I started writing fiction in the early 1980s. I wrote my first two novels on an electronic typewriter. One of the most valuable (and traumatic) lessons I learned was the value of a skilled (as in cruel and heartless) editor. To be honest, my first novel turned out to be more learning experience than productive effort - although that certainly wasn't what I wanted to believe after finishing the first draft. It took some tactlessly honest editorial advice to shatter my precious delusions and allow me to see the flaws in my storytelling. I reluctantly came to the realization that there was little actual value in my first novel beyond the learning experience of writing it. It would be easier - and much more fun - to start a second novel employing the lessons learned from writing the first.
I went through repeated cycles of taking my "near perfect" work to a trusted editor only to learn that it needed yet another major rewrite. But in retrospect, I have to admit that each time the editor was right, and the changes were a substantial improvement. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh first impression.
Finding an alternative to the endless retyping required by each rewrite was my primary motivation for buying my first computer in 1984. I wrote two more novels on that first computer - the fourth novel reusing the basic story line and characters from the now abandoned first.
Over the next 28 years I periodically submitted my novels to every science fiction and action-adventure publisher and literary agent listed in the guides. The only results were to add a couple more inches of rejections to the stack. I lent copies to friends, relatives, and unsuspecting acquaintances, and the responses tended to be positive. Most of those who read one of my novels seemed to actually want to read the others was well. However, the traditional publishing industry remained defiantly resistant to the attractions of my literary efforts.
Unable to convince a conventional agent or publisher to take on my novels, my primary alternative was to self-publish. While it was technically possible to produce a printed book without the involvement of a conventional publisher, it was exceedingly difficult to market a self-published book.
Until relatively recently the conventional publishing industry controlled the primary distribution channel for book sales. Most consumers bought their books from brick-and-mortar bookstores, and most bookstores only stocked books from the dominant publishers. Distribution of self-published novels tended to involve ads in the back of magazines or flea markets. It wasn't completely impossible for a self-published novel to be successful, but it was exceedingly rare. The more common outcome was a garage full of unsold books.
One of the often sited advantages of digital publishing was the elimination of the costs and complications of printing and distributing a physical book. An ebook is just a collection of bytes that can be easily duplicated without the capital investment of a printing press and bindery, and shipped directly to readers anywhere in the world over the Internet without all the overhead of trucking and warehousing. In addition to eliminating the costs and limitations of producing and distributing a paper book, the transition to electronic publishing has the potential of also eliminating the need for all the layers, conflicts of interest, and artificial obstacles to participation inherent in the legacy publishing industry.
The technology for digital publishing has been around for decades, but consumer acceptance has been slow in coming. Various attempts to offer digital publications failed over the years to gain public acceptance. I was one of those who tried to jump on the bandwagon before there was a bandwagon. I first fell prey back in the middle 1980s to the trap of thinking that the obvious advantages of digital publishing would quickly revolutionize the publishing industry. I wrote the publishing and reader software for a project to publish digital magazines back when 5.25" floppy disks where the cutting edge portable digital media. Alas, the market wouldn't be ready to accept digital publishing for another couple of decades.
While previous attempts to sell tablet style readers failed for various reasons, the current generation of devices appear to have finally achieved some measure of consumer acceptance. I've noticed in on-line discussions that unlike previous failure patterns, those who have the current generation of devices appear to continue using their devices after the novelty wears off. This suggests that the ebook market may have matured sufficiently to be a viable alternative to ink-on-paper publishing.
The gradual acceptance of buying printed books on-line was probably a necessary incremental step in the increasing acceptance of using digital devices to read books. Amazon has become the de facto leading global bookstore. It's become one of the automatic places to check for pretty much any kind of book even if you buy it somewhere else.
Amazon's revolutionary business model greatly reduces the cost of maintaining inventory, making it cost effective to distribute low volume books. This in turn removes the primary economic justification for excluding self-published books. So unlike typical brick-and-mortar bookstores, Amazon is willing to carry self-published books. In a somewhat parallel track, on-demand printing appears to be finally becoming a cost-effective alternative to conventional printing.
Between on-demand printing and willingness to handle self-published books, Amazon provides independent authors with access to distribution channels that conventional publishers have long jealousy restricted to just the authors in their catalogs. The digital marketplace holds the promise of allowing both authors and readers to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of the legacy publishing industry, and make their own connections.
The increasing success of the new digital book marketplace convinced me that this might be a good time to give the new publishing alternatives a try. Amazon appears to be making a serious effort to support non-kindle devices/platforms. There are free native Kindle readers available for PCs (Windows and Mac), iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, and Android phones. The Kindle Cloud Reader allows readers to use a Linux/Mac/Windows web browser to read Kindle ebooks. Support for non-Kindle hardware/platforms was a major factor in my decision to publish as a Kindle ebook. Once I'd settled on Amazon for digital publishing, it was logical to also explore the print-on-demand service offered by Amazon's Createspace subsidiary.
The first thing I had to do was reformat the contents of my book to fit the specifications on the Kindle publishing website. I assembled the title and copyright pages followed by the chapters into one long file, making sure to insert page breaks to separate the special pages and keep the chapters from running into each other. Fonts can be specified for chapter headings but most text should be left undefined so that the display can be controlled by the reader. I then saved the assembled file in HTML format. I used LibraOffice for this task, but MS-Word could also be used.
The need for cover art was something of an unexpected obstacle. Cover art isn't technically required, but when I scanned the competition on the Kindle books website, every listing had cover art. Painting a cover from scratch with a mouse was out of the question, as was paying a professional artist. I was limited to splicing together a composite image out of bits and pieces extracted from public domain images I found on the web.
An experienced graphic artist could probably have produced an impressive cover in a few hours. I spent the better part of a week trying different concepts and components that didn't fit together as well as envisioned. I also had to relearn how to use layers and transparencies in Gimp (the Linux equivalent of PhotoShop). I spent a lot of time working at 800x carefully masking pixel by pixel around the part of an image I wanted, then scaling, rotating, and otherwise altering the fragment into what I needed. I ended up with at least 10 layers of components to assemble the cover image for my novel. The final result isn't likely to win any awards, but should be adequate to serve the purpose. It should at least be better than a blank cover.
The suggested path on the Kindle publishing website is a "Start here" button. My progress through the process was in fits and starts. I had to postpone steps and repeatedly stop to do something or look something up. In retrospect, it would have been more efficient to read through all of the relevant documentation on the Kindle publishing website before starting the on-line publishing process. During the process I had to make decisions and select options that only made sense after reading the docs and faqs.
Once I'd formatted the cover art and contents, and uploaded the files, I could preview the results. After that the process was largely a matter of filling in the blanks and checking options on forms. My novel was added to the Kindle catalog later the same day I submitted the forms.
Amazon makes the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) optional. My personal opinion is that DRM primarily annoys and inconveniences legitimate customers while generally failing to achieve its intended purpose of preventing piracy. I chose to publish my ebook without DRM, and to allow those who purchase my ebook to lend it to others after they've finished with it.
The Kindle lending library appears to be a potentially useful way for an unknown author to get exposure while still hopefully making some return on his work. The idea is that Amazon puts up a sum of money each month that is paid out to the authors whose books are borrowed based in their percentage of total books borrowed. Consumers can try an unfamiliar author for free, Amazon can use the availability of "free" books to promote the Kindle as a desirable reading device, and authors benefit from Amazon's increased promotion of their books. At least that's the theory. It will be interesting to see if the concept comes anywhere close to its claimed potential.
The process for self-publishing a print-on-demand book was similar to a Kindle ebook, but many of the details were different. The cover art had to be much higher resolution (300dpi vs 72dpi), the dimensions were slightly different for the "cut size" I selected (6"x9" as recommended), and I needed additional artwork for the back cover. I used the on-line Cover Creator tool to manage the layout and spline lettering.
Createspace wants the book contents uploaded as a PDF with special page layouts, gutters, margins, and fonts. I found the easiest way to comply with the specs was to start by downloading an appropriate template from the Createspace website. I then pasted my contents into the template using LibreOffice, and exported the results as a PDF. It took a couple of tries to get the pages right and produce a PDF the on-line checker would approve.
Createspace provides an on-line reviewer tool, but a physical proof copy is needed to be really sure how the final book will turn out. Createspace provided a single-use discount code so that I could order a free proof copy. The free shipping included in the offer is slow shipping, pausing the process for the time the proof copy is in transit. The final step after checking the proof copy will be to log back into Createspace's website and approve distribution of my book.
Royalties are paid approximately 60 days after the month of a book sale. I was offered the option of payment by check or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) directly into my bank account. EFT appears to be Amazon's preferred payment method. Payment by check has a $10 minimum and checks are issued in the currency of the sale. Depositing checks in foreign currencies can involve conversion fees. Since I'm in the US, EFT deposits will all be in $US, making EFT the more efficient payment method.
One obvious consideration in self-publishing is that for good or bad, the contents of my book will be exactly what I uploaded. I can remember all too clearly thinking that my first draft was near perfection, but now recognize that it was far from ready. The now obvious flaws would have been at minimum annoying to readers, and could well have compromised my efforts to offer better prepared books in the future. I've learned that as an author I'm too close to my work to accurately see its flaws. The latest version of my novel has undergone a lot of editing and proof-reading by others, and so should now be reasonably publication ready. It certainly wasn't when I first thought it was...
It appears that the primary "quality control function" is provided by reader reviews. It's my understanding that Amazon does some minimum review to ensure the formatting is within specs and to check for obviously unacceptable material. They don't normally perform the editing and story development functions of a traditional publisher. They do offer optional extra cost "professional" editorial services.
The Kindle sales and Createspace print-on-demand publishing agreements are nonexclusive. I can publish my novel in other ways and with other services if I wish. Amazon does grant itself the right to lower their price for my novel if they discover it's being offered at a lower price somewhere else on the web. The Kindle lending library program does require a minimum 90 days of exclusivity.
The easiest way to find my novel is probably to go to www.amazon.com and search in "books" for "kort patterson".
Since writing the above I've published my other two novels as both Kindle and print-on-demand. Two of my novels are also available as Barnes and Noble Nook ebooks. I enrolled the first novel I published in the Kindle lending library program. This requires at least 90 days exclusivity which is delaying its availability on B&N. It's probably too early to make a definitive judgment, but so far no one has borrowed the book I enrolled in the lending library while the two Nook ebooks have sold three copies - making the lending library look like a statistically questionable deal at this point.
It will likely be awhile before I can order the yacht. My books have only sold a handful of copies so far, with the highest ranked one rising all the way up to #150,675 in Amazon's Best Sellers Rank of "paid" books. Still, with all three now available, my publishing empire may eventually provide a modest source of pin-money. This is arguably better than nothing, although in terms of hourly wage just the time I spent crafting cover art and formating the text probably works out to less than a penny/hour.
OTOH, my novels have been more successful in just the last month and a half as Kindle/Nook ebooks than they were over the previous 28 years with conventional publishers...