Thoughts on Self-Publishing, eBooks and Kindle

Eww, self-publishing.

Don’t touch it! Don’t even look at it. Kill it. Kill it with fire!

Writers are reluctant about the whole idea behind self-publishing from the offset, usually spurned by the stigma that’s followed the idea since “Ye Olde Days” of Vanity Publishing, whereby the author shelled out massive amounts of their own pennies for…well, essentially nothing.

This isn’t so much the case these days, what with services like POD printing and Kindle, and provided you know what you want out of your self-publishing adventures, you won’t be so unpleasantly surprised as you may have been a handful of years ago.

Before your dreams can run off to frolic in a meadow with you, you need to ground yourself and understand why you are considering self-publishing in the first place.

Don’t Self-Publish Out of Desperation

If you are choosing to self-publish because you’ve received twenty million rejections and you’ve decided self-publishing the only option, take a minute and think about that.  If you’re not being accepted by a publishing house or literary agent, is it because they don’t know a good thing when it’s slapped across their faces with all the force of a wet cod, or after the one hundredth rejection, do you think your work might be something you still could improve on?

I’m not being callous here, and let’s not forget that even George Orwell’s Animal Farm was initially rejected by publishers, with their argument being: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” So yes, it may well not be you, it might be them.  But by the same token, if your only reason for publishing independently is because you’ve been unlucky in your publishing forays, you may want to reconsider before you jump in.

Self-publishing is significantly more difficult to turn a profit from, unless you are very lucky, or unless you already have a strong fan following.  And here’s why:

  • In traditional publishing, you pitch your book to a publisher, who then makes you an offer on it, on which you receive an advance payment and go on to receive royalties on any book sales that surpass the advance.  If your books don’t sell beyond your advance offer, the publisher loses out, but you keep your money and can only assume that you won’t be selling any more books to that publisher in the near future. (I’m talking in mega simple terms here. In practise, you wouldn’t generally consider approaching a publisher without the representation of a literary agent, but anyway I’m digressing…)
  • With self-publishing, you essentially become a publishing house in your own right.  You are the company’s owner, the marketing and sales department, the after-sales and public relations department (and each department is overworked and underpaid), right down to the weird old lady who probably should’ve retired a few years ago but lingers around shoved in the corner desk, who smells funny and mumbles profanities into her cup of tea. It is solely down to you to drive the sales, deal with the marketing, and not to forget actually physically publish the thing in the first place!

So if, on the other hand, you are self-publishing because you would like the creative freedom and financial control over your own work (along with the stresses that comes along with it), then you’re free to carry on.

Your Self-Publishing Choices

The first thing that hits most newcomers to self-publishing is the misconception that there should be underlying cost involved in the pre-publishing services.  This is not necessarily the case.  If you have a fully polished novel, you’re ready to skip to the publishing route without spending a penny.

If you are touted by vanity publisher types, they will be straight in there like sharks, telling you outright that your story is truly and utterly amazing, a stroke of literary genius, if only you used their editorial services to finish it up, only $200 for basic edit:

In many circumstances, these services turn out to be useless, or even worse, scams. For a fairly comprehensive list of suspect agencies working in this way, look here, but as a general rule of thumb, bear in mind that anyone who comes to you offering you services isn’t doing it for your benefit.

Preparing for Publication

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t spend money on making sure your work is of the highest quality before you subject it to the public’s attention.

If you want, and have the funds to do it, consider independent editorial advice.  I can’t really suggest names here; all I can recommend is that you research the people you want to work with thoroughly, read testimonials and engage the editors in one-on-one e-mail conversations, before you enter into any kind of agreement.

If you don’t want the financial outlay of professional services at this point, at the very least invest yourself in beta readers of some capacity, even if these readers are people you know. A very important note on this: if you’re going to go down the route of beta readers, be sure they’re people who you can trust to give you honest opinions.  If your beta readers do nothing but massage your ego and tell you how amazing everything you spew out is, they’re not doing their job properly.

Publishing to Print

So you’ve decided you want to publish by yourself. Good on you, power to the people, etc!

What you will want to find is a Print on Demand (POD) printing solution. (Since I publish through Lulu, I can only offer information on this option. There are others, such as Create Space, but I have found Lulu to be the most all-encompassing solution, so I’m just rolling with that.)

There are 2 things you need to have at this point:

  • A finished, polished, correctly formatted manuscript*.
  • A book cover**.

* Lulu does employ more third party services to assist in the formatting and layout of your manuscript, but to be honest, if you have a copy of Microsoft Word or even Open Office, you should be able to match the format required for your chosen layout, with some editing.

** Again, Lulu provides more third party services to help you design a ‘perfect’ cover for your book, and while this may be a viable option for you, if you have any form of experience (or better yet – as in my case – know someone else who has experience) with graphic design, you should be able to do this yourself, or if not, find someone who will be able to do it for you.  Again, don’t take the word of the supplier – in this case, Lulu – to be gospel.  Shop around.  You can usually find cover commissions for decent prices on sites such as DeviantArt.

Publishing through Lulu is as simple as creating an account, clicking on New Project, and following the instructions, so I don’t think you need anything else on that. Just give it a try!

Publishing to Kindle

So you want to publish your eBook to Kindle. What is it, anyway?  Have we reached a universal decision yet? e-Book? E-Book? eBook? iBook?  No wait, that’s something else entirely. I’m just going to ahead and call them eBooks, because I like CamelCase more than hyphens.

Publishing to Kindle provides very easy-access for your reader base to get into your stuff. Yes, Kindles (as in the physical machine) are slightly expensive, but you can download software for Kindle to work on iPhone, Android, PC and Mac, all for free.

OK, first thing you want to do is set yourself up as a publisher for Amazon: Kindle KDP Login.

In some ways, publishing to Kindle is easier than producing to print. Easier, at least, in some senses.

Formatting isn’t quite as big an issue here, thanks to MobiPocket. A bit of reading should outline for you how to convert your Word document or likewise into a .mobi format. Now, the reason I personally recommend the .mobi format above HTML alternatives is because MobiPocket is totally free, super easy to understand and use, and the .mobi format is entirely compatible with Kindle.

Again, you’d still need a cover, and again that’s down to you to source, if indeed you want to get something snazzy put up there. You can, by all means, put up nothing but a blank page with your book’s title in Times New Roman. There’s nothing against it, but just bear this in mind: if you see a book cover that doesn’t pop out at you, would you be compelled to buy it?

The actual publishing process is very straight forward. Once you’ve signed into your Kindle KDP Account, click on ‘Add a New Title’, and follow the massive two steps to get it setup. I know, sounds terrifying, right? After you have uploaded your file and filled in the relevant information relating to your title, Kindle takes approximately 24 hours to clear review and have it become available on the Amazon store.

A Note About ISBN Numbers (International Standard Book Number Numbers?)

If you want your book to be listed in book databases, you will want to get yourself some ISBN’s to assign to the books. Again, this will cost money, but it’s still optional, at the end of the day, so I’m not saying you need one, it will just help — if nothing else — add a level of professionalism to your work.

Every edition of a book you release should have its own ISBN (So a hardback/paperback/eBook will need 3 ISBN’s across your range). You can get further information on ISBN’s here, and you can buy them here.

And in a nutshell, that’s all there is to it!

Do you have any tales of adventure into the word of self-publishing, good or bad?  Do share!