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The Writing Life - Building your book for kindle

September 5, 2014
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville News

This is a monthly column on the writing process. Topics will range from books and authors to writing conferences and workshops to the writing process itself.

So if you're going to get published, you first have to find an agent who will send your manuscript to myriad publishers and one of them will offer you a multi-book contract with a multi-million-dollar advertising budget and fly you around the country to promote your book. Right?

Well, if you're one of the top-10 tier of authors, maybe something sort of like that.

But even then, the traditional brick-and-mortar approach to publishing is about as rare as a unicorn. You just don't see too many people getting published that way anymore.

Even successful authors - those who are published regularly by quarterlies or glossy magazines and who have a publisher just begging for their next manuscript - combine their marketing efforts with self-promotion and self-marketing.

The reason is dwindling advertising budgets - based on dwindling profit margins. Most first novels don't earn back their advance for their authors. And agents typically earn 15 percent of an author's take. So how many authors does an agent have to take on to pay for even a modest Lower Manhattan apartment?

That's why agents go for name people - those who regularly hit the bestseller lists and who are guaranteed to bring home the bacon.

And that's why a lot of people have turned to marketing their work initially on Kindle - and moving on from there to limited print runs - usually 250 to 1,000 to start.

Whether you're talking Kindle or print, marketing or distribution are key. A lot of people might to with IngramSpark, Baker & Taylor, Partners West or a smaller regional book distributor to sell their print editions. Others like to hoof it and go door to door to peddle their wares.

The key of course is a good, well-edited story in an attractive package. It's very hard to do everything yourself, so if you have good friends who are librarians or former teachers to read your work and you know a good graphic artist, then those are friends to keep.

Amazon has a free download, Building Your Book for Kindle, that appropriately tells you everything you need to know about building your book for Kindle. In fact, it's downright easy.

All you need is an Amazon account, and everything else is pretty much self-explanatory from there. The Kindle publishing platform has relatively recently added an editing function that helps with product quality.

Authors have two pricing options. They can price their Kindle books from $2.99 to $9.99 and get a 70 percent royalty. Or they can price their book from .99 to $2.98 and get a 35 percent royalty.

Why would anyone want to price a book at under $2.99? Well, sales is the short answer. If an author can move his or her book up the sales charts, then there's the option of raising the price.

While the free Kindle download pretty much tells the whole story, it's also a good idea to buy an ISBN so it's easier for people to locate your book. The Bowker company sells ISBNs for $125 each or 10 for $275. You need a different ISBN for each format. So if you have a hardcover, paperback and Kindle version, you need three of them. To order ISBNs, go online to

Publishing on Kindle is a great way to get your work out there. One word of caution: There are a lot of predators out there who are more than willing to help separate you from your money. I would be extremely wary of anyone who offers to put your Kindle on the bestseller e-book charts for a fee. There are ways to promote your book through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media as well as traditional advertising. Face-to-face contact and handing a business card or a pen with your author page (something you're automatically assigned when you publish on Kindle) seems to work about as well as anything.

So if you're dying to get your work out there, give it a shot. But first make sure it's the best work you can possibly do. Rest assured that readers will judge you just as critically as they do other writers. They'll expect you to live up to the same standards as the big dogs.

But it's certainly worth a try. You really don't have a lot to lose.

Michael Tidemann's author page is available at: You can also read his work in the Boston-based online literary magazine,



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