Last updated on 5/22/14: I just created my first Amazon Ebook (for Kindle). It is called, “Burned Out on Belt Tightening? (Living Well on Less)” and is available for $3.99 from Amazon. There are differences from designing and formatting an Ebook for Lulu (per my first book, “The Courage of Outliers”), but it is not difficult. The following advice has not been updated since first posting it in May of 2013, because the process remains the same. Enjoy!
There are many decisions to make in determining if self-publishing is the best choice for you. On numerous self-publishing Blogs, a niche market or small potential audience was a major reason listed for choosing this route. Especially in these difficult economic times facing publishers (in 2013), a wide appeal is even more important to most publishers as a means of predicting revenue. Thus, I figured that an LGBT mystery short story collection was unlikely to secure a publishing contract with even a small press. It was just too small a niche!
While self-publishing companies are springing up like dandelions, they mostly charge a lot of money to produce your book and retain the publishing rights. The self-publishing manner that can provide you with the greatest control is to set yourself up as a publishing company – if you have the money and the time to invest in it. The two largest POD (“print-on-demand”) self-publishers at present are CreateSpace (via Amazon.com) and Lulu.com. While they both want you to hire them to create your book, these two self-publishers also enable you to produce the book yourself. I chose Lulu.com because it offered me the options that I was seeking, and I could do it myself for almost “free”. Additionally, I read reviews by their satisfied customers.
On the other hand, I also read comments that both CreateSpace and Lulu did not make it easy to format your book correctly if you wanted to do it yourself; the instructions were sometimes unclear, and especially in terms of the book cover. In my case, a lack of money determined my decision to do it myself (with the exception of an early critique by an Elance.com freelancer). The only other initial cost incurred by me to produce the book was payment to Lulu.com for an ISBN Number.
I digress to add that you do need to buy an ISBN Number, or you won’t be able to sell your book via Amazon or in bookstores. You also want to be sure to list yourself as the publisher so you can retain the rights. At every decision prior to formatting your book’s interior and cover, there will be an array of decisions that will impact where your book will be sold and the retail cost necessary to earn any royalties per book. After setting up an online Lulu account, I plodded through all the choices in order of appearance prior to uploading my book files. For example, there are many options for book sizes but I luckily chose a 6 inch x 9 inch format. That was fortunate because I subsequently learned that this is the most widely accepted size in the marketplace.
You also have to decide on the category in which your book will appear on the Lulu website. I chose mystery rather than LGBT mostly because I thought more people would notice it. It also seemed that the LGBT category mainly displayed books by men. Where were the lesbians? I really don’t know why more gay male authors chose LGBT as a category than lesbians, but it did affect my decision.
One problem with using the book cover template provided by Lulu versus designing it from scratch was that there was no “placeholder” on the top left corner of the back cover to display the categories (e.g., mystery and LGBT) as standard for published books. This is a problem in that bookstores typically require visible categories to know which shelves to place it on!
Once you have selected your options by clicking through their step-by-step process, Lulu has free templates for designing the interior and exterior of the book. It took me about a month of intensive work to produce the interior pages and the book cover (front and back). Afterwards, it took me yet another intensive week to format the E-book. I had read enough comments to grasp that I would have to read through a huge number of web-pages to accurately comprehend their instructions. Sure enough, things did not always look as I expected due to glitches in the templates.
The interior of the printed book will look better if produced with design software such as InDesign. Even though I know how to use it, I could not afford to purchase it. I also didn’t own Adobe Acrobat Professional – and the finished interior pages needed to be saved in that format. The Lulu template for book interiors accepts MS Word. They also can convert the MS Word files into Acrobat. However, this only works if your book is mostly text (no photos). Otherwise, you will need to use Adobe Acrobat to convert your InDesign or MS Word files into Adobe Acrobat.
Backing up to the preparation-for-formatting stage, my best advice in formatting the interior book pages is to first go to the library and thumb through published books. There are usually 2 title pages in a standard book – one with author’s name below it, and the other without it. You will also need to create a copyright page viewable on the back of the first title page. Each new chapter (or story) falls on the right side of the book. There are also front-pages that need to be placed accordingly on the left or right side. If you start with the first page on Page 1 in Lulu’s design template – that will be on the left side; therefore, you need to insert blank pages as necessary to ensure that each chapter starts on the right or even-numbered side.
One of the recommendations that I read on a website was to think about the typeface, line spacing, and justification. I chose Garamond because I like its “look” – and at size 12 because Acrobat shrinks the font. I also chose single spacing with no additional space between paragraphs because most fiction books are formatted that way. Most of all, I took the advice of the bloggers that said to make the typeface easy on the eyes so the reader won’t just give up! Justification was a problem using MS Word in the conversion to Acrobat. While the sentences looked fine on the computer screen, the conversion unevenly stretched some spaces between words. I had to manually correct this incorrect spacing by inserting a line-break. It wasn’t fun, but it eventually paid off in decent-looking pages. It took me several attempts to get the Acrobat version to look good, so stay calm and do it for the sake of your readers! On the other hand, if you want to give up, there are Elance freelancers who will probably do it at a lower cost than the self-publishing companies charge. (By the way, I am an Elance editing freelancer.)
The most important thing to do with your interior book pages BEFORE you copy them into the formatting template is to proofread every page. It will save you a tremendous amount of time to make sure the pages say exactly what you want before you embark on using the template and converting the file to Acrobat. After you have converted your book in the Lulu template into Acrobat, it is likewise important to print it so that you can see how it will look in the real book.
The book cover design process was a royal nuisance. Lulu allows you to design your own one-piece, wrap-around cover (front, back, and spine) but there were many comments about this being a cumbersome process even for graphic designers. The free cover templates were limited in terms of design and font choices. However, I decided to go with the template option as I am not mathematically-inclined (and the spine measurement with “bleed” had to be exact). Also, it sounded like Photoshop Elements (which is all I had in terms of design software) would not be sufficient to produce the entire cover. If you have the full version of Photoshop, it is possible to design the front, back, and spine on separate canvases – and then combine them into a new canvas based on the combined sizes. The advantage to using the Lulu template is that it automatically places the ISBN Number on the back cover. After much ado, I uploaded a photo of my own (with a purchased stock image inserted into it that cost $15) and produced a front cover. Then, I had to write a “bio” and “blurb” for the back cover. Afterwards, Lulu’s sofware converter produced an Acrobat file of the entire cover – and I printed it out to proof it as they strongly urged in their instructions.
My first book cover was red with black letters. While it looked fine on the book, I discovered that this color combination looks blurry on computer screens. I was horrified at the appearance on the Lulu website promoting my book – and on ‘Googling’ for it myself. I had to change the background color (to blue). I have learned my lesson about red covers with black print – they look blurry on preview!
Lulu did a great job with my printed book, and I was very happy with the result (though I’m still thinking of changing the book cover in future when I have the money). I then produced the E-book using their template. For free, I got to market it via the I-Bookstore and Barnes & Nobles Nook Bookstore – after they approved it. I also followed the recommendations of bloggers in desiging my E-book cover. They strongly advised making the book title much larger than normal (and keeping the background image simple) as E-books are marketed at small sizes. I was glad that I followed this advice, as the book appears on the E-bookstore websites as around one inch square. While intricate covers are great for printed books, they just don’t work well for E-books.
My biggest advice to other financially-strapped “do-it-yourself” authors is not to give up when it gets frustrating! If you follow the instructions carefully, you can self-publish!