Self publishing is a great way for new authors to start building a following and (we hope) to come to the attention of mainstream publishers. Although I have been writing for years I am still working on my first novel, so have enjoyed the legitimate distraction of understanding how to publish online.
If you are interested in going on a journey of exploration for yourself, a good place to start is Mark Coker's Smashwords Style Guide. Mark (@markcoker) is the founder of Smashwords and has set out simple step-by-step instructions to create and format an ebook to the demanding standards required for any author who wants to distribute their book via Smashwords to major eBook retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Diesel. Mark regularly updates it - and it is a free download.
If you want to become an Amazon Kindle publisher there is a wealth of guidance on the Amazon site but I recommend a great little eBook by Nadia Lee (@NadiaLee) How to Format Your Manuscript for Kindle and Nook: 3rd Edition as it can save you a lot of time.
Cracking the code
It is very important to understand the formatting requirements - and all too easy to unintentionally leave 'invisible' rogue code in your work. The good news is that the tools which generate eBooks have good error trapping, so read any warnings or alerts carefully and learn from them.
Most of the online publishers have a quality review process before your eBook goes online - but your aim is of course to have met all their requirements before you upload.
Disabling Word "features"
I have experimented with tools such as Scrivener but am happy using Word for my WIP. The main lesson I have learnt is to make sure that Word is properly set up to make it easy to format your writing once it is finished. This means understanding how to disable 'smart quotes' and NOT putting tabs or spaces at paragraph indents.
I started coding in HTML (when the Internet was first invented) and once taught Microsoft Word to advanced level but still found it took few attempts to get it right. If you are having problems, just search online (and specify which version of Word you are using.) It can take a while but is time well spent.
Judge a book by its cover?
Don’t underestimate how tricky it can be to design a great cover for your eBook. As you feed the formatted work into the 'grinder' you will be prompted to link to your cover, so you need to have it ready. Although I'd like to say that I'm more interested in what's inside, there is no question that the cover makes a huge difference when browsing possible downloads. (See Joel Friedlander's great post about Joanna Penn's approach to developing her book cover)
Of course there is no point in self publishing if readers don't know about your book. I have really enjoyed my recent experience of the Novel Publicity Blog Tour of The King Whisperers and recommend you follow writer an book publicist Emlyn Chand (@emlynchand) for some great advice and tips on how to get it right.
I am very interested in your thoughts, experiences and top tips on self publishing and happy to help, so please comment and feel free to get in touch by email on firstname.lastname@example.org