"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Formatting Your Book For Kindle

Dear Fellow Writer,

I was surprised to learn this week that the sale of books only makes up 7% of Amazon's total revenue.

That seems tiny, considering all the fuss the Big Five publishers make about Amazon.

Amazon's core business is in being an online Walmart, recently promising delivery of groceries within thirty minutes across America. That's impressive, even a little disturbing when you think about what must happen behind the scenes to achieve that result.

Clearly, Amazon is intent on taking over the world, if Google doesn't get there first.

We live in interesting times.

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern 

Formatting Your Book For Kindle
Formatting for Kindle
If you're the type of writer who's gotten used to all the rules for formatting manuscripts for publishers, you'll probably be completely confused by formatting for Kindle.

Whenever you have a book ready for publication on Amazon, you will need to think about what it will look like when it's converted to mobi format - which is the system that Kindles use.

Mobi is an HTML based platform, which means in theory it's simple: your book becomes, in effect, a series of little web pages that look right on a text reader. 

In reality, HTML may ignore seemingly basic commands and Kindle's final formatting may override some of your prettier stylistic suggestions in favor of a more basic look.

Although Amazon allows you to upload a Microsoft WORD document directly onto their server - which it will then convert to Kindle format for you - I wouldn't advise that you do this.

Mainly because WORD has a habit of 'hiding' lots of bad formatting from the naked eye - which confuses the heck out of the Kindle converter.

Often a WORD to Kindle conversion looks awful - with unexplained gaps, random changes in font and filled with all kinds of other messy side-effects.

What you have to remember about Kindle formatting (mobi format) is that it's HTML based. And if you've ever tried copying a WORD document directly onto a web page you'll know that as far as formatting is concerned, you often have to start all over again.

For this reason, it's best not to make your WORD document perfect before you copy and paste it into Kindle formatting software.

BTW: despite my having been an online 'guru' for almost fourteen years, I still loathe HTML and web page construction. There's a lot I don’t understand and don't get, no matter how many times it's explained to me.

For example, I've always believed that CSS files were specifically designed to confuse me. I've never gotten the hang of them because they seem to thwart my attempts to comprehend their purpose. But that's probably just me.

Technically-minded people appear to like complicated interfaces like Wordpress and Photoshop. I've always preferred simple, obvious, and intuitive software. I don't need to understand it, in other words, if it works.

Anyway, I would recommend that you don’t let Amazon Kindle format your book manuscripts for you. Better to use either Anthemion Jutoh or Kindle-Writer 2, both of which are free to download, but cost a little money to use the full programs.

I use Jutoh because, up to a point, the formatting changes you make in the Jutoh file usually make it to the mobi file. The other advantage of Jutoh being you can also use the Jutoh file to create epub, ipub, text and Smashword files for uploading to Kobo, iStore and any of the other online book sellers.

When polishing your Kindle file, you'll need to take extra care over consistent font size, title bolding and alignment, page breaks and inserting illustrations if you're using them.

One of the trickiest parts - and again, it might be just me - is making sure that each of your chapter headings is specifically marked as a Heading - so that you can create a Contents page that is clickable. It took me a while to master how to do this, which is why I didn't include clickable contents pages until about my fifth book on Kindle.

Asking the Jutoh Wizard to compile the content listing for you can be fraught with difficulty. Most times I have to override the default and construct it manually.  

The endless nuances of formatting a Kindle book would take a book in itself - and there are plenty of them around. It's not really that hard to master but there can be a steep learning curve if you're not familiar with HTML.

My advice would be to download Jutoh Anthemion (http://www.jutoh.com/download.htm) and then play with it.

That's what I did and, even though it left me cold for a couple of weeks, I eventually got the hang of it.

The interface is fairly intuitive, and deceptively basic-looking, and it does have a lot of functions that may be bewildering when you first encounter them. 

However, it's better in the long term that you persist in learning how to create your own master Kindle files - because this will give you lots of flexibility and control in the future.

The great thing about Kindle is that you can make changes to your ebook file at any time and upload your new and improved versions whenever you like - once a day if you want!

This is a great way to respond to customer feedback quickly - and fix those niggling typos that seem to hang around no matter how many times you - or anyone else for that matter - proofs your manuscript!

One world of caution. Don't think that your corrections will override ebooks customers have already bought. Kindle does not work like an App. It doesn't update the reader's copy of your book. Even if they re-download a purchase after you've made corrections, they still get the old version they bought with your typos in it.

All the more reason to make your manuscript as perfect as you can before you release it on Amazon Kindle!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell



Sherlock Holmes

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Market Test Your Next Book - For Free

Dear Fellow Writer,

I've been taking a break of sorts this week.

Not something I do often.

Filled a couple of days with admin then felt the urge to dive into writing another book.

Resisted - determined to take that break...

Yesterday I couldn't fight it anymore.

Started a new manuscript...

Felt much better: no longer aimless, empty, lost, and frustrated.

I guess that makes me an addict.

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern 

Market Test Your Next Book - For Free
Market Test You Book - Free

In the world of traditional publishing, highly paid marketing people spend numerous man-hours researching whether bookstores, libraries, and book clubs will order a new book based on its author, his or her reputation, the genre, the subject matter or premise, the perceived intellectual status, authority and/or celebrity of the writer, and the effectiveness of all-important cover design. 

And much of this they will attempt to discern way before the book is officially released. 

They may also pay for advance review copies, conduct customer feedback surveys, and employ consultants to discover how well-received a book might be on its eventual launch into the marketplace.

 Legacy publishers like the Big Five regularly invest in these expensive activities because, as far as is possible, they're after a sure thing - not something that is easy to achieve in the competitive industry that modern book publishing represents. 

 They do this because, on average, book sales are fairly low. I say on average because bestsellers skew the figures. For every one of the top one-hundred bestselling authors around the globe there are perhaps another ten-thousand traditionally published authors who will barely make back a small advance or sell enough copies for the publisher to break even on costs.

 But do not be alarmed by this scenario because, simply put: this how it's always been. It's nothing new.

 Bestselling authors effectively 'pay' for all the other authors to truck along with minimal sales. This is the real reason why traditional publishing royalties seem so low: the publisher uses its 90% of sales, after having paid the author 10%, to run the company, which, of course, usually has hundreds of other authors to support and develop alongside its superstars.

 The new breed of independent self-publishing author, however, doesn't have these same expenses. Amazon royalties are consequently higher for you and I because independent authors don't have to prop up anyone but themselves.

 As a result, the independent author has an advantage. Not least because we also have a way of market testing our next book that is easy, effective, and best of all, free. It's called social media.

 If you want to know how you next book might be received, you simply need to ask your Facebook followers, or post a blog about it to Google+.

 You can upload your prospective cover design and ask for feedback.

 If you have more than one possible cover design, upload all of them and conduct a poll.

 Not only do people love taking easy surveys and giving their opinion - it's also back-door promotion for your upcoming book.

 Using social marketing is also a good way to test your book blurbs and your Amazon synopsis, even your author bio.

 The trick is to get people involved in your market testing. Make them feel they have a stake in what you're releasing.

 Encourage people to leave comments - and make sure you respond to each and every one.

 If you want, you can try to get a discussion going about the merits of visual impact over book content, that sort of thing.

 Be grateful for other people's input - and listen to criticism, good and bad, and - and this is crucial bit - be mindful that you can always adjust your 'product' accordingly. 

 It's all about giving your book release its best shot. Not only does feedback allow you to improve and polish your book cover and the book content, it often gives you the extra confidence you need to move forward with your project.

 Knowing beforehand that you have something that looks like it will be well-received can provide a great boost to you in those moments of self-doubt that we writers have to deal with prior to a new book-release.

 In the traditional publishing world, book promotion can be a fast and ephemeral affair, centered squarely around the release date, and rarely beyond. Traditionally published authors often complain about how this works.

 Marketing departments at a traditional publishing house will often work on a rotation basis whereby a new book might be the subject of intense promotion - press releases, media hype, bookstore and library liaison - but only for a limited period - usually when the next release in the queue comes along. This period may last only a week in a big publishing house.

As an independent author, you have a further advantage that you can continue pimping your book long after a normal book promoter or expensive publicist has moved on to fresher pastures.

 Real author success is often a slow-burn, cumulative affair.

 This is just as true on Amazon and Kindle as it is in the real world - because long-term success is dependent on customer reaction to an author's books, critical appraisal of the writing, and the writer's ongoing credible presence in the marketplace.

 Basically, the longer you stick around, and the greater awareness the public has of your best efforts, the better you'll do.

 Amazon's software algorithms reflect this organic approach to author success. The better your book sells, the more often Amazon will place your book alongside other books that sell in your category or genre.

 It's all about visibility. The more visible you are to the marketplace, the more you can expect to sell your books - as long they're well-written, effective, and entertaining.

 Amazon tries hard to keep up its end of the bargain. You must do yours: and market test your books - for free on social media - until they're as perfect as you can make them, in design, content, and overall market appeal.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell



Sherlock Holmes

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