When I set out to publish Tom Oatmeal’s short fiction collection (Remember that Nice Lady Who Used to Make Homemade Peanut Brittle? She’s Dead.) on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and Kobo’s Writing Life (KWL) platforms two weeks ago, I never could have imagined that it would turn into one of the most daunting tasks the lovely ladies of Wolf Lit had set to me so far. After all, self-publishing should be easy, right? That’s why everyone’s doing it!
I’m Carly Britton, the new intern here at Wolf Literary, and I’m so happy to say that working with the Wolf Pack has been amazing so far! This self-publishing project was definitely a challenge, but I emerged victorious in the end and am looking forward to sharing some tips with you that will help make your self-publishing endeavors a little bit easier.
You might be wondering why we, a literary agency primarily aimed at getting our authors’ work published traditionally, would dabble in self-publishing at all. It’s a good question! But in the case of this particular book, which is a collection of flash fiction pieces with an absurd sense of humor, publishing solely on digital platforms seemed like a good solution. While Tom Oatmeal has a strong presence online, it seemed likely that there would be a very specific audience for his book. And when Nook Snaps offered to provide some financing and promotion in exchange for a few months of exclusivity, it appeared we had the perfect arrangement.
So, back to my self-publishing adventure:
I had the manuscript, art, and metadata locked and loaded. I know how to operate a computer. I had a good internet connection. And, of course, I had guarantees from Amazon and Kobo alike that I could publish the book in just 3 or 5 easy steps, respectively.
It wasn’t quite that simple.
The moral of the story? There’s a reason they keep those folks in the Production Department around. They’re important.
But, if you still want to make a go of it alone, there’s hope! That Nice Lady is now on sale with Amazon and Kobo (it’s also been available for six months for Nook), which must mean that we were successful in our quest.
Some lessons learned:
Making your account isn’t included as one of the “easy” steps, but it’s a big one.
Both Amazon and Kobo make it sound like making your account is as easy as entering your email address and password. It’s not, but that makes sense when you think about it: if your book sells even one copy (hopefully more!), they’re going to be paying you, so they need information about your financials. Amazon will ask for your tax information, and allows you to choose between a semi-annual mailed check and direct deposit. Kobo only does direct deposit, so they’ll be asking you for your banking information.
Read the documentation.
Most of the answers are there, it just takes a little bit of hunting to find them. The Amazon help topics are displayed in a sidebar the entire time you’re publishing, but there are so many of them that sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly where you just saw that answer you really need. Kobo’s online documentation isn’t as helpful, but they have a User Guide PDF that you can download that will walk you through the process step-by-step. And if you’re still stuck, you can always find more advice all over the internet written by bloggers like me.
There are a couple of decisions to be made that don’t exist for authors in the traditional publishing world.
In a nutshell, those are: pricing, digital rights management (DRM), and geographic rights. Geographic rights are pretty straightforward: if you own the rights to your book and you’re planning to publish with just the usual ebook self-publishing suspects (Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Smashwords), then it should be okay to select “Worldwide Rights.”
Likewise, digital rights management is pretty easy. It’s just a straightforward yes or no question, and if you select yes, it will mean that a reader’s copy of your book will be restricted to the platform they bought it on. (For example, someone who buys your book with Amazon will only be able to read it on their Kindle or Kindle app.)
Pricing is the trickiest part of this conversation, because if you charge outside a certain range, both Amazon and Kobo will give you a smaller slice of the pie. The percentages you make and the preferred price ranges vary by platform, which can complicate things if you’re trying to keep your pricing consistent across all platforms. But don’t worry too much, because you can always go back into your account and change your list price.
Have everything ready to go.
Your project will be complicated enough without having to worry about things like “Did we miss a typo?” or “What should we use as the synopsis?” Make sure that you’ve got your metadata, a nice JPEG file to upload as the cover image, and that you have the manuscript in Microsoft Word to enable formatting tweaks later on.
Read the formatting documentation again.
Each platform has information about the golden rules for formatting your manuscript. For instance, Amazon encourages you to use a DOC or DOCX file to upload and reminds you to use the page break function to start chapters on new pages. Kobo has a different rule for starting chapters on a new page: they ask you to use the section break function rather than the page break.
Preview, preview, preview.
This is the most important step. Actually uploading your manuscript is easy, but making it look good can be a headache. Amazon has a previewer built in to their website that allows you to see what your book will look like on all the different kinds of Kindles, as well as on iPhone and iPad. The tricky part, however, is that those different devices do different things with your formatting: it’s a good idea to check every single page on each different device’s preview.
With Kobo, previewing isn’t built in to the website. You’ll need to download Adobe Digital Editions (for free, fortunately) from the web and use that to see what your ebook will look like. We found that our imported Word document did not translate well to Kobo at all, and after an afternoon or two of tweaking and calling customer service, we discovered that it’s best to use a downloadable program called Calibre as a transition to Kobo’s platform. We generated an EPUB file from our Word document with Calibre, and then were able to upload seamlessly to Kobo, with only a few minor tweaks to our formatting necessary. Again, remember to check every page.
Even though the process is relatively quick, it’s not instant gratification.
After slogging through all the formatting, it would be nice to immediately see your book go live. But once you click “Publish,” Amazon or Kobo still has to review and approve your submission.
On the flip side, your book remains flexible.
There’s no reason your final manuscript has to stay final; after all, it’s not like you’re printing dozens or hundreds of copies. If you find a typo that you absolutely cannot stand or a formatting error you wish you had fixed, all you have to do is replace the old content with new. In 24 hours, your updated book will be the one your readers are buying.
There are definitely pros and cons to any publishing platform, but in the ideal scenario, the flexibility and speed of self-publishing should outweigh some of its challenges. Hopefully, these tips will help you iron out the kinks and get your book to its readers ASAP.
Check out Tom Oatmeal’s Remember That Nice Lady Who Used to Make Homemade Peanut Brittle? She’s Dead. on your favorite ebook platform: