Sunday, 15 February 2015

Tips for 'Easyer' Self-Publishing on Kindle

I've been asked, privately, a few times for tips on self-publishing on Kindle. I'm always happy to advise where I can, but have avoided putting up public tips because I know there are people who are far better qualified than I am to give advice. A lot of my self-publishing efforts have been trial and error.

Then I was shown the link to this ebook and realised that actually there are people far less qualified than I am to advise you. And they're charging £1.99 for the privilege. For 6 whole pages! And not even with pictures to break up the relentless ALL CAPS presentation.

Not much makes me angry, but I was really annoyed about the above ebook because only last week I had an email from Amazon because someone had complained about 3 errors in one of my 40k word novellas. It turned out that one of those errors was an error on their part, but I was told that I had to put it right or my book might be taken off sale. Of course I want to know if there are errors in my ebooks. I do care about quality. But then I saw the 'Easyer' ebook above and wondered how the hell that even got through Amazon's initial quality process.

When someone publishes a book on Kindle, they're told it will take up to 48 hours whilst the ebook goes through 'quality controls'. Obviously, given  how many millions of books are now put onto Kindle on a daily basis, they're not going to be able to read them all through. But the sub-title of that ebook isn't even spelt correctly, yet no one at Amazon noticed. Or if they did, they didn't care.

I'm afraid I think it's the latter. Because if 10 million writers put ebooks onto Amazon, and manage to persuade one or two of their friends or family to buy it, Amazon are making money. Regardless of the quality of the book.

But you don't want just your family and friends to buy your ebooks, do you? Surely you want it to reach others. And surely you want it to be as good as it can be. And I promise to stop calling you Shirley from now on (old Airplane joke - thanks to the kind person who DM'd me privately to let me know I'd got that one wrong - I put Airport originally  - see  how easy it is?!)

So here, completely free of charge, are my own tips for anyone hoping to publish on Kindle. As with anything, they are worth what you paid for them (nothing), but I hope they help you in some way in your endeavours to become a self-published writer. A lot of what I have to say is a result of trial and error. I've made mistakes myself, so feel I can share how to put those mistakes right.

Make sure you really do want to be a writer and aren't just in it to earn money

The title is self-explanatory really. The question is do you want to be a writer? Or do you want to be rich? It's perfectly acceptable to answer yes to both those questions. But if you do want to be a writer, with a product worth buying, then work on your craft. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, make sure your writing is the best it can be. It is fine to want to earn from your endeavours too, but if  you just throw any old ebook onto Kindle, hoping to get rich, it won't work. Okay, sometimes it does work. Dino Porn anyone? But mostly it doesn't.

Use correct spelling and punctuation

Typos can creep in anywhere, as I've found out myself. Most readers can forgive one or two. But if your book is completely unreadable, due to bad spelling and grammar, they're going to give up. It's worth pointing out that Amazon have a 7 day return policy on ebooks. So that if someone doesn't like it within 7 days, they can get their money back. If you can't use decent English, either your extract will give you away and you won't sell any at all, or you'll end up having to refund a lot of readers who have got fed up of wading through treacle.

This isn't about the quality of the writing or the story - that comes later. It's about how accessible the book is to readers.  Come the revolution against grammar and spelling Nazis like myself, you can write how the hell you want. But until then, as a writer, you are in the business of communication, and if you can't communicate with readers in whatever language you use you've already failed as a writer.

I know of writer pals who pay proper editors to edit their books for them (and proper cover illustrators, more of which later). Not everyone can afford it. I can't. I edit and proofread all my own books. I like to think I'm a fairly clean writer, but as I've found out, odd typos slip through.

When you come to edit, ask yourself: Is this as clear as it can be? Are my sentences too long? Are my paragraphs too long? Have I used proper punctuation? Is everything spelled correctly? Don't rely too much on spellcheck, because that can miss words you've spelled correctly but used incorrectly, such as their/there or were/where/wear/we're. One of the mistakes picked up on in my book was that I'd put 'ante room' instead of 'anteroom'. I bet I won't make that mistake again!

If you have a very patient friend, ask them to do a read through for you. Though do be sure they know what they're doing or you end up in a blind leading the blind situation. I give this advice even though I don't do it myself. I'm not arrogant and thinking I know exactly what I'm doing. I'm just a bit anal about not letting anyone else read my work before I publish it.

One word of warning. You will never please everyone with your spelling and grammar even if you get it all right. American spelling and grammar is different to British English spelling and grammar. Personally I want to scream every time my spellchecker wants to change the S in 'realise' to a Z. However, if I were reading a novel by an American author, I'd accept their right to use that Z if that's what they want. Not everyone is that understanding, and you will get complaints.

As long as you've got it right in whichever language you're using, try not to worry about that criticism. You can't possibly release an ebook in every different language variation. Just be consistent and ignore the complainers.

Format correctly

Formatting ebooks for uploading sounds incredibly difficult, but actually it isn't. You can publish an ebook using a simple Word document. You can also save it from Word to a web page, filtered (which is what I do) or pdf format.

However, pdf format does not always transfer properly to Kindle. When I tried uploading pdf files, all my single quotes/apostrophes, became double quotes. As it didn't show in the preview on Amazon, it took a reader complaining about it for me to realise and put it right.

Personally, I've had the least problems with the web page, filtered format.

Present your work well
This is sort of aligned to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, but it's also about how your work looks on the page. The ebook I've linked to above has all the words centred on the page, and even though the author gives lists, he hasn't put them in list format.

I would suggest that for titles, chapter headings, and lists, you can use centred formatting. For any other prose, poem, etc, it's best to use left hand aligned, with a jagged right edge. Be aware that 'justified' alignment does not work very well on Kindle. It tends to leave huge gaps between words.

If you are offering up a list of things, then do put them in a list, with proper bullet points or numbers.

Choose a font that's fairly easy to read. Times New Roman 12pt or Arial 12pt (I think some e-readers allow readers to choose anyway). Use single line spacing with no indents, but with a full return between each paragraph (what we used to call 'block paragraphs' in the olden days of typing work out). You'll find then that if you save as web page, filtered, it puts the indents in all on its own (though some ereaders may vary).

DO NOT USE ALL CAPS! That is considered shouting at people (see what I did there?) Plus, using all caps is saying to your reader, I think you're probably very stupid so I've had to put this in big writing so you can get my meaning properly.

Similarly avoid using All Bold or All Italic.

Caps, bold and italics are often used for accentuating words and phrases. As I try to explain to my hubby, who does everything in all caps until I go and change it for him, if you ACCENTUATE everything, nothing stands out anyway.

Some e-Readers are a bit idiosyncratic about how pages are set out. Again, as long as you're consistent, try not to worry if someone complains that it looks different on another platform.

Find a nice cover
I'm going to put my hands up and admit that the first covers I used on Amazon Kindle were atrocious. I couldn't afford to buy covers or pay anyone to do it for me. So I used a plain white background with a motif - a strawberry on one, a red ruby on another. They looked cheap and gave the impression that my ebooks were cheap. Actually my ebooks were cheap, at 99p each, but I mean cheap in the tacky sense. I didn't sell many...

Then someone told me about and another someone told me about Jimmy Thomas's wonderful site. On Jimmy's site you can get romance novel covers for as little as $10 (£6 and a bit). For a bit extra (about £25 I think but don't quote me), you can have a cover artist add your title and author name. On you buy credits, and can get a decent cover for as little as 4 credits, going higher if you want something a bit more special. Now Amazon have their own cover creator page, with which to add the text, creating your own quality cover has never been easier or cheaper.

I've sold loads more ebooks since making sure the covers were attractive and tempting to the reader. Incidentally, Jimmy Thomas has his own following and fans will buy any ebooks with him on the cover, so that's another market for you right there.

People do judge your books by the covers, so it is important that your cover is attractive and properly reflects what's in your book.

Don't use copyrighted material without permission
Don't use covers or words in your books that belong to someone else without their permission. Whilst you can, at the moment, use the same title as a favourite song, or even from another novel (titles are not copyrighted), you cannot use anything from the body of work if it's still in copyright.

Copyright laws vary from country to country, so it's wise to check the laws in your own country. It's generally about 50-70 years after the death of an author. At which point, the work becomes public domain. But there are not only variations in countries, but also in subject matter (songs, images, novels, etc). There is such a thing as 'fair usage', but only in so much as you're writing an article of non-fiction.

Fair usage is generally considered to be around 100 words per extract. However, if you use song lyrics, even five words makes up a rather large chunk of the whole. A friend of mine was quoted £350 plus VAT for the usage of one line from a Beatles' song. Understandably, she decided not to use it.

Neither can you drag pictures from anywhere on the Internet and use them on your covers. Copyright belongs to the person who took them. That's why it's better, if you can, to buy rights from places like and Jimmy Thomas. There are some sites that have images that are free to use (under certain restrictions), but they tend to be rather generic, and not as exciting as you might wish your cover to be.

Know your subject

When writing fiction, you can pretty much make it up. That's what fiction is about. But even then, if you've failed to research something that's integral to the story, people will call you on it. Sometimes they'll call you on it even if you did the research. But at least if you've done the research you can, if not tell them they're wrong, at least know in your own mind that you got it right. It is so easy nowadays to just Google for information, so there's no excuse for getting it wrong. However, I'd be the first to say don't let the facts get in the way of a good story - just make sure there's a disclaimer at the front telling everyone you know you're playing with the facts.

When it comes to non-fiction, it's even more important to get it right. The reason I'm not putting this advice on Kindle and charging for it is because I really don't consider myself an expert and would be embarrassed to take money from people. If you're going to put yourself forward as an expert on something, then do make sure that you are qualified to talk about it. People will find out if you're making it up as you go along!

The thing is that if something is presented as non-fiction, and written down, people tend to believe it's true. So your advice could be dangerous or misleading if you're not really on top of your subject. Or if they know better than you, they will call you out on it.

Behave professionally at all times
This is not really about putting out ebooks. It's about how you behave if someone comes along and tells you your 'baby' is a load of rubbish. I have to be fair and say that the author I linked to above has kept a dignified silence about the complaints made about his work.

It is so hard to do that when someone is having a go at you. Especially if you know, or feel, they've got it wrong. Or if the review is really just petty and unpleasant, rather than a proper critique of your eBook. But don't ever tell them that, as tempting as it is. Have a moan to your friends about it. Punch your pillow (don't kick the dog or the cat or I'll have to come around and give you a good talking to). Anything rather than respond.

Writers have learned to their cost that responding to negative criticism can lead to everything blowing out of proportion and the whole world knowing about it. In fact, on Goodreads they advise authors not to even respond to positive criticism, which I feel is going a bit far, but I can sort of understand why they say it, given the response on that site to authors commenting on reviews.

Before the Internet such things went away quietly. Now they are forever...

I hope my advice has been helpful. If you've any of your own advice to add in the comments, please do!

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