Self Publishing My Fantasy Novel, Iron Magic, on Amazon Kindle.
My Experience With Amazon
Over the course of the last ten years I played around with writing a fantasy novel. I finally finished it and got my kids to read it, and they said it was pretty good. They got a few of their friends to read it too, and again reviews were favorable. I titled it 'Iron Magic'.
I cleaned it up and flogged it about to various agents and publishers. It got a few bites, including a long second look by my dream publisher, but no takers. That got boring real quick, so I decided to put it up on Amazon myself. I sold about 300 copies in the first month.
This involved learning a whole new set of skills. I can do my own proofreading, but I had never tried laying out a whole book before. Fortunately, Amazon itself has some novice-level guides that walk you through the process, one baby step at a time.
Not being particularly computer savvy, it took me months of on-again off-again efforts to figure out how to format the basic manuscript for the Kindle.
I spent many hours formatting the text, chapters and chapter headings to look nice, only to find that by following Amazon's own instruction guide, most of that labor proved wasted once it was downloaded to the Kindle. The text looks fine, but the chapter headings look blocky and unpretty. The pages following the title page, copyright etc, also did not format cleanly, so the first few pages look unprofessional. If you go the Amazon website, you can look inside the book and see exactly what I mean. I can't post a link here due to the rules on self-promotion, but just go to Amazon.com and search on the title.
I also spent a few hours figuring out how to make a nice, functional table of contents with hot links for each chapter. Unfortunately, when downloaded into Kindle format, it comes out as one long column of links, and takes up almost three whole pages. Have not yet figured out how to fix this, or if it is even possible. i suppose it must be, because I can hardly imagine that experienced, professional authors, whose bread and butter comes from their books, would put up with this.
So, as soon as I can break free a few hours of time, from a full time job, school and prep for my big entrance exam, I will have to go back in and revamp it all and attempt to make everything look good again, as it does in the manuscript.
Original Cover Art
Creating a Good Cover
I was at a loss on what to do about cover art. I am not artistic, and could not afford the hundreds of dollars original artwork would cost. So I spent a few more hours browsing various websites for free art. Most of it is cr@p. I eventually came across the picture above, and was immediately captivated. It captures the 'look' I had intended for my main character better than I had imagined in my own head!
So, I tracked down the original artist and asked his permission to use it. Now, just looking at the caption you can see that it says 'Creative Commons' so I could have legally just grabbed it and used it. That simply felt wrong. He is giving it away free, and I am planning to make money off of it. I got his permission to use it, and paid him a small fee.
But compare the two pictures above. A book cover for the Kindle has to be in a specific format and size. Plus, I had to add the title and author's name, and get rid of the caption it already had. I knew nothing whatsoever about manipulating art, and I can't afford anything like Photoshop. Internet and Google to the rescue.
I Googled such topics as 'creating a book cover for amazon' and several similar phrases. I read what other indie authors wrote. I read Amazon's own guides. Finally I settled on Paint.net as a program that was first, free, and second, within my possible skill set. It takes about ten minutes to download, on my fairly slow connection.
So, I sat my sixteen-year-old daughter down and together we played around with it until we could figure out how to resize the original pic, add layers to get the boxes for the title and byline, manipulate the color-scheme and suchlike.
The end result was what you see in the picture in the top right. Petty darn good cover for a Fantasy/SF novel, if I do say so myself.
Now that I know what I am getting into, I could format a manuscript and put together a good cover in a day or two. The skills are not terribly hard to use, once over the that first hump of a learning curve. The number one thing I would do to save myself trouble would be to write the original manuscript already well-formatted.
I have not solved the problem of getting good cover art without spending either lots of time, or lots of money. I would be happy to hear suggestions on this. I have another novel about three-quarters of the way done, and a third book just starting out, so with any luck, I'll need to go through this all again.
On the other hand, it is not nearly as simple and easy as Amazon tries to make it sound. When I first went to Amazon Kindlestart page, signed in and started reading, they made it sound like I could get everything done just by wishing hard. I still had a long way to go.
Eventually I am going to take my first effort down and rebuild it so it looks great. Now, it is all too obviously an amateur work, just because some of the formatting is off on the first few pages. Also, I followed the Amazon guides for most of the work, and to be blunt, while they did give me a passable product, they didn't give me a great product. You have to go outside of what Amazon teaches.
Iron Magic has now been for sale on Amazon for a year and a half. It has garnered nine 5-star reviews, four 4-star reviews, and two people just hated it and gave it 1-star. I am very happy with this result. It has sold about a thousand copies, very good for an indie novel from an unknown writer.