Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Self Publish an eBook for Free

self publish an ebook for free
I have recently helped my uncle self publish his novel The Shrine of Arthis, and I keep seeing things about how much it should cost you to self publish an ebook. I am honestly surprised by how high some of the numbers are that I've been seeing.

Because the answer should be simple: $0.

It is 100% possible to publish an ebook for free. I will tell you how I did it.


Self publishing an ebook for kindle on Amazon is probably the easiest way to go.
  1.  Create an account. Start at Kindle Direct Publishing. You can sign in with your regular Amazon account (the same one that you use when shopping with them) or you can create a new account if you don't have one or want to keep them separate for some reason. I created a new account so that my uncle and I could both keep track of the sales without having to share one of our Amazon accounts, but I don't recommend creating a whole new account if you already have one and are only publishing your own work.
  2. Start a new title. Once you log into your account you are going to click on the plus sign that says create a new title. I was confused how to do this at first, somehow I kept overlooking this section of the page. It just blends in for some reason. It should look like this:
  3. Fill out your book's information. At the top of the page you get a message about signing up for KDP Select (more on that later), but just scroll down and now you can fill out all the information you have about your book. It looks like a lot, but just take it one piece at a time, and it is really all quite simple.
  4. Create a cover. If you have a cover designed, there is a button to upload it. If you don't have a cover yet, there is actually a cover creator that will help you. It even has some stock photos available for you to use - for free.
  5. Upload your file. They actually recommend a Word Document as the preferred format. Which I think is probably what most people will have their novels written in. Or at least the easiest available format for pretty much everything. Also acceptable is a PDF, Rich Text Format, Plain Text, MOBI, ePub and HTML. It's going to take a few minutes to upload, and then the file is converted into I think a PDF (but when I tried submitting my file as a PDF I think they converted it to a Word document and then back to a PDF, or something strange, so I just decided to sick with submitting a Word document). A box will pop up to let you know that it's doing something, but just be patient.
  6. Decide on your pricing. The next screen wants you to set up your pricing information. Most of this can be ignored, just choose your royalty option (it has to be between $2.99 and $9.99 for the 70% option) and type in the price you want to sell your ebook for. The rest can be pretty much ignored, so scroll down to the bottom and click the box that says you agree to the terms and click save and publish.
  7. Now we wait. There is a box that pops up to tell you that your submission will need to be reviewed before it will officially be published. I think it says that it can take up to a day to be approved, but I've found that it was usually done within a few hours. If you do this at night before you go to bed, in the morning when you wake up it should be live.
And that's it! That's all it takes to publish on Amazon. I don't see anywhere in there where I needed to pay for anything. You just self published an ebook for free.

KDP Select

So, I just want to briefly touch on what KDP Select is.  This is an option that Amazon offers when you publish on kindle, and they really try to sell it to you. 

What it means is that you will be able to discount your book for a period of time, and a certain number of times a year. You can also participate what they call "Cooldown Deals," which are sales that slowly increase in price at specific times that you set. Your book is also listed on a special page some where that features all these deals.

The down side? You must publish exclusively with Amazon. If you wanted your book to be available on other platforms, like nook or iBooks, you can't do that if you sign up for KDP Select. It will only be accessible to readers with a kindle. If that's not a big deal for you, then go for it. I would love to be able to offer those sales on The Shrine of Arthis.

If you do decide that you want to sign up for KDP Select, the good news is that it isn't permanent. After 90 days you have the option to re-enroll. By then you should know if it's worked out for you or not, and if you decide you want to expand to other platforms you can.


If you decide that you don't want to be limited to just readers with a kindle, Smashwords is the other site I would recommend publishing your book on. 

If you have never heard of Smashwords, it has a very large community of independently published authors. It is also where lots of readers go to find new books. It's not for everyone, I think you have to be a little tech savvy to figure out how to actually get a book onto your chosen device, but after you've done it once it isn't that hard.

The really great thing about Smashwords is that they will distribute your book to virtually every different place there is to purchase ebooks, including nook and iBooks. (Amazon has some restrictions which is why I published through Amazon separately. Amazon seems to really not like Smahswords, from my experience.) Most of the sites they distribute to I haven't even heard of. And the best part about that is that you only have to sign up for one account and you can collect payments from all of those sites. And you've gotten your book the maximum amount of exposure.

So how do you do it? This one was a little bit more fussy than Amazon, but for the most part just the same. They have a How to Publish page that has some tips.
  1. Create an account. Start at the sign up page and fill out the information. you might have to confirm your e-mail before they let you finish.
  2. Publish. Once you've created you account, there is an option along the top menu that says "Publish." There's a big long page where you fill out all the information for your book just like on Amazon. They have a few more options here, like which formats you want to be available. I just left all of that alone and said do everything. But you also have to option here to choose your release date, which I thought was pretty cool. That way you can make sure that everything is all set before you start telling people you published your book.
  3. Upload your files. Their preferred file format is also a Word Document. However, they have a few more restrictions that can make getting them to accept your formatting annoying (more later).
  4. Confirm. They for some reason ask you again which formats you want to convert to, so just confirm all, and then there will be status bars for when each format is finished converting. Sometimes you get a message that says "You are #X in the queue." Just let it go and it will tell you when it's done. I think after this point it is immediately available for Smashwords users to download.
  5. Wait. Your file has to be checked and approved in order to be included in what they call their "Premium catalog." That's just what they call the other sites that they submit to, like nook and iBooks. Even once you've been accepted in their premium catalog it takes a few days before you can find you book on all the other sites, but it will show up eventually.
And it's that simple. You have found another way to self publish an ebook for free. Hopefully your documents were accepted, but I don't think I had that happen a single time that I submitted to them. Even when I submitted just corrected typos they gave me a difficult time accepting the file.

If your file was rejected, here's a few tips that I found to check before you submit, to try to save the headache:
  1. Make sure your document is a .doc and is save as a Word 97-2003 Document. For some reason they like that better. To do that, go to file and hit "Save as" and then underneath the file name there is a drop down menu that asks for the file type.
  2. Table of Contents. The real annoying thing is that they don't accept an auto-generated Table of Contents. You have to manually link your Table of Contents in your document. How to do this:
    1. Go to the beginning of a chapter and highlight the title. 
    2. In Word's top menu go to "Insert" and click "Bookmark."
    3. Type a name in the box that pops up and click add. (I used c1, c2... so I knew it was one that I had created and not auto generated.)
    4. Do this for all chapters.
    5. Go back to your table of contents, if you already have one I recommend just deleting it and typing in the chapter titles manually.
    6. Highlight the chapter title and go back to the top menu and click "Insert" and "Hyperlink."
    7. From the pop up select "Place in this Document." You may have to scroll down to where it says "Bookmark." If that section is not expanded, click the plus sign next to it and then select the bookmark you created that corresponds to the text you have highlighted in your table of contents. Hit "Ok."
    8. Do this for all chapters.
  3. Tips for Images. If you have lots of images in your book, good luck with that. I only had one, and for the first few submissions, I just got rid of it because it seemed like there was nothing I could do to get them to accept it.
    • For whatever reason, I kept getting an error message saying that the image was the wrong file type. So if you only have a few images, try deleting them and going to the top file menu "Insert" and "Picture" then navigating to the proper picture from widows explorer.
    • Make sure the image is formatted to be "inline with text." To do this, right click on the image select "Format Picture" then the tab for "Layout" and under "Wrapping style" make sure that "In line with text" is highlighted.

Where is it Okay to Spend Money?

So maybe you're not too concerned about your budget, you just want to make sure you aren't getting ripped off. That's me for sure, I don't mind spending money if I know that what I'm getting is going to be worth it, or if it's something that I just can't do on my own.

1. Author Website

You might decide that it is worth it to you to invest in a domain name and an author website. I have to say that an author website should be considered essential, but there are free ways to do that. Take a look at my post on DIY Websites if you aren't sure how to get started on that.

For a free site you can try starting out with something like WordPress or Blogger, I did a review on Blogger here, but it you are willing to put in a little bit of money, I highly recommend eHost. It cost around $80 for three years and it is just so simple and easy to use. I go into more detail in my eHost Review.

2. Editing

Getting your novel professionally edited and proofread is not a bad idea. There are lots of places that will do that, but I have no experience with that, so I have nothing to recommend. But relying on just your friends and yourself to proofread, doesn't usually result in a quality product. I just went back and re-read my uncle's book, which I had read once to proofread, and I still found so many mistakes that I, and quite a few others had missed.

3. Cover Design

This is something that I could see most people paying someone else to do for them. You want your cover to look good because it is such an important image for promoting your book. You want it to be done right, and you want it to be high quality.

I did the cover for The Shrine of Arthis and I'm still not entirely happy with how it turned out. I feel like it could have been done better, and I had to overcome a huge learning curve just to get it to where it is now. But if you feel like your up for the task, there are a few tools to help you out.

For The Shrine of Arthis I used a combination of actual photos, Photoshop and a 3D modeling program called Daz Studio for the figures. 

What to Never Spend Your Money On

  1. Formatting and ebook conversion. I've seen a few breakdowns of where and how much people spend money self publishing and somewhere in that list is formatting and ebook conversion. In my mind I'm saying, I don't know what this is. This is something that is done for you when you upload your file. So what are you paying for? What are you converting to? All the sites that I've seen ask for Word documents. And I thought that both Amazon and Smashwords had some pretty good material to help walk you through any spots that you might be having trouble.
  2. Publishing packages. When I first started looking into self publishing I looked at sites like BookBaby that sound like they have a lot of great features. But then you look deeper and it's a $300 charge for them to publish your book. Why? What are you paying them for? You can absolutely do all the things that they say they are going to do for free, and it really takes very little effort. All they are going to do is upload your book to Amazon and to some of the places that Smashwords will do for you. So any of these companies that say that charge you a fee for their services, just move on because what they are doing can absolutely be done for free.

I hope I've given you some helpful tips on how to self publish your ebook for free. But the most important thing should be knowing what you're spending your money on, because one thing that I really hate is seeing people get ripped off, so I just hope that I can help you avoid that.

Care to share any of your tips for self publishing? Anything that you learned along the way that you would like to share? What would you have done differently if you could do it all over again?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How to Write an Awesome Antagonist

Write Awesome Antagonists
I've been working on my April NaNoWriMo, and I've started questioning how I would continue to reach my word count goals. I was also struggling with finding ways to bring in more scenes with my antagonist. So I decided that I would write a backstory for him. And as I thought about what the backstory should be, I suddenly realized that I was not writing a backstory, but I was basically starting a whole new story with my antagonist as the hero.

For your next novel, think about it this way: you are not writing one story, but two.

 Give Your Antagonist His Own Story

I've always believed that the antagonist should be treated just the same as the main character, but when I thought of the antagonist's story as something unrelated to the main story, a whole new realm of possibilities opened up. I had loads of ideas and suddenly the character became very real, and something very different from what I had originally envisioned. But in a good way, because there had really been no characterization there before.

The important part of this is to make sure that he is treated as the hero of his story.

We are the hero of our own story

Make His Story Compelling

Just like the main story, the antagonist's story should be well thought out and developed. If you view your story from the perspective of your antagonist, it should still make sense. But even more than that, if you took away your main story, your antagonist's story should be able to stand on its own.

So doesn't it make sense to treat your antagonist's story as an entirely separate entity?  If you look at his story alone, he should have just as clear a goal as your protagonist does and his plot line should be clear and easy to follow.

Make Your Antagonist Likable

  1. Make him the hero. Treat your antagonist the same as you would the hero of your story. Develop the character just as fully. Take a look at my post on Protagonists for some ideas if you don't know where to start with that.
  2. Give him good traits as well as negative ones. Make him someone the reader can relate to instead of some shadowy figure or a purely evil cliche. Thinking about him as the hero of his story gives a better perspective of how it is he could display positive traits. 
  3. Sympathize with him. Show the reader why he does what he does, and why it is that he thinks he is doing the right thing. Because no one ever does anything that they personally believe is wrong. Even if he's doing the most horrible things, how does he justify it in his own mind? Find ways to make the reader sympathize, and maybe even convince them why all those evil things actually could been seen as doing good.

So the next time you approach a story, think about it this way, you are not writing one story, but two. Because your story should not be just about your protagonist, but your antagonist as well. Sometimes the antagonist is more compelling than the intended main character.

What do you think? Who are some of your favorite antagonists, and what is it about them that makes you love to hate them so much?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

4 Ways to Find Story Ideas and Inspiration

Ways to find story ideas
So I used to think that writers without story ideas didn't exist. If you don't know what you want to write about, you can't possibly be a writer, right? I remember watching the Deep Space 9 episode "The Visitor" where Jake is a successful writer in the future and some aspiring writer comes asking for advice and says "I'm doing a lot of reading trying to figure out what I want to write about," or something like that. And I remember thinking, well then you just failed as a writer right there cause that't not how it works.

But that was a long time ago. And I was just a kid.

Now I get it that you can't always know what you want to write about. Sometimes you just run out of ideas. And not having an idea does not take away the desire to write. While I do think that you should at least have a general idea about what you want to write, if it's novels then a genre, and that some of the best ideas come without trying, I don't think you should let anything stop you from writing.

We Are Writers

So here's where some of my ideas have come from:


Since characters are the main focus of most stories, having an idea for a character is a great place to start. Thinking about character motivations, who they are and what they want can sometimes lead to a story without even realizing that it happened. My post about protagonists has some character worksheets and links to find more if you need a place to get started building interesting characters.

The best stories have compelling believable characters so building a story around a character is usually the first place that I start. An interesting character can create his own story that just demands to be written.


Sometimes I see a scene in a movie or a book and I think, that is not the way that scene should have played out. Or I loved it so much that I wanted to find a way to make it happen in a story, and suddenly characters are created and a plot is needed.

Other times a scene will evoke an emotion that I want to find a way to recreate. And then that leads to characters and a story begins.

Or to start with, try thinking of one scene as a single short story. Maybe later you'll end up going back and deciding that there's more of that story to tell than just the one scene.


Similar to a great scene, an image can tell a story all on it's own. I never thought about images as being a source of inspiration until I began working on creating a cover for The Shrine of Arthis. Through a combination of searching through images and experimenting with creating some of my own, I came across an image and I thought, Wow this would make a great story. And slowly, the ideas formed, the characters took shape and a plot began to come together.

If you find a compelling image think about the story behind the image. What is going on? What events lead up to this? What happens next?

I have to go back to characters again because all good stories have a major focus on characterization. So images of people can also lead to an idea for a story. Who is the person in the picture? If there's more than one person, what is their relationship?

If you find an image that makes you pause, either an image of a scene or a character, what does this image make you think about? Ask yourself, how can I use this image to tell a story?


Another great place for inspiration, though not always a reliable one, is from dreams. I had one dream, a long time ago, that was so unique and compelling that I decided I would have to write it down one day. This was when I was in high school, and I did write it down then, but it was absolutely terrible. I came back to it in college and used it as a short story for a creative writing class. It's still an idea I have to develop into a full novel one day.

What do you think? Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?

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