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?
In writing my crime novels, I’ve brought the last four in at about 80,000 words, though the first story I wrote ballooned to 179,000 words, entirely due to my ignorance of word counts! I’ve lopped 40,000 words off it, and as I prepare to join KDP Select I’m marketing it as a double-length story for the same price as the others. Good value!
The main reason that word counts are crucial is the cost of printing, storing and transporting books. Publishers will risk signing a book of 80,000 words, which amounts to 300-325 pages, depending on font size and formatting, but any bigger than that could see diminishing returns. Such concerns don’t apply to digital books, but an unknown writer needs to be introduced to readers in a digestible size.
I’ve read several very long novels in recent years, including Neal Stephenson’sReamde at 1,056 pages and 322,080 words. He’s just published a new novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell which at only 896 pages and 276,660 wordshas had some book critics calling it a short story!
Once a writer has established good sales figures, they’re allowed to sprawl. In 2019, I’ve read several crime novels of 500 + pages: John Connolly’s A Book Of Bones was 688 pages and 126,125 words, while Don Winslow’s The Border is 736 pages and 253,460 words.
I’m currently enjoying Knife by Jo Nesbø, which features his protagonist cop Harry Hole, a loosecannon with addiction issues. The plot involves his long-term life partner being murdered by a serial killer he captured who‘s been released from prison after completing his sentence. While he was incarcerated, Harry killed the killer’s son, who’d also become a murderer, so bad dad is after revenge.
Nesbø devotes many pages to exploring Harry Hole’s thinking. After reading an eight-page chapter in which he ruminates on life, love, faithfulness, the rock music he’s listening to and the alcohol he’s drinking, I considered how much space I’d permit my detective protagonist to do something similar. It wouldn’t be more than half-a-page, as I’m so aware of hitting the 80,000–word count.My hardback copy of Knife is 530 pages long, some 147,465 words, according to the reading length website:
I’d like to do more of the same. I feel constrained by80,000 words. In writing a series featuring the same characters, I’ve attempted to bond the reader with them, which could be better done with more space.
Of course, should I decide to go ahead with self-publishing on KDP Select, I can write books of whatever length I like, without the interference of a literary agent and publisher. Such temptation requires restraint.
Do you feel like you need more space to tell your stories?
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.
My entire life has been dominated by books—reading them, writing them and teaching others how to read them, including adults with literacy problems.
Reading is a joy for life. I feel sorry for anyone who misses the pleasure. You need look no further than the incumbent of the American presidency to see what it does a person’s character if you don’t read.
Whatever your opinions on the pros and cons of reading from a printed book or its digital version, I’d hazard a guess, that these days, even people who proclaim that they don’t read books actually read more words daily than people did 25 years ago—thanks to computers and smartphones.
I’m currently on a cusp between going back into self-publishing and being traditionally published, should Hachette’s The Future Bookshelf deem my Cornish Detective as being sales worthy. I entered their open submission process on the spur of the moment, surprised to be asked for my full manuscript.
Maybe I should be feeling more uptight about the possibilities than I do, but my pragmatism and work ethic (where did that come from?) means that I’m keeping my head down, nose to the grindstone and not worrying about success and failure.
Overall, I’m happy that people are still reading books, and it doesn’t matter to me how they do so. It would be great if some readers were enjoying my books—as much as I do! In a way, looking at publishing, I’m surprised by the persistence of the traditional way of doing things, particularly from the stance of being a writer. Self-publishing an eBook takes minutes on KDP, with your first earnings paid two months later. Traditional publishing takes two years to accomplish the same thing.
In the 21st-century, people expect instant access to many things. Just look at the success of fast food, comparing the similarities to downloading eBooks or music files. Now think of traditional sit-down dining in a restaurant, a leisurely activity comparable to the way that publishers produce their books to be consumed. On that basis, it’s amazing that books are still printed, that it hasn’t become an activity for the elite.
But, there’s a cyber hawk on the horizon, which may do away with the effort of reading eBooks and hard copies. A while ago, I made a facetious comment on the Colony, about books being injectable.
It turns out, I may have been prescient, for Elon Musk proposes that people have an artificial intelligence chip implanted in their brains
Like any form of technology, it will be advertised as being of benefit to one’s life, making things easier and simpler—essentially appealing to the laziness within us—and, you’ll be superior to those who don’t have it.
Would you put your brain under the control of a megalomaniac?
I’m sure some people will be willing to so, ignoring the potential dangers.
It all makes me wonder what skills people will have in 50 years, as everything will be done for them, including thinking! They will be Borg.
Staying on relatively safe advantages of having a chip in your grey cells, it would mean that a ‘reader’ could have books downloaded into their noddle, allowing them to spout forth quotes and information with as much understanding of the meaning as a computer or smartphone.
Picasso put things well:
If you had a library of digital books stored in your brain, able to access the information within them, would you be deemed to be intelligent?
I previously posted in praise of Rich Reading which takes an effort to savour: if books are going to be downloaded into our brains, how are we to appreciate them?
We’re already in a situation where people don’t grow their food, don’t cook it any way but in a microwave and we don’t make our own clothing, throwing it away when it needs repairing. Driving a car will no longer be a skill, as the car does it for us. Few know how to build their own home or how to make a repair. How many of us can do mental arithmetic these days?
I can do all of these things, partly because of growing up poor, but also because I wanted to know how things work to satisfy my curiosity.
The way the future looks with Elon Musk’s proposal is that curiosity will be redundant….don’t think for yourself, we’ll do that for you.
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.