Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com (this post) 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

While I've written a post or two about Amazon, their Kindle e-reader, and how much you'll make selling your e-book in the Kindle store, I never have delved into the details of how to publish with Amazon. In this post I'll therefore jump into the tools and resources available to make this happen, including information on Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program, their Digital Text Platform, Digital Text Platform Community Support forum, and Amazon Author Central.

First thing's first, though: publishing an e-book in the Kindle store is not exactly the same thing as having a traditional print book listed on their site. For one, anyone can publish to the Kindle store regardless of your current or previous publishing status (or lack thereof). The only requirement is that you have an e-book to sell (and that you own the rights to it).

With that, let's jump into it.

Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program

From the Kindle storefront you'll see a link at the left called "Publish on Kindle"

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This is as good a starting place as any. From here, you can select the method by which you wish to upload content to the store (there are several methods depending on your relationship with Amazon) as well as a link to the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines, a pdf I found only marginally helpful. It really digs into the nuances of formatting a document, though, including information like this:

image

Reminds of something out of one of my computer science texts. I didn't find this level of detail terribly helpful, and, in fact, it really isn't even necessary if you use Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Digital Text Platform

Amazon's Digital Text Platform, or DTP, is the small or self-publisher's software platform of choice for listing content in the Kindle store. Don't expect anything fancy here: DTP is pretty barebones, but it does the job. With DTP, you can upload content (i.e., your e-book) to the Kindle store as well as download basic earnings reports once you've made some sales.

The publishing/upload process consists of (1) signing up for an Amazon account (if you do not already have one), (2) providing some details about your book (title, plot summary, etc.), (3) uploading a cover image, (4) uploading and previewing your entries, and (5) publishing.

I'll spend a little time going over each step, but also refer you to Amazon's Digital Text Platform Quick Start Guide, which provides a nice step-by-step approach to the five steps I listed (they go into a bit more detail than I intend to).

Step 1: Sign-up for an Amazon account

I'll assume you can handle this one and move right into step 2.

Step 2: Provide details about your e-book

Here's a screenshot with the information filled-in for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:

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This information flows into the product listing page in the store once you've hit "publish" and looks like the usual Amazon product listing:

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Step 3: Upload a cover image

It's a good idea to have a cover image to attract potential buyers and to hopefully help your work stand out from the rest. If you don't specify a cover image, Amazon will give you one that says "no image available". Not the best way to start a relationship with a potential reader. Personally, I'm much more likely to skip over a book that does not have one. Whether the cover itself is compelling or professional is another matter entirely, and goes beyond the scope of this post.

Here is the cover I went with for The Hall of the Wood:

hotw-fiction

And here it is when displayed in the store with the Kindle image attached:

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Step 4: Upload and preview your content

This is where you upload and preview your e-book. It's a pretty simple interface: specify the location of your e-book, click "Upload", and you're done.

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There is a note about file formats:

Note: For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.

I uploaded in HTML format; it simply gave me the best results.

Previewing looks something like:

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Here's another page, chosen at random:

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Step 5: Set Your Price

This is a topic I covered when I asked the question, how much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store? I'll therefore leave that post to explain how Amazon's pricing works and how you should set yours.

The screenshot in DTP looks like:

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Step 6: Publish

Once you've got all your information set, you can publish to the Kindle store by clicking "Publish":

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Amazon has recently implemented a review process which states that new e-books or changes to existing ones can take up to five business days to gain approval, so you'll have to wait up to five business days before your e-book will be viewable in the store.

Digital Text Platform Community Support

One of the best resources for all things Kindle publishing is DTP's Community Support Forum. It's broken into 3 main sections: a general FAQ, Publisher Support, and Ask the Community. There's pretty standard forum sort of stuff in there, with a good mix of newbies and more experienced people contributing.

Amazon Author Central

Amazon Author Central is where authors are showcased. This is something new for e-book writers. While traditionally published authors have always been able to fill out their profiles here, it was only with the coming of the Kindle and then Amazon allowing anyone to sell books via the Kindle store that this area was opened to e-book authors.

Some of the things you can do on an author page include adding a personal photo and biography, you get an automatic bibliography based on the books Amazon has listed for you, and you can add an existing blog via your RSS feed or use the space to start a new one.

I added my own RSS feed to my Amazon Author Page and got this back:

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I was kind of hoping it would have grabbed the older posts, but oh well. Sometimes a space like this is a good for raising older posts from the dead, after all. Imagine this post will be the first to show up there.

That's it for Author Central. I tried to keep my bio short and to the point. Seemed like brevity was the best course of action. I included a link to my Twitter account as well as this web site, though Amazon does not allow HTML.

Conclusion

Whew! That's a lot of information. Hopefully you've stuck with me and seen the possibilities opening up if you've considered publishing your e-book in the Kindle store. There's no doubt this forum brings with it a major plus: the fact that millions of people every day (every hour?) might find your e-book and buy it. These are numbers that most of us just can't get on our own sites.

Next time I'll take a look at another online e-book publisher: Smashwords.com.

Resources


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Kindle for PC

One of the features lacking in Amazon's Kindle plans for e-book domination has been the fact that in order to read e-books purchased from their store you need to have a Kindle.

No longer.

Amazon has just released the new Kindle for PC software, currently in beta with Mac version coming soon, which is a free download and allows you to view Kindle e-books on your home computer or laptop.

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If you're leery of beta software best wait for the release version, though I installed and did the basics without any issue.

Kindle for PC is a quick install. In moments, I was presented with the application's opening screen:

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The "Register now to get started" dialog wants your Amazon account information, but it is not necessary to fill this in as there is a "continue without registering" option. I went ahead and filled in my Amazon account information and clicked "Register".

Here's the application resized for better viewing:

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The interface is simple almost to the point of being plain. But then it has a fairly narrow, specific purpose: to view Kindle-formatted e-books. Since I registered the software with my Amazon account, Kindle for PC went through a quick sync cycle to see what Kindle e-books I had already purchased. Of course, I don't own a Kindle and therefore have not purchased any e-books from the Kindle store, so nothing showed up.

Fortunately, Amazon makes it easy to add Kindle e-books to my collection by placing a button at the top of the app that says, "Shop in Kindle Store":

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That, of course, brings you to the Kindle storefront where, with a quick search, I can find my e-book, The Hall of the Wood.

If you're curious about how the buying process works, click on the "How buying works" link beneath the "Buy" button at the right. This will bring up the following dialog with the new Kindle for PC option listed alongside the more traditional ones:

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You'll also see the Kindle for PC device already selected if you registered when the app came up:

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For demonstration purposes, and because I've never actually seen my e-book other than in DTP preview mode, I went ahead and purchased my own e-book. Chalk up another sale for me. Once I went through the payment method, etc., I get this:

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After clicking "Go to Kindle for PC", I'm brought back to the Kindle for PC app:

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A quick double-click on my e-book and it brings it up in all its glory:

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Now that's cool.

I can't say I'm real keen on reading e-books on my PC (or Mac if I had one). In other words, I still want an e-reader. But Amazon is addressing a void in the Kindle's feature set. One less thing for someone on the fence about purchasing one e-reader over another to concern themselves with. Plus, who knows, for people who want to buy e-books from Amazon but don't have an iPhone or Kindle, now they can.

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Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction 
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers (this post)
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Book covers are important, especially in the online world where a potential reader cannot pick up, examine, or thumb through the pages. While studies have shown that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye, I have to wonder if when browsing a list of books on Amazon if a reader doesn't scroll past or click on 'next' in less time than even that. Even when a book is picked up, a reader may only spend "eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover" (source: The Wall Street Journal). But, by that time, the book cover has served its purpose: it's caught the reader's eye, and he or she has picked it up.

In summary, that's why a book cover is so important. I'll take that further and say that's why a professional (and accurate) book cover is important.

JA Konrath, who's published a number of books and e-books, identifies five important aspects of book covers:

  1. Branding
  2. Genre
  3. Professional
  4. Reduceable
  5. Eye-catching

In fact, he saw sales increase dramatically when he went from his own home-grown covers to ones designed by a pro.

As a potential self-publisher, I see myself as having three options with regard to book covers:

  1. Don't use one
  2. Create my own
  3. Hire a professional illustrator

Let's discuss each.

1. Don't Use One

IMO, this isn't really an option, but let's at least talk about why not. We all know the old adage don't judge a book by its cover. But what about a book that doesn't have one? Do we judge it at all?

I don't.

Perhaps I'm superficial, but first and foremost I nearly always judge a book by its cover—the quality, the initial impact of the illustration, the colors. They're all important. Even more, the cover should reflect the content of the book, at least in part.

In terms of selling online in, say, the Kindle store, here is what potential readers will see if there is no image associated with your e-book:

imageNow, that makes does not make me want to click-through and read the book's summary.

2. Create my own

It's cheap, it's easy, but not going to win any awards. I have no illustrating or drawing talent whatsoever. But I've found an easy way to create a cover is to start with a photo. It can be your own or someone else's, but make sure if the latter that you have rights to use it.

A few places to find 'resusable media' not requiring licensing or royalties includes Wikimedia Commons, stock.xchng, and morgueFile. Always double-check the licensing on each image just to be sure.

Once you've got a basic image or photo, you'll need to fix it up a bit with the title of your book and your name at the bare minimum. I've learned it's best to keep it simple, though, especially considering that the image will be shrunk down for display on a product page. Make the font as big as possible so that when it is scaled down the words are still visible.

You don't need to buy something expensive like Adobe Photoshop, either. Check out Paint.NET. It's free and does just about everything I've ever needed.

3. Hire a professional illustrator

Seventy-five percent of 300 booksellers surveyed (half from independent bookstores and half from chains) identified the look and design of the book cover as the most important component.

If you think that, too, you might want to look into hiring a professional. JA Konrath saw immediate results when he went from covers he designed himself to ones a professional cooked up for him.

There are a lot of designers and illustrators out there. I'll leave it up to you to search for them least it look like I'm trying to endorse one or another, which I could only do if I had personal experience with that person.

Conclusion

I was a little hesitant about writing this post, mostly because I feel it's a topic that really shouldn't require much convincing. However, here it is. Hopefully I presented my case that a professional book cover is a necessity. Next, we'll move on to the first of the online eRetailers I want to cover, Amazon.com.

Further Browsing


Further Reading

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction 
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting (this post)
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

Let's talk about e-book formatting.

From looking at the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines document, you might quickly think you need a masters degree in publishing and a whole lot of designer talent to pull this thing off (I did). Not true at all. My experience thus far has been that getting an e-book ready for publishing is really a pretty painless process. The retailers I'll be talking about in later posts accept a variety of formats, and where the expected format is proprietary (like for the Kindle), tools are provided to do the conversion.

Now, I'm not a designer in any sense of the word. So I'm not going to even try giving that sort of advice. But what I can do is point out some simple tips as well as resources that helped me format my e-book. The latter will be a running list; I'll add to it as I find new resources, and intend to use it as reference information myself.

As far as some basic guidelines, here's a few things I've run across:

1. Keep it simple

Don't go crazy with fonts, font sizes, and the general layout. Keep it simple. You want your e-book to be readable on as many devices as possible. The best first step in guaranteeing that is to not go crazy with styling.

2. Use a book cover

This one is HUGE in my opinion, mainly because I'm one of those people who uses the cover as a gauge of the overall quality of the work. Turns out coming up with a professional looking cover is not that difficult as long as you have some skills of your own or are willing to pay a reasonable amount of money for a professional to work their magic. I'll touch on this subject some more in the next post in this series. For now, though, here's the cover I used for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:

3. Do have a title page

Keep it basic: the name of the book and the author's name, possibly with some artwork if you have it.

4. Do have an 'other books' page

If you have other books available, why not let your readers know about them? Remember, too, that when you do release new e-books, go back and update your previously published ones with the title of the new book. One of the nice things about electronic publishing is that it is not immutable.

5. Do have a copyright page

Some online publishers/retailers require this. It's best to explicitly declare your copyright and/or licensing. If you're a resident of the United States you're automatically covered under standard U.S. copyright law, but something I'm considering is also releasing my work under a Creative Commons license also, similar to how I protect my blog posts.

6. Do have an attribution page

Use this page to thank anyone who helped you along the way.

7. Do have an acknowledgments page

This one is optional, but if you want to include a paragraph or two thanking various people…

8. Do have a quotations page

Another optional one, but some authors like to include a short quote as a lead-in to their content.

The order of the above pages varies. Right now, I'm reading Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, and the order I see is: praise/quotations, other books by author, title page, copyright, dedication, an acknowledgments page, a map of Priest's vision of Seattle, an excerpt from a fictitious history text, another title page (this one with just the name of the novel), and, finally, the content.

That's it for tips, and that about wraps up this post.

I'll leave you with a short list of styling resources I've discovered:

Smashwords Style Guide
Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, wrote this free e-book on how to style your e-book prior to publishing with Smashwords. At twenty pages, it's a fairly quick read, but has some good information in it. While intended as advice for publishing with Smashwords, the information is general enough to apply regardless of where you decide to publish.

Scribd's "Preparing Your Content"
Scribd is another online publisher which I'll be talking more about in this series. This forum entry has some good information about page size, fonts, and a tip I found especially useful regarding using text on your book cover image.

Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines
The first so many pages of this document are a worthwhile read, but when it starts to look like Greek it's time to shut'er down and move on. Too much low level detail for me, but some good stuff early on.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction

This is the first post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction (this post)
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

One of the thing I've been interested in for some time is selling my book (should be books soon) online. I'd already been doing some research into this, so thought I'd share my findings and investigative work through a new series. The series will likely cover e-book formatting, book covers and why they're important, and, last but certainly not least, the various online retailers that allow you to showcase your work and therefore skip the traditional publishing process entirely.

Selling without a publisher (i.e., self-publishing) is nothing new, but it seems only recently with the advent of popular e-readers that the possibility for e-books has really opened up. We're very possibly at the beginning of a new, mainstream medium for consuming literature, and there's no doubt the publishing game is changing. But going it alone sans agent or publisher isn't easy. Fortunately, there are online partners with whom we can collaborate: while you provide the content, they provide the showcase by which you can present your work. They, of course, take a percentage of your sales in exchange for this service.

Whether that is a fair trade or not is a matter of opinion (rates vary by partner site), but I think it helps to look at what these sites provide you. I mean, we all have web sites or blogs upon which to host the electronic versions of our books. So what are they providing that merits sharing the profit from a sale?

1.) Eyeballs

This one can't be stressed enough. As writers, we work in obscurity until we find representation or a big name publisher, or we work our way up through lesser known channels until we've built a following. Either way, we all start small, which means we probably aren't getting all that much traffic to our web sites. Online retail sites, like Amazon, for example, give us the opportunity to put our work in front of a lot of people who otherwise might never know it existed.

2.) Ratings

They also provide (in most cases) a means by which readers can rate our work. While this can be a two-edged sword in its own right, what we gain is essentially a third-party that removes the suspicion of impropriety were we to host such a facility on our own site.

3.) Community

Some online retailers create a community atmosphere around their product offerings. Scribd Community is one. Amazon Communities is another. You can gain support from others also trying to do well with this avenue, build a following, and connect with readers.

4.) They handle the transaction

They collect the dough, then send you your cut either at set intervals or, more likely, when a certain threshold is surpassed. The exact threshold varies by partner site. This has the nice benefit that you do not have to deal with providing a secure site in which to collect payment information, worry about storing such information for return visits, deal with the case where merchandise is returned (can you return an e-book?), etc.

Those all seem like good reasons to me, and well worth sharing the proceeds of a sale.

With that, I'll leave you with this introductory post for now. Look for Part 2 sometime soon.