This is a fact: Epublishing is revolutionizing publishing, an event no less important to intellectual discourse than the penny newspapers of the nineteenth century.
In February, after a year of shopping my latest novel "Amsterdam 2012" to New York publishers, and being turned down for being “too controversial,” I decided to upload it to Kindle. I didn’t know anything about epublishing. I actually posted it because I was afraid my aging computer would crash, and I would lose the novel. Or the house would burn down. I figured at least if it were up on Kindle, it would be safe. I set the price at .99 cents. What the hell.
I sold 1,000 copies the first weekend, and soon my book was number 30 on the Kindle best seller list. With a Kindle royalty payment of .35 cents (35% of books under $2.99 and over $9.99; 70% between $2.99 and $9.99), I was not getting rich; but I was getting read. And readers were responding—immediately—in reviews, on forums, and in emails. I had written the book because I wanted people to discuss a difficult topic, and they were; I was having an active and open dialog with my readers unlike I ever had with DTB publishing. I was amazed.
After the success of "Amsterdam 2012", I uploaded two backlist titles, "Good Morning, Darkness", and "Confessions of a Deathmaiden", the rights for which my publisher had recently returned to me. Then three original titles.
Why did I do that rather than submit them to my publisher? For one thing, waiting a year to get published, even if my agent could sell my manuscripts tomorrow, seemed antiquated. Who has time for that? If I write about fresh, relevant issues, I want the stories published now. I was also selling more books on Kindle, reaching more people, all over the world, than I had with DTBs. If I set the Kindle price at $2.99, I make $2.04 per book, about the same as I would for a hardback.
Epublishing is a viable option to seeking a traditional publisher. Not only are established writers publishing original material to Kindle (and other ebook platforms), but indie writers are being offered traditional DTB (dead tree book) contracts based on their ebooks. While the ebook market is still only 9% of the total book market (as of 10/2010), it is a growing market. Consumers are expected to buy one billion dollars in ebooks by the end of the year. So let’s get aboard.
HOW TO GET STARTED
There is no charge to upload your manuscript to Amazon Kindle (or any of the other ebook platforms, including Smashwords, PubIt, Kobo, iPad, Borders, Android, Sony, and Diesel). You do not have to own a Kindle to publish on Kindle. You do not have to own a Kindle to read Kindle books (there is a free download application for your computer on the Amazon website).
There are a handful of simple steps. Prepare your manuscript, then proof and format it to perfection. Prepare your sales pitch, design a cover, decide on a price. Once you have these elements together, it takes only about one hour per venue. You can finish writing a novel on Monday, post it on Tuesday, and start making money on Friday (it takes a few days for Amazon to process it).
For Kindle, it is easier if you have a U.S. bank. Smashwords pays through PAYPAL, and is therefore more international. Kindle pays monthly, Smashwords pays quarterly.
PREPARING YOUR MANUSCRIPT
1. COPY EDITING. Have at least three people (preferably fellow writers) read your manuscript for typos. And/or hire a professional (which will cost $300 – $1,000). If you need or want an editor, someone who chops and cuts and moves material around, and questions you about word choice, narrative flow, storyline, etc., that will run from $2,000-$8,000, and will take two weeks to a month.
Do an Edit/Find on redundant and passive words, such as ‘that’, ‘starts’ and ‘begins’, ‘of the’, ‘turned’, ‘the phone’ and ‘some of the’, ‘was’ and ‘were’.
If you cannot afford a copy editor, here's another technique several indies have employed. Transfer your book file to your Kindle and use the text to speech mode. Read along with a hard copy of your manuscript. You'll be astonished by what you catch. Very helpful and costs nothing.
NOTE: Kindle, Smashwords, and most ereaders allow readers to download a sample before buying your book. Most readers will do this, SO MAKE THE BEGINNING OF YOUR BOOK FABULOUS. It must read so a person is intrigued, has to know more, will not sleep until he reads more.
2. Put all of your files into one Microsoft Word document (including title page), single spaced, justified. Times Roman or Arial font, or something simple. (Not courier.)
(NOTE: Many prefer using the EPUB file format. See Christian Cantrell’s Blog below.)
Before you upload to Kindle, check your formatting as Amazon converts it using HTML.
Make sure you have no tabs. Do an Edit Replace for ^t, replacing it with nothing. Then highlight your entire document, and use the Format, Paragraph, Indent first line feature. (Or you can double space between paragraphs.)
If you are using Word, go to your Tool Bar, and Click on your formatting display icon (the Paragraph symbol). Have a look at your manuscript. You might be surprised at what you find.
Kindle is much more flexible about format than Smashwords, but to save you from formatting your manuscript twice, you might want to abide by Smashword rules (which you can read at Smashwords.com).
Titles and headings should not be larger than 18 pitch (not for Kindle, but for Smashwords), and limit the number of extra line returns to 5 (again for Smashwords).
At the end of chapters, put 4 or 5 line returns (again for Smashwords).
3. After your title page, you want to put something like:
Copyright © 2010 by Author Name
All rights reserved
The © symbol supposedly protects the text internationally. As I understand it, as soon as you've created a text, it's copyrighted in the U.S., but that allows you only the ability to stop republication by someone else. If you register the copyright with the Library of Congress, you are able to collect money damages. For more information, see http://copyrightregistery-gov-form.com/
For the Smashwords Edition, you’ll want to put:
Copyright © 2010 by Author Name
All rights reserved
NOTE: You own the rights if you publish on Kindle or Smashwords. If a publisher reads what you have on Kindle, and wants to do a DTB (dead tree book), you have all rights to sell it to them. I know of several indies who have found publishers this way.
4. SAVE: When you are done formatting, SAVE AS a web page (HTML). This is the document you will want to upload to Kindle.
5. COVER. A great cover does a lot to sell a book. You can design your own with free online photos and a photo manipulation program. Photoshop is great but expensive. Gimp is free. An excellent list of websites where you can download free photos is:
You want the title and author name to be really big, with a single intriguing image. A light cover, letters at least 1/4 the size of the cover, lots of red. Yellow is good for title. (Look at a Kindle book called THIN BLOOD, a brilliant cover.)
While you are working on your cover, reduce the image at times to 1-1/4 inch high—this is about how big it will appear on the computer. If it doesn’t pop out at you, or isn’t easily read, change it.
6. BLURB: You need to write a short synopsis, not more than 400 words. Shorter is better. Give the synopsis to friends and ask if they’d be intrigued enough to read the book.
SHORT BLURB: You need to write a very short synopsis of 400 characters. This shorter version you’ll need for Smashwords, and for self-promotion on blogs and websites.
Spend serious time on these synopses. This, apart from your cover, is your main sales tool.
A lot of writers first post their books for .99 cents because a number of Kindle readers routinely buy only .99 books. It is a way to get a following. Think of it as an introductory price. The minimum for which you can get at 70% royalty is $2.99, which is why many indie Kindle books are $2.99. The DTB publishers often list their books at $9.99 or higher because they can. Many writers think it's the DTB publishers’ way to suppress the ebook market, and to maintain a demand for DTBs. But readers have made it clear on the forums that they think it is unfair to post an ebook for more than a paperback.
In other words, $9.99 is probably too much for an indie ebook. Keep it under $5.00.
At some point you might want to change your price. If, for instance, you post at .99 cents and it sells like crazy, getting you to the top 100 Kindle Best Sellers list, you might want to keep it at .99 cents until you drop off. (The big deal about the top 100 is that it is a visible list that is promoted by Amazon. A major goal is to get on this list.) But if you are not making a lot of sales at .99 cents, you might as well go to $2.99 for awhile. I've had books that began to sell more when I raised the price.
There is no stigma for .99 books on Amazon. DTB Publishers sometimes run very cheap specials (or free) for their best sellers. Everyone, in other words, is trying to find a good price point.
Another technique--Amazon will "discount" your book if it is being sold cheaper elsewhere. You can sell it lower at Smashwords, or keep it the same and sign up for distribution at Kobo, which automatically discounts. Then Amazon will slash your price from say $2.99 to $2.39. People will think they are getting a deal.
You'll simply have to test out what works best for you.
8. UPLOADING: You are ready to upload. There are a number of websites you can upload your ebook. Kindle, Smashwords, PubIt, etc. Kindle is the best, so we’ll start with that.
Register, then follow directions.
-Upload book and synopsis. Set price. Remember, you may want to start with a promotional price of .99 for two weeks, then move to $2.99 where you'll get the 70 percent royalty
-Be sure to preview your book. It is laborious, but necessary.
-Add your bank account information with electronic routing number. If you are unsure about your wire routing number, call your bank.
-Follow directions and add tags, categories, and other information.
-Kindle takes several days to upload your book, and will send you an email when it is complete. While you wait, start working on your marketing strategy.
9. CHANGES. At any point after you have published, you CAN make changes. You can change the price. You can make editorial changes and upload again. You can change your cover and synopsis. Amazon may take your book offline for up to 48 hours, so you don’t want to do this excessively, but it is hugely comforting to know that once “it’s gone to print”, it’s not “carved in stone”.
10. BACKLIST TITLES. Many authors are uploading to Kindle previously published books when they get their rights back. You need a letter from your publisher confirming Reversion of Rights. Upload your book. Within a few days, Amazon will contact you and ask you to scan in your letter and send it to them. Within four or five days, your book will be approved.
-Smashwords does not require such a letter.
11. Barnes & Noble has recently established an epublication website, PubIt. It works much the same as Kindle:
12. AMAZON KINDLE for UK WRITERS:
You have to join on the USA site with your UK password if you are already a customer, and when you create your account it has US and UK buttons to turn on or off.
UK royalty is 30% regardless of where you are. They send a check in £. If it is sold in US then they send a check for 70% (if it is between $2.99 and $9.99). They only send checks when it is over $100, and will charge you $8 per check.
13. PROMOTION: The most difficult part about selling ebooks is getting the word out about them.
For my first Kindle book "Amsterdam 2012", I mentioned it on the Amazon Kindle forum and on Kindleboards.com. That was it. And it took off, selling over 1,000 copies the first weekend. Most promotion is word of mouth--doing guest postings on other writers' blogs, finding interest groups and pitching your book (e.g., if you have a book about dogs, pitching it to websites for dog lovers), participating in various writers groups, reviewing other writers' works. The self-promotion is time-intensive, and, yes, annoying. But even traditional publishers insist their writers do a lot of self-promotion on their own (my last publisher asked me to hire a publicist!) There are some websites that review ebooks only. Soon there will be established review venues. Right now everyone is kind of flying by the seat of their britches.
AUTHOR COMMUNITIES to Join and to Promote Your Books:
- Kindleboards.com. Sign up and promote your book on the Bizarre forum. Participate in as many discussions as you have time for. Post questions if you want. Everyone is very helpful. These boards list a lot of other venues where you can advertise your book.
-Amazon Kindle, Discussions, Kindle Forum. There are several threads where you can plug your book. Let friends know about where you’ve plugged your book, so they can comment on your remark and keep it on the first page of comments. This helps enormously in sales. I do not recommend posting a new thread about your book, although many do. Several “trolls” are very harsh to writers who “hog” the forum for self-promotion. Use this venue with caution.
-Goodreads.com. Become a member and promote your book. If you spend time on their discussion boards and make "friends", they can be really helpful.
-Nookboards.com. Become a member and promote your book.
-Soundings:Puget Sound Speaks. Promote on Board Index, Independent authors
-Mobileread.com. Become a member and promote your book on the authors’ promotion thread.
-Librarything.com. Become a member and promote your book.
-Redroom.com. Become a member and post blogs entries and stories. They have weekly writing challenges that are widely read.
-NOTE: Whenever you see that one of your author "friends" has a post on the Kindle Forums, chime in, or ask them a question so they can respond, further bumping their thread. They will do the same for you. You can follow these forums--Amazon will send you an alert, if you want, every time someone posts.
AUTHOR BLOGS and REVIEW SITES: Here You Can Ask to Have Your Book Reviewed or be a Guest Blogger:
http://theindiespotlight.blogspot.com/ Fill out their author's interview questionnaire. They will post your book in about 3 weeks.
http://hf-connection.com (Historical Fiction Connection)
http://kindlehomepage.blogspot.com Kindle Nation Daily, a promotional site. Promotional blitzes start at $59.
http://www.kindleboards.com also has a daily paid promotion available.
Simon Royle has another good list at:
Scott Nicholson has a good list from his blog tour (emphasis on horror reviewers):
There are many, many more. Many are mentioned on Kindleboards.com from time to time. It is a question of networking and favors, but this shared promotion is invaluable.
Other Promotional Tools to Know About:
- Tagging. On your book page on Amazon, there is a place where you can list "tags" or key words that help people find your book. Add tags, then go to Kindleboards and ask fellow writers to tag your book. This will get your book up on the rankings for specific types of books. Very important.
- Author Page on Amazon. Amazon now gives you an author page where you can write about anything you want to promote yourself. Put up a picture and stuff about yourself. You need to set up a separate page for Amazon UK.
-Facebook and Twitter. Lots of writers use Facebook to promote their books. Become a fan of other writers on FB, and they will do the same.
-If you have published DTBs, do a book giveaway on Goodreads.com.
-Blog tours. Contact all of the sites you would like to appear on, and ask to be a guest blogger during a specific promotion period. Line them all up, get your blogs prepared, and promote your tour. Several authors have sponsored a Kindle raffle for viewers.
-Some authors have tried listing their book as an ebook on CD on Ebay. The Ebay listing costs $.50 for a 30 day listing. Add S&H costs. The object here is not so much to sell CDs but to entice Kindle owners to see the book and then check for the book on Amazon.
14. READER REVIEWS: Reader Reviews are key to selling books.
-You can ask for reviews on Kindleboards.
-You can go to authonomy.com and post part or all of your book. When people comment on it, you can ask them to post their review on Amazon.
-Many reviewers on Amazon make their emails available. You can send them an email and ask them to review your book--sending them a free version or a Smashwords coupon.
-Amazon ranks Kindle books. Your goal is to get in the top 100, because there is a list of best sellers which gives you wide visibility.
-Once you start getting reviews, keep a list of people who liked it, and then email them about your next book.
-Facebook. Ask for reviews from your FB fans.
-Start a blog. If you can figure out something to say once a week (or every day) that people want to hear, you draw a lot of folk. Quite a few writers have started blogs where other writers can promote their works.
-Reviewing other people’s books is a good way to get your book reviewed.
-Youtube. Lots of people are doing book trailers on Youtube. So far, the time, money, and effort invested in book trailers has not translated into huge sales for most writers.
-It's all about connections and relationships. Doing little favors for people, and they returning little favors.
15. PAYMENT: Kindle pays 70% royalties on books $2.99 to $9.99. For books .99-$2.99, and over 9.99 the royalty is 35%. Payment is 60 days after the close of the month. Smashwords pays 70% through Paypal and quarterly (unless it is sold through another outlet through Smashwords). PubIt: Books below $2.99: 40%; Books from $2.99 - $9.99: 65%; Books over $9.99: 40%
If you're in the US, that minimum in royalties is $10.00 for payment to a bank account, and $100.00 if you want them to cut you a check. If you do require a check, then they charge an $8.00 fee out of that before they pay you.
16. COUPON: Smashwords allows you to create coupons for your books. You can give this virtual coupon (a number) to anyone, and they can use it to buy your book on Smashwords. You can do a promotional "giveaway" or "contest", posting it on forums and websites.
17. OTHER RESOURCES:
An excellent resource for epublishing is J.A. Konrath’s, “The Newbies Guide to Publishing”, only $2.99.
Joe’s blog, http://www.jakonrath.blogspot.com, is also very informative, and very inspiring.
Also, adobe expert Christian Cantrell’s Blog is helpful:
18. NOTE: Don't try to do it all at once. Work an hour or two a day on your book upload. Format it one day. Spend two days on the cover. One day for your synopsis. One day for uploading it. Once it is up, spend a half hour a day promoting it. First on Kindleboards, Mobilereads, Nookboards. Isn't that better than fretting about your &$&## agent, or the piles of rejection letters?
Remember, once it is up, you start making money immediately. You ARE a published writer who is making money.
Now isn't that what you always wanted?