Amazon Self-Publishing

I've been reading quite a few articles lately critiquing Amazon self-publishing. I know a handful of people on here have published their completed serials (or sections of their completed serials) through Amazon, and I'm curious as to how you guys found the process. If anyone else has self-published through another publisher, I'd like to hear about that process as well. Self-publishing is something that I *might* consider doing in the future (like a year or so from now), and I want to have my ducks in a row before I venture out into that strange, new world. (And can I just say I think it's awesome that this community exists, so I can ask these sorts of questions?) :) Thanks, guys!


Haven't completed a serial yet, but I do plan to compile Volume 1 of mine into an ebook and self-publish it there when it wraps up here in a few weeks. I have, however, self-published a novel at both Amazon and Barnse & Noble.


I will say this: when I do my serial collection as an ebook, I will be publishing only an Amazon.


Aside from having a bigger market share, they have good customer service, a large community that provides helpful answers, a more intuitive system... I would recommend it. The main downside is you're completely on your own for marketing and promotion, but that's going to be the case wherever you self-publish.


I can't speak for print-on-demand stuff, if that's what you're looking at, but if you're putting out an ebook, I do recommend Amazon.


Hey, I can answer this!


After I finished Pay Me, Bug! I put it on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and a few other places as an ebook, and used CreateSpace to sell it as a paperback. And I put out each issue of Curveball as an ebook on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and a few other places.


First thing you do is create your eBook. There are a lot of ways to do this. I use a program called Jutoh that I love to bits, and it supports a lot of file formats (epub, mobi, odt, word, etc) so I can keep one master file for the ebook and spit out multiple formats with it. Scrivener has an export to ebook function, though you can't fiddle with it as much. Adobe has a thing. Calibre lets you create ebooks, though I've never tried to use that functionality. There are a lot of options.


What file formats you want depend entirely on where you want to sell it. Here are the ones I use:


AMAZON


There are two ways to go with Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and KDP Select. KDP is the "basic" epub package for Amazon, you create your ebooks you put them on Amazon's store. KDP Select gives you better royalty rates in more markets, and it also gives you some promotional tools.


Here's the thing about KDP Select that you have to be wary about: they demand exclusivity, to the point that if you use KDP Select and your serial is still available on the web, you are technically in violation of their terms. They might not do anything about it, but they CAN, and if they decide to, they can do it instantly and you have no appeal.


Also, if you use a Creative Commons License, you're setting yourself up to be in violation of KDP Select, depending on the terms of that license. If you grant reuse and redistribution for any reason, you're violating KDP Select terms, because they want EXCLUSIVE rights on the story until the KDP Select period ends.


I don't use KDP Select for that reason. However, people who do tend to sell quite a bit more because of the promotional tools they offer.


If you upload your work into KDP you set your price (minimum 99 cents, going up from there) and they put it on the Amazon store. Anyone with a Kindle or the Amazon App can buy it.


BARNES AND NOBLE


B&N is fading these days, and their customer service is not nearly as good as amazons. Also, they sell books as epubs, not mobi or azw or whatever the Kindle standard is these days. But you can create an account with them and sell your stuff through them in much the same way as Amazon. You create an account, upload your epub, add in your metadata, and you're good to go. They have better basic royalty rates than KDP.


KOBO


Kobo hasn't beat B&N yet, but I think it's inevitable. Their interface is a lot simpler and they have terrible sales reporting tools, and it takes a lot longer for titles to be available on their market, but they sell epubs, they're willing to sell them DRM-free, and people buy books there.


SMASHWORDS


I'm not going to say a lot about them because I don't like them much and I'm not sure I can be objective. I know writers who have had great experiences with them. I'm not one of them. I find them frustrating, every time I've tried to contact support it's taken weeks for them to respond, and they don't really seem to care that they make it fifty times harder than it has to be to sell a book online. They recently gave their whole interface a face lift, and that was badly needed, and they recently lifted their ban on serialized books, which is good, but I've been so frustrated with them I don't spend a lot of energy there. That said, they support the widest range of formats I've seen. They'll sell your work as text, RTF, pdf, epub, mobi, and the sony format I think. Also they have distribution agreements with Kobo, B&N, Apple, and a few other channels, so you can upload it there and sell in multiple places.


They only pay out quarterly, though. that kinds sucks.


DRAFT2DIGITAL


D2D is where I went when I got sick of Smashwords. They don't have their own online store, which is too bad, but they let you sell to Apple and a few other places. The royalties are worse than you'd get at Smashwords, slightly, but the user experience is a lot better. I've found their technical support to be outstanding. Once or twice an epub I'd send off to Apple would be rejected, for whatever reason, and each time I'd get an email from D2D explaining what they thought I'd done that pissed Apple off. And when I replied with a question, I got an answer from support that day. I don't sell a lot through them but I really do appreciate the level of service they provide.


GOOGLE PLAY


Google Play sells ebooks, and anyone with an Android OS can buy them. Once upon a time, navigating the arcane Google interface for uploading books was next to impossible... now it's just kind of annoying. Not too bad, though. It's certainly usable, and the Android market is huge so I definitely use them.


ITUNES


Unless you have a Mac so you can download their app, you can't sell directly on the iTunes/iBooks store. You have to go through a service like Smashwords or Draft2Digital.


CREATESPACE


CreateSpace is what you'd use if you want to create a paperback. CreateSpace is an Amazon service and while their quality isn't the BEST out there, it's really pretty good and the tools it provides for taking you through the book-making process are pretty good. Both Pay Me, Bug! and Curveball: Year One are available as paperback through them. I've been pretty satisifed with them. You can get your paperbacks made available to Libraries if you allow CreateSpace to use one of their ISBN's on your book. Last year they made it possible for you to sell your paperback everywhere (i.e., in other online stores) for free (it used to cost $25), so that's nice.


INGRAM


I don't use Ingram at the moment but I wanted to include it because Ingram has a reputation for having the best quality print on demand paperback books. Their tools are harder to use, though, and to use their primary site you have to work through a company (for example, I created an LLC for my publishing, so I could use them through Eviscerati Communications LLC, but not as "Christopher Wright"). I believe they created a group called "Ingram Spark" that allows individuals to use their services, but I'm not sure if they're the same services through a different door, or if it's a different product entirely.


I have no experience whatsoever!


...that said, I went to a panel last year at a convention, and summarized it in the following post. So it may give a sense of the process from that panelist's perspective, at least. Warning: It does have a Canadian flavour. Some of the comments after the post are relevant as well. And if anyone knows more about the ISBN thing, feel free to remark there too.

http://mathiex.blogspot.ca/2014/05/self-publishing-in-canada.html


I'll ask Stormy to come in, she's done a lot of pubbing through amazon.


On the ISBN line, one of my goals for the end of this summer is a kickstarter or indiegogo to create a publishing imprint by raising enough money to buy one of those 1000 blocks of ISBN's. People will basically have to throw our imprint name on their title, or ISBN will bitch, but that will allow us to basically provide ISBN's for a couple bucks each to self pubbers. (And... now that i've thrown it out there, someones going to beat me to it, natch. )


Once upon a time it was considered *very important* to own your ISBNs, and to some people it still is as a matter of principle, but practically it's becoming less and less important these days. Once, ISBNs were used to track books sales, and in that respect having the same ISBN show up on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc. for the same book is an advantage, because it gets treated as a single book instead of 5 or 6 versions of the same book. But mostly what that will affect is an "overall ranking" via bookscan or the New York Times bestseller list, or something like that. It has no effect on your ranking on individual sites, which is actually more important to selling books (you sell more books on Amazon if you're in the top 10/top 100 on Amazon, and your ranking on the B&N site is irrelevant as far as Amazon is concerned). Most places you sell through allow you to use an ISBN they provide, or use some other identifier custom to that store.


I bought a block of 100 a while back juuuust before someone pointed this out, and I don't think I'll be buying any more when they run out. Buying the ISBN does give you one more layer of ownership but there doesn't seem to be a lot of gain from it.


Thank you all so much for the information! I really appreciate it!


I have ebooks up at both Amazon and Smashwords. I don't sell as much on Smashwords but it does allow access to other outlets (and handles the conversion). I briefly experimented with Draft to Digital but had such a problem finding my book on iTunes with it that I turned that specific part off and went back to Smashwords.


One thing I like about Smashwords would be the ability to generate coupons. You can use the coupons to give away books at any time. After the first time around (with my first draft of the ebook) I haven't since for reasons other than I was done messing around with the ebook and had picked up a third option for distribution (vs SparklerMonthly).


Amazon, however, is where I have the majority of sales. I don't advertise the at-cost ebook much. I suspect most of my customers come in from the webpage and just go "I don't want to read it like this" and buy the book.


From a process point of view -- it's pretty easy to publish to Amazon once you have the file in good shape. That said their distiller /converter is somewhat particular. If you format your book for the Smashwords guide (as in the other indie self pub platform of some note) and write in word (or an equivalent) and can create a clean word document with proper formatting, it'll convert on both very nicely.


If you're terrible with word, Smashwords used to keep a list of folks who would do the formatting for you at a cost.


(Now having taken some Word classes at work, you really need an intermediate knowledge of Word to avoid annoying spacing problems. the smashwords style guide points out the biggest mistakes/problems but if you do know word, you have to watch for trailing spaces, paragraph marks,a nd need a properly formatted table of contents to get chapters to convert right.)


The ebook distiller is pickier on Smashwords rather than Amazon but small little format quirks can cause problems on specific readers. So for example, the book would look great on the Kindle and then terrible on the Amazon app on the iPad. I had to redo my book a few times in Word before I got it to a point it stopped making odd spaces in different readers.)


One thing nice about Amazon is its link to Createspace. I did not make a print copy available at first (after putting out the compiled ebook) because I wanted to work on another edit and the formatting for Createspace was even trickier as you have to really start considering fonts, spacing, and covers. A good ebook ready word file will upload to Createspace and be usable if you make sure to make good use of their templates. The thing that totally killed me was the margin spacing and it took a few trials until I got the book looking right on the PDF preview. Then the greater problem was having written a really long first book (volume), I also was dismayed that my book cost after distribution w as going to be like 20 dollars. Twenty bucks is a LOT for a book sold online. Lesson learned: write for shorter chunks next time around. (I hope.)


Sales of the print copy are pretty much limited to those who just wanted a paper copy vs. keep reading it digitally (whether on the website or on their e-reader) and impulse buys at conventions .


...


One comment about ebooks -- you're in a different realm once you leave serials to self-publish in that your success /sales depends on other factors even more beyond your control. Some examples of successful transitions include Drew Hayes' superhero series. He's still going with it but strong sales on Amazon /elsewhere began to push a lot of traffic back to his website. (I know because I used to play with advertising on it despite the mismatch of genre and look a lot at his sources.) He left work to write full-time and is doing a mix of serials and other books.


Colleen Vanderlinden had a very quiet serial experience but once "Hidden" became an ebook it took off (in urban fantasy/romance). She did not continue as a serial but continued her works as a series. She's doing very well-- she hit the top 50 or top 10 on some of her books in Amazon which in a popular genre has a huge impact on visibility and sales.


My experience-- totally quiet. But fantasy is a crowded field and one that is tough on indies. I think once I'm done writing this series (or need a break) I'm going to write a bit outside this genre and experiment with Amazon.


Nick Bryan: He just did a guest column for me on "Life after the serial" as well as part of his book launch tour. He was really receptive to my questions, so I'm sure once he's done with this tour you might be able to hit him up on his website or twitter to talk about his experiences.


https://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/guest-post-by-nick-bryan-life-after-the-serial/


I put a small ebook up on Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital two years ago. It didn't sell anything because I didn't really promote it at all, and self-pub books don't sell online by themselves unless they're porn with a ton of well-trafficked meta tagging. It was mostly as a test and to show myself I could do it. It was a pretty good experience.


Amazon Kindle was completely painless. A little extra formatting to my manuscript in the form of breaks, and then uploading a cover, and you're basically good to go. Kindle makes its own Mobi file perfectly as long as you format your word document correctly and they have a very easy-to-follow guide for this. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Smashwords is such a pain. I hated having to read their 50 page guide on how to format a book, and then I hated having to format it, and then I hated the result. It looks a lot less clean than a Kindle mobi does on my readers, but it does have the benefit of supporting every text format ever I guess.


Draft2Digital is a lot like Kindle in terms of formatting and ease of publishing. I got my book up in like an hour, but it was small so of course that factors in. Very painless, serves a lot of outlets, constant communication and great service.


For the first book of The Solstice War I'm planning on avoiding Smashwords altogether, as I have to deal with 300,000 words this time and I don't have the heart to go through the meatgrinder on there again. I'll stick with Kindle and D2D. As pointed out, KDP Selects kind of scares me because I want to continue writing the Serial (the books are just a pretty, convenient option for people who want to pay and give back to me without joining my Patreon) alongside publishing the books once I have enough material.


I have e-published through Smashwords and Amazon's KDP. I found the experience the same with both, pretty much; Smashwords gives you access to a lot of distribution channels, including the major book outlets, libraries, and book subscription services, while Amazon has a larger, single footprint.


It's pretty easy to get your ebook formatted and converted (I prefer Smashwords's guide myself, as Amazon's information is badly put together and confusing in places). Both sites are easy to use when managing your books. Both offer similar functionality, such as putting a book up for pre-orders, though Amazon locks some features away behind the KDP Select banner.


I recommend being wary of Amazon's KDP Select program. The exclusivity requirement is troublesome and the rewards are questionable. With the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (Amazon's book subscription service), writers are finding their sales (and net income) going down.


If you come across the Kindle Scout program, I recommend that you stay away. Stay far, far away. It's a terrible deal for authors. (More info here: http://writer.apocalypseblog.com/amazon-vs-big-publishing-kindle-scout-motives-revealed/)


I'm writing a series of blog posts looking at Amazon's activities and offerings. Hope you find it helpful! http://writer.apocalypseblog.com/amazon-is-not-your-friend/


The first link didn't work for me, but this one did: http://writer.apocalypseblog.com/amazon-vs-big-publishing-kindle-scout-motives-revealed/


Thanks for sharing this. I'm worried about the ebook market in 2-3 years, and if I could publish right now before the terms get any worse for Indies, I would. But I'm not anywhere near finished with my story.


I'm going to throw up a collection of my shorts I've been done with for a while and see what happens later tonight.


Ah, apologies, the forum included the closing parenthesis in the link. Glad you found it helpful!


Taulsn, if you're looking to publish shorts separately, some things to be aware of here: http://writer.apocalypseblog.com/amazon-enemy-of-the-short-story/


If you're looking to publish then in a single anthology/book, should be all fine. Whatever you choose to do, good luck!


Gyreworld (linked around here somewhere) just announced that after it finishes (and it seems to be wrapping up soon) , they are going to pull it from the website because they are going amazon Select.


Yeah, I'm not a big fan of that tactic, but if you absolutely must do KDP Select it's probably the safest course of action.


There's some movement lately about KDP Select that those thinking of joining should be aware of (if you're not already!). Authors are getting increasingly discontent now that the impacts of the Kindle Unlimited program are being felt. It has its pros and cons, and the true balance of these things has yet to be discovered; it's very early in the KU game. But patterns are starting to emerge.


I haven't written a post up myself yet (it's on my list), but here are some links for info:

http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/12/is-kindle-unlimited-devaluing-books.html

http://the-digital-reader.com/2014/12/01/author-discontent-grows-kindle-unlimited-enters-fifth-month/


That's the most recent stuff I could find. YMMV, of course.


Hmmm. Is it possible to opt out of Kindle Unlimited by avoiding KDP select?


Yes. Admission into KU requires being part of the Select program. If you go regular KDP (non-Select), your books won't (can't) be included in KU, and there is no exclusivity requirement, so you can sell your books everywhere (and have your serial up online).


I don't think you can be part of KDP Select AND opt out of KU, though. I believe that inclusion is automatic. I haven't enrolled in the Select program, though, so someone else might be able to give more insight.


Yeah, if you're in KDP Select you're automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. There is no opt-out.


I'm enrolled in Select. We shall see soon what the payout, if any, rate is. While there are a lot of points that could dissuade people, I would rather try it, see where I stand, then make an informed decision based on my own experiences. Selling books is unlike selling other products in a lot of ways, so each authors experiences will be different.

We shall see what comes out of it.