A valuable tool in the consulting world is the lessons-learned analysis after a project has been completed. It allows those who have been through the experience to share what worked – and what did not work. For others who are about to begin a similar project, these hard-earned lessons, if applied, can save valuable time and expense. If you are thinking about self-publishing a book, hopefully these lessons learned will be helpful.

To start off, my book is not the average fiction, nor non-fiction book, and this is important to note, because one concept in the self-publishing world is king, and that is formatting. My book, Information and Research Resources for Procurement Professionals, is a reference book filled with links and descriptions to a fairly large number of sources. Its intent is to be used as a practical “hands on,” resource, hopefully one that is used frequently.

After reviewing the different book publishing companies, I decided to use Smashwords. My reasoning was that, due to the many links, an eBook would be the best format – and I wanted to offer it for a very low price. What Smashwords does is takes a Microsoft Word document and converts it, free of charge, into multiple eBook formats “such as .EPUB, PDF. .RTF, .PDB, .MOBI, LRF and TXT, as well as into online HTML and Javascript formats.” This ensures that your book will be readable on any e-reading device.

In order for your eBook to be presentable on any device, Smashwords uses a file conversion technology called Meatgrinder. Smashwords provides a Style Guide, which is a tool that is essential for understanding how to format your book correctly. Otherwise, the Guide warns, “if you ignore the formatting requirements of the Smashwords Style Guide, Meatgrinder will turn your book into hamburger.” Depending on your expertise in using Microsoft Word, Smashwords estimates it takes about 2 hours to complete a book’s formatting using their Style Guide. There is the option of hiring a formatter who will format your book for you. Names of freelancers are provided by Smashwords. This is the route I took and my formatter charged $50.00. (I also hired the graphic artist who did my logo to design my cover; Smashwords makes names available for cover design as well.) It took my formatter 12 days to turn the book around. Despite her excellent work (it made it through the Meatgrinder with no problem) my eBook did not turn out as I had hoped. The Style Guide does state clearly that Smashwords works best on straight form narratives – mostly fiction and narrative-heavy non-fiction, which, face it, my book was not. There are spacing issues that make the text more difficult to read (it is readable, not just as professional as I would like). I want to emphasize that using Smashwords is a wonderful way to self-publish, but make sure it fits with the style and layout of your book.

I then decided to use CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing arm, for a paperback version of the book and to allow for more exposure. I found CreateSpace to be very easy to use and did not need to contact any of the many help services made available. CreateSpace offers free tools such as the Interior Reviewer, Cover Creator, and Preview. The fee-based services include various design, editing, and marketing services. The Amazon book is more professional looking and it will be interesting to see if sales pick up via Amazon.

A few other tips:

  • Edit, edit, edit, edit…and then edit again. I hired an amazing editor, who did an excellent job. However, there are errors I made, about a couple of the sources, that I did not catch until after I had sent out some complimentary pdf versions – not good. The good news is that Smashwords is really great about allowing you to make changes and re-submit.
  • Allow yourself the time to produce a great product. I am happy with the content of my book, and am already taking notes to write a second edition. Setting a deadline is probably a good thing that keeps a writer on track and helps with procrastination issues. Having a hard deadline, however, is probably not a good idea. I had a hard deadline that I was trying to meet. The deadline was the date of a networking event that would put me right in front of the folks that I thought would be the most interested in the book. Great idea. Bad idea.
  • The quality of the cover of your book should be a top priority and everything I read about self-publishing before I got started emphasized how important it is to have it professionally done. My cover design compliments my logo, business cards and website.
  • Writing a book has many, many benefits. The best benefit is that it forces you to be disciplined and even if you are an expert on your topic, you will learn and discover so many new things that you had not expected.