Columns > Published on April 30th, 2012

My Kindle Experiment: What A Month And Change Can Teach You

A little over a month ago, I wrote about my big, exciting leap into self-publishing, in which I threw an old NaNoWriMo manuscript I had laying about, collecting digital dust in my Google docs, onto Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. Yes, Amazon has been in some hot water for price-gouging and generally being bullies, and no, I don't personally buy books from Amazon if I can help it--but they're still the easiest game in town when it comes to getting your own writing up and out there, for actual sale. And really, it has been quite simple.

Except for a few things about the platform that are pretty irritating/difficult/lessons that you only have to learn once.  

Here's what I've learned so far:

1. It's really exciting to see your book in the Amazon store.

Even if you put it there yourself. It's pretty cool to search your own name and see it. But! Don't rush to publish just because you want to see it there. Take your time. Read my first list of tips. Then read these, like this one:

2. Doing your own marketing is pretty key. 

I am a freelance writer, which means that I am both very busy and also very lazy. I'm pretty good at marketing and social media (it's kind of part of my job, as I am my own, tiny, one-woman brand), but when it comes to pushing something like a novel, it's kind of rough not to have a team behind you. I haven't sold a ton of copies of my book (though I have sold a few), mostly because I haven't been putting in the work to really get it out there. I don't blame Amazon for this one bit--this is entirely my fault. But it does deserve to be noted that if you're going to publish to Amazon, do know that the reason you're going to get way more royalties than with a real publisher is because you're not paying for someone else to be your content pusher. 

3. It takes a really long time to make changes to the description and account. 

Remember in my last article, when I mentioned that writing jacket copy (even when it's digital) is really difficult, and that I remedied it with a shot? Well, I really did take a shot...which led to a typo in my description, because I made too many edits and didn't re-read and it was nighttime. Anyway, the point is, there was a typo--and it took a really, really long time to correct it in the KDP back-end. See, Kindle has to re-publish the whole damn thing when you make a change, which can take up to 24 hours. Which is embarrassing. And long. 

4. While you're waiting for changes, your book is off the market. 

Here's the other thing that is kind of crappy about KDP: while you're waiting for changes to take effect and display on the for-sale page, the book is 'unavailable.' Which means that people can't buy it. So if, say, you're less lazy about marketing than I am and you maybe got an interview with a blog and that was sending a lot of traffic, and at that very minute you realized you had left out someone's name from the book's information, you either have to a.) change it and let the book be unavailable and miss out on sales, or b.) hope that person doesn't get really mad that you didn't list them as a contributor. You should probably send flowers if you take Avenue B. 

5. Don't even try making changes to the manuscript once it's live. 

As for the manuscript itself, this is the part where KDP most reflects real book publishing, in that it's a huge pain if a typo or an out-of-order page or a missing footnote goes to press. Yes, you have a little more freedom with the online publishing because you can take it down and re-publish it more quickly, but there is still that 24-hour lapse, and you have to start all over with a "new" book, even though it's the same book. It's time-consuming. And irritating. So make sure you've got everything right the first time. 

6. It takes even longer to get paid. 

Amazon pays the balance of each account 60 days "after the end of a month in which the balance accrued." Which means that you probably won't get your first check for about three months. Which is fine if this is your supplemental income, but if you're hard-up and hoping to make big money on sales in a timely manner, this is not the way to do it. But then, neither is publishing a real, paper book, either. 

7. There are some weird formatting issues. 

Here's something I didn't expect. My boyfriend downloaded the book onto his Kindle, and was reading it on the bus when he noted that one character's name is highlighted. For no reason. There's no code in the document I uploaded that indicates that would happen, no reason I could discern. Which is weird, because it's rare than computers act randomly in that way. But between that and some unusual line-spacing (even though I followed Kindle's formatting instructions!), it can be a little tough to read. But, you know, it comes with the territory, I think.

Overall, I would recommend KDP to those who are looking to get their book into the hands of other people, and who have been unsuccessful at shopping it around. But it's more of a second-tier option, it seems--if you can find someone to buy it and sell it for you, it'll save you a lot of work, and, in the end, make more money. But publishing is kind of a bear these days, and even finding an agent can be a huge headache, so if you haven't had a lot of bites going through traditional routes, this one isn't the worst way to go. Just make sure everything is right the first time, and take it slow. It's easy to get peak fever and rush to publish, but with the crawling pace of edits and availability, it's worth it to take your sweet time getting it there. 

About the author

Born and raised in Eugene, OR, Hanna Brooks Olsen is undersized and frequently overextended. She's a fan of physical activity, well-written sentences, and excellently employed profanities, and is unashamed to be utterly enamored by her little dog.

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