Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Publishing Your Own Short Story Collection?

If you've been brilliant and lucky enough to have a bunch of short stories published, the question eventually arises as to what do do with them all afterwards. There are always markets that will accept reprints, of course, and even some that only accept reprints. But another option is to collect the stories together yourself and publish them as a collection. Apart from any additional money you might make, it's good to know that your stories are out there rather than languishing unseen on your hard disk or in your drawer.

These days, indie publishing is pretty easy to do. There are various routes to take but the most obvious is to epublish for the the Kindle via Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Whatever you think about Amazon's growing dominance in the book world but the fact remains that's where the action is.

There are whole books (presumably ebooks) that could be written about how best to publish via KDP. If there's interest, I might write some more detailed posts about what I've learned, having been through the process a few times. But here are a few pointers and suggestions:

  1. Edit well. If your stories have been previously published there's a good chance they'll already be well-polished. Even so, edit each one again before you self-publish. Get others to beta-read if you can. In my experience, this is the most time-consuming part of the whole process, but it's always effort worth making.
  2. Don't just save your Word documents as HTML and publish them. KDP books are in HTML (i.e. web page) format, but resist the temptation to rely on your word processor's save as routines. Word (and other word processors in my experience) have the habit of generating vastly bloated and overcomplicated HTML. Have you ever read an ebook where the text suddenly goes all big or weird? I know I have. In my experience, the best approach is to go back to basics and hand-craft your HTML in a text editor such as Notepad. This may sound time-consuming but it needn't be. I've knocked together a simple Word macro that formats my story text as HTML (adding <p> tags etc.), then I just copy and paste from Word into Notepad.
  3. As should be obvious from (2), it's woth getting to grips with a bit of HTML. This needn't be complicated for a book that is basically just text. You need maybe ten different HTML tags to do everything you need.
  4. While you're finding out about HTML, look at CSS (cascading style sheets) too. This is just a way of easily controlling the format of your book. Basically, the HTML should contain just the text, while the way the text is presented (font sizes, indentations etc) should be controlled by CSS. The wonder of this is that, by changing one entry in a CSS "style", you instantly change everything using that style. So, if you decide all your story titles are too small, you don't need to go and edit each one. You just need to tweak the style you're using for your headings. Again, in my experience, you don't need very complicated CSS. For the books I've published on KDP, I've found 20-30 different CSS styles gives me everything I need.
  5. I use Amazon's own Mobipocket software to build the files that Amazon KDP requires. Something like this can take a lot of pain out of the process. Basically I hand-craft my HTML files then use Mobipocket to build everything into one big file for upload. The software lets you specify the cover art, blurb etc. and takes care of putting it all together. Mobipocket is by no means perfect (if you can get it to generate a two-level table of contents you're a better homo sapiens than I am) but if you can put up with its idiosyncracies, it's pretty good. Although, if anyone knows of anything better ...
  6. Create good cover art. For someone as artistically challenged as myself, this seemed like an insurmountable problem at first. It really isn't. My approach is to buy a stock image that suits what I need, then crop as required and add lettering. Good quality images can be had for a few dollars/pounds/whatevers from web sites out there. My first attempts were a bit rubbish but, again, it's worth finding out a little about editing graphics if you're not familiar with that. A few months ago I had no idea what the "layers" were in my graphic application. Now I love them!
  7. Once you've put everything together, test it all looks right before going live. You can use a Kindle or just the free Kindle app for your PC. Remember, the great thing about this whole approach is that you can change stuff. If you spot a typo on the last page you don't have to pulp 10,000 books. You just edit and upload a new version ...
  8. Market and publicize! This is the hardest part for me. Easy to go too far and annoy everyone you know, tempting not to bother and wait for the world to spot your genius spontaneously. There's a happy medium. My approach is to let people know I've got something out and hope they'll be interested and maybe even write reviews or tell others. You may have a better approach. Word-of-mouth publicity is certainly invaluable. Remember that, while marketing and platform-building can and does pay off, it can also be time-consuming and you're supposed to be writing! It's a matter of finding what's right for you.
Did I miss anything? Like I say, you could write a book going into all this in detail. The best advice I can offer is to just try it. Experiment, see how it looks and find help on the internet (e.g. here!) if you hit a problem.

It's fun, really. Just don't let it distract you from the actual writing ...

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tips, very interesting. I'm not ready for self-publishing yet, but it's an appealing option, especially since you have full control and rights.

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  2. Great article, Simon, cheers for the info. Some resources for those who may need them:

    For stock photography on a budget (i.e. free--legally free, that is): http://www.sxc.hu/

    Smashwords is great for getting to all the various platforms around: http://www.smashwords.com/ and their style-guide has some great info on formatting word processor files for their converter (and hints for general good practice): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

    Lastly, if you want to create your own ebooks, Calibre is great at converting word processor files (I use libre office odt files; I'm sure others work too) into any ebook format you can think of: http://calibre-ebook.com/

    Hope they're of help to someone.

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  3. Simon, thanks so much for sharing all of this information. You gave me a lot to think about and consider if/when I go this route.

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  4. Thanks for sharing all this great information, Simon. I never thought of formatting with CSS instead of HTML.

    I've published one short story collection with KDP and ran through some of the troubles you've listed, but like you said sometimes, you just have to try it. It's the best way to learn.

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  5. Guys,

    Glad you found the post useful. It is such a big area I could have written more, but hopefully this will provide a starting point.

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  6. I had a bash last year at putting up some short stories. I didn't sell many and took them down again.

    Ha! I'm hardly the model for indie publishing am I?

    I'd be interested in sales figures (maybe you can e me in 6 month or so). Word on the blog street is that anthologies sell a lot less than novels.

    But something is always better than nothing, and it's nice to get new readers.

    Thanks, Simon.

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  7. Thanks for putting this post together! Though I'm far from where I'd be releasing a collection like this it's still good to learn how it works.

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  8. Deborah: Yep, I'll happily let you know. So far there have been some sales of my collections, but not a vast amount. Still, it makes me feel happy to know my stories are out there.

    Michael: You're welcome; glad it was of some use.

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  9. Nice article, Simon.

    One other thing to keep in mind when putting the stories together: most markets request in their contract that if the story they've bought first rights to is published again a note needs to be included with the reprinted version. Something along the lines of: This story originally appeared in such-and-such zine, issue etc.

    Because we're the ones doing the republishing it's probably unnecessary to add 'Reprinted with permission of the author' at the end of the statememt but it looks so official! :D

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  10. Great post, Simon -- hopefully the first in a series?

    Shane: Thanks for the heads-up on Calibre; I had no idea it worked with Word docs as well.

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  11. I do have previously published stories and have been thinking about doing something like this. I'm still thinking.

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  12. OpenOffice writer does a superb job of converting to HTML. It hasn't let me down once...providing I don't use tabs.

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  13. If you want to see the header I use (and the workflow, too!) for my eBooks, you can go here. It's pretty easy, and takes hardly any time at all if you make some macros in advance.

    http://davidalbarron.blogspot.com/p/workflow.html

    I wouldn't bother with step #8 until you have at least 10 full books and collections up.

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  14. Just a couple of more tools I've found: Sigil at http://code.google.com/p/sigil/ is a multi-platform EPUB ebook editor and writer2epub is a extension to OpenOffice and LibreOffice that will save in epub format. You can find it here - http://lukesblog.it/ebooks/ebook-tools/writer2epub/ . It's in Italian so you may have to run it through Google translate. Firefox also has a extension at http://www.epubread.com/en/ to read epubs in the browser window.

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  15. For greater control over your design/production, I suggest using Adobe In-Design, which now has a Kindle plugin for easy conversion to Kindle format.

    This also works great if you want to publish a print book as well as an ebook.

    Though a more expensive option, many people appreciate the greater creative control/flexibility. Plus if you already own/use InDesign using it with the plugin is a no-brainer.

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