Clawing her way back into show business, after a long period of illness, she’s started a new venture called BooksOffice with her scriptwriter friend Elaine Sturgess. Their website allows users to vote on which unpublished or self-published books should be brought to the screen.
I’ve joined and may well have a go. At least it’s a change from querying literary agents who ignore me!
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.
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?
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 the ‘For 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?
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 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.
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.