iStk_Paper_LgeThe decision to self-publish can feel daunting. But you’ve decided to make the leap and now what? Well, the first step is to prepare your manuscript and chances are … you’ve probably already done it.

When I first started writing in 2005, I know it seems hard to believe, but email and digital books were just beginning to take off. It was customary for an author to format their Word document in Courier New font, double-spaced. This format most emulated a typewriter and averaged 250 words per page. When printed, the number of pages in the manuscript gave the publisher an idea of the number of pages in the finished print book. We tabbed our paragraphs and underlined anything that was going to be italicized so it was easily recognizable by the formatter. Manuscripts were printed and sent by snail mail to the publisher who hand edited them with a red pencil. (I mention this, because there may be some of you looking to re-release previously published books in this format and your manuscript would need to be stripped of all that formatting before your novel can be published digitally.)

Of course none of that is necessary in today’s digital world.

A clean manuscript ready for digital formatting should be (*use paragraph formatting in MS Word to change settings):

* 12 pt. Times New Roman font
* 1.5 or single line spacing (I prefer 1.5)

* Justified margins (emulates print books)
* The first line of a paragraph should be INDENTED .3, NEVER use the tab button for a new paragraph. The first paragraph of a chapter or scene should be left justified rather than indented.
* Chapter headings should be in a font to complement your genre and book cover. (I usually use the spacing option to have the chapter header appear about 1/4 of the way down the page.)
* Use the indent option for paragraphs that show letters, notes or phone texts
* Scene break images rather than asterisks adds a professional look to your digital book. I also use the spacing under the “paragraph” in Word to have 12 points above and 12 points below the scene break

That’s it. Easy peasy. Once you set your Word program to do this automatically, you don’t have to think about it.

The next step is EDITING. Hopefully you’ve already had friends, relatives or even a critique group read your story, help with any plot holes, point out any story inconsistencies, hanging subplots or problems with character development and now you’re ready for professional editing. This is not a step you can skip. No matter your level of writing expertise–a debut novelist or a seasoned NYT bestseller–you need someone with an eye for detail to do a thorough edit on your manuscript.

In traditional publishing, you are assigned to an editor who will work through your story with you. They help with weak areas, suggest specific edits to make scenes or characters stronger. After a first pass, the edits are sent to you, you make changes based on your editor’s recommendations and send the story back to your editor for another round. This continues until your editor feels the story is ready for publication. It’s possible to have several rounds of edits before your book goes to final proofing.

In self-publishing, it’s your job to find a professional editor who will help you through this process, creating the best possible product for your readers.

There are basically three levels of editing:

Content Editing: This is the “global” editing of your story. In this type of editing an editor looks for weak or inconsistent character development. Inconsistencies with character traits such as hair and eye color. Repetitive phrasing. Plot or pacing problems. Point of view problems.

Copy or Line Editing: This is literally checking your work line by line for grammar and punctuation, misspelled or incorrect word usage (homophones like there, their and they’re), clarity of wording and general flow of story.

Proofing: Despite an editor’s careful eyes on your story and probably several read-throughs by friends and family, the occasional misspelled word or homonym sneaks through. A proof reader is looking through the manuscript ONLY for wording errors.

When shopping for an editor it’s important to understand exactly what type of editing they are going to do for you. Does the cost include only one round of edits or multiple? Content editing or just line editing? Editing can be very costly if you are paying a per word charge each time an editor reads your manuscript.

There are many wonderful editors out there. I HIGHLY recommend Faith Freewoman of DEMON FOR DETAILS manuscript editing. I have personally worked with her and have sent many authors to her. She is professional, timely and easy to work with … plus she does a second read after your first round of edits—all for one price. If you use her, be sure to tell her Nina sent you. 😉

Now, that being said, every author needs a little something different from an editor. What I like, you may not, and vice versa. Most editors are happy to work on some sample pages to be sure you’re a good fit before you hire them. Also know that freelance editors are becoming increasingly busy and it may take several months before they can fit you into their schedule. Keep this in mind when you’re looking at a publishing date.

** I should note that manuscripts are sent via emails and edits made directly to the manuscript using “track changes” mode in MS Word. Familiarity with this part of the Word program makes the editing process simple and straight forward. If you aren’t familiar with this option, be sure to mention that to a prospective editor. Short tutorials are available online. **

Once you’ve done all your edits, you’ve got a manuscript that’s spit-polished and shiny and you’re wondering whether you need to obtain a copyright editorand ISBN (International Standard Book Number) before uploading to retailers. The short answer is “no” to both questions.

ISBNs can be purchased through Bowker, who will lead you to believe most retailers require them (they don’t) and that your book will be easier for readers to find, but few, if any readers search for books using ISBNs anymore. It was also once thought a book without an ISBN couldn’t make the USA Today or NYT bestseller lists and this is patently not true either. All retailers offering self-publishing provide free ISBNs (or other identifiers) for both print and digital formats. The only disadvantage of using an ISBN from the publishing company is you are not listed as the publisher in book listing catalogues—but other than librarians, who reads those?

Copyright is a little more complicated. The fact is, your manuscript is yours and technically copyrighted the moment you finish writing it. The problem may be proving it (though many have proven it without formal copyright) if your work is stolen or plagiarized. A registered copyright is legal proof that you own the work. Copyrights can be obtained at Some authors choose to copyright, others don’t.

The last step in preparing your document for upload is creating a hyperlinked table of contents. This is done by creating bookmarks and hyperlinking them to a chapter list.

If any of this seems overwhelming, feel free to contact me about digital and print formatting services. Check out my rates on my FORMATTING PAGE.

Best of luck on your self-publishing journey!

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