Kobo Direct Uploads for Indie Authors Self-Publishing

Kobo logoKobo ebook retailer just announced Kobo Writing Life, a direct method for Indie authors and self-publishers to upload ebooks to the Canadian store’s cyber-shelves. It’s still in beta-mode and scheduled to be widely available by the end of June. Presently, Kobo is most commonly accessed by Indies via Smashwords.com or another distributor.

From their website:

How’s it work?

Bring us your Word documents, your Mobi files, your Text files! We’ll run your manuscript through our advanced open-source conversion process, transforming it into an ePub in a snap so it’s ready for instant publication to hoards of Kobo readers.

Read Freely? Write freely, too!

Unlike some self-publishing portals we could mention, Kobo doesn’t bind you to us. Publish to Kobo and take your ePub to your adoring fans, no matter where they might be. You’re free to sell your eBook the way you want.

From your computer to the world

Set up your free Kobo Writing Life account and start publishing right away. You won’t have to wait long for the accolades (and royalties) to start pouring in! Kobo Writing Life is launching soon. If you sign up now, you’ll be the first to know and get your eBooks out! Sign up link.

Okay, Kobo takes a shot at Amazon’s KDP Select program by mentioning they aren’t requiring an exclusive agreement. While I don’t like the KDP Select program either, pretty sure Amazon isn’t too worried. After all, Indies have the choice at KDP Amazon and besides, what took so long, Kobo?


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D’vorah Lansky Interviews Jason Matthews

Dvorah LanskyAuthor and book marketing wizard, D’vorah Lansky recently interviewed me on the subject of How Authors Can Benefit by Publishing Their eBooks on Multiple Platforms. It’s an hour video packed with info on this topic including questions on publishing with Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad, Smashwords, selling pdf files from your own sites, teaching a Udemy video course and more. If you don’t have an hour, read the cliff notes below. You can also learn about D’vorah and her work at both http://www.bookmarketingmadeeasy.com/ and http://DigitalPublishingVirtualSummit.com.

Jason, how did you get involved in the digital publishing / eBook world? In 1992 I wrote a screenplay and eventually signed with a film agent. Then I watched a decade pass with no deals. I finally rewrote the screenplay as a novel and also wrote a sequel, but both of those tasks took seven more years. By that time I had little patience for agents or publishers, so after a few rejections I decided to self-publish. I remember the exact moment it occurred in 2009, watching a college football game with a player named “Kindle” and the proverbial light-bulb turned on in my head. I knew then that my novels must be made available for Amazon Kindle owners and began the investigation of how to do that.

Why do you feel it is important for authors to publish their book digitally? Whether the author is traditionally published, or a newbie Indie or something in between, she/he must make those stories available digitally because ebooks are growing exponentially while print publishing is a flat industry. It’s also been shown that people who read ebooks are far more active readers and buyers. Ebooks enable an enormous portable library for people to read anywhere, even from their cell phones (you’d be surprised how many do).

In addition to Amazon, what are the top publishing options authors should consider, and why? This is currently the big question, and the answer isn’t the same for every author. In my experience Amazon is the king—Amazon is all that matters to me since they sell about 90% of my ebooks. Amazon even has a program called KDP Select, which requires a 90 day exclusive clause that the ebook is only available at Amazon and literally nowhere else including an author’s website. KDP Select offers special promotions and can really help spread an author’s name within the e-reading circles. Surprisingly, I’ve opted not to do KDP Select to keep my ebooks available everywhere possible. Because I teach these methods, my books must be available at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, Kobo, Sony, directly through my own websites and even as paperbacks via CreateSpace. Incredibly, all of these things are possible to do at no cost. For other authors, Amazon might be all they need although I would recommend having print copies available at CreateSpace, Lightning Source or Lulu. Print copies do not violate the terms for KDP Select.

If an author has published to Amazon, what benefits are there to also publishing to Barnes and Noble’s Nook? I know some authors who have great sales at Barnes & Noble. A small number sell more there than at Amazon and some sell with reasonable amounts like 25% of what they sell at Amazon. My ratio used to be about 15%, but lately it’s plummeted to 3% for Barnes & Noble sales compared to Amazon. However, that could change at any time so it makes sense for me to keep my books on their shelves. It’s really difficult to pull books from a retailer when they have sold well in the past. Anything could happen in the months ahead.

I know you have a video series in progress where you talk about how you take great care to publish and harness the marketing tools for both Kindle and Nook but your Kindle sales still overtake your Nook sales at a rate of 39:1. What can you share with us about your findings? Some of that is my venting to Barnes & Noble, meaning I wish they were doing the same business for me as Amazon. I find the entire platform at B & N less reader/author friendly including how their search engines operate, a lack of categories, lack of tags and how they recommend books to readers based on demonstrated preferences. Part of it is also this—I believe B & N got into the e-reading game reluctantly and a bit too late. They resisted the initial digital surge until finally realizing the brick and mortar design alone could not stand afloat, and so they introduced the Nook in Oct. 2009, well after the Kindle was established in Nov. 2007. It’s a great product and B & N was a great store, but why did it take them so long to get on board digitally? In the past week Microsoft invested heavily in Barnes & Noble with a pledge of $600 million to help the company compete with Amazon and Apple. Okay, we knew Microsoft didn’t like Apple, but it doesn’t take much now to see Microsoft and Amazon aren’t in bed either. Personally, I think Bill Gates may have just dumped over half a billion dollars. I wonder if Barnes & Noble is a doomed company still relying heavily on brick and mortar sales. If that’s true, it’s a good thing for Mr. Gates that he can easily afford the $600 million.

Are you familiar with publishing aggregates such as Lulu.com and Smashwords.com and what can you share with us about these companies? I’m a huge fan of Smashwords, a company that’s done more for ebooks and Indie authors than anything outside of Amazon. I met the CEO, Mark Coker, at the 2010 San Francisco Writers Conference and got his autograph (first one he’s signed). Smashwords helps new authors in more ways than I can list here. It does a dual publishing job of converting documents into multiple formats to be read on many devices while also distributing ebooks to companies like Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, Kobo and Diesel for sales. Smashwords does a tremendous amount of work while taking a smidgeon of profits (around 5%). Lulu, in my opinion, used to make more sense than it does now. For publishing ebooks, just upload directly to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple (if you’re a Mac user) and Smashwords for distribution to the rest. For paper versions, I recommend CreateSpace or Lightning Source over Lulu, but Lulu is not a bad platform either. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, which makes the integration of ebook and print versions on their site seamless.

Jason, what else would you like to share with our community of authors, coaches, and speakers, regarding publishing their eBooks? This question could be answered in an entire book, or several–believe me because I’ve written them. If I could only impress one idea to a new author getting a book released, it would be this; experiencing success as an Indie author is most likely to happen if you do three things well. First, your book must be fantastic. It must be well-edited and make people want to read it entirely then share it with others who might benefit. Second, you must do everything possible to get the word out about your book, and this is probably wiser with free methods like blogging, participating in forums and using social media. Third, you must have thick skin for the nay-sayers while also having devout persistence when the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. These things typically don’t happen overnight. There are a million Indie authors releasing ebooks, but only a tiny fraction will succeed. To be successful, you must have those three attributes to rise above the masses.

What one thing would you have our listeners do, in the next 24-hours, to take action on what you shared with us today?

Build an Internet Platform or Internet Presence list and identify your strong areas and those that need work. Think of it like a checklist or an outline or even a marketing plan, whatever works best for you. Items on the checklist don’t need to be worked on in a specific order, all can be done simultaneously in bits and pieces. These should include:

  • Writing the book
  • Editing the book (and this can be done in a several ways)
  • Cover design
  • Formatting the ebooks for Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and your own sites
  • Formatting for print versions (CreateSpace, Lightning Source, Lulu)
  • Building social media presence (Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube)
  • Building a blog and/or website
  • Identifying the best forums for your subjects and participating at least occasionally.

Once you have the list (checklist, outline or marketing plan), refer to it monthly to identify which elements need the most work and stick with it.

Succeeding as an author today is perhaps equally as difficult whether one attempts to get published traditionally or enter the world of self-publishing. In both cases, the author will be required to market her/his books. The main benefit in choosing the self-publishing route is bypassing the waiting game; getting a book out there in little time and working on sales is a rewarding momentum boost for many Indies.

If that sounds like you then I recommend my book, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free. It’s a guide for learning everything it takes to make and sell books in a digital world on a budget everyone can afford. There is also advice for those who’d like to spend money wisely.

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11 Great Writing Tips and Overcoming Writer’s Block

Snoopy dark and stormy nightIt was a dark and stormy night… then what?

You might be thinking, “The first sentence flows nicely—now time drags deathly slow as I stare at a blank page.”

Ever felt this way when starting a writing project? If so, you’re in good company. About 80% of people want to write a book yet less than 1% will actually complete and sell a book. There are many reasons for this, and it leaves me wondering how much of it has to do with writer’s block.

It happens to everyone sometimes, even prolific authors. The important thing is to get past it. When you find yourself feeling blocked, do what I do and force some typing even if the sentences are utter garbage, only to be tossed later after serving the purpose of warming up fingers and getting creative juices to flow. Don’t edit anything, ignore typos, just keep going even if it’s junk. You might be pleasantly surprised what it morphs into within a few minutes.

Although there are no rules in love or war or writing, there are common sense guidelines. Writing advice abounds with tips like “show, don’t tell,” “use true-to-life dialogue” and “beware of too many adverbs.” Okay, that’s good stuff, but writing is still an art form—there’s no way to define in a nutshell what makes for good or bad writing. Plus there are genre nuances for thrillers, romance, biographies, young adult, etc. However, some books please lots of people and get read in bunches while other books are duds, so I’d like to focus on what seems to be common factors for authors who produce works that sell.

What are your best writing tips? Leave them in the comments. Here are 11 of mine and general guidelines that have helped me:

  • Have something to say. It sounds incredible but many writers begin manuscripts because they always dreamed of being an author. There’s nothing wrong with that dream; it’s just not as effective a motivator for telling a fascinating story as having the idea for a fascinating story. When inspiration strikes, write! When it doesn’t, feel free to do other things. Once you have a story concept and characters, make an outline and start writing anything that comes to mind.
  • Commit to a schedule. The hardest part is sitting at the computer and turning off distractions. Set a timer for 30 minutes, or make a goal to write a little bit every day for one week. You’ll be amazed how many pages will pile up quickly.
  • Find your voice and trust it. No need to emulate Stephen King or J. K. Rowling; just be you.
  • Hook the reader early. New writers don’t have long to impress so make your first few pages draw the reader in. Dump your main character in an awkward spot, or create conflict right off the bat, or present a fascinating concept.
  • Bring in the five senses. Help the reader feel, see, hear, smell and even taste elements of the story. These are tidbits that make huge differences, like adding spices to a meal.
  • Trim the fat. Find excessive words and delete them. Less is more.
  • Know your characters and show them. You might be more plot-oriented, but spending time getting to know your characters will help immensely. Write pages on what they were like as children, their habits, who they’d argue with, even choices for ice cream. Knowing them better will generate ideas for the plot.
  • Learn the craft. This was especially needed by me because I began my career with exciting story ideas and limited writing experience. I had no idea how to tell it in ways which would enable others to see the same beauty that I saw. Learning the craft means so much more than understanding grammar; it’s all about presenting the conflict to engage the reader, maintaining a pace, not dumping info all at once, creating a flow to keep the pages turning.
  • Read paragraphs aloud. Do they flow easily or sound as good as they look? This little trick does wonders for discovering bad habits. Go one step further and ask friends to read a paragraph out loud. Can they do it smoothly, or do they have awkward moments?
  • Once the book is written–rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Each time is an opportunity to trim fat, add spices, perfect the dialogue and make it better. Don’t rush to publish until you know it’s ready.
  • Join at least one critique group. There are dozens online. Read other’s first chapters, critique them, and then they’ll read yours. Take comments with an open mind; you’ll probably learn many bad habits that might be repeating throughout the manuscript. Here’s a short list of sites with critique groups:

http://www.goodreads.com/ – all about books.

http://redroom.com/ – where the writers are.

http://www.authonomy.com/ – where writers become authors and more.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/critical_writing/

Now comes the scary part; what if readers have complaints or simply don’t like it? Learn to listen without getting defensive (this can be extremely difficult). Maybe they mention grammar errors, not feeling connected to the characters or that the story just didn’t appeal to them. This has happened to me plenty of times. In some cases, rewriting must be done to make issues better. Often little additions can help a lot. However, not everyone likes all of my books and that’s okay. This will probably be the case for you too.

Snoopy the endThe most important thing is to keep writing; do it for yourself first and then with others in mind. Hopefully they’ll discover the same beauty within your story that you see.

Add a comment?


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KDP Amazon & Kindle Readers, My New Typo Editors

kdp amazonThe benefits of self-publishing a Kindle book with KDP Amazon have long been touted on this blog, but here’s a fairly new item for the list. KDP Amazon, prompted no doubt by a caring reader, just reported a typo in one of my books. And this book has been pretty well vetted of typos after thousands of sales and a dozen rewrites to stay current as well as to eliminate every last typo. Since I’ve had Kindle books for sale since 2009, it was actually a pleasant surprise to finally get the notice, to be included in the “special” group of authors.

A little research showed this has been going on for several months, authors receiving notices of typos or bad formatting from KDP. Since Amazon employees can’t possibly be reading  millions of new books, the red flags have obviously been raised by readers and brought to Amazon’s attention. Turns out there is often dispute whether or not an actual typo has occurred. In many cases people are even discussing lack or over-abundance of commas, or even worse–the ongoing Oxford/Harvard/serial comma debate. That is a doozy. Often the authors receiving critique protest vehemently (as in this thread) that the reader’s complaint is flawed–what was pointed out to be a mistake was in fact not a mistake at all. Worst cases have readers getting their money refunded and even a $5 credit from Amazon to make amends. Many authors are understandably miffed, to put it mildly. I sympathize with that situation but my example proved otherwise.

What was the typo mentioned from my book? “…here, or if you live it Asia…” should have read “…here, or if you live in Asia…” This must have been found by a reader as it’s doubtful any current software would catch that. Amazon even teased me to be on the lookout for more. Great, thanks, I’ll just read it again for the umpteenth time. Here’s my example of the email that’s been showing up in author’s inboxes for several months:

Dear Publisher,
During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s):
 Typos have been found in your book. An example is mentioned below:
*Location 544; “here, or if you live it Asia—focus” should be “here, or if you live in Asia—focus”
 Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it.
If you have further questions, you may write to us by visiting this page:
https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us/
Please be sure to reference your ticket number when contacting us.
Best regards,
Amazon KDP
Amazon.com
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

Most authors who responded in the above thread are angry about this attempt at quality control. Their concerns are justified, especially if unwarranted reader complaints lead to returns for money back, bad reviews or even the scare of a book being pulled from the shelf, which seems doubtful in any but the worst cases. My example was for a real typo, therefore I was delighted to know about it and can now move on to make the fix, another brilliant aspect of e-publishing. For authors who feel their own examples were not typos–it’s natural to be upset but is it really worth getting seriously agitated over? During the lightning quick era of e-publishing evolution, this is an effort at quality control and sometimes mistakes will be made. It’s not like Amazon invaded the books and went ahead with the suggested changes.

Sounds like a case of Amazon attempting to keep readers happy with much needed quality control and unfortunately not getting it right the first time as in the earlier mentioned case in point–reader complains about typos or formatting, gets a refund and gets a $5 credit. This retailer response encourages more of that from customers, which could spell a huge problem for both authors and Amazon down the road. In fact, it could also be bad for big 6 publishers because their books often have at least a few issues as well. That refund-plus-$5-back program won’t last long, pretty certain of it. Sounds like a temporary band-aid while a better system takes shape. Does it suck? In some cases but not all.

Okay, here’s a question Indie authors may want to ask themselves; what can I do to limit returns or unhappy readers? Proper editing is clearly one answer, but why did it take so long for me to receive this KDP email while other authors have been getting them for months? The answer might be because many readers have contacted me directly to point out typos or talk about the books in general. My social media links, websites with contact forms, even my email in some books are readily available. Some authors may not want this for a variety of reason, but my experience has shown readers like communicating directly with the author. It goes a long way with customer satisfaction, network building, reputation and referrals, which sell more books than anything else.

Is Amazon’s system currently flawed? Yes, for sure, but it also catches real typos and helps with quality control as in my case. Is KDP Amazon still the best partner an Indie author ever had? In my opinion, absolutely.

Would you like to comment?


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MobiPocket Creator or Not? KDP Amazon Ebook Format

mobipocket creatorIf you plan to sell ebooks online, Amazon Kindle is an e-publishing must do. For many Indie authors, the first step of properly formatting documents to be readable on electronic devices can be a major hurdle. From what they’re saying at KDP Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing), it doesn’t seem to make it any easier.

My theory on formatting is keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple. (Actually that’s Mark Coker’s theory from the free Smashwords Style Guide, but it works for me too.)

So should we upload properly formatted MS Word docs directly or go with MobiPocket Creator as they suggest?

This answer at first glance seems to be obvious; go with whatever KDP Amazon suggests. However, it’s quite a few more steps for a product that, in my opinion, results in basically the same thing.

Below is the link to the instructions from Amazon explaining how to format your Word doc to be ready for Kindle. The process involves saving it as a Web Page, Filtered HTML file, then uploading it to MobiPocket Creator (something you’ll need to freely download), then using that to build the book with cover and TOC added, then preview it on the Kindle Previewer (another something to freely download), and then upload it to KDP Amazon. Whew, that’s a few steps.

Or you can simply upload your Word doc (not docx) to KDPAmazon directly. Hmm, yeah, the 2nd method does seem easier.

In my experience, both ways produce basically the same results. The only advantage that seems to lean to the 1st method is perhaps more control over the Menu feature working correctly each time for items like the cover, TOC and where the book “starts” for readers who need the author to tell them that.

However, with a cover image added to the beginning of the Word document and proper bookmarks inserted, the 2nd method still works fine: cover for the cover, TOC for the table of Contents, and start for where the book truly begins for inquiring minds.

Maybe other Indie authors and readers will weigh in on their opinion if it really matters to use MobiPocket Creator or not. Here’s the fairly lengthy description from Amazon on the subject – https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A17W8UM0MMSQX6#mobi

http://ebooksuccess4free.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/typos-in-amazon-kindle-ebooks/


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