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”

JK Rowling blows up the eBookstore business

University of Toronto professor Joshua Gans analyzes the Pottermore announcement – at Digitopoly and for Forbes. Read both to get an appreciation of the caption “… blows up the eBookstore business”. This is a very important turning point in the eBook business:

(…) First, some facts. (i) You can only purchase Harry Potter books from Pottermore. Go to Amazon — and they seem to be pleased they are available — and you are directed to the Pottermore site. You then go through a process of linking your Amazon account but then can download the book straight on to your device.

(ii) You purchase once and you can get the book on any device. And I mean any. Kindle, iPad (through iBooks), Google Play (whatever that is) and Sony who appear to have provided the technical grunt to get this working. There is no other major book that is available this way. Actually, probably no other paid book available this way.

(iii) What about DRM? That is hard to parse. Here is what I know. I downloaded the book on a Kindle. I then downloaded another copy direct to my computer (in ePub format) and it appears that with that version I can put it on as many readers as I like. The site says I am limited to 8 downloads but once I have that ePub version there does not seem to be any limits.

(…) and here’s an excerpt from Forbes on the pricing revolution:

But then there is the pricing. For the US version, the cost is $7.99 for the first three books, $9.99 for the rest and $57.54 for the lot. For the UK version, the same prices are 4.99, 6.99 and 38.64 pounds. The UK versions are more expensive. But what is more interesting is the language choice. Now you ask: what do you mean, surely you want English. Well, there are two versions of Harry Potter: the original English versions and the US English versions and they are different. In the UK, it is the Philosopher’s Stone. In the US, it is the Sorcerer’s Stone. Coming, as we do from Australia, I wanted to buy the UK version. To my delight, it listed them and, in fact, the UK version looked cheaper. But then I went to purchase and was told that that version was not available in your country.

AFAIK Rowling had kept all eBook rights to herself. So when it came time to negotiate with Amazon, Rowling then held all the high cards. Care to guess what Amazon’s referral take is? For sure it isn’t their usual 30%.