We had written several short stories detailing psychic Brianna Sullivan's adventures in a small, fictional Oklahoma town, but hadn't found the perfect way to market them. Too short for a novel, but too long for traditional mystery magazines, we decided to develop the series into volumes with each volume having a total word count of 16,000-18,000 words. To date we've published three volumes - I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries; The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah; and The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah. The e-books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.
Okay, we've told you how we started and where we ended up, but the "in between" is not so simple.
We began the process of converting our stories into e-book formats without any idea of how to do it. Of course, we're used to jumping off into the deep end. We only learned afterward that collaborating on a novel was supposed to be impossible and we've been collaborating for six years now without any problems.
Backing up a bit, we became a "we" by meeting on an Internet writers group. We liked each other's stories and decided it would be fun to write some together. The nice thing about Internet fiction sites is the immediate feedback, and in our case, very gratifying feedback. In a move that can only be described as naïve at best, one day we decided to write a novel length mystery.
We finished the first full draft of Murder Off the Books (the first of our Sullivan Investigations Mystery series) before even speaking to each other on the telephone. Fearing we'd jinx our writing method, we still haven't met in person. The second book in the Sullivan Investigations Mystery series is Murder Takes the Cake, with a third, MURDER DROPS THE BALL, to be published by Wolfmont Press in Spring 2011. These books are available in both print and e-book formats. But these mysteries were e-book formatted by the publisher.
When we decided to publish the Brianna Sullivan Mysteries, we researched the process and taught ourselves how to do it. (This is the Northern half of this writing duo interjecting here: Let's be honest. It is the Southern half who taught herself how to format and upload e-books. The Northern half is limited to being a very enthusiastic cheering squad.)
There are lots of guides and blogs out there for authors on how to format e-books, but we never found one that gave us the amount of detail we needed. If you've ever taken home economics (do they still teach that in schools?) and been given a pattern and a bolt of material and told to make a dress, you'll quickly learn that the directions skip lots of steps and assume you know things you don't. You need directions on how to read the directions. We found the same problem exists with e-book formatting. We even purchased an e-book that was supposed to be the best on the market on how to format your book for electronic publishing. Let's just say that instead of being a "complete" guide, it was really a book to encourage you to hire the author to format your novel.
The best information we found was at Smashwords. Smashwords is an e-book publishing and distribution platform. You upload your manuscript there and Smashwords converts your book into multiple e-book formats, including Kindle, Nook (e-pub), PDF, Apple i-Pad, etc. Smashwords has a "free" guidebook for getting your manuscript ready for uploading to Smashwords' "meat-grinder." You can't just upload your Word file - the file you carefully prepared for your publisher with all the tab indents, page numbers and special fonts. E-books are different animals.
Think of an e-book as a "scroll" not a series of pages. Depending on the e-reader device and the size of the screen, a page is different on a Kindle than on a Nook or an Apple i-Pad. You have to go through your Word manuscript and "clean" it up so it can be read on an e-reader. Note: be kind to yourself and save several copies of your manuscript in a folder far, far, away from the original - just in case you mess up the copy you are editing.
The information you glean from the Smashwords guidebook is very useful for preparing for uploads to not only Smashwords' "meatgrinder," but also Amazon's Digital Text Platform and Barnes & Noble's PubIt!
After reading the guidebook about a dozen times, the next thing we did was find the "show/hide" button in Word. It's located on your toolbar next to the zoom feature. Once you click on the "show/hide" button, you can see all the formatting in your manuscript. And you can see all the items you need to delete. We had used tabs for our first lines on each paragraph. Those had to go. (You can use the Word Find/Replace feature to remove all the tabs at once or you can delete them individually.) We replaced our paragraph indents by using Word's Style feature. You set up the "Style" of your document, which can include an automatic first line indent when a new paragraph starts. Then you select "all" words in your document and apply the new "Style." Then resave your document under a new name.
Other problems you'll find in converting your Word document are "returns." You can't use more than three returns in a row to create space between objects. Remember the "scroll" concept. Too many returns creates too much "white" space for an e-reader. And as we mentioned earlier, page numbers have to be deleted because they are meaningless in an e-reader.
Once you've cleaned up your document by removing all the tabs, extra spaces, multiple returns, headers, footers, and page numbers, you're ready to start adding things. You'll want a cover image, one for the outside of your e-book and one inserted inside. Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords all suggest different cover sizes. You'll have to experiment to see what looks best. You are responsible for creating or providing the cover image. For e-books, a simple cover is best. Remember most of the potential buyers are going to see your cover for the first time as an image slightly larger than a thumbnail. You want the title and author name to be readable.
You'll also need an interactive Table of Contents (This was the hardest thing for us to learn to do and we're still trying to learn simpler and better ways to do it. Smashwords' description of how to create one using bookmarks was the absolute best we've found.)
You must format your title page as required by the specific digital platform you're using. Smashwords wants certain language on the title page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble have different requirements. All platforms allow you to have author notes (biography and website link) at the end.
Once you have your manuscript ready for each platform, be sure to read the directions carefully before uploading. Although you can and should view what you are uploading in the "preview" mode, it looks different (sometimes very different) once it's published. You will have the ability to make changes later, but not immediately. After you "publish" to Amazon's Digital Platform, you'll have to wait 48 hours or more before making any changes. The PubIt! program at Barnes & Noble is slightly faster than Amazon. We've found our books will go live there almost a day ahead of Amazon. Again, you won't be able to make changes or upload a new version until after the first version has actually published and gone live.
So now what? Like any other new product, we still had to promote these e-books. But exactly how was the question?
If there few guides to how to self-publish an e-book, there were even fewer on how to promote one. The traditional venues for marketing, like readings and book signings, didn't seem to apply. Even if we were to read aloud from one of our e-stories, there was no way to then immediately translate a listener's enthusiasm into a sale. No physical book to sell and sign. Were public appearances still worth scheduling?
We decided that it wasn't a zero-sum game. We had an advantage in the e-book market. We still had traditional books to sell. That meant that we would continue to set up book signings and library talks, but we would expand our discussions beyond the paperbacks on the table to include our new e-book series. We developed a handout that listed all the e-books and the various venues where they were available.
And like the e-books themselves which depend on the Internet for existence, we significantly intensified our use of Social Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, GoodReads, and Yahoo groups. We always strive to maintain the delicate balance between blatant self-promotion and more subtle approaches where our focus is on getting new "followers" to get to know us, and thereby be more receptive to our BSP efforts. So we chat about recipes, holiday traditions, news stories, etc., as well as occasionally more obvious marketing information. On Twitter where messages are truncated, we've often posted one-line pithy character comments and then included a link to the Amazon page where the book or e-story is available.
We've also run a series of contests and offered prizes to readers who simply visit our site and leave a comment. Our basic assumption, from the very beginning of our writing collaboration, has been that if we meet you, either in person or through the Internet, we will be able to convince you to give Evelyn David a chance. It's the oldest advertising gimmick in the world: Try us, you'll like us.
Evelyn David, the author(s) of The Brianna Sullivan Mysteries, Murder Off the Books, Murder Takes the Cake, and the short story Riley Come Home, is the pseudonym for Marian Edelman Borden and Rhonda Dossett.
Marian lives in New York and is the author of 11 nonfiction books on a wide variety of topics ranging from veterans benefits to playgroups for toddlers! For more information on Marian's books, please visit her web site at http://www.marianedelmanborden.com.
Rhonda lives in Muskogee, Oklahoma, is the director of the coal program for the state, and in her spare time enjoys imagining and writing funny, scary mysteries. Marian and Rhonda write their mystery series via the Internet. While many fans who attend mystery conventions have now chatted with both halves of Evelyn David, Marian and Rhonda have yet to meet in person.
Please check out Evelyn's website at http://www.evelyndavid.com/ and their blog – The Stiletto Gang- for information about Evelyn David's appearance schedule and writing projects.
MURDER DROPS THE BALL (Spring 2011)
Murder Takes the Cake - Paperback - Kindle
Murder Off the Books - Paperback - Kindle
Riley Come Home - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Autographed Copies and other e-book formats available through Wolfmont Press at The Digital Bookshop.
Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords