Self Publishing with KDP (notes by Kenn Amdahl)

A guy here in Oregon wanted to have coffee and talk about getting started publishing using Amazon’s print-on-demand service, KDP. Before we met this morning, I printed up these notes. Maybe they’ll be helpful to someone else, although some of my thoughts might be wrong or outdated. Do your own research.

Notes on Self Publishing

Now that I’m using “Print On Demand” technology, I use Amazon’s service, “KDP Select” it’s at kdp.amazon.com  (When it started, it was devoted to creating kindle books. Now it also does paperback and hardback books.)The site can format the manuscript, print it, and deliver it to Amazon and other retailers, all at no charge up front. It makes its money by taking a cut of each book sold.

Steps:

1 Write the damn book in Word, Pages, or other word processing program

2  Rewrite and edit and spell check. MUCH easier to make changes at this stage, in a word processing program. If you plan to hire an editor, do it now.

3  If you want, come up with a publishing company name. You can incorporate, or just use the name as a “Doing Business As” like Kenn Amdahl dba Slugbait Publishing. I think it costs ten bucks to register a dba with the state (or it did in Colorado).  Incorporating costs $100 or so. But there’s no law requiring a publishing company name. 

 If you hope to sell a bunch of books, you’ll want your own ISBN. A private company, Bowker, orchestrates ISBN for the country,  One buys those at ISBN.org. A single ISBN costs $125, ten for $300. Each one is an identifier specific to a certain publisher, book, and version. Getting your own tells book stores and buyers that you published it independently. The print on demand companies (like kdp) will sell you one of their ISBNs for ten bucks or so, because they buy them by the truckload, but then the world will know you self-published it through them. Not a big deal for most folks, but bookstore buyers do notice. An ISBN is useful; it identifies your title in Books In Print, for example. KDP requires an ISBN for printed books. Electronic books don’t need an ISBN. 

4   Convert the Word doc into a page layout using a program like Affinity Publisher, or Indesign. Book layouts have a few little quirks that vex word-processing program. For example, gluing the spine takes up space, so interior margins need to be larger than exterior margins. How much larger depends on the dimension of your book and the number of pages (thicker books require wider interior margins).  You probably want page numbers, maybe author’s name and/or title in the header. But don’t panic— many self publishing platforms (like KDP) will do most formatting for you for free.  If you want more precise control, (maybe you love a rare font) you can do it yourself and upload a pdf version of the book. Otherwise, just upload your Word doc to kdp select and it will format the text for you for free. 

5  Create a cover. Covers have a front, a spine, and back cover all printed on one sheet that will be folded around the pages. It needs to be a sixteenth of an inch larger than the final version because it will be trimmed (the extra space to be trimmed is called the “bleed”). Again, you can do this yourself or you can let the print on demand program do most of your work. KDP has a pretty cool program that creates nice covers with almost no effort. It’s free. I use Affinity Publisher to create my own, but there’s a learning curve. If you make your own cover without using an online tool, at least DO use one of their free tools to figure the precise thickness of the spine so you can account for that. KDP will create the barcode for the back cover, you don’t need to buy your own.

6  Upload the book to the kdp site. The site talks you through this. You choose the file on your computer to upload and then hit the “upload file” button. Then upload (or create) the cover. Use their online previewer to make sure it all worked. If the site detects technical flaws (no bleed? text too close to edge of page?) it will tell you. Then it asks you to select a price for the book, and the countries you want to sell in. 

7.  Then the site will give you the chance to buy a preview copy for $15 or so. It will be marked “not for sale” to discourage people from stopping at this step, before Amazon has a chance to make any real money from your project. In a couple of weeks you’ll have the book in your hands. You’ll go through this book very carefully and realize that there are still typos and other mistakes that you’ll wish you had dealt with back in step one. You’ll fix the file on your computer, upload the revised file, order a new preview copy and wait. If you really just want one copy to display on your desk, and you don’t care about the “not for resale” banner, you’re done. For fifteen bucks or so you have a book for your desk. 

8   When you’re ready, you hit the “publish” button and your book will be available to buy within a few days. Until you hit “publish” nothing has really happened. You can start over, change the title, abandon the project, etc. Even after you publish it, you can un-publish or archive it and the world will never know you did any of this. If you discover a typo or other mistake, you can fix it on your file and upload the revised file. So don’t worry that you’re messing up your own permanent record. Relax and enjoy this weird adventure.

So much of this upfront stuff is free for a simple reason: KDP is going to take a cut of every book you sell. First they recover their printing costs, then they split the profit above that with you according to a formula that is partly your choice, partly based on list price. They have a reciprocal  arrangement with Ingram (the big bookstore supplier) so once it’s available on Amazon, any store in the country can buy it for their shelves as well. (Ingram has its own print on demand service, “Ingram Spark” but—at least when I was choosing providers— it charged an upfront fee) You make less profit per book with this new model (compared with how I did it for years, printing thousands at a time) but I no longer have to store or ship books, write a big check upfront, or send invoices, or deposit checks, or hound the slow-paying customers. Once a month KDP deposits money in my account while I peel grapes and sip wine. If I have a signing or other event (or need Christmas presents)  I can order my own books from them at about half of retail and sell them from the back of my van.

If you also want the book to be a kindle book, Amazon has a program called “Kindle Create.” It’s a free program, you download it and the use it to convert your Word document to a kindle. Not difficult, but it took me a Saturday morning to figure it out. Indesign could convert to kindle format, but the program became too expensive for me to justify.  Barnes and Noble uses a different format for their ebooks, to be read on their “Nook” device. Various programs can create those. One of the early print on demand companies “Lulu” is another option for many people, 

If all this is too much work, or too intimidating, several companies will take your cash to do all that. A company in Colorado, “Outskirts Press” charges maybe a grand or two, plus takes a cut of every book sold. They do the steps above, then upload it to IngramSpark. Years ago, I knew the owner but we’ve lost touch. There is a similar company in Oregon but I don’t recall its name.  A cool-looking resource is “Independent Publishing Resource Center” in Portland  (www.iprc.org) I bet they could be useful in finding resources for a person who doesn’t want to fool with it themselves.  Looks like they are also capable of doing short runs right in their studio. If you just want two dozen books to give as gifts, that might be worth looking into. Mr.Google can track down many more options for you.

The one thing none of these companies will do, including KDP, Amazon, Ingram or any of the rest, is market the book and generate sales. That remains the hardest part of publishing: getting folks to buy your book. If creating an income stream is your goal, you’ll need to have a plan, and plan to work at it.

Affinity Publisher: What I wish I’d known earlier

I recently downloaded a free ten-day trial of Affinity Publisher and used it instead of InDesign to lay out a 300 page manuscript. I liked the program so well I bought it, as well as its companion programs (“Photo” and “Designer”). I am no expert at page layout and book design, although I’ve done it for each of my books (about a dozen books total, some using Pagemaker, some Quark, some InDesign). While my frustrations are fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share a few things I learned after much googling and trial and error that would have simplified my life had I figured them out quicker.

1. Yes, Affinity can open InDesign files but ONLY if you first export them to InDesign Markup Language (IDML). This is easy to do, it’s built into InDesign, but you have to do it before you try to open the file in Affinity.

2. Affinity Photo apparently DOES open Photoshop files, and Affinity Designer DOES open Illustrator files, but I haven’t really tried them. Along with Affinity Publisher, the three programs work together in a cool way, as if they were a single program. I bought all three programs, even though I mostly use InDesign, because the total price was less than $200 with no subscription. Plus, Adobe’s “Creative Cloud” has been clogging up my computer. Since I never intentionally use the cloud, I’d like to eliminate the ap and the maddening notice that “Creative Cloud is needed to resolve this problem.”

3. Exporting to PDF. InDesign saves a pdf file using the file name, so after exporting you have one original file, and a second pdf file with the same name but the suffix pdf. Affinity Publisher replaces your original file with a pdf version. That isn’t what I wanted, so it surprised me. Now I save the file with a different name before exporting. So the original might be “Book.” After I tweak it I save it but also save it as a new file “Book2” which I export to pdf. Then I can return to “Book” to make more edits. This may be silly, because Affinity Publisher will open PDF files, but I just don’t know yet.

4. I wanted a page layout with letter-sized facing pages and a larger interior gutter so I could spiral bind it. No problem, it worked great. But when I sent the pdf to an Office Depot type printing company, it defaulted to printing two pages on each letter sized sheet. It was an easy fix, but I had to pay the printer for my ignorance. Here’s the fix: after I was done creating a file with facing pages (including bigger margins on the binding side of each page) and ready to export to pdf, I just went back to the document setup and unchecked “facing pages.” Worked great. If I had been sending it to a book printer, I would have set up the original pages differently, perhaps on 8.5 x 22” sheets.

5. Resizing photos in A. Pub. In my older (CS5) version of InDesign, when I added a photo to a document, I could resize it just by grabbing a corner and moving diagonally in or out. First time I tried that in APub, the photo did not remain proportionate. Turns out you select the photo, then go to “properties” to determine how resizing will behave. Only four choices, you check one, so it only took a few seconds to figure it out.

6. There are SO MANY online tutorials, both by Affinity and by others, that I now believe any confusion has already been addressed several times. Worth noting is that the company that makes the program is British, so sometimes the search words and terminology are a little different. Google would find “how to use the elevator” for example, but similar tutorials might be labeled “how to use the lift.” If I intended to spend a lot of time using the programs and wanted to look under the bonnet, I’d sure start by spending a weekend watching tutorials.

7. One disadvantage of APub over InDesign is that it can’t directly export to the mobi format for Kindle, or epub for the other readers. I think they didn’t want to make the program more complex and expensive, but it’s kind of a bummer. On the other hand, the free Calibre program can make the conversion for you, so unless you spend all day every day creating Kindle versions, it’s probably not a deal-breaker.

8. After watching a few video tutorials, I am stunned at the power of these programs and how easy they are to use. Part of my wide-eyed “Dorothy-in-Oz” amazement is that my own programs are old and out of date, and I never used all the features anyway. So watching experts fly around the screen changing boundary shapes, creating shortcuts and page templates felt like riding my bicycle to watch The Enterprise beam folks aboard.

Some graphic artist/book designers—who have used design programs for many years—have posted negative reviews. They say the Adobe programs contain more powerful features that Affinity can’t compete with. I’m sure they’re correct, and if you make a living as a designer, the subscription cost is probably well worth it. But for creating occasional brochures and business cards, and designing a few books per year, I think I’ll be happy with my one-time (less than) $200 investment. Especially compared to paying more than that every year for an Adobe subscription.

9.

This is from my friend Paul Martin Beck, an author, musician, and moose aficionado:

“One addition here from personal experience: I got Affinity Designer (not Publisher, mind you) specifically because of its ability to open all of my old FreeHand documents. (I lament the death of FreeHand to this day.) It _does_ open FreeHand 10 documents, nothing earlier. But, and it’s a big butt, when it opens them it doesn’t include embedded images (e.g. TIFF files) that were placed in those documents. That makes it mostly useless for the one thing I really had hoped it would do.”

 

The company that makes Affinity is Serif. Here’s info from their website:

https://affinity.serif.com

 

Roosters and Dinosaurs

Our new neighbors, a young couple expecting their first child any day, bought some baby chickens. One of them turned out to be a lad, who has grown into a proud rooster. He likes a spot near the fence that separates our properties, about 20 feet from our bedroom window. An ambitious bird, he believes one should start one’s day briskly at four am.

Sure, it’s both rude and illegal to maintain a rooster in our neighborhood, but I haven’t wanted to pester those kids when they’ve got parenthood on their minds. So I get up at about 4:10, sip coffee on the front porch as the sky lightens, and listen to that first bird of the rural morning crow with the confidence of a preacher outside a saloon. Gradually, other birds join in and, before it’s light enough to read a newspaper, an entire avian orchestra rejoices in frantic chaos.

If birds really did evolve directly from dinosaurs, it’s hard to imagine the early morning din of the primeval forest. Did my neighbors’ squawking rooster once inhabit a Tyrannosaurus Rex body with a syrinx (voice box) as big as a car? When he woke the jungle, did he roar and rumble notes deeper than those made by the largest pipes in a massive pipe organ? All the tweeting, chirping, whistling birds of today weren’t piccolos and flutes back then— they were bassoons and tubas and trombones. They were fog horns and sirens and Harley Davidsons. The lovely moss-draped forest we imagine was probably as noisy as Chicago in a bad mood.

A few years ago, Jack Horner published an interesting book called “How to Build a Dinosaur.” He postulated that animals retain all their old DNA as they evolve, with different genes turned on and off. In theory, he says, we could “turn on” the latent dinosaur DNA in a chicken embryo and recreate those charming critters.

Listening to the morning bird racket from my porch, I wonder if the language of the great lizards survives today in their feathered descendants, passed down from generation to generation, only now transposed a few octaves higher. If we slowed down a recording of modern birds, lowered its pitch dramatically, and amplified it to the level of a rock concert, would we be listening to ancient songs and stories composed in the Jurassic swamps? If we could translate them, I wonder what poetry the roosters and robins might sing to an irritated and dilapidated old mammal sipping coffee on his porch?

 

Here’s an interesting article by Jacqueline Ronson about chickens and dinosaurs:

https://www.inverse.com/article/24268-dinosaur-chicken-gene-editing

Alabama Election

It would be a mistake to elect an Iranian ayatollah in America. Not because he looks different or because he’s Muslim, but because he believes that his religious beliefs supersede his obligation to the U.S. Constitution. America works because we all agree to obey a set of laws enacted under the Constitution, even when we disagree with some of those laws. Continue reading →

The Candidates and Their Issues

hanging-chad-guy-570x430I thought it would be fun to compare the presidential candidates’ opinions on the important issues of the day. It would be easy, I foolishly thought, because each one has an “issues” page on their website. (direct links at the end of this post). I’d compare their positions on things like “education” and “national defense” etc. Then I’d whip up a quick, concise comparison that would clarify my own thoughts and make me sound smart when I argue with relatives. Continue reading →

Can I name my new van Tonto?

Naming vehicles is silly. On the other hand, I’ve named blank sheets of paper for a long time, and occasionally make money at it. I named one ream of blank paper “Jumper.” Others pages became Belinda, Marcus, Malcom, Billy Billy Billy, The Magician who was learning electronics, Miss Pounder the exercise instructor who inadvertently taught math, Bruce the Duck who saved the day, the evil Nightsmoke, Pon, Braindead the Algebra Student, and many more. Naming things is kind of what I do. Continue reading →