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Kindle Direct Publishing and What I Learned in Eight Years
It’s been about eight years since I first published with Kindle Direct Publishing. In the beginning I tested the waters by publishing a couple of short stories. I learned quite a bit from that, mostly about formatting, about how my words and my cover image would look on the Kindle. Trial and error.
Then I compiled a short story collection, literary gold that was the product of university writing classes. Critiqued, workshopped, edited within an inch of its life, that body of work became a holiday gift for friends and family who had the capacity to receive ebooks.
Feeling confident, I decided to swim in the deep end of the pool. I had a novel I’d written back in the mid-90s. I dusted off the manuscript, scanned it as text to transform it into a Word document, and then did some editing. Long hours of grueling editing, actually.
Some glaring errors resulted from the scan; editing took a while. After a solid week of hard work, I was exhausted. Slept hard, then took the document and loaded it up on KDP. Then I put it on my Kindle and read happily along and then…Ugh! Horrid errors, mistakes, typos and usage problems.
So I edited again and published the new version, the second edition. Sales took off. Made enough for a payout from Amazon and I was thrilled. I was making money, as a writer! Then I took a serious look at the novel and decided that it needed an actual ending. It just kind of stopped, plot-wise.
As a literary work, it was complete. The focal character had made the journey from eager young fool to wise young man, thinking for himself and preparing for his future. But the plot of the book, the events, that story arc was a bit stumpy. So I added six chapters and then edited again, finding more than sixty glaring errors.
But by then the book had sold enough copies… it sold a lot. Enough to buy a used car if I wanted. I felt sad for all those readers who were stuck with an incomplete story full of typos. But no more, the book was cleaned up and finished. (There is a way for readers to email Amazon for a more recent edition, and I hope they all do that.)
I’d learned that a book had better be edited perfectly before it goes up on Amazon or anywhere else. That’s the most important advice I can give: edit!
That first novel grew into a series and sales continued to accelerate over time. Then I was visited by the ‘torpedo review’ fairies and my good name was besmirched and defamed all over the internet by a little gaggle of condescending harpies. Sales slumped. Eh, whatever.
Second most important advice: use a pen name. The pen name can help set the tone of the story. It appears on the cover of the book, just like the title. It should be congruent with the story. I switched to a pen name and no doubt caused a ripple of confusion for some readers, but I’m sure they’ll get over it.
I recently completed the series. Sales are not impressive at all. I’ll say the royalties are enough to cover my utility bills, or cover what I spend on gasoline, but not both. Some of the lack of paid sales probably has something to do with the target audience of my series. The series is military science fiction intended to entertain Soldiers in the military.
Soldiers are bold, adventurous risk-takers who wouldn't think twice about stripping DRM from an ebook and sending it to all their buds as an email attachment. Yep, I know the risks. Buncha joes will do things like that. Besides, many of them are not yet established well enough in life to have a credit card. (A credit card is necessary to purchase ebooks for Kindles.) I’m not upset about it and I do hope they enjoy the stories. Besides, who wants to make money off the joes anyway?
So now that I’m comfortable with self-publishing ebooks I’ll get started on a serious work with ponderous literary merit. The next Great American Novel.
Maybe it’ll be about some guy who goes around trying to stab a whale or something. Haven’t decided yet.