Thursday, April 7, 2011

Guest Blog by Joan Reeves - Be Smart, Not Dumb: 10 Smart Ebook Practices

Hi, folks!  Please welcome my friend Joan Reeves.  Joan's been around the author block a few times with eight romances, a novella, and a memoir.  We had discussed her experiences with Amazon, and I asked Joan for her take on this brave new world for writers.  So without further ado, here's Joan:

Recently, I was talking to a group of authors about publishing my backlist and even some original fiction as ebooks. Naturally, there were some who wondered why. It was easy to see they questioned the wisdom of my intention.

As Suzan pointed out when she and I were exchanging emails, there's a polarity when it comes to writers and indie publishing, and there are two primary schools of thought: "...the best thing since sliced bread (and) it sucks." I agree that these opposite opinions are pervasive in the blog world.

Boldly Go Where Some Writers Are Now Going

Before you adopt either opinion, judge for yourself. I'm a firm believer in "nothing ventured; nothing gained." When markets are drying up, left and right, it's nice to see something opening up that can directly benefit writers, and that's digital self-publishing. By benefit, I don't just mean making some bucks. I also mean finding an audience for your work.

I've stated that: "I've given up on New York, BUT they gave up on me first." And I'm not the only published author who couldn't fit the square peg of their writing into New York's round hole. (No pun intended but feel free to laugh.) I'm a writer. I want to be read. Many of us are finding readers by becoming indie authors and publishing our own work.

If you want to try the indie route, learn all you can about the process. That's why I'm here today. I want to give you some advice, based on my personal experience as well as that of some friends, in hopes that you may avoid some of our dumb mistakes.

When I published Just One Look, my first ebook on Kindle, I made a doozy of a blunder so I'm particularly qualified to talk about how NOT to be stupid.

10 Smart Ebook Practices

1. Use MSWord or the OpenOffice version. All digital publishing platforms request a .doc file upload or an HTML file that came from a .doc file. Don't try WordPerfect and saving as a .doc file. I heard from several authors who said they never could get the file cleaned up sufficiently to convert cleanly. That may have been a glitch on their part, but potential trouble avoided is often time saved. Even if other software and methods work, why add more steps to the process?

2. Buy Derek Canyon's Kindle book: Format Your eBook for Kindle on One Hour - A Step-by-Step Guide for $2.99. It's a bargain and will save you an enormous amount of time, and it gives a beautifully formatted book. (I just wish he'd come out with one for Nook and epub format.) I did Just One Look for Kindle with it. (Wish I got a commission on this little book because I'm recommending it to everyone.)  [Suzan's Note:  Our buddy, Nina Cordoba has put together instructions for converting your file to Nook format.  It's free and it works.  I've used it.]

3. Do recognize the value of a great cover. Just because your book sold well in print doesn't mean it will sell well in ebook regardless of the cover you slap on it. I've seen popular authors epublish their backlist and use the most mundane artwork as if the cover is less important because the book isn't on the shelf of a brick-and-mortar bookstore. If you're not artistic (be honest!), then hire a good artist.

My daughter is an artist (also teaches art in high school) so she and I work together to create my covers. I know what I want on the cover, and she makes it happen. Warning: daughter brag and promo alert: She freelances for authors. If you're interested, contact her at BlakeCreative at

I've posted a list of freelance artists and other art resources on my "commercial" blog. I'll be reprinting that on SlingWords as soon as I get time.

4. Do make sure you have the right and authority to upload a previously published book as an ebook. That means, look at your old contract if you're publishing your backlist. Chances are, if your print book is more than 5 years old, you never gave away your ebook rights. Read your contract if in doubt.

5. Do name the final manuscript file that you'll use to convert to HTML something you will recognize immediately and not confuse with another file.

You probably think that sounds like a no-brainer, but that's exactly the dumb mistake I made. I still can't believe I did this, but I was so tired and bleary-eyed by the time I got around to converting the Word file to HTML, that I "grabbed" the wrong file.

Then I edited it in HTML to include all the stuff you need in the file. Then I proceeded to zip it and the grayscale image file for upload. What did I end up with? A beautifully-formatted ebook that was an old manuscript version. I cringe just writing this!

6. So, it goes without saying, based on #5, do have your wits about you. Don't try this when you're tired, frazzled, or rushed. Don't get in a hurry.

7. Do write all the "ad copy" before you get to the Publish Page. Give a great deal of thought to these items on the publish page: keywords, Product Description, Author Profile. Write them up and save in a file from which you can cut and paste. That way you can refine all of that before you're confronted with the publish page. Then when you go to the other platforms like PubIt, Smashwords, and XinXii, you've already got the info available.

Quick Tip: PubIt allows very little space for the Product Description and Bio so go ahead and condense those before you get to the Nook page.

8. Be patient. When you upload to Kindle, if the Preview function is slow or won't respond, don't give up. Do NOT publish until you can Preview every single page. That was one of my problems. If I had just Saved and tried later, I'd have seen the errors. However, I was so frustrated with the Preview function, that I gave up and hit Publish because I knew my manuscript was fine. *LOL*

Preview function seems to be very slow at night. I guess all the people who work in the daytime are trying to Preview and Publish ebooks at night. The speed was like the slowest dial-up access you can imagine, and it would freeze then jump ahead or back instead of going page to page.

9. Control the urge to panic or to start wearing a bag over your head for fear someone will recognize you as "that stupid author who published something so bad!" If you find you uploaded a file that has errors, take action immediately.

I posted on my blogs and on my Amazon Author page and profile that I had made a major goof. I stated that I would make their purchase good in some way. I consider myself a professional, and the idea that I had done this just mortified me. I was prepared to personally refund their purchase price if it came down to that or give them a Kindle gift certificate for my next book. Whatever it took to make ME feel that I had made amends.

I emailed Kindle support and notified them that I was uploading the correct file and would they notify purchasers because the book was already selling really well - to my chagrin. Two days later I received an email saying that they would notify buyers, and that the buyer just had to reply YES to the email in order to automatically have the updated file downloaded to them.

10. Accept that sometimes things just don't go as planned despite your best intentions. Do what you can to correct the situation. Learn something from it. Pass the lesson on to others. Then let it go, and move on down the road.

Becoming an indie author has allowed me to rediscover the fun of writing and the excitement of seeing my books reach a receptive audience. If you decide to heed the call of digital self-publishing, I wish you all that same joy as well as ebook sales that will amaze you.

For more of Joan's wisdom, check out her blog, Slingwords.  For more on Joan's books, visit her website.


  1. Good morning, Suzan,

    I'm up and bleary-eyed as usual. Just now sucking down my first cup of coffee. I've simply got to stop staying up so late at night, but I've been finishing my next ebook The Trouble With Love (love that Kelly Clarkson song!), and you know what they say -- time flies when you're having fun!

    Thank you for hosting me on Wild, Wicked & Wacky. You know, those 3 adjectives describe just about every writer I know.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

  2. Great post, Joan!!!! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Mom! Love your post! Hi everyone! I'm the cover artist. Suzan, like your blog.
    Adina Reeves aka Blake Creative

  4. Hey, Sweetie! Thanks for stopping by. You're my all-time favorite cover artist! *g*


  5. LOL I'm still bleary-eyed, Joan, and working on my second can of Pepsi Max. Glad you could stop by and share your wisdom with us.

  6. Hi Adina!

    I love the cover you did for Just One Look. It's fabulous!

  7. I feel your pain, Joan. I had so many things labelled "Not Dreaming of You something or other," I was afraid I would end up loading an old contest entry or a synopsis. I tried to go in and clean out old files the other day and realized it would be a week-long job.

    It's definitely hard to get a perfect book up there, but I was just reading two novels, one pubbed by a traditional publisher and another by an established epublisher and I encountered errors in both, so I think sometimes we have to try not to sweat the small stuff so much. Yes, it's hard for me to even say that because I've been a perfectionist as long as I can remember.

    Your book cover is lovely, by the way.

  8. Nina Cordoba, thanks for the encouragement. As soon as I get this next book epubbed, I'm going to take a day and do computer file maintenance. I've got countless versions of book files too. I guess every writer has.

    Have a lovely weekend!