How to publish your book in paperback or digital ebook

So you’ve written a book. Well done. You’ve already done the hard part, the part that nobody else is capable of doing, so don’t let anyone con you into spending money publishing it.

In my day (and sometimes night) job I’m a freelance graphic designer with years of experience producing artwork for print and websites. But producing either a print book or a digital ebook is a lot easier than you probably think.

1. Before you start

Are you sure your book is ready? Really sure? If nobody outside your family or close friends has ever read it, chances are it isn’t. Find some strangers (the internet is a good place to find them) and get them to read it. Again, other writers are a good place to start, because they will be looking for the same thing. Find a writer’s group on Facebook and ask for help, but be prepared to help others at the same time. At the very least, get it proof-read. Nothing marks you out as an amateur writer more than publishing a book full of mistakes.

You will also need a cover for your book. This is probably the one thing that you really shouldn’t try to do yourself unless you know what you are doing. The cover image is what attracts people to look more closely at your book, so if you have a crappy cover it won’t matter how good your book is because nobody will ever look at it. Your local art college would be a good place to look for cheap cover design, there are also sites like Deviantart where you can find them online.

When you’ve done all that, and the book really is finished, you need to format it properly in your word processor before you do anything else. This will make all the other stages a lot easier, and it is something you need to do for one of the ebook distributors anyway. The key is using the styles.

In Microsoft Word the basic styles are called Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. Those are as good a name as any, but you can also create your own names. Use one (and only one) of the Heading styles for chapter headings, and Normal for … well, normal text. The only other style I use is one I called Stars, which is used for scene breaks and is basically just a centred version of the Normal style.

This is how the different styles are set. How you do it will depend on your word processor, but in Word it’s under Format / Styles and Formatting. Then you right click on the style and choose Modify. There’s a template file here you can use if you want to. This file also includes text that is required by Smashwords, and if used correctly will pass their premium distribution test (more on that later).

Note: None of the styles have any spacing either before or after a paragraph break, this is important.

Heading: Arial 12 point, no indentation, can be left, right or centred.

Normal: Times 10 point, first line indented 0.5cm (don’t use tabs to do this), justified.

Stars: Times 10 point, no indentation, centred.

Start by selecting all the text in your document, and then apply the Normal style. Then go through it and add the Heading and Stars styles where they are needed. That’s it, done. Don’t add any manual page breaks, tabs, extra spacing, anything else. It’s just a word processor file, not a finished product.

2. Digital publishing / ebooks

These are the easiest to produce, and won’t cost you anything. If you don’t have one already, you will need to create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP. There are other ebook distributors, especially if you live in America, but those are the main ones from a UK perspective.

Smashwords will give 30% of your sales to the American taxman regardless of where your buyers live unless you send them a W8-BEN form, and Amazon will do the same with your American sales through them. But unless you’re expecting to sell a lot it’s probably not worth the effort of obtaining and filling the form in. Just keep it in mind when you set your prices.

With Smashwords, you upload a DOC file. If you use Microsoft Word, and either used the template above or followed the advice about styles, all you need to do is upload your word processor file along with a cover image and let them do the rest. It will take anywhere between a few seconds and a few  hours, depending on how many other people are uploading their books at the time.

When it’s finished download the resulting ebooks in all the different formats you chose and check that they look okay when read by the relevant programs. If anything goes wrong, find where you need to fix it in the Word file and start again. When you’re happy, submit it for Premium Distribution. Hardly anyone ever buys anything from Smashwords, so you will need this. Once you pass their format tests, Smashwords will distribute it to lots of different ebook sites and collect money on your behalf. This is where most of your sales will come from. The tests usually take about two weeks, and if you fail for any reason they will tell you why so that you can fix it and try again.

For Amazon you need to create an ebook file and upload that. The easiest way to create the ebook file is with the free programs Calibre and Sigil. Save your word processor file as an RTF and import that into Calibre. Add your cover image, and convert the RTF file to an epub file. Open the epub file in Sigil and check what it looks like. The Heading styles in the RTF should translate into page breaks in the epub, but if they don’t just hold down control and press return where you want them to be. Once you’re happy with that, go back to Calibre and convert the epub to mobi format. The mobi file is what you upload to Amazon.

3. Print books

You’ve got two options here, print on demand or print in advance, but there’s no reason why you can’t use both if you want to. Print on demand is free to set up, and gets your book listed on Amazon. Print in advance will cost you money, but you get the books cheaper and you will have a supply to sell yourself, either by hand or on Ebay. Price will vary depending on number of pages, but you can get 100 copies of a 200 page paperback printed for about £200 if you shop around.

For print on demand, you will need an account at Createspace. There are others, but that is the only one that will get you listed on Amazon.

For both print on demand and print in advance you will need to create a print-ready PDF file of your book’s interior pages and a wrap-around cover with front, back and spine. I use an old program called Pagemaker, which isn’t available any more, but any desktop publishing (DTP) program will do. You will also need a PDF Printer Driver, there are some free ones available if you don’t have one already. What that basically does is redirect whatever is sent to print to a PDF file instead.

Start by setting the size of your book in your DTP program. I use 127mm x 203.2mm, which is a standard trade paperback size. Unless you have a good reason not to, use that. Set up your margins, remembering that you will need a larger margin for the inside edges of your book than the outside because of the binding. I use 20mm for the inside margin, and 15mm for all the other margins.

Then add your master page items (page numbers, etc) and import your word processor file. The DTP program should pick up the styles from the word processor file, but you will still need to change them for print. These are the styles I use, which give a good result when printed:

Heading: Georgia 14 point with 16 point leading, bold, centred, no indent, 5mm space after paragraph.

Normal: Georgia 10 point with 12 point leading, justified, first indent 5mm.

Stars: Georgia 10 point with 12 point leading, centred, no indent.

Now you need to sort out your page breaks. Unlike an ebook, where the reader decides on layout and you have no control over it, the print version is fixed to whatever you use. For a short book I have each chapter start on a new page, for a longer book I just add a couple of blank lines before the new chapter starts. This is purely down to cost. When it is printed you are paying for every page you use. Look out for any stray lines of text taking up a page to themselves, and get rid of them any way you can.

Once you’re happy with the layout, make a note of the total number of pages you have used and print it out as a PDF file. Remember to change the PDF printer driver’s page size to the same as your document size, and embed any fonts that you have used, and when it’s finished check the resulting PDF file to make sure it looks okay. If possible check it on another computer that doesn’t have the fonts installed.

If you are having books printed, tell your printer how many pages your book has and ask what size your book’s spine should be. If you are using Createspace, use their template generator and tell it how many pages there are. This will generate an image file telling you where to put the various aspects of your cover, and will calculate the spine width for you. Open that in your image editor and add your front, back and spine content. Then print that to another PDF file.

Send both PDF files to your book printer, or upload them to Createspace. Createspace (or your printer’s) staff will then check your files to make sure they are suitable, and let you know if they are not. Createspace usually takes about a day to do this, and you will be given the option to either look at a virtual representation of your book on screen, or order a proof copy.

The proof copies are very expensive if you live outside America, so I always go for the virtual proof instead. Once you approve the proof, it will take about a week before it goes on sale on Amazon. It’s a good idea to buy a copy of your book once it’s available, especially if you didn’t order a physical proof. Apart from anything else, it’s a nice thing to have.

It also counts as a sale on Amazon, something that a proof copy wouldn’t, so it gets your sales ranking started. You’ll also receive a royalty on it, so it works out more or less the same cost as a proof anyway (and a lot cheaper than getting one from America if you are based somewhere else).

Job done, now sit back and wait  for the money to start rolling in (or not, depending how lucky you are). If you have any questions about any of the above, post a reply and I’ll try and explain it better.

Now advert time:

If you find any of this useful please buy one of my paperbacks or ebooks even if none of them are of any interest to you. If you need any help with any of this, here are my fees. They are all in UK Pounds Sterling (GBP). I can take cheques/postal orders from the UK, or Paypal from anywhere else.

Proof reading / copy editing £2.50 per thousand words

Ebook layout / design £45

Print book interior layout / design £75, or £50 if bought with Ebook layout

Print book wraparound cover (from your existing artwork) £50 if bought with the interior layout, or £75 on its own

Contact me if you need any other details. You can find my email address from the sample pages of any of my books, or post a reply here with your contact details (I won’t publish it).


About Marcus Blakeston

Ex-shouting poet, ex-fanzine writer, ex-angry young man (now growing old disgracefully). Living in sunny Yorkshire with his wife, children and motorcycle, Marcus still has a healthy distrust of all forms of authority.
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2 Responses to How to publish your book in paperback or digital ebook

  1. updated blog says:

    First of all I want to say awesome blog! I had a
    quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there. I truly do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Cheers!

    • I have a notebook that I scribble ideas down in as I have them, reading through that is usually enough to get me started. Reading through something you’ve already written works too. And you don’t need to start at the beginning, I usually start something new with either a key scene or a line of dialogue, then fill in the blanks later. Words come when they want to, you can’t really force them out.

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