Advice on Self-Publishing

Advice on self-publishing, part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook

This being part 3 of the series of posts I’m doing about how to self-publish. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Okay then. You’ve got a finished, beta-read, edited book, and you’re as sure as you’re going to get that the thing is ready to ship. Now it’s time for you to do the work to prep it to show up on people’s ereaders. So what do you do to get it ready for that? How do you turn your manuscript file, presumably written in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice or whatever word processor you do your writing in, into a thing that ebooks know how to read?

There are two ways you can tackle this.

If you’re prepared to do the work yourself, you’ll need to know a little bit about basic HTML and CSS, so that you can turn your manuscript into the source file you’ll need to convert to various ebook formats. If you have any comfort level with HTML and CSS at all, the work’s not hard–just a bit tedious. And there are excellent tutorials available to walk you through the process. I used this one, written by Guido Henkel over at (And since Mr. Henkel already wrote up an excellent tutorial, I’m not going to duplicate his efforts here. I strongly encourage you to click over and read through his posts.)

If however the notion of doing anything with HTML or CSS makes your eyes glaze over, there are also plenty of people and/or services out there you can hire to do the work for you. Use your search engine of choice. Shop around. Some of the bigger ebook aggregation services, like BookBaby, include formatting of your ebook as one of the many services available. Me, since I have the technical ability to do it myself, I opted to do so and save myself a bit of money.

Now, if you choose to work with Smashwords, they’re a bit of a special case. They recently deployed the ability to let you deploy your own finished EPUB file, but for any other format they sell on their site, they expect you to hand them a Microsoft Word file formatted in a certain way so they can throw it through their own proprietary conversion program and generate all the various formats they can sell. Having done that myself, I can attest that it was far more tedious to chug through than just generating my own ebooks. Consider this a risk if you want to deal with Smashwords. That said: they do provide a free Style Guide to follow. If you go this route, be prepared to have to wrestle in-depth with Microsoft Word styling.

Ultimately, your goal should be to have one or more ebook files ready to deploy to whatever sites you want to sell through. And formatting the book for release is half of this process. You should also seriously, and I mean seriously, think about cover art. I’m going to talk about that in my next post. (Originally slated for post #7 in this series, but I’m going to bump it up the queue since I do consider it part of the whole ‘prep your ebook for release’ process.)

Any questions?

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