To Amazon or not? A guest post by Annette Cauchi

Children's author, Annette Cauchi

Self-published author, Annette Cauchi

Today, children’s author Annette Cauchi shares her experiences of self-publishing with Amazon KDP Select. Annette is an Australian author.

To Amazon or not? That is the question for any aspiring self-publisher

I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you about my experience as a first timer on the megalith that is amazon.com.

I published my first children’s novel as a Kindle ebook on Amazon at the start of December 2012, so my journey is still beginning. In this short time I have learned a lot, particularly as I knew less than nothing about ebooks or self-publishing when I decided to take the leap.

The first thing I did was buy a Kindle, so at least I knew how they worked. I got the basic model which is only black and white (or at least 50 shades of grey), but I believe the latest ones are colour. I would say that anyone who plans to read Kindle books to children, or wants to encourage children to read them, would be better off with colour. I am told that iPads display Kindle books beautifully, better than Kindles in fact, and overall are a lot more useful.

My book is aimed at children nine years old and older. It doesn’t have any pictures, so black and white is fine for now. I would actually like to include illustrations, perhaps of the simple line drawing variety, but I can’t draw and have no money to pay an illustrator. That’s okay though; words are my tools and I’m happy to stick with them.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is that it’s very user friendly for the newbie and the technologically challenged. If you don’t want to include graphics you can simply upload your Word file and it will automatically be converted to Kindle format and published without you having to do anything. The downside of this simplicity of is that, in the absence of any professional oversight, the Kindle store does contain many examples of poorly-edited, uninspiring and amateurish books uploaded by wannabes unable or unwilling to reflect critically on their own pet projects.

There are a few essential requirements when preparing your MS Word file. They are clearly explained in the Kindle ‘Help’ section, and I learned a few things about MS Word in the process.

I asked my daughter, who has drawing and graphic design skills, to create my cover. A brilliant eye-catching cover is essential according to all the ‘how to be successful on Kindle’ guides that I’ve read (and that’s quite a few). I don’t know how mine rates, but I’ve had no negative feedback and I’m happy with it for now.

The next big decision was whether to enrol in Kindle Direct Publishing Select or not. There are advantages and disadvantages. Detailed information on this is available elsewhere, but put simply the benefit of enrolling in Select is that your book can be borrowed by Amazon Prime members, for which you receive a royalty that may be more than you would make on a sale. Also, as a Select member you can promote your book free for five days out of every 90. The downside is that you can’t publish electronically anywhere else during that 90 days, but you can publish hard copies and at the end of 90 days you can either opt out of Select or sign up for another 90 days.

Because it seemed simple, had potential benefits and I had no immediate plans to publish elsewhere I decided to enrol my book in KDP Select.

One big appeal of Kindle Direct Publishing is it’s very user friendly for the newbie.

So after setting my prices, distribution rights, categories and tags I hit ‘Publish’. A few hours later, there it was: my book available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle Store.

Okay, so now what? Who’s going to notice my little ebook among the millions on the Kindle store?

Obviously the first thing is to encourage family and friends to buy a copy. That was an interesting exercise. People showered their praise on me but not many actually went straight to their computer and bought the book. Fair enough, you can’t force people, but your friends and family are not going to make you successful on Amazon.

So what next? Back to the ‘how to’ manuals.  Rule number one: reviews and lots of them. One friend told me she only buys Kindle books with at least 50 reviews. In effect this means she only buys books from established authors, although I don’t think she sees it that way. Her view is that she wants value for money, and again that’s fair enough. We all want value for money.

Cover for How I Saved the WorldSo how do I get 50 reviews? This is where being in KDP Select comes in handy. I have five days where I can give away the book as a free promotion, and lots of giveaways should result in at least some reviews. So for five days over Christmas my book was available for free and resulted in over 1500 copies downloaded, of which more than half were on amazon.uk. This resulted in a total of three unsolicited reviews and increased sales in the following couple of weeks.

Now I have to resist checking my sales figures every hour and get on with what really matters: writing my next book. I have decided to write a sequel, purely from a marketing point of view.

It has been a genuinely interesting journey so far, and this has been a greatly abridged version of my experience. I do believe we are still at the beginning of the digital book era and I am optimistic that there is a future for me on Amazon Kindle.

Annette Cauchi is a writer and teacher from the Huon Valley in Southern Tasmania. Her first novel for children, How I Saved the World: Amazing Adventures of an Almost Superhero, has just been published as a Kindle ebook.

Click here to visit Annette’s blog.

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The business of writing: Part 2 of an interview with novelist and travel writer, Cameron Rogers

Today author Cameron Rogers talks about working with publishers, using a pen-name, having an agent, and what promotions support emerging writers can expect from publishers.

Cam, with your novels, what do your publishers expect from you in terms of rewrites?
It varies from publisher to publisher, editor to editor. A good editor understands what you’re attempting to do with a given manuscript and helps you work in that direction. Another editor may have a more commercial mindset and ask that the main character of your period drama be more like Starscream from Transformers. I wish I was making that last bit up.

But generally, I have to say, I’ve rarely come across an editor I had a hard time working with. The key, for me, is understanding that the end quality of the manuscript is more important than anything else, including your ego. You need to be okay with amputating whole chapters – months of work, maybe your best work – if the end result for the reader is greatly improved.

How do you find switching between novel writing and travel writing? Does one style of writing help with the other?
I think so. I think travel writing has made me a better novelist. I think it’s accentuated my grasp of texture, of experience, of immediacy, and how people can work. I can’t overstate the value of travel for any kind of writer.

Why did you decide to use a pen-name for Nicholas and the Chronoporter?
It seemed prudent. An established genre writer – like Cliver Barker or Neil Gaiman – can write a book for kids and people find that interesting. They seek it out. It’s almost as if they’ve descended from Olympus to impart some small gift to the people of the lowlands.

But if someone who is perceived to be a children’s writer publishes a conventional novel … that doesn’t seem to work. R.L. Stine – who started the bestselling Goosebumps line – did that. The book rotted on the shelves. So I decided to go with a pseudonym because I didn’t know which way my career was going to go, and I liked the idea of writing a book as a character. I’m hoping I can do more with Rowley Monkfish. I kinda like him.

I wonder why companies don’t make a more concerted effort to promote up-and-comers … I mean, Bryce Courtenay isn’t going to be around forever

Do you have an agent?
I’m represented by Howard Morhaim in New York. He’s had 30 years or more experience, is respected, and I like him as a person. I trust him, and it means I can spend less time sweating the fine print and more time writing. It just makes sense to have an agent like that onside. You not only get their experience, but you get their network of connections as well.

How do you go about negotiating your contracts with your publishers?
Again, that’s the value of an agent. Howard deals with them, gets back to me, we kick it around, and if need be there’s some back and forth. The idea of having to talk business with a publisher over the future of the current book … eurgh. Just, no.

Can people buy ebook versions of your novels?
The Music of Razors can be bought for the Kindle, via Amazon, if you’re in the US.  I’d very much like to get everything happening digitally, globally, eventually.

What’s happened in the past with publicity and promotions for your books? Have you had much assistance from your publishers or have you organised everything?
Somewhat oddly, it’s the popular and established authors who get the bulk of the publicity budget. First-timers, mid- and back-listers get practically zip. So it’s up to them to generate their own publicity however they can.

Since the financial meltdown pretty much every publishing house on Earth is fighting for its life, and they’re doing that via their front-list, so you can’t blame them for focusing squarely on the writers who pay the bills. But, that said, the front-listers have always had 95% of the budget. That’s not a new thing.

Partly out of self-interest and partly out of genuine curiosity I wonder why companies don’t make a more concerted effort to promote up-and-comers, if only to protect the future of their corporation. I mean, Bryce Courtenay isn’t going to be around forever.

Have you done a book trailer? Is this something you’d consider doing?
No I haven’t, but I definitely would. Anything that helps keep people aware that you’re still here doing your thing is valuable. Whether or not it’s cost-effective is something else entirely. But yeah, I’d definitely do it.

An editor may ask that the main character of your period drama be more like Starscream from Transformers. I wish I was making that last bit up.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Brian K. Vaughan said that writer’s block is just another word for computer games. The time lost playing just one of those things to completion, if you add it up, is shocking. Furthermore I find the repetition of action and visuals blunts the mind and makes it harder to work afterwards.

It pains me to say it, because I love the escapism of gaming, but I’d advise throwing out all of them, then travelling for three weeks to flush my head and reset. Then returning and getting started on something fresh.

And to remember that everything will take three times longer than I expect.

Cam’s bio

In 2001, Cam was the first author to be nominated simultaneously for three separate Aurealis Awards (Best Horror, Best Fantasy, Best Young Adult). This was for the Australian edition of The Music of Razors, which Neil Gaiman described as “A nightmarishly imaginative debut from a writer of real assurance and vision.”

Cam’s YA novella, Nicholas and the Chronoporter, is in print with Penguin Australia. It was written under the pen-name of Rowley Monkfish. His first published work, a YA novella entitled The Vampires, has been in print with Lothian since 1997.

Cam is currently travelling and working on his next novel. His most recent sales were articles on Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig and Sun Studio, Memphis, for The Age.

Weblinks

Click here for Cameron’s website/blog.

And here for paperback edition of the Music of Razors on Amazon.

Here is the link for The Music of Razors on Kindle.