Alright. I’ve been really busy the last couple of days, and as I wanted to chronicle the process as I went through it I’m writing a post about what publishing my first short story has been like.
In a word? Easy. In another word? Involved.
Part One: Preparation
Let’s start from the beginning. For the most part, I write my stories in Google Docs. This is the best option for me, because I use a lot of different platforms. At home I have a Macbook, my phone is an Android, and at my day job we use Windows. I work on my stories at home, on the train on my commute, and during my lunch break, so having a single document I can access from any of these places is ideal. Back in the day I used to email myself versions of stories I was working on and constantly losing track of revisions and updates. This is better. The future is now.
When it came time to publish “Grime”, I knew I had to convert the Google Doc to a Word .doc file. Easy peasy. It’s a one-click process. Then I just had to go through and fix a few formatting things, add in the title, copyright and dedication pages, and I was good to go. Since “Grime” is a short story and there are no chapter breaks, and since I was only publishing it digitally so I didn’t have to worry about page numbers, it was fairly simple.
Part Two: Publishing
Two days ago I uploaded it to Amazon first through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), because while other eBooks stores are rising in popularity, let’s face it. Amazon is still king. What was nice about this process was that the KDP publishing tool lets you preview the book on multiple devices before you submit. This feature is simply divine. I was able to flip through the eBook, then make adjustments as necessary to the Word .doc file, re-upload, and instantly see how the fixes translated.
Also, KDP ran a spell check and gave me a chance to fix errors it thought it found. Kindle is kind of notorious for taking down self-published books that are flagged as having errors, so this is a nice feature to have. It gives you a chance to correct any issues before you publish, rather than dealing with the headache of having your book pulled later on. In my case, KDP identified three potentially misspelled words in “Grime” – but as they were all words I had made up, such as “shitturds”, I marked them as fine.
The other issue I faced, as mentioned in a previous post, was with my use of text messages within the story. Really, this was just dumbfuckery on my part. I’m well aware that very specific text formatting does not generally translate well across different software on different OSes on different devices, and yet I included it in this story anyway. Text boxes don’t work in eBooks. I briefly considered inserting them as images, and in retrospect that was probably my best option, but at the time I thought I could make it work by just altering the text. What I ended up doing was changing the font size, font color, and paragraph margins until it looked… okay… on the KDP previewer. Not perfect, but workable.
The problem them came when I went to publish the story on Smashwords. After I finished the process with KDP and it was officially under review, I headed over to Smashwords to repeat the process there. This platform is great because you upload it once and it will distribute to a dozen or so different eBook stores (allowing you to opt out of whichever you choose), including Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook, as well as many smaller eBook stores that really cater to self-publishers. I went ahead and opted in to all of them (except Amazon, since I was doing that separately), because why not? In the future I may be a bit more discerning, but if an unexpectedly high number of people download my story through one of these smaller stores, that will be good to know.
Another great thing about Smashwords is that it assigns your book an ISBN, which you don’t get automatically when you publish through KDP (Amazon assigns your book its own identification number, called an ASIN, which is proprietary to Amazon).
However, Smashwords’ publishing platform is not nearly as user-friendly as KDP. Not by a long shot. I understand and appreciate that this is a matter of swings and roundabouts. The perk of having one upload get distributed to so many different eBook stores comes at the cost of having to submit a file that will translate easily to all of the different formats those stores use. From what I had read about the process, Smashwords often rejects files that don’t meet these very strict formatting guidelines.
I downloaded the Smashwords Style Guide, as recommended, which walked me through the process of formatting my Word .doc so that it would be accepted. The Style Guide was thorough, but it was also written for someone who had never seen a computer before. I skipped most of it, because it was beyond remedial, but I did pay attention to the recommendations for setting margins and font styles. It took me about half an hour to make the formatting changes from the file I had adapted for KDP, but it was time well-spent because it was approved by Smashwords without any conflicts.
However, going back to the formatting issues I had with KDP – it’s worse on Smashwords. I haven’t seen it on every platform yet, but on iBooks it doesn’t look right unless you hold the phone sideways. BLARG. But, at least now I know better, and if I get negative feedback about it I can always re-upload a new edition to try and fix it. For now, though, I’m going to let it be and move on.
“Grime” was now pending review on Amazon, available directly on Smashwords, and pending review for Smashwords Premium, which is the service that actually distributes it to other channels. Both the Amazon and Smashwords review processes took only a few hours, and suddenly my story was out there and available for all!
Making me one of the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people who self-published a book online. Not exactly a special snowflake.
But that’s okay. That’s part of why I chose to do this the way I did. I knew that I was just one tiny fish in a great big pond, which actually took some of the pressure off. This is why I wanted to first publish a short story, rather than the novel, because eventually this process will become old hat. I plan on doing this a lot – hopefully becoming successful enough to support myself by writing, but even if I don’t I still want to keep putting stories out there.
Which brings me back to what I did next.
Part Three: Pricing
See, I had always planned on releasing “Grime” for free. Smashwords allows this option, but KDP does not. However, Amazon does price match (maybe), so publishing for free elsewhere and then notifying Amazon might push the price down.
This is important: Part of KDP’s T&C states that you agree not to publish your eBook at a lower price on a different platform – however, this only applies to the 70% royalty option, which only applies if you price your book at $2.99 or above. If you choose the 35% royalty option on KDP, you can price your book for less Smashwords, and you are also covered if one of the distributors offers your book at a discount. If you are aiming to offer your book for free, this doesn’t really effect you. But if you are publishing at a higher cost (which I will be with To the North), that might be an issue that comes up, so be aware.
Once “Grime” was available in other eBook stores for free, I notified Amazon of the price difference by going to the product page (where a customer looking to buy the book would go) and scrolled down to the bottom of the “Details” section. There, I found a link that says “tell us about a lower price”. I submitted the URL and info for the story at the iBooks store, and hopefully Amazon will honor the price match in the next couple of days – so that I can then begin to market the book as FREE to everybody.
Part Four: Marketing
After uploading the story to both KDP and Smashwords on Monday, I spent the next day getting my various profile pages set up. As soon as “Grime” was available on Amazon I was able to set up my Author Central profile. I used the same horrible picture (I haven’t had time for a professional one yet, but I plan to before my To the North release) and bio from this site. I did the same with Smashwords.
Then, ISBN in hand, I logged on to my Goodreads account and sent in an application to be a Goodreads author. It was just a quick form to fill out, and this morning I got an email notifying me that I was approved. Huzzah! I now have author information attached to my story everywhere it is published, and all that information leads back to this website and/or my social media profiles. All the loops are closed, and now that those are done I won’t have to do them again when I publish the next story.
Not that this is actual marketing, per se, but it’s the setup that will permit me to market more effectively once I’m ready.
Part Five: Learning
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the process and the results. It was a bit more involved than I thought it would be, and I’m impatiently waiting for “Grime” to show up on Nook and for Amazon to price-match (which they actually may not, so keep your fingers crossed), but two days ago I wasn’t published yet and now I am. I know better than to add in stupid unconventional formatting, and I know how to prep a document for worry-free uploading.
I also want to pat Past Me on the back for deciding to do a trial run. If I were going through this process for the first time with To the North, it’d be much more intimidating. As the first full-length novel, and the first in a planned series of four books, I have a lot more riding on it.
But for now, I’ve seen the process through and know the steps along the way. I’m also one step closer to having an established author profile when it comes time for The Big Launch in December. I still plan to put out one more novella between now and then, so I’ll get a chance to apply what I’ve learned.
I have some more musings, but this post is already too long so I’ll leave them for another day.