Adventures in Self-Publishing How-To Guide

Mark Victor Hansen wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul — a book that made him millions of dollars and spawned countless spin-offs. Yet, his book was rejected 140 times. Mark refused to accept rejection.

Now to publish your book. Let’s start with our goals. We want to create a manuscript that is well formatted and ready for publishing to Amazon Kindle, Amazon Paperback and Apple Books. Kindle and Apple Books are digital.

The many publishing tools can be confusing. Here was my strategy, A to H.

A — I wrote the initial manuscript in MS Word version 16. I recommend getting the latest version of Word. I used the Word grammar checker but found it to be entirely lacking. So I used both Word’s grammar checker as well as Grammarly. Grammarly is the best grammar checker I’ve found. If you are a serious writer, pay for the pro version.

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 in Mac Word impossible. The odd thing is that Apple did not write Word. Anyway, on the Mac, you will have to copy each chapter from Word into the Grammarly’s App and then back again, but it’s worth the effort.

B — Signup for an account on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Obtaining an account is free.

C — Build your Amazon Paperback first. I’ll show you how to generate your Kindle and iBook from this original manuscript later on. Find a Word template on KDP after reviewing the docs here. I discovered these templates after torturing myself with all the required specifications that are acceptable to Amazon.

D — 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 front cover page. A good 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. The combined result 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.

E — Publishing on KDP has three necessary steps. Here’s what those steps look like:

These steps are staight forward. Fill in your details on Tab 1, Upload your 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 Amazon and Apple developer bugs.

F — Now it’s time to make your digital Kindle book. Lucky for us, Amazon built an App called Kindle Create that will take your Paperback Word manuscript and convert it to 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 on the second Tab-the content Tab. KDP lets you publish both a Kindle version and a paperback version. Both kinds of books have similar three step tabs as shown above.

G — Let’s not forget about Apple. These eBooks are readable on all your devices and your computer. They are part of Apple’s Itunes’ marketplace so you want to be there.

Apple has a new product that is similiar to Kindle Create called iBooks Author. I was excited about this and started working extensively with the App. But then I found the Gotcha. You will not want to use this App for now because eBooks produced with Author do not let the end user change the font size of the book. What?! That is bad news on iPhones. In my view, this is unacceptable. Apple has the beginnings of a cool App, but for now you need a better approach.

Enter the new Pages App. Pages now lets you import Word documents, create a table of contents and export an eBook ready for publishing to Itunes Connect. So, for now, that is our solution. It works pretty well, but it doesn’t handle all styles correctly, such as Drop Caps. But Pages is pretty good.

H— Time to Publish your eBook to Apple. Create an iTunes Connect account for Apple Books. Now 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.

The interesting thing is that iTunes Producer also has three tabs: 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 I have one identifier for my paperback and one for my digital, regardless of where the book gets distributed.

Some sites specialize in helping you self-publish. A good one I found is Draft2Digital. Draft provides free conversion tools that take your original Word doc and convert it for the variety of channels. 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.

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. Draft produces better PDF files than Word’s export and includes styling. Draft also builds EPUB and MOBI files for both Amazon and iTunes.

… Author Landing Page …

Amazon has Author Central you should setup, 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.

Now you have the steps for self publishing. I hope this helps.

Thanks for reading!