You've written your book. Now what?

You're writing the book you always wanted to write. Maybe it's a novel, a story you've always dreamed you would write; maybe it's a business book, to enhance your credibility and promote your skills and experience to a wider audience. But once you have a manuscript you're happy with, what happens next?

There's more to the process of getting a book in front of an audience than just writing it. I should know, since I've just done it. My first novel 'Singled Out' launched on Amazon, in e-book and paperback formats two days ago. I used Amazon's companies, Kindle and CreateSpace to produce the e-book and the paperback.

Self-publishing my novel has made me what's come to be known as an 'indie author'. With the traditional publishing arena increasingly difficult (okay... almost impossible) to break into, it's great, really great, that indie authors can self-publish. Even so, setting a book up for sale on Amazon is a convoluted process. There's a wealth of information to assist you, both from Amazon and external sources, but when push comes to shove, you have to stop reading about doing it and actually... do it.

My experience is just that - the experience of one indie author, who has taken the decision to throw their lot in with behemoth Amazon. But it may contain some nuggets of useful information for you, plus a few caveats, if you're considering self-publishing. 

Kindle or CreateSpace? Chicken or Egg?

I wanted both an e-book and a paperback, and whilst Kindle and CreateSpace are both Amazon companies, there are two different sites, and two different processes to follow, to produce these. That's time-consuming and inconvenient, but it's the way it is. For Singled Out, I’d figured - and I think I was right - it would be easier to create the Kindle version from the CreateSpace, not vice-versa. So that's where I began. 

Formatting is... fun!

The first thing is to get your MSWord manuscript into the correct format. CreateSpace offers a set of MSWord templates for the various book sizes they have available. Pick the one most appropriate to your requirements and follow the setup instructions.

But tread carefully, because in publishing-land everything is back-to-front and you have to get all twisty in your head to remember… the page you see on the left of your screen is actually the right-hand page in the paperback, and the page you see on the right is, yes, actually on the left.

Before you begin, take a good look at other books which are similar in type or genre to yours. Notice the formatting, what appears in the headers and footers, what the chapter headings and sub-headings look like, where there are capitals and indents, where the pagination appears - and where it doesn't. There's an intricacy about formatting to create a professional looking paperback. But it's worth getting to grips with this, as failure here will make your book look the opposite of professional.

Proof of the pudding

When you produce a paperback with CreateSpace, you have the opportunity first to view on your PC, to see how the pages will actually look. Once you're happy with this, you should order a physical proof copy. This is the first time you'll see your manuscript in paperback format, and I confess, for me, it was a big moment.

I received my first proof copies on 29th December. I was largely delighted as CreateSpace production quality is high. Even so, some of the pages of my proof had been cut a bit crooked, so I queried CreateSpace. They assured me this was a production error and their normal standards are higher than this, and if I had any similar complaints about final-print copies, I was to return them for a refund. I've since received a box of copies from the same source and every one was immaculate.

If you're not happy with your proof - for example if you found layout issues you can improve upon as I did - you make your corrections, then submit a revised pdf and order a further proof copy if you need it.

Getting your head around Kindle

For Kindle, you need to reformat your MSWord manuscript, removing all the page headers and footers you put in so carefully for CreateSpace. Be careful to ensure that any other formatting is 'clean' too - ie, that you've created styles for paragraphs, not used tabs or the space-bar for indents, or carriage returns for page ends etc. Kindle offers helpful guidance on this..

Getting your book ready for Kindle requires a totally contrary mindset from formatting for the CreateSpace pdf. Never mind the right-is-left, left-is-right issue, what you see is definitely not what you get. Kindle helpfully provides a tool which enables you to see how your manuscript will appear on a range of devices. But be prepared, because anomalies will present themselves everywhere. Headings don’t reproduce uniformly across all devices, some come out larger, some smaller; some centre, others don’t; some e-book readers indent the first paragraph even if you haven’t; page endings have no relevance as different sized devices and the option to vary font size puts paid to uniform layout.

Eventually, with a little tweaking, you'll arrive at a layout which reproduces to a decent standard on all devices - it won't be perfect for every type of device but you must step-away from the keyboard at that point. For when it comes to e-book layouts, a perfectionist streak is a ticket to hell.

Get it covered

Ah... the cover. Now listen to me here... listen hard... Don't skimp on the cover. Whatever type of book you're producing, it needs a professionally designed cover to deliver credibility and catch a reader's interest. CreateSpace and Kindle both provide the necessary information on sizing, picture quality etc, and some useful tips on design. But the difference between what you can do in your back bedroom with Photoshop or WordArt, and what a professional graphic designer can do with their superior software and their graphic and design skills, is immense. If you're interested, I posted to my author blog about my experience of getting a cover designed here.

Two sets of admin - why, oh why?

The CreateSpace (paperback) and KDP (Kindle) versions require a virtually duplicate set of administrative actions. There is some kind of form-filling for US tax purposes, even if you’re a UK taxpayer. Then the meta data and the blurb/sales pages (two – one for Kindle, one for paperback, although these ‘find’ each other and unite once they go live). There are the Author Central pages (four – USA, UK, France, Germany – I did all of them) and multiple decisions on pricing (because VAT on e-books is, to say the least, a tricksy little issue since 1st January 2015, being different in every single country).

Take your time with these instructions – which are laid out differently for both CreateSpace and KDP (more helpfully for CreateSpace, I have to say). By clicking on a button prematurely, I accidentally put myself through an unintentional Kindle proof process, which cost me a day. Don't make the same mistake.

There's plenty to consider, particularly when it comes to pricing for different countries and regions (although you can change your pricing whenever you need). And both Kindle and CreateSpace need time to approve your book for publication - but none of this takes more than a day or so.

And that's it. You upload your manuscript versions and your covers, you check the online and physical proofs, you process through the admin and you fix your prices and publication date. You can, as I did, then order quantities of your paperback at a substantial author discount. Then the big day comes, and everything goes live.

Then comes the really fun part... marketing, promoting and selling your book. I'll be posting some thoughts on this another time.

3rd Feb 2015

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