It seems sensible to start at the beginning. Not because I desperately want to tell my story, more that I think some may find it useful. For novice authors there is already a wealth of information out there: how to write, how to publish and how to edit. Of course, there is attached to every website the discouraging addendum that writing does not make you rich. At least not unless you are JK Rowling. This is of course true, most authors spend rather than make money on their passion. But it is possible to avoid spending a fortune. Hopefully I can tell you of the pitfalls I have encountered.
A Novice Author
I had a book. It had been reviewed positively by friends and self edited many times. While I knew it wasn’t quite of the standard of a traditionally published novel, it read well and I wanted to publish it. For me, the starting point was Amazon’s rather clever device for self-publishing that has caused consternation amongst traditional publishing firms and retailers alike. It is called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and the truth is, for a novice author, there is little choice. Unless you want to spend years trying to find both an agent and a publisher. I discovered that it took JK Rowling 12 attempts to publish Harry Potter so I didn’t imagine for a second that I would be any more fortunate.
KDP has its own competitors, but I found they catered to a much smaller fraction of the market. In the case of iBooks, a PC that runs Mac OS was required to use their publishing software, which essentially ruled that out as an option for me. I have to admit to liking Windows. Furthermore, KDP is web based, very easy to use, supports editing and there are many help guides available online. It pretty much handles everything for you, including generating the barcode, and since the author receives up to 70% of the retail price it was a fairly easy decision to publish a Kindle ebook. Much to my surprise, 48 hours after sitting in front of my PC with the final draft, I had an ebook available online for public consumption.
I also wanted a hard-copy to be available, both for my own satisfaction and for those that prefer something more tangible. One of the neat features of KDP is print on demand (POD), so I didn’t need to pay for my own print run. The preparation work was very similar to that of the ebook and after a bit of fiddling with cover sizes (thanks Chris!) I had a shiny proof in my hand. However, it did not take long to spot a few problems. So I corrected them and requested a new proof. Soon I found a new problem, and then another. In the end I spent quite a bit on proof copies until I was happy. What can I say, I was keen and a little foolish.
Unfortunately this was not the end of my problems. I also reviewed the pricing structure and discovered the KDP cut was taken from the entire publishing price. I had presumed, since the author pays for the cost of each print, the calculation of the author-retailer split would be on the profit afterwards. I was wrong. This is really quite important because in reality this means KDP actually take around 80-90% of the retail price, so don’t expect to make much back on hard-copies.
Despite this I have to say the quality of the KDP print is excellent. As you might expect the printing cost of the book is proportional to its size, so I played around with fonts, margins and page size and managed to reduce the page count from 400 to 300. Despite many of the online recommendations I found that font size 11 with single spacing (or less) is absolutely fine. Interestingly, font size 10 is not too bad either, although I decided not to go quite that small. Even with this effort, for 300 pages, you will still struggle to see more than 20% back from a reasonable retail price. But you can purchase author copies at cost to avoid the KDP cut. This is useful if you get the chance to attend any book conventions or comic cons (depending on your genre).
I was happy with the results overall. My story was available as both an ebook and hard-copy. Would I do anything differently? Not really, in truth. KDP is primarily an ebook retailer that also supports POD. It is an ideal place to start for a novice author. I definitely shouldn’t have bought quite so many proof copies, but I now have a checklist of edits that should be made before asking for a proof. I should have read a bit more bout the pricing structure, but you won’t lose money using POD, even if you don’t make much. I also now know to make the book as small as possible. But, all in all, the initial release was pain free. The problems started after that…