I’ve long stated that “I don’t know what I’m doing” when it comes to writing. I’ve said this, while still believing in my ability to pen stories that have the power to entertain and maybe make readers think differently about a situation.
The act of creating a story is joyful to me. Whatever its fate, that a new story exists is vastly better than having it rattling around inside my head! But, the joy is shrouded in doubt. It’s the nature of creation that I wonder how effective my hard work has been…and that requires the judgement of readers—who may never learn of my book unless I’m nifty at marketing and self-promotion.
Having just self-published the first four stories of my Cornish Detective series on Amazon KDP Select, I’m facing just that challenge.
I don’t know what I’m doing about how best to use social media and attract subscribers to my two blogs/websites Paul Pens and The Cornish Detective,
Whatever you think of Amazon, as a customer or as a seller, there’s no denying their power and influence. Kindle Direct Publishing is a force that would be foolish to ignore, though I resisted fully committing to them by only using their basic KDP programme, rather than the exclusive Select operation—which pays double the royalties—but is more restrictive of the writer.
As I’ve described in other threads, I was preparing to sign with Select this summer, when a publisher I’d queried asked for a full manuscript. I’ve delayed my plans to self-publish The Cornish Detective series, but have still formatted the books for digital and POD paperback release. More of that later.
This article from The Atlantic is well-researched and worth a read, as it shows how irresistible KDP is as a publisher. It used to be, that one of the supposed stumbling blocks with KDP was that a writer’s books wouldn’t appear in bookshops, other than Amazon’s own, and supermarkets and libraries, but that’s slowly changing.
There are best-selling authors on Amazon, who you’ve likely never heard of, who outsell household names and have become millionaires from their books. But, one household name, crime writer Dean Koontz recently signed a five-book deal with Thomas & Mercer, the Crime division of Amazon Publishing. A sign of changing attitudes, surely? If a best-selling author has gone over to what was once seen as the enemy of traditional publishing, then how long before others join him?
I’ve decided to join Select with the 45 titles I’ve had on KDP and distributed to other vendors via Smashwords and Draft2Digital for the last six years. They are volumes of poetry and song lyrics, for adults and children, short stories and novellas. This will be as much an experiment to find how Select works, as it is a way of raising income from sales. KDP promote Select books, pretty much ignoring those on KDP.
All of my thinking since 2013 has been geared towards publishing eBooks. I wasn’t driven by seeing my book in printed physical form. But, if I’m going with Select, it makes sense to join their print-on-demand option. This used to be called CreateSpace, but now goes by KDP Print. The transition since 2018 has not been without its problems, as I found when attempting to format my Cornish Detective manuscripts.
I started doing this as an optimistic move, some light relief from attempting to recover access to my WordPress website, which was making me mad, so when I encountered resistance from KDP Print I swore a lot!
The pages describing how to edit your manuscript to conform with requirements about bleed, margins, headers, pagination, trim size, section breaks, front matter, end matter and lots of other things you hadn’t thought of, are helpful.
When I first looked at the templates they provide I was mightily impressed, for with a bit of tinkering, I could adjust blocks of text on the cover to suit and it’s easy to upload the image I designed for the eBook as a cover.
I was encouraged by several instruction videos on YouTube, including this one, which shows how your book could look:
Easy peasy, right? I followed the instructions, replacing the Latin placeholder text with my author bio and blurb, clicking on Save to move to the next step. Except, it didn’t save, it disappeared! I tried several more times, usually getting strange colourful horizontal lines instead of text, though sometimes nothing happened at all. Don’t you just love it, when sites ignore you?
Fed up with big companies that promise you the world but shove you in the ditch, I searched KDP help forums, finding that many others were also facing opposition from the templates. One user mentioned having success by switching from Chrome to another browser. I tried the template in Mozilla Firefox and it worked perfectly!
Despite this glitch, Amazon encourages a writer to produce the best-looking paperback possible, by an online preview service, and also, you can order proof copies.
Have any of you published your books on KDP, Select or POD?
The PDF download is larger and easier to read with a magnifying glass feature.
One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed in the last six years is the attitude of big publishers towards eBooks. In 2013, those companies that issued a digital version of a print book, priced it the same or even more expensive, even though it cost them virtually nothing to store and distribute—unlike hard copies, which need warehouses, lorries and staff to handle. It almost felt like the Big 5 still secretly harboured a hatred of eBooks and were trying to kill them off by making them unaffordable.
More recently, several long-established publishers have opened imprints to promote digital sales, staffed by experienced and enthusiastic marketers. They often publish genre fiction by debut authors, which looks commercial but is still too risky to send to the printers. I think they’re still charging too much, which is why staying Indie is attractive to me, as I can ask as little as £1.99 on KDP Select to lure readers. Changing the price is as easy as a few mouse clicks. I can give my eBooks away for free for five days of every 90-day contract, to help promote sales. I haven’t heard of any mainstream digital publishers who’ll allow this.
While preparing to self-publish on KDP Select, I came across several articles about Amazon UK’s Kindle Storyteller Award, which has been running since 2017.
The details are:
Closing date: 31st August 2019
Entry: Writers of 18 or over publishing in English in any genre, who publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing between 1st May and 31 August 2019. No entry fee.
Prize: Grand Prize £20,000 cash, publishing agreement with Amazon Publishing and Amazon launch.
The Kindle Storyteller Award 2019 is a £20,000 literary prize recognising outstanding writing. It is open to writers publishing in English in any genre, who publish their work through Kindle Direct Publishing between 1st May and 31 August 2019. There are some specific exclusions in the Terms and Conditions, which need careful reading.
Readers play a significant role in selecting the winner, helped by a panel of judges including various book industry experts. One judge is Mariella Frostrup.
The Kindle Storyteller 2019 writing contest is open for entries between 1st May 2019 and 31st August 2019. Books must be written in English, previously unpublished and be available as an eBook and in print via Kindle Direct Publishing. The winning author will receive a £20,000 cash prize and be recognised at a central London award ceremony. Finalists will receive a Kindle Oasis Reader.
It’s an exciting opportunity, but one that will favour writers of commercial fiction, rather than literature. Potentially, Amazon could film your story, turning it into a movie or a series:
Still, with my nose to the grindstone, I should be ready to self-publish on KDP Select next week. I rather regret that I won’t be on Amazon in time for their Prime days tomorrow and Tuesday, but, as I feared, it’s taking a while to get my eBooks removed from sales vendors that D2D distributed them to…KDP Select demands exclusivity.
Although my manuscripts, cover designs, synopses and blurb are all ready, I’ve been bogged down in expanding my online author platform, something I wish I’d worked steadily on over the last few years, rather than being faced with a colossal amount of work now. For instance, I’ve spent the last week sharing posts from my writing blog Paul Pens and The Cornish Detective website to theirequivalent Facebook pages. That’s 420 posts that needed to be mouse-clicked one by one, each transfer taking about 2-3 minutes. It’s as boring as it sounds, feeling like nothing to do with writing.
I’ve said it before on this blog, but most of what we do as authors is speculative. Nothing feels more based on conjecture and potentially a waste of timethan designing a blog and website that no one may look at.
I’ve learned all sorts of things about SEO to make my posts appear in search results more often. I was happily ignorant of most of these techniques at the beginning of the year. While working on my sites, I put them in maintenance mode, so they weren’t showing as searchable. I finished Paul Pens first, making it live three weeks ago. Determined not to become neurotic about receiving likes and comments for my articles, I was still a little puzzled that no one appeared to be looking at my blog.
Randomly clicking on site icons one night—what’s that one do?—I finally rang the notifications bell I should have been dinging all along, to find that 100 people had left feedback. Proof that I miss the obvious.
Although bored witless recently, I remain optimistic about signing to KDP Select, which I’ve been wary of for the last six years. It could be that my lament about Where Is My Competition, Where Is My Prize? has finally been answered with Amazon UK’s Literary KDP Storyteller Award. I’m not so arrogant that I think I might win, but it’s a chance at fame and fortune that makes me feel upbeat.
Self-publishing is evergreen. Your book can always be in print via POD or available as an eBook. You can edit it, alter the cover or reissue it under a pen name.
The goal of many authors, to be accepted by a literary agent who touts your book around publishers has drawbacks you may not have thought of. A publisher can change your characters’ names, alter the plot and saddle it with a book cover design that’s ugly and irrelevant. Your newly published book has a shelf life of six weeks in a bookshop. If it doesn’t sell, it’s in the cut-price bin or remaindered, meaning it’s sent back to the publisher to be pulped.
If you self-publish, your earnings are higher than for comparable sales from a traditional publishing contract. I’m about to sign up to Amazon’s KDP Select programme, which offers 70% royalties + whatever I make from page reads as part of their Unlimited option. Even with their ordinary KDP authors are paid 35% of retail. Select means giving Amazon exclusivity for 90 days, meaning I can’t sell my books directly from my website, but I’m free to take a break from Select once the three-month period is over to go fully Indie—meaning I’d earn 100% of whatever sales I make.
Compare that to traditional publishing, which might pay an author $1-$2 for each book sold, those payments coming twice a year in arrears:
It’s odd how we admire musicians who release their records on their own labels, and we praise Indie filmmakers who get interesting projects financed and made, yet many people still look down their noses at writers who self-publish. It’s damned hard work to get everything together in a way that looks professional, as I can attest.
These days, it’s not the case that your publisher will do the bulk of the work in promoting their author clients—you’ll be expected to do all the things a self-publishing author does—establishing an online author platform, including blogging, running a website with a newsletter and posting on social media.
You don’t have a job for life with a book company. If your books don’t sell, you’ll be dropped. It’s better to be an unpublished writer, who might be the next big thing than to be shuffled aside as a failed author with a poor track record. Self-publishing is an attractive alternative. You can do so swiftly, not waiting up to two years before your book appears on a shelf. Most of the earnings are yours, not your publishers. If one book doesn’t sell well, there’s no stigma attached to you. Publish another one! You rule.
There are drawbacks. It’s difficult to get physical copies of your masterpiece into bookshops, though the way that independent stores are reinventing themselves, including focusing on local writers, that situation is changing. Bear in mind, though, that should you manage to distribute your titles, it will be on a sales or return basis, with you paying shipping expenses. Another potential expense is paying for your book to be displayed prominently with the store. Few readers realise that the reason James Patterson novels are all over the shop, including at the till, is that his publisher has bought those spaces.
Your local library system will stock digital and POD versions of your work—a great way of getting your name known.
I’m not expecting miracles from self-publishing my Cornish Detective series with Amazon. I have six years of experience publishing on Smashwords and Draft2Digital, so I know how many authors are doing the same thing as me. Amazon does more to promote sales, but it’s still a steep learning curve.
What do you think of self-publishing?
Do you buy eBooks to read?
With your own books, is it traditional publishing only or the bottom drawer forever?
His prediction struck me as wise in an Ozymandias way:
But, it neatly deflected attention from criticism that Amazon was expanding too fast and needed to be more tightly regulated owing to their absurd power over markets—it’s reckoned that 48% of all online sales in the USA in 2019 will be from Amazon.
If you’re crushing the opposition as a business, there may well be bargains for buyers, but there are detrimental knock-on effects. In Cornwall, where I live, I know of many high streets that are plagued with empty shop units, owing to a huge supermarket being built on the edge of town.
Amazon, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for plagiarism and promoting extreme, offensive and illegal viewpoints. Attempting to police what’s uploaded to their sites is difficult. The Plagiarism Today article mentions a figure of 3,000 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every hour. Who’s going to watch such vast amounts of footage on social media sites to decide if it contravenes regulations?
The answer is low-paid workers who wind up with PTSD:
Such hideousness makes any concerns I have pale into insignificance, but as writers, we should still be watchful.
Really, there’s not a lot we can do to prevent someone ripping us off by plagiarising our books, certainly if it happens in a foreign language. I’ve previously mentioned how an author acquaintance was told by friends travelling in India and China that her MG stories had been counterfeited. One of her friends had designed the book covers, which she noticed on a market stall, the heads changed to have Asian features. They were also available on Amazon.
Although I’ve had profiles on most social media sites for a long time, I’m currently delving into the intricacies of how they work. Facebook bewilders me in many ways, for it operates in a slow and obstructive way, yet as a parasite trading on the insecurities of users who post content for free adding to Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth it’s a brilliant con trick—as well as being an intelligence agency that rivals the FBI, CIA and MI5.
I’m also in the process of building a business page on Facebook for my crime novels, which I’ve put in maintenance mode, so it’s not searchable. This state is agitating Facebook, who keep on reminding me to make it go live, as well as pushing me to buy ad space. It’s fun baiting them!
Whatever you do on social media, don’t overshare. A friend was burgled last year, after revealing she was going away for two weeks holiday. She’d previously posted many photos showing her house, its windows, its door locks, no nearby neighbours and no burglar alarm. She had contents insurance, but her insurers checked her Facebook presence and only offered a partial payout.
How much do you use YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon?
Has it been to your benefit as a person and as a writer?
A revealing article penned by indie author Alastair Crombie describes
how he attempted self-marketing as an unknown writer.
I’ve not found any other methods that work reliably for newbies.
I’m not sure there are any. The cold truth of the matter is that
instant success belongs in the fiction we write and not in the facts
“And the final lesson I learnt: living with disappointment. I know most authors recognize the feeling.”
year, I’ve been navigating the self-promotion trail, which is
something I wish I’d began six years ago, before writing my first
Cornish Detective novel. If you’re new to writing, I earnestly
recommend beginning a blog (with a newsletter) and posting regularly
on social media. The trick is to get your name known and also to
collect email addresses of subscribers who may, one day, buy your
whether you self-publish online or you publish traditionally through
a book company, you’ll be expected to have an author platform, so
best start now!
When I returned to creative writing in 2013, I knew it would take at least five years to get anywhere and so it has proved. It helps that I’m stoical (and bloody-minded!). I had some experience of publishing and being a writer from selling short stories and magazine articles in the 1970s and 1980s, realising that you were only as good as your last published piece—and that it needed lots of luck to get that into print.
I’m glad that one of the first writing guides I read was How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author by David Armstrong. Originally published in 2002, what he says about surviving as a non-bestselling author is even truer today. The hardships and ignominy are worse. There are affordable copies available on Amazon and eBay and Kindle:
confirms that it’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere as a writer.
Wannabee authors might well be put off starting.
present, I’m wrestling with the hydra of converting my books to other
formats, those most commonly used by e-reading devices, which are
PDF, MOBI and EPUB. This is to make my manuscript flowable, able to
automatically fit different-sized screens. Previously, I’ve
self-published on Amazon and via Smashwords, which rather spoilt me,
for they have meatgrinder software which does the conversion for you.
I should have used Smashwords again, even though I’ve unpublished my 45 titles on their site, to promote them via Draft2Digital. Instead, out of some daft sense of behaving honourably, I attempted to do the job by using Calibre, checking what the converted story looked like with Adobe Digital Editions
The main problem has been that the formatting I’ve used sometimes gets removed by Calibre, resulting in unwanted spacing between sentences and paragraphs. Trying to establish my own house style, I’d used Celtic symbols as section breaks, like this:
Calibre didn’t like that at all, substituting a capital ‘O’ for the key I’d pressed to insert the Celtic Knot. Smashwords meatgrinder did the same thing. This meant I had to remove them all, which took several hours…as did adding them last week. Note to self: stop being a clever dick!
After cleaning the manuscript of extraneous design flourishes, I put it through Smashwords meatgrinder again, which gave me a clean-looking story, complete with an attached book cover. There are still problems with the MOBI conversion done by Smashwords, which is the format used by Amazon for their Kindles.
Smashwords and Amazon don’t play well together, each insisting that any manuscript submitted doesn’t mention their rival. I’d listed my 45 previously published titles at the end of the book, linking them to Amazon, which gave Smashwords an epileptic fit! Removing them improved the MOBI reformatting results, but Amazon’s own meatgrinder will probably do a better job.
Of course, if I had the money, I could pay someone to run a campaign promoting me and my books and to convert my books to other formats, placing advertising strategically, but I don’t, so I’m doing everything myself. Paying for services is no guarantee of success. I’ve read some horror stories of people investing their life savings to promote themselves as writers, selling very few books and facing penury.
I’m 80% towards completing what I planned with blogging, having an author website, designing book covers, reformatting my five crime novels and posting on social media. I’m going to put in a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, to ready things for launching the first two stories in mid-July.
Although it’s taken thousands of hours of work to get to this point, I’m truly not expecting anything much to happen. I’m not a celebrity who’s chosen to write a book (or have it written for them), so I’ve no free promotion that way.
I’m just a nobody trying to be a somebody.
What might help raise my profile, is to do interviews with the local press and radio stations, which I’m loath to do, but needs must when the devil drives. EMOJI Cornwall Libraries have a policy of buying books by Cornish authors and those set in the county, so I’ll make some sales that way (including eBooks) as well as introduce local readers to my name.
What problems have you faced in self-promoting and self-publishing?
What worked for you?
And, what was a waste of time and money?
If anyone needs advice on what I’ve written about in this post, please contact me (before my brain melts).
I might have made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.
As I continue with my self-promotion campaign via blogging, creating a website dedicated to my crime novel series and posting on social media, in preparation for self-publishing this summer, I was happy to come across an optimistic article written by Harry Bingham.
I like Harry, as he knows the publishing business as an author:
In the article What Fiction Decline? An Indie Author’s Asking, he makes astute points about the inaccuracies of many surveys of publishing, which ignore crucial sales figures—such as Amazon’s KDP—which Amazon doesn’t share with anyone. No one would take a survey of traffic seriously, if it only counted vehicles on two-lane and local roads, ignoring motorways/freeways, so why embrace doom and gloom when the Association of American Publishers and the Publishers Association in Britain say things are getting worse?
The fact is that nothing at all in my interactions with readers makes me feel like I’m selling horses to car owners. Indeed, if my email inbox is anything to go by, I’m selling horses to people who really, really like horses. The appetite for good, absorbing, well-written fiction feels to me as intense now as it ever did.
I was glad to read this paragraph: I’m still unsure about what I’m doing with self-promotion and self-publishing, but it feels more like progress than querying cloth-eared literary agents who either ignore me completely or only deign to reply after three months with a form letter of rejection.
People hunger for new stories, so perhaps I’ll find an audience.
It goes to prove how unregulated the internet is, with corporations such as Google and Amazon happy to take money from unscrupulous traders without checking what it is they’re selling. Just think of the plagiarism scandal on Amazon books.
Writing blogger Kristen Lamb recently posted a long article about the collapse and purchase of Barnes & Noble, which is worth a read if you’re confused about the current state of publishing and book selling.
It’s worth reading the comments below the article from writers and B & N employees. One of them mentions James Daunt’s appalling attitude to his Waterstones employees’ wages, which is confirmed in this article:
To see him as a saviour riding in to rescue B & N and its staff, customers and the writers that create its product is laughable. He’s a wealthy man out to make money from what he can, one of the 1% who rule the world who favour the best-selling authors who make the most profit. We all know the phrase “It’s just business”—which is doublespeak for “I’ve behaved appallingly to get what I wanted and there’s nothing you can do about it”—book-selling and publishing are businesses…the most vulnerable will be oppressed. That includes authors.
Seeing as how they’re establishing a bricks and mortar presence, it’s possible they’ll buy some of the old B & N stores.
* Although many people who work in the book trade love books, be they book-sellers, editors, literary agents, book cover artists or publishers, this doesn’t necessarily translate into respect or recompense for the writers on whom the whole business depends. For any surveys that show there’s been an increase in readership, most of the public are indifferent to books and their creators. As an author, it sometimes feels like everyone is against you—even those who are supposed to be on your side.
Writers are the foundation stones of the book business. If we’re not treated properly the whole building will collapse. Imagine if a supermarket chain decided to only stock the 100 best-selling food products, not promoting anything new or unusual. They wouldn’t last long but might start to sell novelty items to bring more buyers in, maybe have a café, as B & N did. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, why should anyone buy it? That holds true for the author, their agent, the publisher and then the book shop.
* At the moment, I’m at a crossroads with my writing career. After being with Smashwords for years, I recently transferred to Draft2Digital. I’m happy with their efficient operation, but feel like my Cornish Detective series might sell better on Amazon. Some authors have made millions from being on Amazon.
But, I resent their controlling ways. Effectively, they’re an intelligence agency gathering information on their traders and customers. This blog is available for whoever wants to read it, but I don’t know who’s got access to it. It doesn’t fill me confidence to know that Amazon is spying on me.
I’m loathe to go exclusive with them for my crime novels. As someone says in reply to Kristen Lamb’s article:
...some authors have figured out a sweet spot to milk a good living out of KDP Select. That’s fine, but having all their eggs in one basket could come back to bite them in a massive way if Amazon arbitrarily decides one day to change the payout structure.
I’ve had some experience of their forceful marketing tactics when they suggested I participate in bundling my titles with other low-selling writers’ eBooks, which would have yielded me about 10c profit for each sale! Books are like light bulbs or bars of soap to Amazon.
* Instead, I’ll be staying ‘wide’ for my book launch this summer. I believe in Ernst Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful approach to economics and to living. I intend to market and publish at a manageable and personal level, going grassroots with my marketing, through local libraries, reading and writing groups, Cornish media, self-publishing my series via the D2D aggregator and also selling directly from my dedicated website.
Relying on faceless corporations and huge book store chains means I’d be giving away the tiny amount of power I have over my career. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t grab a publishing deal with one of the Big 5, as happened to James Oswald:
For now, though, I intend to self-publish in eBook format, not worrying about POD until it’s requested by readers.
Writing is a lonely task. Many of us yearn for the support and validation of signing with an agent, getting a traditional publishing contract or interacting with Amazon’s ‘experts’ to market our eBooks, but any of those can fail to provide what they’ve promised. Then what?
It would be lovely to see your novel on a book store shelf, but what if they don’t promote it all? What if the whole business fails? It happens, however big the company. Bosses stick their heads in the sand, pretending that all’s well. Even Jeff Bezos predicted that Amazon would fail one day: