version, and the output can be edited with Sigil to remove their watermark. But if you like the App, it has useful design features and the price is reasonable.
Amazon Kindle and Google Play accept embedded fonts in EPUB2; only Apple currently requires EPUB3 for font embedding.
Embedding a font using Sigil is straight forward. Open your ePub in Sigil. In the Sigil file browser on the left side, there is a folder called Fonts. From the top menu, select File/Add/Existing Files. This will add the font to the ePub Fonts folder and include the font in the ePub manifest. Now you can use your custom fonts and be sure that any end user will see the same exact font because your custom embedded fonts are exposed or installed in the end user’s operating system like magic. All that is left is to go to the CSS file used by the ePub and utilize the newly embedded font in the document.
Here’s how to use an embedded font:
If your ePub does not contain a CSS file, create one.
Open the CSS file using Sigil. Look for the CSS files used in the ePub document under Styles. If there are multiple CSS files, select the one for the page where you want to use the embedded font. Insert an @font-face section at the top of the CSS file. For example:
After the font face is defined, simply declare which elements of the document will be using the new font. If you want the entire book to use your custom font, use the body as shown in the following example. This is standard HTML/CSS use of fonts. See www.w3schools.com for more info.
font-family: “IndieFlower.otf”, serif;
However, if you use Pages or iBooks Author, the font embedding is automatic. Select any font installed on your operating system and Pages, and iBooks Author will embed them into your ePub for you as long as they are non-standard fonts.
Be sure to license and proprietary custom fonts and make sure your ePub book is legal.
Here are some links on Font Embedding
How to embed custom fonts in eBooks?
Before embedding custom fonts, make sure you have obtained the necessary font-license. Once obtained, go to Purchase >…
- Write more than one book. That first book is hard. It gets easier and you will improve. I’m working on another book, and it’s surprisingly fun.
- Start with one publisher, and then work on the others. Kindle is the big one. They have 80% of the market, so Amazon is an excellent place to start.
- EPub gets you everywhere. If you think about it, an ePub is just an HTML web page in a box. It’s not necessary, but you may want to brush up on your HTML. Also, use Apps like Sigil for diving into your ePub. Amazon and everyone else lets you upload your ePub file. And on Amazon, people can buy your book and read it in their web browser.
- On Amazon, it costs nothing to publish a Paper book. They print on demand, and you get paid more.
- It’s Ok to self publish with a Pen Name. I’m not kidding. Use any name you want.
- Explore email marketing solutions. There are affiliate companies that get paid to help you market your ebooks. Check out ActtiveCampaign and ConverKit.
- On Amazon, make your book more searchable. You can use up to 200 characters in your title and subtitle. Write a long description.
- Consider using Mix.com to spread the word about your book.
- KDPRocket is a useful tool for selecting your keyphrases.
- Because you can choose up to ten categories for your book, pick an obscure one that will make your book a best seller. I’m just now working on this idea.
- Worry less about the length and more about the content — quality over quantity.
- Take some Masters Classes on writing. The pros like Dan Brown give away their secrets.
- After you publish a book and you are afraid you might forget how you did it, write an article with all your notes about how to self publish. There’s a name for this, but I forgot what its called.
- Try Marketing your book. I need to use this tip myself. I was biking past some kids selling lemonade on a remote street. They had no buyers and they were very sad. Then later I rode past some kids that had set up camp on a corner where hikers passed. They had a box full of cash. I was wondering if I should call a cop to protect them. I knew there was a lesson here.
- Select a template on Amazon KDP and write your book with Word, include any licensed fonts you want because ePubs support Font Embedding.
- Use Grammarly to edit your book.
- Get your own ISDNs even though they are free or not needed with some publishers.
- Export your Word Doc to ePub3(backward compatible) with Pages. Pages will automagically embed any non-standard fonts into your ePub. This way, the end user will always see the same exact font you used when writing your book.
- Upload your new ePub to Amazon KDP, Google Play, Apple Books(iTunes connect), Draft2Digital, SmashWords etc.
Amazon has Author Central you should set up, but you are not allowed to point to other places where your book is available. So it’s a good idea to have a basic landing page of your own, with links to your distributors. I built mine with Wix, but whatever your preferred site builder get one made. See My Authoring portfolio site for an example.
Thanks for reading!
“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
— Richard Bach