How to Double Your Entry-Level Self-Publishing Learning Curve… In About an Hour

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by Larry Brooks on April 7, 2011

Here’s a dirty little secret for you.  Successful bloggers aren’t necessary propeller heads.  We may or may not know more about how to navigate all things digital than the lowest common internet denominator in your life.

Personally, I suck at it.  I’ve thrown more money at third-party consultants than I have at my CPA.  Which is sort of sad.

It’s frustrating sometimes, because pretty much everything we do as bloggers ends up translated to a page like the one you’re reading.

And that includes self-publishing our work.

If you’ve been hanging here, you know I’ve been selling four ebooks through Storyfix.  Two of which you may have purchased, and, based on results, two of which you probably didn’t.  I’ve pulled “Story Structure – Demystified” and “The Three Dimensions of Character” for the time being because that content has been integrated into my new writing book (not self-published and not an ebook, unless you order the Kindle version through Amazon and other online venues).

That’s just an FYI, by the way… the ebooks I’m discussing here are the kind you see on Kindle and Nook and on iBook.  The kind with more and more established names on their covers.

Some of you have observed that I’m pretty focused on “publishing,” and by implication, traditional publishing.  As in, Big Six relationships.  While that was true not so long ago, I’m coming around.

I’ve seen the light, and it’s blinding.

I’m in a boat that contains a large congregation of traditionally published writers who now own all rights to their previously published work.  Some of which were bestsellers, some of which are dripping with starred reviews and “best of” list inclusions.

One of the newest trends in self-publishing is, in fact, authors like this — authors like me — who are re-releasing their backlist as Kindle and ePub products, and at ridiculously low prices by comparison.

I’m in that boat, too.  I’ve just released my most critically-successful novel, “Bait and Switch” through Kindle.  And I’m here to tell you… it was about as easy as reprogramming your DVR to send you back in time to an era when publishing was simple and straight-forward.

If you think or hope I’m going to tell you how to head down that road here and now, I’m not.  Not directly.  Having just done it, I’m only half confident I can even describe the process, because I still don’t understand half of it.

Still writing those checks to those third-party experts.

I’ll just say this: it isn’t as easy as downloadig an MS Word version of your manuscript to the Amazon Kindle website (which isn’t even called that in this context).  No, you need to reformat it into something that will probably seem foreign and contrived… and do this before you even send it to the magician who will get it up and running on Kindle.

After the reformatting comes the re-programming.  Into something called “mobi,” which is apt because it’s a whale of a complicated thing to do.  And expensive to get done, even if one does know what it all means.

By the time you design a cover, design and format — or reformat — the interior of the ebook, buy an ISBN, get it uploaded to Amazon, and launch any hint of marketing for the thing, you’ll have close to two grand in it.

At $2.99, which is the going price for a Kindle novel these days, that’s a lot of ground to cover before you break even.

And that implies you know how it’s all done.

What the vocabulary means and how to wield it.  You really shouldn’t even head down this road until you do, because it’s still up to you to be sure you don’t skip a step, or worse, get taken to the cleaners by an emerging cadre of suppliers who know a sucker when they see one.

I recently encountered what, for me, became an elusive and comprehensive magic pill of 101-level information on this subject.  It’s a concise little training program assembled by Joanna Penn, and it anticipates and answers all the fearful questions you and I know we have at the moment the notion of self-publishing pops into our naive little heads.

You’ll learn what it all means.  The order in which it needs to happen.  You’ll get links to resources you need, including the Kindle, Smashwords and iBook upload pages.  There are video interviews with experts — including the guy who invented Smashwords — who will talk you through the process, and in the context of understanding how intimidating this can be.

It’s the best forty bucks I’ve spent in a long time.  Because I have three other backlisted novels next in line, and they won’t torment me like the first one did.

If this is you, if you’re considering self-publishing and you don’t know a mobi file from a pcp, or how to find and correct all the stuff in your word document that Kindle will reject faster than Random House heaved your last masterpiece (yes, the e-publishers have standards, and they reject books that don’t meet them)… then I encourage you to check this out.

Click here to view more details

{ 12 comments }

Harma-Mae April 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm

I’ve heard a lot of hype about publishing e-books lately, but I think, like anything else, you really got to know what you’re doing when you get into it! I’d imagine you’d have a better chance of recovering your initial investment to…

James Byrd April 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Nice plug for Joanna, and she deserves it. Having been through the process of creating e-books for both Kindle and Smashwords myself, I can say that most authors should avoid the DIY approach on this one unless you are at least a little technically inclined. If the idea of changing the HTML in your Web page is intimidating to you, so will be e-book formatting.

However, even if you don’t plan to do it yourself, $40 spent on learning enough to talk intelligently with the people you outsource to is also money well spent.

I have the pleasure of hosting a panel that includes Joanna on May 5 as part of the Self-Publishers Online Conference. The teleseminar is free to the public. We don’t have a signup page for it yet, but you can find out more info on the Agenda page of the SPOC Web site (My name above should be a link to the site). If you are interested in attending the teleseminar, use the contact page to send me a message and I’ll be sure to let you know when the signup page is available.

Kait Nolan April 8, 2011 at 5:48 am

I’m starting to wonder if traditional publishing brainwashes all its authors into being terrified and uncertain about doing anything that’s part of the publishing process other than the writing itself. I keep seeing this myth that self publishing is hard perpetuated and, sorry, just can’t let it stand. Now if you want to pay a third party to do these things because you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, then fine. There’s absolutely a market for that. But if you’re paying someone because you’re freaking out that it’s something you haven’t done before and you’ll muck it up, I’ve got news for you:

SELF PUBLISHING. IS. NOT. HARD.

Is there stuff to learn? Absolutely.

Should you learn it before you blindly put out a product? Certainly.

Is it often tedious and boring. Um, yeah. So was college algebra.

Does it require a degree in quantum physics? NO.

All it requires is that you be willing to do some reading and making an effort to LEARN things. Use Google. The resources exist out there with lots of well-educated people who are offering up the information on how to do this for free (nothing against Joanna…good for her for taking her knowledge and using it!).

The very best FIRST STOP resource is the Smashwords Style Guide, provided by Smashwords founder Mark Coker (who is da bomb) for free on the website here.

Start there, read it from cover to virtual cover, and you will learn all the things you, as a writer and word processor user, are doing wrong on the front end (which will save you a lot of time on the back end for future project), and how to fix it. Which then leaves your book in nifty shape to move on to the Kindle and Nook versions, which I explain in great detail how to do here for Kinde
and here for Nook.

The first time might take you a few hours (depending on how long your book is). The future times, provided you stop making newb mistakes like using the tab key to indent paragraphs and such, will take much less because you won’t have to go back and nuke the formatting after you write because you’ll do it right as you’re writing.

Then, of course, is the marketing…but that’s a whole other topic, and I’m not gonna hijack your thread to talk about that.

Kait Nolan April 8, 2011 at 5:54 am

OH! And I forgot to add that the one aspect that you absolutely SHOULD hire out is cover design. Unless you are a graphic designer by trade who has some experience creating artistic book covers, don’t even think about doing your cover yourself. You can hire a free lance artist for a quite reasonable fee (my covers usually run about $200-300) from Robin Ludwig of Robin Ludwig Designs. A good, professionally designed cover is worth its weight in gold, and is NOT an area that should be DIY or skimped on.

Larry April 8, 2011 at 6:57 am

@Kait — thanks for this, excellent advice. I’ve read some of the how-to, and my problem with it is that it seems to be written under the assumption that the reader understands the technical terminology involved. Haven’t come across anything that tells us, for example, how to use the mobi software… I spoke with a professional programmer yesterday who said even he can’t figure out how to get a tranferrable file (to submit to Kindle) out of the program. So you’re right, it’s all about studying and investing the time… and if you’ve got too little, and have a few bucks, then a third party is out there who can help.

Hey Kait, read any good writing books lately? Didn’t hear back from you on that one. L.

Shane Arthur April 8, 2011 at 7:21 am

@Larry: You pulled the Demystified and Three Dimensions from your site, but as far as I can tell your affiliate program at clickbank is still offering them right? Let me know if this isn’t the case. I’ll need to take down my add for those two on my website.

Shane Arthur April 8, 2011 at 7:22 am

That would be… “take down my AD” :)

Kait Nolan April 8, 2011 at 7:42 am

We’re in the process of selling our house, so as soon as I figure out what box it got accidentally packed in during the “OH MY GOD SOMEONE’S COMING TO LOOK, QUICK HIDE ALL THE CLUTTER” sweep, I’ll be able to finish it. Can’t find my Nook charger cable either…

Per the mobi software…not sure what you’re using but MobiPocket Creator is quite simple. And again, I give detailed instructions for all of it, with explanations for most of that technical stuff…you should check out the articles I mentioned. My goal was to prove it was easy by making the instructions as clear and detailed and explanatory as possible.

Bruce H. Johnson April 8, 2011 at 9:58 am

I’ve got a lot of respect for Joanna; I invariably read her blog.

My background has been techy-nerdy from Day One. 30+ years as a tech writer using and programming MS Word, et. al., has left me no fear in that area.

If I can get sufficient guidelines or specs on how to do the required formatting, I can and have done it easily.

On the other hand (the fingernails are a different color), if someone doesn’t have at least a high-medium level expertise in Word, etc., don’t screw with it too much. You’re better off investing your time writing more.

In this case, Joanna’s course should be excellent. Even if you don’t decide to roll your own epublication, you’ll know what is involved and won’t pay someone a ginourmous fee to do something you might be able to do in an hour or two.

Go for it. If you have any doubts, I figure it’s a trivial investment for a probable excellent return.

John Hewitt April 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

It seems like Amazon is making things unnecessarily difficult. It is especially frustrating because the system is so much easier at Lulu, but Amazon doesn’t want to play nice with Lulu, so you have to suffer through their Amazon’s kludgy system.

Joanna Penn April 8, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Thanks so much for featuring the course Larry! and for the lovely comments made above by others. I really appreciate it.
I put the course together with everything I’ve learned over the last 2 years of indie publishing. Of course, you can find this all out yourself – it’s just aimed at saving time and energy!

Steven Lewis April 26, 2011 at 1:25 am

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a while and you might just have tipped me into it: “Should publishing an ebook be easy”.

You’re absolutely right about the amount that there is to earn but, as I tell people who come to my seminars, it’s taken you months (or years) to write your book. It’s not that strange that learning to be a publisher (rather than an author) might take a bit of time, too.

I loved your description of the process and the mystery. It’s right on the money but I think it makes a handy barrier to entry. One of my fears — and I suspect Amazon’s — is that the Kindle store could become a dumping ground for rubbish.

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