There are a lot of writers who are looking for information about self-publishing. Even if you decide to hire out some of the work, covers and formatting, you should know what's required for the various e-stores and distributors, and keep up on the latest news.
There's loads of information out there, but it's sometimes hard to find just by doing general searches -- you can get thousands of sites that aren't really what you're looking for. I decided to start listing things on this page as I find them, in hope some of it may be of use to you.
I've organized things under headings, which have links in the index below, so you can scroll down, or jump directly to what you want.
FORMATTING AND PUBLISHING
Neil Gaiman has a post on his site about writers and estates. He includes a simple will that can be downloaded and completed.
Beginning Estate Planning
Kris Rusch is going to be doing a series of blog posts about estates. The first one, a general overview, posted on 11/8/12.
How to Be Read 100 Years From Now
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There are lots of places for writers to get together on the web. Some are general writing sites, others are genre-specific. Here are the places I visit the most often:
Kristine Katherine Rusch's blog is a good one for general information about both traditional and self-publishing, and she posts free short stories and excerpts of her novels each week.
Dean Wesley Smith writes about his experiences in self-publishing, with tales of his traditional writing life (he's been a published writer for a while). He has a good series about how to set yourself up as a publisher, and how that benefits an indie writer.
Joe Konrath's was the first blog I found about self-publishing, discovered when I was researching the latest news in submitting manuscripts.
The Passive Guy is a lawyer, and he writes on topics of interest to writers, and has links to articles from other sites that are relevant in this modern world of publishing.
The Passive Voice
My home-away-from-home is the Writer's Cafe over at the KBoards (formerly the Kindle Boards). It's a great place to chat with other writers doing the indie publishing thing. There are traditionally published writers there, and some who are taking a hybrid approach as well.
There's also the Book Bazaar, where members can promote their work. Other forums on the site are of interest to Kindle owners in general.
For general talk about writing, and submitting queries and manuscripts, markets and competitions, the Water Cooler at Absolute Write is a good resource. They even have a board for self-publishing, just don't call yourself an indie writer. They hate that. Really.
Create Space has forums as well, and they are a great place to read up on publishing print books, with forums for interior and cover formatting. There are also articles relevant to the process, and templates you can use to get your book ready.
NOTE: I no longer recommend Amazon's KDP forums. There's not much relevant information that you can't get elsewhere, with a lot less irritation/bad info/disruption. For writers, the customer forums aren't meant for you. The only place you can say/list/promote your work is the Meet Our Authors forum, and that's like shouting into the wind -- no one's really listening.
There are separate boards for different topics of interest, should you decide to check out the KDP forums. The easiest way to get to the forums is through your dashboard, by clicking on Community, but a direct link is:
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This tutorial comes from a good site for writing information in general.
A follow-up to the above, talking about typography (the words on the cover).
A very basic book cover how-to, using an older version of Photoshop. There are some other videos by this user on other aspects of ebook designing and formatting.
This video talks about putting a cover together, and how to make it look 3D. It seems to be a lead-in to purchased templates, but there are places to get free templates if you can't draw your own.
Another video about how a writer designed one of her covers.
Here's a video that shows how to make an ebook cover using GIMP. There are other videos linked under this one, that complete the steps used to make the cover.
I found an author who uses Powerpoint to make books covers. He has a tutorial on his site (it's the 2/22/12 post, if the direct link fails):
Making Covers in Powerpoint
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The following links are to some of the graphics programs that can be used to create covers. There are lots of programs that can be used, some are even free, which is nice when you are a struggling artist on a tight budget!
GIMP is free to use, and it isn't terribly hard to get the basics, but like anything it takes practice. GIMP is very similar to Photoshop. I started out using GIMP, though I'm now using Photoshop CS6, I still think GIMP is a great program.
more GIMP tutorials
yet more GIMP tutorials
Photoshop is the industry standard in digital imaging, at least according to the company! It's very good at making digital art, and I've grown to love using it. It's expensive, though. You can get a free trial at the site, if you want to check it out (I'm not sure if the program is limited during the trial.)
more Photoshop tutorials
InDesign, an Adobe product, can also be used to do covers. Most people seem to use it to format the interior of books, especially for print. I did find a tutorial on using the program for a cover:
Powerpoint is a product from Microsoft. I've never used it, so I can't say anything about it. I have seen a couple of covers made with the program, and they looked okay. I don't think the program has the same level of graphic manipulation as some of the others.
Paint.net is a free program, and is similar to Photoshop. Here are a couple of tutorials using different versions of Windows:
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Stock Art Sites:
There are lots of places to get stock photos to use in creating covers. Most use a credit-based purchasing system, but they may also have free images for members. There are also free sites where you can get images. Be prepared to spend some time looking through the sites to see what's available.
Please be sure to follow the licensing rules of the particular site you use, and credit the sources accordingly. Don't steal another artist's work.
This first link is from the Kindle Direct Publishing forum, where the poster listed lots of stock sites. Also includes some useful hints and tips. No need to reinvent the wheel, right?
I've gotten some good images from here, all either released to the public domain, or for use under various Creative Commons licenses. Again, be sure to only use these images according to the rights holder's wishes.
Here's another source for free Creative Commons images that I've checked out. Some are available for commercial use, some are not. Check the requirements of the individual image.
Flickr: The Creative Commons- Free Pictures Pool
This site specifically states that commercial use is allowed for the images they have, which are all pulled from Flickr, I believe. I would still check the rights on any image I wanted to use, just to be sure commercial use was allowed.
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Inspiration video about the cover design for Blameless by Gail Carriger. There are no techniques shown in detail, but it's interesting to see the process. The video moves quickly, and jumps around.
Another inspiration video by a writer who makes her own covers. No how-to, just to see the process. Like above, it moves fast.
Finally, here are some links to what is called speed art. There are lots of others. I never looked at stock art the same after I started watching these videos -- these folks take photos and parts of photos and come up with some awesome images.
While not technically book covers, the same techniques can translate to cover design. Again, no instructions, and the videos move fast, but wow, what these folks can do!
http://www.youtube.com/user/AlexanderKoshelkov/videos?view=0 my favorite!
http://www.youtube.com/user/FlewDesigns/videos?view=0 also some tutorials
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FORMATTING AND PUBLISHINGMost every retail site/distributor will have their own requirements for book formatting. Some sites take epubs, including Smashwords and Amazon now. To get all the details, check with each site, and be sure to read and follow all TOS/TOU (terms of service/use). It could save you a lot of headaches and possible heartache down the road.
I've always published directly to KDP/Amazon, and used Smashwords as a distributor to the other sites in addition to selling books there. Some retailers now allow you to publish direct, so you can skip the distributors like Smashwords and Draft to Digital (D2D).
Please note that some sites limit direct publishing to people in the United States. You can find out more information by checking out the details on each retailer.
You must read this guide to get your work on Smashwords -- their formatting requirements are totally different from Amazon's. It's free to download in various formats.
I set up a document by following this book, and saved the template so I wouldn't have to start from scratch each time. It saved me lots of headaches, and my books go through Meatgrinder (what they call their conversion program) with no problem.
Smashwords Formatting Guide
KDP has guides for Kindle formatting, which are free to download as a printable PDF.
Formatting for Windows
Formatting for Mac
There are lots of other people who have written about Kindle formatting, who have guides that you can buy. The following are a few free sources, and there are others out there you can search for.
This is a new site to me, showing how to convert for kindle and epub using Calibre, which is a free program. Since Amazon doesn't use Mobipocket anymore, you need to find a way that works for you. He notes you need some HTML/CSS knowledge, but it seems to be minimal.
Using Calibre to Format for Kindle
Guido has a good tutorial that covers using HTML to format ebooks. Knowing even a little HTML can make your book awesome. (One of these days, I'll get around to learning it.)
Take Pride in Your eBook Formatting
This is the tutorial I used to get my short stories formatted for uploading to KDP. Simple enough that I could overcome my fear and get my short stories on Amazon.
How to Format Kindle eBooks
Here are a couple of pages about publishing on Apple.
Barnes and Noble:
Barnes and Noble's Nook Press is another site to publish your books.
Kobo is a Canadian company, which is now open to direct publishing.
Kobo Writing Life
There are two sites that I know of that will distribute your books to retail sites. They are useful to those who can't go direct to the sites due to geographical restrictions.
In addition to selling books, Smashwords distributes books to several retailers (though not to Amazon), as well as to libraries and other sites.
Draft to Digital (D2D):
This site can publish to Amazon, as well as the other retailers. I've seen some good reports from writers about this company.
Draft to Digital (D2D)
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Print on Demand (POD)
If you have a book, you should have it in print. It's different than formatting for ebooks, but can certainly be done yourself, with a little time and effort. Even if you decide to hire someone to do this for you, you should have a basic knowledge of how it's done, and what the file should look like.
These links come from a post by Masha du Toit (on the kboards.com Writer's Cafe forum). Thanks for posting them, Masha!
How to prepare your book for print-on-demand:
Word templates for interiors at various trim sizes:
InDesign templates for interiors at various trim sizes:
Someone on the kboards was asking about Scribus, whether it was better than InDesign. Seems like both have good points and bad, and a learning curve. Doesn't everything?
Scribus is a free, open source software similar to InDesign. I have no experience with it myself, but it may be an option for doing print layout. It may be suitable for ebooks as well, but you'll need to check for that yourself.
There are lots of different programs around to write in, and some even format into various book formats. I know, it's hard to believe there's something beyond Word!
I've only been using Scrivener for a couple of months, and I'm just getting around to understanding how awesome this program is going to be for me. I especially love that it will compile (AKA format) for print and digital books.
There is a thirty day free trial (which only counts the days you actually use it), and if you participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo), they offer a 50% discount coupon afterwards for those who successfully complete the event. If you look around, often participants offer their coupon to others who could use it, which is how I got the program). There are often other discounts around as well.
I started out using this program once I found out how aggravating Word can be for long projects. It has some features like Scrivener, but can't compile (format), at least not yet. It's free to use, and not that difficult to learn.
Open Office/Libre Office:
Open source versions of Microsoft's Word. I've used Open Office before, and it was very similar to Word.
Jutoh is an editing program that works on Windows, Mac and Linus systems. It can produce books for Amazon, Apple and other retailers. According to the site, it can also be used to create covers. Sounds interesting, but I have no personal experience with the program. You can get a trial version to check it out.