Thousands of people have published their own Kindle books and then blogged about the process. I decided to do the same. But this is in no way a definitive guide. It’s just a list of bits of information I picked up along the way and thought ‘that’s useful, I wish I’d known it before’. I’ve added on some notes about a later decision to produce a print-on-demand paperback too.
This is the book I’m discussing – Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age: how to feel better without logging off.
Some parts of the process of publishing a Kindle are surprisingly unintuitive, whilst other parts are easier than you think. But at the start you can only know what you know. After that, you learn as you go along. These are my learnings. I hope they’re helpful to you.
Why I decided to make my own Kindle book
September 2013: Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace was published by Bloomsbury Academic in hardback, paperback and ebook formats. It had taken me eight years to write and involved a great deal of travelling and research. The journey of discovery I went through then has generated some very interesting directions which I’ve been thinking and writing about ever since.
‘Technobiophilia’, by the way, is my word for the way we connect with nature through technology, such as enjoying and sharing nature photos, experiencing nature in video games and virtual reality, and using technology to get to know the natural world through webcams and various mobile apps.
January 2015 Sales of Technobiophilia were slow and I was quite depressed by the difficulty of marketing a book through an academic publisher. It’s hard to get noticed as a general writer, but even harder as an academic writer.
Plus, I had left academia and gone freelance without a safety net, so my networks had changed. But there was definitely some interest in technobiophilia, and I was increasingly being invited to give talks and be interviewed about it, so clearly it wasn’t quite dead in the water. However, it was the potential of the idea, rather than the book itself, that was attracting attention. I decided that what was needed was a short book giving a simple explanation of the theory with examples and providing practical tips on how to connect our digital lives more closely to nature.
I pitched a detailed full-length proposal to an American agent, recommended by a friend as being likely sympathetic to my ideas. She was interested in it but said that since I am a UK author I needed to pitch it to her UK associate first. I did that, then waited for a few months for the response. In the meantime I wrote a sample chapter, which I sent to both of them, and waited some more.
By the time a decision came, 9 months after the initial exchange, I’d somewhat lost interest in the idea of a full-length book on the subject and increasingly felt it shouldn’t be more than 25 or 30 thousand words long. This is not a length that appeals to traditional publishers, but I was beginning to feel reluctant about spinning out a topic to 3 times its natural size. That’s why I was rather relieved when the agents’ verdict came back: after their initial excitement, it turned out to be a no.
Deflated, I put my plans and sample chapter away, and turned my attention to other projects. Of course I could have pursued other agents, but I’d realised by then that I didn’t have a full-length book to offer. It needed to be no more than around 25k words, and there was no point in trying to sell it to publishers looking for at least 65k.
January 2017 Interest in the subject of technobiophilia continued to grow. I received some interesting invitations to speak, including an event at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and a trip to Singapore as a Visiting Professor. My work was being discussed in a number of publications and it featured in a new book. People interviewed me; PhD students emailed me; building companies were asking for my input. I really needed to publish something!
So I decided to bite the bullet and make my own Kindle book.
My publishing history
I’ve written quite a few books . Most are available in print only, but a few are available as e-books.
When Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace was published by Bloomsbury in 2013, it automatically came with a Kindle edition produced by the publishers. As it happens, in 2004 I’d written Hello World: travels in virtuality, a very personal memoir of my life in cyberspace. It made a perfect companion to Technobiophilia but it was old and only available in paperback. So I paid a friend of a friend to scan a print copy and convert it to Kindle and e-book formats. I think I paid him £100, a sum I’ll probably never earn back from sales, but it felt important at the time and I’m glad I did it.
An incidental benefit during that process was that I was able to change the chapter titles. I’d always regretted using numbers instead of prose for them in the print book, but never had the chance to revise them and the conversion process allowed me to do it. Beyond that, I don’t think I changed it at all.
So I’d seen my books published in in e-formats but had never done the work myself. Now it was time to take it on. I would not only write the e-book that was already in my head, I would also make it myself with my own bare hands!
The practicalities of making a Kindle book
This section is not a detailed guide to making a Kindle book, but a collection of issues I came across which might be helpful to anyone thinking of doing the same. The list is fairly random and not in any logical order. I hope it’s helpful. Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments. You may be wondering why I didn’t produce it in different e-book formats. The answer is (1) fear and (2) the lack of space in my brain to accommodate more than one set of rules.
- If you’ve never read a Kindle book, it’s vital you check out a few before you begin. It doesn’t need to cost anything. You can download free Kindle reader software for several different platforms, and many Kindle books are free. There’s also the wonderful feature of being able to download free samples which can teach you a lot about what works (and what doesn’t). So make sure you’re fully familiar with the experience of reading Kindle books before you do anything else.
- When you begin, follow the formatting style recommendations as given by Amazon. After several false starts when I was trying to be too clever, I found that the best and easiest way to create the manuscript is to write it in MS Word then save the final copy in webpage filtered html format. But be warned – there are quite a few things you can’t do in a Kindle manuscript so make sure you don’t do them then have to undo them later. These include:
- Formatting: you’re producing content for several different kinds of screens so it has to be able to run on in different ways. Don’t be too ambitious with formatting.
- Page numbers – use them in the draft to help you navigate, but remove them for the final document.
- Page headers don’t work. (Neither, presumably, do footers, although I didn’t try them)
- Automated contents table does work, but stick to the basic formatting. You won’t need page numbers – the headings will hyperlink to the relevant location instead.
- Footnotes and endnotes work. I chose endnotes to keep things tidy.
- Images – you can include them, but they are fiddly and difficult. I tried a few and gave up.
- Coloured text – I saw a Kindle book with lovely coloured text and wanted to do the same, but it seems that’s a privilege accorded only to professional designers. The basic home-made Kindle can only use black type.
- MS Word headers like H1 and H2 work, and it’s better to use them than to manually format headings.
- Page breaks work.
- In a print book, you might add a page break to ensure that the next section begins on an odd-numbered page. No need for this in an e-book.
- If you want to send out review copies, you can generate either a .mobi file to be opened in a Kindle reader, or a PDF file. I wrote to various potential reviewers and was surprised to discover that some of them don’t actually read ebooks at all and don’t own a Kindle reader of any kind. They asked for PDFs but I wonder whether anyone actually reads these ungainly monsters, either online or by printing them out? I certainly don’t like them myself.
- It is now possible to generate an instant preview which can be read without a Kindle.
- You can, of course, use clickable hyperlinks in your text, though of course they’ll take the reader away from your book.
- Proofread. Print it out at least once to look for typos and corrections. When you’ve uploaded your manuscript, use the online viewer to check it as many times as you need. Always check after uploading a new revision. Proofread until your eyes are bleeding.
- Look out for weirdnesses. When my book was published, I saw some odd short green lines on the screen. I managed to fix them but have no idea why they were there.
- The best thing about Kindle is that if you’ve published your book and it’s already on sale then you discover yet another error, you can quietly upload a revised manuscript and rest easy.
- If you have serious errors which must be fixed, Amazon *might* agree to send out updates to people who have already bought the book, but they have to be serious errors. Fixing a few things, or general revisions, don’t count as notifiable.
- Amazon will help you decide on a price for your book, but you have the power to change the price at any time, and to make it free for a limited period now and again.
- If you’re planning to make it free for a while, make sure you run a marketing campaign alongside it, or nobody will know about it.
- Marketing is essential and there are zillions of websites offering free and paid advice. Don’t pay for advice until you’ve tried all the free. Read Amazon’s marketing advice first.
- However… I paid for some Amazon marketing ads (AMS Services) but it took me a while to realise that they are only shown on Amazon.com. I want to reach the US market, of course, but I’m based in the UK and am probably better known there. I would have liked the option to show my ads in countries other than the USA, and I would have liked AMS to at least tell me that this service is not available.
- If you can’t find the answer to your questions, you can always ask the KDP community but I have found their advice variable. However, the KDP people themselves are very helpful and pretty quick to respond.
- When making my e-book, I used MS Word and followed the instructions on the KDP website. However, I later used CreateSpace to turn it into a paperback, and had a very good experience, so next time I might use them to make my next native Kindle.
- I’m not a visual person and I found designing the cover quite difficult. I started off using the KDP Cover Creator, then switched to Canva, which was great. However, I admit that I’ve struggled with designing the cover, and at the time of writing the one you see in Amazon is the 3rd version, and this was made in CreateSpace when I was producing the paperback. Every one of them seems right, until I see something better. I’m a bit embarrassed by that, but reluctant at the moment to commission a graphic designer to do it for me.
- You can change the title and subtitle of your book any time, which is great but obviously not something to do too often. I considered changing the title after a couple of months, but decided in the end to just change the subtitle.
I really enjoyed the process of making my own Kindle book from start to finish. My next project will be to convert my 1992 novel Correspondence and write an essay to go alongside it – a book project that I’m guessing most editors would reject out of hand. But I have a lot more to say about it now, 25 years on.
- And now, to proudly present the title I’ve been working on. However, this is not the end of the story. Read on!
Adding a paperback edition
After I published my Kindle book, I was surprised to discover how many people expressed a preference for a hard copy edition. At first I felt this was completely beyond my abilities but in the end I decided to give it a try. I set up an account at Createspace to build a print-on-demand book that could be sold on Amazon alongside the Kindle version. I found people there very helpful and learned a huge amount. Here are some thoughts about the experience:
- When making the Kindle, I had created the manuscript in MS Word then saved it in webpage filtered html to upload it to Kindle. For the paperback, I made a copy of the MS Word document, saved it in a new folder, and put back some of the features I’d had to remove, such as page numbers and page headers.
- I decided the physical size and qualities of my paperback, something I didn’t have to do with Kindle.
- I reformatted the pages.
I made some radical changes to the structure of the book. In the Kindle book, I had interspersed practical tips throughout. When converting to paperback I realised this didn’t work, so I moved them all into a new section, Part 3. In fact I ended up making quite a few small editorial changes throughout the book, including a change to chapter headings and even the subtitle of the book itself. I was able to add a few black and white chapter plates, the same beautiful images that my sister, the artist Carolyn Black, had created for Technobiophilia: nature and cyberspace.
- The cover design involves a front and back, of course, and I used Createspace’s tools to do that. I had lots of my own photos I wanted to choose from for the cover image, but none of them were anywhere near the necessary 300dpi. With print this is extremely important, whereas you can get away with a much lower dpi for web images. In the end, I used a copyright free image found online, along with one of the templates provided by Createspace. Of course I could have paid a professional to design the cover, but I really wanted to do it myself. I went through quite a few versions before making a decision, and ended up paying for 3 different proof copies to be sent to me so I could hold them in my hands. (see the image at the top of this blog post)
- Print on demand is extremely flexible and, as with Kindle, after your book is published you can change the contents, the jacket, the price, and the blurb.
- Here’s a tip about buying your own copies at cost price. You can do this on Createspace, and you can sell your book from their platform too. But if you want to sell it on Amazon, the transfer process locks it and you can no longer buy copies from Createspace. I notice that Amazon says this service is on the way, but it’s not here yet. I got round it by buying a batch of copies just before I transferred the book to Amazon (a non-reversible process, btw). But I won’t be able to buy any more at cost, at least not until Amazon allows me to.
- Something else about sales of Print on Demand – when I sell a Kindle book, the sale appears pretty much immediately in my KDP dashboard. I can’t see who bought it or anything like that, but I can see that there has been a sale in whichever country it was. I tested that by buying a copy of the Kindle edition myself and the sale appeared in the dashboard immediately. It’s not like that with paperbacks. They only appear after they’ve been dispatched. Bearing in mind that they have to be printed first, it will be interesting to see how long the whole process takes, both from the point of view of the seller and of the buyer.
- Postscript: Having made all those changes to the paperback version, I then needed to mirror them in the Kindle version. So it was back to the e-book version again, more reformatting and reverse engineering, until the two editions matched. Now, at last, I think they do. I hope they do. I certainly don’t want to proofread them ever again!
Will they sell? Which will sell more – Kindle or paperback?
That’s the big question. During this process I’ve learned a lot about marketing but have a long way to go. As with any Amazon book, it really helps if people post reviews of your title. It helps if they share it with their friends on social media. And it helps if the press picks it up and writes about it. But many writers are never touched by the fairy dust of exposure, and if nobody knows about your book, nobody will buy it.
So that’s my next challenge – to get people reading the book, in either format, and to get them talking about it. Let’s see how that works out.