I noticed a Tweet the other day that said: “Someone should write a properly informative article about turning backlisted titles whose rights have reverted to authors into ebooks”.
Well, I’ve done that with quite a few of my books now so I decided to take up the challenge and put together an article about it.
My kids’ books were published by Mentor Press and O’Brien Press in Ireland between 1998 and 2006. My O’Brien titles are still going strong but Mentor pulled out of children’s publishing in 2007 and remaindered all their stock. The rights reverted to me. I bought a truckload of my books – actually, just a palletload – at a bargain price and have been giving these away to visitors to our gîte and fishery.
Then in January of this year I got a Kindle and very quickly become a total convert to ebooks and indie publishing. I began writing a non-fiction travel memoir, Heads Above Water, about moving to France from Ireland and our experiences in the first few years here. I also got cracking on a racy fishing mystery story. But those were going to take time and I wanted to get something out there in the ebookiverse quickly. So I turned to my backlist. I figured it would be good practice to learn about formatting and epublishing using those, and it would also get my name out there before the new books came out.
I have nearly thirty children’s books to my name and the majority of these are Mentor books so I had plenty to choose from. But having changed computers several times since writing the books, tracking down the files containing them was proving tricky. So, nothing daunted, I retyped the first one. I chose Beat The Hackers. These needed a lot of updating since I’d written it in 1998. (It began its life as Beat The Millennium you see but I was overruled by my editor and had to change it.) Anyway, there were references to floppy disks that needed to be changed to USB keys and I had to move the action into the future. It had been set in 2004/5, but since that hand now passed I rescheduled it for 2013/14. This took some time since it was a 30,000 word book, but it was good typing practice and I enjoyed it.
However, if you face the same problem of missing files, I would suggest you scan the text of your books in. I got my eldest son onto doing this over the summer for me. He was cheap, and it saved me a lot of time. Luckily I’ve since come across some back-up CDs with my stories on them, so that’s speeded things up even more. There are plenty of OCR programs out there, many free to download, and they’re easy to use.
So, the text was taken care of. What about the cover? The artwork for the book belonged to Mentor. I could have contacted them to ask if I could use it, and hopefully for free. It’s always an option to talk to the publisher and negotiate to use the original artwork. They may or may not co-operate. However, I wanted a new look for my updated book, and I’m lucky in having a daughter who can do very cool things with computer graphics. She created a super new cover for me. I’ve also had some lovely new covers drawn for me by a family friend, the talented illustrator Roger Fereday. I admit I’ve been very lucky in having such artistic family and friends.
But if you’re not a designer and don’t have access to one, and can’t afford an artist to draw you a new cover, don’t despair. You can create a perfectly acceptable cover using a photo and some nice typeface. I have done several using Paint, which isn’t very high spec as graphics programs go. Aim for 600 x 800 pixels wide and you can’t go far wrong.
Next I got to grips with converting my files into a format suitable for uploading to Kindle and Smashwords. This wasn’t as tricky as I feared, but first time round it took a while. I went for Kindle first. Files need to be in web page filtered format. This isn’t hard and if you follow the instructions on the Kindle Direct Publishing website, it’s very straightforward. I make use of MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer to check that the finished product is going to look good on Kindle. I convert the file I have ready for Kindle using MobiPocket which leaves you with a .prc file. The Kindle Previewer opens this and simulates how your book will appear on a Kindle so you can go through and spot any layout or other errors and correct these before submitting to KDP. Both MobiPocket Creator and Kindle Previewer are free downloads. The ebook takes around 24 to 48 hours to appear on the Amazon websites.
Formatting for Smashwords looks a bit scarier since there are more instructions, but basically, get your file into .doc format – not .docx – and you’ll be OK. The Meatgrinder, the conversion tool, tells you if there are any ‘Autovetter’ errors that you need to put right. I only ever got those the first time I formatted a book for Smashwords. Since then, I’ve been spot on every time. A tip – go for what Mark Coker calls the ‘nuclear approach’, i.e. you paste your original Word file into Wordpad to strip out all the underlying formatting that Word loves to shove in, and then you repaste into Word and start from scratch. Once you get the hang of what to do, it’s a piece of cake. I’m no techno-junkie, but I cope fine. Your ebook appears on Smashwords’ site very quickly.
Smashwords will distribute to Barnes and Noble, Apple and Sony providing there are no Autovetter errors in your book. It also distributes to Kindle, but this is an extremely slow process so I always publish directly myself to KDP.
Pricing is an issue to consider. I have made most of my ebooks free. I’ve made money out of them already and I want to get my name known. Plus it’s sad but true that many readers are reluctant to shell out even 99 cents for an ebook! There is a lot of free content out there at the moment. I think this trend will die down eventually, since it’s unsustainable, but it doesn’t hurt to jump on the bandwagon in the meantime to get out there.
So, in a nutshell, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to turn your backlist book to which you retain rights into an ebook:
- If you don’t have an electronic version of your book, retype or scan it.
- Update the text if necessary.
- Proofread it carefully yourself and get at least a couple of other people to read through. Since it’s already been published there should be a minimal amount of typos etc – in theory!
- Commission / create a new cover if you can’t get permission to use the old one.
- Ditto for any illustrations if you intend to include these.
- For steps 3 and 4, consider using photos instead of illustrations to save money.
- Create accounts at Smashwords and Amazon KDP if you don’t already have them.
- Convert for Smashwords and Kindle. This is very straightforward and quite achievable with a bit of time and effoet, but there are folks out there who will do it for a small fee for you (such as me!)
- Upload your files and then get busy with publicising your book!
- Tell EVERYONE how clever you are.
So go for it, and good luck!