Considering self-publishing?

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If you are an accomplished writer with something to say, and you are not already involved in direct publishing, then you really should consider this option — even if you dream of acquiring a power-agent and a traditional publisher (note: publishers are much more likely to give you a look if you have sales and followers). The 10-cent summary:

1. Writing is really hard.

2. Direct publishing is really easy.

3. Selling a LOT of books will require you to put effort into promotion (letting people know you exist, acquiring a following that brings buyers to you by referral).

4. The sooner you get published the faster you will build an audience and learn what your audience wants. If you have only the first 100 pages of your great book written, and are struggling to get beyond that, then think about whether you can make an interesting, useful small book out of what you have already done. Several of my favorite books of 2013-14 are examples of these short books that need not be a page longer:

Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, 98 pages, by Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee 

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better, 128 pages, by Tyler Cowen

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, 304 pages, by Tyler Cowen

Average Is Over, 304 pages, by Tyler Cowen

What I’ve learned from reading various authors who have experience with both independent and traditional publishing is that most authors should “just get on with it, using Amazon as your first and primary channel”. By “most authors” I mean those writing for the general audience, which would include e.g. “How to do great photography with Adobe Lightroom”. If your primary market is not English I have no knowledge of appropriate alternatives, but I’m pretty sure that Amazon is not ideal for the Chinese market.

For the mechanics of getting your book out there, start here with Amazon: Take Control with Independent Publishing: This is Amazon’s homepage for both digital and print publishing.

For an experienced author’s perspective, I recommend How To Self-Publish Your Book Through Amazon. Author Deborah Jacobs, recounts her first-hand experience with both digital and print, as well as channel alternatives: Amazon exclusive vs. a personal website. Deborah gives actual revenue numbers for her print and digital sales. 

Amazon’s suite of services for independent authors makes it possible for me and many other authors to bypass traditional publishing companies. It gives us the tools to create and sell digital books; print and sell paperback copies on demand; add author pages and even market books. Here are five Amazon services, all of them free to set up, that every indie author needs to know about.

Kindle Direct Publishing. This service, known by the shorthand KDP, enables indie authors to sell the digital version of their books on Amazon.com (or other Amazon country websites). There’s no charge to upload the file. Authors get royalties of 35% to 70% of the sale price, depending on whether the book is sold on KDP or through another Amazon service called KDP Select (more about that below).

Unlike most other digital retailers, KDP uses the format known as “mobi.” This is simply the file format for digital books that Amazon uses, and it works on all Kindle devices. You can upload your book on Amazon using other formats as explained on the Amazon site, including ePub, which is the most popular one (that’s what Apple uses), and others such as HTML, Doc, and RTF. However, in my experience it looks better if you start out with a mobi file because any formatting you create – for example for images, charts and tables – stays intact.

Let’s say you have written your book in Word and want to convert it to mobi. You can do this using the free software Calibre (available for PC or Mac). I’ve used the Mac version and it works very well if your Word document has no page numbers. For best results it should include links to each chapter in a table of contents that’s formatted to meet Amazon’s specifications listed here.

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One of the nice things about KDP is that Amazon does not require digital exclusivity. So authors can still sell the same digital book anywhere else on the Internet on through other stores like The Nook Book Store or iTunes.

If you want to sell a lot of books it looks like KDP Select is worthwhile. And like most publishing sources I’ve read Jacobs found that free and discount offerings of her works paid off in awareness and higher sales. It’s probably obvious that strong sales are unlikely unless you put some effort into promotion. Deborah explains some of her methods and results.

… Based on my conversations with other indie authors and their posts on various message boards and blogs, other authors also see huge sales on days when their books are discounted, and even more massive downloads on days when those books are free. This, in turn, leads to higher than usual sales on the days right after promotions (when the book has gone back to its regular price), and generally helps to expand awareness of the book.

More tips:

10 Visual Steps To Self-Publishing Your Book On Amazon (excellent, simple how-to get a Kindle book done).

Amazon simplified formatting guide (how to prepare your book for pain-free publishing) 

HOW TO: Self Publish Your Book with Amazon’s CreateSpace (if you want to do a print version).

How My Book Became A (Self-Published) Best Seller

Some background reading on the direct publishing revolution:

JK Rowling blows up the eBookstore business

Confessions of a Publisher: “We’re in Amazon’s Sights and They’re Going to Kill Us”

The DRM free movement for eBooks expands

Joshua Gans notes that the JK Rowling initiative is gathering momentum. Now publisher TOR is going DRM free. Prof. Gans sees the revolution in music proves that DRM free works for the content owners as well as consumers:

The same thing happened in music. DRM was the thing that got music publishers interested in digital downloads (like iTunes) and then something we couldn’t have predicted in 2003 happened; DRM was abandoned and nobody really noticed. What is more DRM was abandoned with a coincidental 30% (!) price increase to consumers as compensation for the extra value provided by portability. My feeling (based on no real evidence) is that overall the consumers won out of that deal (they are paying a little more to save on paying lots more later). It will be interesting to see how TOR’s pricing changes as it goes DRM free.

Read the whole thing »

iPhone is an excellent ebook reader

Here’s a survey at LA Times. And an excerpt of one such option, Stanza

Speaking of high-quality interfaces, I have to turn to Stanza.

Stanza is loaded with extra bells and whistles: With a single tap, you can switch to white-text-on-black (for lower-light reading); you can manually set color schemes and page-turning sounds. There are so many design choices you could waste hours configuring and reconfiguring the look and feel of your e-books with Stanza. But if you get to the reading part, books are sorted by subject as well as author and title, and you can dig in: A dictionary is two taps away, and you can search within a book for a word or phrase. How wonderful that will be for researchers and students. In addition to all these features, there are more book resources available through Stanza — there are romance books from Harlequin, O’Reilly tech books, self-published books through Smashwords, bestsellers and new books via BooksonBoard and Fictionwise that cost any variety of prices. And it’s also got Project Gutenberg’s free books, as well as other free collections from Munseys (pulp fiction and classics) and Random House. Although the books I’ve looked at on Stanza have these awkward Web-style paragraph breaks, they do better than Eucalyptus in the illustration department. Stanza comes with a free version of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, and the original illustrations look marvelous.

Stanza supports the industry standard epub format – See the Stanza FAQ on how to convert to epub format.