Yesterday, I blogged about the mysterious invisibility of one of my Kindle Direct Publishing ebooks on Amazon – Legend of King Arthur – which wasn’t in the right place on their website. That blog is here.
Today I contacted Amazon and received a prompt explanation for why I couldn’t find my book where I expected. They told me my book was listed under the following categories:
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Arthurian
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Adventure
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Historical
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Sword & Sorcery
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Adventure
You can see that it was listed under “Arthurian” as a book – but not in the Kindle Store, where it mattered. It was also not listed under humorous fantasy, either, which is a category only for books. Since nobody looks for Kindle ebooks in the physical book section, it meant my ebook didn’t show up in relevant search results. For some reason my ebook wasn’t listed in the Arthurian section of the Kindle Store. Amazon asked me to send them the categories I wanted my book in so they could change it, which I did this morning. They were very helpful. My book should soon appear in the categories:
Kindle store > kindle ebooks > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > humor > arthurian
Kindle store > kindle ebook > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > humor > myths & legends
which are smaller sub-categories where it possible for customers to find it. Hurray!
Choosing Amazon Categories and Keywords
If you have some books published on Amazon via KDP, I’d say it’s worth checking to see your keywords and categories are correctly listed on your book’s Amazon page, because the categories on your KDP bookshelf don’t exactly match the browse categories. (It has something to do with BISAC – the way books are categorised.) Be wary. Your keywords could be doing nothing to help readers find your ebook – so check after publication that you can find it on Amazon in the Kindle Store like a customer would.
For Amazon’s advice on how to select categories, click here.
For more info on selecting browse categories, the KDP help page is here.
Well, I’m glad I emailed Amazon and learnt what had gone wrong. It wasn’t obvious!
(I just checked on Amazon. My book’s now added to Kindle store > kindle ebooks > science fiction & fantasy > fantasy > arthurian, where it belongs.)
Now that my book is visible again, I’ll have to trick some people into buying it. I’ve been reading about hypnotic suggestion and mind control – so look into my eyes.
You are feeling sleepy. Very sleepy.
You want to buy a humorous novel about King Arthur …
The First Among Sequels
I bought a novel last week that looked interesting only to get more and more confused by what was going on. It felt like I’d missed something. The story referred to events and characters as if the reader already knew a load of background info.
After I had finished the book, I Googled the title. My suspicions were confirmed. It turned out to be the second book in a series – but there were no clues about that on the book. That information is usually on the cover, in the blurb, on the spine, or at least listed at the front where the other titles by the author are mentioned. Not this book. No – it hid that pertinent fact from potential readers like it was a dirty secret. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere. The book was marketed like it was a stand-alone début title.
It would have been so easy to have the words “#2 in the series” written somewhere – but the publisher didn’t bother or deliberately missed it out. Nobody in the right mind buys the second book in a series before the first – but someone in the marketing department decided it would boost sales if potential readers didn’t know it was a sequel. They wanted to dupe customers into buying the second book even if they had not read the first one.
I don’t know what they were thinking.
Did they want to annoy readers?
They certainly annoyed me.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen a situation like that. I buy many series of books as bargain box sets which need to be read in the right order. Some publishers do an admirable job of making it clear. The ten books in the Martin Beck detective series had the letters of MARTIN BECK spelt out on the spines so the order was obvious on a shelf. Ian Rankin’s Rebus books have the number in a prominent position. But the order is often not listed on series titles. More often than I’d like to say, I’ve had to figure it out by looking at the dates of publication and organising the books myself. That’s fine if I have the time available for sorting them out. If I had been in a shop choosing just one book, I would not have had the time to flick through those titles to work out the right one to buy first. I would have left without buying anything.
I never watch the last episode of a TV show first. I start at the beginning. That’s what everyone does. So, why do some book publishers think it is an acceptable practice?
Last week, my enjoyment was ruined by the thoughtlessness of the publisher for not providing some basic information. They thought they were being clever keeping it a secret – but they just succeeded in making me feel like I’d been tricked. As a consequence, I didn’t enjoy that book and I won’t be buying the first book in the series or the next one.
How smart is that?
Books on Demand
I was in the mood for buying some new books last week – a few Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker Award winning books that I missed reading when they first came out. After making a comprehensive list of titles from 2000-2015, I decided to visit my not-so-local local bookshop, where I wanted to see physical copies of the books before buying them. I looked for the books on the shelves – but I could not find any of them. Not one. Dismayed, I queued up to speak with an assistant.
ME: Hi. I’d like to order some books, please.
ASSISTANT: Yes, sir. What are the titles?
ME: I’d like BLANK by BLANK.
ASSISTANT: I’ll look it up on the computer. Just a sec. Yes – that’s a great book. It won the Hugo Award for best science fiction novel. A great read.
ME: Yes. That’s why I want to read it.
ASSISTANT: Oh. That’s odd. It’s out of print.
ME: It only came out five years ago.
ASSISTANT: I know – but the publisher only printed one edition, which sold out. They didn’t reprint it. We could order a second-hand copy for £99.
ME: What? How much?
ME: Uh – that’s a bit out of my budget. Besides, I wanted a new copy. And I didn’t want to pay that much for a used one. Are you sure you typed it in correctly?
ASSISTANT (stone-faced): Yes, sir. Anything else?
ME: Well, you must have BLANK by BLANK. It was last year’s winner of three prizes.
ASSISTANT: Sorry, sir. Out of print.
ME: It’s the first book in a series. You have the other parts on a shelf over there!
ASSISTANT: Most people have already read the first part. You could buy the second part.
ME: That makes no sense. I want to read it from the beginning.
ASSISTANT: We could order you it from our specialist online bookshop for out of print titles.
ME: And how much would that cost?
ASSISTANT: £4000 plus delivery.
ME: No, thanks. Why is that so expensive, anyway?
ASSISTANT: Well, I suppose it’s because it’s rare. Blank’s fans will pay a lot for a copy of his book because there aren’t many.
ME: So, there is a demand for that book?
ASSISTANT: Yes. We get asked about it every week. We get loads of disappointed customers in here.
ME: Why doesn’t the publisher reprint it?
ASSISTANT: It’s not a new title. They like new titles.
ME: But it’s a classic!!!
ASSISTANT: Don’t use three exclamation marks on me, sir.
ME: Sorry. Uh – do you have any of these titles?
(The assistant studies my list and types each into a computer, shaking his head as each one flashes up OUT OF PRINT.)
ME: Don’t you have any of them?
ASSISTANT: No, sir. But we do have sixty-thousand copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.
ME: Yes, I noticed that. I waded through them to get into the shop. It looks like there are copies of it on every shelf. There are even copies balanced on your head.
ASSISTANT: Well, it is a popular title. It sells like crazy.
ME: It doesn’t leave much space for other books, does it? What do you do if someone comes in looking for a book that isn’t Fifty Shades of Grey?
ASSISTANT: We tell them to go somewhere else.
Exasperated, I flee the shop with none of the books I wanted to buy.
It made no sense for those award-winning books to be unavailable to buy new – but traditional publishers have not adapted the evolution of the book industry with Print On Demand publishing. If those titles had been POD titles, I could have ordered them all, had them printed in the shop, then gone home happy.
If a reader can’t buy a book because it is no longer available, the publisher makes no profit on the writer’s work.
I think traditionally publishers have to rethink their business model. They must keep all books by their authors available for the length of their contract. If Amazon can print individual copies of a book and make a profit, I’m sure traditional publishers could do it, too.
No books should be unavailable to read when we have the technology to reprint them.
The phrase “OUT OF PRINT” needs to be consigned to history.
Related article: Using Create Space to Publish.
Self-publishing Using CreateSpace
When I was twelve, I self-published my first book. It was a fantasy story I wrote on an old typewriter with a fading ribbon. To make my story look like a real paperback, I cut some sheets of A4 down to the right size with a pair of fairly blunt scissors that resulted in every sheet being a little ragged and not quite straight because I didn’t have a proper paper slicer. I sellotaped about two hundred pages together into my book, which didn’t look exactly professional, though I was pleased with the result at the time. My book didn’t even have a cover picture – but it felt like an achievement making it. I had made a book from scratch.
For many years I resisted the idea of self-publishing another book because I didn’t want the resulting product looking like my first attempt. Just a few years ago, it cost an absolute fortune to self-publish a book, even if you did all of the hard work yourself like designing a cover and proof-reading. The kind of publishers interested in printing self-published titles were mostly vanity publishers only interested in making money from writers – often producing books that looked not much better than my own first effort at a price so high you’d think they were printed on gold.
It is only recently that the printing technology has developed for POD (print on demand) books to become a viable way of publishing.
Last month I decided to try publishing my crime novel Acting Dead as a paperback using CreateSpace, Amazon’s POD company.
After signing up, I found it simple to set up what I wanted to do by following their step-by-step guide for building a book. That starts with providing the name of the book and other information like the author’s name. Amazon provides an ISBN for free – so you can sell your book through Amazon and other online book sellers and libraries. (You can choose your own ISBN if you have one.)
Next you choose the size of the book (a standard trade paperback is 9 x 6 inches), the cover type (glossy or matt) and the paper colour (white or cream).
Then you upload your book as a PDF (Public Document File). A PDF can be created in Word or LibreOffice or whatever software you use – just make sure the pages of the book are set as the size of the paper – with generous margins (half an inch at least) on left and right, as well as top and bottom. To make your pages the right size you might want to add “bleed” – a small amount to the size of each page, requiring a technical understanding of book publishing – but if your margins are generous you won’t need to worry about that as CreateSpace can fix it.
The beauty of producing a book from a PDF is that your book’s contents will print out without any formatting problems. Your book will look exactly like the PDF – so make sure the PDF looks good before uploading it.
Things To Improve Your Book’s Appearance
Use a font that is readable in a book – not one designed for reading on a computer screen like Times New Roman. Garamond is the one I used for Acting Dead as it an attractive font.
You might also want to consider how big the text is and the line-spacing because they alter the length of your book, changing the cost of production. A book set at 12 points with a line-spacing of 2 would have twice the pages of one with line-spacing of one. The best line-spacing seems to be between 1.2 and 1.5. (Experiment with the PDF to see what you like.) The font can be reduced to 11 points or 10.5 if you want more words per page. The line spacing should be changed for each font size, roughly 1.2 x (font size) looks good.
Also be aware of the different types of fonts – serif and sans serif. Serif fonts are ones that go below the line, like the bottom of the “g” in this sentence. (San serif fonts don’t do that.) With serif fonts, be aware that if the line spacing is not sufficient, the part of the letter below will be cut off. You can use sans serif fonts for avoiding this – though they look weird for text except for headers and footers.
Once you have uploaded your PDF, you can then move on to making your cover. CreateSpace make this easy by using a Cover Creator program. The result will be professional, though it does make every book look very similar.
Alternatively, you can design your own front and back covers, which can then be uploaded into their program. That is the option I chose – but it was not a straight forward process. The cover’s edges will be cut off during printing – so don’t have any text near the sides. I had to adjust my cover several times before it was suitable.
After you have completed the book’s contents and cover, your book is ready – but you can’t publish it immediately. Unfortunately, CreateSpace will only do that after you have ordered a physical proof copy and approve it. That means you have to buy at least one copy, which will not count as a sale, as it is marked with the word ‘proof’ on the final page. Luckily the cost of the proof is reasonable – so I went ahead and ordered it. I learnt the shipping time ranges from over a month to just a few days if you pay for fastest delivery. The fastest delivery speed cost four times the price of the book – so I avoided that. Instead, I chose the second speed of delivery, which had my book arrive in two weeks.
For those two weeks I was dreading what my proof copy would look like because I’d seen so many cheap-looking self-published books. They often have poor spines, glue coming out of the edges and don’t look as good as ones produced by traditional publishers. Therefore, my expectations were pretty low when my book arrived – so when I opened my package I could hardly believe what I had received.
The book looked amazing. It was far better quality than many books already on my shelves. I was really impressed and glad I’d gone ahead with buying a copy. The glossy cover made it look highly professional. (I also bought a matt copy that looked good too – though the black on the cover wasn’t quite as dark. Most fiction titles have matt covers because they are cheaper to mass produce.) It was, beyond any doubts, a significant improvement on my first self-published book. It was a real book, as good as any paperback I’ve seen. I would be proud to have it on my book shelves.
Each book has its own estore, which is also a free service provided by CreateSpace. Books bought from your own estore will earn a slightly higher royalty than from Amazon, though it will not increase your book’s Amazon rank selling them via it. The advantage of having an estore is you can offer discounts directly to customers.
I’d recommend trying CreateSpace after finding it so easy to use. It’s much easier than sellotaping pages together!
Update 2015: CreateSpace now allow authors to proof their books digitally for free – so you don’t have to buy a copy before publishing. It is also faster to order a copy through Amazon than CreateSpace – with the added benefit of it not having the words ‘proof copy’ stamped on the last page. While almost every detail of a book (cover, content) can be changed after publication, the colour of the paper is fixed by the ISBN, which means it can’t be altered once you pick either white or cream.