Tag Archives: kdp

How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start to Finish (PART II)

19 Jun

In last week’s post, How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start to Finish (PART I), we assembled everything we needed to self-publish, decided whether to go e-book only, e-book first and then paperback or e-book and paperback together, sorted out our US tax situation and finally, self-published both an e-book with Amazon KDP and Smashwords, covering all major e-book retailers, and a POD paperback with CreateSpace. (Or we went to somebody like eBookPartnership.com because removing tabs and putting back in italics got all a bit much for us.)

But that was only half the battle. What do we do now that the books are here? How are we going to let people know they exist, and convince them to buy a copy? How do we sell our books?

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Please Don’t Say ‘Social Media’…

Sorry, here it comes: the best way to sell self-published books is by using social media. But before you roll your eyes and throw in the towel on this whole self-publishing thing because ‘twittering is for teenagers’, let me say this: just think of it as word-of-mouth. That’s what’s always sold books, and it’s what sells books now. Taking it online just amplifies the numbers and, for self-publishers, levels the playing field too.

The readers of books like yours are out there, online, and you can reach them directly in numerous ways. That’s the easy bit. The hard bit is reaching them in the right way (tip: not in a way that annoys them or smells like spam) and, once you’ve done that, convincing them that your book is worth a read.

It is possible to sell books without using social media, and I’m sure you all know someone who did this. I do too. But there are the exception to the rule, and you can’t assume or expect to be the exception. There’s usually something else in those stories too, like impeccable timing or luck. I think you should do everything you can to try and sell copies of your book, not sit back and relax and hope for a cloud of fairy dust to burst above your head.

I also think you should avoid traditional PR. It may work for books that are in stores but I’ve never seen it work for self-published e-books and paperbacks that are only for sale online. I’ve only see it spectacularly fail, leaving self-publishers with empty wallets and bitter disappointment in its wake. If the item is for sale online, keep the promotion online. And do it yourself. Hiring someone else to tweet for you, for example, is like paying someone else to give your friend a hug.

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Self-Published Book Selling 101: No One Cares

No one cares about a book just because the book was written, because it exists. Just think about this in logical, familiar terms. Why did you buy the last book you bought? And why did you buy that one, and not any of the other ones that were on the same shelf or in the same store or mentioned in the e-mail Amazon sent you? Why do you care about some books and not about others? What’s the difference?

Your job, as both writer and publisher of your work, is to make readers care. To give them genuine reasons to. (I once got an e-mail on Goodreads from an author who said—and this is a copy and paste—’This is not a giveaway, or a blog tour, or anything remotely related to an ‘event’. [He'd sent it through the Event feature.] Just a statement from one blunt person to all of you. Buy This Book. You’ll like it. I promise.” Oh, you, the writer, promises I’ll like it? Really? Pinky-swear? Well, let me just run out now this very second and buy this book with the terrible cover and boring-sounding blurb that has no reviews and doesn’t even bear a slight resemblance to the books I like to read. Color me convinced! Yeah, right.) You need to make the potential reader think, hmm, this sounds interesting and then, this seems like something I’d like and finally, the price is right and I think I will like this: let me go hit that Buy button!

Think of what has to happen in order for someone to buy a book:

  1. They find out the book exists (through social media, like a mention in a tweet or a blog post, or through Amazon search results, or through a review they see online)
  2. The cover is eye-catching enough to make them stop and take a look. It also instantly identifies the kind of book it is, which hopefully is the type of book this reader likes to read
  3. The blurb makes you want to read the book
  4. The author bio convinces you the writer can write
  5. There are reviews that don’t seem to be written by family members, friends, etc.
  6. The price is high enough that you think quality but low enough that you think trying this book is risk-free.

Consider how many of these elements—the cover, the blurb, the author bio—will have been decided during the publication process. That’s why it’s so silly when self-publishers do all the self-publishing bit and then say, ‘Right: how am I gonna sell this baby?’, as if the two things are entirely disconnected. You are selling copies of your book through the decisions you make every step of the way.

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The ‘This Book Exists’ Bit

In an extremely simplified way (because this is supposed to be a summarized overview type thing, not a 10,000-word rehash of everything I’ve blogged about and written about already), here are the five stages of letting the world know that you book exists, i.e. step 1 above in what has to happen for somebody to decide to buy a book.

  1. Build a core of support. If you want to sell 10,000 books, you don’t need 10,000 Twitter followers. The Big Three of social media—blogging, Twitter and Facebook—are there for you to connect with people who are really more interested in you, the writer, than necessarily the subject matter or plot line of your book. They want to support you, just as you want to support them—and in a very genuine way. I’m talking here about your social media friends: your blogger friends, the people you chat to on Twitter, etc. This might also extend to a mailing list of subscribers, if you’ve been at this a while. This is the group that when your new book comes out, buy it mostly because it’s by you, and also tweet about it, post reviews online, invite you to guest post, etc. They get the ball rolling—they don’t buy every book you plan on selling. They are your (small but enthusiastic) core of support.
  2. Build anticipation towards a launch date. Most self-publishers don’t use launch dates, and I think that’s a grave mistake. Traditional publishing uses launch dates, and so should you. (As opposed to ‘My book will be out in the summer’ or ‘The e-book should be ready next week’.) You need something to build towards. And it doesn’t matter if the books are available before the date you pick. It’s purely for promotional purposes. Before this date, you should be blogging about your book, perhaps organizing a little blog tour, running Twitter giveaways for advanced reader copies (ARCs), video-blogging, posting photos of the proof copies to Facebook, etc. etc. See Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) Like Fight Club.
  3. Target specific readers. If you publish your e-books on Smashwords, you can download both an ePub and a Mobi (Kindle) file of your book that you can then e-mail like you would any other file. This is perfect for reviewers. Find relevant book bloggers, Goodreads users and Amazon Top Reviewers and offer them a copy of your book. Remember though that just like the steps above for buying a book, reviewers must also be convinced to read and review your book. See How (Not?) To Get Your Book Reviewed for more. You can also set up a Goodreads giveaway for paperback editions of your book; the winners will post their reviews online.
  4. Maximize launch. Your launch day is most likely when the maximum number of virtual eyeballs will be on your book, and when your sales rank gets the best opportunity to rise up (or down, it being the lower the better) on Amazon as your core of support goes out to buy it. You want to create events around this time to maximize this, like a blog tour, or a big giveaway, or a blog post you know will get lots of readers. It’s up to you, but my key point is don’t let this day pass just like any other. Make something of it.
  5. Help Amazon sell your book for you. Sign up for Amazon Author Central and go into the back end of your Amazon listing through it. Add formatting to your blurb, add extracts of the book blogger and Goodreads reviews you’ve now collected, add any evidence you’re a good writer to your author bio. Perhaps run a price promotion or even (if you dare) run your book through KDP Select. This will all encourage sales, which will push your book higher up search results and into things like ‘Customers who viewed this item also bought…’ etc., which, if you can keep it going, will inevitably lead to Amazon doing all the hard work for you.

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How To Self-Publish in 32 Easy Steps: A To Do List

If I was self-publishing a new, full-length book right now, here’s how I would do it.

  1. Write the book
  2. Get your US tax issue sorted, if applicable
  3. Check you’ve money to (potentially) lose in the bank
  4. Create a marketing/promotion plan for your book, including a schedule, a blurb and a launch date
  5. Start blogging about the book, i.e. building anticipation about it
  6. Research reviewers, make list of potentials
  7. Research and decide on prices
  8. Find and hire an editor
  9. Edit book, meanwhile:
  10. Find and hire a cover designer
  11. Mock-up paperback interior to determine page count
  12. Download cover template from CreateSpace and:
  13. Send cover template to cover designer
  14. Proofread book
  15. Create two copies of the manuscript
  16. Create interior PDF for inside of paperback from Copy A
  17. Okay cover design from cover designer
  18. Upload files to CreateSpace and order proof copy
  19. Format Copy B for e-book conversion
  20. Upload files to Amazon KDP and Smashwords but publish ONLY on Smashwords (leave KDP in ‘draft’)
  21. Download ePub and Mobi files from Smashwords and immediately unpublish (so no one can buy the book for now)
  22. Check e-book files using Kindle App for PC/Mac and Adobe Digital Editions
  23. Check proof copy paperback, publish if all okay but set to ‘Private’ (so no one but you can order it and it doesn’t go out to retailers)
  24. Order x amount of paperbacks to send to reviewers
  25. Contact reviewers, offering paperbacks or e-book files. Send them.
  26. Two weeks before launch date, publish paperback
  27. One week before launch date, publish on Amazon KDP and Smashwords
  28. Wait for Amazon listings to go live
  29. Sign up for Amazon Author Central, email them to get them to link Kindle and paperback listings
  30. Announce to the world on your (chosen by you) launch day that the book is now available
  31. Sell loads of copies of it
  32. Start writing your next book.

This is obviously a very simplified version of an actual self-publisher’s To Do list, but I think it’s a good working order and has all the main stuff on there. You might also be interested in the post I did that listed everything I actually did to self-publish my book Backpacked, How Much Work Is Self-Publishing?

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Sales Reports and Payments

All of these websites—CreateSpace, KDP and Smashwords—have sales reports you can refer to any time. CreateSpace and KDP pay you by the month, Smashwords quarterly.

You can also make changes to your books at any time by uploading new cover or interior files.

But I Did All This And It Didn’t Work!

Welcome to publishing! A popular anti-publishing point is that the publishing industry can’t tell you why one book sells and another doesn’t. But that isn’t just publishing. That’s BOOKS. (And also, TV shows. And movies. And broadway shows. And breakfast cereals.) It happens to traditional publishing companies and self-published authors, because we just don’t know how the reading public is going to react to any given book. I’ve seen this even within my own range of titles—I’ve done pretty much the same thing with all of them (although, thanks to a decreasing amount of free time, probably less and less as each title has come out) and yet one of them still sells steadily three years later and the one I think is the best never seems to catch up. It isn’t just publishing professionals who don’t know why one book sells and another doesn’t. Nobody does.

So brace yourself: you may do every single thing right, from writing a great book to making your Amazon listing the best there is, and you might still fail to sell any copies. That’s just the way it is. There are no guarantees. And you’ll just have to deal with that.

What Next?

Start writing the next one!

Any questions?

I wrote, like, a whole book about this you know. You can buy it in paperback or e-book, and you can even buy the e-books directly from me. You can also browse all my self-printed themed blog posts here or sign up to receive all future posts by e-mail in the sign-up box in the sidebar. I’m also on Twitter @cathryanhoward

How Self-Published Books Are Made: Start To Finish (PART I)

13 Jun

To mark the occasion of my 601st blog post (and I wonder why The Novel isn’t finished yet…), and after seeing that a number of people regularly land on this blog by googling ‘how self-published books are made start to finish’, I’ve decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: outline a basic master plan for self-publishing.

The internet is awash with posts about specific topics like formatting your e-book or maximizing your Amazon listing or using KDP Select, but there’s very few ‘this is everything that needs to happen and in this order’ posts—and I include my own blog in this. So let’s do it, starting today with Part I.

I should say: this isn’t how I did it (certainly not the first time!), but it’s how I’d do it now were I to get the chance to do it over. It’s how I’d do it now knowing everything I learned through trial and error over the last few years. Please let me what you’d do differently, add/subtract, etc. in the comments below.

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What You Need To Self-Publish A Book

  • A book that’s ready for the world in a MS Word document
  • Money to invest in said book. I wouldn’t start this without $1,500 in the bank marked ‘I can lose this’
  • An editor/proofreader (a MUST) and a cover designer (optional but preferred) to spend that money on
  • An EIN or an ITIN if you are self-publishing using the companies I mention and living outside the US
  • A thick skin (for the inevitable baaaad reviews)
  • A plan for how you’re going to sell copies of this book, and an idea of who you’ll try to sell it to
  • The professional attitude, energy and drive of a entrepreneur
  • A dose of reality
  • An antidote to anxiety
  • As much coffee as Guatemala produces in a year.

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E-book & Paperback or Just E-book or Just Paperback?

I think there is no point self-publishing these days without self-publishing an e-book, and I think there is no point self-publishing an e-book unless you do it on Amazon’s Kindle store. (Assuming that your goal is to get as many readers as possible and perhaps afford to buy a few ink cartridges or something.) So for my money, not publishing an e-book is not an option.

As for paperbacks, it really depends on the book and the author. I like having a paperback available, and I especially like getting the proof copy of that paperback in the mail. Seeing your book on your Kindle just doesn’t have the same kick. (And what will you put on your shelves?! See photo below.) I waver from this stance from time to time, but if I was pushed, I’d say go paperback. It’s not that much extra work or money, and although e-books are now a very significant part of book sales and increasing all the time, a lot of people (most people?) still don’t read them. Paperbacks are also good for giveaways, review copies, etc. (You can’t giveaway an e-book on Goodreads.) If you’re just starting out and already feeling a little daunted though, try e-book only first and see how you go.

The best advice I can give you on this though is be creative. Think of the e-book like the hardcover: publish it first, then bring the paperback later. (This is a good way to take advantage of KDP Select’s only remaining benefit: compensation for borrows. Release a Kindle only e-book for 90 days, then after that go full distribution and bring out your paperback.) Or release the book in e-book only installments (like I’m doing this year with Travelled) before a full-length paperback. Or make the physical copy a special edition.

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The Clue is in the Term ‘Self-Publishing’

You can’t self-publish by yourself. You need an editor and a cover designer, and you may need some other help at various points along the way. But there shouldn’t be, in my opinion, any middle man between you and that editor, or you and that cover designer. A self-publisher should be the project manager of their own book. You shouldn’t have to pay someone else to do that for you.

‘But I can barely e-mail!’ is something that comes up a lot when I talk to self-publishers. I understand that all this stuff may seem like rocket science to some of you, and an abacus to others. But don’t pay someone else thousands to do the whole shebang for you. Find someone who can e-mail—a family member, a fellow writer, a friend—and get them to help you. That way, you remain in total control and keep costs down. (And it’s really not rocket science. All these services are designed to be used by everyone, and there is plenty of help out there for the tricky bits.)

Read more: Why You Need Some ‘Self’ In Your Self-Publishing

Before We Begin

If you live outside the US, you’re going to need to sort your tax situation out first. You can do it yourself or go to someone like TaxBack.com.

And spare me the groans about red tape and bureaucracy: you’re allowed to sell whatever you damn well want on the largest bookstore in the world. A few forms is a TINY price to pay.

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Who Does What When

I would recommend that you publish your e-books with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Smashwords, and your POD paperback with CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. This will get your e-books available on every major e-book retailer (Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble’s Nook Store, etc.) and your paperback on the US and European Amazon sites, among others. You’ll also be able to download copies of your own e-books which you can e-mail as attachments, if you like, and order copies of your paperback at cost.

All these services are completely free to sign up for. When books are sold, they take a cut and you keep the rest. KDP will give you 70% of your list price if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, 35% otherwise. There’s some terms and conditions to this (to say the least!) but that’s generally what you’ll end up with. Smashwords varies, but it’s around 60-80%. If you publish a 220-ish page 5.5 x 8.5 paperback with CreateSpace, it’ll cost you around $3.50 to order a copy of it, and if you sell it for $15 on Amazon.com, you’ll keep around $5 once manufacturing and the retailer’s cut are taken out. (NB: These are all massive generalizations. For specifics, go to the service’s websites.)

Presuming you have both the interior file (i.e. the inside pages) and your cover file (we’ll get to that) ready, between signing up for CreateSpace and seeing your book for sale on Amazon should take about a fortnight, presuming you order a proof copy. (There’s an option to skip the proof copy: please don’t.) Smashwords will publish your book on their website and make it available to buy from there almost immediately, but their ‘Premium Catalogue’ (i.e. other retailers like iBooks and B&N) distribution can take a while. Amazon KDP is twelve hours from pressing the ‘Publish’ button to being for sale in the Kindle store, but in my experience it usually takes less than that.

Impressive, no?

Can People Pre-Order My Book?

Do you know what you just did? You murdered a fairy. MURDERED!*

(And no, they can’t.)

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Every self-publisher should have one of these

The Process

For e-books, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, formatted a very specific way so that when KDP or Smashwords runs it through their automated conversion software and turns it into an ePub or Mobi file (i.e. actual e-books) it doesn’t read like gobbledegook
  • A front cover image, i.e.a JPEG. Both KDP and Smashwords will give you exact dimensions to adhere to, but the bottom line is make it a big one
  • A blurb, i.e. the text that would normally appear on the back cover of a paperback.

You have some options here. First, you don’t have to commission a cover. I think it’d be better if you did, but if money is tight, you could possibly save some here — but only if you do it right, and don’t turn into one of those parents who thinks their baby is the most beautiful baby that was ever born. And don’t be getting any fanciful ideas. Those cookie cutter covers? Crime black with silver text and a sinister picture? Chick-lit in pink pastels with girly type and shoes? Bodice-rippers with, well, ripped bodices? They’re like that for a reason: so readers can easily identify books that are similar to books they’ve already enjoyed. Study the competition and stick with what works.

KDP recently launched Cover Creator for e-books, which I haven’t used yet myself but if it’s anything like CreateSpace’s Cover Creator, I’d stay clear. (Have you used it?) Template covers are easily identifiable and never cut the mustard. The other downside is that you won’t be able to use it on your Smashwords edition (I’m presuming).

You don’t need an ISBN to publish on KDP and Smashwords will give you a free one. Take it.

Read more: A New, Even Easier Way To Format Your E-book

For POD paperbacks, you need:

  • Your book in a MS Word document, sized to exactly match the dimensions of your chosen trim size (i.e. the length and width of the pages of your book) and formatted to reflect how you want it printed. (You can collect a correctly sized template from CreateSpace before you start.)
  • A full paperback cover. CreateSpace will generate a cover template for you once you plug in your trim size and page count that you can send off to your cover designer. Alternatively you can use their Cover Creator software but for the love of fudge, please don’t. None of them resemble real books.
  • A blurb to pop in your product description.

A few things here: you need to create your MS Word interior document BEFORE you start thinking about the cover, even if it’s just a quick mock-up. The reason is that the cover designer needs the template, and the template needs to include the spine, and the spine size is calculated based on how many pages you plan on using. Trust me when I say that a guesstimate is not sufficient. You must mock-up the interior of your book. Remember you’ll have front matter, end matter and start each new chapter or section on a right-hand/odd-numbered page. When you add this, and add headers and footers, change your font size, change your paragraph settings, etc., it changes the page count. And if you end up with 10 or more pages more than you planned on, in my experience, your insides won’t fit your outsides. The cover will be rejected by CreateSpace for being the wrong size. So FIRST, mock-up your interior document to get the page count. THEN start work on the cover.

CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN. (Say it with me now…) Take it. If there’s a free ISBN on offer, put your paws on it and say ‘Thank you.’ You lose nothing by doing this but you gain cash, i.e. what you would’ve spent buying your own ISBN. So WHAT if CreateSpace (or Smashwords) are the publisher of record of your book? Do you think readers pay a tack of attention to who published a book? Don’t even worry about it.

They will also put a barcode on your book. Neither you nor your cover designer needs to worry about that. (It goes on during the publishing process and the template will have a space marked off for it.)

Yes, shipping books to yourself from CreateSpace gets really expensive outside the US. But why are you thinking about this? Aside from maybe one box of books for yourself, friends, family and perhaps even a little party you’re throwing yourself, why would you need books? We’re doing this so people can buy our books online while we sit back and relax. If you do need a lot of stock (because you’re braving bookstores, or you do seminars or something) publish your paperback with CreateSpace for online sales and then find a book printer in your area or city or region who’ll print physical copies for you to sell.

Read more: How To Make a Real BookProofing Your CreateSpace paperback.

No Humans Were Used In The Self-Publishing Of This E-book

A while back I read a blog post (written by someone who I thought would know better—he was a journalist, and had been traditionally published) that detailed one newbie self-publisher’s many phone calls to CreateSpace as he published his book. And all I could think was, ‘What the fudge are you calling CreateSpace for?!’

That, and how it reminded me of a situation I was in a few years back, when I was working for someone who, having spotted a Facebook status written by a college student that said something nasty (but utterly true) about our company, got me to type and print and send a letter threatening the sending of a solicitor’s letter to Facebook HQ.

This entire process is automated. Humans may be involved from time to time, but only in the shadowy background, or perhaps through a support e-mail if all comes to all. You don’t submit your manuscript to Amazon, you just upload a file. And Amazon don’t accept your book for publication, their software program publishes it. It’s like booking a flight online versus walking into your travel agent and taking a seat at his or her desk. This is the first one. No humans involved.

And they don’t need to be involved. Smashwords has an entire e-book you can download for free that tells you everything you need to know. CreateSpace is one of the simplest websites to use, KDP comes a close second and they both have extensive help and support pages, and community forums. Plus, there’s this:

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It’s taught me everything I know.

(If you really need help though, eBookPartnership are great for all things e-books, and The Book Designer has a great and affordable range of POD interior templates.)

Join me next week for Part II…

Also, I wrote this.

*Every time a self-published author wonders aloud if readers will be able to pre-order their book, a fairy dies. FACT. 

***READ PART II OF THIS POST HERE***

KDP Now Paying ALL Royalties By EFT

6 Feb

We don’t normally have posts with such newsy, matter-of-fact headlines on this blog, but last night Amazon KDP announced something important and I wanted to make sure you all know about it, although if you’re a KDP author and this affects you, you should have received the same e-mail I did. It’s bye-bye to foreign currency cheques and hello electronic funds transfer because KDP is now offering to pay all royalties, be they dollars, pounds or euros, into your European bank account.

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Up until now, I got three different payments from KDP each month: a US dollar cheque for sales from Amazon.com and a British pound cheque for sales from Amazon.co.uk, and royalties from Amazon.de sales (which were minimal; I think my best month ever there was €50) were paid directly into my bank because, being in Ireland, my bank account and Germany shared the same currency, the Euro.

Now I never really minded getting cheques, because I always thought it was wondrous thing that Amazon would allow me to sell my books on their Kindle stores and promptly pay me once a month to in the first place, and so I didn’t especially care how the money arrived. But I’ve been getting these cheques for three years now, and they do have their disadvantages. With one of them coming all the way across the Atlantic, they can take a while to arrive, and once, one got lost. (It was quickly cancelled and replaced by Amazon.) When I lodge them in my bank, it’s a bureau de change transaction, and sometimes they can take up to 5 weeks—5 weeks!—to clear. Also, these cheques are the biggest chunk of my income, so getting paid in such an undependable way wasn’t all that great either; some months they’d arrive by the 1st, another month it might be the 10th, sometimes Amazon.co.uk sent out their cheques in the middle of the month, just for laughs. (And once when this happened, I was in Nice Airport dutifully staying away from the shops when a text message informed me that this unexpected early cheque had arrived. I literally ran into the Duty Free. Toblerones for everyone!)

And I couldn’t switch to EFT, because Amazon would only do that when there was a currency match, i.e. my earnings were in the same currency as my bank account, which is Euro.

Until now.

Now they will convert my US dollars or UK pounds in Euro, and then pay them directly into my account. Hurray! Some people are logging onto their account and coming back telling me the options look the same, but just change the currency symbol to € first and the EFT option should pop up, as in the image below.

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For some of you, the big benefit to this is that the threshold for payment will dramatically reduce. For cheques, it was $100/£100/€100. Now for EFT, it’s just the equivalent of €10.

I do have a query about whether this means less or more money (what conversion rate are they using? Is it real time? Will I gain what I was paying my bank in commission for a foreign currency exchange? Or is it my bank doing the exchanging anyway, when the money gets sent to them?). When these EFT payments start to arrive in April, I can easily compare the conversion rate to previous payments anyway, and see what’s up. But overall, I’m just happy there’s no more cheques.

Well, that’s no strictly true. There is still CreateSpace, who follow the same method since they started their European Amazon extravaganza: a US dollar cheque for Amazon.com/EDC sales, a UK sterling cheque for Amazon.co.uk sales and a Euro cheque for other European Amazon sales (with the same payment thresholds). I just logged in and it looks like nothing’s changed there, but we live in hope.

This situation change is true for Irish authors, but I wonder what changes KDP authors in other European countries are seeing. Let me know in the comments below!

Operation Full Distribution

8 Jan

One of my goals for 2013 is to fully distribute all of my self-published e-books.

As it stands, Backpacked is handcuffed to KDP Select, Mousetrapped is on Smashwords but I never re-submitted it to their Premium Catalogue (read: third party retailers) after my last update and although you can purchase a gorgeous ePub or Mobi edition of Self-Printed directly from me (thanks to the lovely people at eBookPartnership.com), the only other place you can get it from is the Amazon Kindle store, although we did have a brief flirtation with Kobo Writing Life a while back.

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Why is this? Well, there’s a few reasons:

  • It’s easy to make a good-looking Kindle book. I still format my e-books the way I’ve done it from the beginning, three years ago: by re-formatting the text in a MS Word document until it adheres to a strict set of rules. I’m really good at it now, and sometimes I almost find the process relaxing. (Sometimes…) Ever since I discovered, via a tip in the Smashwords Style Guide, that Kindle conversion automatically indents all your paragraphs and the only way to make it stop is to set the indent to 0.01 inches on the lines you don’t want to appear indented, I’ve found prepping your book for Kindle conversion practically easy. And I like easy.
  • It’s simple to keep track of sales and profits. KDP must have the best-looking user interface of any self-publishing platform. It’s so easy to use: two pages and your book is published. Log in at any time and see at a glance what you’ve sold so far this month, what you sold in total last month and how the past six weeks were for you and your books. Prior months royalties can be scrutinized in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and cheques arrive promptly every single month. (In three years, only one KDP cheque has failed to arrive, and it was a lost-in-the-mail situation. They quickly cancelled it and sent another.) My euro sales even go straight into my bank account now. Trying to figure out how many copies I’ve sold via Smashwords on other retailers is like trying to do my taxes with an abacus, and everytime you add another site—be it Kobo, or iTunes Connect, or whoever—you complicate things further.
  • The majority of my sales come from Kindle anyway, so the rest of them don’t seem worth the trouble. Now, I know what you’re going to say: if my books are only available on Kindle, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, it is now. But all throughout 2010 and for a good half of 2011, I was on Kindle and everyone Smashwords could hook me up with, and my Kindle sales were something like 95% of all e-book sales. And this wasn’t because I did such a good job of marketing my Kindle book, because I was never active on dedicated Kindle forums, nor did I advertise with Kindle Nation or anything like that. Kindle just sold my books more, for whatever reason. When KDP Select came along—and the first time I used it, it gave me something like a 150% boost on sales the month after my free promotion—I drained my glass of Kool-Aid. I was all in.

And so, over time, I became less and less enthusiastic about non-Kindle e-book sites. When I updated Mousetrapped, I didn’t bother putting myself through the horror that would be formatting it for Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue. I couldn’t upload the shiny ePub of Self-Printed 2.0 there, so I didn’t bother uploading anything. And I pulled Backpacked—waiting over a month for Kobo to let go—so I could chuck it in KDP Select and promote it as free.

Eggs, one basket, all in.

Up until recently, I wasn’t at all bothered. My Smashwords sales had never lit the world on fire, and who had the time to be checking what people were saying about you—I mean, about your book—on more than the three main English-speaking Amazon sites? But then the tectonic plates beneath the self-publishing world began to move and shift, and so did my thinking.

I’m iniating Operation Full Distribution, and here’s why.

Sales of dedicated e-readers are in decline. This means that nowadays, someone is more likely to buy an iPad than a Kindle, i.e. a device on which they can read e-books but on which they can do loads of other stuff as well. Kindle may be the dominant player now, but will they always be? Yes, you can download the Kindle app for iPad, but iBooks/iTunes’ slice of the e-book pie grows ever bigger. Isn’t it better to hedge your bets and be ready for the day when Kindle books might not dominate?

If one was to be cynical and say that Amazon being nice to us—KDP Select, huge KOLL compensation funds, letting us self-publish on there in the first place—was all just a ploy to get us to fill the Kindle store with titles, many of them exclusive, and to teach their customers that e-books should be cheap so that traditional publishing would, eventually, start to lower their e-book prices too, then one could also say that that job is done. There’s well over a million titles in the Amazon.com Kindle store, and the Top 10 e-book charts on Amazon.co.uk boasted seven traditionally published books for sale at 20p when I checked it on New Year’s Day. They’ve even got agents skipping publishers altogether to publish directly to the Kindle store, and have started publishing books themselves. It’s becoming harder and harder for self-published e-book authors to achieve success, and the odds are decreasing all the time. (Charging sofa change for your e-book so readers will take a chance of you no longer works, for example, because readers can get a book that has been vetted by an agent, editors and maybe even The Sunday Times book reviewer now for less than the cost of your 99c book.) How much longer are Amazon going to need us? And when they don’t need us anymore, what will happen? I feel the tugs on the rug Amazon has laid beneath our self-published feet; it might only be a matter of time before they pull it. Since we don’t know what that world could look like, it might be better to start spreading the risk now.

As Smashwords founder Mark Coker is forever reiterating on the Smashwords blog, sales ranks are very important for discoverability. The higher or better your sales rank, the higher chance there is of you being discovered by a new reader, generally and simplistically-speaking. I’ve been on Amazon now for almost three years with Mousetrapped, and my other books have been on there since they were published. I’ve never “interruppted” their Amazon ranking, and as sales rank history is partly responsible for where the sales rank is at today, that’s a good thing. But how many times have I published/unpublished on Smashwords? Well, um, a few. And each time I republished, I was basically starting from scratch on, say, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, or iBooks, or wherever. So I wasn’t giving my Smashwords retailers a chance to do as well as my Kindle books. As has been pointed out in many blog posts on the subject of Kindle dominance, self-published authors also have a tendancy to direct potential readers to their Kindle listings more than anything else, and I was as guilty of that as anyone. So now, let’s see what happens when I give it a proper chance.

There’s a but coming though, and it’s in the shape of a dollar sign. I ran Backpacked through KDP Select back in November, and it was downloaded for free something like 20,000 times in the five days. Since then its sales have really picked up, especially on Amazon.com, and borrows are way up too. And when you consider the “bonus” KDP Select fund, it means than whenever a copy of Backpacked is borrowed, I stand a good chance of making as much or even more than I would were it purchased — and my new reader pays nothing outside of their Prime membership fee. This improved sales effect has lasted about six weeks, at this stage, so I’m going to ride it out. That means no Smashwords for Backpacked, for now. Not yet. I make a large part of my income from my e-book sales, and so I can’t be completely experimental with my approach to it. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

My new book, Travelled, will be released in three e-book only parts this year before the full book is released in e-book and paperback just in time for Christmas, and I think KDP Select could benefit that, if it’s still going by the time it comes out. With three parts making up a whole book, I think it’d be a good idea to run the first part through a free promotion the week the second part comes out, to help snare new readers. So I don’t plan on abandoning KDP Select completely; I’ll still use sparingly as long as it works for me.

But my ultimate goal is, by this time next year, to have every book of mine available everywhere e-books can feasibly be sold. Let’s just give the other guys a chance—a proper chance—and see what happens.

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What do you think? Do you have your e-books only on Kindle, or elsewhere as well? Any good reports from the land of full distribution? Or is KDP Select results keeping you sweet? Let me know in the comments… 

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