A Newbie’s Guide To Self-Publishing Poetry or How I Learnt to Love Going Nuclear
Making your first move into self-publishing can be intimidating. There is so much information out there it’s hard to know what the simplest path is. I’ve known Maureen for several years, she writes beautifully, and after many years of nagging, she has finally been lured by my gingerbread house of indie-author-dom. I was interested to see how producing poetry e-books differed from prose books. And it’s been a while since I was a newbie, I find that means I assume readers sometimes have more knowledge than they do.
So I invited Maureen to give a guide for complete publishing newbies with this post. She gives a simple set of steps forwards and touches on the specifics of publishing poetry rather than prose.
I have been staring at a blank word document for the past half hour wondering where on earth to start with this post. Then I realised, the best place is at the beginning. My name is Maureen and I write speculative fiction novels and short stories, run a speculative fiction blog, and occasionally I write poetry. I’ve always been more of a speculative fiction gal, just like Emily, but two years ago, I started writing a poem sequence about a relationship gone wrong in bleak London. It became a verse novella titled My Heart’s Choir Sings. It sat on my computer for a long time but then it was time for action. I decided that I needed to get my book on Smashwords and Amazon for two reasons:
- I had some faithful blog followers who had been waiting an age for me to release some of my work for purchase.
- Ebooks are the hot topic in publishing right now (But you already knew that or you wouldn’t be reading this blog!) and I felt that as a writer who wants to go professional, I needed to be up to speed with ways of reaching readers.
I managed to find my great editor, Mathilde in France, and we went back and forth until I had a far more polished manuscript. At the same time, and luckily for me, my best friend, the multi talented Tegan Ivison, is a graphic designer and she made me a simply beautiful cover for free.
Emily asked me what’s different about publishing poetry to prose when it comes to self-publishing. Actually, the answer is nothing much, as long as you’re not planning to be fancy. The only difference is that if you have tabbed indents for spacing in a poem, you need to manually create a style for that in Word (more on poetry specifics in Section 4). On the plus side, you don’t need to worry about the paragraphing section of the Smashwords Style Guide as poetry has stanza’s instead of paragraphs. Instead of chapters, you have a new poem. Formatting poetry for ebook conversion, as for formatting a novel, is all about customizing Word, which isn’t as bad as it sounds.
When I first started on this journey I was a little over whelmed at first. But after a lot of research I realised it wasn’t as hard to get started as I thought. Yes, this is my first book release, yes the only thing I really know is how to get the ball rolling, but for those of you who are newbies like me, and are just looking for the simplest solution to get started, this is my guide for you.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number One: Be professional
Don’t self publish something without doing the hard yards first. Make sure you use your beta readers (if you have a blog like myself, your blog readers are your first port of call). Make sure you get an editor in, one that knows your genre. Make sure your cover looks professional and if you can’t do it yourself, pay someone to do it for you (or ‘hire’ a savvy friend!).
If you think that sounds too much like hard work, think again, because it’s worth it if you really love the writing. This is the regular stuff you’re in charge of now.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number Two: Upload to Smashwords First
Save yourself the time that I wasted and upload to Smashwords first. Why, you ask?
The reason is twofold:
- The Smashwords Meatgrinder program that converts your Word document into ebook formats is tougher to get right than Amazon’s program. If your document gets through the Meatgrinder without a hitch, it will be fine on Amazon.
- Smashwords ships ebooks to iTunes, Apple and Barnes & Noble. To get to these stores you need to get your book listed in the Premium Catalogue. This can take up to four weeks to do, depending on how many times it takes you to pass the Meatgrinder test.
So what’s with Meatgrinder? As I said, Meatgrinder is Smashword’s program to convert your Word doc. to ebook formats for sale. Because you MUST upload a doc. this means you must use Word. Unfortunately, the Meatgrinder does not like the background coding in Word. So if you don’t format your Word document by hand, the Meatgrinder will most likely reject your document for ebook conversion.
To pass the Meatgrinder you have to read Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. Ok, Ok it is 100 pages long, but what you want is the helpful section on formatting. If you were smart enough to read the style guide before you started writing your story, then you probably don’t need to nuclear your document. Unfortunately, most of us have no idea that we need to.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number Three: Go Nuclear
So nuclear it is. Nuclear-ing your document means that you strip your document of all of its fancy coding. To do this, copy the entire document into notepad and back into a new Word document.
Next, you’ll need Mark’s book open as you figure this out. In addition, I found this set of posts by cyberwitchpress to be exceptionally helpful so I flicked back and forth between them.
Whether it’s poetry or a novel you’re uploading, you MUST format your Word document as Coker lays it out – manually. DON’T use Word shortcuts. The ONLY safe word shortcut to use is bold, italics and underline. Everything else will bork up on various e-readers and give you a headache as you try to fix the problem blind.
Newbie’s Self Publishing Tip Number Four: Know What Doesn’t Work
Make sure you have selected the ‘Reveal Formatting’ button on Word so you can see what you are fixing:
There are some main things that always seem to slip notice but are super important in this type of formatting. As I went through my poetry, this was my mantra:
- Get rid of any returns that go for more than four lines (returns = enter key). More than four enters equals an unexpected page break on your ereader.
- Get rid of tabs. (This is important!)
- Get rid of multiple space bars. (This is also important!)
- Get rid of symbols. The ereaders hate them so use words e.g. copyright instead of ©.
- Get rid of fonts bigger than size 16. The ereaders also hate this.
Formatting for a novel is similar to formatting for poetry. However, there are some common issues that come up when formatting poetry:
- Don’t use tab or space bar to indent lines in a poem. You must customize Word style in your Word document to indent lines.
- If you want to justify or centre a poem, you mustn’t use the shortcut at the top of Word. You must customize Word style.
- If you want to have a page break between poems, do not use Insertà Page break. Not every ereader will honour this shortcut. If you want a page break you must use customize word style.
- There is a common theme here…
Newbie Self Publishing tip Number Five: Customizing Word Style
To format your poetry, you must use ‘Change styles’ and customize the ‘Normal’ style for each new thing you wish to format.
Remember, aside from the bold, italics and underline shortcut key on word, every other word shortcut borks up for ereaders.
You can customize things like centering text, page breaks and indenting poetry lines from the Normal style. Once you click on ‘Normal’ you can ‘Modify’ the style by clicking the ‘Format’ button.
When you click ‘Format’ simply select what you wish to modify, be it Font or Paragraph.
Font takes care of font size, type and style.
Paragraph takes care of line spacing, line indents, and page breaks.
A quick note on page breaks and poetry. When you set up your page break it should look like this:
Apply your created style by highlighting the word, sentence or paragraph and selecting your customized style.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number Six: Make Your Life Easier, Minimise Pictures In Text.
Because ereaders don’t like too many graphics. And not every ebook format will support pictures. But if you must have pictures, you must do it manually. How?
Like this: Insert àPicture.
When you have inserted your picture make sure that it is ‘In Line With Text.’ If you do not select this, your pictures can ‘float’ to places you never imagined or desired on different ereaders.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number Seven: Making A PDF?
Make sure your cover is in the same document as your manuscript.
Make sure your cover is in the manuscript document on page one and has been inserted so that it doesn’t ‘float.’ Otherwise, the Meatgrinder won’t upload your cover to the pdf version of your ebook and this sucks a pile of dead unicorns. I’ve been caught out by this and now need to re-upload my ebook just to ensure that my PDF version has a cover. The Meatgrinder detects the double cover for all other ebook formats and will upload with one for customers purchasing epub, mobi etc.
Newbie Self-Publishing Tip Number Eight: Amazon Run
If you can manage Smashwords, Amazon is a push over. You can upload your carefully formatted Smashwords Word document direct to Amazon. Simply follow the prompts and check your document on their online previewer. No, really. If you get Smashwords right, you can’t go wrong on Amazon.
Happy self publishing and please leave me any questions or experiences in the comments!
Maureen writes young adult speculative fiction novels and short stories and is currently studying to become a teacher. She reviews genre fiction and films, interviews authors and discusses writing at her blog, InkAshlings. She also writes free verse poetry about the human connection. Her verse novella, My Heart’s Choir Sings, is currently on sale for 99c on Smashwords and Amazon.
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