Welcome to this week’s Workshop Wednesday where indie author Patrick O’Duffy is generously sharing his expertise to help you self publish an ebook. Self publishing is a fabulous option for established authors who can’t sell a particular project, or who want to self-publish their backlist, as they already have a readership who are likely to buy their ebooks. It’s also a great option for unpublished authors who don’t want to go the tradition route, or who haven’t been able to find a publisher or an agent (although they would need to do more work in marketing to create a readership for themselves).
Firstly, here’s a little about our guest today: Patrick O’Duffy is tall, Australian and a professional editor, although not always in that order. He has written role-playing games, short fiction, a little journalism and freelance non-fiction, and is currently working on a novel, although frankly not working hard enough. He loves off-kilter fiction, Batman comics and his wife, and finds this whole writing-about-yourself-in-the-third-person thing difficult to take seriously. And the blurb of his novel The Obituarist (which I’ve read and loved!): Kendall Barber is a social media undertaker with a shady past who’s returned to the equally shady city of Port Virtue. Now a new client brings with her a host of dangers, just as Kendall’s past begins to catch up with him. Can he get to the bottom of things before it’s too late, or will he end up as dead as his usual subjects?
I can highly recommend The Obituarist (and I’m not a crime reader!). It was sharp and funny and had great twists. Do buy it. So without further ado I’ll introduce Patrick and let him fill you in on how you can publish your own ebooks.
Patrick O’Duffy: I’m writing this blog post from Nanuya, a Fijian island four hours north of Nadi. The water is crystal blue, the sky limitless, the beer cold and the sand warm.
I’m not saying this to rub it in that I’m having a good time, but to say that even this far from the rest of the world, and armed only with a tiny laptop and a little internet access, I could still self-publish an ebook and put it up online for sale in less than five minutes.
It’s not difficult. You can practically do it while snorkelling. Or at least just beforehand.
Self-publishing (or ‘indie publishing’) in ebook form is rapidly outpacing traditional print publishing. Success stories like Amanda Hocking and EL James have become bestsellers with their independent ebooks, and tens of thousands of other authors have also put their own work straight onto virtual shelves.
How do you do it – and how do you do a good job of it? It’s a process I’ve tackled several times now with my books Hotel Flamingo, Godheads and now The Obituarist, and I’ve learned a couple of things that I hope others will find useful.
Where to do it
The number one source of indie ebooks on the planet is Amazon, via their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) operation. KDP allows you to create an ebook and list it alongside titles from major publishers in the world’s largest and best-known online bookstore. The drawback, of course, is that Amazon only creates and sells ebooks for the Kindle, with no provision for other file formats – so readers with Nooks, Kobos and other devices need to look elsewhere.
The other major outlet is Smashwords, a site devoted solely to indie publishing. Not only does it create ebooks in all formats, it also acts as a distributor to other major ebook markets. That alone is enough to recommend it; publishing through them takes away 90% of the work of getting your ebook into online stores. On the downside, Smashwords lacks the market presence of Amazon, and the material they publish isn’t always as polished.
So which should you choose? Well, you shouldn’t – publish through both! It doesn’t take much more effort and time, and using both sites will get your work into every major ebook store.
How to do it
Start with your final, fully edited manuscript. Don’t skimp on the editing – the world is full of badly-written, completely unedited ebooks. Be better than that, and don’t be afraid to pay for a professional editor’s services. It’s worth it.
Next, check the formatting of your Word file to make sure that it fits the guidelines of the website. And it should be a Word file, not another file format; the conversion software will either reject a different format or convert it in strange and horrible ways.
You also need a cover, and it’s worth paying a designer to create one for you rather than make it yourself. It should be a high-resolution JPG in a 6 x 9 format, and it should be readable in both colour and e-reader greyscale.
Once you’ve done all that, just create free accounts on the sites of your choice, upload the file and start the conversion. You should have an ebook minutes later!
What to do next
The first thing is to check the ebook for conversion errors, which are almost inevitable. The conversion software may introduce errors like line breaks, font changes and random italics. Fix these up and upload the corrected version, and be prepared to do this a couple of times until it’s right. These errors won’t stop people from buying your book, but they might stop them from buying your next book.
You should also determine a price for your ebook. Most indie ebooks cost between 99 cents and $4.99; look at what books of similar length and genre sell for as a guideline. You don’t want to overcharge for your book, but you also don’t want to undercharge; readers often assume that very cheap books are that price because they’re not worth anything.
Finally comes the hardest part – finding your audience and promoting your ebook to them. There are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of indie ebooks on the market, and you need to let readers know that yours exists and is worth reading. Most authors do this through social media sites such as Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter, all of which are essential tools, as are word-of-mouth, personal blogs and good reviews from satisfied readers. Self-promotion is a never-ending job for an indie author, but the important thing is to avoid boring or annoying readers with repetition or constant calls for attention.
And then it’s time to write another book. And another. Keep improving your craft, keep developing your skills, stay focused on writing the best books you can and putting them out for your audience. Because if you write well, if you try hard and you genuinely engage with your readers, they’ll keep reading your ebooks – ebooks that you’ll find are easy to produce for them.
Go on. Give it a try. Give it your absolute best shot. And see what happens.
Louise: Thanks so much for that Patrick! Invaluable advice. If anyone has questions for Patrick, or comments on your own experiences as an indie publisher, please post that as a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
I have a new blog with information for my readers at www.louisecusack.com. My Shadow Through Time fantasy trilogy is being re-released this month as eBooks by Pan Macmillan and I’ve blogged on the amazing journey the series has had in the ten years since it was first print published by Simon & Schuster Australia and selected by the Doubleday Book Club as their Editor’s Choice.
If you’re a lover of “romantic adventures in lost worlds” then I invite you to explore the new website and consider subscribing to my blog there.
I was chatting to a girlfriend this morning about authenticity, and we were discussing the challenge of sifting through recommendations on the internet when you’re looking to buy a product. Some are obviously written by genuine customers giving their honest opinion, but some look so effusive you have to wonder if the person or company who’s selling the product has snuck in and posted it themselves, then maybe gone to their opposition’s product and posted a bad review! But wait, it gets worse than that. My girlfriend told me there are people called Reputation Specialists who are paid to go around the internet posting good reviews and comments about their clients.
I mean, really?
For politicians, sure. They need all the spin they can buy. But do businesses and celebrities need to pay someone to blow wind up our (collective) skirts? Whatever happened to earning respect and letting your actions speak for themselves? Colour me naive, but authenticity means something to me. And I have to admit that as a new author I imagined all I needed to do to sell billions of books was write good ones.
Then a little over twelve months ago it became apparent that I also needed to rack up quality time on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+ and blogging, because authors are encouraged by their publishers to be ‘visible’ across social networking platforms. And it’s actually beneficial on a couple of levels. Writing is a solitary profession, so social networking helps me feel like part of the online community, plus it keeps my writing muscles toned in short bursts. But after the discussion with my girlfriend this morning, I had to wonder if all my comments and conversations online were also creating ‘spin’?
While I’m blogging and tweeting, am I the authentic ‘Louise’ online that my family and friends know and love, or am I projecting an image – Louise The Author? And if so, is that okay? Is it fine to censor out the occasionally grumpy Louise, the silly Louise, and the overtired-and-might-say-something-she’d-regret Louise? Or should I let those parts of me have just as much social networking time as the rest?
Is self-censorship really just spin-by-omission?
Or are the things we post on our Facebook pages a product in themselves that we tailor to fit the readership, hoping they’ll attract people to our writing? And if so, is that a bad thing? Is it possible to be authentic and offer only part of yourself to the public?
If your answer to that is “Yes,” then I’d like to ask you why we bother to be authentic at all? Why not just create a persona and project that?
I have no answers to these questions. On a good day I try to be just me, like I am today, some insights, some confusion, lots of hope. On other days I don’t think the ‘me’ I’m feeling is good enough to be out in public, so I censor. It’s an imperfect method, but perhaps within that framework I really am being authentic.
Or maybe I’m deluding myself. Would love to hear others comments on this.
A recent Publishers Weekly article on enhanced eBooks for children has got me thinking about the whole concept of eBooks which might feature “original music; the story is read by the author and, much like all of these apps, the illustrations—all based on the artwork in the print titles—on each screen can be manipulated to make sounds or animated with the touch of a finger.”
Now these particular eBooks are designed for children and will likely encourage very young readers to keep at it until they understand how to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. As well as the added features: “All releases will feature dedicated Web sites, interactive games, read-along functionality, animation and many other in-app activities for the young reader. Adam Royce, v-p, digital content development at Penguin Young Readers, said the apps offered an “enhanced reading experience and interactive features that are true to the reading experience.”
I take issue with that last phrase, and you’ll see why below, but I’m not so much worried about what’s happening for very young readers, I’m worried that these new developments will bleed into adult fiction where publishers are already looking at “enhanced reading experiences”.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m reading (print book or eBook device) at some point I stop being in this world and I get into “the zone” where I don’t even remember I’m lying on the lounge any more because I am the character and I’m living the story. Inevitably something happens to plop me out of the story and then I remember it’s ‘just a book’ but prior to that I was somewhere else, in the land of the story, using my imagination to hear wind whispering through trees or see sunlight sparkling off water or smell the salt tang of the ocean. And in fact, if I’d had to stop reading to experience someone else’s idea of what that sunlight looks like or what that ocean smells like, I’d immediately plop out of the story and remember that it wasn’t real.
Now I don’t know about you, but I never wanted that to happen when I was a kid. I was desperate to stay in the story (Alice in Wonderland, Magic Faraway Tree, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie), for the characters to be real, and for the magical settings to be somewhere I could inhabit for as long as possible. I’m sure the same thing happened to kids reading Harry Potter, and I know for sure (because I interviewed a heap of them) that teenager girls reading Twilight lived so thoroughly inside that created world that they’d often get mildly depressed when they returned to ‘real life’ because it couldn’t compare with the sparkle of Edward’s attention. For the period that they were reading, they were Bella, and he loved them. I seriously doubt that would have happened if Twilight had come packaged with werewolf howls and assorted interactive buttons. Maybe as an audiobook, but even then I doubt it would work as well as simply reading the text and letting your own vivid imagination create the sensory experience, with nothing to jerk you out of the story and back to reality.
To me, there’s nothing “true to the reading experience” about adding anything that distracts the reader from being inside the story, because I believe the reader’s imagination is the greatest factor in bringing a story to life – not clever graphics or sounds or even smells and tactile experiences when they work out how to deliver that. And I’m not a Luddite. I’m more than happy for eBooks to overtake print if people want to read on a device. Whatever the reader wants, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of them dropping into the world I’ve created. And I believe “added features” get in the way, so I’m hoping they stay at the very youngest end of the market where they may entice a bored toddler to keep with a story. But once a reader grows up, I really just want them to have text on the first run through.
I do love the idea of the dedicated websites with extra features on them, but only to be used after the reader has finished creating the story inside their own mind. Otherwise we might end up with a generation of children not being able to use their imaginations to fully create the world a writer has sketched out for them. I’m worried about what that means to their enjoyment of story, and also what that means to the creative development of their brains.
As always, I’m really happy to kick start the discussion with my opinions and see what everyone else has to say!
Yesterday was National Bookstore Day in Australia, and like a lot of authors around the country I turned up at my local bookstore to say “Thanks for selling our books.” My Dymocks here in Bundaberg were particularly pleased because I came bearing chocolate mud cake, but the more important message was that authors care. With the demise of bookstore chains and the pressure from eBook sales (which continue to soar) there’s a lot of gloom and doom surrounding the future of bookstores. There’s also a lot of talk among writers about how that affects us, and to be honest, from what I’ve heard recently at the Romance Writers of Australia conference from #NYT best selling authors, print publishers and eBook publishers, they all say the same thing: authors who write a good story will be fine. The format for delivery of our stories is changing, but the demand for good stories remains strong, and whether the format is print books or eBooks, we’ll still make money.
So that’s the writers side of the equation, but from a readers perspective things have a different slant, and as we writers need to understand our audience (and most writers are readers too), this bears looking at. You’d have to be deep in first draft to have missed the wave of grief (and outrage in some quarters) at the idea that print books may soon become as challenging to buy as an LP record. I doubt that will happen, but if it does, those readers who perceive the world in a tactile/kinaesthetic way – myself included – will be the hardest hit.
The loss of a container for story which I can hold and caress (a book) will upset many of the rituals I have around reading that give me such pleasure. I do understand that eReaders are super efficient and freely admit I use one myself on occasion. Their publicity was true in my experience – as soon as I drop into the story I completely forget that I’m holding a machine in my hands instead of a book. I’m “in” the story and the format for delivery is no longer important. I even have Kindle for mobile on my smartphone so if I get stuck waiting somewhere I’ve got something to read. They do have their place and I’m not denying that.
But being “in” the story isn’t the only pleasure I get out of reading. Anticipation of the reading experience is important to me too, the same way anticipating catching up with an old friend for coffee (or a new man for dinner) can create excitement and pleasure long before the actual meeting takes place. I’m also not ashamed to admit I feel happy just standing in front of my bookcase looking at all the multicoloured spines, remembering the thrill each book has given me. Plus, I adore covers! There’s nothing nicer than revisiting a great cover and remembering the characters and the world that author created. Even reading a back cover blurb can evoke a spurt of happy memories.
Then there’s the coffee table beside my lounge where I sit when I’m on a writing break. I always have a couple of books on the go, and they sit there with their enticing covers, waiting for me to come back, feeding that delicious anticipation every time I glance their way.
And don’t get me started on the smell! There is nothing more fabulous than the scent that drifts up as you open a new book for the first time. And as the paper ages the scent changes, the same way a baby’s milky-sweet scent gives way to the school-lunchbox smells of ‘children’ and the musky hormones of a teenager. Books grow. For those of us who adore books, they can be even more potent a thrill-trigger than the smell of the first-picked strawberry of the season, or that first sniff of the ocean when your car reaches the esplanade. The pleasure pathways in my brain that are triggered by the scent of books lie dormant when I use an eReader, and to say that’s disappointing would be an understatement.
Reading should be an experience that’s rich with the texture and tradition of pleasure. And I ‘get’ that we’re living in a fast paced world, but when the pendulum swings too far towards rat-on-a-wheel, you end up with rebellions like the Slow Food Movement that send you back to savouring the process of what comes before you eat the meal. I’m sure there will always be a market for printed books, but I’m less certain that I’ll be able to drive down the road and walk into a book store if Amazon and the Book Depository keep snagging all the trade.
So if you’re a reader like me who loves the sensual experience of a printed book “to have and to hold”, act now before it’s too late. Go into your local bookstore, introduce yourself (particularly if you’re a writer) and buy your books there. I’m sure they’d be happy to order in anything they don’t currently stock. I’ve recently become hooked into the completely addictive YA series by Kelly Armstrong that starts with Bitten, and was delighted to find book two on their shelves when I went in with my mudcake. So I bought it! Easy, and now it’s sitting on the coffee table saying “Read me! Read me!” every time I walk past.
And I love that too. More than I can say.