If, like me, you’re not into computers, then digital publishing can seem a bit daunting. But actually it’s easy: if you can use Microsoft Word and browse the internet, then you can figure out EPub. I self-published “Counting the Clouds”, my novel with the deaf hero and I’m currently serialising my previous book “Kicking the Tyres” for Kindle as well. I also put out short stories (at 99 cents a pop) to help build a readership for my novels. It’s a piece of cake! But Kindle has been around for 10 years now, there’s a lot of out-dated information and so some up-to-date notes (June 2017) might be useful:
1) Start before you start writing. Enrolling with Amazon KDP (Kindle Digital Publishing) is free and having your own space there can be useful straight off (as you’ll see in a moment). I’ve not tried any of the other platforms: Amazon still have 70% of the market, so why not go with that? (The other 30% is made up of several smaller players and the procedure is different for each one. So… don’t start there?)
2) Because KDP runs from the US, you’ll need to fill in a W8-BEN form (if you live in the UK). Sounds imposing but is just to do with the tax treaties between the two countries so you don’t get taxed twice on royalties. Do it on line, takes about ten minutes and then forget about it: Amazon will pay into your bank account and then you pay UK tax on it. If you’re not comfortable with tax returns then a small business accountant will help you with this. Mine charges about £150. If you live elsewhere, the Amazon page prompts you, although I can’t say whether the process is as easy…
3) Start writing your novel. But read the Amazon formatting guidelines at the same time. Don’t bother with the advertised programs that offer to format the completed manuscript for you. Just do it yourself as you go along. It’s no big deal:
4) Kindle wants a continuous stream of text without unnecessary formatting. At best it will ignore things it doesn’t like, at worst it will do something strange. Once you’ve got a Kindle account you can download their instructions (which are very good) but here are the basics:
- Don’t use Tabs to indent your paragraphs, use the paragraph formatting option in Word.
- Put Page Breaks between your chapters to make them start on a new Kindle page. Don’t centre your chapter headings with Tabs, use the Centre Text tool in Word.
- Don’t use headers or footers or fancy fonts. Type in a mainstream font, in whatever size you like. Use bold and italics freely: Kindle will recognise them correctly.
5) Use the Display Formatting tool in Word (on the Standard Toolbar, looks like a musical note) to check for extraneous characters (like Tabs and extra returns). It’s easier to delete them with Display Formatting on, because then you can see the little blighters (particularly if they’re near page breaks and keep shuffling over the boundaries).
6) When you’ve got a chapter you’re happy with, follow Amazon’s instructions to upload it, saving it as a draft (which only you can see) and not hitting the publish button. They say it takes up to 72 hours before it’s ready to publish but that’s not what you want right now: within a few minutes you’ll be able to download the formatted version to your computer as an .html file.
7) Now download the Kindle previewer to your computer (or use it on-line). This means you can see your chapter as your readers will. Very exciting. Get comfortable with this and check you can change font size, scroll through etc.
8) The only bit I couldn’t make work was the Table of Contents (TOC). On-line opinion is that it’s easy on a PC and a nightmare on a MAC. And guess which I was using… In the end I decided that I didn’t need one for a novel anyway. It seems a bit daft: when you look inside an EBook on Amazon, you have to scroll through a list of chapter numbers before you can get to the start of the book. Waste of space, especially when you are trying to get people’s attention. And, when you are actually reading the book and re-open it, the Kindle will pick up where you left off anyway. The only time I can see the point is if you’re writing short stories to publish as a collection. Then it’s apparently quite easy (on a PC) with hyperlinks.
9) Now you have a valuable editing tool: one of the most difficult skills for new authors is learning to forget their work, so they can see it afresh and spot the faults. Not looking at it for weeks or months is the best way, but re-reading in a different format with a different appearance also helps. And now you can!
10) When you’re ready, really ready, STILL DON’T HIT PUBLISH. Wait. Put your masterpiece in a digital drawer for as long as you can bear and then re-read it. If you just have to get into print right now, publish a short story. That’s a good way to test the water. And remember, you can always edit and re-publish. That’s one of the great things about it.