Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Perils of Self-Publishing Pen and Prejudice

Things I've learned about self-publishing Pen and Prejudice so you don't have to:

1.  The more clever you are with your manuscript, the greater the headaches. I got cute and once it was written I couldn't really "uncute" because the cute aspects of the book were integral to the general gestalt of the book. But it ate up a zillion author hours as I wrestled with html.  I think it looks fairly decent now, but it came at a cost in terms of my time and sanity.

2.  Clever doesn't translate well to ebooks. Yes, I made it work. Yes, I bashed that html seven ways to Sunday so that a fair approximation of the "book" translated to the e-version, but it was a total BITCH to pull off, and there are parts where I don't think it looks as good as it should. But then I couldn't possibly afford to pay someone to do all this.

3.  When you upload to amazon, try to work from two screens at once. I have a lovely 24-inch screen desktop and a 17-inch laptop. I uploaded the book or the e-book onto the laptop and had the same file open on the larger screen so that as I flipped through the pages on amazon's previewer, I was able to catch mistakes (AND TYPOS, OMG! STILL!) and fix them directly. Seriously, and I am not joking, I uploaded that books roughly fifteen times and roughly ten times for the e-version before I got it right .

4.  The e-version. This is where it gets complicated. And yes, my book was something of a formatting nightmare, but I think these issues are endemic and these tips might help you from making the same mistakes I did.
  •  WORD is a rigid, unforgiving program. When you make changes and reformat material and change things and then change things back and then change things again, all this meta happens behind the scene. All this confusing code is still there, you just can't see it. Who sees it?  The program that converts your material to an html file, or in WORD-ese: "Web Page filtered." So if you have extra lines and spaces and your paragraphs don't line up and suddenly the font changes sizes or none of your italicized material is in italics, it's because the code is confused.
  • How did I solve this? I edited out all that garbage using Dreamweaver. You can do it in Notepad but it's a lot more difficult. But needs must. All that extra code creates problems and it needs to go.
  • Limit yourself to two fonts. TWO. No more. I thought I'd be clever (which always bites me on the ass), and since I was using Dreamweaver I put back in all the fonts differentiating the different "speakers" in my book. I have a lot of email exchanges and it helped (see real book) differentiate between who is speaking by using different fonts for different "voices." This works in the book. It doesn't work in the e-version. All that lovely formatting was stripped out, and I was left with what I started with: basic text but now it was laden down with all these code (because I'd changed fonts), which meant that phantom lines appeared and a host of other problems. Yes, I know I could have had paid to have this formatted so that all my clever little ideas translated to the page, but frankly I can't afford it.
  • For some odd reason all my basic formatting (italicized and/or bolded words) didn't translate to the html version. You could probably hear my screams in New York. My advice is to create your final version and then make an "E" version. Go into your "E" version and hunt for every single italicized and/or bolded word and add html code. I would also recommend doing this for em dashes and ellipses, which I seem to use a lot of. Perhaps too much, as evidenced by all the coding I ended up putting in.
5.  What did I learn from all this? It takes a tremendous amount of hours to format a book so that it looks professional, and now I understand WHY there is so much complaining about the e-versions of books. Creating a book for the page is not the same as creating the book for the "screen." Clearly a lot of publishers ARE treating these entities as one and they are not. They need to invest time in making the e-experience worthwhile. There's a lot of competition for a reader's time. Don't piss them off by sloughing off a badly formatted e-book.


Meri said...

Congrats on publishing another book! The ebook doesn't seem to be available on Amazon yet, is that right?

Meri said...

Wait - sorry, it is. There was just no link from the paperback like usually. Downloading!

Claire M. Johnson said...


Thanks, my dear. I really appreciate your support. As you know. Amazon seems to have fixed that little issue with the Kindle version not appearing on the author page, so now I can send out emails to people, letting them know it's up for sale.