Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tornado Siren is now an ebook! (part 2: the how to make an ebook)

So this week, I finally got my act together, after procrastinating for almost a year, and published Tornado Siren as an ebook.  Every time I read Joe Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, I felt more and more stupid for delaying.  But I was short on time, I needed a new cover, blah, blah, blah, excuses, excuses, excuses.

This week I finally just gave it and stopped doing all my other work and just decided to jump into the creation of a Tornado Siren ebook.

The first problem was that I needed a cover.  The text of the book was mine, but the old cover belonged to my publisher, Behler Publications.  And plus, the old cover was okay, but not great (and the print version wasn't a big seller, so maybe the cover wasn't helping much).  Plus, I needed a cover that would work as a much smaller image.  The original book cover was designed for a 8.5 x 5.5 inch book.  Ebooks are sold on the basis of thumbnail images (though, if you think about it, so are all print books sold on Amazon).

I talked to a neighbor who is a designer, hoping to get her to design it for cheap (I'd given myself a hundred dollar budget), but she was too busy.  Still, just talking about it helped generate some ideas.  So I spent a couple hours on photoshop, found some public domain tornado images, downloaded some new fonts, and put together a cover.  I'm still thinking/planning to find someone to help me do a better cover, but the one I came up with will do for now.  (That's it at the top of this post.)

Once the cover was done, I needed to format the manuscript for the various platforms.  Most important was the Kindle sold by Amazon, but I also wanted to have a version for the Nook sold by Barnes & Noble, as well as versions for any other reader.  For the other readers, I could use Smashwords, which creates ebooks in multiple platforms. 

The good news is that each of these platforms makes it pretty easy to upload your file and prepare it for publication.  This is especially true of books that are primarily text-based, like novels, without much in the way of tables or images.  The bad news was that my most recent version of Tornado Siren was in pdf format.  This meant I needed to buy a pdf unlocker.  I got DeskUNpdf from DocuDesk, since I already use their DeskPDF writer (all the time).  This gave me access to the file, but also meant I had a lot more formatting to do.

In addition, I also wanted to proof the book one more time (the printed version had one or two typos that had been bugging me for years), so that took a bunch of hours.  I resisted the urge to get into a full scale rewrite of it (since I have my hands full with two other big writing projects), but I did do some minor edits.

Once I got rid of text errors and ugly formatting problems, I was ready to format it for the publishing platforms.  Each one required something a little different.

I started with the Kindle version.  I found some online help, from blogger/screenwriter, John August, in his blog post "Kindle formatting for web geeks" and also from Joshua Tallent's Kindle Formatting site.  The key takeaways from these sites were 1)  Keep it simple.  Try to strip away any formatting possible from the document (including fancy fonts, headers, footers, page numbers, etc.).  2)  For the Kindle conversion, I needed to have Word save my doc as a "Web site, filtered".  This second point proved very helpful.   I also discovered from Kindle forums that to get page breaks before Chapters, I needed to take out Section Breaks and replace them with plain Page Breaks.

The Kindle site  allowed me to preview my file, to make sure I didn't have any big errors showing up.  The preview is rough, but close enough.  It took me a couple tries, to make sure I had nothing strange showing up.  I had a printed version of the book already, which reminded me to make sure I had a copyright page and the other various info I'd need in the text.  I shifted the acknowledgments to the back, because I wasn't sure how much front matter Kindle users would be willing to page through.

Once I had the document together, I entered my summary, bio, cover, tag words, genre (I chose Fiction, general, and Romance, paranormal), the price, and all the info I'd need to get paid.  Seems like I'll get paid monthly, about 60 days after the sale goes through, if I earn more than $10.  I chose to price my book at $2.99, of which I'll earn 70%.  Then I pushed the Publish button and I had to wait about 36 hours before the book was live and for sale.  Now that it's up, I can check on the my sales whenever I want, which is another big difference from print publication--with Behler, I'd get paid once a year and there was no easy way to check the progress of sales to date, and even though my book was on Amazon, there was no way for me to track Amazon sales, other than through its sales ranking (which is a strange mysterious number that new authors follow obsessively).

So now it's online, at
I had one sale pretty quickly, and Tracy and I bought a copy to view on her Droid phone, just for kicks.  I was not able to enter editorial reviews from the printed version, and it doesn't seem to want to link any of the reader feedback from the printed version to the Kindle version, which is kind of annoying. 

It's hard to tell exactly how to make this book easier to find on the Amazon site.  It probably needs to sell a bunch of copies and receive a bunch of positive ratings, in order to start moving up in any search results.  Right now you'd have to know exactly what you were looking for to find it. We'll see if I can find a way to make it easier.

The Nook
This was my second priority, though I'm not sure how many people actually use Nooks versus Kindles.  I'm guessing it's a lot less.

The Barnes & Noble Nook publishing site is called Pubit, and it was pretty similar to the Kindle site and very easy to use.  The formatting for the Nook needed to also be very clean, but in this case, I saved the document as a Word 97-2003 doc.  And rather than Page Breaks before chapters, I needed to insert Section Breaks.

One plus of the Nook interface is that I was able to enter some of the editorial reviews that Tornado Siren received, but unfortunately, I couldn't enter the Publisher's Weekly review, because I don't have a name of the reviewer (which stinks, because a PW review would lend some credibility).  The cover size was also a little different from that of the Kindle, so I needed to work up a slightly larger cover.  I also had more room for the description of the book and the author bio, which was good.

I posted it to their site yesterday, and in less than 24 hours, it was live, here

Like the Kindle, the Nook offers a dashboard for authors/publishers, to make changes to the cover, descriptions, price, even the book text.  For some reason, even though I have a live link and can get to the page myself where someone can buy the book, it doesn't show up on the B&N site when I just do a search for "Tornado Siren" in NookBooks.   I'm assuming this is because my title hasn't been populated into the database yet, but I hope it happens soon.

I never had a sense that the print version of Tornado Siren sold many, if any, copies on, versus many hundreds of copies on Amazon.  I'm very curious to see if the NookBook version is able to sell anything.

This site has been around for a while, and they publish e-books in a wide variety of formats.  Smashwords offers a healthy royalty on books sold through them (85%), plus they sell through other resellters, like Apple, Sony, Apple, and more.   Their "meatgrinder" conversion engine allows you to upload one file, and then they translate it into the different formats required.  In order for this to work, your document has to be very minimally formatted.

To help you get it right, they put together a 72-page guide (that you can read on line) to guide you step-by-step through the process of formatting and publishing.  I followed each step, exactly as they set it out.  For Smashwords, I had to take out all page breaks and section breaks, giving up the notion of a clean page break between chapters.  Otherwise, the formatting was fairly similar to that needed for the Nook (the file was a  Word 97-2003 doc).  They are very specific about what you need on your copyright page, and had some great suggestions for other material you can include at the back of the book (author bio, contact info, etc.).

Again, like the other platforms, I uploaded my various info, cover, and hit the button.  My file converted with no problem, in a couple hours, and is now for sale on the Smashwords site, here:

It is now awaiting being given "premium" status, which means they'll distribute it to other sites (Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, and Diesel).  It'll take about a week to get approved, and after that it could take another 2 weeks or more to appear on these sites.

They also sold me an ISBN number for $9.95, on credit versus my future Smashwords royalties, which was required in order to be carried by the Apple and Sony ebook stores.  (I couldn't use the print ISBN number for the ebook).

What next?

It was pretty easy to get all of this done.  If I'd started with a clean Word file, it would have all gone a lot faster.  I also spent some time tweaking my description and bio. 

The really cool thing is that I can go back and upload a new cover, or summary, or bio, whenever I want.  And I can easily track sales.  If I get any.

That's the big question, of course.  Will anyone buy these ebooks?  Smashwords is pretty upfront about this on their site FAQ--they don't suggest you're going to sell many books.  It all depends on marketing and luck.  I have a limited amount of time/energy/money available for marketing at the moment, but I'll definitely work hard at spreading the word to friends, family, and other contacts.  Smashwords actually offers its authors a very sensible marketing guide (available for free, online), which I found helpful.

I'll let you know how it goes.


J.A. Hennrikus said...

Great post with lots of good information. Thanks, and good luck with the sales.

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks! It was actually sort of fun to put it together. And an odd sort of relief to know that now it can still find readers, for quite some time to come.

(see you at the Conference)

Erin said...

I love the insight about all books being sold with thumbnails these days. It brings up a challenge for print in somehow creating an image that resonates at both sizes (or a pair of images that somehow conveys the same book).

Patrick Gabridge said...

Thanks for the comment, Erin. It really seems to me that the two images will very likely need to be different. Maybe "need" is a bit strong, but it's sort of like designing a cover for an LP and a CD. There's a lot of branding going on, so you want consistency, but at the same time, I think it makes sense to try to make the most of each different format.