How to Publish Your First Kindle Book: Hard Lessons Learned!
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
Those are Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to the popular song by American composer Rube Bloom. The jury is out on whether I will join the heavenly angels, but I have to plead guilty to a habit of rushing in when caution would have been the better path.
I am not a patient person. I like to get things done in a hurry and see the results chop-chop. So when I decided to publish a Kindle book, I rushed full steam ahead. And then came my first hard lesson as I floundered in a sea I hadn’t charted before. I had to take it easy, recognize what I didn’t know and sail along more slowly.
I wrote a story, designed the cover and had it published as a Kindle book. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Here are some of the lessons I learned.
1: Writing the Story
If you have an idea for a book, discuss it with your friends, family and colleagues. I once suggested that the “Sunday Times”, where I worked, publish a story about how I carded a three-under-par score of 69 on a top golf course. “Who cares?” was the response from the newspaper’s sports editor. “Readers don’t care a toss about you. If a story is about what Gary Player says then it’s worth printing,” he said. Of course, if I had persuaded one of the angels that Mercer wrote about, or even St. Peter, to pop down to Earth for an interview, it would have been a scoop! “That’s a good yarn” is what you need to hear when telling people about an idea for a story. The lesson: I learned to make sure I offered something that readers would find interesting.
2: Research is Vital
Check book sites to see what types sell well on Amazon and other top book websites. I was lazy at first and didn’t do so. I wasted a lot of time writing stuff that I eventually learned would never see the light of day. I discovered there was no point in crafting a story if it didn’t benefit the reader, who I expected to pay for the pleasure. I didn’t want to compete with the likes of John Le Carre and Stephen King, so I ruled out spy stories and thrillers. I noticed that books on dieting, travel and sports were successful, so my first stories were about these subjects. Who doesn’t want to lose weight? Who doesn’t want to play better golf? Who doesn’t want to know where to stay and what to do on a trip to foreign destinations? The lesson: check what types of books sell well.
3: Long and Short of It
After accepting that I wasn’t Graham Greene, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, I decided to rule out novels. Most of the books I’ve had published are between 1,000 and 7,700 words. I learned you don’t have to write a lengthy book to be successful. If you can write a book that tells people how to make money, it doesn’t matter which words or currency you use. I have a friend that made a small fortune gambling in casinos before he retired after his wife decided that enough is enough. I have no idea whether she was talking about his gambling or the high times that went with it! He focused on baccarat, but knew a thing or two about winning at poker, craps and blackjack. Most gamblers never talk about their losses, but I know this guy is the real deal (forgive the pun). I often spend time at his luxurious home talking about the good old days. He’s no wordsmith, but what he has is gold, and I can’t wait to mine it when he gets down to telling me how to do it. “How To” kindle books sell well, no matter the subject, so I have taken this on board when I decide on the story for another book. The lesson: Be sure readers will find your books interesting.
4: Editing the Copy
I thought that one of my stories was word perfect. That is until I asked my sister to read through it. She picked up dozens of mistakes: words left out in copy and misspellings. Prescriptive text is handy but it can also be a Devil. I always make sure it hasn’t changed a word into something else. The lesson I learned: Have my copy checked thoroughly.
5: Cover Design
I found that I needed to use key words on the cover. The main lesson I learned was that the cover had to be simple and to the point. The main headline on my first book was simply “GOLF”. Then another smaller headline of what it was about: “Golfing greats will tell you how to ‘mind your head’ in what is a mostly mental game”. The main headline on my travel book was “HONG KONG” plus “How to spend 7 fun-filled days in a wonderland”. I used “THE HIGH ENERGY DIET on the cover of the book about dieting. It was about “how to lose weight the healthy way”. Be sure to write an enticing description of what’s in your book. This will help publishers market it. If you don’t have a creative bent, get someone to design your book cover. It shouldn’t cost much. The lesson: Keep the cover design simple and eye-catching.
6: Formatting the Text and Pictures
It’s important to discover what publishers require. Is a regular Word document acceptable or is another variation necessary? Amazon, for example, prefers a Word document in compatibility mode. Other sites have different requirements. I had to find out how to use pictures dropped into a story. Jpeg is usually okay, but check it out. I spent a great deal of time before I got it right. I had just rushed into this without reading about what was required. Publishers go to a lot of trouble explaining what’s needed, so take the time to read their notes. The lesson: Read before you leap.
7: Choosing Publishing Sites
Amazon offers KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or KDP Select. The problem is that you will be locked into Amazon and can’t offer your books to other sites if you go the Select route. Amazon will pay a 70% royalty if you join KDP Select, otherwise 35% if you don’t. I decided to use SmashWords, which can get your book published on Barnes & Noble, iBook, Kobo and Oyster plus many other top sites. The lesson: Be careful when deciding how to have your book distributed.
8: Setting the Price
I set too higher price initially. Later, I reduced the price of my books to see whether this helped them sell better. I was happy to see the book sell at a lower price, say at $0.99 instead of $2.99. The lesson: Don’t be too greedy early on.
9: Marketing Your Book
There is no point in having a great book if not enough people know about it. I found that marketing my books on FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites helped. The lesson: Don’t sit back and hope the money will roll in. Marketing is essential.
10: Keeping Track
You can check how your books are selling, how many reviews they receive, how they rank and how many people check them out. This should add to your knowledge of how to progress in future. The lesson: I learned that getting feedback is very useful.
I hope these lessons will ultimately make you feel heavenly. However, if you ignore them, you might have a Devil of a time!
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