I decided that the best way to learn about the process of self publishing an ebook was to take part. I threw together a small collection of short stories to use as my first "experiment" and decided to upload it to both the Amazon Digital Text Platform and Smashwords. As the Amazon one takes a few days to be accepted or rejected, I'll focus on Smashwords today. This post is pretty general but I'll be going more in-depth in certain areas with later posts.
First things first, I made an account at Smashwords then clicked on Publish in the tab list. (I also checked out their terms and conditions and various other bits of information but more on that some other time). You can fill in all of the information straight away and upload but you are advised to check out the Smashwords Style Guide. This is very useful and although the information seemed daunting at first - purely because there is so much of it - it is very readable and clear. It is designed to avoid poorly formatted books on the Smashwords site.
The book advises you to try and format your document yourself but if you're unable to, they provide lists of people who will do it for cheap as well as a more expensive option. I don't think you should pay for this at all - it is so easy to do once you take it a step at a time. It might be a little time consuming the first time but you might as well learn what is involved for future reference.
Moving on to the actual formatting. The Smashwords Style Guide lists the six most common formatting mistakes. They include improper indenting, too many paragraph spaces, overly large fonts, multiple paragraph styles and a complete lack of paragraph spacing. Personally, I didn't have a problem with any of these but I know that other people like to have their writing laid out in certain ways. This doesn't always work for a document that is about to be converted into numerous different files. It has to remain readable for each mode so plain and simple is the way to go here.
Some of the common mistakes that cause a book to be rejected from the Premium Catalog involve the Index/Contents page and the Copyright page. Basically, you can't show page numbers on the Index because page numbers completely change when the document you upload is converted. You also can't include page numbers or headers and footers in your document. The copyright page has to include certain information but they give you samples to use - it isn't hard and it takes minutes to make these adjustments. It's worth taking the time to do it right.
There is a lot of good information in the Style Guide. It devotes some pages to the limitations of their conversion methods. For example, charts and tables are unreliable and may not appear as intended. Moving on to the book cover reveals that it cannot be square shaped but it is recommended to upload one. They offer to send you a list of people who will create a cover for a low amount but they also recommend a free picture editing program to try out. I used this - it was very easy to change the royalty free image I used, to add text and to change the size to the Smashwords requirements.
Next time I'll concentrate on the copyright page and linking to your blog/other work/Smashwords author profile within your book.