The publishing world is going through a period of tremendous change, but not in any way that should frighten us writers. In fact, the changes are incredibly empowering. Instead of having to rely on a bloated corporate infrastructure centered in one of the most expensive cities in the world (New York), we can now cut out the middleman and epublish their own works for virtually nothing.
Because of this, agents and legacy publishers are doing all they can to convince us writers that producing an ebook is somehow a difficult process requiring professional help. Well, guess what: it's not! Using 100% free and open source software, I can produce a professionally formatted ebook in less than an hour from the comfort of my own home.
Less than an hour.
And for this, some agents and e-stributors are asking for a 50% commission--potentially thousands of dollars. That's like writing the kid down the street who mows your lawn into the mortgage of your house!
Of course, that doesn't mean that the process is easy--at least, not at first. There is definitely a steep learning curve. When I made the decision to epublish, I put out a few short stories first because I knew I was going to make mistakes. And oh boy, did I ever.
First, I uploaded my stories as .doc files and trusted Amazon's automatic converter to magically turn them into ebooks. But doing this limited the number of features I could include, such as cover art or a table of contents. And the automatic converter did all kinds of weird and wacky things to my formatting, too.
So I downloaded a program called Mobipocket Creator, which compiles HTML files and JPEGS to produce an ebook in the .prc or .mobi format. All well and good, except when I tried to save my manuscript as an HTML file, it would still have problems (like extra spaces between paragraphs, for example).
How did I fix that? I downloaded a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor and tweaked it that way. HTML and CSS are fairly easy to learn--in fact, you can take free tutorials at w3schools.com--but you have to be willing to break into the code and play around with it for a while. For example, I fixed the paragraph break problem by inserting margin-top: 0in; margin-bottom: 0in; into the CSS code for Western style paragraphs at the top of my HTML document.
So now, here's what I do: I make all the formatting changes (font, spacing, italics, em dashes, etc) in my word processor, save as HTML, tweak the HTML file in the WYSIWYG editor and include anchors and links for the table of contents, compile it with the cover art in Mobipocket Creator, and export as an ebook. Voila!
I could give a long and detailed description of all the little formatting tweaks I did for my novel Genesis Earth, but the truth is my process is always changing, and I might figure out a more efficient way to do it tomorrow. The point is, this is totally something that you can teach yourself. All you need is patience, tenacity, and a willingness to do some research and make mistakes.
And seriously, if you're a writer, aren't those qualities you already possess?
This is something you can do--it really is! Six months ago, I knew nothing about ebook formatting, and just last week I produced a professionally formatted ebook without paying anyone to do it for me. And the really cool part? Every time somebody purchases my book, I get 70% of the cover price. I'm earning more per book at $2.99 than a traditionally published author at $7.99, and my readers have the satisfaction of knowing that their money is going directly to support me, the author, not some overpaid corporate executive in New York.
The publishing world is changing, but not in a way that should frighten us writers. If we take the time to learn the new technology, there's no reason why we can't do it ourselves. And if we can build a successful business model doing that, we can earn more from our craft than writers have ever earned before.
And isn't that the dream--to write full time for a living? It's certainly mine, and that's why I'm more excited now than ever.
Joe Vasicek is an indie published writer whose