Over the past three weeks, I’ve released three short stories as Kindle ebooks – a science fiction story called Bottled Lightning, an urban fantasy story called Saviour and Curfew, a supernatural thriller.
The three stories are my first dip of a toe into self-publishing waters and I chose them because a) I like them and b) they gave me a playground in which to learn. Coming straight out of the gate with a full length work would have made any mistakes I made more costly.
I did most of the work of making the ebooks myself, the exception being the covers. I can put together a cover but it takes time and the quality can be hit and miss. I found some premades for all three of those titles that worked well (from Go On Write for Curfew and Bottled Lightning and from The Cover Collection for Saviour) so I went with those.
I handled all the other tasks associated with building the actual ebooks and I did it manually (although I then automated one part of it to avoid making mistakes). And when I say manually, I mean manually. I didn’t use Scrivener or a Word file. I took the raw text of each story and crafted the ebook from that.
There’s several reasons why I chose to go the do-it-yourself route for these first titles but here’s five.
It’s too expensive to pay someone to format a short story. Unless you’re a big name author (Stephen King or Hugh Howey maybe) or you’re writing companion pieces to a pre-existing series, short stories don’t sell very well. At least not in the genres I’m writing in. It’s going to take me a while to earn back the editing and cover costs for those stories – about $165. At Amazon’s 35% royalty rate that’s about 500 copies which is a lot of short stories to sell. Adding professional formatting would have increased that even further. The stories might be an experiment but this is still a business. I need to keep costs down where I can.
For some people, this is one of the fundamental reasons to go indie – they’re control freaks. It’s low on my personal list of reasons but the ability to tweak and tune all three ebooks until I got them exactly how I wanted was a bonus. I could customise the front and back matter, spacing, indentation, capitalisation and other styistic issues and then tweak them until I was completely happy. And I could do it on my schedule. With all three books I made tweaks to the story as I was proofreading the ebook. I couldn’t have done that if I’d been working through another company.
It’s good for indie authors to know what goes into building an ebook. I won’t be formatting my longer works myself – I’ll use a professional company for anything that’s a novella or longer. But now I know what’s involved in creating ebooks I’ll be in a better position to pick a company to use, evaluate their work and choose which of their services to take advantage of.
For example – I now know that I can probably get away with just formatting for epub and then converting to Amazon myself. If there are Amazon specific changes required, I know enough to make them myself. If a formatter wants to sell me an Amazon specific version of my ebook, they’re going to need to bring something extra to the table.
Because I made the ebooks myself, I can make tweaks to them myself. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can very quickly make changes to descriptions, categories, pricing and even the text. But if my ebooks are a mystical black box that only the original company that created them know how to unlock, I’d have to go through them for any changes. While most of them will make little fixes for free, there are limits. And it takes time. If I find a typo in one of my ebooks I want to be able to fix it and upload a new version as quickly as possible. I now know how to do that.
It’s Fun (for me, at least)
I enjoy doing technical work. Ebooks are basically web pages with a few additional bits of data and I’m very familiar with websites. Programming is my day job so I have no problem deciphering errors and messing with esoteric markup to get the book exactly how I want it.
Overall, building the books was the right thing to do (at least for me, your mileage may vary). It wasn’t quick – I’d have finished The Zombie Book a couple of weeks earlier if I’d written that instead of building my own ebooks but I got what I wanted out of it and if I decide to format future work myself, I have a good idea what’s involved.
It’s not for everyone, but if you’re an indie author who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty, it’s definitely something you should try. Even if it’s just once.
[Five Reasons I Built My Own Ebooks by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 20th October 2014]