A 15-Minute Recipe to Self-Publish Your Story

From poorly-formatted manuscript to polished book in 15 minutes with free tools

Tired of wiping the virtual dust off your manuscript? Scared of formatting your content according to a hundred-page style guide? Frustrated at missing out on the self-publishing revolution. Fear not. Fifteen minutes can change your life, literarily, with the right free tools and a recipe.

That’s one-five minutes to go from text to professionally looking e- and print book files. But they don't sell themselves. Marketing takes a bit longer , including properly researching keywords, subgenre categories, and a seasoned book description. But if you're dying to see a finished book within the hour, because you promised your mother a copy for her birthday next week, start with something simple and improve the metadata later.

Oh, and you do need front cover art, a JPG or PNG image with the book title and author name on it. You can create your own with free tools like Paint.net or Canva. Technomagic will convert it into a wrap-around print cover.

Ingredients

1 standard box of cookie mix (optional)
1 DOC, DOCX, ODT, or RTF manuscript
7 keywords
1-5 subgenre categories
1 book description, pre-seasoned
1 author bio
1 author picture, funny or serious (optional)
1 JPG or PNG front cover image, well done
1 free Draft2Digital account
1 cuppa joe or tea, or 1 glass of milk (optional)
1 spoonful of sugar, helps the medicine go down (totally optional)*

*Mary Poppins not required

Directions/Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to the temperature on the cookie mix box.

  2. Grab a cup or glass of your favorite working beverage so you don't suffer a thirst attack. Otherwise, fifteen minutes can feel like an eternity.

  3. Open your manuscript in your word processor and check for consistency.


What, you thought you were done with the manuscript? You need to make sure you have no formatting issues that the Draft2Digital converter can't resolve. The aggregator, known among best friends as D2D, has embarked on a quest to save authors from traction alopecia amazonia, also known as ripping your hair out while using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP.

D2D’s author-friendly self-publishing tools anticipate common problems and clean them up. Best of all, they're free. No strings attached. You can take the output and publish elsewhere . Of course, you can save yourself many hairaches by letting the company handle the distribution to a writer’s dozen of online bookstores, for a commission.

What magic can D2D perform? Let’s look at a sample from my novel Cyberspiracy with many of the common issues found in manuscripts.

Common formatting issues found in manuscripts
Common formatting issues found in manuscripts

The text has paragraphs without indents, i.e. flush on the left, as well as some that start with spaces or tabs. The sample also includes groups of multiple blank lines and returns and newlines or line feeds that split up sentences. For the image, I've turned on Show/Hide in MS Word (Toggle Formatting Marks in LibreOffice, Show add-on in Google Docs) to make nonprinting characters visible.

The industry standard for narrative calls for indents of paragraphs except the first one after a chapter or scene break. D2D takes out all the extra leading spaces and tabs to produce a clean, consistent look.

Draft2Digital cleans up many common formatting problems
Draft2Digital cleans up many common formatting problems

The converter takes a stab at other formatting problems to the best of its ability. Unfortunately, up to now the fabled WAMM (Writers & Authors Mind-Reading Module) has failed testing. Three problems areas may remain and require your intervention.

Chapter Starts

The converter needs to know how you marked a chapter title. As the word “chapter” could occur within the narrative, the self-publishing platforms have adopted certain conventions.

If your current titles lack formatting, apply the style Heading 1 to each to ensure the best results. Amazon supports this convention, too.

Draft2Digital gives you considerable leeway by allowing heading styles or combinations of bold, centered, and larger fonts, as long as you are consistent. You can see from the example above, if you centered some titles and enlarged the font on others, you end up with mixed results.

Make sure that every title shares one formatting option that you can specify as the criterion , e.g. all are centered regardless of font size. Bold alone is not enough, since it appears frequently in the body of fiction. If you enlarge the text, D2D recommends at least a four-point difference.

Scene Breaks

Since D2D cleans up errand returns created by accidentally hitting [Enter], it requires you to mark scene breaks with two or three blank lines. If you select a theme that includes a graphic, as in the example above, you can also mark a break with one or more asterisks (*) on a line by themselves. The converter will replace the placeholder with the scene break image.

If you marked scene breaks with one blank line, you can use advanced find and replace techniques to double them .

MS Word

  • Open Find and Replace with [Ctrl+H].

  • Find “ ^l” (caret with lower-case L) and replace all with “^p” to change all newlines to returns. Word distinguishes between the two in the following searches.

  • Find “ ^p^p” and replace all with “ ^p^p^p” to change two paragraph marks to three, thus creating two blank lines at the end of the preceding paragraph.

TIP In Word’s Find and Replace , click [More >>], then [Special] to insert nonprinting characters when you don't know the code.

LibreOffice/Google Docs

  • Open Find & Replace with [Ctrl+H].

  • Click Regular expressions to enable use of special character combinations that represent nonprinting characters.

  • Find blank lines with “^$” (caret with dollar sign) and replace all with “\n\n” to change a paragraph marks on a line by itself to two, thus creating two blank lines.

Note: Older versions of LibreOffice do not support regular expressions in the Replace field. Google Docs requires an add-on.

Return at the end of every line

Text that originated in an editor or email may contain hard returns (created by [Enter]) or soft returns (line feed or newline created by [Shift+Enter]) at the end of every line . Since paragraphs with only one line appear frequently in narrative with dialogue, the converter can't determine which lines need fixing.

If the text has no blank lines between paragraphs, unfortunately you'll need to find and delete the hard returns one by one.

If a blank line separates paragraphs, you can use advanced find and replace techniques to reformat the text .

MS Word

  • Open Find and Replace with [Ctrl+H].

  • Find “ ^l” (caret with lower-case L) and replace all with “^p” to change all newlines used by UNIX and Linux systems to returns. Word distinguishes between the two in the following searches.

  • Find blank lines created by two successive returns with “ ^p^p ” and replace all with a combination that does not occur in your manuscript, e.g. “ %%% ”.

  • Find remaining returns with “^p” and replace all with a space .

  • Now find the combination from the above step, e.g. “ %%% ”, and replace with “^p” to end the paragraphs.

LibreOffice/Google Docs

  • Open Find & Replace with [Ctrl+H].

  • Click Regular expressions to enable use of special character combinations that represent nonprinting characters.

  • Find blank lines with “^$”(caret with dollar sign) and replace all with a combination that does not occur in your manuscript, e.g. “ %%% ”.

  • Find remaining returns or newlines with “ $ ” (dollar sign) and replace all with a space .

  • Now find the combination from the above step, e.g. “ %%%”, with “ \n” to end the paragraphs.

Note: Older versions of LibreOffice do not support regular expressions in the Replace field. Google Docs requires an add-on

Don't add blank lines after every paragraph. In fiction, they mark a scene break. D2D hence removes them. If you actually want one in the book, you need to add two or three blank lines.

Drop cap, phrase cap, and scene break graphic in action
Drop cap, phrase cap, and scene break graphic in action

  1. Log in to your Draft2Digital account. Create one if needed.

  2. Upload Book File. D2D generously accepts popular Microsoft Word old DOC and new DOCX files and OpenDocument (ODT) used by Apache OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Google Docs. You can even send the Rich Text Format (RTF) from early word processors like WordPad.

  3. While the converter does its work, whip the cookie mix into batter, spread on a baking sheet, and shove into pre-heated oven.

  4. Celebrate your efficiency and productivity with a sip of your favorite beverage.

  5. Fill in the information needed for the sales page .

  6. Select the front and back matter you want. D2D takes care of another hair-loss-inducing task by generating and formatting the common pages found in books such as the table of contents, dedication, or copyright page.

  7. Choose one of 21 themes (what D2D calls a style) for your book. The tool adds a title graphic and optionally drop caps, a large first letter, to the beginning of every chapter. A graphic may mark a scene break and phrase caps begin the next sentence.

  8. Preview the book. Make sure every chapter title was detected and every page looks right .

  9. If you become so engrossed in the preview that you forget the cookies, vent the smoke from the kitchen. Offer the charred remains to the firefighters called by concerned neighbors.

  10. Drink sips of your fav beverage to calm your nerves or wash down the cookies.

  11. Approve the galley proof .

  12. For a print book, approve the automagically created wrap-around cover .

  13. Take a deep breath. You face your biggest decision now.


The BIG Decision

Unlike other platforms, Draft2Digital doesn't lock you into their channel. Buttons on the preview pages of both formats let you download the finished digital products. You can upload the MOBI e-book to the Kindle store and the EPUB to Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play, and many other sites. KDP Print, IngramSpark, and other print on demand (POD) services will accept the print-ready PDF.

Online stores covered by Draft2Digital
Online stores covered by Draft2Digital

Why pay Draft2Digital a commission to distribute your book to more than a dozen vendors and online reading services the world over?

Time and your hair.

Going it alone means uploading the books and creating sales pages separately on all the different platforms. Learning the idiosyncrasies and requirements of each program. And replicating the work over and over every time something changes. Such as a Holiday price promotion.

International sites also mean dealing with many different foreign tax laws and reconciling them with your jurisdiction. Or tracking sales and resolving problems in various time zones.

An aggregator like Draft2Digital makes these mundane and frustrating tasks easier. Such as aggregating access to all the sales channels onto a single landing page with a universal book link, so customers can easily choose their preferred store.

On the other hand, you may lose access to a vendor’s exclusive promotions, such as Amazon’s KDP Select or Apple Book’s couponsDraft2Digital makes it easy to take a road in between.

Upload the D2D MOBI file to take advantage of the promotional opportunities at KDP Select. Once their 90-day exclusivity ends, relaunch wide to other vendors through an aggregator. If you add a paperback version three months later, you have yet another excuse to throw a launch party and get not drunk on your favorite beverage.

D2D also makes deals with vendors to give their authors access to promotions.


Finally, consider the relationship. Do you prefer to deal with a giant company who considers readers its primary customers? Or a small outfit where key people hold monthly Ask Us Anything video conferences and implement authors' suggestions? And the same customer service rep stays on your case from start to finish.

Of course, if you just want to offer e-books from your own website or hand out author copies of print books to friends and family, you've reached your destiny. Skip to step 20.


  1. Select the stores and territories.

  2. Set the prices for each channel.

  3. Click the [Submit] button.

  4. Stop your 15-minute timer. You've published your book .

  5. Take another sip to celebrate your accomplishment.

  6. Thank me for the advice and recommending a non-alcoholic beverage.

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