Monday, January 18, 2016
Kindle Direct Publishing - My Experience
In case anyone else is curious about Amazon and their self-publishing program Kindle Direct Publishing, here are a few thoughts. Most of this is information I wish I knew before I began work on my novel.
Download the free ebook Building Your Book for Kindle. It offers some practical advice on how to prepare your book for Amazon, including detailed Word tutorials.
Word formatting is the devil. How your book appears onscreen in Word is not any indication whatsoever on how it will look on a tablet. The worst offender would be the Tab key. Kindle Direct Publishing hates indents. Just avoid them. I realize that there's a specific way to set indents in Word to appease Amazon, but it's a needlessly complicated process. Just train yourself not to press the Tab key. I had a hard time with this one, because I wanted my novel to be formatted like a traditional "real book" and couldn't conceive of leaving out the indents. One quick look at that e-reader preview page changed my mind. Format your book block style -- no indents, just double-space in-between paragraphs. This is more readable on most tablets anyway, and it saves you a needless formatting headache.
If you've already used Tab, the indents are easy to fix. Just do a ctrl+F for the indent symbol, and replace it with absolutely nothing. Word will find every Tab you've created and replace it with a blank space. Highlight the document and set the line spacing to 10 after each paragraph mark and you're now working in block style.
Regardless of what Amazon tells you, you want an HTML file. This is the easiest format to upload, and it can actually be the easiest to fix a simple problem. And it doesn't require any fancy programs, just Notepad. HTML simply looks the best on a tablet; you can try a .docx file or some of the others, but on at least one e-reader format, your book's going to look awful.
Google Docs is not your friend. I've used Google Docs for years (almost every post on this site is probably still saved on there), but it was essentially useless for me when it came to formatting. Google Docs does allow you to save as an HTML file, but it looks terrible on an actual tablet format. Stick to saving as HTML in either Word (webpage, filtered) or in simple ol' Notepad.
Word's obsessed with 11-point calibari-or-whatever. I have no idea why the default in Word is no longer 12-point Times, the font sane individuals use, but keeping the formatting consistent after copying and pasting to different documents (I saved each chapter as a separate Word file while writing) was simply irritating. Make sure you paste in the Merge Formatting style.
You don't need Word. Okay, maybe it doesn't hurt to use Word, and it's a better option than Google Docs, but the only real usefulness in Word is creating a Table of Contents, which Amazon seems to think is vitally important in e-books. I disagree -- I've never used the Table of Contents while reading a fiction ebook; the tablet automatically saves your place, and it's easy to bookmark anyway. Why would I open a book and just click ahead to chapter seventeen? I included a Table of Contents in my book anyway, assuming someone must use them, but it's one of the few useful things I did in Word.
If you have very basic HTML knowledge, you can type your novel in Notepad. Saving in the HTML format in Notepad is darned easy...you simply save it with the HTML extension and make sure it's ANSI encoded. If you're almost ready to publish your book and you've noticed something that needs to be changed, a quick edit in Notepad is likely all you'll need. You can read a quick tutorial on editing in HTML here. For example, after a frustrating session in Word (what I thought would be my last edit, creating the Table of Contents page), I accidentally removed most of the special formatting in my book. I manually fixed all of the sections, I thought, but I noticed after I published the book that this line: I’m down for holding your head underwater and choking the life out of you wasn't in italics. Since that's someone's thoughts and it could easily disrupt the flow of the scene, it needs to be in italics. I fixed it by opening the source file in Notepad and using basic HTML to put that line in italics, as it existed before Word decided to ruin my life. (Actually, I found a few minor things to fix while going through the e-reader previewer. Email me and I'll send you the latest version of the book.)
Formatting changes with each e-reader. Amazon allows you to preview how your book reads on every current e-reader device. Even phones. Some tablets, such as the iPad, seem to add indents even if you didn't create them, which is slightly annoying, but I've found that uploading a basic HTML doc will give you a more consistent, and professional-looking book across the platforms.
You can edit your book after it's published. You can read the instructions here. As I mentioned earlier, I would suggest editing in Notepad and saving as an HTML file.
Amazon doesn't own your book. You can publish your book anywhere you want, unless you want to place the book on Kindle Unlimited. This will enable KU subscribers to read your book for free for a set number of weeks; after that, you can publish the book on any site you'd like.
Let people read it for free. Just my advice, but if you're an unknown author, allowing people to read your book for free for the first few weeks it's out is a smart move. This, hopefully, will bring more attention to the book, and increase your chances of getting good reviews.
Some of this advice might seem blindingly obvious to you, but like I said, it's info I wish I had while writing the book. Heck, for all I know, the self-publishing on Amazon fad might already be over. I hope not, though. I'm already in the early stages of my next novel, and using what I've learned, I think I can avoid some problems in the future.
Okay, I'll plug my book again. You can download the novel that taught me these invaluable lessons by clicking here.