Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pulling the Trigger: Electronic Self-Publishing

It’d be easy to ascribe my decision to publish Jefferson’s Road on Amazon as an e-book to simple impatience. What writer isn’t eager to see his baby take its first steps? I could add to this the incredible opportunity in the market: Jefferson's Road: The Spirit of Resistance is all about angry American citizens acting on that anger and taking up arms against the government. It is timely, to say the least.

But after reading Randy Ingermanson’s and Joe Konrath’s articles about the future of e-books versus p-books (print books), I decided to take the plunge.

And I’d recommend a similar course to anyone wanting to publish for the same reasons. But be forewarned: putting your baby out there is a bold move, and you’d better be prepared to follow through.

So what steps should an author take to e-publish their book?

1. Perfect Your Product

This bears repeating: Write the best novel or non-fiction book you possibly can. Then rewrite it. Polish, polish, polish. Get some fellow writers to play Simon Cowell for you. Just because you’ve written the best novel you can doesn’t mean that it is, in fact, any good yet. You need to have the best product possible to stand above the crowd.

This is especially critical when it comes to e-publishing, because you probably won’t have an agent or an editor to point out mistakes; whether typos or major plot errors.

You can find good critique groups at places like, or even craigslist. Take a class on fiction writing at your local community college. This may be a little pricey, but it’s well worth the time and money, and it can network you to other writers, readers, and editors.

2. Prepare Your Platform

If there is any area where I’m weakest, it’s this. I don’t have much of a platform. I am on Facebook and MySpace, but not on Twitter yet (I’m old and don’t “get” it), and I have an inconsistently maintained blog. So other than chatting on various forums, I don’t have a large internet presence. I have to remedy this quickly without becoming a marketing troll.

When it comes to E-publishing, no one but you has any stake in your success. Therefore, build as large an audience as you can before you launch, and keep right on building afterwards. Books are sold by word of mouth more than anything else, so get word of your book into many mouths. Announce your book on Identify the tags people might associate with your book and set these up as alerts in Google. When I find relevant forums where people are discussing what I write about, I sign up and introduce myself (still guarding against marketing troll behavior).

Look at Amazon’s “tag cloud” to see what people are searching for. Use this information so your book stands out in the search rankings. Another helpful resource toward this end is This service offers a quid pro quo for writers. You tag the books listed on the site, and the authors who’ve posted previously will tag yours. Staying active and current with tags is required to stay listed on the blog. Be forewarned: there are many different books listed, and you may not wish to support them all.

Get a website. You can reserve a domain name for less than ten dollars if you shop around, and free hosting sites abound. I’ve found one that let’s me set up my website,, using a convenient template. All I have to worry about is content and announcing it to the world.

Put your website, blog, and book distributorship (be sure these link directly to your book and not just to Amazon or Smashwords’ general site) in your email and forum signatures. Everyone who sees your name should immediately associate it with your book.

Blog often. At least weekly. Add or change your website content weekly as well. This way you will rise in the search rankings for your tags (you have listed these tags on your website and blog, right?) Ping your blog and website every time you update them. I use and, but there are numerous others.

Send out a press release. Smashwords has a free e-book that describes how to do this in detail, and you can sign up for a free service at

Put a book trailer on youtube. Mine is here. I did it on Windows Movie Maker (comes pre-installed on most systems), but there are better packages. has royalty free background music, and many places offer high-quality, low-price, royalty-free video clips to incorporate in your trailer as well. I recommend for price. I recorded the voice-overs with an inexpensive microphone and Audacity, a free sound recording/editing program available from

3. Polish Your Packaging

Ever hear, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Hogwash. That may be good advice for how to treat people, but it’s lousy when it comes to books. We judge books by their cover art and titles long before we pick one up and flip through the first page or two.

Unless you’re a talented graphic artist, you should get help with your book cover. Smashwords has a list of experienced graphic artists, or see if you know one who might do you a favor.

If you choose to build your own cover, save it as a jpg. 300 dpi (that’s dots-per-inch) is industry standard for print. For the web, it can be a little less. Remember, you can always take a high quality image and reduce it, but you cannot take a low quality image and improve it.

4. Follow the Formatting

This one surprised me. I had visions of creating a computer version of a print book, complete with headers and footers, page numbers, and a front and back cover. I even prepared a fancy pdf with justified margins and clever little scene dividers.

This was an utter waste of time.

Pages are irrelevant when it comes to e-books. So are fancy fonts and font sizes. If you already have an e-reader, this will make perfect sense. If not, download the Kindle for Computer e-reader from Amazon (it’s free) and grab a sample chapter from your new favorite political thriller author (me!). This way, you can see what an e-book will look like once it’s produced.

Page breaks, headers and footers, and oddball fonts don’t translate well (if at all) in an e-book. It’s better to stick to basic fonts and sizes. Remove your headers and footers.

Both and have different requirements, and if you don’t format correctly, it will prevent your book from appearing on the sites. You can find the submission guidelines on their respective websites. If your book has pictures, follow the guidelines carefully. Different electronic formats can do funky things to graphics. Save your e-book manuscript as a different file than your regular manuscript, so you don’t wind up making a horrible mistake and losing everything.

Amazon and Smashwords each have their respective advantages. Amazon clearly has the edge when it comes to distributorship and marketing through its use of tags, listmania, and rankings. But Smashwords widens the distribution beyond just Amazon to the other major e-book distributors as well. Smashwords will also provide you with a free ISBN. This won’t be the same as for your print book. Each version of your novel has to have its own unique ISBN. It’s possible to publish on Smashwords, obtain the ISBN through them, and have them convert your book into the necessary format for Amazon’s Kindle. They’ll even distribute it to them for you.

Once your book is converted, take a careful look through it before it goes “live.” Better to correct any mistakes now than after someone pays good money to buy your product, only to find it full of errors and amateur mistakes.


5. Rally Your Readership

Turn your readers into fans. Solicit their feedback. Post their reviews on your blog (and get them to post them on Amazon, etc.). Honor their purchase with a heartfelt thank you and a personal note. Invite them to sign up for a newsletter (monthly if you can hack it, quarterly if not), and provide them with stimulating content. Keep them abreast of what you’re doing–especially when it comes to your work in progress.

Build faithful readers by continuing to publish more books, maintaining the same or better quality as the last time. It’ll take several novels before you make a living at e-books, but it can be done, and maybe even more easily now than ever. Your writing career is in your hands. Make the most of it.

Jefferson’s Road: The Spirit of Resistance

The reasons were compelling--reasons he'd thought of himself. Reasons he himself had written in cyberspace for all the world to see.

Reasons to kill the president.

But his brother wanted him to go beyond writing about it, beyond talking about it.

His brother wanted him to pull the trigger.

Tension builds throughout this novel as discussion segues into action; suspense mounts from the question always dangling in the forefront of reader's mind: will he do it?

Michael Scott's masterfully written novel explores what could be the very real, very private thoughts of angry American citizens . . . and what would happen if those citizens acted on their thoughts.

Chillingly realistic; frightfully feasible.

Jefferson's Road: The Spirit of Resistance is available on and at For more information about this series, please visit
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