Hindsight is always 20/20, except in my case. I broke my rear view mirror last week and haven't found a solid replacement. Busted mirror or not, if I'd only known then what I know now...
I would have decided which sites I would publish my work on before I wrote the first paragraph of anything. I would have paid attention to the requirements for submission to those sites, and I don't mean the literary requirements. I mean the format of the work.
In my case I considered the idea of submitting my work to a traditional dead tree publishing house. There's no shortage of opportunities here. Companies such as Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster would all be deliriously happy to throw my carefully edited work into the slush pile where a minimum wage slave would dutifully scan the first paragraph and generate the mandatory rejection note. Why should I bother? I know I'll be rejected for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that I'm not on the New York Times Best Sellers list, nor have I ever been. I haven't even read the NYT-BS, if that tells you anything.
So besides publishing on Amazon, decide up front where you want to publish. Get the format requirements from each site, then begin the laborious process of discovering, downloading and installing the software you'll need to turn your work into a format that's acceptable to your short list of publishers. This begins with your word processor.
In my case, my word processor of choice was Open Office. For one thing, the price was right (free) and it's easy to use. When I started writing seriously, I upgraded to Libre Office. Why not? It's new, it's free and learned people say it's better than Open Office. Ten software reviewers couldn't be wrong, could they? Once I finished my story, the story I planned on publishing that afternoon, I discovered my error. It seems that publishing sites on the Internet refuse to accept the Open Office or Libre Office file format. No problem, I thought (and with good reason), because Libre Office will save my work into a DOC file, in Microsoft Word format. Which it seems to do, but looks can be deceiving.
You see, Micro$oft holds some kind of copyright on the M$ Word format, which means that Libre Office can come close to a Word document format, but it won't be exact. And in fact, if you open the raw data and examine it, you'll find that it really doesn't even come all that close. It's close enough to avoid a major lawsuit from a company that sneers at a one million dollar a day fine, and if you pay no attention to the man behind the screen, you'll be okay. But once the screen is gone and you try submitting your almost M$ Word document to the publisher or anything else, you'll see a big fat cryptic error messages and a terse rejection.
If you want some good news here, keep reading.
The point of my writing and publishing my work is to make money; not spend money. Make money. Ergo, I was loathe to buy a copy of M$ Word, which is what I ended up doing because getting around a format that's close but not quite Word is a long walk, longer than I'm capable of walking. The good news is that you can buy an outdated copy of Word and still be compliant. Buy, for instance, Word 2000 and transfer all your work into Word. You are now good to go, format wise. Of course, you'll need to do a lot of editing because, like I said, Libre Office isn't Word and never will be. The good news? You'll be spending something like a c-note and change instead of the astronomical price of M$-Office. The bottom line here is that you should bite the bullet and buy MS Word. You are now compliant with the rest of the world and you can get back to doing what you're good at: writing.
In addition to M$ Word, you also need a vanilla text editor. At some point in your career, you'll need to see and work with the text and only the text of a document. You'll need all the formatting codes stripped out. This is what a plain text editor does. Your lines will have no right margin and your document will look a little strange. For reasons of personal preference, I use Multi-Edit. There are alternatives, and you can see them here, at Comparison of Text Editors. Some of these are priced right for the struggling author (free).
Besides Amazon, Smash Words has a lot going for it. SmashWords will accept a M$ Word file and feed it through a translator that they've affectionately named the Meat Grinder, and if it passes muster your work gets published in many different formats. Once you fix the format problems, you're good to go in many different formats.
Whatever else happens to you, you'll also need a copy of Calibre eBook Management. If nothing else, this will allow you to read eBooks and format specifications that you've downloaded but now can't open. Calibre will also translate one format into another, which is nice.
Next you'll need a book cover, which I'm going to address in my next article.