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Getting Started With Kindle

The joys (?) of e-publishing
Friday 4 March 2011.

I’m going to have at least two books published this year.

One of them, a programming book called The Book Of Ruby, will be published in the traditional way – as a paperback. The other, a novel called Killers In Mascara, will be published as an eBook for Amazon’s Kindle.

Here is my book in Word, in the background, and in the Kindle Previewer in the foreground. Even plain text loses some of its original formatting on Kindle. One of the challenges is to make a book look reasonably professional given the very basic formatting supported by Kindle

I’ve worked in magazine publishing for most of my life: I’ve written columns, tutorials, interviews and reviews for programming magazines, newspapers, women’s magazines, pop music magazines and more besides. At various times I have also edited and published magazines. Even so, the world of book publishing is quite alien to me.

Normally, if you want to publish a book you need to find yourself an agent. The agent then attempts to find a publisher. But the vast majority of would-be authors fall at the first hurdle. Persuading an agent even to read the manuscript of your book let alone to agree to represent you is a task at which only a very tiny percentage of authors succeed. And even if you manage to get an agent there is no guarantee that the agent will find a publisher. And even if they find a publisher there is no guarantee that your book will be well promoted, find a significant number of readers or earn you any money.

I’m far too impatient to be bothered going through that whole rigmarole. And, since Amazon now says that its Kindle books are outselling its hardbacks, well, the time is surely right for an author to go it alone. I don’t need an agent or a publishing company to get my book onto Kindle. There used to be a stigma attached to self-publishing (so called ‘vanity’ publishing) but in those days self-publishing cost a lot of money and anyone who did it was assumed to be writing something that had no chance of making money. These days you can self-publish for free and both new and established authors can make a very decent income indeed – as long as readers like their books.

I have self-published a book before as a matter of fact. That was a collection of interviews which I did with pop music stars of the 1980s. I published it on Lulu. The process was pretty straightforward. I DTPed the book, including lots of fancy formatting effects and graphics, uploaded it to the Lulu site and almost immediately the title was available as a paperback which is printed ‘on demand’ whenever someone orders a copy.

Publishing to Kindle is not that straightforward. First, its recommended file format is HTML. What can I say? The word “Ugh!” springs to mind. HTML is not exactly a state of the art formatting language. So you can forget all the fancy styles and wrap-around graphics. Kindle is OK at displaying plainly formatting text with very simple in-line graphics but that’s all.

Even once you’ve formatted your book down to the Kindle level, there are all kinds of other steps you have to take to add a cover and a table of contents, for example, before building and testing the final output.

So far, I have to say that I have not enjoyed the experience. However, now I’ve started I’ll finish. If you want to know what Kindle publishing is all about and need some guidance on pitfalls and how to avoid them you may want to bookmark my new blog which will be devoted to exactly this subject. You’ll find it here: http://dark-neon.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile, excuse me if I scream and tear out a few handfuls of hair...!

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