Thursday, 10 June 2010

Linda Acaster: Ebooks R Us

Back in the days of yore I won a competition and ended up with two historical romances being published by Mills & Boon (Harlequin UK). When I was able I had my rights reverted to me. Better the novels sitting in my drawer than lost in theirs.

Last winter a cross-genre novel Torc of Moonlight finally saw the light of day and Amazon USA opened its DTP e-book publishing arm to non-USA residents. Time, I thought, to dip my toe into indie authoring and ebook my rights-reverted novels, beginning with Hostage of the Heart.

I did masses of research regarding the experience of others, and can recommend The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing blog, not just for the posts but for the knowledge of its commenters. On a read through, e-publishing for the Kindle I didn’t find easy to understand, but Smashwords helpfully offers idiot’s guides as well as multi-formats, including for the Sony e-Reader and the Apple I-Pad. Both devices need spot-on formatting, and also an ISBN dedicated to the ebook, which Smashwords offers free, so I decided to try my test run there.

Taking care not to include the strapline or page number, I scanned my h/backs to create digital files (the paper used for p/backs carries more wood fibre so confuses the scanner). I then re-edited all the phrasing that I’d now never write due to the improvement in my writing skills. Copyright and Title pages are well explained in the guides, as is the preferred formatting. Ignore this at your peril. You are not formatting for a print book, but for a digital file than can be read on anything from a desktop computer to a mobile phone.

I’m a reader who prefers to see the cover as the first page of an ebook, so added mine at the front of the text file. Of course, updating the cover will mean re-uploading the text file, so you take your choice.

The biggest boon to indie e-authoring is the ability to advertise my other ebooks at the end of the novel. Initially I wrote a paragraph on each of my forthcoming titles complete with live links, but decided as a taster to add in the full initial chapter of my second historical Beneath The Shining Mountains.

After checking every line and comma, I uploaded the file to Smashwords and held my breath. It takes surprisingly little time to convert a file to the requested formats, and watching a series of boxes turn green can be riveting. It is at this stage that any likely problems are flagged by the automated system. With that hurdle passed the ebook joins a queue for a human check before going live on the site.

Smashwords offers a running tally via the author’s ‘dashboard’ not only of sales but of number of downloaded samples, which is a wonderful indicator as to the efficacy of a marketing drive. Although I took all the steps very slowly, I found the experience a piece of cake. Not so uploading for the Kindle.

Armed with my ISBN (which Amazon accepts but doesn’t use, allotting its own ASIN) I forayed into Kindle territory via Amazon’s Digital Text Platform

There are lots of user forums and some Q&A guides, but it could do to be a bit more idiot-proof for first-timers. Amazon’s conversion process isn’t as forgiving as that of Smashwords, but it will take Word files, just the same. After altering the Copyright page and checking formatting against the Kindle’s guidelines, the uploading procedure was straightforward enough. However, at the Preview stage I realised that the automated system was grouping short paragraphs (dialogue) and indenting them as a block – a known problem, I gathered from the forums. For some writers, and readers, this wouldn’t be a problem. I’m finicky and want the presentation as good as by any professional publisher.

There’s an option to download the semi converted HTML file and hand edit, but considering what I know about HTML can be written on the back of a postage stamp, for a 71k word script this was a non-starter. One indie author suggests using Open Office and exporting direct as HTML, which Amazon’s DTP system will accept, so I did, but when I got to the Preview stage with this second file I found that all my centring had been left justified. Argh!!

Which brings up the question: how much time do I spend messing about with these things? As long as it took to contact Jim & Zetta Brown who convert Word files for the e-publishing industry on both sides of the Atlantic. Jim suggested a PRC file was likely to solve the problem. And it did. I shall not mess about for the rest of my books, simply go to him first.

The Kindle version went live last Friday, so the marketing starts now:

Hostage of the Heart - a mediaeval romantic suspense set on the English/Welsh borders in 1066.
When her kin refuse to pay her ransom, dare a battle hostage give her heart and her life to a warrior-knight shielding dark secrets of his own?
Heat level: sweet. 71,000 words. $1.99
For the Kindle  /  For all other formats

To read the opening chapter:, or download the samples direct from Kindle or Smashwords.

If you haven’t been bored witless, return tomorrow for a laugh about the making of its cover, through the original publisher's branding to my own first effort.

Regards – Linda Acaster /


Lindsay Townsend said...

Brilliant, Linda! A clear and concise account of how to kindle and smashword. Thank you.

Linda Acaster said...

You're welcome, thanks for asking me. There's a lot more to it, but that covers the general aspects.

Bekki Lynn said...

Linda, I'm still processing your post, so this may seem strange questions.

In reading Smashwords placements for your books, some of them are print. So, that requires the formating time for the right and left pages. Is print an option and not automatic?

The other quesiton that came to mind was for the Kindle -- the html file, was it set up so it ran off the screen? This is what I've run into in several places. I copy it and paste it in a word doc to fix issues, then copy and paste it back. And the PRC file -- I've not seen one, how different is that from any other. Is it really just a matter of the file extension, but the files all look the same?

StephB said...

I have to admit, the world of ebook publishing can be a bit confusing. Every distributer seems to need a differernt format. I've heard only good things about Smashwords though. They are a good, inexpensive solution to for a self-publisher to get out there. Glad to see it works for you.


Linda Acaster said...

Thanks Steph, I certainly have no worry about recommending Smashwords for ebooks.

Bekki, I think you are getting confused between the original print books by Harlequin UK (Hostage of the Heart and what was originally A Wife For Winter Man - always hated that title) and the ebooks that I am producing now I have the rights back. I wouldn't, at least at the moment, attempt to reissue either as paperbacks via any print option because I doubt I'd sell more than a handful.

On the other hand, Torc of Moonlight was POD issued as an original novel late last year by a small publisher in the UK, basically experimenting with POD, but they use Lightning Source as the POD printer, hence it being available on both sides of the Atlantic. I had to set up the formatting for the print page (complete with gutters, straplines, etc - all in Word) and produce a cover. The publisher was supposed to issue it as an ebook, which it did but only in e-Pub format, and when I kicked up about that not being usable for the Kindle it was converted, but the admin (metadata?) for it was messed up. I've been waiting since February for it to be sorted, and expect to still be waiting Feb 11 at this rate. So I'm thinking round this for a solution.

All this hassle with a pubisher is one of the reasons I decided to go indie with my h/romances. It would be difficult to make a worse mess of it.

As for the Kindle and HTML files, as I said in the post this is way out of my league. I don't mind learning how to use Photoshop (badly) to get a book for sale but I'm not going to learn HTML. Life is simply too short.

I have no idea how a PRC file (no idea what one is!) differs from HTML, but Jim Brown said in an email that it's a halfway house to the ASZ format that Kindle uses, hence its less liable to be corrupted in Amazon's automated conversion process.

My son says that to fix problems in an HTML file you should only use a text editor, like Wordpad, as Word the wordprocessor adds in all sorts of exta HTML extensions - hey that's what he's yelling at me; I have no idea what it means!

I really should Google "PRC file" to see what pops up.

Hope this helps.

Celia Yeary said...

LINDA--The more I read about self-publishing, the more I'd like to do it--in theory only--but in reality, the more it frightens me off. I will stick to e-presses or someone who can do all this for me. I've learned a huge amount in a few short years, but this time, I think my learning-curve will remain flat-lined! I admire you immensely! Celia

Henriette Gyland said...

Gosh, that was interesting, and no, I wasn't bored witless at all! Instead I'm in awe that anyone can get to grips with this technology. But I suppose it's the way forward in the world of publishing.

Linda Acaster said...

Hi Celia and Henrietta, thanks for dropping by.

I feel I have nothing to lose with these novels, and look upon turning them into ebooks as a (steep) learning curve that may well be the foundation of something in the future. The UK is not awash with e-readers, its very much new, and expensive, technology - and who wants to pay all that for a piece of technology they can't try out to see if they like using it? But all this will change, and fairly shortly, I think. I don't own one, but use the PC applications, and was surprised how easily I got used to using those. If someone bought me an e-reader I'd certainly use it.

Linda Banche said...

Great post, Linda. (Whenever I see "Linda", I think people are talking to me. **grins**)

I never knew all this stuff, but it makes more sense when someone who's been through it all writes it down in sequence.

Lots of authors are putting their books on Smashwords when their rights revert to them.

Good luck with HOSTAGE OF THE HEART.

Linda Acaster said...

Thanks, Linda B. Pricing is one of those things I didn't mention, but the $1.99 was chosen deliberately to make it an impulse buy. After all, no one in North America knows me from Eve - except you lot!

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Linda, nice overview!

A question: if you're putting your ebooks on Smashwords, why bother with Kindle formatting since SW will do that for you? Just curious, as I've seen other authors doing both.