Friday, May 6, 2011

The Supers Are Here!

After weeks of endless writing, editing, formating and designing, my second Kindle book is up and flying. The Supernots is a superhero farce. I must confess I had fun writing this. Eric Searleman of is graciously reviewing it presently.

The Supernots is only $2.99 and you can get it now. You won't break an indie author's heart now, would you?

I'm taking a breath before I put fingers to keyboard and start penning the next book. Many thanks to everyone who's reading me. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Month Sales

My first book on Kindle, Anon X: Soldier, Spy, Hitman, Hero, went live a month ago and I'd like to report on the sales. So far, it has clocked some 40 sales, 25% of that from Amazon UK. Someone, please tell me that's a good start!

I have done very little promotion for the book except mention it here and on Twitter. And also feature it on No Trees Harmed's First Book drive. If anyone has pretty good ideas about how to get the book in front of more Kindle readers, please I'm all ears!

I experimented with both $.99 and $2.99 price points and strangely, there was barely any difference in sales. Amazon even discounted the book for a while before I took it down to the discounted price level. Anyway, I think I'm going to stick to the $2.99 price point for a longer while.

Thanks to everyone who bought a copy!

My next book, The Supernots, goes live in a few days and I hope it gets me more readers. Right now, I'm editing and can't wait to revisit Anon X.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Kindle Author's Apology

Dear Peme,

Thank you for leaving a review for my kindle book. It’s a pretty amazing thing for an author when he gets feedback on his work. Even though you left me a 2/5 rating, I’d still have that over nothing. As soon as I saw your rating, I was crestfallen for a few hours but then I checked popular books from popular authors, both indie and mainstream. Lo and behold, they have seen worse. I took solace in that and my mood improved.

You complained that my kindle book wasn’t thoroughly edited. Well, it wasn’t perfectly edited and guess what, most indie authors don’t have the luxury of fancy editors. It is terribly difficult to hammer out a thriller, edit it perfectly, format it right for kindle, do a great cover for it and dip your toes in online marketing, all on your own. Please forgive me for not making the book error-free. I have learnt that an author can be caught in an infinite loop of editing and re-editing in his search for perfection.

I’m especially glad that you have nothing against the plot and its execution. All you didn’t like were the few incorrect spellings, sentences and wordings (your words). I’ll promise you this: I’ll run a finer comb through the whole book and re-upload a better copy in two weeks. I hope the changes reflect on the copy on your kindle. I’ll also do a double sweep on my second novel which is just finished.

I hope you don’t give up on indie writers. Be gentler on our faults. We work harder; our books sell for less; we have good stories to tell and we value our readership. Plus, a review goes a long way; a good review is better but a poor one will still do. The knowledge that someone is reading us makes the lonely task of writing a saner exercise.

Yours truly,
Leon Ardkin.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why $.99 Is Killing Me

The $.99 kindle book is becoming popular among indie authors thanks to the success stories of such writers as John Locke, who sits exclusively on the $.99 mark and has 3-4 titles in the top 10 of Amazon's bestseller list. He is the $.99 kindle champion. Other fast-selling indie authors on kindle such as Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking have both $.99 and $2.99 titles with their one dollar-novels selling hand over fist. It seemed then that the new sweet spot is $.99. It "magically" catapults titles to top 100 and pulls the other titles in an author's portfolio. Too bad, it's not shooting me to the skies.

The $.99 price is not doing it for me because:

  • I'm new. I'm not even a month old on the kindle store. Right now, I'm selling 1 copy of my book per day. While it's a good start, I take a look at the sales page on Amazon and really want to go watch a movie or play Angry Birds instead of finishing the next book.
  • I have only one book currently on the kindle store priced at $.99 and it's not a loss-leader to anything. 
  • I feel slighted every time I see $.99 next to the book on Amazon. Writing that book was like climbing Everest. Coupled with the fact that I had to monkey around with HTML to do the formatting and labor on Photoshop to make the cover myself, it's depressing to see it go for such low price. The only thing that can make up for that is to have the book selling faster than the iPad.
  • 35% royalty on that price point is relatively terrible. If Amazon wished to discourage the race to the bottom with that percentage, it is not succeeding. How about making it 70% across board, Amazon dear? Or is there another reason for the 35%?
  • I am a writer outside the US. Not only is it darn harder to write for and publish on the kindle store, I have to wait 60 days for a small check to ship. It will take 30 more days before I can drag the check through international financial clearance and have the paltry money in my account. IRS will shave off 30% of my net earnings and international bank transfer fees will take off God-knows-what percentage. The world is supposed to be flat. Well, it's a little bent from where I'm standing.
It's hard being a writer. It's terrible being a new writer with next to no audience. Writing a good book is perhaps only 10% of the work needed for an indie writer. I've got to be very, very lucky and that reminds me that I need to go do my usual morning prayer to the gods of Amazon's Recommendation algorithm.

Well, at least Kindle gives me a shot. Traditional/Legacy publishing? No hope of a snowball or smile in hell!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tips For Your Kindle eBook Cover

Perhaps the first thing to know about kindle book covers is their standard dimension. I know it was a nagging consideration for me. I'm obsessed with perfection and I knew that the wrong dimension will have Amazon reformatting the cover to fit which could stretch or compact it. And Amazon didn't provide a specific dimension to use. After some web trawling, I found the consensus answer.

It's 600x800. Pixels. 600 pixels wide, 800 pixels high.

With that information, I began to hunt for a graphic designer for my cover. I know to use CorelDraw enough not to be clueless but Photoshop I knew less. And I had only Photoshop on my computer.

My only choice of graphic designer was Sam Spratt, whose works I first saw on the tech blog, Gizmodo and adore. Sometimes in December, I did ask him on his Formspring page if he does eBook covers. He said he hasn't done any but could do. The only problem was he won't be free until February. There was no hurry; I was still writing my first novel anyway.

When I was done by March, I sent him a mail but didn't get a reply. Maybe it slipped into his spam folder or he was too swamped with work to type a reply, I won't know. So, I set out to design the cover myself after waiting for his reply for a week.

My brother was more into Photoshop, so I got him to sit down with a concept I had. Then I tweaked his final result myself, taking care to use only those tools I was familiar with. It was beautiful on Photoshop but when I linked it to the book and uploaded to Amazon's KDP, the result was far from striking.

And here is one common problem with ebook covers: distinction. If you cover is not distinct and striking enough in the smaller image by which it is presented on the Kindle store, it doesn't matter if it's a Van Gogh when blown up to full size.

We love to say books shouldn't be judged by their covers but books are indeed judged firstly by their covers. Sure, a great blurb is just as important and great writing and formatting are equally desirable but the first thing buyers will see is the book cover. Is it captivating? Does it tell at glance which genre it belongs? Do I want it to grace my kindle?

So, I'd advice that you make your ebook cover as impressive as possible. Make it simple or make it cryptic but don't forget to make it grab attention at first glance.

So, with that in mind, I ditched the old design and went back to Photoshop. This time, alone. I needed an image that says spy fiction or at least, action!; something related to the content and the genre. So, I went online hunting for such. I skipped the royalty and paid photo sites and went for those offering free images. I had my reasons. I wasn't sure if the right image would make the right cover, so why buy one yet. Luckily, I knew where to go and after swimming through a river of less-than average photos, I found the one which now serves as the background on my kindle book cover.

Ironically, it took only 30 minutes to get from there to the cover I now have. It turned out Photoshop wasn't as scary as I thought. In fact, I spent more time trying out colors than actually deciding on the design to go with. The final result shocked even me. It was too good to come that easy. I mean, I would have gladly paid a pro graphic designer $300-500 to design that.

I grabbed the new cover and uploaded to KDP. When it went live on the book's Amazon page, it was perfect. And everyone I know who bought the book have remarked about the cover. In fact, it's the first thing they talk about on opening it. I only get to know that it is an equally great book after a couple of days when the first readers finished it.

But the cover? It snagged readers for the content. And that, is what your kindle book cover should do. A great cover almost always means a great book and we, as humans, will keep judging books by their covers notwithstanding saying otherwise.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Formatting Help for Kindle Authors

After finishing writing and editing my kindle book, I had no illusions at all about how finished the task of publishing was. Late last year, I uploaded an anthology of my flash fiction to the Kindle Store to see how difficult it was to publish on the platform and to serve as a placeholder for my subsequent titles. Suffice to say that the result was below par.

You see I tried uploading the doc file and then the html conversion of the file. The formatting was messed up and I threw my hands up in exasperation. Finally, through coercion, hours of tweaking, tweaking, tweaking and settling for less than the best, I got a passable version up there. I decided then that when next I was uploading my first real titles, I'd get a pro to do the formatting.

When the time came for me to format my new novel, I couldn't get the right person to do it. I also couldn't arrange for payment in time. I was itching to have it done; I couldn't wait to get aboard this kindle storm. So, I decided to do it myself.

First, I scoured the net for advice. What I got was too geeky; every help seemed too pro that getting a pro to do it seemed the best option. Then I ran into the new version of April L. Hamilton's Indie Author Guide to Publishing For the Kindle. You can get a free pdf copy from the author here.

April L. Hamilton deserves a world of thanks. Surely, the version 3 (I used the first version as a guide for formatting my flash fiction collection) showed that publishing to kindle has become more difficult but like she said, if you are tech-savvy enough or plain adventurous, you can get it done. I happen to fall between those two categories, so I gave it a try.

April L. Hamilton's guide is the For Dummies of Kindle Publishing. It is precise, concise and complete. By following the simple instructions, I journeyed through a country of codes and formats to the best kindle formatting I can ever hope for. Surely, I made two passes to get it right but I got it done.

After my first effort went live on Kindle, I wasn't satisfied with the front pages, so I went back and reformatted. The new version is more to my liking and I would have heartily paid some pro top dollar to get the same results.

But first, you need two programs to proceed; these are the Mobipocket Creator and the Kindle Previewer. Both are small programs and both are free. April's guide will show you how to use them. My first try took about three hours between reading the guide and formatting the book.

My second try was faster, taking some two hours because I knew where to go and what to tweak. Essentially, you copy some codes and do some typing. I remember that a particular step: adding the markers for certain stops in the book posed an insurmountable problem in Mobipocket Creator but I knew the terrain well enough to know to copy some lines off the OPF code included in the guide. Of particular interest is the active table of contents built into the toc.ncx file, the chief reason why kindle publishing is now harder than before. Following April's guide demystified the whole formatting problem for me and I heartily recommend that you try it.

If you must hire a pro to do it, you may as well hire her since she wrote the book on getting it right. To see how well my own formatting went, you can download the free sample of my book to your kindle from its Amazon page. It won't hurt if you buy it too.

Already, I have a couple of improvements I hope to make to even make the next formatting better. But before then, I need to get the writing done.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Spy Is Born

My new Kindle book, Anon X: Soldier, Spy, Hitman, Hero, just came out on Amazon's Kindle store and I heartily thank the few people who have already clicked the buy button. If you haven't,

It's been one heck of a train ride, writing, formatting and publishing this and I will tell you a bit of the pain I went through especially with formatting and cover design. Indie authors need all the help they can get and I hope my blog can help some surmount their fears like J.A. Konrath's helped me. BTW, this book is dedicated to him. We may never meet but his relentless arguments for self-publishing are very helpful. In a way, this blog will channel him and other kindle authors I read and follow.

So, today, Anon X, the spy is born. After saving the world, let's see how well, he'll do on the Kindle Store. Konrath talked about luck to breakthrough. Having written a good book, edited it thoroughly, formatted it perfectly and made a catchy cover, I hope I have enough of "this luck" to be successful. But till then, I'll be writing the next book and pop in here to tell you a thing or two.