Self-Publishing: How Hard Does It Have To Be?

I’ve been chiming in on an interesting discussion over on AW about formatting self-published books.  This isn’t a new conversation by any means–it pops up on a regular and routine basis on both AW and other writing forums.

And there’s generally two schools of thought that get thrown out there:

The first says that if you’re going to publish an e-book you must master HTML and tweak your code and use whatever software helps you generate .epubs, etc.  And if you’re going to publish a paperback you need a program like InDesign (I think that’s one of the ones mentioned) so that you can properly format your book.

The second is that you can pretty much accomplish what you need to accomplish using Word.

I fall into the second camp.  But I’ve spent fifteen years of my professional career using Word, too, so I’m very comfortable with it.

I understand why people advocate the first view.  It’s probably the A+ student approach to doing things.  The way to achieve perfection.

But I’m an A- student.  I’m a “this is damned close and those few little tweaks I could do otherwise just aren’t worth the time. money, brain damage involved in getting there” kind of person.  (I also figure past a certain point, no one is going to notice other than another writer who is deep in the weeds on the whole issue.)

Now you can’t just use Word raw.  You need to check out the Smashwords or Amazon guides and figure out how to apply styles to your paragraphs.  Or for paperbacks you should download one of the CS templates and know enough about section breaks/page breaks and inserting headers/footers to use those templates properly.

Whatever route you take, there’s detail work involved and you’ll likely have to preview and tweak your file a few times before it’s ready.  (At least when you’re learning.)

I think the reason many people warn against using Word is they’ve seen it done poorly.  I had a co-worker recently self-pub a story and ask me to take a look. I’m not sure exactly what he’d done in his source file but there were random breaks in a few of his paragraphs and the indent on each paragraph wasn’t consistent.  (Probably used spaces to indent paragraphs instead of formatting his paragraphs with a first line indent, but all I was seeing was the e-book from Amazon.)

Fair enough.

I suspect that as we venture further into this self-publishing world those issues will become less and less because Amazon or D2D or whoever else takes Word files and creates e-book files will build in processes to fix those issues automatically.  Most of the problems like excess spaces or enters or tab can be resolved with find and replace, after all.

Creating your own .epub and .mobi files does allow far more control of the final product, which is what a lot of self-publishers want.  But, honestly, for a 5,000 word short story without chapters…well, there’s only so fancy you can get.

So, if you’ve been holding back from self-publishing because it seems so incredibly daunting and insane, take a breath.  It really isn’t.  You can make it complex.  Just like you can make buying a bicycle complex.  But it doesn’t have to be.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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