Adventures in eBook Production

Recently, I finished the formatting and upload of the last of my four ebooks to Smashwords. This marks a milestone for my e-publishing efforts in that I have now self-published in both the Amazon and Smashwords marketplaces.

E-publishing ebooks yourself is hard work. There was a temptation to hire a professional to do the formatting. This temptation was overcome by the fact that I didn’t have the money. To aid in the formatting of these ebooks I began, ironically, by purchasing several ebooks, many of which claiming to include ‘all you need to know about ebook formatting.’

The tricky part of this is that 1. Ebook formatting is constantly changing and 2. Many of the writers of these ebooks are professional ebook formatters themselves and I suspect that, at bottom, they want you to agree that their employment is difficult and worthwhile and so several key ingredients in formatting the various files needed to create a state-of-the-art Amazon ebook were universally left out. This conundrum was remedied when I luckily came across April L. Hamilton’s Indie Author Guide to Publishing For The Kindle. This document carefully and thoroughly described how to create the Amazon’s chapter navigation file, also known as the .ncx file.

Now, once the ebooks were live at Amazon, I noticed several minor problems such as Help the Covers are Ugly! and Who can Even Understand these Product Descriptions and Why Have I Chosen Such Illogical Prices. I suspect these are the problems that plague most fledgling independent authors. Guy Kawasaki is famous for his internet marketing adage of “First Get Something Up,” and yet I was prone to repeat to myself over these past months, “And Then Mercilessly Beat Those Things Into Shape!” One of the real difficulties of putting ebooks up for sale at an established marketplace is that all the additional fields of data needing your input must actually be calibrated in an unknown and changing environment. This means the book description, the book’s library categories, the author’s bio and picture, the covers, the prices, etc. – they all must be calibrated. It has occurred to me several times throughout this process that the simplest calibration process imaginable requires at least three data points for a first-time experimenter to really have any idea if the variable in question has been optimized – and preferably more (think of Goldie Locks when she was trying out all the bear’s stuff).

Another cool thing that has happened lately is that a reviewer of one of my short story collections mentioned that he really enjoyed one of the stories. The story in question was, rather surprisingly, Girl Fistfights Boy. The reviewer mentioned,

‘Fistfight’ alone is worth the price of the book and earns a place among my all time favorite short stories.

That was nice to hear and I must admit that I never suspected, of all my short stories, this one would be one of the most popular. I can attest from the viewing of my WordPress dashboard that people are searching for stories about “Fistfighting Girls” all the time. Of course, I didn’t write this story to satisfy an internet trend, I wrote it because I bumped into a girl that wanted to fight me so that she could use the bathroom before me. …Something strange is in the air these days.

 Now, I’m a ‘nice’ guy (to be read with a certain amount of suspicion) so Girl Fistfights Boy, all 5000 or so words of it, is available to be read for free on this blog here. If you want to purchase the whole collection to read more comfortably on your e-reader of choice, I will not stand in your way:  Amazon Kindle | Smashwords 

About davidwallacefleming

David Wallace Fleming is a U.S. writer, living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the coming-of-age, social media novel GROWING UP WIRED, and the satirical science fiction audiobook, NOT FROM CONCENTRATE.
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14 Responses to Adventures in eBook Production

  1. Honie Briggs says:

    Congratulations David! I remember the moment my book was put through the Smashwords meat grinder, as its inventor, Mark Coker fondly refers to his ebook formatting platform from which I took the dive into the murky waters of e-publishing. Like you, it certainly was a milestone for me, as I considered myself the most analog person on the planet. Hurrah for us! Of course, I am not a professional such as yourself. However I do have a great sense of satisfaction knowing that I accomplished such an unexpected achievement. Now if only someone besides my friends and family would read it! All the best to you.

  2. I’m confused… I’ve uploaded plenty of Kindle ebooks and never even heard of an ncx file. I always upload a zipped folder with an html file and a css file, both of which are hand-coded, and it’s worked fine. At least, I think it has!

    Of course, Googling ncx now, I see that it’s “supposed to be there” along with an opf file… Am I missing out on something important here, do you think? Do those tick marks along the bottom matter all that much?

    • Zinna, yes. If you are referring to the potential to gain readership through producing quality ebooks, you need an ncx file for Amazon ebooks. Kindle users use those tick marks to navigate from chapter to chapter in their ebooks.

      • Something new every day! I’m glad I read your post. It looks like a fairly cumbersome process, though… How much value does this file add to the ebook? I’m certainly considering it for my novels, but I think I may skip it when it comes to short stories! :)

      • I suppose it could be skipped for a short story. It is cumbersome. And I believe this is why, paying for professional ebook formatting can be a good strategy for those not willing to mess with doing the process five or six times over a day until they can get it right.

      • Just wanted to thank you! I messed with it more than five or six times… 😉

        Finally figured out ncx and opf and that nifty Kindlegen program. (Yay! I had no idea there was a mobi-maker for Linux other than Calibre (which I hate).)

        So I have tick marks now, at least I think I do. I’ve never uploaded mobi before, always zip files with html inside. And I’ve already bought my books, so I can’t really check it. (Kindle samples don’t seem to include tick marks — I verified this with other ebooks.)

        I’m unsure, though, how the cover image works. The opf demands an embedded image, but I thought Amazon wanted to provide the cover image from the higher quality one you upload in the dashboard. Maybe it’s left hand vs right hand over at Amazon, and I couldn’t find any Google wisdom on this issue, so I’m going to have to shrug that one off.

        But for all the trouble, it was actually kinda fun, and now my ebooks are possibly a bit more “polished and professional” … You made me feel guilty, and I appreciate it! :)

  3. Mason says:

    Wonderful, you are now on your way! With your keen sense of visual
    detail, style, and current subject matter, I look forward to reading more
    of your works.

  4. Zinna, I’m glad you got the results you were looking for. I use the Mac Kindle program and KindlePreview to verify my amazon files. I have recently heard from Amazon that they don’t want you to insert covers into your files because their programs do it themselves.

    • I thought that too… I tried doing it without a cover; then I downloaded a sample, and guess what? It had no cover!

      The opf file demands a cover for its “manifest.” I don’t actually link to it in my html file, I just reference it in the opf, put a dummy anchor tag in the html, and include the jpg in the mobi with the other files. That seems to satisfy kindlegen, and it satisfies Amazon (I finally got a cover in my sample), so as far as I’m concerned, mission accomplished!

      I just needed to get the thing done and couldn’t find any guidance on this issue either at Amazon or Google. So I came up with a kludge. I basically suck at computers — when I find a method that “works,” more or less, I consider myself lucky. :)

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    • Roy says:

      So, im just real confused, do you have to cevnort any files? or anything? like what if i found some ebooks online, or got some textbook ebooks from another site (they make you rent it, weird) and loaded it on would it just automaticly work?

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