It’s easy to publish an e-book (part 1): Stop! Are you actually ready?

by limebirdsally

This was originally going to be the second in a three-part weekly series on independently publishing an e-book, with the first outlining how easy it is to go from completed ms to publicly available e-book in just a few hours. However it struck me that the far more logical sequence was to start with this post cautioning that it is equally easy to publish an unfinished ms so the ‘how-to’ guide has been relegated to the final post in the series!

Obviously I’m not talking about anything as obvious as missing the second half of a book, but I’m not being particularly ground-breaking when I say that there are a lot of bad indie e-books out there. Those books where the writer’s repetition of glaring grammar slips makes you wonder if they actually believe ‘it’ charges around the literary landscape seizing possession of everything it encounters; or those where a few pages in, you’re seriously questioning whether they’ve published an early draft by accident and meant to fill in gaps in their plot and characterisations at a later stage.

Those 80,000 words, lovingly crafted and re-crafted again numerous times might seem like a completed book but before you publish your e-book you need to take a huge step back, block out the glowing praise of your friends and family and shield yourself with a small but mighty army of people who will give you the rigorous critique that you need. Writing groups, critique partners and beta readers all play a valuable role and it may be you’re lucky enough to have people within your existing feedback circles able to offer a professional standard of critique. If not, then you’ll need to pay for professional editorial services.

Creative editing – I think this step is often missed when indie-writers are either trying to save on costs or genuinely don’t realise that this is a vital step in the novel writing process. A creative editor will identify those aspects in your plot, characters and writing style that need reworking. Importantly, to be effective, this isn’t a single stage process, but depending on the scale of re-writes you should return to your creative editor (or use a different one) for a fresh critique after you’re happy with the subsequent re-writes.

In a recent post I wrote about how I stupidly drafted and redrafted an entire novel before I realised I’d confused my protagonist’s search to work out the truth of her immutable backstory as a plot in itself. I only sussed this out after having seen an indie author make the same mistake in a published e-book. I would expect a creative editor to pick up on this kind of thing, as well as those ‘show not tell’ moments; problems with characterisations; areas where characters act contrary to the reader’s understanding of them; plot holes etc.

It’s easy to think that because you have an exciting, readable novel that it’s complete, and true you may be a strong enough writer that it’s good enough. But even the best of writers go through a multi-stage creative editing process and do you really want to publish something that could be so much better with a bit more time and investment?

Copyediting – The quality of comments and blogs of the writers who visit this site indicates great intelligence and a high standard of writing and I’m sure none of you would be so daft as to publish a book without having it copyedited πŸ˜› ! Be conscious that no matter how good your attention to detail, when you’re too close to something you miss the errors that will be immediately apparent to a professional copyeditor (although even they can miss things!)

Just make sure you use someone who speaks your native language – no offence, but you people stateside spell a lot of words wrong πŸ˜‰

Formatting glitches – deep inside your computer lurks a gang of deceptively cute-looking gremlins.


They lie in wait as you painstakingly make your word document look exactly the way you want it, patiently waiting as you upload it into the software conversion programme and …weeeeeeee, down they swoop, randomly adding in italics, huge gaps in the text, central justification and all manner of formatting delights you could only begin to imagine. If you ‘speak computer’ like limebirdsophie you might know exactly the soothing words to coax the little monsters away from the toilet bowl where they’ve created a delightful little present that they’re currently smearing all over your beautiful work, but the most that any normal writer can do is say aaaarrrrggghhhhh beeping beeping beep beep beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!

I know that even publishing houses sometimes allow little formatting delights to slip through, but the reality is you can check through your document before you publish it and you can attack the formatting gremlins. It helps to remember that computers are exceedingly logical beings and any glitches in the formatting are a direct response to the underlying formatting in your original document even if you can’t see it.

I have two suggestions for you to try. For minor formatting joys if you understand HTML mark-up you can go directly into the HTML file that the conversion software will have produced and manually change the code (this means nothing to me, but Hubby talks all kind of weird computer languages).

The possibly more practical advice is to return to your original document and strip the formatting. I’m afraid I only know how to work in Word but hopefully you can work out the equivalent. Making sure you have a back-up ( πŸ˜‰ ) cut the entire document and paste it into wordpad and then paste it back into a brand new word document. You’ll then need to manually change all the formatting in this fresh document to the way you want it (if you’re using smashwords their style guide is very easy to use

Hopefully this will sort it. If not, make sure there’s no auto-formatting hidden away in your pre-converted document; and make sure you’re not being too ambitious with the formatting you’ve manually inserted into your document and question whether it’s really required. If that fails, then I’m afraid the only option is to smash your computer in a fit of rage and pull out the little gremlin carcasses from the wreckage.

The indie publishing revolution is fantastic for a number of reasons, but it also makes it too easy to publish books that are simply not ready for publication. It doesn’t matter how talented you are as a writer, how proud you are to have completed a full length novel, or how impressed your friends and family are at your accomplishment, I doubt there is anyone able to write a novel good enough for publication without help and support from industry experts.

Would you dispute anything written here? What advice would you add to writers planning to indie publish?

In the second post in this indie-publishing series next week, “It’s easy to publish an e-book (part 2): Too easy?” I discuss the impact that bad indie books are having on the industry and what might be done to confront this. I really hope you’ll return, ready to contribute to an interesting debate on these issues!


34 Responses to “It’s easy to publish an e-book (part 1): Stop! Are you actually ready?”

  1. This is really good advice. For obvious reasons, a lot of people out there believe that the self-publishing route is only for those people who weren’t good enough to get published via the traditional route. Therefore I really believe that anyone who self-publishes substandard work is doing a disservice not only to themselves, but to the reputation of the indie publishing industry as a whole. Not everyone is going to write a masterpiece, but everyone can take make sure that what they do publish is the very best that they can make it.

    • Hi Vanessa, thank you for commenting. It’s such a shame as more often than not it’s just that the clearly talented indie author hasn’t had the self-editing expertise (and luck!) to gain an agent in the first place and then simply hasn’t had the support to turn the ms into a completed novel!

  2. I don’t know anything about indie publishing, but I have a friend who’s been slightly successful at it. It sounds daunting though.

    “If that fails, then I’m afraid the only option is to smash your computer in a fit of rage and pull out the little gremlin carcasses from the wreckage.” —- ohhhh I’ve had this reaction several times! I think more often than not the gremlin is the one discarding the carcass though! hehe.

    And I wouldn’t say we necessarily spell things wrong…. wait yeah we are butchering the language over here! I think it’s funny sometimes, we have “centre” instead of “center” (which is how we spell center over here) Like, the shopping center in my town is called “The Richmond Centre” and I can’t ever find a reason for why they would spell it like that, other than to make it seem more sophisticated. Anyway, I digress.

    I know when I write things I have my husband read it about 80 times, and then I read it another 800 times and finally feel like it’s ready, at least grammatically. Then I send it off to whoever needs it, school, or Nickelodeon or whatever it is. Then I don’t read it for like half a year because I’m paranoid that what I just wrote and sent off was garbage. Then I finally find it in myself to read it again only to find the stupidest mistakes, typos and stuff that just glare at you from the page. I think it’s really important to write something, edit it then put it down for a bit and come back to it later before you’re ready to declare it done, because those typos and things are easier to spot when you’ve not been ankle deep in it for the past fortnight.

    • Hopefully the little winky smiley got across that spelling comment was very much tongue-in-cheek. Not all our English spellings are the most intuitive and the entire English language is a muddle from a range of origins!

      I’m terrible for computer rage, really brings out the potty-mouth tantrum if a computer doesn’t respond faster than my thought processes – for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be vastly superior to my partially-used little brain!

      I think there is a fine art to self-editing, which can be learnt and the giving yourself space before going back to something you’ve written is definitely a good idea. Better still to pretend it was written by someone you don’t like so you can let it rip with the self-critique! I think when it comes to publishing a novel I think very few writers have the self-editing skills to do themselves justice though.

      • OH no worries I knew you were joking around πŸ™‚

        Ever time my husband and I go to the shopping center we say we’re going to the “Cent-reh” hehehe.

        I”ve never had anything super large to edit over , and certainly woudln’t trust myself to go a good job of novel editing.

  3. “no offence, but you people stateside spell a lot of words wrong”

    It’s even worse when you are trying to put an international team together. I’m having to learn both sets of spellings. I’ve got the major differences down. Just need to work on all the unknown ones.

    I’m stateside, by the way.

    • Sounds like a complete nightmare! It took having a US critique partner correcting all my spellings to the US way without realising we spelt them differently for me to realise just how many differences there are. Good luck!

  4. This is excellent advice – as for formatting gremlins, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about except that i have one template on word that I use to record my dreams, and when I copy paste it into the blogsphere (my dream journal) it has extra spaces between the paragraphs, and I always have to remove them. I think I’ll try the notepad thing and see if it helps.

  5. The notepad/wordpad/text editor idea is a very good one. Even those of us who know HTML and formatting languages benefit from a very simple step like that one. And, looking at all of that code can give one a migraine!

    Also, taking that step back from your story – short story, novella, novel, whatever – is truly invaluable advice. Even when I write small stories in fandom (less than 10K words), I always have to remove myself from the story for at least a day before I can go back and look at it for editing. And once that is done, I step back again, for at least another day, before I look at it again. And you know what happens? Of COURSE, I find more issues! πŸ˜€

    Solid advice all around – can’t argue with any of it. Now, I just hope I’m brave enough to buckle down and take it, when my day comes!

    • My poor husband – I just ask him to sort anything remotely techy out for me. I have to give credit to the pasting into wordpad to the smashwords style guide. It’s incredibly useful for formatting an ms ready for the conversion software.

      Editing a book is a process that could go on for an eternity, isn’t it! I do think self editing is a great skill to have and giving yourself time to step back and go back to it is so useful. Personally I would also always use an professional editor on a full length novel after that to get the view of someone with no emotional investment in me or the the book, but that’s something I’ve decided for myself after seeing how much it made me reassess what I was doing with my writing. Writing is also an area where I’m very open to someone telling me how I could improve. There are many other aspects of my life where I’m less willing to accept criticism!

      I’m sure you’ll work out what’s best for you when it comes to it. You’ll have to come back and tell us how you get on!

      • Oh, I will most definitely be hiring a professional editor for my novel! You’re correct that nothing can replace that. In fact, I’m using a lot of these guidelines to help me narrow down the scope! πŸ˜€

  6. I haven’t published a book, not even writing one. But I am so interested in learning all of these ins and outs, thank you for the info!

  7. Great advice. A lot of books (both indie and pro) are let down by poor editing. A potentially great book can easily miss that special something an editor could have inspired the author to include.

    It’s important that writers and authors think of editors as more than just proofreaders. A good editor will work with an author to help the author create their best work.

    By coincidence I am an editor and any authors are welcome to contact me πŸ™‚

    ( Ed – Website removed)

  8. Great post, Sally. I’ve been curious to learn about your indie experiences. You have gone through a lot! Really sage advice about proofreading and editing, and editing again, and editing again! Poorly edited content can make a huge difference in how a book is perceived. Authors are not taken seriously if they don’t go the extra mile to make sure their work is the best it can be.

    Can’t say that I have ever had those computer gremlins you are talking about. Maybe that’s because I don’t dare try to do special formatting in my manuscripts. I heard that traditional publishing houses don’t want a lot of “special effects” in the submission, and really, half the time they undo all of that hard work anyway.

    But of course, for indie publishing it’s a different ballgame, so my experience doesn’t really count!! πŸ™‚

    Love your comment about the differences in how we spell, btw! πŸ™‚

    • Ah the gremlins come out to play when you use the conversion software to convert your word document into a format that can be downloaded into e-book readers.

      I’m glad it was obvious the spelling comment was a joke!

      • Oh, I getcha! That would explain why they’ve left me alone thus far!

        Yes, got the joke. It was cute.

        My father was born somewhere around London, and even though he has lived in the States for over 50 years, he was absolutely USELESS when it came to helping us kids with our spelling lists. πŸ™‚

  9. Sally this is great advice. Thanks for posting this. I’m pursuing traditional publishing but if I decide on the e-route, I’m going to make sure I come back here and re-read everything you said! πŸ™‚

    • You seem to be making good headway with the traditional route, so hopefully you can ignore everything on here!

  10. Wise words Sally. And being stateside, writing for a British publisher has been quite the challenge for me! πŸ˜‰

  11. I’m not sure if this post frightens me, or spurs me on! I haven’t got anything anywhere near ready for publication, but if I ever do, I’ll definitely take all of this on board. I can’t say I’ve had those pesky gremlins in an e-book, but I’ve definitely had them in general when I’m writing something for work. I’ll do something all nicely and then I’ll put it somewhere else and everything will have gone to pot. Very annoying.

    However, for formatting I definitely do what you advise and put things into notepad, that’s a really good tip! I do that on a daily basis, haha!

    Anyhoo, awesome post, I’m looking forward to part 2! (Even though I’ve had a teeny tiny sneak peek….)

    Oh yeah… and you guys stateside definitely spell things wrong! πŸ˜›

    • Basically to publish an e-book you have to put your word document through conversion software to produce an e-reader-friendly version. That’s when you get all the gremlins. For example you’ll be reading an e-book and suddenly one paragraph will be justified to the centre rather than the left, or there’ll be a couple of lines written in italics that shouldn’t be. It can be a nightmare for the author as it seems so illogical!

      • Sally, I have found that just using the conversion software in an iterative way helps. I convert, look at the e-result and then go back to the original and tinker where the e-results were wrong. Then do another conversion and repeat. I don’t use much special formatting, but working methodically and producing lots of versions means that, after a few cycles, things should look how you want them to look.

    • I had a phone conversation with a Twitter follower last week. He gave me some valuable tips about e-book formatting. The first thing is to put the whole document in Notepad if you have a PC. (Don’t know about Mac) That strips all the extra formatting away. While in Notepad you can make sure there are no extra lines except where you want them, such as the beginning of chapters or scenes and whatnot. Also, I would suggest no space between normal paragraphs. Looks weird on e-readers. Once you do that, you put the document back into a more complicated word processor such as Word, putting in some formatting. But keep it light on formatting for e-books. No fancy fonts or drastic changes. Simple is better for e-books. But I’m no expert by any means. Just passing on some tips to get the Gremlins out.

      • Yes that’s definitely the best way to avoid the conversion software picking up unintended formatting, thank you! The spacing is a good idea. Another good hint is to not use the tab button, but standardise your paragraph formatting through the paragraph tab on the tool bar. Also if you don’t work on it in show mode, as you’re doing your final read through click on the show formatting button so you can see exactly what formatting you have in the document. Have a good weekend!

  12. Great post. This will definitely be helpful (when I get there).

    Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting to say, but I fried my brain on my WIP this morning!

  13. Thank the Lord! I’m not against indies but sheesh! If you have a crap/underdeveloped MS don’t publish it until you fix it!


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