I am delighted to introduce this guest post from experienced author Adrian Gilbert who has recently published his first Kindle novel, Shadow of the Dragon. Enjoy!
For all of us who are authors, the advent of Amazon onto the market-place has been a mixed blessing.
On the one hand it has provided a truly global market-place for selling our books—even those which the shops won’t stock.
On the other hand, its sheer power has had the effect of driving down prices, and hence margins for publishers. This has had the inevitable knock-on effect of reduced royalty percentages for authors.
Furthermore, alongside every new book advertised on the Amazon website, there will nearly always be offers of second-hand copies at reduced prices. This is great for the consumer, not bad for Amazon but lousy for the author who gets no royalties at all on second-hand sales.
Taking all these points into consideration, it has to be said that so far the electronic revolution, though great for some, has been catastrophic for many other authors.
Because books now re-cycle so efficiently on the second-hand market (ebay is just as important as Amazon in this respect) the viability or life-span of new books has been greatly shortened.
Fortunately, as far as we authors are concerned, Amazon is not all bad news. In addition to acting as a worldwide distributor of printed books, it has also pioneered an entirely different revolution: the Kindle.
What is the Kindle and How Does it Work?
These days nearly all books start life as computerised text-files. With a few notable exceptions (such as Patrick Moore the astronomer, who still types all his books on an ancient, Olympus typewriter) we construct books using word-processing programs such as ‘Word’ or ‘Word perfect’.
These give us the flexibility to add to, move around or delete words, sentences and even whole chunks of text. Then, when we are done with writing, we send our finished work to a publisher as an electronic file, for editing, type-setting and finally printing.
Of course, if we are very enterprising we can do all these function ourselves and self-publish our own books.
This is fine and it can on occasions be very successful. However the difficulty with self-publishing is not the creative work of writing, editing and printing books but selling them.
Although there are many different ways of self-publishing these days, it is all too easy to end up with a shed or attic full of books that the shops won’t buy. As most self-publishers soon discover to their cost, you simply can’t sell enough copies of your books to make them pay if you are relying only on friends, neighbours or even to fans attending your lectures. I know this because I have tried it myself!
Worse still is the simple fact that printing books is expensive and so any stock you have lying around represents capital that is tied up. If out of desperation you remainder or pulp these books, your money goes straight down the drain. In my opinion, therefore, this kind of self-publishing is not a good option for most people.
This is where the Amazon Kindle comes in. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it is a hand-held device, a bit like a smaller version of an ipad, which is able to display books as text-files on a readable screen (see: http://www.Amazon.com/Kindle-Wireless-Reading-Display-Generation/dp/B002Y27P3M/ref=sa_menu_kdp3w3).
What makes the Kindle different from a laptop or such-like is that the display is not back-lit. By some magic, words are put on the screen by the electrostatic attraction of carbon dust ink giving a look that is more natural and less tiring on the eyes than the typical back-lit screen of a computer.
You don’t have to have an Amazon Kindle device to read Kindle books. You can download, for free, a Kindle emulation program that will run on your PC, lap-top, ipad, and many smart phones. Furthermore, if you have a Kindle or some other wi-fi device, you can download Kindle books from anywhere that you can log-on to wi-fi.
This means that if you are in your favourite coffee shop and want something new to read, you can simply log on to their wif-fi and download, for example, the full text of The Book of Enoch and read this over your latte.
Alternatively, if you have the 3G version of Kindle, which is a bit more expensive, you can simply dial up the internet from your own device and download that way. Little wonder then that Amazon US has reported that Kindle book sales now outstrip those of hardbacks and paperbacks combined. Where America leads, Britain usually follows so I expect the same thing will soon be true of Amazon.co.uk.
How to Publish on the Kindle
Here we get to the nitty-gritty as far as we authors are concerned: how do we make use of this amazing technology? How do we get our books onto the Amazon Kindle and, more importantly, how much will it pay us?
The answer to the first of these questions is its very simple. The first thing you need to do is register an email address with Amazon and create a password so that you can open an account. You can do this on the ‘welcome to Kindle direct publishing page’, which you will find on:
This page is really the start of your journey. Click on ‘Kindle publishing guide’ which you will find under ‘Getting started and FAQs’. This page provides you with virtually all that you need to know about how to set up your book.
Of course you have to write it first but Amazon prefers that you end up with it in a file compatible with Microsoft Word 97-2003 format. Don’t use the later version of Word (Word 2007, 2010), or if you do, save your files in the earlier, compatible form. You don’t want your file to be a .docx otherwise you may have problems with the next stage.
This page also provides useful guidance on how to set up ‘front’ matter. As you will know from reading books yourself, there is a more or less standard formula for how you put a book together for publication. You begin with a title page, follow this with a Copyright Page, Dedication (if you have one), Preface (optional), and Prologue (optional).
When publishing on the Kindle, the handling of a ‘Contents’ page is done rather differently from normal. Because Kindle files can be read on many different kinds of devices, large and small, files are not divided into pages as such. It is therefore pointless to provide a reference to page such-and-such as this will be meaningless. Instead the Kindle uses ‘bookmarks’ to identify the start of chapters or indeed other points in the text such as sub-headings.
For the same reason, you don’t need an index on a Kindle book. To find a specific word you simply do a search, just as you would on a Word file. This is actually much better than an index as there is no restriction at all on what words you can search for.
Finally, before moving on to the next stage, you should do a thorough spell check. The spell-checker with your word-processing software should help you with this.
Be aware though that English English and American English are not exactly the same. There are some variations in spelling depending upon which side of the Atlantic you come from or are writing for.
There are also some differences in conventions, for example in English English it is normal to surround speech with double quote marks, whereas in American English they use single quotes. These are small differences but in some circumstances they could matter greatly.
Including pictures is another issue that you should sort out at this point. All images need to be in .jpg (jpeg) format. Try to keep your picture files small, just as you would if you were publishing on the net, which in a sense you are. For a print book you would want a pixel density of at least 300 dpi but for electronic publishing, 72 or maybe 96 dpi will be quite sufficient.
You will need to find the place in your text to insert the picture but my advice would be to put them between paragraphs. This way you won’t get any unsightly splitting of sentences. If the pictures are small enough, you can have text flow around them but remember a Kindle has a much smaller screen than your computer or laptop.
Remember also that the Kindle only displays pictures in shades of black and white. However, it is also worth considering that ipad or computer users have colour available. You may therefore decide to publish your pictures in colour even though they will only display in black and white on the Kindle reader.
Another issue you need to consider is the creation of a cover image. While it’s true that your book, being electronic as opposed to physical, won’t actually have a dust jacket or cover, it still needs a cover image. This will be used by Amazon in its listings and should also, as with any other book, be a key element in your marketing strategy.
If you can afford it, you might like to employ a designer to create a suitable cover image for you. Alternatively you can do as I do, which is to knock up something yourself for free. My preferred graphics package is Coreldraw™ but there are many others to choose from.
Whatever package you use, remember to export or save your created image as either a .jpg or .tif file, though you are probably safer using the former. The recommended dimensions for your image are horizontal 500 pixels x vertical 1280. The pixel density should again be 72 dots per inch. This will give you a cover image that can be enlarged to a reasonable size without distortion.
Saving Your Text File
When you have your book’s text file properly sorted out you should save it first in .doc format and then save it again into Filtered Webpage format (.htm). This removes most of the formatting that Word uses and also puts in html tags. This is necessary so that your book will display properly on a variety of devices with longer or shorter lines on the screen.
All your Kindle reader really want to know is changes in style and the start and end of paragraphs. Remember, Kindle users have a lot of freedom in choosing their own font styles and sizes. It is therefore pointless for you to waste time selecting a fancy font and laying out your book to particular page sizes. What will actually be displayed will be as near as possible to what the reader wants.
A Kindle-readable File
This brings us to the clever alchemy that creates a Kindle-readable file. As I understand it there are a number of programs you can choose from that will do this same job. However the one Amazon recommends is called Mobipocket Creator. You can download this for free from: http://www.mobipocket.com/en/downloadsoft/productdetailscreator.asp .
The program comes with its own tutorial. You will need to work through this and probably make several attempts before you get things right. Basically you are taking your .htm text file, along with your cover image and the various illustrations/ images included in your book, and turning these into a single, uploadable file with the suffix .prc.
When you have everything prepared you click on ‘build’ and Mobipocket creates your .prc file. When you have done this you will want to see how it looks on a Kindle emulator. This too you can download from Amazon on this page: http://www.Amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1000234621. Remember to click the ‘I agree’ button or download is not activated.
Uploading Your File to Amazon
Once you are satisfied that your Kindle file is OK you can set about uploading it to the Amazon website.
Details of how to do this are included on Amazon’s ‘Kindle Direct Publishing’ pages. Basically, assuming you have already set up an account, you begin by adding a new title to your ‘bookshelf’. Amazon will then take you step by step through the process of creating a description for the book, some author blurb, setting the price, the market availability (US, UK or both etc.) submitting an ISBN if you have one (not recommended if your book is not being printed), uploading your cover and finally uploading your finished ebook in .prc format.
All this does not have to be done at the same time. You can leave your project and come back to it as you prepare all the different files: cover, pictures and text. Finally you will click on upload and, with your help, Amazon will find the various files it needs in order to upload your finished e-book to your ‘bookshelf’.
From Draft to Live
We now come to one of the most frustrating parts of the whole endeavour. You will by now have been taken to your bookshelf and you will see your title listed. Tabulated columns will show Title, Contributors (authors etc.), Price, Date submitted, status and ‘Action’. Initially the status will be set as ‘Draft’.
In order to change this you have to press the ‘Action’ button and tell Amazon that you want the book to go live. If you don’t do this it will sit in limbo doing nothing. I know this because I made that mistake the first time and I was left wondering for a month why my book was not appearing on the shelves!
Amazon says it takes 24 hours for a book to go live but in my experience it can be several days. Eventually you will see the status has changed from ‘Draft’ to ‘Live’. You will then find that if you go to the Amazon Kindle bookstore and do a search your book is listed as available for purchase.
You have made it. Without the help of a publisher, agent, printer, distributor or any other royalty-shrinking intermediary you have created your very own e-book and put it up for sale to the world!
Succeeding as a Kindle Author
Of course this is only the beginning. Your book may be sitting on the Amazon Kindle website but that doesn’t mean it is going to sell. For this to happen you are going to have to do a lot more work publicising it. That, however, is another story entirely and not one I want to dwell on here.
What I do want to stress is that although e-publishing is still very much in its infancy, it is already having a huge impact.
No longer do publishers have authors over a barrel and very soon many of them are going to find out just what this means. For authors now have a facility akin to that of downloading music. We can write our books, create our own brands, and sell directly to the public. This, at a time when the established book-trade is shrinking and consequently we find ourselves being squeezed out by bookshops and publishers alike, is incredibly liberating.
Seeing your books listed on the Amazon site may not be quite as satisfying as holding a printed copy in your hand and flicking the pages. However, remember you have not had to pay a cent in printers’ fees, typesetting or anything else. Unless you have employed someone else to do your e-publishing for you, everything you get from Amazon is yours to keep.
And how much is this? Well it can be as much as 70% of the listed price. Yes, that’s right, 70%. That, when you think about it, is rather different from the maybe 10% of invoice value (i.e. 5% or less of cover price) that publishers will often be paying the author of printed books.
Of course the cover price of a Kindle book is likely to be lower than the equivalent printed book but even so you are probably going to make a much better profit on one Kindle sale as between five to ten ordinary book sales that have gone the conventional route.
Furthermore, if there is no printed version of your book, there are not going to be second-hand copies floating around taking your sales. Kindle books, by the way, are protected by some pretty sophisticated security features. Advanced hackers can probably get around these, however the average reader cannot make use of the book outside of a narrow usage. Depending on the terms you decide, they may be able to ‘lend’ it to one, other friend.
Given all these facts and figures, it doesn’t take a genius to see how this is going to develop. But there is even more to it than this. To date e-book publishing (and the Amazon Kindle is only one version of this: there are other formats supported by other traders such as Waterstones in the UK and Barnes and Noble in America), has concentrated on creating what are in effect electronic versions of publishable books.
As e-book readers develop, what is going to come is a product that is much more media orientated than this. E-books of the future will include Flash graphics, video clips and probably links to internet sites.
Unlike printed books, which only change when a whole new edition is printed, many e-books will probably change and mutate regularly. A DIY book, for example, won’t be just a static reference. It will be loaded with videos, adverts for where to buy things, and other bits of changeable material. It will be more of a resource than a book.
All this lies still in the future. For now, electronic publishing is something that any author can and indeed maybe should indulge in. For some, perhaps many, it may be disappointing when they discover there is no market for their ‘block-buster’ novel. For others there could be major success as not only does their book sell well as an e-book but they receive much better royalties for their work too.
In the end though, quality will undoubtedly be what counts. The difference will be that all authors now have a chance to get published. The massive filter that is represented by the publishing and bookselling industry is going. The published word has become democratic.
Copyright © Adrian G. Gilbert 2011.
Adrian G. Gilbert is the author of a number of best-sellers, including The Orion Mystery (with Robert Bauval), The Mayan Prophecies (with Maurice Cotterell) and Magi. You can see details of his first, Kindle novel, Shadow of the Dragon on: http://www.Amazon.com/Shadow-of-the-Dragon-ebook/dp/B005955AYW/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1311267355&sr=1-3