Category: Self-publishing

Publishing on Amazon: A Step-by-Step Guide

Publishing on Amazon is really easy. Promise. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you do just that. Feel free to skip points that are obvious to you and jump to items you’re not sure about. And if you have any questions, just ask!

The absolute minimum you need to start publishing on Amazon:

  1. an Amazon KDP account
  2. a completed (or almost completed) book
  3. a book cover
  4. a book description

Everything else you can figure out on the way.

1. Register an account

To publish ebooks on Amazon, you have to register an account at http://kdp.amazon.com. For obvious (or not so obvious) reasons*, it’s best to create a separate publishing account from your normal purchasing/reviewing account.

*Obvious reasons being that Amazon has some kind of anti-competitive (?) rule in place where they discourage authors from reviewing books by other authors because they subscribe to the traditional-publishing-as-competition model instead of the new collaborative-indie-publishing model.

For now, click Kindle eBook and we’ll get started—we’ll look at creating a Paperback in a future post.

E-BOOK DETAILS

2. Language & Title


The default language is English. Amazon currently supports various languages, but not Chinese or Malay, unfortunately.

Next, enter your book title. We’re taking these screenshots while setting up a pre-order for A Still, Small Voice, so you can see where stuff goes.

You don’t need to have a sub-title, but if you do, add that in the second line.

3. Series & edition

Only fill this section if you’re publishing a series. In our case, A Still, Small Voice is #4 in the North series, so we’ve filled in those details.

You can usually ignore Edition Number, unless you’ve made major changes to your ebook and are uploading a new version.

If you’ve just made minor changes, e.g. to fix typos, this doesn’t count as a new “edition.”

4. Author and contributors


This is where you enter your pen name (if you use a one) and any co-authors or contributors. A point to note is that the primary author that appears here must be the same as the name on your cover! In this sample, we acknowledge the cover designer of A Still, Small Voice. It’s “optional” but it’s a nice thing to do. Please do credit anyone who has contributed substantially to your book.

5. Description


Also known as your book blurb or back copy, this is the description of your book. Go to any Amazon book page or turn to the back of a paperback and you’ll find examples of what to write in your description. This short section (KDP allows you 4,000 characters—not words, characters) is what will help you sell your book. To write one, think about the books you’ve browsed and what made you decide to read it. Oftentimes, the cover attracts our attention, but it’s the description of the story that sells it to us.

The main points to consider are:

  • – what is this book about?
  • -who is it for/who will like it?

For more tips, check out these articles:

6. Publishing rights

This is basically to confirm that you wrote it and you have the right to publish it. If you’ve sold your book to some big publisher (yay you!) you probably don’t have the publishing rights to put it up on Amazon on your own anymore unless you negotiated that as part of your contract. (Your publisher will probably be looking into publishing their own ebooks that may or may not be on Amazon.) But since you’re looking at this as a guide to self-publishing, it’s probably safe to say you own all your publishing rights. Unless you stole your book from someone else (don’t do that).

7. Keywords & Categories


Think of all the words that you would associate with your book. Are there themes that you cover/address? These are what will be tagged to your book as “search words”. This means that if someone were to search for “short story about Dragons” A Still, Small Voice would most likely come up in the search.

Categories tell Amazon where to put your book. You can only select two, but Amazon will eventually sort them into more relevant categories or you can email them later to request specific categories.

8. Age range

This is mainly helpful if the books you’re writing are targeted at children, or if your books are adult-only. We usually leave this blank since it’s optional. If you do know the minimum age range and/or reading level (which you can estimate using Word), you can update it.

9. Release date


If you’re filling up this page with your book and cover ready, go ahead and select “I’m ready to release my book now.” This means that once you’ve uploaded everything and the book has passed Amazon’s automatic checks, then your ebook will be available for sale instantly*!

* usually within 1-5 business days

Even if you have everything ready, you don’t have to release your book immediately. You can set a release date (up to 90 days in the future) to allow you to work on things like marketing and promotion before your book goes live. You’ll also be able to direct people to the Amazon book page so that your fans can pre-order your book.

You DO need a manuscript file to upload, so uploading one that’s near-final is always the best option. A good time to set up a pre-order page is when your book is about 90% done. Meaning, you’re probably just proof-reading it for the hundredth time or making final tweaks. Try not to do upload a book that is still undergoing heavy revisions because if you don’t update your file before the final date shown, your placeholder file is going to be sent out to your fans and that could potentially be disastrous.

A note to remember: Pre-order customers always pay the lowest price, so be fairly confident about your selling price before you set up a pre-order.

AND NOW YOU’RE FINALLY DONE WITH THE EBOOK DETAILS PAGE!!
Give yourself a pat on the back and get a nice drink before moving on to the next page. This is where you get to the formatting and fiddly stuff.

E-BOOK CONTENT

10. Formatting your manuscript

First step: DRM yes or no?

We prefer NO, because we tend to switch platforms! This is really up to your preference. Some people think that DRM helps stop piracy, but our opinion is that if people are desperate enough, they’re going to pirate anyway.

So FORMATTING. Got your manuscript ready? Great!

We’re using Microsoft Word in this sample because it’s the most common software.

A) Front matter

 
This is all the stuff you usually find in the front of a book: title page, publisher, year published, license notes, etc.

You can create something fancy and elaborate like the stuff in a paperback. The simplified version shown here was adapted from the Smashwords guide and has worked for the past few years, so it’s an easy option.

B) Body/text


Remember that you’re formatting for ebook, so whatever fancy stuff you do, it’s 90% going to be overriden by the reader’s Kindle settings. I use a standard 12 point Times New Roman with a 0.3” first line indent with 0 line spacing and no spaces before/after paragraphs. This gives you a nice tight look.

C) Chapter headings


Format your chapter headings using a “headings” style as this simplifies the process of getting your Table of Contents up. I assure you this is 100% easier than Smashwords, so be grateful! Just set your chapter title (in this series, we use roman numerals, but your chapter headings could be anything you want) to the Heading 1 style and make any stylistic adjustments you wish (we centre, bold, and TNR it) then copy the format to all your chapter headings.

D) Chapter breaks


Use the page break function to separate your chapters. DON’T use multiple paragraph breaks! Multiple paragraphs will probably not be read/recognised by Kindle so all your chapters will appear mushed up into one super long chapter instead of starting on a new page/section each time.

E) Back matter

Your back matter will likely expand over time.


We like to leave a little reminder for the reader to leave a review, but this isn’t necessary.

As a first-time author, the very basic you need is an “About the Author” section where you can link your webpage or other social media that you want to direct readers to.

Once you’ve built a backlist, you can add them into your back matter so that if readers like your book, they can go and look for other stuff you’ve written.

Don’t forget to format the headings of your front and back matter as “Heading 1” too!

F) Table of Contents (TOC)


Now that you have everything in place, it’s time to set up your Table of Contents. Go to Reference>>Table of Contents>>Custom Table of Contents.

Untick “show page numbers” because page numbers are irrelevant to ebooks. Once it’s in the Kindle, the page numbers will change according to the reader’s settings. What you DO want is that the TOC is clickable so that they can jump ahead to chapters if they wish.

Make sure that everything you want to appear on the TOC appears—if they don’t, you’ll have to check that you’ve formatted all the chapter titles/headings as “Heading 1”.

Additional reading: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200645680

Okay, so Kindle has this snazzy new Kindle Create (KC) program that we have yet to try, so we’re going to test it out for this demo. Note: We deleted the TOC for this demo as it seems that this is where the formatting steps diverge.


Right. Uploaded the manuscript. It asked if we wanted to do a bunch of stuff, which was obviously yes.

Awesome. KC found all our headings and created a TOC! It doesn’t appear to be inserted in the text though, unlike the Word document.


Hmmm with these clickable format buttons, we’re able to define a copyright page, splitting it off from the Title Page. Looks alright…

We didn’t format mid-chapter separators in the Word file but Kindle Create has you a standard separator format. If you missed out any chapter titles or quotes, you can use this to define them too. Nice.


Ooh, Drop Caps. It looks like A Still, Small Voice might feature drop caps just because of this function. Ha. We didn’t test the “poetry” function because this ebook doesn’t have any.


Autosave reminders. Good job.

This pic was already in the word format and this is how it appears when converted over.


We tried reuploaded this picture to see how it works. KC only accepts pics in jpg.

KC has a handy previewer.

Oooooo themes! Not really necessary, but fun. Also, this is where you get a prettier ebook than just formatting in Word, I guess.


When you click publish, Kindle Create saves a separate file to upload on the site, same as if you upload the Word doc.

Verdict: Not really necessary, but it’s easy enough to use. And kinda pretty.

11. Cover

Covers are uber important and we recommend that you hire a cover designer to make you a pretty one. We’ve already commissioned a cover for A Still, Small Voice but it’s not ready yet, so we decided to play around with the cover creator to show you how it works.

If you really don’t have money to commission a cover, this is a cheap way to do a passable cover, but the templates are used so often that it does not distinguish your book from the millions out there. It also smacks of you being an amateur and a cheapskate. Not what you want. You want to do a professional book, right?

 

We decided not to upload a picture as we had none readily available. These were the options provided.

 

These templates are easily customiseable so just pick the options that appeal to you the most.

One great plus point with the cover creator is that if you have a picture/illustration/graphic you absolutely want to use on your cover but don’t have photoediting software, these templates help you add on the important text, such as your title and author name in the appropriate places without having to tear your hair out. 🙂 A minor downside is that the font options are kinda limited, so you have to live with what they offer.

12. ISBN and publisher


I tend not to get ISBNs for Amazon, but rely on their ASIN instead. It really doesn’t make a difference because most people don’t trace ebooks/Kindle books by ISBN anyway.

Enter a publisher name if you have one. If you don’t, just leave it blank.

13. Review your book


Now you’ve filled up everything on this page, make sure you review your file to see that everything looks good. For some reason, we’re not allowed to download the file (using Kindle Creator file) but it looks all right on the online previewer.


Ah, as suspected, you can download a preview file if you use a Word upload. This is useful if you want to use the preview file as review copies, but not for anything else.

*breathe a sigh of relief*
You’re done with the most difficult part.
Once you’re happy with your file (or you can live with it in its current format because you just want to set up the pre-order page and continue fiddling with it later) then you can proceed to the next page. The actual selling part.

EBOOK PRICING

14. KDP select

 

If you enrol in KDP select, you can’t sell your ebook anywhere else online, including your own website. Do not recommend. Then again, we’re biased to the “Going Wide” philosophy. Choose this if it fits your marketing strategy. We’ll talk about the whole KU vs Wide in another post.

15. Territories


This is where you want to and can sell the book. The obvious choice is “worldwide” unless you have reasons why you only want to limit your books to certain markets/regions.

16. Pricing


Pricing Support is another new function and a useful one at that! (Pronoun used to have something similar to this).

Because this is a short story and we’re pricing it at $0.99, the only royalty rate we can use is 35%. If you’re selling a full-length novel or even a novella, consider setting your price between $2.99 and $4.99 to get 70% royalties. You can set it above $4.99, but that usually decreases your chance of selling your ebook, unless you’re very famous.

Amazon autoconverts the prices in other marketplaces based on their current exchange rates, so you don’t really need to fiddle with international pricing unless you really, really want to.

17. Final bits!

These last two are optional.

We’re not opting for matchbook price because we’re not doing a print version of this short story. How matchbook works is if you sell a paperback on Amazon for, say, $9.99 and your ebook at $3.99, you can set up this option where someone buying the paperback can get a copy of the ebook as well at a discounted price you set (between 0 (free) to $2.99).

Kindle Lending allows the person who purchases the book to “lend” the ebook to a friend, like how you can lend a paperback you purchased to a friend.

AAANNNDDD that’s the end. Now you click “Submit for Preorder” or “Publish” and then wait for your book to appear online!

You’re probably as exhausted as we are right now, so we’ll wait until our next post to talk about the other technical bits of publishing in Amazon, including payments and tax.

Til then!

So where should I publish? (Part 2)

In our last post, we looked at the top five ebook retailers plus Malaysia’s own e-sentral. These retailers allow you to upload and publish your books directly with them—but this requires you to work out six different ways to format your ebook and enter the related information six times. To streamline this process, we use an aggregator—which distributes your ebooks to the selected retailers and online libraries.

Here are three aggregators we’ve personally used or know Malaysians who have used them:

Smashwords 

Smashwords is one of the first indie publishing platforms which serves both as a retailer in its own right and as a distributor/aggregator. It distributes to a long list of retailers including Kobo, iBooks and Nook. Where it doesn’t distribute to is Google Play and Amazon. Amazon is technically on the list, but your books aren’t actually distributed via Smashwords unless you’ve sold more than $2k worth of books on Smashwords.

Royalties:

85% of net sales* on books sold in the Smashwords store, 60% of list price for books sold by other retailers.

*Net sales is the amount after transaction fees (if any) and affiliate cut (if any).

The good stuff:

  • Smashwords sells internationally, and since it’s been around for more than a decade, it’s pretty established in the market.
  • Books are sold in several formats, including epub, mobi (Kindle) and PDF, so it caters to readers on all major platforms/readers.
  • Payment is made via Paypal on a monthly basis so you’ll get paid every month! Even if you only earn like a dollar.
  • Uploading is via .doc file. Or you can upload via epub file if you’ve managed to make one somewhere else.
  • Smashwords has a coupon system so you can put individual books on sale or you can create a special coupon code for your readers instead of generally lowering your prices.
  • You can set your price to 0 (free) so it’s an easy way to give your books away for free.
  • Provides free ISBN
  • You can control pricing in other currencies

The bad stuff:

  • Uploading to Smashwords via .doc—which initially sounds easy enough—is often quite finicky due to their proprietary conversion software known as the Meatgrinder. It requires very stringent formatting and even experienced formatters sometimes face stupid, annoying problems with the upload so you have to be very patient. (Or hire us!)
  • Formatting is limited—the Meatgrinder doesn’t like too many pictures or lists or tabs or tables, so it’s really only good for fiction that doesn’t need any of that stuff.
  • The pre-order option isn’t exactly a pre-order: it creates the book page with all the relevant details but doesn’t allow orders until the on-sale date itself.
  • It’s still a US site, so you still need to fill up the US tax form (W8-BEN) and pay the 30% withholding tax.
  • Readers can only review books they bought from the site.

What does this mean for you?

Publishing on Smashwords is a steep investment in terms of time and the payoff may not be that great. We use it mainly because it’s a legacy platform at this point—we’re so used to having it there that it feels weird not to. 🙂

 

Draft2Digital (D2D) 

D2D is one of the most well-known aggregators out there. It doesn’t have its own sales platform but distributes to a long list of retailers including Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook. It doesn’t yet distribute to Google Play but they’re currently “in talks”.

Royalties:

D2D takes 10% of the retail price, or approx 15% of net royalties. Royalties depend on the individual retailers.

The good stuff:

  • It’s very easy to use and doesn’t require any special formatting skills, as long as your chapter markers are consistent.
  • Uploading is via any Word file (or Word readable file).
  • Also helps generate end matter.
  • Provides free ISBN.
  • Converts your book into epub, mobi (Kindle) and PDF, so it caters to readers on all major platforms/readers.
  • You can set your price to 0 (free) except on Amazon so it’s an easy way to give your books away for free.
  • You can control pricing in other currencies.

The bad stuff:

  • It’s still a US site, so you still need to fill up the US tax form (W8-BEN) and pay the 30% withholding tax.

What does this mean for you?

For a tech noob, D2D looks like the best replacement for Smashwords. There’s a lot of overlap between the sites they distribute to, so unless you really want to sell on Smashwords itself, D2D is a pretty good replacement.

 

StreetLib 

Streetlib posits itself as “a one-stop solution for independent publishing”. It certainly offers a lot of options and has segregated its options into six overall categories: write, publish, print, sell, read and market. They have an impressive list of retailers that they distribute to, including all of the top five ebook retailers AND e-sentral.

Royalties:

StreetLib takes 10% of the list price. Royalties depend on the individual retailer. Using the wholesale model, you get 60% of your list price

The good stuff:

  • You can either upload as an epub or create an epub using their free “write” service.
  • The Write service lets you either upload an existing word document (slightly buggy) or cut and paste from your file into their system. It’s quite intuitive to use and offers several standard styles to choose from.
  • There is an option to create your own ebook store, which takes away the hassle of creating your own website.
  • Provides free ISBN.
  • Payment via Paypal is available. Set up for payment allows you to list Malaysia so there is a possibility that a W8-BEN is not required (we haven’t tested this yet).

The bad stuff:

  • The Write function is separate from the Publish function—and there is no automatic flow—so you need to download the epub file and then re-upload it to sell, which was frankly a little confusing.
  • The Help & FAQ section wasn’t exactly very helpful in figuring this out, so experimentation was needed.

What does this mean for you?

Our experience of using Streetlib was basically that the best part is the Write option. Everything else is slightly confusing and frankly a little annoying. However, the list of retailers they distribute to is impressive, so it might be worth the effort.

 

Additional reading:

There are a lot of things to think about when deciding how to publish your e-book. If you want to discuss the best options for your book, contact us for a one-on-one consult.

Let us know if you have any specific questions and we’ll try to answer them!

So where should I publish? (Part 1)

Now that you’ve decided to self-publish, the next question is: where should I publish?

Here’s a quick look at the top 5 ebook retailers and how accessible it is to Malaysians.

Amazon

Amazon Kindle is undoubtedly the biggest player in the world at the moment, but especially in the United States of America. As much as some publishers hate Amazon and its near-monopoly, it’s still a publishing heavyweight that is ignored only at your (publishing) peril. Most self-publishing success stories are geared around aggressive marketing strategies on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

For Malaysians, the downside to publishing on Amazon is really that as simple as it is to publish, the average Malaysian is not going to be able to buy your book from Amazon because there is no actual Malaysian Amazon market. Most Malaysian who buy and download from Amazon either do so with a US-linked account, via gift cards, or through a VPN (and a fake US address). And frankly, only very dedicated readers are going to bother with this.

The other downside is that your royalties are subject to a 30% withholding tax because Malaysia does not currently have a tax treaty with the USA. You’ll also need a US bank account (or a bank account in one of the countries Amazon has a presence in) to receive your royalties via direct debit; without this, you’ll need to accumulate a total of $100 sales in each respective currency in order to receive a cheque.

What does this mean for you?

Publish on Amazon, by all means, but don’t expect to grow much of a local following from it. You’ll be mainly targetting the US/international market. Also, unless you use a banking service such as Payoneer, it might take an extremely long time to receive royalties.

Your best bet is to distribute to Amazon via an aggregator, which we’ll talk about in our next post.

 

Google Play

Google Play’s sales of books are apparently pretty low in the US. However, reports seem to show that it has a bigger worldwide market share and is still considered one of the big 5 online publishing platforms. Back when I had an organised book page via Pronoun (as opposed to my haphazard website now), half my sales were from Google Play so don’t let the poor reports from the US discourage you.

Malaysia is on the list of markets where Google Play is accepting new publishers. To open a publishing account, you fill up a form and wait for them to approve you. Uploading to Google Play requires a little technical know-how—they only accept uploads in ePub format so you’ll either have to figure out how to create an ePub file, or pay someone to do it for you. AND because you’re registering directly as a Malaysian account, royalty payments can be made directly to your local bank account and there is no withholding tax.

Google Play doesn’t play well with aggregators, so this is one you might want to upload on your own.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst Google Play isn’t quite as big on the ebook front as Amazon, it’s easily accessible by anyone in Malaysia with a smartphone. Also, no hassle with filling up US tax forms or figuring out how to actually get your royalties! You should register for a publishing account as not many aggregators distribute to Google Play.

 

Kobo

Kobo (also known as Rakuten Kobo) is another popular ebook site. The plus side about Kobo is that they sell internationally, so it’s accessible to Malaysians. We can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t upload directly to Kobo—we usually distribute to Kobo via Smashwords, or previously, the now-defunct Pronoun.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst we can’t comment about selling on Kobo independently, quite a few aggregators include Kobo in their list of platforms. We’d list this as a must-have, seeing that it sells internationally, including to Malaysia.

 

Apple

iBooks is accessible to all Apple users worldwide. This means that anyone who has an iTunes account in the world can buy your book. Unfortunately, most people only associate iTunes with music, so their book market isn’t as huge as it could be.

iTunes is also horrendously glitchy when trying to find the actual LINK of the book to share, so we don’t use it much. Case in point: the link above points you to Anna’s author page because there is no actual link to an iBooks store. Links to iTunes also force you to open the iTunes player (and often tells us that we don’t have one even when we do) and all purchases need to be in-app, so we don’t really favour them as a buyer. Still, it works for those who do everything on their iPhones or iPads.

Again, we can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t directly upload to Apple/iBooks.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst we can’t comment about selling on iTunes independently, quite a few aggregators include Apple in their list of platforms. We’d list this as a must-have, mainly because it’s Apple.

 

Nook (Barnes & Noble)

Barnes and Noble as been rumoured to be closing down for something close to the last five years, so it seems like they’re a little troubled. All the same, it’s still considered one of the big 5 in ebook retailing. On the surface, Barnes and Noble appears to be accessible internationally, until you get to the payment page—where they require a US credit card to purchase. So no, they’re not actually available to the average Malaysian.

Again, we can’t comment on the publishing side of it as we don’t upload directly to Nook/Barnes and Noble.

What does this mean for you?

Whilst I can’t comment about selling on Nook independently, quite a few aggregators include Barnes and Noble in their list of platforms. We’d list this as “Not really required, but eh, why not?” at this point of time.

 

Bonus!

e-sentral

Malaysia has its very own e-book platform! Obviously, it’s not part of the top five e-book retailers in the world, but it’s been around since 2010 so it’s worth looking into. E-sentral caters to the Southeast Asian market, primarily Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia and is open to publishing in English, Malay, and Chinese.

We can’t comment much on the platform as a whole at this point since we’ve only just started trying to upload to the site, but our experience at this moment is as follows:

  • You’ll need to upload your file in epub format
  • Larger files seem to be buggy to upload
  • You can upload your ebooks individually or in batches, which is great if you have a back catalogue
  • Processing of the files/uploads takes a while. We uploaded a batch of 5 ebooks on 7 June and the files have yet to be processed. Or something
  • You need to apply for your own e-ISBN from PNM which is an additional step that’s normally not required by other platforms.
  • No foreign withholding tax or bank hassles.

What does this mean for you?

Malaysia boleh! But other than that, it’s a good way to try to build your local readership. We’ll let you know how this goes once we actually get our books on sale.

 

We’ve looked at the top five e-book retailers (plus e-sentral) but, as mentioned, we also sell through to these platforms via aggregators. Our next post will look at the various aggregators/distributors such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital, how they work, and whether they’re worth using. If you have tips to share, let us know in the comments.

Til next time!


P/S Here are some additional posts that you might find helpful:

Two things to consider when choosing a publishing strategy

Whilst most self-publishing companies in Malaysia focus on print services, Teaspoon Publishing focuses on the e-book and online print-on-demand (POD) market. There’s nothing inherently wrong with choosing one or the other—or deciding to do both.

Here are a couple of questions to consider when choosing your publishing strategy:

1. What is your intended market?

Where and to whom you intend to sell your book is a major factor in what your publishing strategy should look like.

Local market

The Malaysian book market is still heavily reliant on print. As much as e-book sales have started to take off amongst avid readers in Malaysia, the general market mostly prefers to buy tangible goods. Most casual readers still like browsing before buying, so if you’re trying to convert casual readers into customers, this is the best way to drive interest. Having something physical to sell also helps you get in the door at sales and meet-and-greet events such as Art for Grabs, Hin Bus Pop Up Market, and the Malaysian Writers Fest.

Pricing is also a deciding factor. Local portals such as MPH and GerakBudaya have attempted to sell e-books, but pricing an e-book at almost the same price (or even higher) than a print book defeats the purpose of offering an alternate digital version. Look at e-book prices on e-Sentral to figure out what’s the best price for your e-book.

Reminder to readers: purchases of ebooks are also eligible for tax deductions so don’t forget to save those receipts!

Suggested strategy: A mix of online and print.

International market

Obviously, if you’re trying to penetrate the international market, e-book is the way to go. However, if print is important to your readership, providing online print options via POD (through Amazon/Createspace, Lulu, or Ingramspark) would be a cheaper and hassle-free option as compared to printing the books physically in Malaysia and shipping them out to your customers.

Suggested strategy: 100% online with POD options.

Other considerations: Age group/readership

The way your intended market prefers to read is also a factor in whether your book sells or not.

Children’s books—especially those targeted for young/beginning readers—still need to be in print. MG and YA books can go either way. Whilst teen readers are digital natives, access and funds to purchase e-books are often controlled by their parents, even if they own an e-reader. General fiction aimed for adult readers (whatever the genre) sells well either in print or e-book—though the market seems to prefer e-books for new/indie authors and print for established/traditionally published authors. Various genres also lend themselves to better e-book sales than print. Non-fiction and textbooks still sell better in print.

Here are some examples of how genre affects e-book and online print sales, from the authorearnings.com report for Jan 2018. For more info, head over to authorearnings.com.

screenshot from authorearnings.com
screenshot from authorearnings.com

Suggested strategy: Study sales trends for your genre to decide what’s best for your book.

 

2. How much can you afford to spend?

Traditional publishers still dominate publishing because they have the funds. Printing isn’t cheap—and it’s much cheaper to print in bulk than in the small quantities that a self-publisher can afford. Let’s not even talk about where and how you can store the thousands (or hopefully only hundreds) of books you’ve just printed—or how to get it distributed.

Focusing on the e-book market first helps you to minimise upfront costs and hopefully earn back what you’ve paid for covers and editing before you splurge on a print run that may or may not succeed. And if you’re able to tell people that your book is popular online (look at all these reviews!) that might even be an additional selling point when you promote your book to live audiences.

Crowdfunding for a print run might also be a good option to explore.

Suggested strategy: Plan a small print run if you have funds, then use that to direct buyers to your online store/e-book retailer of choice.

These two questions are the very basics to ask when deciding when and how to self-publish your book. What else have you considered when choosing your publishing strategy? Do you have any other important considerations that might help other new authors?

How much does it cost to self-publish?

Now that we’ve covered how long it takes to self-publish a book, how much does it actually cost?

Let’s take a look at what we’ve covered so far:

1. Writing
Unless you’re paying someone to ghostwrite for you, you shouldn’t have any expenditure here. Well, maybe about RM100 or so for paper, pens, and printer ink. But if you want to be that nit-picky, you can count the cost of electricity, internet, food, water, etc.
Expected cost: NIL

2. Editing
Editing costs depend on the type and level of editing required. Here are the various types of editing, in suggested sequence:

Developmental editing

This looks at the overall big picture of your novel. How strong is your plot? Is there a plot hole big enough to drive a car through? Is there enough tension? Are there any slow, boring parts? Does your story make sense? Is backstory a problem (either too much or too little)? How can we improve and polish this story until it’s not just ‘good’, but ‘exceptional’? It’s pretty hard to find developmental editing here in Malaysia, but the numbers we’re seeing online estimate anything from USD1,000–USD6,000.
What we do have in place of this, are writing mentors, foremost of which is Gina Yap Lai Yoong. Hang about the Malaysian Writers Community and/or Twitter to see when some of our writers are looking to pick up new mentees! Most of these come at no cost to you, other than putting in the hard work and probably belanja-ing your mentor to dinner once in a while. An alternative is to find a critique group or beta readers that have great story sense that you can trust to give you honest feedback.

Line editing

A line editor goes into the nitty-gritty of the manuscript, focusing their red pen on everything from specific words, to sentences, to paragraphs, to chapters. They look at strengthening your work in terms of style, flow, structure, and readability, besides the usual correction for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other basic/common language mistakes. Do your sentences flow well? Is your POV consistent? Do you flop between tenses? They may also help pick up obvious continuity issues—do you say A in Chapter 1 but then change it to B in Chapter 8?—though they won’t be going into the plot development itself. Line editing for a 50,000-word novel would range between RM3,000 to RM5,000 here at Teaspoon Publishing.

Proofreading

This is your final line of defence! At this stage, you’re pretty much just catching typos, concentrating on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, as well as other basic/common language mistakes. Proofreading for a 50,000-word novel ranges from RM2,000 to RM4,000 here at Teaspoon Publishing.

Some people tend to skimp on editing and jump right into just a quick proofread or do nothing at all. This isn’t really advisable, even if you’re an editor yourself, because it’s hard to find your own mistakes. It’s also really, really hard to tell if there are continuity issues or if things are confusing in your own manuscript because you know everything in your head. However, what’s in your head may not have all made it out onto the page in a way that others can understand.
If you’re really cheapskate (or you have really good friends), one way to save on this is to do a barter trade with your writer/editor friends, like I’ll edit your manuscript if you’ll edit mine. The results may not be really the best unless both of you are professional editors.
Expected cost: RM2,000 – RM5,000

3. Cover Design
A premade cover sourced online could cost about USD40 – USD80. An original cover could cost between USD100 – USD500, or more. We’ve paid between RM400 – RM750 for our covers. We recommend looking up Charis Loke Illustration and Magpie Designs!
Expected cost: RM150 – RM750

4. Formatting
Frankly, it’s not that difficult to format your own books—but it IS time-consuming, time that could be better spent writing your new book or doing marketing (ha). At Teaspoon Publishing, formatting generally costs RM60 per ebook format and RM100 for print layout (text only).
Expected cost: RM60 – RM280

5. a) Online publishing
The various platforms / distributors mostly take a cut of sales, generally between 30% – 50%. At the $0.99 – $2.98 price point on Amazon, they take a cut of 65% (I.e. you get 35% royalties on sales).
Expected cost: NIL.

5. b) Printing
Printing costs depend on bulk. If you’re only printing 100 – 200 copies, you might want to check out these print-on-demand (POD) and/or book printing services:

Please note that we have not dealt with these services personally, but they have been referred to us or recommended on forums.
The higher quantity you print, the cheaper it is per copy.
OR, you can skip doing a local print run altogether and do POD with Lulu / CreateSpace / Ingram Spark. With this service, readers around the world can buy a physical copy of your book and have it shipped directly to their doorstep. You won’t have to pay anything upfront – the printing cost is taken out of the sales price & royalty paid to you. You can also print small batches of your book at their author price (cost of book + small markup for the printer)—but shipping from overseas is often the expensive bit.
Expected cost: ???

6. Distribution (for print)
This doesn’t appear in the timeline for self-publishing, but it’s a cost that you might want to consider if you want wider distribution if you decide to print your book. Most independent bookstores will ask you for a 30% – 40% “discount” on your retail price. This means that for every book you sell at RM20, they’ll pay you RM14 (30% discount) or RM12 (40% discount). This is how bookshops make their profits.
However, getting into chain bookstores (MPH, Popular, Times, Kinokuniya, Borders) normally needs you to have a distributor/agent. The only options we’ve come across so far are Inspiration Hub (30% royalty) and GerakBudaya (approx 55% discount). You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is cost you’re ready and willing to bear.
Expected cost: ???

All in all, self-publishing an ebook may cost you between RM2,200 – RM6,000—and that’s not even including print! Yet 90% of this cost is from that one step you really shouldn’t skip: editing.

 


 

At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

How long does it take to self-publish a book?

One common question we’ve received is how long does it take to self-publish a book? This is usually tied into another question—what’s the process of self-publishing a book?

Here’s a very rough guide to the process of self-publishing a book, including the estimated time each stage would take.

1. Writing
Some writers can finish writing a novel in a month, some take months, even years. To make a meaningful estimate of the length of time it takes to self-publish a book, we won’t include the initial writing phase of the book in this estimate, assuming that the process we’re looking at will start at the point where the manuscript is finished and ready to be sent for editing.

2. Editing
Depending on the wordcount and the editor’s schedule, a full edit can take anything from a week to a month, maybe more. A good estimate for a 50,000-word book would probably be one to two weeks for the initial edit. After that, it would be wise to budget a week for writer’s meltdown and wallowing in self-pity, another two weeks for rewrites, clarifications, arguments over what to change and whether to change them, and maybe a fourth week for finalisation of the manuscript.
Best estimate: one month.

3. Cover design
Cover design can be done concurrent with editing, assuming you’re pretty sure you aren’t going to rewrite the whole book or give up on the project altogether. It also assumes that you’ve already decided on your title.
This stage really depends on your artist so this is something you’ll need to discuss with them. You could get a premade cover online which would probably be updated in three days OR you could get an artist to conceptualise something specific for you, which could take anything from one week to three months. Remember: the more customised and the more handmade/hand-drawn it is, the more time it will take.
Best estimate: one month, possibly concurrent to editing.

4. Formatting
Layout and formatting for a text-only book should only take two to three days per format. A manuscript with pictures, graphs, or diagrams would take longer to format.
Best estimate: three days.

5. a) Online publishing
Publishing online will only take a few hours of your time, assuming you have all the required materials ready (price, categories, back cover description, cover, formatted manuscript, ISBN, etc). Do also budget some time to review the converted file to make sure it’s up to standard before publishing. This is the best time to catch overlooked errors, typos, or formatting glitches, which would need a quick fix.
Best estimate: one to two days.

5. b) Printing
Budget in at least two to three weeks for the printing process as the printer you send it to would have to review the files and get everything in order before starting the print run. If they need to send the files back to you for revisions, that would extend the time as well.
Best estimate: three days.

Total time: two-and-a-half to three months.

Do remember the time estimates noted here would vary for each writer and each contributor at every stage, and some stages may cycle back and forth several times. This estimate is also created assuming that the publishing of this novel is the sole priority of every contributor. This isn’t the case in the real world. Sending your novel to an editor doesn’t mean that they will be able to work on it right away. They may have other jobs they are currently working on that needs to be completed prior to yours, or they could be juggling multiple projects at the same time. The same goes for all the other stages, unless you’ve already booked their time in advance.

All in all, really proficient self-published writers can publish a new book every 3 months whilst traditional publishing generally takes 2 years from acceptance of the manuscript to final print. Our advice is to not rush the process as rushing may lead to sloppiness and more errors in your final book. You want a product that you can be proud of—and that takes time.


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

When looking to self-publish, how do I avoid being scammed?

Many new writers in Malaysia have been burnt by vanity publishers, where they pay thousands of ringgit (usually around USD3,000) to print hundreds of copies of books that don’t sell. And instead of getting the marketing support they’ve been promised, they end up having to do it all alone.

The line between self-publishing and vanity publishing is sometimes blurred—and many often confuse the two. In fact, vanity publishing used to be synonymous with self-publishing. However, vanity publishing in 2018 is a sub-set of self-publishing only insofar as “independently” and “own expense” is concerned—in its current form, it straddles a strange mix between traditional and indie publishing.

So … what’s the difference?

With self-publishing, you publish the book by yourself, essentially doing everything a publisher is supposed to do on your own. To produce the best book you can, you’ll have to spend on editing and cover art at the minimum, not counting the cost to print the books. Whilst editing services and cover illustrations aren’t cheap, they shouldn’t cost you tens of thousands either.

With vanity publishing, you’re paying a company/publisher to publish the book on your behalf. Sounds the same, right? You’re still paying for services … and even better: someone’s going to do everything for you! However, most vanity publishers (at this time) do not offer value-for-money services. Some of the big vanity publishers out there that we are aware of are Partridge and Author Solutions. We’re not saying that you shouldn’t engage them. However, if you should decide to work with them, go into it with your eyes open and the understanding that you’re paying premium prices for services which may not really be the best. DO review all the options you are purchasing as part of the package and ask yourself if you are able to do this on your own, or if you can outsource them to freelancers at a much cheaper rate, with better outcomes/results.

So all this looks like it’s just about the cost and how much a company can cheat you of money whilst giving you sub-standard products. However, the bad and confusing part comes when the vanity publisher tries to disguise itself as a traditional publisher, or is an offshoot/branch of a larger publishing house. And this is where poor, confused new authors sometimes get scammed.

So how do I not get scammed?

If you receive an offer from a company to publish your book or “win” a contract but you have to pay them for it (or “invest in their business”), then this is a vanity publisher, or at least someone trying to scam you in the name of publishing. A proper publishing house, whether they’re a big company or a small press, will NOT ask you for a fee. Heck, an agent that decides to represent you will NOT ask you for a fee. A publishing house will negotiate to PAY YOU royalties and/or an advance and an agent will take a percentage cut of whatever price they manage to sell your manuscript for. If an agent doesn’t sell, he/she doesn’t get paid.

The rule of thumb is this: Money should flow towards the author—if it does not it’s likely a scam.

What often seems enticing about a vanity publisher is the promise of a larger distribution channel than you can get on your own. However, this promise usually doesn’t materialise. Yes, they have a network, but they aren’t invested enough to push your book through it. As their main goal is to make money off YOU, the author, their job is done once they’ve convinced you to sign up and pay for their publishing package. They don’t care if you never sell anything because they’ve already made their money!

A frequent complaint is also that because of the prices they charge, you end up having to sell your book for ridiculously high prices just to cover your costs. We’ve seen thin, badly edited volumes published via Partridge sold at prices between RM40-RM55 when other self-published books of similar length and proportions (and better quality) were being priced at RM20.

If you ever come across a publisher that seems just a little dodgy to you or a deal that seems just a little too good to be true with amazing promises, do a quick search for reviews or check out the Writer Beware website at http://accrispin.blogspot.my/ to see if anyone has complained about or reported them. You can also search the Malaysian Writers Community on Facebook to see if those publishers have been discussed before. If you don’t find anything negative, then feel free to make a decision based on your gut feeling.

 


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help!

7 questions to ask before deciding to self-publish

Every writer’s dream is to be published. Obviously, getting a publishing contract is desirable: your publisher takes care of everything for you—from editing, cover design, and layout to distribution and marketing. It’s also somewhat like a unicorn: elusive and maybe non-existent, especially if you’re not based in any of the English publishing hubs of the world (New York and London). International publishing aside, getting a local publishing contract in Malaysia is even tougher—especially if you’re writing genre fiction in English.

Fortunately, there are other options now in the form of self-publishing, or indie publishing (whichever term you like using). The book industry has changed enough that it isn’t bad form anymore to be self-published. (It wasn’t bad form back in the 1900’s either!) Whilst the main thrust of Teaspoon Publishing’s Publishing Hub focuses on the ebook market, indie publishing also includes print and print-on-demand, which we’ll look at briefly in coming weeks.

Self-publishing isn’t for everyone. By self-publishing, YOU are in control of the whole process as well as the final output. YOU are also 100% responsible for sales and marketing and how it’s going to get into the hands of your readers. Before you take this very drastic step, you should ask yourself a few questions:

1. What’s my definition of success?

Everyone’s definition of success is different. For some, success is counted by sales numbers and money earned. Readership might be more important for some, even if they don’t earn much from their writing. For others, literary acclaim and book prizes might be the goal. Understanding what you want for your writing will help you decide if self-publishing is for you.

Until something drastic changes, the only way to get literary acclaim now is to chase for a traditional publishing deal so if that’s your motivation, you’ll have to keep submitting. If your primary interest is for your book out in the world for people to read, then self-publishing is a very viable option, provided you do the work.

2. What are my long-term goals for my writing and will it be helped or hindered by self-publishing?

If you’re very definite that you only want your book published via big publishing houses or your goal is literary acclaim, you might want to hold off on experimenting with self-publishing. Whilst self-publishing has gotten some authors good traditional deals (see Andy Weir, Amanda Hocking, EL James), if your self-published book does poorly, it might bias publishers against offering you a contract because the risks are higher for them. Just like a job interview, publishers will look at your publishing history (if you have one) so having a clean history might just be better for you.

Another consideration, especially for Malaysians, is how and where you want to sell your book. If you’re looking at the international market, it makes sense to indie publish your novel as an ebook with print on demand options. If you’re looking at the Malaysian market, your best bet is probably a print book, at least until more Malaysian readers catch on to the ebook reading trend.

3. Are my books suitable for self-publishing?

As strange as this sounds, the type of books you write can and do affect how well you do as an indie author. Certain genres do better than others as independently published novels, e.g. romance, sci-fi/fantasy, where readers often follow a favourite author brand rather than a publishing house.
If you need some help with market research, http://authorearnings.com publishes annual reports on the ebook market with data on genre sales by publisher type.

4. Is my craft ready?

This is a tricky question. As writers, we like to believe that everything we write is awesome and wonderful. However, we need to be both critical and objective about our work. If you work with an editor, beta readers, or a critique group, their input will help you decide when your work is ready to be released.

Self-publishing isn’t about doing away with the gatekeepers. It’s about making yourself your own gatekeeper. Releasing a book that isn’t quite ready or good enough will harm your career as you’ll put off any potential readers. Before you self-publish, please be sure that your book is the best that it can be, not according to your own standards, but in accordance with worldwide publishing standards.

5. Do I have a marketing plan?

Sometimes what makes a book (or any product) sell is not the book itself, but how it’s marketed and packaged. Once you have your novel ready, you also need a marketing plan. Putting your book up on Amazon but not doing anything to market it will not help you make any sales.

6. Do I have the resources to start this venture?

At the very least, you should have the resources to pay for a) a good cover, b) good editing, and c) printing costs (if you decide to print). If you’re not willing to spend money for at least the first two, you’re probably not ready to self-publish your book.

7. Am I ready to do the work?

Deciding to self-publish is really making the decision to do everything a publisher does with a team by yourself. It’s deciding to make your passion for writing into a business. True, you don’t have to (and can’t) do everything alone, but by committing to self-publishing, you’ll be the one hiring others to help you do the work.

If you’re not ready to commit to this level of work or do not want to make the necessary business decisions, then self-publishing is probably not for you.

 


At Teaspoon Publishing, we believe in Malaysian authors. We believe that you have a unique perspective that should be shared with the world. If you write fantasy, take a look at our Traditional page and consider submitting a manuscript during our reading period from 1 May – 31 July 2018.

We also believe in empowering authors to take control of their career. If you need a boost on your journey, check out our Publishing Hub to see how we can help you!

Up next: When looking to self-publish, how do I avoid being scammed?