Stylin’

This afternoon I completed the file conversion process and uploaded my new novel to Amazon KDP. Within a couple of days it should be live. (I’ll add a link here to the book page when it becomes purchasable. You are going to buy a copy, I’m sure. And maybe a few extras for your friends?)

If you’re contemplating getting into the self-publishing game, perhaps I can spare you one or two headaches by offering an assortment of possibly relevant details on what I encountered. It’s all very doable, this self-publishing thing, but if you’re not tech-savvy you may want to hire somebody to do the heavy lifting for you. Me, I did it myself.

I write fiction in Scrivener. It’s a lovely word processor, and it will export an EPUB file, which is what Amazon wants you to upload for the e-book. Unfortunately, Scrivener’s EPUB formatting sucks, pretty much. Also, you can’t load an EPUB into the Amazon Kindle app, not on a PC anyway, which means you can’t even discover how badly it sucks. So there’s a multi-step process.

First, use Calibre (free software, yay!) to convert the EPUB to a .mobi file. This is a two-click process. The .mobi file can then be dragged and dropped into Kindle. After discovering how badly Scrivener has hosed the EPUB file, you load it into Sigil (also free, yay!) and start tweaking the .css stylesheet. Then save the edited file, delete the previous version from both Calibre and Kindle, reload into Calibre, re-convert to .mobi, rinse and repeat.

Sounds like fun, not. Fortunately, I have a bit of experience with html and .css, having slapped together my own website 20 years ago. (Not the current website, I hasten to add. That’s a thoroughly professional design, not my own fumble-fingered code.) I even have reference books.

The novel includes several short paragraphs that are handwritten notes sent from one character to another. These needed to be set off from the main text with blank lines. For some unknown reason, Kindle did not want to do this. So I had to edit the margin-bottom and/or the margin-top in the stylesheet. Stuff like that.

Along the way, I designed my own cover. It doesn’t look professional, but I like it. So here’s a tip: Finalize your page count before you start designing the cover. If the spine width changes, your graphic file may be a number of pixels too wide or narrow. Editing a multi-layered graphics file in GIMP (more free software, yay!) to add seven pixels to the right edge of the image is not easy. The KDP website will give you a template to load into GIMP so you can see where the spine will be and how much variance there is in the trim. This is more than handy, it’s essential.

I also did my own interior layout for the paperback, using Adobe InDesign. You don’t want to hear about that process. InDesign is not free, it’s a $22 per month subscription that has been leaching out of my bank account for several years now. As soon as this book is live and I’ve seen a copy, InDesign is going bye-bye. If I ever write another novel, it won’t be ready for prime time for at least two years, possibly longer, so there’s no reason to keep the subscription.

I know a lot of people use Microsoft Word for their e-book and paperback file prep. I can’t even imagine trying to do that. My tools are more toward the expert end of DIY. I guess if you’re a Word expert you can get it to sit up on its hind legs and bark for a biscuit, but doing things like controlling the kerning and placing the drop-caps so they look nice are a lot easier in InDesign, I’m quite certain, because InDesign is a tool for professionals. Word tries to make it eee-Z, and that’s pretty much a recipe for a mess, in my opinion. I’d rather drag the drop-cap into position, edit the stylesheet, and do whatever else is needed.

I do my own copy-editing and proofreading too. If you’re not a professional editor, you would be well advised not to imagine that you can do that. What with one thing and another, there’s a lot more to self-publishing than just writing a good book.

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