You Have A Completed Manuscript. Now What?
Hokey-dokey, you have completed your first novel, and want to get it out there. What will you do? Assuming you plan to market it on line (and you can do this with print copies as well as downloads) I have found two reliable outlets. (There are any number of unreliable outlets, but I won't mention them. I don't want to get sued. They're not listed here: you do the math.)
The Big Kahuna of web marketing is good ol' Amazon.com. Yes, yes, I know Amazon has a dubious reputation (fairly earned IMn/sHO) but you aren't going to marry them. All you want is a quick toss in the hay, and for that they will do nicely.
Getting your work on Amazon is done through CreateSpace, their portal which processes manuscripts and sets them up for publication, then passes the completed files over to Amazon. You can use them to prep both print and Kindle formats. These can be done from the same files in one swell foop, but you are better off processing each separately because of ISBN numbers, page links, etc. IIRC, they can also do PDF and ePubs, but there are advantages to going elsewhere for those.
One caveat: Amazon is very possessive, and will restrict a work previously offered elsewhere from enjoying some of their advanced marketing venues. They also have a thing about using their ISBN numbers, but don't let that faze you. Also, getting their tech support to correct minor errors or update cover images in their web site simply doesn't happen. So be prepared to live with the results you get the first time.
Yes, Amazon charges a fair chunk for each download. But remember two facts: One) setup is free, unlike another major on line bookseller, so you only pay on a per-sale basis. And, Two) they do any number of vital services for you which you would be hard put to provide for yourself. They are worth their 'cut', despite all the pissing and moaning from the peanut gallery.
To the good, Amazon has a comprehensive world wide outreach for both print and Kindle, and the public stage presence to draw customers in. Their setup is fairly simple, and modified MS and/or cover art can be easily uploaded. Finally, they have a convenient On-Line Sales reporting page, and they pay any sales income directly into your bank account on the first of each month.
All in all, they are well worth it.
Smashwords, like Amazon, has an easy to use setup, world wide reach, and pays directly to your bank account. Unlike Amazon, they specialize in downloadable formats. I don't think they do Kindle, but they are a good source for the other two download formats: PDF and ePub.
One big advantage of Smashwords is you aren't depending on one outlet for all your marketing. They also have various promotional features which differ from Amazon. While their market outreach isn't as wide as Amazon, they get the job done, and it is up to you in your web site and advertising to drive customers to them.
When it comes to uploading, you need to prepair the MS in ASCII text and include various details such as chapter links, page breaks, etc. See Understanding E-publishing for details. This will involve fairly extensive reworking of the MS styles, but this is essential to get good results.
One thing to look out for with Smashwords is that you have to process all versions at once in order for them to be listed in a single listing as 'Available in PDF and ePub'. As such, you need to include the ISBNs for all versions on your Rights page. A minor hassle, true. You also need to be aware that Smashwords never removes uploaded material: you can 'unpublish' an earlier version and upload a newer one, but readers who bought that earlier version can still access it.
Unlike Amazon, Smashwords goes to much hysteria to prepare your MS for distribution. You need to fill out a form detailing ownership, copyrights, prices, etc. (As with Amazon.) Then Smashwords runs your MS through their preparation software, (the 'queue'), which depending on load can take a while. In the end you can download a free copy to check the results. Be prepared to amend your MS and reload it if needed.
All things considered, Smashwords is a good second venue complimenting Amazon. Success depends on your market promotion, of course, but they are well worth the effort.
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