Free advice on self-publishing for free

Let’s assume you have already decided to go it alone. Maybe you have a pile of rejections threatening to teeter over and bury you, or maybe you are simply unwilling to invest the stamps and months required to contact agents and publishers. Or perhaps like me you just have a problem with authority figures.

I’ve had some good experiences with my publishing experiments with Amazon, so I stuck with them for my first “serious” effort. I was particularly intrigued by CreateSpace which is an Amazon drone that offers a print on demand service. Previously if you wanted to see yourself in actual print you’d be in the seedy realms of vanity publishing, drowning the world in words no one else would put any money into. This is different, you can waft through the whole process without spending a penny, and your mum can still order an actual print copy of your book.

Second assumption, you have a document and you have gathered at least four well-wishers together to proof read it. Twice each preferably, which may cost you goodwill, but trust me and invest it now. I said you would not have to spend money, but that is not the only thing of worth. I was lucky because a mixture of family, and friends who are writers and reviewers themselves helped me out. That gave a blend of unfettered plot advice, as well and invaluable grammar tweaks.

By now you have noticed I like long sentences, this is an instinct which needs reigning in.

Make sure you proof read yourself again before you hit the go button. I’ve read books with big publishing houses behind them that are riddled with errors and that winds me up no end.

Set up your project in CreateSpace first, before you dive into Amazon, they’ll Kindlise the whole thing for you (which you will then have to dump, but bear with me). Go for all the free stuff, and avoid the paid stuff, it all looks hideously expensive anyway.

You’ll get an email from them offering their extensive services, and as soon as you tell them you are going solo they will leave you alone.

I took all the shortcuts on offer at this stage, so I picked up their 6×9 Word template and pasted all my text into it. It is a limited template, and it went horribly wrong on the table of contents, which I had to do over myself, but as long as you set your headings up as a style you’re OK using Word for this bit. The print version won’t hyperlink anyway.

Check it again. Many years in business have taught me that people make mistakes. That is not a good thing or a bad thing, it is just a thing that is true.

To be honest for the text part that is about it, you load it all up, CS check it, but if you used their template it should all work swimmingly. The tricky part is designing your cover.

The CS cover creator is limited and clunky, but it will do an acceptable job, and it is free. There may be other tools on the web, but I stuck with CS because they work out spine widths for you. I photoshopped ten different cover designs and tested them on my friends before settling on one. The images were ones I had photographed myself so there were no copyright issues. If you pluck something from the ether then be sure to check you have permission to use it.

If you’re interested the album of covers I played with are on fbook:

The picture went into their cover creator and then I had to dick around with the title and cover text to get something half decent. I’m not terribly happy with it, but it looks OK. My real problem was with the back cover. The creator tries to be helpful and resizes text to fit pre-positioned boxes for the blurb and about the author section. You can delete these if you want, but I found it maddening that I didn’t have font size options. It also slightly indents the first lines which is a really antiquated way of presenting text. I think it is possible to use some html gubbins to make this more flexible, but I last touched that in the days of Netscape.

Once you’re happy with everything, it gets picked up in the process flow, and you’re on your way. One tip: if you make changes you have to go through every step of the cover creator before it will let you save it . Don’t forget to save your changes. Surprisingly easy to do [whistles nonchalantly].

CS will review it for printability, which takes a few hours and then you get your first money spending choice. Do you order physical proofs, or make do with the pdf version? If you are outside the US the postage is extortionate, unless you are willing to wait two months for them to arrive. I wasn’t, and I needed to see and feel the book, so I opened my wallet here. The point is you don’t have to. If you are convinced by the quality of your proofing the pdf may be OK. I got lucky, when I put the picture of the proof copies on fbook one of my friends found a typo on the back cover, which was the only part of the text that was not proofed by anyone but me.

Be particularly careful to look for odd line spacing and lines with just a space and then carriage return on them, instead of just the return. Sometimes these print as a little box. You will have to go through your text and clear all of them out (I did a find and replace on <space>^p with just ^p).

I was publishing a set of short stories, and to be fair the first version was a bit thin at 18k words, but fortunately I had been working on another and so after the proofs arrived I could boost the whole thing by another 8k words. 26k words take up 82 pages. It is still a pretty slim volume but a little more substantial in the hand.

CS will run their checks again after you have made your edits. You can then go through and get the volume passed through to your Amazon account to be loaded as a Kindle volume. Don’t use the version CS make for you as the contents page on mine was nasty, and it didn’t hyperlink.

I use Sigil for ebooks, but there are plenty of free ebook tools around. I like Sigil because it checks the coding for you as it goes along, and fills in all the html gumph that you need for you. You can basically use it as a limited word processor and let it do the rest for you.

Amazon also provide a free Kindle previewer, so once you have converted your book into an epub document you can fire it into their previewer and see how it will look on a Kindle. Epub also works if you are going via Lulu to get a listing on the iBookstore and B&N.

Sigil is pretty intuitive, you just need to set up a new html file inside your project for every section, and then assign a meta tag to it (basically a label, is it the copyright page, or the cover, or the acknowledgements page). It uses the same heading styles approach as word processors, and you can use this to produce your table of contents (which you need to tag as the contents).

Load the epub into the Kindle management pages, and then give it 12 hours to be checked and passed.

That’s it, you’re live, your customers can order a print copy or an electronic copy, so go ahead and start marketing.

Hardcopy from the createspace estore:
Kindle US:
Kindle UK:
Kindle Canada:
Kindle India:


I used CreateSpace again for my second book. I did research Smashwords, but their process seemed to lack the simplicity of CS. A word of warning – this time I went for the expert set up and a 5×8 book size. In the expert mode of CS you have to upload a print ready pdf file, not just the formatted word file. My rather clunky pdf editor couldn’t handle the conversion of a 5×8 format book, so I had to scratch the project in CS and start over, this time choosing the guided option. Not a major issue, but a bit annoying.

The cover sizing guide is good, and I used it to make my own cover entirely in photoshop this time round. It looks quite smart if I do say so myself!




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