Here are my Basic Things You Should Know About Self-Publishing as I've picked up there and elsewhere. It's just basics on publishing itself: For instance, there's nothing here about cover design, promotion, plotting, genres, etc. This is "I have a story, I want to turn it into an e-book and sell it. What now?" If you see a mistake, please correct me: I'll fix the main post to reflect it.
Q: What's the difference between "self-publishing" and "independent" or "indie" publishing?
A: One of them starts with "self" and one of them starts with "independent." Self-publishing has a bad rep because prior to e-publishing most self-published books were published by for-fee "vanity" publishers: you paid them (handsomely) to print the books and then it was your job to sell them, which hardly anybody ever did. It was used mostly by people whose books weren't good enough and/or didn't meet the other requirements and preferences of traditional publishing houses (E.G. Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc. Also known as "tradpub" or "Big Six.") So when e-publishing really started to take off many of its users referred to it as "independent" or "indie" publishing to avoid the bad connotations of self-publishing. Same thing.
Q: What are the basic e-publishers and how do I get books onto them?
A: The biggest ones in terms of customer base are: A) Amazon.com, B) Barnes & Noble, C) Smashwords, and D) the iTunes Bookstore aka iBooks. Other large epublishers are Kobo, Diesel and Sony. Here is a quick breakdown of how to get on each one and what the rules for using them are:
A) You have to wait for the affiliate to pay Smashwords and then you get paid on your next cycle. It can take a long time for the royalty to make it back to you. If you can it makes more sense to sell direct since you'll i) get paid faster and ii) not have to give Smashwords their cut.
B) Smashwords' channel distribution page indicates that they distribute to Amazon, and you have to opt out of it like any other reseller. However, AS OF THIS WRITING, Smashwords does NOT distribute to Amazon. That's the plan, but it is not yet implemented and there is no estimated implementation date. Your works will NOT go onto Amazon if you don't publish them through KDP.
C) Smashwords distributes to Kobo but AS OF THIS WRITING there is a LONG lag - weeks or months - before the books are received and published by Kobo. Anecdotal reports indicate Smashwords says the problem is Kobo's receiving is backed up. But in any event if you want to get on Kobo in any reasonable amount of time you'll need to publish direct.
D) Smashwords distributes to iTunes Bookstore, but Apple reviews each title manually and this can also take weeks. However, this is true whether you publish direct or through Smashwords and if you use Smashwords you won't have to buy an ISBN. (Apple requires them: Apple does not provide them. They are very expensive to buy in small quantities.)
Q: Why are you making such a big deal about ISBN?
A: ISBN are REQUIRED for books to be sold on some websites (like iTunes Bookstore/iBooks) and through print distribution. They are unique to the EDITION of the book: one single "book" can have a dozen ISBN. For ISBN purposes print books and e-books are different editions even when identical: you cannot use your e-book's ISBN on the print edition or vice versa. It is against the rules of the free ISBN distributors to re-use their ISBN for e-books that are published directly through other sites. You might get caught, you might not. If you do, you might get sanctioned, you might not. But those ARE the rules and you agree to them when you accept the free ISBN. See below "Sample Easy Publishing Workflow" for ways to use free ISBN without breaking any rules (or confusing editions.) ISBN are distributed online in quantities from one to a million: however, the price for buying a small quantity of them is extremely high. AS OF THIS WRITING, it does not make economic sense to buy your own ISBN when with some shuffling you can cover all requirements for free.
Q: How do I get my texts ready for e-publishing?
A: The e-publishers have specs on their sites: follow them. My suggestion is that you do the following:
1) Write your manuscript in Microsoft Word or an equivalent program. Use a template which you know Smashwords will accept. Smashwords has a free style guide which is quite readable and explains most typical publishing situations, including how to exercise what it calls "The Nuclear Option." If you set up your template correctly you shouldn't have to do this to each document, but you almost certainly will have to do it to your first one at some point to get it to a clean template state.
2) When you're ready to publish, publish your .doc to Smashwords. Many people will talk about using Smashwords' converted files for direct publishing to other sites. THIS IS A VIOLATION OF THE TERMS OF SERVICE. Besides, there's a way that's almost as easy and much more flexible.
3) For every other site, use the free open-source programs Sigil or Calibre to convert your .doc to an .epub (which is the standard e-book document file format.) It's not hard. Then upload your .epub to Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.
Q: How do I get my covers ready for e-publishing?
A: The publishers have specs: follow them. There's all kinds of advice on making covers online and I will not pick a side/preferred format/philosophy, but I will point out that a) you should have some kind of cover picture and b) you should not use the default cover pictures that the e-publishers offer. (CreateSpace offers a small selection, but each and every one of them says, "I couldn't find a picture relevant to my book" to a reader who's been using Amazon for any length of time.) Cover photos can be licensed very cheaply from places like canstockphoto.com or dreamstime.com.
Q: How can I get my books in physical print and into bookstores?
A: There are several POD ("Print on Demand") publishing services, the most popular of which seem to be CreateSpace (an Amazon company) and LightningSource. Whichever service you use, keep in mind one thing: in publishing money flows TOWARD the content creator, not AWAY. If you're paying for something it should be something somebody else created, like cover art. You should not be paying a fee to publish your books or print copies. (Although you should expect to pay a discounted price for galleys or to do direct sales.) Find a POD service you like, and use it. As far as bookstores, CreateSpace offers (AT THE TIME OF THIS WRITING) expanded distribution through wholesale for a flat fee of $25/book. If you choose to do this, your book goes into Books In Print (CreateSpace gives away free ISBN) and into a system that most bookstores can order through. Alternatively you can sell direct, but how you do that is beyond the scope of this post.
Q: How much should my book cost?
A: That answer is above my pay grade. All I'll say is that people don't value things they don't pay a reasonable price for. Dean Wesley Smith (see below) has several excellent blog posts on pricing.
Q: This is all too confusing. What's a Sample Easy Publishing Workflow to get my e-books out there?
1) Write a book. Write it in Microsoft Word.
2) Sign up for a free Smashwords account.
3) Get the Smashwords Style Guide and use it to format your file. Keep running it through Smashwords' auto-converter (affectionately known as the Meatgrinder) until it passes the automatic review.
4) Once your book is accepted by Smashwords, use the ISBN manager to request a free ISBN for it, which will allow it to be distributed to Apple, Kobo, etc. through Smashwords. Go to the Channel Manager on Smashwords (you can access it on the left side of the screen when you're in your Dashboard) and turn OFF distribution to Amazon.com. If you're going to publish direct to Kobo and/or B&N, turn them off too. Leave the rest on. You have to save your changes with the big button at the bottom of the list.
5) Upload your file to Amazon's KDP website. It will accept Word files if you don't want to mess with conversion. The only thing you have to change is to take out the "Published at Smashwords" line which Smashwords' auto-converter requires to be present on the first page of your book. (If your ebook fails conversion and the error has something to do with the first page, make sure you are including the copyright information it requires. Details are in the Style Guide.)
6) Let Smashwords distribute to B&N, Kobo, etc. At heart if you publish on a) Amazon and b) Smashwords, you will eventually hit the vast majority of the e-book retail sector.
Q: That's still too hard. How can I just get a real publisher to publish my book?
A: The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, practice, practice, kissing a lot of ass, and having the Devil's own luck. Tradpub is in a furor of change and uncertainty that makes the whole music file-sharing fiasco look like a Sunday picnic. The big publishers are not going away (as a group. Some will fail.) But they are going through hard times and they are grasping at every straw. Hopping on board a leaky lifeboat is not a long-term survival strategy when you can make your own, better boat. But, if you want to go that route, there are any number of books and websites about how to do it. Buy yourself a copy of Writer's Market (you can get last year's, which is plenty good enough, at Half Price Books or other used bookstores) and start looking for publishers and/or agents who sound like they might like your work. FOLLOW THEIR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. They really, really mean it.
Q: Where can I learn more about being an independent publisher?
All over the freaking place. The best blog I have seen, bar none, is Dean Wesley Smith's, at http://www.deanwesleysmith.com. He links to his wife's site a lot: if you want to go direct, it's http://www.kriswrites.com. They both link to a lot of other sites. Start there and work your way out. Sarah Hoyt's blog is also wonderful but isn't focussed on publishing (she just talks about it from time to time.) When she does talk publishing it's worth listening to. Here's a good example: http://accordingtohoyt.com/2012/10/08/how-to-indie-publish-on-the-cheap/ I would avoid the Kindleboards (the community message boards on Amazon's KDP site.) They have a very low barrier to entry and there is a lot of nonsense posted there. Until you know how to tell when somebody knows what they are talking about, stay away from people who might not know what they are talking about. (That doesn't include me. I know what I'm talking about. Always trust Centauri.)
Q: Hey, wait a minute! I write erotica. Can I get in trouble for publishing pornography?
A: While the author of this post is a lawyer, nothing in it should be interpreted as legal advice. Consult an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction and familiar with the relevant law before making legal decisions.
That being said, in the US the First Amendment protects everything that isn't "obscene." It's pretty damn hard to accidentally write a text (without pictures) that a modern court will consider obscene. (It can be done: this is not a challenge. As an example underage sex for titillation purposes will do it without much trouble.) Other countries have laws that vary widely. What you really need to worry about is the publishers' rules, since they can and will nix your book for including content they don't like. The main ones are underage sex, true incest (hence the popularity of "stepcest," sex between stepchildren and other stepchildren/stepparents) and bestiality. Given the flood of content and lack of manual review, the only way to really get caught is to get reported by a disgruntled viewer, but that can and does happen. Read the rules for each publisher and make your own decisions accordingly.