So you want to get your book published?
You’ve always wanted to get your book published, but you just never had the time, right? So, now that we’re in a pandemic and can’t do shit, you feel that this is your moment? Good for you! So let’s get your writing out into the world! First question: Have you actually written a decent story? If yes, skip down the page to the Smashwords bit. If no, then what’s keeping you? Let’s do this!
We’re hardwired to listen to and to tell stories. Our love of stories is both humanity’s blessing and our curse. It’s our blessing because stories have helped us to communicate at scale and to share wisdom more effectively. It’s our curse because stories make us easier to control. Think religion, dictatorships, political manifestos, ads for things we don’t need.
The self-publishing revolution has opened up publishing to everyone. In just the past decade, we have been given free tools that allow us to share our stories with billions of people. This is the most radical change in publishing since Gutenberg (printing press, 1440) and has enabled success stories such as 50 Shades of Grey, which started out as a self-published title. Getting your book out into the world might just connect you with literary agents and publishers, but the real joy is the guarantee that you will connect with readers. Here’s how…
Writing a book, one great sentence at a time
Ernest Hemingway was a super writer. When asked about advice for the writer facing an empty page, he said: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”
And don’t think you have to write 80,000 words, which is considered to be the minimum length for a novel. These days, you can publish a story of any length as a digital book. You can go ahead and publish a short story if you want. Think of it like a single in the music industry. My biggest selling title is called 9/11 Trilogy. It’s three short stories and is less than 20,000 words. It’s had over 100,000 downloads and was a lot less work than any novel I’ve written.
Back to Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea is one of his greatest and best-loved works, and a key reason he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And it’s just 27,000 words. Hemingway is also celebrated for a story that has just six words, which is as powerful as many a saga. Here it is:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
We now call condensed stories flash fiction, and there is an audience for every shape and size of story. So don’t feel that writing and publishing a story must take years. It can, yes, but you can also accomplish this great feat in mere weeks. But what to write about?
It’s all about the story (and the characters, and the dialogue, and the twists)
There’s an old tip: write what you know. Sadly, most of us lead pretty dull lives and most of what we know about life is unlikely to appeal to many readers. But if you look at it another way, you can take what you know about where you live or where you’ve been and use that as a location. You can take your experiences and use them as foundations for your characters. You can take topics about which you know a lot and use them to add depth to your characters. Some writers find it useful to write a profile of their key characters, or even a Proust Questionnaire (I do!). Then you need to amp up your plot. Grab the reader at the beginning of your story. Certainly, the first 50 pages should be gripping, as that’s typically the point at which the reader decides whether or not to finish the book. Make your dialogue credible. Do real people speak as your characters do? Read your dialogue aloud. Does it still work? Take the reader on a journey, a trip to somewhere unexpected, with plot twists, surprises and a satisfying payoff. Your reader is spending time with your story. Reward your reader.
George Orwells’ writing tips
In his essay Politics and the English Language (1946), Orwell wrote about the importance of precise and clear language, arguing that vague writing can be used as a powerful tool of political manipulation because it shapes the way we think. In that essay, Orwell provides six rules for writers:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or any other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
The artist’s duty is to art, to truth-telling in his own medium, the writer’s duty is to produce the best literary work of which he is capable, and he must find out how this can be done.Iris Murdoch
What you’ll need to get your ebook published
It’s worth listing the key requirements that you’ll need before you can take the next, momentous step, and publish:
Book title. Make it original, make it startling.
Your story, in a plain, unformatted Google or Word doc. Make sure it’s well proofed, ideally by someone else also, who has excellent spelling, grammar and punctuation abilities.
Book cover. Unless you’re a talented graphic designer, get some help. Imagine your book cover on a shelf in a store, or on Apple Books or Amazon. It has to look as good as anything else. Better, even.
Description. Think of this like the blurb on the back cover of a print book. When somebody reads this, they have to want to read your story like it’s an irresistible urge.
Category. What’s your genre, and sub-genre? It could be: Fiction>Science fiction>Dystopian, for example.
Tags. What are the descriptive words that will help readers find your book? Put yourself in your target reader’s shoes.
How to publish your book on Smashwords, the indie book publishing platform that’s the answer to every writer’s prayers
I write my stories in Google Docs, then export to MS Word (which I despise, along with everything Microsoft) for final formating, as per the Smashwords Style Guide. Currently, the ebook publishing platforms all require an MS Word file. When you’re typing your story, just keep it simple and don’t use tabs. Trust me.
Once you’ve assembled all your elements, or at least have a plan, the next thing to do is to read the Smashwords Style Guide, cover to cover. It’s free, and will set you up so that you will avoid a lot of pain, by formating your text and cover perfectly for the widest possible distribution. Get it here.
Importantly, Smashwords will also let you get a free ISBN number for your book. An ISBN is required to get into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, which distributes your book out to Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Scribd, Kobo, library suppliers and many more outlets.
Next steps, essential links
Smashwords indie ebook publishing platform. Smashwords pays you 85% royalty of your ebook retail price, and you set the price. Most other channels pay around 70%, but it can vary. Get your book published for free, and distribute through Apple Books and many more outlets: https://www.smashwords.com
Smashwords Style Guide. Read this before you do any formatting and don’t ever use tabs, lol: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52
Amazon Kindle Direct Platform, KDP. Publish your book for sale on Amazon. Kindle and print-on-demand: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/
Google Play. Sell your book on Google for Android devices: https://play.google.com/books/publish/u/0/
Print-on-demand, getting your book onto paper
Amazon’s KDP has a piece of incredible technology, one that allows readers to order your book in print from Amazon. When an order is received, Amazon prints a single copy, then delivers it. The book quality is identical to any published book and, to be honest, the feel and smell of your own book in print is pretty hard to beat. I really like the matt cover finish. If you’re working on a lengthy story, then this option is highly recommended: You’re giving your readers the choice of digital or print or both. The only downside is that there is a lot more work involved. You need to supply Amazon with print-ready cover and interior page layout files. All the details are at the KDP link above. If you have good desktop publishing or graphic design skills, you’ll be fine. Look at it this way: For an ebook, you’re setting up a file that is flexible enough to accommodate any kind of ebook reader. For print-on-demand, you have to define exactly how every printed page will look, no flexibility. You might need to find someone who can help. It’s worth it.
Gary J Byrnes, my favourite novels
Reading a great book is not only enjoyable, but it’s also inspirational. Here are my favourite books, the ones that inspired me to write, that I keep going back to…
- 1984 by George Orwell. This is just the best, the novel that predicted the modern world of endless war, state surveillance and doublespeak. The love story at its heart has a Shakespearian sense of epic tragedy and foreboding: Julia and Winston’s affair is doomed before it even begins, but they do it all the same. If you haven’t gotten round to it yet, please do!
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Mindbendingly inventive, epic in scale and so engrossing. I considered this book unfilmable, until the Wachowskis did a stupendous effort. Don’t drink the soap!
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. The book that gave us the best scifi movie ever made, Bladerunner. The book is so much more than the film, though. Essential reading.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson. An adventure into America’s heart of darkness, a whole new kind of writing, and a masterful blurring of the lines between fact and fiction.
- A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. I could say any of the 5 books published so far, really, as they all make a fantasy world feel immersive and credible, with an endless cast of interesting characters. Looking forward to the two final books, in the knowledge that the ending will be different from the TV series.
Stories by Gary J Byrnes
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Check out my award-winning flash fiction.
Iris Murdoch on storytelling, in the excellent Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/07/18/iris-murdoch-existentialists-mystics-philosophy-literature-art/?mc_cid=270b48aedd&mc_eid=887e6444c7
George Orwell on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Orwell
George Orwell 1984: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1984.png
Hemingway working on his book For Whom the Bell Tolls (which is awesome!) at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, in December 1939: By Lloyd Arnold – http://www.phoodie.info/2013/07/19/from-the-desk-of-ernest-hemingway-this-weekend-cuba-libre-celebrates-my-birthday/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1456168
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson cover, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5978868
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