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Publishing on the Kindle - Amazon DTP (part 2)

Sunday, 31 January 2010

As regular readers will know, I recently decided to investigate publishing some of my work on the Kindle. Prior to January 15th, this was something you just couldn't do outside the USA (without paying a third party). Now, the process is open to all. As I said on my previous post, I don't see this as an alternative to the traditional agent/publisher route for my novel(s). I'm simply republishing fiction that has been previously accepted by a paying magazine. Mainly just to see how well the process works.

I decided to publish an SF short story of mine called The Armageddon Machine. Actually you'd probably call it a novelette as it's getting on for 13,000 words. It was originally published in a magazine called Deep Magic. It's a deep-space, far-future story concerned with the imminent destruction of all space/time. Nothing like tackling those big themes! It had some pretty good reviews when it first appeared. Tangent, for example, called it :

"a masterful, compelling work, with deep themes underlying it that brush against life, eternity, and the meaning of existence."

So, how easy was it to publish on the Kindle? Actually, fantastically easy. Here's what you need to do.

Firstly, you need to sign in to the Amazon Digital Text Platform.  If you have a standard, Amazon customer account you can actually just use that. Once you're signed in you have to set up a bit of extra account information. This varies depending on where you are in the world. For me, here in the UK, I pretty much just had to enter my address.

Then you need to upload the text of your work and provide descriptive details : title, keywords, categories and so forth. The trickiest part I found was writing the blurb to sell the story and creating a cover image to go with it. An image isn't mandatory but I'm sure it's a really good idea : a reader browsing through screens of possible stories to download will tend to skip those that don't have a picture. A good picture, on the other hand, is a great way to grab someone's attention. In the end I purchased a suitable image from a stock photography web site, and edited it to add the title of the story and my name. This gave me a result I'm happy with.

I had to do a small amount of reformatting of the text of my story. The Amazon routines do a pretty good job of taking a Word file and converting it into Kindle format (which is actually just HTML, plain old web page format). But I found that the indentation was slightly wrong on very short paragraphs. However, this was easy to fix. You can download the generated HTML, edit it and re-upload it. If you're comfortable editing HTML it's straightforward. If you're not, it's not a big issue in my experience. The story as it was would have been good enough.

I elected not to enable DRM (digital rights management) on my story, which has the effect of making the story easier to pirate. But I'm OK with that. I tend to agree with Cory Doctorow on this : obscurity is a much bigger problem than piracy for most writers. As he puts it :

“Of all the people who didn’t buy one of my book’s today, the majority of them didn’t buy it because they never heard of me, not because someone gave them a free copy.”

Finally you need to set a "suggested selling price". The lowest price you can set is $0.99, so that's what I went for. You actually receive 35% of the sale price, although a new 70% scheme is currently being introduced (US only in the first instance). So, at $0.99 I'll receive about 35c for each purchase. Maybe 20p in UK money. Note that, strangely,  Amazon make their own decisions as to the price they'll actually sell for. What you enter is no more than a suggestion. When I first posted my work it appeared with a list price of $3.51, which came as something of a surprise. I assume that Amazon have automated routines that adjust prices according to how well things sell and that the price will fluctuate. After a few days, the list price did indeed drop down to $0.99. Then it went up to $4.69! I'll probably experiment with different suggested prices to see what works best over time but it's odd not having proper control over the price charged.

Note that the writer only receives 35% of their suggested price. If Amazon do choose to sell it for more, you don't earn more. Conversely, if they choose to sell it for less, you don't earn less.

Once everything is in place it's just a matter of clicking the publish button and waiting a day or two for your work to be accepted and made available to the 1.5 million Kindle owners to download. Easy. I found that some of the details of my work - particularly the blurb I had laboured over - took longer to appear than the rest. I presume there is some sort of manual vetting process involved. Note, also, that you can go back and change any of the details (apart from whether DRM is enabled) at any time and simply republish.

So, there it was. My story was available on the Amazon Kindle store. You can see the page for it here. There's no sign of it on the UK Amazon site, though, just the US one. I assume it will propagate out in time.

I then wanted to check that it all worked. The problem here is that I don't, I should admit, have a Kindle myself. Still, there is a way around this. Amazon also publish a virtual Kindle application for the PC, a free download that lets you emulate the device. I downloaded that and bought a copy of my own story, just to see what happened (thus, effectively, handing another $3 to Amazon's profits. I know, I know). Everything worked beautifully and I was able to read my story on my PC as if it was on a Kindle. Happy Days.

Of course, it's only then that the real battle begins. The ease of publishing like this means that there are a lot of Kindle books out there. At the time of writing there were over 400,000 in total. Just having a book up there doesn't mean anyone is going to pay to download it. Although, somewhat to my surprise, I found that people did start buying my story as soon as it had appeared, even before the description was there. Within a day I had five sales, placing the story at number 14,742 in the Kindle sales chart.

But that's just a start. The next task is to see what can be done to promote the story more widely. And that, my friends, since this has turned into quite a long post, is something I'll look into in the next part of this series.

Stay tuned!


  1. Fascinating! And congrats on those sales.

    Amazon are as slippery as a barrel of greased eels, but at least they provide a self-publishing route that might actually work.

    I think you were very wise to provide a cover, for all the reasons you give. And you know, I might download that virtual kindle and buy your story, just to try it all out.

    Out of interest, how do Amazon credit you for your sales? A single payment once you reach a certain threshold? Book tokens? Glass beads?

  2. Thomas,

    Sales are always good but you're welcome to a free copy if you like. Either way, feel free to comment on the story on the Amazon web site!

    As to payments, Amazon pay you automatically. When they do so depends on how they are paying you. For electronic payment, they pay once you have $10+ due. For non-electronic payments, they pay you once you have $100+ due. Here in the UK, the only option, currently, is non-electronic, quaint old cheque payment. So I'll have to wait until they owe me $100. Not sure what the position will be for France, but I suspect the same ...

  3. This is a fantastic experiment, Simon, and I am sure many are obliged to you for being so open and helpful about it - I certainly am.

    And YAY for sales already.

  4. Donna,

    Glad you're finding it helpful. I'm enjoying the experiment myself!

  5. W00t! Congrats on the sales!

  6. Hi

    Amazing! Well done you. And I can't believe there's a free download of a kindle-type application via amazon! And this download is really free?

    Are you able to print off/save in a usb stick to print off elsewhere once this download is complete and you buy an ebook? I'll have to investigate!

    Well done again!

    p.s malfunction... very good!

    Take care


  7. Old Kitty,

    Yes, the application download is definitely free. I suppose they want as many people as possible to but Kindle books. There's no save functionality built in, but behind the scenes, downloaded books appear to be just .prc files in your "My Kindle Content" folder. Just copying these files for reading on another machine might work. Or perhaps it depends on whether DRM is enabled.

  8. Congratulations. I'm impressed with people who embrace this new technology. You make it sound so easy. I keep trying the traditional route of agent and publisher, but maybe I should take the digital leap.

  9. Theresa,

    It genuinely is pretty easy. As to staying with the traditional route, I do agree with you and that's what I'm doing with my novel. But I see no reason not to try both routes with different pieces.


I'd love to know what you think.