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writing advice

Nanowrimo, Writing

What do you do when sick of a work in progress?

For those of you who didn’t see this on my social networks today, I was very pleased to announce that I’d been invited to send in a post for the Nanowrimo blog, now that they’re doing a series of posts on the general theme of “Now what?” for folks coming out of doing Nanowrimo this past November.

My post went up today and can be found here! (The Nano blog is hosted on Tumblr, so if you’re a user there and you feel so inclined, reblog it, won’t you? Thank you!) If you’re coming to my blog from that post or from places it got shared today, hiya and welcome!

This post, though, is in response to a question that I got asked on Twitter:

This, I felt, is an excellent question. So here’s a post about that.

First, at least in my experience, there are a few different variations of “sick of your novel” that might happen. So I’m going to talk about each, and what I’ve been able to do about them.

Oh god oh god I have been trying to pull words out of my brain for this thing for MONTHS NOW and they’re just not working and AUGH.

If I’ve been pounding my head against a work in progress for what seems like forever, and it feels like the words just don’t want to flow, this is usually a warning sign that something about what I’m doing isn’t actually right for the story. What I have to do for this is take a step back, see if I can figure out what is not working, and come at it from a new angle.

This is in fact something I’m wrestling with on my current work in progress, Warder Soul. I got about 20,000 words in on it, but with this lingering sense of discontent with what I was doing. But after talking it out some with my wife (who, while not a writer, is an EXCELLENT refiner of my ideas), I decided to try the beginning again with a new strategy.

I am unbelievably stressed out right now and the sheer thought of looking at my word processor is making me want to pitch my computer out the window.

There are times, though, that the failure to produce words isn’t necessarily the fault of the story. If I’m too stressed out by external causes, this can kick my creative productivity in the teeth and make pulling words out of my brain about as fun as pulling teeth out of my mouth.

I’ve got a stupidly complicated medical history for somebody my age, and as a result of this, I’ve had long stretches in the last 12 years in which it was impossible for me to get any creative work done due to having to recover from assorted medical things.

Similarly, I have come to learn that if I’m stressing out about other sorts of things (like oh, say, the election that just happened), this can also kick my productivity in the face.

What I have learned to do about this: give myself permission to not write. Which might seem counterintuitive to the whole “but I’m stressing the fuck out about not writing to begin with” thing, sure. But the thing is, for me, a certain level of pressure to get a novel done can be useful. Too much pressure, on the other hand, is setting myself up for creative burnout. I have had to learn to tell myself that it’s okay if I need to take a creative break. Even if it’s a long one.

In times where it would stress me out almost as much to not actually be writing, I compromise with myself and set a stupidly low daily word count goal. Say, two hundred words. Something tiny like that which doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as, say, five hundred or a thousand. And if I can achieve a much smaller goal like that, sometimes the sense of satisfaction I get from it is enough to make me want to keep going.

But again, it’s also important to tell myself that if all I have in me for a day is two hundred words, it’s okay if I stop.


Any writer who’s gotten past the first draft knows this pain, boy howdy let me tell you. Editing can be deeply satisfying for me sometimes–digging into a scene or a chapter, and finding little nuances I can change about it to improve it. On the other hand, if I go six or seven drafts (and I HAVE), this can get really tiresome really fast. Particularly given that I do also have a full time day job, and I often just don’t have enough brain left over after a full day at work to come home and beat a chapter’s worth of edits into submission. (This, by the way, would be why I haven’t been able to finally edit Queen of Souls yet.)

And sometimes, if I go long enough editing a given book, I just start missing actually creating brand new words.

Which is exactly why I have multiple works in progress. If I get sick of editing something, I can go throw words at something else for a while. Which does help.

Non-writing-related breaks also help. For me, that’s usually a) getting on the treadmill, b) picking up an instrument and practicing tunes, or c) playing games.

I’m doing Nanowrimo as fast as I POSSIBLY CAN and oh god oh god I can’t stand the thought of one more day of this AUGH.

Nanowrimo demands you write at least 1,667 words every day of the month to hit that 50,000 word goal. And y’know what? That’s frickin’ hard for a lot of writers, even people who have been writing for years. It’s okay if you start feeling burned out by the pace.

When I’m trying to do Nano, it helps immensely to remind myself that while hitting that 50,000 word goal is fun and all, at the end of the day (or the month, as it were), the actual end goal is to write a novel. And even if I don’t manage to do the 50,000 words in November, if I keep going and eventually wind up with a book, I still win.

And part of what I learned from my very first Nanowrimo is that, in fact, I usually can’t manage a Nano-level daily word count. My much more standard goal is 500 words a day.

If you try Nanowrimo and find that that daily word count is too much for you, it is entirely okay if you pull back to a pace that better fits your creative speed. Every single writer has different capacities. Every single writer has different ways they’ll need to do things. Find the pace that works for you.

How about the rest of you?

Those are the major ways I’ve found to date that I can get sick of a work in progress, so now I’ll turn it over to my fellow writers and Nanowrimo regulars out there: how have you found yourself getting sick of works in progress? What do you do about it when it happens? Tell me about it in the comments!

Editing to add: The writer who sent me that tweet above now has a post up about this! Check it out!

Advice on Self-Publishing

Waking up the Advice on Self-Publishing post series

In 2013, shortly after I got Faerie Blood‘s current edition out into the world and as I was trying to deal with both my Carina work and getting Bone Walker out, I was doing a series of blog posts pertaining to how to self-publish your work. Those posts are amongst my most frequently read on the site, and it’s nagged at me that I haven’t managed to finish the series yet!

Over the next several weeks I’m going to address that problem. Particularly as I will be going to Clallam Bay Comicon with Dara this weekend–at which I will in fact be giving a panel on how to self-pub. I’ll be using my previously written blog posts on the topic as an overview of what to talk about.

Previous posts in this series can be found under the “Advice on Self-Publishing” category tag. (You can get to it easily if you look at the Blog Post Series menu item at the top of any page on the site, and look at the dropdown menu under that.) These posts are as follows:

Part 1: Write the Book

Part 2: Beta Reading and Editing

Part 3: Turning Your Manuscript Into an Ebook

Part 4: Cover Art

Part 5: Deploying the Book for Sale

Immediately following this post, I’m going to do Part 6: Review of Sites That Will Format and Sell Your Ebook. Stand by.

About Me, Other People's Books, The Internet

A few things make a post

Some good reading on the Intarwebz today! First up, I bring you today’s Big Idea column over at the Whatever, where Mr. Scalzi brings word of Brad Meltzer’s new children’s books about Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln. Parents of small children, especially daughters, go check this out. Especially if you’re fans of Calvin and Hobbes. The art for the Amelia book looks adorable.


Meanwhile, Jim Hines has put up a good post today going over a writing advice question I hear time and again: i.e., whether you should try to write to the market. I said over there, and I’ll say here too, that even though “don’t try to write to the market” and “be aware of the market” seem contradictory on the surface, for me they’re actually kind of not. You want to be aware of what people who aren’t you are writing, so you aren’t writing in a complete and utter vacuum, and accidentally writing stuff that people lost interest in reading five or ten or even more years ago. Plus, you never know what awesome ideas you may have spark for your next book.


Fellow Carina fantasy author Shawna Thomas is talking up her work over at Eleri Stone’s place, and in particular about coming-of-age fantasy. Go give her a look, ’cause fantasy by Carina is love!


I’ve been following the news posts on for a while now, because hi, yeah, Tolkien geek, yo. But this post of theirs made me up and join their message forums for the express purpose of voicing my appreciation to their forums member who wrote some nice fanfic about Dís, the mother of the dwarves Kíli and Fíli, the only female dwarf Tolkien ever named. Looks like Cirashala’s getting her epic on with further fanfic about the character, too, based on what she’s saying in the thread that the news post links to. I approve!


And last but least, speaking of Tolkien, I’m posting about reading fantasy in other languages over on Here Be Magic today! I talk up the Trilingual Hobbit Reread, but also a couple of the novels I want to read out of Quebec SF/F as well, like the ones by Élodie Tirel I’ve been talking about, as well as Esther Rochon.

C’mon over and tell me about nifty non-Anglophone genre works English speakers should know about, won’t you?


On handling unruly characters

I was asked the following question on Google+:

How do you deal with characters who suddenly hare off and do something you really REALLY didn’t plan?

This is an excellent question, and requires a bit of a longer answer than would fit comfortably into a social networking comment. So here, y’all get a blog post!

A lot of writers I’ve heard address this topic will swear up and down that YOU ARE THE WRITER, BY GOD, so you, not the character, are the one in charge of a character’s actions in a story. From what I’ve seen these tend to be people who have more active plans in place before they start a book, so they’ve got clear ideas at all times of what they expect a character to be doing. Maybe they’ll even have a full outline sketched out.

Me, I’m not quite that much of a pre-planner. I’ve completed four manuscripts to date, and am about to complete a fifth. So far, my way of doing this is to have a general broad picture of what the book’s supposed to be about, going in. This is very similar to how I used to do plots in my days of playing MUSHes, where we’d do things called ‘tinyplots’–i.e., a general broad, open-ended idea of a plot concept–and then the characters on the game would then roleplay the plot out. It’d often go in unexpected ways due to the live, real-time nature of the RP, and that was a known and expected thing and considered to be part of the fun.

Now that I’m writing, I go in with that same broad idea of how the plot should work and some core character concepts for the major members of the cast. I start writing, and maybe I’ll get in a few chapters or so and then take a step back and think, “okay, now what happens next?” I’ll do a little bit of planning, then write that bit, and then do a little bit more planning, lather, rinse, repeat, until the book’s done. I’ll usually be taking notes in an outline file, with chapter summaries, as I go. It’s been a very organic process for me and usually it works.

However, sometimes I will have a character go HI I NEED TO DO THIS NOW, completely out of the blue. This is usually code, in my brain, for “Okay Anna, you haven’t thought something through well enough”–either my concept of what that character is supposed to be like, or else something about the overall plot. It happened to me early on, in fact, in the writing of the book that eventually became Valor of the Healer, and what I did at that point is to just readjust what I was intending to write in the chapters in question and keep going. I was still within the broad overall concept of what I wanted to do, so I wasn’t blocked.

But in another book I’ve got that’s still a work in progress, I hit a point where I realized that what I’d written so far just felt wrong. So in that case I just ditched that draft and started a new one. I was only four chapters in, so it wasn’t quite as severe a situation as having to completely trash most of a book.

How about the rest of my fellow writers out there? How do you deal when your characters raise their hands and go AHEM I’M DOING THIS NOW?

ETA: This post is attracting comments on its mirrors on Livejournal and Dreamwidth, so I encourage readers to check those out to see what a few of my other fellow authors are saying!

Advice on Self-Publishing

Advice on self-publishing, Part 5: Deploying the book for sale

This being part 5 of my ongoing series on self-publishing. Previous posts are:

Part 1: Write the book | Part 2: Beta reading and editing | Part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook | Part 4: Cover art

In this post, I’m going to talk about my experiences putting Faerie Blood up for sale, and how they may apply to you. (Though as with anything involving writing, do keep in mind–your mileage may and probably will vary!)

Where all did I deploy my book for sale?

The places I opted to go with in the initial deployment of the book were Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Kobo.

You may love or hate Amazon, but fact of the matter is, if you’re going to self-pub an ebook you pretty much have to go up on Amazon. The vast majority of my ebook sales to this date, after having Faerie Blood out for a year or so, are with them. One big question you’re going to have to ask yourself, in fact, is whether you will get in on their exclusive program where you can ONLY deploy to Amazon in exchange for them giving you higher visibility. I know some authors who have done this, though I don’t have figures on how well it’s worked for them. (If you’re an author who’s done this and you have experience in this, do feel free to answer in the comments!)

Me, I opted not to do that specifically because I wanted to make the book available to non-Kindle users. As a Nook user myself, I wasn’t about to NOT deploy to Barnes and Noble. Likewise, as a Mac user, I was interested in going up on the Apple store. Smashwords was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. One, it is specifically device-agnostic and has as one of its selling points making your ebook available in a wide variety of formats (with the tradeoff that you have to use their proprietary formatting system). And two, as an aggregration service, they’re one of the few ways you can get a self-pubbed ebook onto certain channels such as the Sony bookstore.

At the time I deployed Faerie Blood originally, Smashwords was also the only way to get onto the Kobo store–which I was interested in because Kobo’s a significant ebook player in Canada, and hey, Canada! But shortly after I was prepping to go on Smashwords, Kobo deployed its own self-pub service. So I didn’t have to use Smashwords to get up onto Kobo. Instead, I deployed to them directly.

Should you exclusively go with an aggregation service like Smashwords?

Another important point about Smashwords. As I mention above, Smashwords is an aggregation service. This means that in addition to selling your book directly for you, they will also give you the option to deploying the book out to other channels for you. Like, say, the Sony store.

For the most part I opted not to do this and instead am working with the Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and B&N stores directly. The reason for this is that when I was researching what I do, I asked around to get people’s input, and was told that it’s generally less of a headache to work directly with the various outlets. Delay in payment was cited as the biggest factor here, and yes, this was particularly mentioned with Smashwords.

(Props to romance author Courtney Milan, by the way, who was very kind in answering my questions in email. She’s been self-pubbing several of her recent releases, and since I liked what she’d done with her books, I contacted her to ask for her advice.)

Now, I can add to this my own experiences in payment. Amazon, B&N, and iTunes have all generally been reliable in handing me money when I’m due. Smashwords has made exactly one payment to me, and Kobo has yet to give me any money at all. But to be fair to Smashwords and Kobo, this is because my sales there have also been extremely tiny. (9 to date on Smashwords, 6 on Kobo. See? TINY.) And I haven’t cleared the threshold there for them to actually send me the tiny amount of royalties owed.

There are arguments in favor of using Smashwords or some other aggregation service, though. Again, as I said above, some stores will be available to you ONLY if you go through such a service. Sony, for example. Last I checked as well, the B&N store is directly available to you only if you’re a US author (and possibly a UK author as well since they’ve opened up Nook sales to that market, but I haven’t confirmed this yet). You can only get onto the iTunes store if you’ve got the appropriate software to prep your book to deploy to it, and that’s only available for the Mac. So if you’re a PC user, you’re going to have to get onto iTunes via an aggregator (or draft a Mac-owning friend to help you).

The long and short of it is, there are going to be some annoyances no matter which way you go, and there are judgment calls you’ll want to make about how to set things up to annoy you the least.

Note also: the only other aggregator service I spent any time looking at was BookBaby. They’re the book-publishing arm of the same people who run CD Baby, and since Dara’s had generally good experiences with the CD side of things I was willing to explore BookBaby. When I read up on them, word on the Net was somewhat iffy as to the quality of service they provided, so if you want to look into them, be sure and do your research. (And report back if you work with them, because I want to know!)

Difficulty of deploying to the various markets

Deploying up to Amazon wasn’t terribly difficult. If you don’t have a Kindle device, they do provide a Kindle emulator that’s supposed to emulate the various types of Kindles. This is super-handy for testing your book to make sure it works. And the turnaround time between uploading the book and the book being available for sale was fairly quick.

When I went up on B&N their active service was PubIt!, which I found… not great, but not bad, either. Now they’ve shifted over to NookPress, and to be honest, at least in the initial stage of deployment to that, it was teeth-grittingly infuriating. B&N’s lack of any real support for the service is immensely frustrating, especially if you’re a tech-savvy user like myself. You can’t call for support, and you can only get to tier-1 support via the chat system, which I haven’t found helpful at all. It took me a couple of weeks to iron out various issues with getting Faerie Blood deployed via the new system.

To be fair, once those issues were ironed out, it’s been fine since. But be aware of this going in, if you want to think about deploying to NookPress.

Deploying to iTunes I also found teeth-grittingly annoying. The iTunesConnect software as well as the front end on the website are unnecessarily complex, and I spent quite a bit of research time trying to understand various errors the software threw me when trying to deploy the Faerie Blood epub. And again–I’m a tech-savvy user and am generally comfortable with doing a search for what a given error message means, and figuring out what to do to fix it. It still drove me a little spare. If you’re not tech-savvy, be advised accordingly. Also, it took quite a few days before the book was finally live and for sale.

Deploying to Smashwords was actually not that bad. You do have to go through their proprietary system, as I mentioned, and this requires you having to spend some time doing custom styling of your manuscript file. None of it is difficult, if you have any comfort level with Microsoft Word. But it is tedious and time-consuming. Once you’ve done that, you can throw your manuscript through their MeatGrinder system, and it spits out a bunch of different formats for your book. Caveat: these will all be very minimally formatted. I.e., NOT PRETTY. Smashwords has recently deployed the ability to let you upload your own EPUB, which is at least a step to balance this out–but as of when I last tried it, it wouldn’t actually take my epub file.

Smashwords to their credit does provide a helpful free style guide for how to prep your book for their system. Following the instructions in that let me prep my book pretty well for them.

Lastly, deploying to Kobo wasn’t terribly difficult. But the Writing Life site is pretty bare-bones, and with only six sales to date over an entire year on that site, I’m not really sure yet whether my presence there is worth my time. But on the other hand, not much effort to get up there.

Quick note about Google Play

Google Play is the latest market I’m trying to deploy to. I say ‘trying’ because I’ve been waiting for over a week for my book to come out of ‘Processing’ status there, and there was some level of general opacity in trying to figure out how exactly to get on Google Play to begin with. I’ll post more data about this once Faerie Blood is actually live there.

Do you need an ISBN?

The question of whether to get one or more ISBNs for your book appears to be somewhat fuzzy. Best practice, as near as I could tell doing my research, was to have an individual ISBN for each different format of your book–which means not only print vs. digital, but also epub vs. PDF vs. whatever other format you’re using. In actual practice, what seems to happen a lot is that self-pub authors will get one ISBN for digital and another for print. This is what I wound up doing, in no small part because ISBNs get expensive.

You will not actually technically need an ISBN to deploy either to Amazon or B&N–if you don’t provide one their systems will have unique identifiers for your book regardless. The other sites I’m on wanted them, though. And generally I’d recommend that you get at least one ISBN if you can.

Do you need to file copyright on the book?

Again, this seemed like a generally fuzzy area. I’ve seen sources that suggest you don’t actually technically need to file copyright, because copyright happens when you produce the work. However, the fee to file was $35, which for my personal budget wasn’t onerous. So I went ahead and did it, mostly to be able to have something I can point at in the future as independent evidence that yes, Faerie Blood is my book.

And in conclusion…

Any questions on this, folks, since this post is kinda long? Anything you want me to elaborate on, or anything you want to know that I didn’t cover?

I was originally planning to devote an entire post to aggregator services like Smashwords and BookBaby, but I’ve already kind of covered that there. So part 6 of this series will go straight to what to do if you want to self-pub in print. Stand by for more on that, folks.

Advice on Self-Publishing

Advice on self-publishing, part 4: Cover art

This being part 4 of my ongoing series on self-publishing. Previous posts are:

Part 1: Write the book | Part 2: Beta reading and editing | Part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook

This post’s going to be all about cover art. And the long and short of it, in my experience, is that yes. You need some. Maybe simpler cover art than you might otherwise need if you’re going digital-only in your self-publishing efforts, but even then, your cover art will matter. Bad cover art will get you pointed and laughed at. With often particularly high-profile results.

Even if people are going to buy you digitally, they’re still going to need to be attracted by a striking piece of cover art–even if it’s something simple that looks good in thumbnail form. Especially if it’s something simple that looks good in thumbnail form. (This is, I suspect, a contributing factor to why so many covers on so many novels in most of the genres I read these days are no more complex than a portrait of one or two characters. Those things shrink down real well to thumbnail size.) That thumbnail’s going to matter if somebody’s browsing their ebook site of choice looking for something new to read, whether that site be Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Goodreads, or whatever.

The larger form of your cover art is also going to matter. Depending on what device people use to read their ebooks, that art’s going to represent your book in a variety of ways for them. It’ll serve as the thumbnail when people browse their libraries in any of the many available desktop-based programs or device-based apps for reading ebooks and managing ebook libraries. And in just about all cases, it’ll still be the first thing somebody sees when they open up your ebook. You won’t need to worry as much on an e-ink device, where your art will be black and white. But on a retina-capable device, like any of the later iPhones or iPads, your art’s definitely going to need to look as good as possible.

Sure, yes, “as good as possible” is going to be a subjective concept. But I’ve found that if you’re going to self-pub, and if you want to be taken as seriously as people who professionally publish via the traditional routes, then you’re going to have to work as hard as the traditional publishers do to make a book present itself well to potential buyers. To be blunt, this means you need cover art that doesn’t look like Photoshop threw up all over your manuscript.

If you’ve got the graphic design experience to generate your own cover art, by all means, go for it. But if you don’t have that experience, and you don’t already know what all designing a good cover entails, think about it a minute. You need to think about the central image of the art, but also your font choices–for your title, for your name, and for any other text you might want to present on the cover, like a blurb quote. You need to think about font placement and kerning. Color choices, too, so that the colors of your text go well with the art itself. And again, you’ll want to think about all of these things in conjunction with how well that cover’s going to look on websites where people are browsing for something to buy, and how it’ll look on their computers and devices once they have the book.

If you don’t have that graphic design experience, I strongly urge you to find somebody who does. If you have friends with the necessary skillsets, recruit them–but don’t forget to compensate them for their efforts, via whatever means you might work out as appropriate between you. If you need to, however, find and pay a professional.

When I decided to re-publish Faerie Blood on my own, one of the first things I decided to do was commission new cover art for it and for the forthcoming sequel, Bone Walker. I don’t have graphic design experience, but I’m blessed to have a spouse who does, which is the first half of why Faerie Blood‘s cover came out looking awesome if I do say so myself.

Faerie Blood Second Edition Cover

Faerie Blood Second Edition Cover

The second half of why the cover works is, of course, because I commissioned the awesome Kiri Moth to do the art for me. And no, she wasn’t cheap. Paying Kiri for her work is a huge chunk of where the funds from my Kickstarter last year have gone. But since she’s throwing me awesome pieces like the newly finished Bone Walker cover, I’m finding her worth every damned penny.

Unseelie Bard by Night

Unseelie Bard by Night

Now, yeah, I did have a successful Kickstarter. Not every indie author is going to be able to say that, and many of you out there are going to have a lot of trouble budgeting for the funds necessary to pay for art that doesn’t suck. I would encourage you nonetheless to budget what you can. If you’re fortunate enough to find a cover artist you’d like to work with, talk to that person, explain your goals, ask them their rates, and see if you can work something out. Above all, treat it like a professional transaction, because that’s exactly what it is. Whoever you commission to do cover art for you is going to be contributing to your professional presentation of your book, and they should be respected accordingly and duly paid for their work.

Where do you find these potential cover artists? I lucked out pretty fast finding Kiri; all I had to do was put out a call over my blog/journal posts, asking for recommendations. That’s where I’d suggest you start: utilize what social networks you may be on, and outright ask people. If no one you regularly talk to comes up with immediate suggestions, start hunting through DeviantArt or Tumblr. If you’re in a fandom that’s got a heavy fanart presence, talk to your fellow fans. Ask other indie authors who did their art and if they have contact data for those artists. And if all else fails, what books do you own that have art you really love? Look in those books, find what the author said in the Acknowledgements or Author’s Notes, and see if he or she credited the artist.

Once you do find an artist and nail down the agreement of what he or she will create for you and how much you’ll be paying, don’t overlook the technical details that’ll need to be decided as well. Especially if you’re also planning to publish in print, which will expand the scope of what you’ll have to think about considerably. What size book will you be aiming for? Mass market size, trade, or something in between? Will you want wraparound cover art, or will the back of the book just be laid out with the blurb and other necessary text?

I’ll cover those details in more depth in coming posts, but for now I’ll just boil it down to this: you’ll need to think about more than just what the art looks like, and you’ll need to communicate about that with your artist.

When you finally get your finished art, what happens then? If you read Part 3 of this series of posts, you’ll have seen me mention Guido Henkel’s excellent tutorial on how to build an ebook, and that’ll have included putting your cover art in there.

And if you have a completed ebook, with cover art and layout and design the way you want it, you should be ready to put that thing up for sale. I’ll talk about that in Part 5, soon to come!

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?