A client of ours recently sold his book internationally. He got good deals in the UK, Europe, China – and a nice five figure offer in the US, from a top class NY publisher. For various reasons, however, it looks reasonably that we're going to turn that US offer down and instead simply publish direct to the Amazon Kindle store. That gives us total control over the timing and the pricing – and we'll get very attractive royalties too. Here's what you need to know.
Creating your book
You can write your book in any word-processing document you like, but to get it ready for the Kindle you need to save it as an 'old' Word document – that is a.doc file, not a .docx or .pdf or anything else.
You can have basic formatting (bold, italics, etc), but more complex formatting (eg: bullet points) will not work. It's fine to insert pictures (as long as you own the copyright, of course). They should be inserted as .jpg files, and make sure they're centred in the page. Do not try to wrap text round them, though. That'll look OK on your screen, but will not work on the Kindle.
Then you need to create title pages, acknowledgments pages, etc. – insert a page break where you want a hard page break to appear on your final Kindle book.
There are a few other, somewhat technical issues, to consider. You can find out about all of them on the Amazon site. If you're very capable on word-processing, you'll be fine. If not, then get help. A badly formatted book will look awful. Do not put your name to something that will let you down.
Also, we will not let our client upload anything at all to the Kindle, until we've copied-edited his manuscript and then proof-read the copy-edits. That's a time-consuming process and it does cost money if you get it done professionally, but it's your book. Shoddy spellings, punctuation, grammar, or sentence structure will make your book look bad. If you want to do the job, do it right.
Finally, you need to convert the document you've created into a Kindle-ready file. Information on how to do that can also be found on the Amazon site, but it's not hard and if you're half-competent with computers you'll be fine.
Create your cover image
Most self-pub books look bad because they have rubbish covers. A strong cover design may be the first thing that draws a reader to your book, so do not skimp on it. Once you've got your cover design, do road-test it with friends and acquaintances. Do not decide too soon – give yourself time to figure out what works.
Select your royalty option
This is a strange feature of Kindle publishing and one that's poorly explained on their site. But here's the deal. You can choose to take royalties of either 35% or 70% (less a very small amount for delivery, so you'll get a little less than that 70% in practice). Obviously almost everyone will figure that they would like the 70% option. Which is fine, but you need to be aware that (1) you have to set your book price at between $ 2.99 and $ 9.99, (2) your book can not consist of mostly public domain content, (3) you have to make sure that the (Kindle price + 15% for VAT) is less than or equal to (the List Price of any physical edition of your book – 20%). Basically, the 70% royalty is used by Amazon as a way to ensure that the digital book is always more attractively priced than any physical book and to make sure that your pricing is not either stupidly high or stupidly low.
So price your book sensibly and go for that 70% option.
Upload your book to Amazon
Once you've done all that, you upload your book to Amazon and get going. Seek out Amazon's online video on the topic which is helpful and encouraging.
Making it work
To publish well in the digital era is no different than good publishing has been in any era since Caxton. You need three ingredients and you can not afford to mess up any one of them.
First, you need a very strong book. That means being incredibly fussy over every little detail of character, plot, sentence construction, etc. Professional authors are perfectionists and you need to be just the same way. Pro authors also use external editors and external copy-editors. We recommend you do the same.
Secondly, you need a very well-chosen cover image.We've already spoken about that, but remember most self-pub authors get this wrong. 95% of the time, self-pub books look that way from the first glance. You might only get once glance on the Amazon Kindle store, so do not mess it up.
Third, you need an excellent marketing strategy in place. Do not think your book will just sell itself. It will not. There are millions of books available from Amazon and people are not going to navigate their way to yours by chance. You need a proper digital marketing strategy that you've put in place months or years before launching your first book. Again, do not skimp or you will not achieve any real sales.
With our client who's considering Kindle publishing, we have all the three ingredients either in place or coming together. We've got a stunning professionally executed cover design. A really strong and professionally created website (with full social networking and blogging capability, of course). And an excellent text. We still need to do a few additional things – copy-editing, proofing, and lots more investment of time on digital marketing – but the essentials are all there. It's going to be a heck of an adventure and I'm guess that we'll make more money via self-pub than we could ever have done by the wrong kind of traditional strategy. It's a new world out there, and we're looking forward to setting sail.