Hello everyone, today we have something special a guest post by an amazing historic fiction writer Robin Ingle. This post revolves around her experiences with digital publishing. We’ve exchanged guest posts and last night my post, “The Writer’s Battle for Publication” went live on her lovely blog Subsequent Chapters.
Robin Ingle writes about Vikings and other inhabitants of the early middle ages. Her short story, Tyrker’s Tale, is available on Amazon. She is working on a novel. Read her blog, Subsequent Chapters or follow her on Twitter @Robin_Ingle.
Today, I’m going to talk about my journey in the digital publishing world. I recently published my short story,
Tyrker’s Tale, on Amazon for the Kindle. The “book” (as Amazon calls it) has done reasonably well, I think, for a first venture into digital publishing by an unknown author. On one day last month, during a promotion in which the story was free, it ranked eighteenth on Amazon’s list of free short stories for Kindle.
I was pleased and excited when Damian asked me to guest blog on The Gray Pen. Damian and I share a love of writing as well as writing about writing on our blogs. However, we differ in how we have chosen to get our work in our respective readers’ hands. Damian has written a guest post on traditional publishing that appears today on my blog, Subsequent Chapters.
First, let me share with you a little about my own work. Tyrker’s Tale is the first of a series of short stories I will make available on Amazon, collectively called “The World’s Edge Series.” Each short story in the series developed from a sketch of a character in my in-progress novel, At World’s Edge. The novel is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl living in tenth-century Greenland, who grows to adulthood as the foster sister of Leif Eirikson.
Although I’ve been a writer all of my life, this is my first serious attempt at a novel. I’ve noticed that I write about twice as many words as will end up in the final product. That seemed inefficient to me, so I sought a way to make those extra words more productive. Hence, the short stories
I published Tyrker’s Tale on Amazon through the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program because I wanted to get it in front of readers without waiting for the traditional publishing process, which can take up to a year. By the time a magazine accepts and publishes a story, I could be marketing my completed novel to traditional book publishers — at which point I would like to be able to demonstrate that I already have a following of readers.
KDP allows the author to take control of the publishing process, from manuscript to point-of-sale. However, some people think the process requires technical knowledge – a belief I intend to challenge in this post.
There are three main aspects of digital publishing that I learned about in publishing Tyrker’s Tale. I’ll cover each in the order I encountered them. (Note: one aspect I am not covering is the editing of the manuscript. This discussion focuses only on the publishing process after the manuscript is ready.)
Formatting and Conversion
Conversion of a manuscript to Kindle format is not difficult, even if you don’t consider yourself to be technologically advanced. Amazon’s interface for publishers is very easy to follow, and they have a manual (to which you will be privy once you sign up as a publisher) that explains how to format your text to their liking. Amazon also offers a video on the process. I admit that I have a bit of technical knowledge, but anyone with the rudimentary skills necessary for using Microsoft Word or another word processing program can get the hang of it very quickly.
I had it even easier than most. Novels require more formatting than short stories, because they typically have a table of contents. Once I formatted the manuscript, I saved it as an HTML document, uploaded it using Amazon’s interface, and Amazon automatically converted it to the format they need for publication. I was also able to view the results in an online previewer, as well as in my Kindle for PC software.
There are companies who advertise that they do Kindle formatting and conversion for authors, and they will happily charge you for this service. If you’ve ever created a Word document, don’t waste your money on this sort of thing unless you have a manuscript that involves a great deal of formatting (images, a lengthy or complicated table of contents, or other involved things).
Most Kindle books (and short stories) have a nice looking cover, and this can have a big effect on sales. I’ve discovered that people really do judge a book by its cover!
But I’m a writer, not an artist. I accept that one of my limitations is the inability to draw anything but stick figures. And I have never taken the time to learn much about digital art. I’d rather be writing.
I’m fortunate to have a family member who is a graphic designer. She designed the cover of Tyrker’s Tale. All she had to do was send me the cover image in JPEG format, and I was able to upload it to the Amazon interface. I now believe, with her example, that I can design the covers for the rest of the series on my own. I know a number of authors who design their own covers. One such is Addley Fannin, author of the short story, Ala ad-Din. Many authors and graphic designers use an inexpensive image licensing service such as Dreamstime or Shutterstock to get images for their covers.
If you aren’t a visual artist and don’t know anyone who is, you can still obtain a very attractive cover by using a freelance graphic designer. Some hang out on Twitter using the hashtag #bookcovers. I’ve encountered prices ranging from $50 by a freelance artist to $300 by a company that offers a range of digital publishing services. Like many things in the digital publishing world, the price of a cover is not necessarily correlated with quality.
One of the greatest challenges of digital publishing is marketing. When I put my short story on Amazon, I knew that in order to get it into readers’ hands, I would have to market aggressively. I would have no traditional publishing company setting up a book tour for me or asking critics for newspaper reviews.
My objective in publishing Tyrker’s Tale was not to make money. As nice as it would be to make a mint off of five thousand words or so, I had no delusions that many people would pay to read a strangely named story by an unknown writer. My objective was exposure – I wanted to get the story into readers’ hands so that they would want the next story I write, and the next one, and so on, until I had them salivating for the release of At World’s Edge.
Because of this, I wanted to have Amazon give it away for free. Sadly, their terms don’t allow for this. But Amazon said if I would agree to include the story in their Kindle Select Program, I would have the opportunity to designate five days in three months on which the story can be priced at $0.00. Outside of those five days, it’s 99 cents.
I happily agreed to this, since it also includes my book in the Amazon Lending Library, through which Kindle owners may “check-out” a book for free. As far as I am concerned, more readers are better than fewer readers. The Kindle Select Program also requires an author to give Amazon an exclusive on the story for those first three months. I had no problem with this stipulation, given the popularity of the Kindle over other e-readers.
I designated a three-day period shortly after the story’s release as free promotional days, and saved the other two for later. I made sure to blog about the promo period in advance. I also tweeted about the promotion aggressively during the promotion. I thought that most of my buyers would come from Twitter, but I was wrong. Only about one-third came from my Twitter efforts. The rest came from word of mouth and Amazon’s own promotional efforts, such as listing my story as a bestseller. I have also had a few readers who came from Goodreads, a social media site for readers.
All in all, I consider this first foray into the digital world a success. Tyrker’s Tale is now in the hands of hundreds of readers, and after a month of availability, I am hearing from some about how much they like it. It’s incredibly satisfying, and I know that I will build from here as I learn and write more.
If you have any questions about publishing for Kindle on Amazon, I’d be happy to try to answer them in the comments. It has been a good experience for me, and I’d love to see more authors take advantage of it.