How I Published My First Slim Volume on Amazon KDP, All by Myself
To be honest, although I really did prepare the manuscript for my novella and press the KDP ‘submit’ button entirely without help, I would not have got so far without the advice of davidgaughran.com and jerichowriters.com.
Two years ago I went on an accessible and enjoyable course on self-publishing fronted by self-publishing guru David Gaughran and Harry Bingham of Jericho Writers. Let’s Get Digital, David Gaughran’s simple and highly readable guide to self-publishing, now in its fourth edition, has been my go-to reference book on my journey to publication. Harry Bingham’s research on why self-publishing makes financial sense is also well worth reading.
I had been longing to self-publish ever since I attended a seminar given by rachel-abbott.com, the successful self-published author, at an event organised by killerwomen.org. Rachel sowed the seed of my ambition and Harry and David gave me the final push to have a go. Other advisers are available, but those are the ones that worked for me.
Well, I’ve finally done it! My debut novella, UP THE COMMUNITY CENTRE BOOK ONE: The Thank You Sweets is live on Amazon, free on Kindle Unlimited, 77p to buy.
I’m like one of those drivers who hates turning right across traffic and therefore works out routes based on left turns only. I get there in the end, but sometimes it’s a slow journey.
How did I achieve this feat when I have only basic tech skills? I’d already started my career when the internet began to rule the workplace, so I had to pick up my skills on the hoof. As a result, I have never learned the basic language of computers. In a blog post on self-publishing, I wrote that, where technology is concerned, ‘I’m like one of those drivers who hates turning right across traffic and therefore works out routes based on left turns only. I get there in the end, but sometimes it’s a slow journey.’ My journey to KDP was snail paced, but at last, I’ve arrived.
My self-publishing adventure became serious when I earned a money-off voucher for Scrivener literatureandlatte.com by completing NanoWrimo, nanowrimo.org. The Scrivener programme is not expensive, but it took that little financial ‘sweetener’ to convince me to invest. Once I’d installed the software on my laptop, I spent ages reading the manual and watching how-to videos on YouTube. Eventually, I realised that, whatever I did, I couldn’t break Scrivener, and at last I dared to try out the fiction drafting option. I found I could post chunks of text in boxes, then move the boxes around using drag and drop. No longer did I have to cut and paste within a long text document when I wanted to make changes.
I fed the completed chapters of my crime novel into a Scrivener project, arranged to back it up to Dropbox and carried on writing. After a few months of frenzied self-editing, it was not yet quite ready to be freed into the wild. However, I was itching to try out the process of transforming a Scrivener project into a published book on Kindle Direct Publishing. I was not afraid to tangle with Amazon. My hunch was, if they could send me puppy toys at the click of a button, their publishing process was not going to be complicated. It was formatting my manuscript that terrified me.
At this crucial point, the wonderful team at funnypearls.com reminded me that I had written ten episodes for my serial funnypearls.com/up-the-community-centre. The story had reached a natural break point with the onset of Covid-19. Each separate episode had already been professionally edited for publication online. Put together, they were the right length for a novella. With a few minor amendments, Up the Community Centre Book One was ready for publication.
At the top of the Scrivener screen is a button marked ‘Compile’. I learned from the manual that, when I selected this, it would assemble my manuscript into any one of several options, including an eBook. This Compile button scared me stiff. I was sure that, if I didn’t get it right the first time, my precious novel manuscript would disappear into some outer digital darkness from where I would never retrieve it. With the shorter manuscript of my FunnyPearls novella, this was not a problem.
I set out to prepare a Scrivener ‘project’ for ‘The Thank You Sweets’. I pasted each story into its own box, in the order they had appeared in Funny Pearls. That’s when things became slightly more complicated. On Scrivener, there are ‘texts’ and ‘folders’. When writing my novel, I’d been using the folders as chapter headings, with texts ranked under them as scenes. This did not work for the series of short stories making up the novella. When I tried to compile it, nothing happened. Apparently, there was nothing in the document. Of course, I panicked, but not too much, because I had the manuscript saved elsewhere. I tried pasting my text straight into the folders, and it worked! It pays to just ‘muck about’ with Scrivener until you find out what it can do.
Now, it was time to select ‘Compile’ and choose what kind of document I wanted to create. I consulted the KDP manual, which is concise and uses simple language. Overall, I found it very helpful. However, it’s written by people with a high level of technical knowledge, so of course they recommend the most efficient and effective methods. What I actually needed was the method that best fitted my low level of skills. When reading the section on formatting, I convinced myself I was going to have to learn to write HTML. It turned out that, fortunately for me, this was not the case.
I returned to Scrivener and did some more tinkering around with Compile. I was pretty sure that I needed the eBook option, and the instructions led me to believe that I could include front matter and a cover. I had a beautiful cover ready (my partner is a professional graphic designer). I managed to upload this to the project, and went on to compile the text. I felt very pleased with myself until I found out that, when Compiled, the text and the cover would not bond together.
At this point, I made up my mind that I was going to try every Compile option until I found the right one. I ploughed through the options: Novel, Word doc, PDF and so on, but none of them produced the neat, complete product I wanted to take to KDP. I almost gave it up as a bad job. Should I pay some HTML-literate person to format it? Just in time, my natural frugality kicked in. Did I really want to hand over my hard earned cash, for a task people said was so straightforward? In future, would I really be happy to pay out every time I needed to make a small change to my book?
I remembered that KDP do a lot of the technical stuff for you. Also, I knew they uploaded the cover separately from the text. I selected the eBook option on Scrivener and worked my way through the compiling checklist, using common sense. At this point, some kind of tech magic kicked in. I’ve often noticed, when I try new stuff, that the programme, or some friendly computer fairy, eventually figures out what I’m trying to do, and offers me the correct choices. Somehow, I ended up with an eBook, with chapter headings and so on in the right places. There was even, by some digital miracle, a Table of Contents, title page and rights page. Ignoring the instructions in the Scrivener manual, I shoved another chapter on the end for author information, and the job was done.
Signing up for KDP was a doddle. You must have all your international payment details ready, because they won’t do anything without them, but the rest was simple. You can save a draft and come back to it when you’re ready to publish. I was concerned to find that I had to use the same password for self-publishing as I do for ordinary Amazon purchases, but now that I’m a published Amazon author with my own author page, maybe they’ll allow me to change that.
When you complete the preparation forms on KDP before publishing, there are vital things you need to know for marketing purposes. For example, you must be sure to select wide-ranging keywords and choose categories that will give you most exposure. A clickable link on the final page of your book will help you to collect those vital reviews. I highly recommend David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Digital for this kind of information. Buy the fourth edition here. In addition, David is currently offering a free online course, Starting From Zero, with 4000 subscribers so far.
You may be wondering why the idea of self-publishing appeals to me so much. Mainly, it’s because it feels like an adventure and it’s an opportunity to add to my skills. Most wannabe authors I know hope to find an agent. I did send out a couple of rounds of ‘submissions’, and got some polite refusals. Rejection doesn’t bother me – the numbers do. Agents receive thousands of applications each year but can take on only two or three authors. Competitions have thousands of entries, in spite of charging substantial fees, and choose maybe twenty finalists. I’d rather buy a lottery ticket.
Be brave! Give cheap and cheerful self-publishing a try! What have you got to lose?
Image ©Geoff Wilkinson