Until fairly recently, writers were entirely dependent on others to get their work published. Before the “digital revolution”, an author had to find a publisher prepared to print, distribute and promote it. If you were very lucky you had an agent to help you, but this came at a price: usually 10% or 15% of your earnings. Royalties from publishing houses were rarely more than 5-10% of the book’s retail price, with lots of deductions.
Now, thanks to the likes of Amazon, Smashwords and iBooks, anyone can publish themselves, reaping up to 70% of the selling price. That’s some pay-rise. Let me show you how to publish a book online. Believe me, it’ll be easier than you think. I’m going to concentrate on writing and publishing using Amazon’s Kindle program. Once you know what to do and when, it’s all pretty straightforward.
Here’s a video from Amazon showing how one author (Rebecca Donovan) started making money with Kindle:
The information in this article is intended to get you started and give you an overview of the whole writing and publishing for Kindle process. Once you have mastered it you can move on to make more money by capitalising on other online platforms . It’s even quite easy to get physical copies of your books printed and distributed. I’ll cover that in a future post.
How to Publish a Book that will Sell
The important part of that title is the part that says “that will sell”. Unless you are one of those rare beings who shuns attention and prefers not to make any money, you will presumably want as many people to buy and read your book as possible. You can either hope to “get lucky” and accidentally write a bestseller – which is about as likely as winning the lottery and a lot more work! — or you can take action to give yourself a better chance of succeeding. I’ll show you how.
Before You Write Your Book
Most people assume that the first thing to do is to sit down and write. Wrong. First of all, you need to plan. You have to decide which book you are going to write. If you are becoming a writer because there is a book inside demanding to be released, then get on with it and knock it out. Problem solved. If, on the other hand, you need to become an author to earn a living, give yourself a better chance by writing something people will actually want to read.
To do this, I suggest you look at the kind of books you enjoy reading. Fiction or non-fiction? (By the way, Geoff Shaw surprised me by showing me that fiction makes more money on Kindle than non-fiction, so why not try that?) Then narrow it down to a genre and finally a sub-genre.
If you enjoy reading Thrillers, then maybe that’s what you should be writing. The same goes for Romance, Historical or Science Fiction – whatever you enjoy reading will almost certainly be easier for you to write. Then pick a sub-genre. Thrillers aren’t just Thrillers, they can be set in the past (Historical), or during a War, or… narrow it down to what you want to write. For example, a Western set during the Civil War period; a Murder Mystery featuring a contemporary Private Eye; an Erotic Romance centred around a modern travelling circus.
Words of advice: don’t mix and match your genres. Don’t have aliens suddenly descent on your cowboys (a famous film flop), or zombies attacking your Romantic picnickers. There are rare examples of cross-genre success stories, but 99% of the time readers do not like it. Once you have made your name (and your millions), you are free to experiment as much as you like but when you are starting out, play it safe.
The Right Way to Write a Book
Artistically there are no right or wrong ways to write a book. You can do exactly what you want: write it in words of no more than five characters each if that’s what rocks your boat. You can dispense with paragraphs or sentences all together. Write in rhyming couplets. Everything and anything is possible. But not if you want to write a book that people will want to buy. It’s a fact that to make money from writing you have to give people what they want. All you have to do is find out what they do want.
The good thing about ebooks is that people don’t just buy full-sized volumes, as they tend to do with printed books. Let’s start by looking at non-fiction first. When people click the “buy” button for a non-fiction title, they simply want to get information that will solve a problem they have. How to build a website, how to make apps for smartphones, natural remedies for headaches, and so on.
Digital non-fiction books should be direct and straight to the point. This means no waffle. If you’re writing a book about how to stop a shower dripping, just give the information you have to give and then stop.
There’s also a thriving market for short fiction, and even a couple of categories in between: often called novellas and novelettes. Each genre has a different idea of lengths, so this is only a rough guide (based on the Mystery category):
- Novel = 50,000+ words
- Novella = 17,500 to 50,000 words
- Novelette = 7,500 to 17,500 words
- Short story = under 7,500 words
Words of advice: always try and meet your reader’s expectations. It will be easier to get people to buy your book if it fits in with what they are used to and comfortable with. For example, most episodes of Fantasy Sagas, such as Game of Thrones, are over 130,000 words long, so I wonder how many readers would be willing to accept something a third of that length?
It’s important you decide what you are going to write, basing your decision on what is already selling on Kindle. A good way of doing it is to pick one of the best-selling Kindle titles on Amazon.com and copy its success. That does not mean you should do a straight copy (which would be wrong and pointless), but you should copy the factors that make it successful.
You can look at the current Kindle bestsellers by following this link (opens new window). Be prepared to take on ideas and see how the structure works. If there are 100 chapters of 800-1,200 words each, build your novel the same way. How many central characters are there? What is the viewpoint? Where is it set? What made readers want to buy it, do you think?
There are other articles on this website about writing a book, so I won’t go into how you should write you book in any detail. Just get it written as fast as you can, then edit it ruthlessly. Ideally you should get it looked at by a professional editor. This will cost a few bucks but it could be worth it. At the very least, run what you’ve written through an online grammar and spelling checker.
Formatting Your eBook for Kindle
There are various ways to format your book so that it will be accepted by Amazon and published on Kindle. I must admit the first time is pretty daunting and I definitely needed help. Geoff Shaw’s Kindling course runs through how to format your book using Pages for OSX, Microsoft Word and several other programs. It also tells you how to format for other, non-Amazon programs, and which ones you should go for – and which you shouldn’t.
Amazon’s guidelines are fairly straightforward, but I found that it wasn’t that clear that I could do the whole formatting process without outside help. In the video above, Rebecca Donovan tells us how helpful Amazon are – which they are – but don’t forget that the help and advice they give isn’t wholly independent. Everything they tell you is geared towards making Amazon more money and not how you can make more money. Often the two go hand in hand, sometimes they don’t.
How to Publish a Book That Will Make YOU Money
Once you’ve uploaded your eBook to Kindle and it’s been accepted and published, you’d think your job is done, but it’s not. You’ve got to promote it. If you don’t it’ll just be another ebook in all the millions that are available for sale trough Amazon and other digital platforms.
This is frankly where Geoff Shaw’s Kindle program came into its own for me. Without its help, my books would never have sold as many copies as they did. I plan to write about how I promoted my books on Amazon, but in the meantime, I strongly recommend you check out Kindling. There’s a money-back guarantee if you’re not as blown away as everyone else is. You get pages and pages of regularly updated information and advice (with audio and video) plus ongoing training updates and personal member support from Geoff Shaw. CLICK HERE for for more information on how the Kindling membership site can help you succeed with Amazon’s Kindle.
Here’s a BBC TV documentary first broadcast in May 2014 that shows just how successful Amazon is and how they have made so many people (especially their founder, Jeff Bezos) rich. It’s a full length documentary (almost 60 minutes) from the Boomers series that’s well worth watching.