Putting Your Work on Amazon

A friend of mine is now thinking about publishing on Amazon, and he had a couple of good questions about how to do it. Since I’m on a roll with posts about self-publishing this week, I thought I’d answer his questions here:

1: Did you put your story there in Word format or convert it to HTML? They seem to want it in HTML but I don’t recall you ever mentioning that. I don’t have a new copy of Word, mine is a 1995 version which I doubt would save it in proper 2012 HTML. I do have a current copy of Open Office, so that should work, but I’ve never tried it before.

I actually uploaded my story to Amazon already in .mobi format–which is Amazon’s proprietary format. Even if they don’t require you to do that, that’s one less thing they have to do so, presumably, it makes your work go live sooner (my story was available a few hours after I submitted it).

If you want to convert your story to .mobi before submitting it to Amazon (this also gives you the ability to look at it on your reader and make any necessary formatting changes before it goes live–which is exactly why I did it that way) then I highly recommend downloading Calibre E-Book Management. This will allow you to convert your work (or other people’s stuff that you’ve downloaded) into a variety of other formats, including the formats for Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony e-Reader, and just straight up .pdf. I use this software to convert my work to .mobi for the Kindle and to convert public domain works which are .epub files. (Kindle will read .pdf, but not .epub.)

That being said, before Calibre will convert your Word document into one of those formats, it has to be saved as an HTML document. So you’re right back to that issue. (Incidentally, Smashwords also requires documents in the same HTML format.)

I have Word 2003 at home (the older version of Word) and it has the ability to save as HTML (even though it’s an older HTML form than what 2007 has) and Calibre didn’t have a problem converting it. Going back to 1995 might be a stretch, but you can try it and see. If Calibre can’t convert it, Amazon can’t convert it either. If it does convert it, and the formatting is okay (it should be, unless you have a lot of images associated with it), then you can just upload that .mobi file to Amazon directly.

The other option, as you mentioned, is using Open Office. And, actually, it seems to work better with Calibre than Word anyways. From Calibre’s user’s manual:

When saving as HTML, be sure to use the “Save as Web Page, Filtered” option as this will produce clean HTML that will convert well. Note that Word produces really messy HTML, converting it can take a long time, so be patient. Another alternative is to use the free OpenOffice. Open your .doc file in OpenOffice and save it in OpenOffice’s format .odt. calibre can directly convert .odt files.

If it were me, I’d go the Open Office route (and do all my future writing in it!), let Calibre convert it, then I’d give it a read-through on my Kindle. Make whatever changes you need to in OpenOffice, have Calibre convert the new version, then upload that to Amazon.

2: One of the required options is to choose to use DRM, the digital rights management option that encodes your work so it can’t be copied illegally. I know DRM is uniformly hated in video games and music, but is it something that I should check and did you use it on your story and your future works for sale on Amazon?

I did not use DRM and will not. Maybe there will be a big explosion in book piracy, but I kind of doubt it. And I don’t think DRM is the way to combat it, since hackers are always one step ahead of technology. I think the future is not selling art so much as selling a brand–movies, products, endorsements, etc. Your art gets you famous, but selling your name and image is what will make you money.

You better believe I’m going to sell t-shirts and bumper stickers and anything else I can think of in the future. “Selling out?” I can’t wait until I have enough name recognition to effectively do it.

My personal feelings on the matter aside, there is a practical reason to not go DRM. If you enable DRM, then honest people will not be able to convert their paid-for book into a non-Kindle format. What happens if their Kindle breaks and they get a Nook as a replacement? They can’t convert DRM books to Nook’s format. They also can’t save it to a computer to back it up.

Unlike the recording industry, I am of the opinion that when you’ve bought my work, you have the right to read it on your Kindle or your Nook or your computer or your iPad or your television screen (there’s probably a Wii app for that)–just as you have the right to read your paperback book in the tub, the bed, the car, on the beach, etc. In fact, if you read the legalese at the beginning of The Last Golden Dragon, you’ll see that it specifically says the purchaser has the limited right to convert the story to other formats and save a back-up copy. I put that in there because I didn’t want there to ever be a question of whether or not it was legal to do that.

If you do DRM, your readers will not have that option.

Don’t Sell It Too Cheap

As part of my investigation into self-publishing yesterday, I ran across this blog post by one of the successful independent authors mentioned on Expert Message Group: Why Your Novel is a Tall, 6-Pump Vanilla, Breve Latte Grande, Extra Hot, Heavy Whipping Cream, Extra Dry Cappuccino (Or It Should Be). The author, Elle Lothlorien, did an actual experiment with her book, comparing her sales when it was cheap, versus when it was more expensive.

She not only made more money when it was considerably more expensive, but she made more sales and had better reviews.

She likens it to over-priced Starbucks coffee: if something is expensive, people will think it’s good whether it is or not. I think there’s something to that logic, although I think it’s probably more of the other thought, which is that cheaply-priced work is associated with amateur writers.

(I just had a sudden vision of the hooker theory: the cheaper the hooker, the more she’s associated with drugs, alcohol, and venereal diseases. High-end call girls offer the exact same product, but the perception is that they’re clean and are decent enough that you can be seen in public with them.)

Expensive = good is not the way I approach reading books. I shop at thrift stores and yard sales and used bookstores (my husband and I recently dropped about $80 in credit at McKay’s in Knoxville). I like a bargain, and I know that perfectly good stuff can be found in less than upscale places.

And, as my Dave Ramsey bumper sticker once said:

(That’s past tense because said sticker got ripped off my former vehicle, not because I changed my mind about debt.)

I know I’m weird. I know I don’t shop or manage my money like the average American. So I almost certainly should not use myself as an example of how people shop for books. I think Ms. Lothlorien is probably correct: most people give more consideration to higher-priced items because there is a perceived value based solely on the price.

So, after giving this some thought, I decided to experiment for myself. I originally listed The Last Golden Dragon for 99 cents because it’s a short story and I didn’t think anyone would pay more than that for it–despite the fact that one of my pre-readers suggested that I charge more because he said he’d be willing to pay more for it.

It’s been available for almost two months and I’ve had 18 purchases (I’m excluding free downloads because all the rules of snobbery are broken when stuff is free). I just upped the price a dollar, so let’s see if I have more sales (or make more money; I’ll consider either a success) in the next two months.

Something else I need to work on is my Facebook page. I started it, but let it languish (new posts are announced on it automatically, but that’s all the activity that happens on it) because Facebook did not make it easy for me to access and use. But they seem to have corrected that problem. What’s more, I have 49 Likes. I estimate only about half of those are friends and family, because I think the last time I checked the numbers on it (when it was nothing but friends and family) it was about 23. I haven’t been advertising it on the blog, so I’m wondering where those 25 or so people came from.

That’s probably a sign I should make better use of it. And to that end, I’m off to do some research on what, exactly, you should write on your Facebook page to keep people interested in your brand, but not annoy the hell out of them.