The world of ebooks is booming. Sales are sky-rocketing. And everyone wants to get their hands on a shiny new reading gadget.

But behind the hype and excitement geared towards consumers, in many ways the ebook market of today is limited by arbitrary (geographical) restrictions and complicated publishing and payout procedures.

For example, the whole business is more American-centric than we maybe would like to believe.

As an independent publisher,  “anyone” can sign up and publish through Barnes & Nobles’  – only you have to be American.

Over at Kindle’s Direct Publishing Platform anyone can sign up and publish ebooks but if you’re not a U.S. citizen expect to wait a long time for your royalty-payments (which are only paid out six weeks after having accumulated $100 dollars  – through snail-mail checks while Amazon gets their percentages the moment your books are sold.).

These restrictions are just the tip of the ice-berg.

Quintessentially, it feels like a market driven more by the interest of marketplace providers (and their internal quarrels) than the interests of readers and publishers.

What to do?

Going Independent

On the one hand, I couldn’t care less what these big marketplaces do.

On the other hand, if my book is not on Amazon, I’m missing out on a huge readership.

So, what to do?

Ignore “The Man”?

Bend to platform restrictions and swallow the hope that things could be done differently?

Neither.

Instead, I offer my publication in as many formats as possible simultaneously and publish it wherever geo-restrictions allow me to do so.

There’s still a lot of headache-potential in dealing with these platforms and formats individually but after doing it over and over again, I’ve come up with a method which (at least for now) makes the process as painless as possible.

Before we go into the nuts and bolts of it, here’s a general rule:

Publishers want their writings to spread – and readers want to read. The shorter the distance between them, the less friction regarding payments and formats the better.

Therefore since my latest e-publication about blogging, I now release my works parallel on Kindle and as what I’ve come to call the “indie-publishing pack” containing a pdf, mobi and epub version – sold and delivered through my own website.

The following tutorial describes how I handled the formatting jungle without losing (all) my marbles.

From Manuscript To Indie Publishing Pack And Kindle Offshoot

Here are a few simple steps in my current publishing process:

1. Writing The Manuscript in HTML

HTM-what? That sounds rather counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why HTML? We are writers, not programmers, right?

The first reason is that the Kindle format is basically just a stripped down version of HTML. So if you’re already writing in HTML from the beginning, you won’t have to struggle with conversion, later.

The second reason is the way certain HTML tags transfer styles across document-formats and programs. More about this later.

Q: So I shouldn’t write my manuscript with Microsoft Word?

Although Word (or Open Office Writer) allow you to save as HTML, I wouldn’t recommend it because the way it structures the code is not very clean and can cause problems later:

Q: So what software should I use?

Basically, anything that outputs pure and clean HTML. I’ve used the freeware Kompozer with great success but WriteMonkey does the same and also Scrivener supposedly outputs clean HTML (I still have to test that).

Note: The way a software like Kompozer works is not all that different from Word. You have all the basic formatting options. But I would make sure (at least in the beginning) to leave all the formatting options like colors and fonts alone and only use bold, italic, underline and the different header styles (very important for auto-generating a table of contents, later)

2. Cranking Out Two Different Versions through Calibre

Once you have your document ready in HTML, open Calibre (freeware) and add the file as a new ebook.

Then, click on the convert button.

There are many things to say about the esoteric settings and methods you can choose here.

Here are two things that I use almost every time:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

As you can see, I have checked the option “force use of auto-generated Table Of Contents” and then selected 3 different HTML header tags for defining the levels.

In simple words, this means that if in my HTML manuscript I used heading 1 <h1> style for Sections or Parts, heading 2 <h2> for chapters or headlines and heading 3 <h3> for sub-headers, Calibre will automatically output a Table Of Contents that people can use to easily navigate on their e-reader.

– STRUCTURE DETECTION

The same principle can be used to automatically insert page-breaks in your document. In my example, there would be a page break before each heading 1 <h1> or heading 2 <h2>.

Once you got everything set up, select MOBI as your output format if you are planning to publish for Kindle and hit convert.

Personally, I convert my manuscripts to MOBI and EPUB to allow people who have other e-reader hardware than the Kindle to enjoy the writing, as well.

3. Building a PDF and going wild with colors and formatting

So far, both the HTML, MOBI and EPUB are without colors, special fonts, headers, footers and all the  other gimmicks one might wish to have in an elegantly formatted publication.

Enter, Open Office.

There’s a simple trick that allows us to turn dry black & white HTML manuscripts into beautiful formatting: COPY & PASTE

Yes, that’s right. Here’s how it works:

When you copy all your manuscript out of Kompozer into Open Office, OO automatically takes on the different core styles.

That means if you used heading 1 and heading 2 in your manuscript OO will pre-select these styles automatically in its own environment. You can then modify these styles for the whole document so that each heading 1 will have the same color, font-size, etc.

This is especially great if you often update the manuscript. You can simply edit the basic HTML and when your done copy and paste it again into OO. It will remember your pre-defined styles and you can easily replace hundreds of pages of texts while OO brings back all your formatting.

More info about OO styles, here.

When you’re done, export as PDF.

4. Wrapping It Up And Delivering The Goods

Once we’re through with this process we have a core manuscript + 3 different formats:

  • PDF: fully colored with special fonts and more
  • MOBI: ready to be uploaded to Amazon’s Direct Publishing Platform
  • EPUB: same like MOBI, but more compatible with other kinds of e-reader hardware
And whenever you want to make edits, simply start from the Manuscript and convert/copy paste to OO again.

Questions, suggestions?

Feel free to leave a comment, below!

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