Advice on self-publishing, part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook

This being part 3 of the series of posts I’m doing about how to self-publish. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Okay then. You’ve got a finished, beta-read, edited book, and you’re as sure as you’re going to get that the thing is ready to ship. Now it’s time for you to do the work to prep it to show up on people’s ereaders. So what do you do to get it ready for that? How do you turn your manuscript file, presumably written in Microsoft Word or OpenOffice or whatever word processor you do your writing in, into a thing that ebooks know how to read?

There are two ways you can tackle this.

If you’re prepared to do the work yourself, you’ll need to know a little bit about basic HTML and CSS, so that you can turn your manuscript into the source file you’ll need to convert to various ebook formats. If you have any comfort level with HTML and CSS at all, the work’s not hard–just a bit tedious. And there are excellent tutorials available to walk you through the process. I used this one, written by Guido Henkel over at (And since Mr. Henkel already wrote up an excellent tutorial, I’m not going to duplicate his efforts here. I strongly encourage you to click over and read through his posts.)

If however the notion of doing anything with HTML or CSS makes your eyes glaze over, there are also plenty of people and/or services out there you can hire to do the work for you. Use your search engine of choice. Shop around. Some of the bigger ebook aggregation services, like BookBaby, include formatting of your ebook as one of the many services available. Me, since I have the technical ability to do it myself, I opted to do so and save myself a bit of money.

Now, if you choose to work with Smashwords, they’re a bit of a special case. They recently deployed the ability to let you deploy your own finished EPUB file, but for any other format they sell on their site, they expect you to hand them a Microsoft Word file formatted in a certain way so they can throw it through their own proprietary conversion program and generate all the various formats they can sell. Having done that myself, I can attest that it was far more tedious to chug through than just generating my own ebooks. Consider this a risk if you want to deal with Smashwords. That said: they do provide a free Style Guide to follow. If you go this route, be prepared to have to wrestle in-depth with Microsoft Word styling.

Ultimately, your goal should be to have one or more ebook files ready to deploy to whatever sites you want to sell through. And formatting the book for release is half of this process. You should also seriously, and I mean seriously, think about cover art. I’m going to talk about that in my next post. (Originally slated for post #7 in this series, but I’m going to bump it up the queue since I do consider it part of the whole ‘prep your ebook for release’ process.)

Any questions?

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Author of the Free Court of Seattle series as Angela Korra'ti, and of the Rebels of Adalonia series as Angela Highland. Geek, fangirl, musician, and raving admirer of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music. Also a.k.a. Anna the Piper!

2 thoughts on “Advice on self-publishing, part 3: Turning your manuscript into an ebook

  1. Dumb question, but I need this backed up a couple steps. For starters, what IS Smashwords, and what’s the benefit of using it? I’m not clear on what the overall picture is on distributors vs. listing at individual bookstores vs. whatever and once that’s decided, who wants what, and it’s difficult processing info about all that without drowning in “WE’RE AWESOME DO EVERYTHING THROUGH US” marketing BS. 😉


    1. I’m actually going to go over that in depth in post #5! But the short form of the answer I’ll give here is this.

      Smashwords is one of the aggregator services you can use as a one-stop shop to put an ebook out to a bunch of other sites in turn. They do in fact talk to Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo, all of which I’m publishing to separately anyway. I’m going to those stores separately on the grounds that everybody I talked to said that dealing with those stores directly was less crazy-making than trying to deal with them via Smashwords. However, I AM using Smashwords to get to one place I can’t get to on my own, i.e., the Sony Reader store.

      Smashwords is also notable because it does in fact generate a zillion different formats for your ebook, even though they’re very basic, stripped-down versions of them. Their goal is to try to make the book as compatible with as many devices as possible; that’s one of the reasons I bother to try to deal with them, because they are specifically device-agnostic. I tend to point people at Smashwords to buy Faerie Blood if they specifically want to purchase it somewhere that isn’t tied to a particular device, like the other four places I sell are.

      Non-US-based authors have to use them or similar aggregator services because some of the stores won’t actually deal with you unless you’re in the States. For example, last I knew, non-US authors had to use Smashwords (or something similar) to get onto the B&N store.


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