Screenshot from Kindle of a page from The Illuminated Hope and the Black Lion
Do you really understand the spiritual warfare taking place in publishing? Christian publishers and bookstores are, to put it mildly, not very Christian anymore. There is a desperate need to make writers aware that secularism is a real and powerful enemy determined to prevent the dissemination of any works with a truly godly and scriptural basis.
Conventional publishing, Christian and non-Christian, seems to be completely lost as an avenue of getting the truth out. Christians have allowed so much of the world in, praised such small bits of semi-religious content, scrabbled for any crumbs of good that could be found in a work, that the leaven has leavened the whole lump and there seems nothing left that is pure, good, lovely, or of good report.
Independent publishing disseminates truth when truth is stifled. Writers don’t have to see their message suppressed by indifferent or hostile publishers and literary agents. They don’t have to watch the mangling or destruction of truth, if they are “accepted,” by an editor who “knows what will sell” but doesn’t care what must be preserved because it is right.
E-readers come in many formats. Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony Reader Store, and Kobo are only a few. Smart phones can display e-books. Many e-readers are grayscale. Nook has a color version. Amazon’s Kindle Fire, coming soon, will also support color. People can, of course, read books on their computers.
An e-author should still make his work as “perfect” as he can. Grammar, spelling and punctuation matter to most readers. The work must be original. The author must own the rights. After that, there are two basic ways to translate the book into e-format.
First, an e-author can produce a .pdf document and distribute it online. It can be formatted much like a conventional print book, with specific margins, numbered pages, spacing and fonts like a “real” book. It can have illustrations, in full color if the author wishes, and emulate the size and shape of a print book. Open Office Writer, and the newer versions of Microsoft Word, can convert the document to a .pdf which will look just like the author lays it out. Many e-readers can read a .pdf document. There are limits to how well it can display if the author formats his document rigorously like a conventional book.
The second method produces an e-book formatted very differently from a print book. The author is creating a type of HTML document, similar to a webpage on the internet, that will change its size, shape, font size and type, and almost everything else from e-reader to e-reader. There are no “pages” as such. The person reading the book can make more changes as he reads the book on his reader. He can in most readers make the font larger or smaller, rotate from portrait to landscape mode, and in some even change the color of the font and background.
If the author has formatted his work like a conventional book, or even with inconsistent styles, and converts it to this second form, it will likely have large blank areas, lines that end in strange places, varying fonts the author can’t even see in the original, and other problems that will make a reader think the book is defective. For most e-readers, it is better to use the second method of formatting, especially to allow the book to be read on as many format readers as possible.
Although there are many sites that accept e-books for free distribution or for sale, and many are free to upload, some charge, some reserve the right to reject what is submitted, and all take a percentage if the book is to be sold. Some sites (such as Booklocker) ask that an entire work be submitted for review. The author is notified if the site declines to publish it. Marketability is one factor in this decision. Content criteria, like rejecting “hate speech,” discrimination, or objectionable content can also be a factor. All sites require an author to be able to list “tags” and search keys to make his work “visible” on the Internet so that people can find it in search engines. Most upload sites have easy places to enter these words reflecting content, identifying and describing the work.
This article will only deal with three sites as examples, all of which have no expressed criteria by which they “accept or reject” books as long as format guidelines are met and content is not rejected as objectionable. They are representative of many others and exemplify probably the easiest (Scribd.com), the “one in the middle,” Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, which is time-consuming but has the most methods of self-promotion, and the most demanding (Smashwords) in e-book upload sites. Detailed submission guidelines and step-by-step instructions can be found on the sites. Only some of the basic requirements will be included here. Any site that allows e-book uploads requires an “account,” free to set up, giving the site email contact information and usually very little personal information. If works are offered for sale, an author will be required to give information so that percentage payments can be made, SSN number for IRS accounting, and an address for checks to be sent to or a bank account for electronic transfers. Many require electronic transfer.
Scribd.com accepts a number of formats and creates pdf documents. Authors’ submissions do not have to be complete books. Many authors submit essays, books in progress, even single poems or photo collections. Many works on Scribd are offered free. Scribd has a rotating display of featured works. It has category listings for searching the site, and the site shows multi-page previews of books for sale. People can become “followers” of authors’ works and links can be made to a facebook or twitter account to announce what the author has “readcast” on Scribd, his own works or those of others.
Smashwords.com is a site that specializes in producing e-books for multiple formats. The site has a detailed style guide which can be downloaded from there or at Amazon.com for the Kindle reader at no cost. This style guide can be used to create the second type of e-book described above, even if the author is not using Smashwords as his publisher. An author can, if desired, upload a book to the Smashwords site and, if accepted, it will be converted for free to most of the formats listed above. (They do not format for Amazon Kindle). The submitted work must rigorously follow their style guide, however, because they use an automated system they call the “Meatgrinder” to convert to the multiple formats. They give very clear instructions in the style guide but it does require considerable simplifying to format correctly.
Books that do not format correctly may be rejected, and Smashwords has a “premium catalog” for perfectly-formatted books that includes distribution in more outlets than ordinary uploads, which are only featured on their site. The style guide is quite detailed. It explains that there are a limited number of fonts that reliably convert correctly into e-documents. It cautions authors to remove most complicated formatting and gives guidance on how to include graphics, though it recommends they be small and few. The philosophy of Smashwords is to focus on the words and message of the book and not to be concerned about the loss of certain conventional features. Smashwords only publishes complete works for sale and file size cannot exceed 5 megs.
Amazon.com allows writers to upload e-books through Kindle Direct Publishing, or kdp. The system is very easy and even cover art is optional but extremely simple to upload with the book or at any time afterward. It takes a day or two for a book to become live, and authors must charge at least $.99 for original works. There are no length limits and books can be illustrated, though the e-book will probably have space gaps above or below the illustrations depending on the page display size and the size of the graphic. Instructions for uploads are very easy to follow. The book cover, information and “look inside” features display like any other book on Amazon. Amazon has sold more e-books than print books for more than a year now. Authors can easily check sales, which are updated very frequently.
Authors can add as much information about themselves and their books as they like. Amazon has Author Central, where a writer can add blog and Twitter feeds, images, videos, and biographical information which can be changed and updated very easily. Amazon has Kindle stores in the UK, Germany and France, and even English language books can appear in Europe. Amazon Shelfari is a reader/writer community where the author can place his books on his “shelf” along with those he reads. He can write reviews and detailed character, plot and book info. The author can also have followers here and send messages back and forth to them. Amazon recently started a facebook page for Kindle Direct Publishing where they pose questions to writers and allow for book promotion and exchange of advice and encouragement.
Microsoft Word is the preferred format for Scribd, Smashwords and Amazon. The 2000 version can be purchased for $30 or less. Covers or illustrations can be created by hand and scanned, or by using simple photo editing or paint programs. Photo Impact from Corel includes impressive faux 3-D titling and object creation and great texturing and effects for under $50.
Screenshot from Kindle of a page from The Illustrated Antidisestablsihmentarianism
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