I’ve released my first book, The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot (available now in paperback, pre-order for Kindle). For years I’ve wanted to dip my toes into the self-publishing space, but I finally had time to do so a couple of weeks ago. I decided collecting my absurdist, postmodern detective stories from high school and college into one volume would be a relatively easy and fun way to learn the ropes of self-publishing on Amazon.
If anyone else is thinking of publishing your works this way, I would definitely encourage it. I don’t expect to make tons of money off of my silly short stories (although that would, of course, be nice), but the process was quite easy overall, although slightly more involved than I anticipated. Still, it’s an effective way to get your work out there.
To that end, I thought I’d share some of my experiences using kdp.amazon.com—Kindle Direct Publishing.
I started my book using Microsoft Word, in the typical 8.5″x11″ format. I had several old Gerard stories written on paper, so I began by transcribing those. I copy-pasted digital versions of later stories into the master document, merging formatting to match the Size 11 Calibri font (the default for Word, which I very much like).
After getting the stories together, I created a title page, a page with copyright information, and a dedication page. I also created an “Introduction” and split the stories into separate chapters, each corresponding to a different era of Gerard stories. I also wrote a pithy “About the Author” page and included a ridiculous picture of me in Chicago in 2012, sitting thoughtfully with a plastic Chinese melodica I’d purchased in Chicago’s Chinatown.
While I waited on my friend Xan to finish the preface, I began experimenting with the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Amazon offers free software, Kindle Create, which allows users to import a *.doc or *.docx (for Windows users) into the software, where it is then converted into what it will look like on a tablet, phone, or Kindle reader. The conversion process if pretty smooth, though it does require some manual editing to get the spacing right, and I found that working with images in Kindle Create was difficult (essentially, there’s not really a way to drag them around, as far as I could tell).
You can also write directly into Kindle Create, but if you’re starting from scratch, you’d have to upload a mostly blank Word Document file into Create, and go from there. That might make sense for some projects, especially those without many images, but I found Create a bit clunky overall. It’s easy enough to use, but it’s fairly limited. Still, it’s the best way to get a sense for what your book will look like on different devices.
To create the paperback, I had to make that separately from the Kindle version, though the two are linked (which allows them to show up on the same page on Amazon as two separate formats). Amazon defaults to 6″x9″ for paperbacks, which I did not realize or notice at first. I merrily uploaded my 8.5″x11″ Word Doc to start previewing it, only for KDP to tell me that my manuscript dimensions were too big.
No matter: I saved my master manuscript as another file name with “6×9″ in the title, and changed the dimensions of the pages to 6″x9” (very easy to do in Word—click “Layout”—>”Size”—>”More Paper Sizes” and change the “Width” to 6″ and the “Height” to 9″). That makes for a good, portable book, although Amazon does allow other dimensions (including 8.5″x11″). The added benefit to 6″x9″ is that it added a bit more length to my manuscript, ultimately resulting in a fifty-seven page work—not huge, by any stretch, but longer than the 8.5″x11″ version, which would have been a large, thin book by comparison.
For the cover designs of both the Kindle and paperback versions, I used the “Cover Creator” that is built-into KDP. It’s entirely browser-based, and the results are somewhat limited; for example, there’s no way to add additional text boxes. There’s one format I really like that turns your chosen image into the entire front cover, but it doesn’t allow for text like author’s name and the title of the book. That makes for a striking cover, but it the inability to add a couple of text boxes with that information was a letdown. If your image contains that information already, you’re good to go, but there should be a way to add that information on top of the image.
Of course, beggars can’t be too choosy with these things, so I created a cover that to my untrained eye look reasonable enough. Seeing as I doodle quite a bit, I have a large back catalog of Sunday Doodles to pull from, so I was able to use one of those (“Confused Detective“) for the cover.
As far as pricing, this was the moment that I realized self-publishing comes at a premium, in that Amazon extracts a hefty toll for use of its platform. To be clear, publishing is free; Amazon makes its money on taking a share of your royalties. That’s understandable, but Amazon gives you a Sophie’s Choice—take 35% royalties and preserve most of your rights to the book, or take 70% and make your book available for lending through Amazon Prime, which allows users to “borrow” the book for fourteen days for free. From what I’ve learned, authors still get compensated for Prime users who read the book while on loan, depending on how many pages the reader reads.
There’s also a program, KDP Select, which makes your eBook exclusive to Amazon for ninety (90) days, though your paperback can still be distributed wherever you like. I was planning on just distributing through Amazon anyway, so that was a no-brainer for me—KDP Select automatically defaults to 70% royalties, and allows for 70% royalties in some additional foreign markets, like Brazil and India. I don’t anticipate I’ll sell too many copies of Inspector Gerard in Brazil or India (though this blog has a fairly high Indian readership), but it can’t hurt.
Amazon also charges to print the paperback book and to deliver the digital book, the latter of which seems ridiculous (the digital delivery fee is waived if you opt for the 35% royalty, but paying $0.06 for the eBook to be delivered was well worth the price to retain 70% of my royalties). In essence, my $5 Kindle version earns me $3.44 per copy sold, as opposed to something like $1.75 if I opted for the 35% royalty rate.
My paperback version—currently priced at $15—brings in about $6.85 per copy in royalties. That means at three times the price of the eBook for the consumer, I only make about double on a paperback. Of course, if you’re like me, paying a premium for the paperback version is worth it.
As the author, I can purchase author copies at-cost: $2.15 to print (that varies depending on the length of the book, whether or not there is color printing, etc.). There is a minimum shipping rate (I think of around $3.99), but after a certain point additional copies are just $0.50 each to ship, plus tax. On an order of twenty (20) author copies, I paid $60.40, or $3.02 per book. If I sell those at gigs as part of my merch or on my Bandcamp page, I’ll do a bit better than a customer purchasing the book directly from Amazon. If I sold the book for a flat $10 at a show, I’d net $6.98 on the book—$0.13 more in profit than a customer purchasing the book directly from Amazon, but at a savings of $5 to the customer (assuming the customer isn’t also paying shipping). If I sold it at $15 (the Amazon list price), that earns me $11.98 per copy—a much better calculus than an online purchase (though, please, don’t let that stop you).
That’s all to say that selling paperbacks on Amazon is not the ticket to Easy Street, but it’s been a very fun and informative experience. Artistically it’s been very energizing to put something out there again. Publishing Inspector Gerard is the first major project I’ve completed since releasing Contest Winner EP in 2015. I’ll be sending out some of my author copies as review copies, and giving away some as gifts (I hope to retain a few to sell as merch at future gigs—yet another enticing item on the merch table).
As for my next self-published adventure, I’m already working on Sunday Doodles, Volume I: Sunday Doodles I-XXV, which will collect the first twenty-five editions of Sunday Doodles from my SubscribeStar page. I have enough installments of Sunday Doodles to release the first two volumes (Volume II will cover XXVI-L), with a third volume to follow. Right now I’m putting those doodles in black-and-white, though I may bite the bullet and spring for full-color (most of the doodles look fine in black-and-white, but some are more colorful).
From there, I’ll be compiling some collections of past blog posts, editing them together into larger, thematic wholes.
If you’re looking to publish your own works, I’d encourage you to check out Kindle Direct Publishing. I found it to be fairly intuitive and easy-to-use, and there are tons of resources out there to help. If you have any questions or need any tips, contact me and I’ll help as best I can.