Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ARTICLE: Self- Publishing Without Dollars
By J. Lowet

It's a strange situation, that so many writers
struggle to make a living, or even a first sale, yet
at the same time, so many businesses make money *from*
writers, especially epublishers. It feels like we're
trapped, either get picked-up by a big, traditional
publisher, or pay large amounts of money to an
epublisher. That's what I used to think. But, by a
combination of hours spent online, poverty and the
mother of invention, I've managed to produce, convert,
obtain a cover for, host and legally sell my ebook,
without spending a single cent.

This article is for people such as myself, with a
lot more time than money. If you are prepared to do
the work required, it's possible to do all that an
epublisher can do. Even if you aren't publishing an
ebook, this article still contains the very best links
I found for writers, after years on the Internet with
a budget of zero.

Creating the Source
The first step is, obviously, to write the book. A
good idea is to write a "source file" and save it as
plain text, showing italics between underscores like
_this_ and bold *between asterisks*. A plain text file
can't contain a virus (though couldn't be deleted by
one), plus it's not tied to any particular piece of
software; any word processor can open a text file.

Next you need to make a second version, in a word
processor, saved as Rich Text Format or a Word .doc
file. This file will be fully formatted and ready to
convert to a version that can be read in an ebook

If you already have a program such as Microsoft Word
or similar and are comfortable with it, then this
could be used. If not, it's possible to create a fully
formatted book, for not one single cent.

A completely free word processor called Jarte has a
homepage at:

Click the download on the left. It has a slightly
unusual interface and not enough features to so the
whole job, but it _does_ have the Holy Grail of
freeware word processors, a spellchecker. If you don't
already have something that can do this job, it's
worth downloading Jarte just to spellcheck the source
file for free.

A second freeware word processor is called Atlantis
Nova, and doesn't have a spell checker in the free
version, but does have all the features needed to take
your newly spellchecked text file, and turn it into a
fully formatted Rich Text Format or .doc file. It can
be downloaded here:

Again, click the download link on the left. Make sure
you download the completely free Atlantis Nova and not
Atlantis Ocean Mind, as the latter is shareware.

It's well beyond the scope of this article to explain
how to format your book. The best article, which I
referred to myself, is by Moira Allen, and you can
read it here:

The Cover

You can't judge a book by its cover, though most
people do. It would be possible to try and sell work
with just a text description, but people really want
to at least see a cover, so it feels like they're
paying for a book, not a file.

If you have a lot of time, some artistic talent and
are prepared to learn a fairly complex piece of
software, then there is something for free that
includes such advanced features (such as layers)
usually found only in expensive art programs. It's
called Pixia and is little known in the west as it was
originally developed in Japan, where it has quite a
following as it's used to create Anime illustrations
(though it can just as easily make a cover).

There are English tutorials and a download page at
its homepage.

The download option is, again, on the left.

What if you don't have time to learn this program?
Well, it's still possible to make an acceptable cover
in a simple program like Microsoft Paint. First of
all, go and take a picture that could be used to
represent whatever your book is about. Only you can
know this. Say, for example, you've written a novel
and it contains a character facing a difficult
dilemma. It's called _Hard Choices_ and you're name is
Sally Seller. Perhaps you could take a picture of some
broken, old-fashioned scales, or go out into the
street and snap a close up of a ONE WAY sign, or
perhaps find a picture of a path which diverges into
two directions. Get creative. TIP: leave space, like a
blank wall or some plain sky, for the title.

Now scan and open it in Paint. Some versions of paint
only open bitmaps. If this is the case, download a
program called Slowview from

The download link is, er, OK you know. Slowview can
do many interesting things but, very simply, in the
FILE menu, it can open almost any type of graphic, and
then save it in almost any format: free and simple
image conversion.

OK, so now you have the photo open in Paint. Look at
the double row of buttons on the left. See the one
that has a capital A. Click this and the cursor turns
into a crosshair. Drag the crosshairs to draw a box
over where the title will go. When the mouse-button is
released, a box will come up for you to select the
font, it's size, and the color is chosen from all the
colored boxes at the bottom. Now write the title and
click anywhere outside the box to finish.

Figure one: an example cover created with Microsoft

You can see the problem: the text appears over a
white box that obscures the pictures beneath, rather
than being "floating" text. There are three ways
around this, One, put the title over somewhere white
on the photograph. Two, accept the white box, if it
looks good. Three, use Pixia. Just because Pixia is
complex doesn't mean that you have to know all it's
features to use it.

If you want to try this, then open the picture in
Pixia. From the very top menu choose "Paint" and then
"Text" from the dropdown menu. This will bring up the
text dialogue. Write the title, choose a font and
color. The colors are selected differently in this
program. There's a multicolored circle on the right
with crosshairs on it. Use the mouse to pull the
crosshairs over the desired colour. The current color
is shown in the box beneath the circle, slightly to
the right. It will change when the crosshairs are
dragged around the circle.

Then click "OK" in the text dialogue box. The text
dialogue will disappear and the highlighted title will
appear over the picture. This is the title in a black
box and looks nothing like the finished text will.
It's displayed like this to make it easier to resize.
Use the mouse to drag the highlighted text to its
correct position, and drag the corners of the
highlighted box to change the size. When you're happy,
right-click the highlighted title and choose "paste"
from the shortcut menu. There you are: floating text.
Do the same with your name and then save the image as
a jpeg. Disregard the warning about saving in external
formats; this only applies if you're working with
advanced features.

TIP: when you choose the size of the text, if you
choose it larger than required and then size it down
it will stay sharp. If you choose very small text and
drag it wider, it will be fuzzy.

Figure two: an example cover created with Pixia.

Converting the File

There are various options to make the file into
something that can be read in an ebook reader. First
of all, check the file's size. If it's less than half
a kilobyte (500K) it's easy. TIP: if it's just over
500k and was saved as a Word document (.doc), try
saving it in Rich Text Format. It should be a little

Go to this address

and sign up. Then log in with your email address and
password. In the next page, click the blue title which
says "Convert into pdf". In the next screen, use the
browse button to locate the file, and in the box below
that (which will be saying "result.pdf") write the
book's title. Then click "Process Document".

Go check your mail, and find a fully converted pdf
file, which can be read in Acrobat reader. Check that
the formatting hasn't changed on conversion, for
example, that each new chapter still starts on a fresh
page and so on. If anything is different, reload the
unconverted document into Altantis Nova, make some
changes and convert the file again. There is no limit
to how many times you can use this free service. TIP:
in Atlantis, press the weird looking formatting
button, which is a little like a reverse letter P near
the top of the screen. Now the formatting marks,
usually hidden, are displayed. Each space is shown as
a dot, each line break is a weird looking reverse P
and so on. Seeing the hidden formatting marks makes it
easier to judge how much space is needed where.

If the file's too big for this method, there are
still options. You might split it into two books.
Alternatively try here

or why not the relatively new software, advertising
free and receiving rave reviews, CutePDF

These are the options to create a pdf file to be read
in Adobe's reader, but there are other ways to read an

If you have Microsoft Word 2000 then you can download
Microsoft Read here.

This file, when installed, adds a little button to
the interface of Word. When clicked, a wizard will
take your document and turn it into a .lit file,
making it an ebook, with cover, which can be read in
the free Microsoft Reader, with clear type technology.

The last option, if you can write web sites, is to
make an executable version. You'll have to take the
source file and chop it up into separate files,
1.html, 2.html, and so on. Format the whole thing in
html, linking file one to file two, file two to file
three etc. This essentially turns the book into a

Now go to for a free ebook
compiler. On the navigation bar on the left, click
"sbookbuilder 10". The download link will appear at
the top of the main section of the screen. It's a
zipped file. Once you have it, open it, follow stage
one, stage two etc. You'll end up with an executable
file that, when clicked, will open the book in a
separate, standalone reader. TIP: when you sell books,
compile each one separately and use the customer's
name or email address as the password. Not only are
they less likely to forget it, but the password can't
be changed and so they're less likely to forward it to
people who didn't pay. Think about it, would you want
a stolen book all over the Internet which has your
name or email address as the password!


So, where to sell it from? Many people have free
web-sites, places like Geocities of Tripod, and they
all require users to upgrade to a paid account for any
kind of commercial activity.

What many people don't know is that there _are_ free
web-space providers that allow commercial activity on
unpaid accounts. Yes, they're advertising heavy, but
they're free. Choose from the thirty six listed in the
Google directory here:

I personally chose Bravenet, the pop-ups are
annoying, but ftp access to 100MB for free is a pretty
good deal.


One last stage. How do you accept the money? With
PayPal of course. Simply sign up if you haven't
already done so, then there are two options, one good,
one bad.

The bad way is to get some code from PayPal, paste in
onto your webpage so a button is displayed on the
book's blurb page, which people click, pay, and are
automatically redirected to a download page. You can
just lie back and do nothing.

The problem is that it's not secure. Anyone can view
the source of your webpage and find the download page
without paying. Here's a better way:

Log into PayPal. Click "Go to my account".

In the next page, click the tab at the top, which
says "Merchant Tools".

Next page, click the "Buy Now Buttons" underneath the
"Web Site Payments" title.

Next page, fill in the form. Where it says "Item
Name", put the title of your book. Leave the "Item ID"
option blank. Enter the amount. Don't worry about the
other options. Click, "Create Button Now."

In the following screen, there are two different
pieces of code offered. Copy the one that says "Link
for emails" and save it as a plain text file in

Now, on your web-site, where book cover and blurb are
displayed, you can set up a form for interested
parties to enter their email address, which the web
host will forward to you. If you can't make a form,
then publish your email address with the instruction
for interested parties to send a blank email or an
email with the title of the book as the subject. Bear
in mind if you do the latter and publish your email
address, then there will be an increase in spam. You
might consider setting up a separate email account,
exclusively to sell the book from.

When a potential customer contacts you, reply,
thanking them for their interest, and paste the PayPal
code at the bottom of the message. When this email is
received, the code will have become a link. This link
connects to a secure payment page at PayPal, already
displaying the correct title and price of your book.
If the payment is given here, PayPal will send a
confirmation of this to your email. Once this is
received, then either send the book as an attachment,
or create a special download page which exists for a
limited period.

That's it! Not quite as slick as expensive
epublishers, but, there is your fully formatted,
converted book, with a cover, legally hosted, created
with legal software and available for purchase, and it
didn't cost a single cent.

Now go and market the book, and one of two things
will happen. Either no one wants it and you can feel
relieved for not having given $500 to an epublisher,
or people will be falling over themselves for it and
you can give up the day job.

Or perhaps it will be somewhere in-between?


J. Lowet is a full-time writer, based in various
changing locations, specialising in
human-potential/spirituality. When not writing, he
also likes acrylic painting, travel, being aloofly
eccentric and avoiding anything remotely approaching


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