Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Two-Cent Tuesday: Publishing 101 Lesson 3

Today's lesson is all about the three main ebook systems I use:  Smashwords, Amazon's KDP, and B&N's Pubit--the latter I only started to use this year.  Each system has its little quirks and differences, but they all require much the same stuff.

So here's what you'll need:

  • Book Description
  • Tags
  • Categories
  • Book File
  • Cover
  • Price
Most of that is pretty obvious.  Let's run through it anyway.

Book Description:  This is basically what would be written on the back cover or inside jacket if it were a physical book.  The problem for people like me is that I suck at writing pitches and summaries.  And you might say, Well what kind of writer are you?  And I would say, Hey, I write novels and sometimes short stories.  Basically it's like asking a marathon runner to win the 100M dash.  You're a runner, right?  Well it's a whole different set of skills needed.  Anyway, just do your best to write a teaser summary, but don't give away too much.

Here's one of my crappy descriptions from First Contact:
Captain Lisa Shaw and the crew of the Explorer are taking humanity’s first steps outside of the solar system. They arrive at their destination only to encounter an alien ship bent on destroying them and all other life in the galaxy. Now Lisa and the survivors of her crew have to find a way to escape from the aliens and warn Earth. 

Tags:  If you're like my "publisher" of A Hero's Journey you don't bother to tag anything.  But if you're not just doing it half-assed, then you want to put some tags in to slightly increase the chance someone might find your book.  The tags are usually general search terms that in theory will help your book pop up when someone does a search.

Here are some tags I used for First Contact:
scifi, space opera, sci fi, scifi action, scifi action adventure

Now here's a Pub Tip for you:  on Amazon and B&N you type in the tags all in a line but Smashwords you do it one at a time.  So do the Smashwords one first and then go to your book's page and copy all those tags to paste into the box for Amazon and B&N!

Categories:  Again if you're a half-ass "publisher" you just put it in one category that's probably not even the correct one.  If you're doing this right, then you try to put it in multiple categories that actually suit your book.  What sucks about Smashwords and Amazon is you only get 2 categories.  B&N gives you 5.

With a story like say a superhero novel it can be difficult to figure out which category to put it in.  I think my other Scarlet Knight ones I put in Fantasy-Urban and Sci-Fi-Adventure.  Though of course each platform has its own wording.  YA/Children's books can be annoying to figure out where to put them, so you have to consider the age of the reader.

Book file and Cover:  We've covered those (pun intended!) but just remember that all three platforms use MS Word-type documents and there are different cover size mandates for each, so check out the fine print.

Price:  This can be a thorny issue.  How much do you charge?  If you go the minimum and charge 99 cents then you might move more copies, but you only make 35 cents per copy.  Whereas if you charge $2.99 then you're making around $2 per copy.  So to borrow from those Total cereal commercials:  you'd have to sell almost 6 copies at 99 cents to make as much as you would from selling 1 copy at $2.99.

Generally you don't want to go over $4.99 either.  Maybe the Big However Many can charge $18.99 for JK Rowling's latest lame adult book, but you're not JK Rowling.  You're probably not even Amanda Hocking or EL James before they got famous.  You're a nobody, so you can't get away with charging too much.

It is interesting that the books I sell the most of are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The $0.99 books like First Contact and its sequels have sold the most of the ones under my pseudonyms.  But Where You Belong is still the big money maker because at $2.99 it makes the most profit and surprisingly it still sells a few every month.  Maybe because it has the most reviews and had the most marketing push behind it.

The good thing is if you decide on a price and it's not working, you can change it later.  Or if it's working really well at 99 cents you can get greedy and see if people will pay more--capitalism everyone!

Sometimes though it's hard to figure the consumer out.  When I lowered just about all my prices to 99 cents recently, Amazon sales picked up.  Nook sales flatlined, though.  And Smashwords sales did very little, but then they've never been all that much.  It just seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that if you LOWER prices, people demand less.  Recently I raised at least some prices on the Nook and sold at least one book.  Go figure.  Maybe there are just more bargain hunters on Amazon.

Another thing is that they say if you make the first in a series FREE people might buy the rest of it.  I'm not sure about that.  From what I've seen, mostly people will swoop in for the free book and then exile it on the ereader for months or years along with all the other FREE they've sponged up.  So they'll never bother to read the first book for a long time (if ever) and thus will never buy books 2 or 3 or 8.  We'll see with the Chances Are series, where I gave away over 200 copies of the first one so far.  Once the second one goes on sale, let's see how many people buy it!  But I did get one nice review on Smashwords already, so woo hoo.

That's about all you need to know to get started.  Now a few words on the three platforms I use.

Smashwords:  Overall I find it to be the most cumbersome of the three.  I suppose that's because in theory it's supposed to cover a bunch of platforms.  Though in all honesty it doesn't really go to Amazon.  Or if it does, it takes a really long time.  There might be some kind of tiff between them that doesn't allow Amazon to take Smashwords stuff, or they just delay a while to do it.  B&N does show up eventually, but it can take some time too.  But it does load stuff to Kobo and other smaller ones.

The other good thing about Smashwords is it generates an ISBN number for you.  That's an additional step in the process for each book, but it's a nice thing to have.  Amazon only gives you an ASIN which isn't exactly the same.

Another Pub Tip:  Like the tags, it's good to load to Smashwords first so you can get the ISBN, which you can then use when you load to Amazon and B&N, and also when you put the book on Goodreads.

The other good thing about Smashwords is after you get done setting up, you can download your own book for free.  I use that to download ARC (advanced reader copies) of the Scarlet Knight books.  I can get them in Kindle format for me and EPub (Nook) format for beta readers like Michael Offutt.  Plus when someone buys a copy you get more royalties than Amazon or B&N--$$$$$ cha-ching!

One of the hassles with Smashwords comes with the author names.  It's fine if you just have one name.  But when you have like 5 different names it gets to be annoying.  You have to set up a "ghost" account for each separate name you use.  Amazon and B&N you can just type in any name you want; it's a lot easier.

Still, the benefits of Smashwords outweigh the bulkiness and sometimes slowness of it.  I use the Smashwords pages as landing pages for mine because you can get them in every format right from there no matter what kind of reader you have.  It's a lot easier than pointing people to twenty different websites--and did I mention I get more royalties from them?

Amazon:  KDP was the first platform I ever used.  It's pretty simple to use, which is great.  You don't even need to worry much about cover size, which is a bonus.  The only drawback versus B&N's is Amazon's is two pages whereas B&N fits it all onto one page, which is nice.

Pub Tip:  If you're just using Amazon for your book you can enroll in the KDP Select program.  That allows Amazon Prime members (like me!) to borrow the book for free while you still get reimbursed.  But be careful because once you enroll it's stuck there for at least 3 months, so if you change your mind and want to load it onto another platform you have to wait until those 3 months are up.  You also have to make sure that you set it not to autorenew or you'll get stuck for another 3 months potentially.

B&N:  As I said, I just started using this at the beginning of the year.  It is perhaps the best of the lot.  You can do everything on one screen, unlike Amazon or Smashwords, which makes it great, especially if you have a slow connection or something.  There are pretty much all the same features as Amazon, except no KDP Select thing.

The hitches are the cover size limitations can be annoying.  The 2000 pixel MAXIMUM height has created problems for me, something I lamented last week; I hate having to resize covers just for their anal limitations.  Also, there's some kind of bug where after you submit a book the next screen pops up with an error message.  The books go through, but it really freaked me out at first.

Of course there are other platforms out there.  I don't know what all of them are yet.  I'm sure more will come along in the future.  But this should give you a good head-start on the process.

Tomorrow is the Recap!


  1. I didn't realize that about the ISBN through Smashwords. Good to know. You always have to be careful about Smashwords when you are setting up your book, I tried to use them to get A Dead God's Wrath to some of the smaller markets and iBooks, but I've never succeeded in having it accepted as error free...

    Anyway, in the past, I know some authors have found their books double posted in places like B&N, because they didn't deselect it as an option when they put it on Smashwords and so when they put it up through Pub-It, they didn't know Smashwords was right behind them putting it up as a Smashwords version.

  2. My sales on Smashwords and B & N didn't make it worth staying with them.
    B & N was the worst for me. Not that I wouldn't try them again. Perhaps I just don't have enough books out there yet. If I get several novels published, I plan to mix things up. In general Kindle select is a promotion tool that works for me at the moment. Although it used to work better before they adjusted it. One plus about being just on Amazon..I don't have to worry about having so many different files formatted for each platform. Some days I spend hours updating files.

  3. I love this post. There's a lot of really useful information here. I'm probably going to try and self-publish a fantasy novel that I wrote a while back ago sometime this year under the Planet 99 logo. I'm not certain if I should go just with Amazon or if I should do Smashwords too or even bother with a paperback (although paperbacks seem to help out a lot with goodreads). Goodreads may be my most successful marketing. I did a bunch of giveaways a few months ago and got a ton of "to reads." Now I've noticed that several months later, some of those people are actually buying my book. I've done next to nothing as far as marketing my first one, and I have 10 people "currently reading" and I didn't give them copies. So I guess maybe it's worth it to do all those giveaways? I have no idea.

    Great post though. Very informative.

  4. Whoa....I had to actually take some notes and go through your post slowly and carefully.

    Smashwords, I've heard, can be a big pain. And I'm sure Smash and Amazon aren't on speaking terms, no matter what each side is saying.

    B&N is a sinking ship, sort of. The brick & mortar side is making money, and it separated itself from the Nook Side, which is bleeding money.

  5. I'm making a copy of this post and filing away all this useful information. Thanks.

  6. I think my brother has whole books on writing descriptions. Nice tips Pat

  7. As usual, all good tips. I'll be checking back as I publish stuff.

    one thing: If you're in the KDP program, you cannot make your books available on other platforms. Double check that, maybe, as I got a notice from KDP that "Eclipse" was available on B&N's Nook, and it was because Lulu has joined with B&N, so I had to write B&N and get them to take it down.

    On that subject: HAD I registered "Eclipse" as a copyright with a copyright office, I'd have been entitled to get paid by B&N for them listing my book, even though they never sold any copies. But I didn't register, and so I would have been limited only to claiming as damages any money they earned. Which was nothing.



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