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Publishing on the Kindle - Amazon DTP (part 3)

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A quick recap : I've been investigating how easy it is to publish a work of fiction onto the Kindle. Partly out of technical interest and partly as an attempt to get up to speed with the world of e-readers, which I've so far ignored.

In Part 1 I explained that Amazon have recently opened up their Digital Text Platform (DTP) to the whole world, meaning that anyone can now publish their work for electronic delivery to the 1.5 million Kindle owners out there. In Part 2 I discovered that getting your work onto the Amazon site and thus onto the Kindle is actually very, very easy. An SF short story of mine, The Armageddon Machine, is up there now.

But wait a moment! Isn't this self-publishing? Run away!

Well, yes it is, and that's something I generally shun. I'm quite clear that, right now, the best approach to getting, say, a novel published is to find an agent who likes it enough to represent it to publishers. The Armageddon Machine, however, is a self-contained short story (technically a novelette) that has been previously published by an SF magazine, so I felt like it had already proved itself. I wasn't trying to find an agent for it. In effect, I saw publishing it on the Kindle as part of my attempts to platform-build - just as you could say writing stuff on a blog is. I'm not sure how far I'd go with this. If I'd written a novel that was looking for an agent it would clearly be madness to self-publish it. But what about a short story set in the same world or involving the same characters? Might that be a good candidate for e-publishing in an attempt to build up some interest in the novel? I'm not sure. What do you think?

Anyway, the story is out there, sitting alongside everything else that writers have chosen to publish. How do you go about getting people to actually pay to download it? Without the backing of a conventional publisher, what can you do to market the work?

As I said in my last post, and somewhat to my surprise, the story started selling without me doing anything. Not in vast numbers. Not enough for me to buy that beach-front property in the Bahamas quite yet, but some. Part of this, I'm sure, is to do with the way I posted the book onto DTP. I made sure I gave it an eye-catching cover and I also laboured long and hard over the blurb. I also had a good review of the story from it's previous incarnation in a magazine, so I quoted from that too.

You also get to categorize your story when you post it and I took great care over this. I imagine it was through this that some readers found my story. Anyone browsing through "SF short stories" available on the Kindle, for example, would find mine.

What you really need, though, is reviews. Hopefully good ones! The Amazon star system seems to me crucial in getting visibility on their site. So, if anyone wants a free copy of a "masterful, compelling" Golden Age SF story to review please do let me know. I was tempted to post the third-party review I already had of the story as an independent Amazon review, but that felt just a little close to cheating. In the end I settled for embedding a quote from the review in my description, properly attributed to the original reviewer.

I then looked into spreading the word about the story. There are forums on the Amazon site you can post to announce yourself and your work, which I did, although I have no way of knowing how useful this was. There is a lot of discussion on these boards and I dare so you could dive in and put a lot of work into engaging with the community and marketing yourself.

I also found quite a few third-party sites that deal with the Kindle, reviewing works and providing a place for Kindle users to find out about new stuff. Examples are Kindle News and Reviews, Red Adept's Kindle Book Review Blog and the Kindle Boards forums. I submitted or posted to each of these to see whether they had any effect. I'm sure you could use Google to find other, similar services. It seems to me you can put as much effort into all this as you feel like. The more you do, the more success you'll probably have, but there comes a point when it eats into that valuable writing time ...

So, after all this, how do I feel about self-publishing to the Kindle? If I had a new short story or a novel, would I take the traditional route of submitting it to magazines/agents/book publishers, or would I skip all that and just self-publish? I suppose everyone will have their own answer to this. For me, the traditional approach is certainly preferable. The kudos, encouragement and thrill of being published by someone with a discerning editorial policy far outweighs all the inevitable disappointments involved in taking this route. A great many self-published works are simply ignored - never bought, never read. A great many of them will be crap. But I am going to start paying more attention to the rights I'm selling/giving away with new works as I might want to have the option of e-publishing them myself at a later date. I think it's probably a good idea to try and keep your options open.

As a final note, I'm conscious that I've only covered the Kindle here and that there are other e-readers out there. All the Apple iWhatevers for a start. How easy is it to publish fiction for those? That, as they say, is a story for another time ...


  1. Hi Simon

    I'm currently about to read and review (yikes) the book fairyhedgehog started er.. hogging around.. "Ars Memoriam"?

    I'm not very good at reviewing to be honest - more like "wow, I love the book and didn't skip any paragraphs to get to the end..!" Pretty darned useless but hey, what you see is what you get..!) I'd really much rather read paper copy than on screen (my eyes, my beautiful eyes...!). But I'll have a go.

    I'll tell you how I get on with downloading kindle first though!

    Take care

  2. Hi Old Kitty,

    That's great, thanks! When you're ready for a copy let me know. I can just email it you in any preferred format.


  3. I'll happily read and review this, Simon. I thought about buying it and downloading the Kindle app, but frankly the knowledge that almost all of even a small amount goes to Amazon bothers me. I'm pretty much anti Amazon at the moment.

    I've been wondering about using short stories to promote a novel, and the e-book route might be a good way to do it (although Kindle readers might expect to find your novel in digital format). I suppose it's a bit like a variation on the use of a main character as a 'guest blogger'. Anyway, I can't see how it could hurt, as long as it's new material.

    Why not put a permanet link to your e-publication on your blog?

  4. How easy was it to get your story on Kindle? Did you just send them a pdf or did you have to get it typeset in a particular way?

  5. Thomas,

    I understand about Amazon, I really do. The post was quite long already, though, so I deliberately avoided the whole controversy about Amazon's power and attitude, which others have covered very well. As a balance, the story is available on other electronic platforms too now - something I'll post about soon.

    A permamanent link would be a good idea; I hadn't thought of that.

    I'll bung you over a copy of the story shall I? Be frank!

  6. Karen,

    It was easy. From the DTP web site you just upload your file. They prefer Word, HTML or PRC (whatever that is) but can handle other formats too like PDF. I basically had to do very little formatting - just uploaded the Word file I already had. As I said on my post, I did a a little work on the generated HTML, but not a lot. There's a <a href='>good resource</a> on the Amazon site if you need help with the formatting.

    Give it a go! You can always preview what you end up with and edit/retry before you publish ...

  7. Yes, please!

    Sorry, Simon -- my last comment makes me sound like an old maid. Put it down to lack of coffee.

  8. Thomas,

    Nothing wrong with old maids! I'll email a copy to you.

    Many thanks.


  9. I prefer the old style bound paperpages. Just an old fashion girl, I guess. Something soothing about turning the page. Having said that, I fly home about twice a year and with all the new baggage restrictions, I have been investigating a Kindle.

    I have never done a book review. Would love to give it a try though.

  10. Hi Ann,

    Actually me too! Much prefer paper. But perhaps the next generation of readers won't?

    If you're interested in reviewing my SF story then I would, of course, be absolutely delighted. Entirely your choice, of course, but you can email me via my main web site if you like and I can send you a review copy. The sanctity of your email address is guaranteed!


I'd love to know what you think.