How To Write An Ebook

Finding an idea and taking the time to thrash it out into a short novel is easy enough; transforming a .doc into a .mobi (the file format used by Amazon.com) is slightly more complicated. I first used Sigil, which is fairly simple to use, though it helps to have a slight knowledge of how coding works, and an awareness that google can answer most of the technical questions you have, if not all of them; once you paste your words into Sigil, you can turn your idea into an .epub, which is the more-or-less “universal” format used by e-readers these days; then, if you get your hands on Calibre, you can convert that .epub into a .mobi in a few minutes, which means that it’s ready for Amazon.com. All of these services are free, and although Sigil has a few bugs (I have to switch to the code view when I insert images, or else the entire ebook is destroyed), Calibre is flawless.

There are other services (like Smashwords) that will do all of this converting work for you, but I’ve seen some of their books and I haven’t really been impressed with the polish that goes into them. I tried to send a file to Lulu once, and didn’t hear back from them for a month; when I finally did get a reply, they said that they weren’t able to read the file! If you learn the ropes (which I was able to do thanks to the endless help of Omid Mikhchi), and handle every aspect yourself, you can really create something that shines.

I accidentally sent Amazon three epubs just yesterday when I published my loosely-related trilogy of ebooks about Korea, and that venerable website surprised me (pleasantly at first) by converting them into mobis, but then one of my friends, who had very graciously purchased these books, informed me that they were missing their all-important tables of contents, which necessitated some re-publishing on my part. For the moment at least I wouldn’t trust Amazon to do a file conversion thanks to this mishap; it seems like using both Sigil and Calibre is the way to go.

One extra step in between writing and publishing is, of course, editing. Two years elapsed from the moment I first conceived of writing about Korea to the moment, yesterday, when I found myself thinking that I was finally finished; almost all of that time was spent re-reading, tweaking, changing, deleting, and adding to, what I had originally written. My editing process is slightly unique, and maybe worth mentioning here: I send the epub to my iPhone and read the ebook there (as though it’s already been published and finalized), using the notations feature in iBooks to mark the things that I want to alter. I also try to read everything aloud, imagining that my harshest and most fearsome critics are listening to me—literally picturing them in my mind, trying to hold them in my head, as I read—and to keep myself from getting too sleepy I might even walk around my apartment (or wherever I happen to be) while I read. Then, once I’ve gotten through the entire book, I go through it again on Sigil, insert all of the edits, email the new version to myself, and repeat the process. I must have done this at least fifty or sixty times over the course of the last two years, and I know that if I look through my books again I’ll find things that I want to change. Unlike George Lucas, however, I will not change them. At this point I’m a little sick of the subject, and also painfully aware that the ebook market is seemingly mostly interested in young adult vampire fiction, rather than books about cross-dressing Jewish lesbians running around in medieval Korea.

As for publicizing my work, aside from using facebook, this blog, and reddit (where everything I post is either ignored or downvoted into oblivion), I am obviously totally clueless, and also somewhat hesitant to flash the cash, because I don’t have any. Asking people to review my first book, Teakettle Mountain, on Amazon.com, was definitely rewarding, since everyone who got back to me liked it, but it did not transform me into Amanda Hocking, so I didn’t really bother to go around begging people to review my other works. Instead, I created a trailer, but I have to confess that this aspect of the ebook publishing process is a mystery to me; if my readers have any suggestions in this regard, I’m all ears.

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