Week 4: Ebook Creation: Learn How, or Find an Expert

A guest post by author and editor Tammy Salyer:

Treat your writing like a passion, but treat your novel like a business.


Tammy Salyer headshot

Learn how to create an ebook or hire someone to do it (including pros and cons of each option).

For someone unfamiliar with HTML or CSS, creating an ebook may seem like black magic. But that doesn’t have to stop you from making ebooks your main self-published medium. Hundreds and hundreds of ebook creators have their shingle up, and a quick web search will find them for you. Better yet, if you’re part of a group of likeminded writers who’ve already gone through the process of having their novels formatted as ebooks, ask them who they used and if they would or wouldn’t recommend this service.

Most of the distribution sites mentioned last week also have a formatting engine that allows authors to use MS Word to create their own ebooks (more on this here). From what I understand, the processes are, for the most part, well designed and outlined. While I haven’t personally done this through any site except Smashwords (which does, indeed, have an easy to follow step-by-step guide), I do know many authors who’ve gotten into violent virtual fistfights with these formatting guides/processes and come away bloody, bruised, and battered, often with published results that fall far short of expectations. The takeaway I glean from this is that if you’re not savvy with writing code and/or don’t have many, many hours to devote to learning and perfecting it, for a professionally designed ebook, you need to hire a professional. More to the point, if this isn’t a skill you already have, why not hire a professional (the cost is often very, very reasonable) and use your creative hours for doing what you love, i.e., writing?

These posts, one, two, and three, explain the trials, tribulations, and errors and different forms of ebook creation software I’ve personally toyed with for my own novels. However, after many iterations with each, I’ve come to the place where hand-building an ebook from code, title page to acknowledgments, is a smooth process for me. And this leads to one of the main things I tell my clients when discussing ebook creation (and which is, I admit, a direct contradiction to the statement above about hiring a professional): knowing how to create your own ebook allows you much more flexibility and responsiveness when you decide to make changes to your books.

Here’s an example. You’ve published your book and it’s had many downloads. One day, a reader leaves you a deservedly glowing review but notes that they found a few typos. What do you do (after much keening and shaking of your fists at the injustices of the universe, that is)? If you’ve created your own ebook, you’ll be able to clean these typos up and republish within a couple of hours. But if not…if not, well then, you’re left with the agony of a long wait—and possibly a larger expense than originally anticipated—of having your formatter address the issues. Other examples include wanting to add “Praise For” pages (a.k.a. “I Love Me” pages) of excerpts from good reviews. And for a personal example: I’ll be publishing the third novel in my military science fiction trilogy this year and will be replacing my cover art for the first two novels to have a cohesive design theme for all. This is going to be much easier when it comes to updating my ebooks since I control all of my own digital files.

In short, like many of the other steps in joining the ranks of the successfully self-published, you have to pick your battles. Whether to put in the time and energy into learning to create your own ebooks or not is a personal choice that should be weighed against other factors, like how much time and money you have, and how much writing you’ll miss out on. One good argument for hiring out is knowing that you won’t have to update your sale files frequently because you’ve made the wise(est?) decision as an author you can and hired an editor, and/or a line or copy editor, and/or, at the very least, a proofreader. We’ll discuss this next week.

For the previous articles in this series:

Week 1: Research. An overview and comparison of the self- vs traditional-publishing paradigms.

Week 2: Business Plans. What an author needs to know to create and adhere to business plans and deadlines.

Week 3: Distributing Your Novel. The general considerations regarding distribution sites.

Have questions about this or other steps in the publishing process? Please ask, and share your experiences, in the comments.

About the author:

Tammy Salyer Headshot

Tammy is an independently published speculative fiction writer and freelance editor. Her fangirl goal in life is to sing karaoke with Commander Mark Hadfield and novelist Neil Gaiman aboard the International Space Station. But she’d settle for digestifs and tea with them somewhere on Earth, too. Please visit her at her website, Goodreads, Amazon, or Twitter.