Sunday, December 04, 2011

What I Learned from Publishing My Own Book

Part I: I wrote From Rome to Jerusalem: A Non-Jew on the Way because I had something to say, but I also wanted to use it as a laboratory of sorts. First of all, I wanted to learn if what I tell my clients makes sense, is useful, and works. Second, I wanted to use my book to test some services I had not experienced before. Here's what I have learned so far:

Build your Table of Contents before You Begin to Write: For years, I've advised authors to write from a coherent table of contents. It worked for me. I skipped around a bit, but a working table of contents enabled me to do that without getting confused. Having the structure in place before I began enabled me to know where I was and how far I had to go. The final table of contents was a bit different than the original, but 90 percent of it was what I started with.

Don't Get Hung up on Copy Editing your First Draft: I'm a notorious self editor, but I was able to drop my perfectionism and complete a credible if imperfect first draft fairly quickly.

Use a Blog to Get Early Feedback: I created a book blog to test the waters. The first thing I did was create a "Contents" page, which contained my (surprise) Table of Contents. Then I added the first draft of each chapter, one by one, to the main page and linked it to the Contents page. In this way, early readers could peruse the entire book. I didn't get as much feedback as I would have liked, but the structure worked great. I still like a blog, with pages added, as the starter website for many of my customers. A blog is free and it's easy for Do-It-Yourselfers. Once I published the book (on Smashwords), I unlinked the chapters (which were now two or three versions back) from the Contents page. The blog is still there, and I intend to use it for news and comment about the book.

Links on the Blog Version Were Counter-productive: The book needed a glossary. Because you can, I suppose, I linked the appropriate words on the text to the glossary. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but Smashwords advises not using too many links on ebooks, which meant I had to unlink the words from the glossary. My effort here was wasted. At least, I learned how to global de-link my files in Word. That was useful.

Smashwords Has a Good System: Smashwords seems to have its act together. The two books, the Smashwords Style Guide and The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide are invaluable. The latter is useful, even if you're not publishing with them. The downloads are free. I like their business model. They charge nothing for setup, taking a distribution instead. Some authors might prefer competitors who do the reverse, charging for setup but taking no distribution, but the Smashwords approach means they have a stake in helping authors sell their books. I like that.

Setup Takes Some Doing: Some people claim that setting up an ebook, especially in the ePub format, takes just a click. Not from what I've seen. It takes a bit of work, though the work is more in the nature of simplifying a file rather than making it more sophisticated. With that said, a DIYer can prepare files for Smashwords with the help of  the Smashwords Style Guide.

Planning Helps: With my current equipment, it appears that preparing a book for Smashwords first may be more efficient from an editing/production point of view than preparing a book for print first. This depends some on the book; books with complicated formatting may not be eligible for Smashwords at all. And it depends upon software. More recent versions of InDesign have a "export to digital editions" feature that makes it relatively easy, though not seamless, to move a book from print formatting to ePub formatting.

And that's what I know so far. More later. The Publishing Pro.

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