My Self-Publishing Journey – Four


3: Create Smashwords Version

Again, dead easy in principle: I just followed the instructions in the Smashwords Style Guide, and uploaded a .DOC file to Smashwords, who then run it through their infamous “Meatgrinder” to produce many different ebook formats. The Meatgrinder is incredibly picky, and even if it is apparently happy you’ll need to check the result yourself by downloading each of the output files and reading it. The epub version is the important one: I checked it with Adobe Digital Editions (free download). I had to go round several times before I got something I was happy with.

Some tips:

  • Don’t use the word “Chapter” in a style name or you’ll get random page breaks
  • I found the best way to get Page Breaks where I wanted them was to take full control with manual page breaks before chapters, not specified in the style definition
  • Follow the Style Guide in creating the front matter
  • Make sure that all the Styles are derived from Normal, and only specify the changes (font size, alignment, spacing etc) that are necessary
  • Note that you can only run a document through the Meatgrinder by publishing in Smashwords – there is no such thing as a trial run.

Next time I do this I’ll probably get hold of a tool to create epub files and make it myself, rather than relying on the Meatgrinder. I’ve had a play with Calibre and it looks promising.

4: Create CreateSpace Version

Now this is an entirely different kettle of fish: with the ebook versions (for Kindle and Smashwords) the author has no control over page size or font size. The text is reflowable, like a web page (which is exactly what an ebook is).

For CreateSpace, on the other hand, you are now typesetting a physical book. You have to decide on the page size, margins, font, font size, leading (space between lines) and everything else about how the pages look. All of these will change the number of pages required: more pages = higher production cost and less margin for the author! Fewer pages = overcrowded text and a reader who possibly feels short changed. There is a lot of detailed advice within CreateSpace.

I went with Garamond 12.5pt, 0.76cm first line indent, 1.08 multiple line spacing in a 5.06” x 7.81” trim size. I downloaded a Word template as a starting point from here but found I wasn’t impressed by the paragraph styles or sample contents, which were all over the place.

Here is an article which covers most of the basics:

But the real killer is working out how to do decent typesetting (no widows and orphans, text looking nice…) while only using Microsoft Word, which is NOT a typesetting program. There was some great advice here:

I chose to upload a PDF file made with the Software602 Print2PDF driver, which gives a lot more control over output than the PDF builder included in Word. You can specify to include all fonts, and the PDF type (X/1).

5: Cover Design

It is a truth universally acknowledged that readers really do judge a book by its cover, so you need a good one. Or two, actually: one for ebooks, which has to look good even when reduced to a thumbnail, and another for the POD edition which includes back and spine.

The ebook cover should be a JPEG file: 1563×2500 resolution works well everywhere. I use Photoshop Elements for producing smaller versions as and when required. The POD version will be a PDF: CreateSpace provide a template once you’ve decided on your trim size and know how many pages there will be. They also have a “Cover Creator” tool which I didn’t use as I wanted full control of the result.

Graphic design is a highly specialised skill, and typography even more so. The odds of a writer being able to do this well are very low, and pretty much all the sources of good advice say that this is the very last area that a new writer should try to save money.

I was lucky enough to have direct access to someone with the skills, but if you don’t then there are many options.

For the super-cheap option you could try Fiverr, where there are people who offer to create a cover for $5. Or maybe a little more if you want useful extras like a POD version as well, or a PSD file (Photoshop file so you can make minor changes yourself afterwards).

Or you can buy a ready-made cover that’s just waiting for your name and title to be added, for example here or here. And, of course, a near-infinite supply of people waiting to part you from hundreds of dollars for a custom design.

Remember that anything other than a very expensive option is likely to involve the use of a stock photo image, which may be used for other books. There are some photos which turn up over and over again… Here are some good examples.

Your mileage will vary: personally, I wouldn’t work with someone who refused to supply a PSD file (as many of these suppliers will) to allow me to make minor textual tweaks without having to pay more money and/or wait until they got round to it.