Category Archives: Publishing

Amazon KDP: digital and print-on-demand

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.

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/08/amazons-plan-take-over-world-publishing/595630/

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?

Image result for author dean koontz

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.

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G202145400

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.

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834230

I was encouraged by several instruction videos on YouTube, including this one, which shows how your book could look:

(Cover Creator part from 2.11)

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?

Image result for gif computer rage

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?

How did you get on?

Not mincing his words!

As I languish in limbo, while deciding whether to go ahead with self -publishing, which I’ve been preparing to do for seven months, or to wait for a reply from The Future Bookshelf who are contemplating if my manuscript is worth publishing, I came across an outspoken answer on Quora.

The question posed was What are the hardest aspects an author has to deal with when trying to get their book published?

Michael Davies, an Australian writer, publisher and writing teacher, who answers first, doesn’t pull any punches!

Image result for quora Michael Davies, an Australian writer, publisher and writing teacher

https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-hardest-aspects-an-author-has-to-deal-with-when-trying-to-get-their-book-published

What do you think of his answer?

500-Page Novels

As debut authors, we’re advised to follow the word counts suggested as being acceptable by writing gurus:

https://jerichowriters.com/average-novel-wordcount/

https://hobbylark.com/writing/Word-counts-by-Genres-Market-Size

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’s Reamde 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 words has 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 loose cannon 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.

Image result for jo nesbo knife

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 80,000word count. My hardback copy of Knife is 530 pages long, some 147,465 words, according to the reading length website:

https://www.readinglength.com/

I’d like to do more of the same. I feel constrained by 80,000 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?

How to Publish

Writing guru Jane Friedman has made a useful chart describing the features of different ways to publication:

https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/

The PDF download is larger and easier to read with a magnifying glass feature.

Image result for jane friedman writing guru
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.

https://www.tomgauld.com/

A Good News Story

From today’s Guardian, a story to encourage us all:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/08/adrian-mckinty-interview-crime-novelist-the-chain

Adrian McKinty deserves his success. What depresses me about his story, is how, despite winning numerous writing awards, he was neglected by publishers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_McKinty

Image result for author Adrian McKinty

It sometimes seems to me that book companies detest their clients, failing to promote their books on the basis that they haven’t made enough money—and why should they do anything to rectify the situation?

Shane Salerno, the agent who turned McKinty’s life around, is a real powerhouse:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shane_Salerno

Imagine taking a phone call from such an influential figure!

I, WRITER

As I emerge from reclusiveness, to share myself and my crime novels online, it occurred to me that part of my self-promotion campaign should include personal appearances.

From reading how debut authors achieved success, one of the best ways of getting anywhere is attending literary festivals and residential training courses. It’s not as if writers, editors, literary agents and publishers wander around looking like their job or wear helpful placards hanging from their neck.

The second question commonly asked, after learning a stranger’s name, is: “What do you do?” I’ve long referred to myself as a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve done more than any other job. It’s how I’ve thought of myself, even when working in a factory, as a dispatch rider, teacher and librarian.

After being a hermit in a hovel for ten years, I’m pondering on how to be a public performer. I’m a long way from being shy—and the world of books is genteel—but how do I infiltrate it? Maybe my ambition is showing on my face, somehow, for three unexpected incidents yesterday set my brain whirring.

Firstly, I bumped into an old lover. She lives locally and though we don’t socialise, we’ve chatted amicably enough on the street. Back in 2013, when I mentioned to her that I was returning to creative writing full-time, she was dismissive, saying I’d never make money at it—which I already knew would be hard. Puzzled by her negativity, I later recalled she’d written a memoir that she couldn’t find a publisher for. This time, when she asked about my writing, she was joyful and encouraging that I’m going to begin self-publishing my Cornish Detective series this summer. A pat on the back beats a kick up the arse, so I felt buoyed up.

I wandered into the library. The assistants know I’m a writer and have been helpful offering advice about Cornwall Libraries policy on buying books by local authors. I’ve shared some of my experiences about querying agents, editing, blogging and putting myself out there on social media. The librarian smiled at the requested titles I’d come in to collect, which were three books in theFor Dummies’ series about Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads and Twitter. Although I’ve used social media for twenty years, there’s a big difference between being a casual surfer and using it to run a business. She asked if I’d be interested in talking to their readers’ group, which meets once a fortnight to discuss a set book. Sure, said I, panicking about how to describe being a writer without sounding like a merchant of doom!

Wondering if my status as a writer could grow from grassroots, I went to shop for food at the Co-Op supermarket. At the till was an employee I’ve talked to about writing. When writing my last novel, which features thieves who use a bulldozer to steal the ATM from the foyer of that very supermarket, I’d spent time eyeballing the security cameras and monitor screen hanging from the ceiling as a deterrent. The assistant looked at me suspiciously, as if I was about to rob the place, so I explained why I was being nosy.

Since then, we’ve chatted about writing and publishing, as she totalled my bill at the till. I said I was about to self-publish the first two novels, whereupon, she asked for my profile name on Facebook, offering to promote my crime series via several book groups she runs. I was very surprised. I’m hopeless at asking for help, preferring to assist others, so receiving three boosts to my efforts inside an hour gladdened my heart.

I’d better get on with things. People think I’m a writer, even I feel like I’m a bumbling impostor at times.

How do you handle being a writer with your family, friends and the public?

Real Books Have Curves

As I continue my rambling way towards self-publishing my series of crime novels this summer, I had the alarming thought last night, that I hadn’t yet uploaded my first two stories to my WordPress Cornish Detective website to make them available to readers as downloads.

How to do that? Should they be in MS Word (.doc) format or as a PDF…or, both? And, how does the book cover fit into all of this? I found two helpful articles about both formats, then spent three hours faffing around attempting to get the Word (.doc) version to appear on my site. I’ve moaned about the complexity of WordPress before on this blog, so I won’t go on. One of the problems with WordPress is that it’s regularly updated, as are the plug-in widgets that operate it, meaning that online advice about how to do things is quickly outdated.

Getting a blog about writing and a website on my books up and running has felt like the Labours of Hercules.

I’ve spent most of my time in the Augean Stables!

Image result for augean stables

None of this activity feels like being a writer. And, anything I’ve read about WordPress hasn’t been reading for pleasure. As for my novels, they exist as intransigent digital files—it’s hard to think of them as books.

Weary with frustration, I shut down my laptop and went to bed with five books…I’m a promiscuous reader! 

Laying there in the company of real books, that I could feel, smell and move around wherever I wanted them, I enjoyed the sensuality of the experience.

I’m dedicated to self-publishing eBooks this summer, with POD to follow if readers ask for it, but as an activity it feels as sexy as scrubbing bathroom grouting clean!

For the reader, Kindles and other eBook reading devices have advantages, such as anonymity and being able to store many titles, but they’re not alluring or likely to encourage conversation. These are paranoid times, with mass surveillance of the population, meaning we seek ways to preserve whatever privacy we can—including stealth reading.

What do you think?

Reasons to be Optimistic

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:

https://harrybingham.com/

His early experiences of the publishing world prompted him to found The Writers’ Workshop, since renamed Jericho Writers:

https://jerichowriters.com/about/harry-bingham/

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?

https://booklife.com/news/authors/11/19/2018/what-fiction-decline-an-indie-author-s-asking.html

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.

 

Predatory Publishers

Not everyone in the world of writing and publishing is nice.

These two articles by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware highlight the dodgy tactics used by supposedly respectable publishers such as Simon & Schuster;

https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2018/07/how-predatory-companies-are-trying-to.html

https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2019/06/how-predatory-companies-are-trying-to.html

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.

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/06/plagiarism-in-the-age-of-self-publishing/485525/

Triple check everyone you’re thinking of doing business with, before committing to a contract.

It’s a jungle out there—and, you’re the meat!

Barnes & Noble SOLD

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.

https://authorkristenlamb.com/2019/06/barnes-noble-goliath-has-fallen/

Image result for blogger kirsten lamb

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:

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/we-can-t-afford-it-daunt-hits-back-real-living-wage-campaign-petition-hits-7900-979551#

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.

A few random thoughts:

*I’ve always been surprised that Amazon didn’t swoop in to buy B & N, but perhaps they feared further anti-trust investigations.

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:

https://damienseaman.com/no1-book-promotion-trick/

https://damienseaman.com/self-published-author-makes-1m/

Image result for author 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:

https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-says-amazon-will-fail-one-day-2018-11?r=US&IR=T

Going it alone, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes, but they’ll be my mistakes—easy to correct—not impossible to negotiate with an algorithm on Amazon or whoever chooses what to stock in the revamped B & N.

(Me, selling my crime novels)