6 easy (and free!) steps to publishing your first ebook

Let's make you an author

Writing a book is a lifelong dream for many of us. Luckily, tech’s moved forward in such a way that you no longer need an agent and a beautifully-bound manuscript to make your writing dreams happen: you can self-publish directly to Kindle, and people can start enjoying your work straight away.

It’s free and surprisingly easy. These 6 simple tips will take you from a wannabe to a published author, and maybe earn you a bit of cash along the way. We’d love to see more female authors gaining the recognition they deserve, so here’s our guide on how to publish your first ebook.

6) Remember shorter can be better

Your first ebook doesn’t have to be a full-length novel. These days, fiction is often consumed in bite-size chunks on phones on the train or on a tablet whilst grabbing a coffee. Start with a few short stories or a novella. Non-fiction can be shorter too. Focus on a specific area of your speciality – your gap year travel guide could be split into a series of short e-books by country, activity or work opportunities.

5) Let the finished manuscript ‘rest’

After a couple of weeks, read it again with fresh eyes – grammatical mistakes, word repetition, overuse of adjectives and adverbs – all of these will now be easier to spot. Reading aloud slowly is great for spotting errors in text. Get someone else to check it over if possible – but be prepared to take criticism!

At this point, a full-length novel would benefit from a professional edit but this is expensive and there’s no guarantee of success, so only pay if you can afford it, and don’t expect it to necessarily be recouped in sales.

4) Format the manuscript for publication

Download Mark Coker’s free Smashwords Style Guide – How to Format Your Ebook. Don’t panic at the length of this book, most of it isn’t relevant to a straightforward text-only manuscript. The most important things to grasp from Coker’s manual are:

  • An e-book manuscript is free-flowing text without page numbers and without a pre-set page length. The reader determines the page length by her choice of font size on her Kindle, tablet or phone.
    Do NOT create paragraph indents using the tab key. When beginning the manuscript, pre-set the first-line paragraph indent so that uniform paragraph indentation will happen automatically each time ‘enter’ is pressed. In Microsoft Word 2010 this is done via the small arrow at the bottom right-hand-side of the Paragraph box on the Home tab, for instance.
  • Customise and use the ‘Styles’ function within Microsoft Word. This will standardise the headings and body text throughout your book.
  • Create a linked table of contents to enable the reader to jump directly to particular parts of the book. This is particularly useful in short story collections and non-fiction books.
Hopefully something a little more modern than these. Image: iStock/Luoman

3) Create the cover

People do judge a book by its cover. Amazon listings provide only a thumbnail image and readers decide in a split second whether or not to click. So the cover must be clear and uncluttered and it must make an impact. An ebook cover can be obtained in three ways:

  • DIY. If you or a friend have graphic design skills then this is the way to go. But if art isn’t your strong point, beware of producing a shoddy image.
  • Use Amazon’s Cover Creator software. During the upload of your book to Amazon, you’ll be given the option to use this free functionality to create the book cover. It’s easy and quick. The software includes a range of stock images, fonts and colour schemes. Do bear in mind, though, that a cover created this way cannot be used on another ebook sales platform.
  • Pay someone else. I’ve had several successful covers created for $5 each by the designers on Fiverr.com (make sure they have permission to use any artwork or elements they didn’t personally create). Alternatively there are many professional cover designers out there who’ll do an excellent job, but they’ll charge a lot more money.

2) Upload and publish

Log in to Kindle Direct Publishing with your existing Amazon account credentials. The site will ask for various bits of information relating to royalty payments so that Amazon can pay directly into your bank account once a month. There’s also a tax questionnaire to complete. Have your National Insurance number ready in order to avoid paying US tax on royalties. Then follow the prompts to upload your first ebook.

Think carefully about Product Description, Categories and Keywords – include terms that readers might search with in order to find your type of book. Also consider your pricing strategy. Don’t overcharge for a short book – have a look at the prices of other books of a similar length and genre.

1) Market your book

An online presence is vital for marketing an ebook. This is best achieved via a mix of social media, blog, and website. Authors tend to do better if their virtual persona has been built up prior to publication because followers will be ready and waiting to buy the book. But beware of constantly shouting ‘Buy my book!’ – mix marketing posts with friendly chat about yourself and whatever interests you. Follow and interact with other people. Blog about the subject of your book, especially if it’s non-fiction.

That’s publishing for Kindle in a nutshell – not so hard, is it? And even better, the more you put into publishing, the more you’ll get out of it. Best of luck, and we’ll see you in the bestseller charts.

Main image © iStock/Hocus Focus