Smashwords founder Mark Coker has created an Introduction to Smashwords slideshow, to get the word out to more authors. I sometimes come across authors who plan to self-publish eBooks but have never heard of Smashwords. My experience with Smashwords has been wonderful, so I’m always happy to tell others about it.
Christy Pinheiro over at Step-By-Step Self-Publishing maintains a list of reviewers that accept self-published books. Earlier this week, she released The Official Indie Book Reviewer List. It’s only 99 cents and offers more detailed information about a subset of the review sites listed at her website.
I’ve been using Christy’s online list to find potential reviewers for my fantasy novel, but I still splurged on her eBook. It was worth it. Review policies are sometimes vague (“I’ll read anything!”), so having more details about some reviewers has allowed me to consider or eliminate them with more confidence.
Christy offers a word of caution about not querying or sending books to reviewers who don’t review your genre. Please heed this advice. It gives all of us a bad name when someone wastes a reviewer’s time by querying them about a book in a genre they’ve said they don’t accept. And since the reviewer’s audience probably won’t be interested in the book, there’s no point.
I’d also be careful about sending books without querying first. I would never send a print book to a reviewer who says, “Send me your book, but I don’t guarantee a review.” To me, that’s just an easy way for someone to get free books. I only break the “query first” rule when an influential site accepts eBooks and explicitly states not to query.
Christy’s list and eBook are superb resources. If you’re seeking reviews, check them out.
Eping Wang of Epingsoft was kind enough to provide me with a license for his ePub Maker application, so I could try it out. ePub Maker converts Word documents to ePub books. I used my fantasy novel as a test case. I converted the Word file that I uploaded to Smashwords.
- It’s easy to use. You load your Word document into ePub Maker, press “Make ePub,” and voila, you have an ePub file
- It has a friendly user interface
- All formatting is preserved
- It has an option for starting chapters on a new page and generates a linked Table of Contents. To take advantage of the auto-chapter split feature, you have to mark each chapter as a new section in Word, but it took me literally five minutes to go through my Word file and mark each chapter
- You can include a book cover
- The licensed version costs $39. If you don’t buy a license, you can still generate ePub files, but an ePub Maker advertisement is inserted after each chapter
- The generated ePub file doesn’t pass epubcheck, a program that checks ePub files for compliance with the ePub standard
- I didn’t see an option for saving a project, so you have to re-enter book information every time you want to regenerate an epub
- As I mentioned, I tried the product with a fantasy novel—straight text, no fancy formatting beyond italics, no images. If you have an image-heavy book, a lot of mathematical equations, or other special formatting requirements, the generated ePub may or may not be formatted as well. You’ll have to download the trial version and try it out.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to convert Word files so you can read them on your eReader, ePub Maker might be for you. But if you’re a self-publisher wanting to convert your Word files so you can submit them to the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and other stores that require ePub files, ePub Maker isn’t ready. Places like Apple will reject files that fail epubcheck.
There’s also the $39 price tag. But hey, if you’re not tech-savvy and you’d have to hire someone to convert your books for you, ePub Maker is a bargain (once the epubcheck problem has been fixed). It will cost you at least $50 (probably more) for someone to convert ONE book. In that light, $39 for ePub Maker could save you a lot of money in the long run.
But unfortunately I can’t recommend it for self-publishers until the epubcheck problem is fixed. I reported the problem to Eping Wang. At first he said that he wasn’t planning to do anything about it, since the epubcheck messages aren’t serious and the generated files can still be read on eReaders. That’s all true. But…
I responded that if he hopes to target the self-publishing market, the generated ePub files have to be compliant; otherwise they’re useless to those hoping to submit them to online bookstores. He wasn’t aware that bookstores are strict about compliance and use epubcheck as part of their validation process. Now that he is, he’s planning to work on the problem.
This is definitely a tool worth watching.
CreateSpace now offers a Kindle conversion service. However, it doesn’t convert Word files. You have to set up your book with CreateSpace and provide a print-ready interior PDF. CreateSpace will then convert the interior file to a PRC file.
Of course, it’s not free. The cost is reasonable—$69 per file—though the fine print says it could be more when your file contains complex formatting, such as tables and heavy graphics.
- PRC files aren’t editable, so if you don’t like the result, too bad. CreateSpace spells this out in its Kindle conversion FAQ. But—that’s not entirely true. You could use a tool like Calibre to convert the PRC to a format that is editable. But if you’re paying CreateSpace $69 to format your file because you don’t know how to format Kindle files yourself, that’s a moot point.
- You have to create a print-ready interior file and set up your title with CreateSpace. If you were planning to use CreateSpace to publish to print, not a problem. But if you weren’t, why go through the bother when you can convert a Word file to the Kindle format using free tools?
- Lack of control/personalized service. If you do the conversion yourself, you’ll control the output, and if you work with a small conversion company, you’ll get personalized service. The conversion company will work with you until you’re satisfied with the result. With CreateSpace, you’ll have no input into how you’d like the Kindle file to look, and no chance to review the converted file and request formatting changes.
- Related to 1 and 3, if you find an error in your book after uploading it to Amazon DTP, you’ll have to convert the PRC file to another format and correct the error. So perhaps it’s better to learn how to create and edit Kindle files to begin with.
If your book is already set up at CreateSpace or you’re planning to go that route, and you have no idea how to create a Kindle file and don’t want to learn, you might want to use CreateSpace’s conversion service. Otherwise there are better (and cheaper) alternatives.
If you’re not American, you might think you don’t have to deal with the IRS. But if you receive royalties from U.S companies, you do. Places like Amazon and Smashwords will withhold 30% of your royalties for the IRS. Can you get around it? Sure, if you live in a country that has a tax treaty with the U.S. and you file a W-8BEN form with each company. But it’s not as easy as filling out the W-8BENs and sending them in. You need what’s called an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).
Cheryl Kaye Tardif, a fellow Canadian indie author, has written a great post about how to go about obtaining an ITIN. I’m in the middle of that process right now. My application is “in the mail,” and if all goes well, I should have my ITIN by December 1st.
Like Cheryl, I used an acceptance agent. You can prepare the application yourself, but I’d read so many stories around the net about applications being rejected for the most trivial of reasons that I decided to pay an acceptance agent and increase my chances of having my application accepted the first time around. The other advantage to using an acceptance agent is that copies of your documents don’t have to be notarized. The acceptance agent vouches for them.
If you decide to do it on your own, the best ID to use is your passport. The IRS requires the original passport or a notarized copy. If you feel okay sending your passport through the mail and being without it for up to two months, go ahead, but personally I wouldn’t do that. However, the IRS is picky about notarized copies. It won’t accept a copy notarized by a Canadian notary, but it will accept a copy notarized by the issuer of the passport.
Fortunately the Canadian passport office will make a notarized copy of your passport—for free! Take your passport to your local office and explain why you need a notarized copy (taking along a copy of the ITIN application instructions would be a good idea). You’ll have to leave your passport with them for a few days, so don’t do this right before you’re about to travel.
Another option is to get an EIN, which is a tax ID for companies. Some people think it’s okay to get one of those as an individual self-publisher. Others don’t. If you’re interested in exploring this route, drop by Catherine Ryan Howard’s post about the subject.
Anyway, all of this is a PITA, and given how borders are meaningless (for the most part) on the internet, I hope tax laws designed for physical businesses will be modernized for those of us doing business on the net. I’m not holding my breath, though!