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One nice feature of publishing via Smashwords is that they provide extensive help.

The place to start is with the useful and frequently updated guide by the actual owner of the company, Mark Coker.

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

If you need help beyond what is offered there, check the Support FAQ link.

http://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq

It offers extensive written support, plus contact links. Also check the timely and useful blog by Coker, the Site Updates:

http://www.smashwords.com/about/beta

If all else fails, you can reach a person at Smashwords via the Contact link on the Support page.

Have you been getting the feedback “Too many paragraph breaks?” from Smashwords or Amazon DTP when you submit a manuscript? Here’s why, and what to do.

Quite often these days, we tend to automatically hit a carriage return or extra space between paragraphs. For email, web pages, and other formats, this looks nice, breaking up the text and providing some white space.

But once you convert such nicely formatted text for an eBook reader, it often goes haywire. adding way too much space, sometimes even a whole page-break.

The first fix is to use the templates we have provided here.

For Amazon DTP
Fiction Template for Amazon Digital Text Platform
NonFiction Template for Amazon Digital Text Platform

And for Smashwords
Fiction Template
NonFiction Template

The second fix is the same as that detailed within the templates, but we will spell it out here, how to format your document so the only space after a paragraph is within the formatting section, not as a carriage return.

To set the spacing between paragraphs in a way that will not confuse eBooks in Open Office, open your document, then under Format, Paragraph, set the Below paragraph spacing to 0.8 to 0.14 inch. Follow the same general procedure for documents in Word.

This will give you a bit of space between paragraphs without jamming up the machinery.

For fiction, don’t use any space at all between paragraphs, just follow the indenting suggestion in the template.

Once you have a nice book all written and edited, you’d think, from experiences with email and sending files, that you could just send it along as a text document, and it would be published.

Nooo-ooooo-oooo-ooo!

Because of the trickiness of ePub formats and eBook readers, the state of your text file is of primary importance.

Depending on the ePublisher, if it has any extra formatting, if it has too many paragraph breaks, if it was produced in WordPerfect, or even if (especially if) the text originally came from a PDF file, you can get throughly mired in the formatting process.

To begin, follow the directions for file preparation from your particular ePublisher as well as you can. Usually, with any luck, that will work. You may have to save it in Word, for Smashwords, or HTML, for Kindle, but it’s fairly straightforward.

If you still have trouble, you may have to open the file in a simple text editor, strip out any formatting, even save it as ASCI code (wow, remember that?) Or even copy the text, open a clean text file, and paste it in. And if all that does not work, hire someone to reformat it for you.

We only had this happen to one file out of 5, the one copied from a PDF, but it was a pain to fix.

A really helpful step as you get started in ePublishing is to make a checklist of all the material you will need to publish your eBook.

It is easiest to start by publishing an unformatted ePub or Kindle type book, so your manuscript is primarily text, not pre-formatted pages. We use Smashwords as our example here. Just remember that your publisher will have additional specific instructions you must follow.

To publish an eBook you will need:
*A manuscript, final version saved in MS Word.doc form.
*A color cover image, jpg or png, 600 pixels wide by 900 pixels tall, or more,with the title and author name clearly visible, and the background anything other than white, which fades into the catalog page. Please your readers by making the thumbnail in the catalog look good.
*An account with your publisher, for example, Lulu, Smashwords, or Amazon Kindle. Set up your free account and begin to become familiar with their requirements and routines.
*The formatting instructions from your publisher. The Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker is essential for that publisher, and extremely helpful generally.
*An easy to access text file with  author’s name or pen name, a brief bio, author’s photo, and a one-paragraph description or blurb to put on the information page. List the genre, and sub genres, and keywords for the book.
*Some idea of how you will advertise your book. Because ePublishing happens so fast after you enter in all your information, it’s good to have plans set up ahead of time to take advantage of the initial PR included with publication. The free eBook Smashwords Book Marketing Guide has a lot of useful information and tips, from someone who has a stake in getting eBooks sold.

If you want more details about the whys and hows of ePublishing, check out the inexpensive short book, Fast Fun ePublishing.

This short booklet, available in a variety is formats, is itself a good example of how a basic eBook looks and operates. It gives you an overview and head start, whether you are just wondering about publishing, or are actually ready to dive in and publish right now.

Because formatting for ePublishing can be very finicky, here are a couple of templates for use in Microsoft Word or Open Office, a free cross-platform word processing software, to help you get started in formatting your document for Smashwords publishing.

Open the appropriate template, paste your text after the included text, and follow the formatting instructions in the template and in the Smashwords Style Guide. Make sure you read the latest version of the Style Guide for final requirements.

There are a number of things to consider as you are choosing an ePublisher. Check out their distribution channels, how their finished eBooks look, ease of use, and how much they pay in royalties.

Because this changes over time, check with each company when you are ready to publish.

Amazon will have a new royalty structure this summer: http://forums.digitaltextplatform.com/dtpforums/ann.jspa?annID=142

You can find Lulu’s structure here:
http://www.lulu.com/publish/ebooks/

And Smashwords offers royalties depending on your price structure and distribution channel. http://www.smashwords.com

To produce an eBook, you need to deal with several different aspects:

1. Your finished manuscript, edited and formatted so your chosen publisher can run it through the transforming process.

2. A book cover, book blurb, author photograph, biographical blurb, tags and keywords.

These first two are the parts you do, or you hire people to help you do.

3. A publisher, the company where the manuscript is transformed into an eBook that is eReader-friendly.

4. A distributor, so your finished book is sent to various outlets where readers can buy it.

Amazon Kindle, Lulu, and Smashwords combine the publishing and distribution process.

Put all of this together according to the specifications of the publisher, and you will have an eBook.

The field is moving very rapidly, but already there are great choices for publishing.

In the past there were fewer opportunities for individuals or small presses to publish and have good distribution. Now there are readily available choices. We will discuss three here.

First, you can publish book directly to Amazon Kindle. This has fairly easy to use setup, the power and reach of the Amazon empire, and flexible pricing.

Second, you can publish with Lulu.com. The have the additional advantage of distributing to a number of outlets, including Apple’s new iPad. They also make it easy to publish hard-copies of your book, since that is one of their businesses. Their setup seems a bit more complicated, but they readily offer their paid services for setup formatting and covers.

If you want to go with a young and energetic company and are ready to do most of the work yourself, Smashwords.com offers an easy and appealing way to ePublish anything from a very short story to a multi-volume set. Plus, they have an extensive distribution network, including Barnes and Noble, iPad, mobile phones, various software book readers, and are working on Amazon Kindle distribution.

Since Smashwords is fairly easy for beginners, has a good pricing structure, and has wide distribution, we will be talking more about them.