Free eBook Publishing Guide - Part 3 - Writing Your eBook
by David Viney
Set up a good working environment
An important first step is to create an ideal workspace. This should protect you from distractions, be ergonomic (a “u-shaped” desk works best) and be well-stocked with stationary and equipment. I would upgrade your PC, monitor and internet connection (if you have not done so in the last four years). I would also recommend getting top-notch software; main priorities being Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat Professional, Adobe Photoshop, FTP Voyager and Mobipocket Creator Professional. Check out eBay for second-hand copies to cut costs.
Set yourself up as a publisher
Most authors would like to think that their eBook could one day become a printed book too. As such – and to give yourself maximum flexibility – I would recommend setting up as a publisher in your own right. Don’t both creating a limited company (unless you plan to also publish the works of others in large quantities and for this to be a full-time job). Instead, just simply select a single-word imprint name and register with your local International Standard Book Name (ISBN) Agency (e.g. Nielsen in the UK).
Purchase a minimum ISBN allocation to begin with (currently £77.50 for 10 in the UK) and obtain from the ISBNA an ISBN logbook and a Publisher Prefix certificate. Then complete the form to notify the ISBNA of your first title and it’s details.
Set up your eBook template
In what remains a relatively immature market, there is a great diversity in the hardware, operating systems and file format used to view eBooks. You may wish to convert your book from a master copy to a variety of different formats (including PDF and PRC). I would thus opt to create your master book in Microsoft Word. I would standardise on a 1:1.5 ratio of width to height (which is that most commonly observed); using a Page Set-up (custom size) of 6 x 9 inches and an all-round margin of 1 inch (leaving a visible text area of 4 x 7 inches). With that size, you can halve any print-on-demand costs through two-up printing (i.e. two pages on one A4 sheet).
Formatting the text
In print media, serifed fonts like Times New Roman, Courier or Georgia are commonly used. Serifed fonts have tiny horizontal lines at the end of each character stroke which create a horizontal "track" for the eye to follow. However, computer screens are much less precise than typesetting machines and do a poor job of displaying serifs. For this reason, I would recommend you choose a non-serifed (also called “sans serif”) font for the main text formatting of your eBook. Popular examples include Helvetica, Arial, and Geneva.
You could also adjust the spacing between lines (“leading”) and space between characters (“kerning”) to help the reader scan the text. Use a bigger font than you might for a printed book and stick to even numbered font sizes. Avoid hard page-breaks. As you are not limited by printing costs, make your book colourful and fill it with attractive illustrations! Stick to the so-called web-safe palette of 216 colours to avoid cross-platform issues.
The title and cover
The normal rules of book naming (short, punchy and 68 point font) do not apply to eBooks! Use a main title and a sub-title which, together, tell the reader exactly what the book is about and are loaded with “keywords” that search engines will love. The title of my book, for example, is “The eBook Self Publishing Guide” and the sub-title is “Desktop to Amazon in 10 easy steps”.
Your front cover should, above all else, be professional (use Photoshop!) and observe the rules of contrast. White on dark-blue or black works well! Use a strong cover image but make sure you have obtained permission from the copyright holder or – better still – find “royalty free” images through a simple search on Google. Either way, always credit the image provider, optimise the image file to less than 50kb and save in a .jpg format.
Back cover, front and back matter
The content of the front inside flap is laid down by convention and law. Your ISBNA (Nielsen in the UK) will require you to send a copy of this page to them. You should include a copyright statement and the name of the imprint first publishing the book (together with the date of first publication). You should also include the ISBN number and any printing and distribution instructions.
You can use the 2-3 pages after this for a preface and table of contents. When formatting titles, use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles in the Microsoft Word format menu. Then when you create a standard table of contents (again from the menu) it will produce consistent and attractive results. Using a standard table of contents will also allow you to create bookmarks in your finished PDF eBook (more on this in the next chapter).
The back cover in a traditional book is what most prospective purchasers browse first. The page summarises the content of the book (by means of a “blurb”) and often contains some select reviews (e.g. from newspapers) or endorsements (e.g. from an eminent person in the field). Online, such pages receive less attention (which is good news for the new author). Most of your punters will instead place reliance on the Amazon sales rank, the number of online reviews on and the star rating given to those reviews.
I would thus advise using your back cover to provide a simple summary of “why would I buy this book?” and save your efforts on reviews and endorsements for your Amazon marketing efforts (covered in a later chapter). I would recommend including a barcode (in case you want to sell printed books in the future) and you can find out more at http://www.bowkerbarcode.com/barcode/
The back-inside-flap is normally where the “about the author” content best sits. Alongside a (preferably black-and-white) picture of yourself, you might consider something short and punchy that conveys your credibility & competence as an author.
Before you start writing, create a great working enviornment. With so many target eBook formats, it makes sense to build your master copy in Microsoft Word first. Use 2:3 ratio of width to height and remember that the conventions of traditional printed publishing do not apply to you.