Well, I did it. I entered the wonderful world of self-publishing. My second novel (let's not even get started about the first one which does still exist in two hand-written notebooks) has been sitting on my hard drive for a couple of years, untouched. After eight years of work, I just couldn't chuck it, so I decided to put it on the market and see what happens. This, of course, required converting it into a format that the dear folks at Amazon would accept.
There are entire books written on this subject and I picked up a few of them. I won't try here to go into all of the detail, but will give you a taste of what the process was like. I started with an MS Word file with the entire manuscript in it. As is probably true of most manuscript files like this, it was messy. A few of the pubs that talk about formatting for ebooks suggest that you copy and paste the entire text into a new file omitting all formatting (in Word, do a Paste Special, paste as plain text). This might work if you haven't used italics or bold text much, but otherwise, you're going to have a heck of a time putting all that formatting back. I didn't do this. What I did do was go to the Format menu and select Styles & Formatting to open the style sidebar and then use a special function in Word (I'm still using Office XP, so the commands may be different in 2007 and 2013) that allows you to "Select text with similar formatting". Once selected, the text could be quickly changed to the style I wanted.
This is crucial. All the converters work from the Style of a paragraph. So all of your text paragraphs should have the "normal" style and all of your chapter headings should be in one of the "Heading" styles. Getting the text paragraphs into "normal" style required doing the "Select text with similar formatting" and scrolling through the entire document looking for paragraphs that were not selected. Then I would do the "Select..." on that paragraph and change all paragraphs like it to "normal". Occasionally, I would come across a paragraph that was "normal" with something else added. Just clicking "normal" in the styles didn't change these. To get them to be just "normal" I had to change them to an entirely different style and then change them back to "normal".
Chapter and section headings had to be done manually. I scrolled through the document, put the cursor in the heading and chose one of the "Heading" styles. I had four different levels of headings: Parts 1-3, Chapters, Years, and locations. Each of these used a different level of heading. The three parts of the book were done in "Heading1". The Chapters were in "Heading2" etc. It is important to use "Heading1" not "H1" because some of the conversion programs don't handle them interchangeably.
Once you've standardized the formatting of your document, you need to save it in ".docx" format. If you're not using the latest version of Word, there is a converter you can add to Word 2000/XP/2003 that will do the conversion. Search for "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack" to get it. It's free.
The last thing you need before conversion is a cover for your book. I used a graphic of a painting by 16th century artist Hieronymus Bosch. Make sure any art you use is in the public domain or purchase it. There are several sites on the web where you can buy the rights to a wide variety of photographs and drawings for prices in the range of $50. With my ancient copy of Paint Shop Pro, I added the title and my name to the picture. That completed the cover for the ebook.
From this point, you need to get some conversion software. If you want to do the conversion process the cheapest possible way, you will need to download "Calibre". Calibre is free. It will catalog all the ebooks on your drive, has a reader, and performs conversions from various formats. The conversion process is fairly straight-forward. My problem with this software was that it didn't incorporate the cover into the format for Amazon (.mobi). It did incorporate it into the format that is the standard for everyone else (.epub). Later, I found I could have used the .epub file and Amazon would have converted it for me. As such, I recommend Calibre.
I did try another piece of software, Jutoh. Jutoh costs $39 and has a few bells and whistles that Calibre doesn't. It also has one drawback, it has a far less intuitive interface for creating the internal Table of Contents for the book than Calibre does. Calibre allows you to designate three levels of heading for your Table of Contents while Jutoh only lets you designate one. Jutoh will let you create a perfectly formatted Table of Contents that is placed inside the text, but the one the reader gets when they press the Table of Contents icon on their reader is lame. What Jutoh did do correctly was incorporate the book cover into the .mobi file, so I went with a lame Table of Contents that points to the internal Table of Contents. I hope Jutoh clears this up some day. Their product is otherwise excellent and they respond quickly to email questions.
Once the files are finished, you need to create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing and fill in all of the forms. It costs nothing. You can also get the book into print through their Createspace service. This is also free, including the ISBN which would, otherwise, cost you $125. Do the ebook first and you'll get an invitation for Creatspace.
I won't try to tell you the process was without frustration. I spent over a week on it part time. I could probably do another one in a couple of days now that I've got the hang of it. It is simple enough for someone with only a good working knowledge of MS Word to do, so don't spend your money having a service do it when you may never get that cost back. Remember, for every book that makes it in the virtual world, there are hundreds that never see a sale.
And in case you're wondering, my novel, The Remnant, is now available.