Kindle Publishing and how it works.

10 December 2011

Earlier this year, I decided on a whim to publish my first novel, The Secret Diary of a Princess on Kindle and well, it’s probably of no surprise to learn that I am still highly enamoured with Kindle publishing. Not just because the actual number of sales blows those of physical books out of the water but also because the costs to both myself and, most importantly, the reader are comparatively negligible. I’m really shocked by how much some authors sell their self published books for – it’s not something that I blame them for as I’ve published a book with Lulu in the past and know that you often have to price books quite high to make any sort of return on them. It’s still a bit offputting though – I myself rarely buy self published books, not because I think they’ll be rubbish (quite the reverse in fact), but because they are simply too expensive.

As I said, I know it isn’t the writer’s fault but if there is any way that you can bring the price down then you should – unless you are very protective of your work and ONLY want to sell it to friends and family, that is. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course but if you want to reach a wider audience then pricing is VERY important.

I’d considered doing this before but had put it off as I thought the whole process would be painful and difficult, but actually it was okay. I’d already had my book properly typeset and formatted by my fabulous friend Delilah des Anges so putting it on to Kindle was a simple case of uploading the file, giving it a quick check over and away we go.

If you don’t have a typesetting chum to hand, then there’s plenty of tutorials online about how to format a book for Kindle or you can pay someone to do it professionally. You could also sign up with Scrivener, as this can format your book automatically for you, which is unbelievably painless! Either way, once this bit is done (and it probably is the most tricky part of the whole process) then it’s as easy as sticking the book on Amazon.

Before you start to put your book on Kindle, there’s a couple of things you need to think about. As already mentioned, I did it as a whim so hadn’t really thought things through and have had to tweak things around a bit since I put it online, but you’ll be better prepared won’t you? The things you need to think about are what categories you want the book to be under, how you want the description to look and how much you want it to be.

The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that I’ve changed the cover of my Marie Antoinette book a few times – the thing about Kindle is that it helps to have a really good and eye catching cover for your work. I’ve got Lisa Falzon, an artist I really admire, making Before the Storm‘s cover, which should be absolutely gorgeous. In fact I’m thinking as much about the cover as I am about the book. It’s got to be perfect, you see. If no one knows who you are then you’ve got to use everything in your arsenal to lure them in. Bwahaha. In my arsenal, I have um this blog, its Facebook page, my Twitter account, pink hair and er a certain winsomeness of manner. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

The categories are very important as these are the ones that your book will initially be listed under. I started off by listing my book as ‘historical fiction’ but then had a change of heart and listed it as ‘juvenile fiction – historical’ and ‘juvenile fiction – royalty’. My reason for doing this is that while my book is historical fiction, this category has thousands upon thousands of books all competing for the top spots in the bestseller list, whereas juvenile fiction has rather less. It’s a bit vain, I know, to want to be in a bestseller list, however niche but it will apparently improve my visibility on Amazon.

I’ve wanted to list my Marie Antoinette book as ‘young adult’ fiction for a while actually – the main character is an adolescent girl and there’s nothing in the book that could cause offense to young readers or their parents. In fact I’ve had a lot of feed back from parents about their daughters absolutely loving the book and telling me that they’ve read it together so it seemed like the sensible thing to do really.

I also chose seven key words that my book could be searched under – also very important! Now people who look for ‘Marie Antoinette’, ‘Paris’, ‘Versailles’ and ‘princess’ may well see my book listed amongst the various Kindle offerings.

The description is also highly important. I found it a bit difficult as I’m naturally rather diffident and found it really grim to be blowing my own writerly trumpet in public, but it HAS to be done! In the end I opted for a description of the book, a paragraph that explains why it appeals to younger readers and then a few reviews from past readers. You can put whatever you like but I’d recommend having a look at books that you have bought from Amazon on a whim and seeing what it was about their description that made you want to read more.

I never stop tinkering around with the price of my Kindle book – it started off cheap as chips then went up in price when a bit of feedback and research revealed to me that a lot of US readers (who make up the vast majority of my market) are actually suspicious of books that are too cheap because they equate cheap with rubbish. However when I did this my sales on the UK Amazon site slowed down to an almost standstill – I wouldn’t really like to say why but I think that we have an expectation that books should be cheap now thanks to supermarkets, Amazon and the Waterstones 3 for 2.

I often found myself wandering aimlessly around a branch of Waterstones before they withdrew the offer, clutching two 3 for 2 books to my bosom while fruitlessly hunting for a third. There was often another book that I really wanted but as it wasn’t in the 3 for 2, I’m ashamed to say that I would often not to buy it and instead supplement the two books that I wanted a little bit less with some vapid chick lit that I didn’t want at all. Where’s the sense in that? Yet, I expect this is a depressingly familiar scenario to many British book buyers…

Needless to say, the price of my books has now come down again and sales immediately began to pick up both in the US and the UK so that’s okay. I haven’t quite finished tinkering around though but my advice to Kindle newbies is to price as low as you can while still clinging on to that precious 70% revenue. Don’t be scared to change it every so often though – it can take a while to find your comfortable pricing point.

Once you’ve chosen a price and ticked a few boxes about permissions and copyright, you’re ready to publish. At this point, the book will enter a stage where it is checked over by Amazon and then after this it will be listed as ‘publishing’. This stage lasts about 24 hours before it goes ‘live’ and the control panel is greyed out so you can’t make any changes – don’t panic! I did, a little bit, but it was all normal and turned out okay. The book becomes available on Amazon within about 12 hours so check by searching for your name, even if the control panel says that it is still ‘publishing’.

If, like me, you decide that you want to change the categories, price, description or anything else, then it is easily done once the book is ‘live’ but remember that it takes you through the whole publishing process again and will put it back into ‘publishing’ unavailable mode for another 24 hours afterwards. The book will still be for sale during this time though, so don’t panic.

Once you’ve got a searchable author’s name you can do the very fun bit of adding an Author Central account to your Amazon pages – you can’t do this until you are listed on Amazon but once you are, then it is very easy to do and links up automatically. To make it look really good, you need a decent photo (I opted for one of me brandishing a bloody knife in an evidence bag, but will change that soon as apparently it’s not really the look I should be going for) and an interesting description of yourself and where you are as a writer.

The US site gives you the option of adding a blog feed to the page as well, which I decided to do but I’ve also put a link to the blog in my author’s description.

After this, it was time to publicise and so I’ve been mentioning it on my Facebook page, Twitter, Live Journal and here. I’ve also signed up to Goodreads, which is just brilliant for writers! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit demuring but I think I’ll have to get over that and start being a bit more shameless about promoting my work because being all ‘I’ve written a book, it’s alright but you don’t have to read it’ is all very becomingly modest but the fact is that I think my book is actually better than just alright. Sorry, but it is.

I find myself cringing at the marketing that some other self published writers do in order to shift books. This is probably me being an idiot though. However, the thing that mostly has me shaking my head in dismay is using social media like Twitter to ONLY promote a book. For God’s sake, chat a bit about other things – it just seems a bit, well, rude otherwise. Even JK Rowling can’t get away with only ever tweeting ‘Buy my book #buymybook’ and nothing else and nor can you. This is not rocket science. The fact is that people are more likely to buy your book if they feel like they know or at least connect with you on some level. Luckily I really like chatting to people if they aren’t standing in front of me so I find this bit a doddle…

Also, one other thing, I have noticed a couple of other writers doing lately – if you are the sort of tiresome Luddite who thinks Kindle is utterly dreadful and just for churning out iniquitous rubbish that the writer doesn’t care about but will nonetheless lead to the demise of the printed book for heaven’s sake don’t say so because you then automatically lose the good will of Kindle writers like myself who might otherwise have thrown themselves with gusto into helping you promote your precious opus. Yes, I’m thinking of someone in particular as I type this…

You are now a writer, my son and you HAVE to think about what you are saying because let’s face it, people are looking for excuse NOT to buy your work – especially if you’ve priced it more than the average trade paperback. It’s tiresome, I know to have to think about publicity and your public image but nonetheless that’s how it rolls…

Overall though, my experience of Kindle has been pretty good. If it’s something you want to do then I would read as much as possible about it beforehand, make sure you have an amazing cover, description and author central page about yourself all ready to roll and don’t be scared to play around with things until you get it exactly right. Emotionally blackmailing people into leaving reviews (have YOU left a review yet? I’d love you forever if you did!) and tagging your book helps a lot too – as does getting bloggy friends on board to review you or do interviews!

Above all though, have fun. You may not be the next purveyor of a sparkly vampire or boy wizard blockbuster but you will more than likely carve out your own little niche in the book world and, more thrillingly, it means you get to search for your own name on Amazon. At some point you might even get a Wikipedia page – cor blimey, the sky really is the limit!

Anyway, I hope this was of some use to someone! You can check out The Secret Diary of a Princess at Amazon UK and Amazon US, Before the Storm at Amazon UK and Amazon US and Blood Sisters at Amazon UK and Amazon US. It would be LOVELY AND I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER if you decide to buy a copy (all revenue is optimistically going into my RNA Conference, Louboutin and Paris/London Research Trip funds) and if you DO then please remember to leave a review (especially for Blood Sisters which needs a bit of love or even mild indifference), because Amazon reviews are what makes the world go round. You’ll see…

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