Inside the writer’s mind #318


Dude, there’s my book!

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.

Available somewhere!

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 …



Inside the writer’s mind #226

comic strip about writing

Related article: Using Kindle Comic Creator to produce a comic book.

Unrelated article: How to Publish Using CreateSpace.

Something else on my website – Ten Things You Can Do With Short Stories.

Self-publishing Using Create Space

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.

Cover of Acting Dead
Acting Dead – paperback version

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.

I liked the proof copy so much I’ve added another two other books – Edge of Crime and The Bone Yard and Other Stories, now available via CreateSpace.

Interior picture of Acting Dead.
Interior picture of Acting Dead published via CreateSpace.

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.

Using Kindle Comic Creator

web banner for inside the writer's mind

Using Kindle Comic Creator

Kindle Comic Creator is a free software program tucked away on an obscure webpage on Amazon. It’s useful in the creation of comic books and graphic novels for anyone wanting to build their own illustrated Kindle books. Having previously tried to make my own comic using a word-processing program, inserting each picture into a document separately, only to find out the result didn’t upload properly to Kindle Publishing, I was happy to try out their software to see if it made the process simpler. It did. If you are interested in making a comic book, here is what you have to do:

Visit this page on Amazon to download the free software, available in PC and Mac formats. (The file is about 250 megabytes and uses 500 on your computer.)

Run the program. Enter information about your new book like the author’s name and book title. You’ll need to have a cover ready or you can’t complete this section.

Next you’ll be asked to add pages to your book. It really helps if you have all of the pictures gathered into one folder, listed in the order in which you want them to appear in the book. Grab all of the pictures and OPEN them. The program will turn your pictures into pages in your book. Then go to the menu and click on BUILD. That will make the program create a mobi file suitable to loading onto KDP. Building a book took about five minutes on my ancient computer – during which the ominous words ‘VALIDATING BOOK’ appeared on the screen – but the creation will probably be faster on a newer computer. Save the resulting mobi file before exiting the program. You can then upload the mobi onto KDP or export it to Kindle. It’s that easy!

More advance features are available if you want to make comics with multiple panels or add text and a table of contents. The help information guides you through that quite well, though it does become technical and expect you to know how to add hypertext. You would need to have those things ready to upload before you create your book. If you don’t need those things for your book, the book is done just once you’ve uploaded the pictures.

Large mobi files have a higher minimum selling price than an ordinary book because they contain a lot more data (nine megabytes in my own example) – so please be aware of that before setting your price.

Please note: Kindle Comic Creator is not an art program to make comics – just a formatting one to help build a file for uploading.

Available on Amazon!

Amazon US / Amazon UK


Maximising Visibility on Amazon Using Keywords and Categories

Maximising Visibility on Amazon Using Keywords and Categories

There are two ways for readers to find new books on Amazon if they don’t know a specific title.  They can either enter search terms or click on genre categories.  For an author that means you have to maximise visibility when someone is looking for a new book – but doing it is not simple.  I recently made some minor changes to one of my books by altering some keywords based on the advice from Amazon’s Help section  – only to have my book almost disappear from the Top 100 because my new keywords were counter-productive.  I quickly changed them back to the old ones and saw an immediate bump in sales.

I’ll tell you what I did wrong so you don’t repeat my mistake.

Identify the best categories for your book

It says on Amazon’s KDP authors can use two categories and seven keywords to help readers find their books – but how do you choose from the almost infinite choices?

Suppose you’ve written a book of short stories that have elements of romance and fantasy.  Two of the biggest categories are romance and fantasy – so you use them as your categories.  It makes sense, right?

Yes and no.

Yes – because it fits your book.

No – because those categories are massively overcrowded by really famous authors.

Your book will never get to #1 in romance or fantasy unless it sells a million copies.  It won’t appear top of any customer searches either, which means readers will not accidentally discover you.

You’d be better off narrowing down your book into some sub-categories where it has a better chance of getting into the Top 100.

You can find out the number of books in each category on Amazon by looking at the number of titles listed in each sub-category next to the tick boxes for narrowing a search.  A category like romance will have over a 500,000 titles – but a sub-category like romance>mystery>amateur sleuths will be much smaller.  It will still be quite large, though – a few thousand books – so doing that will make your book a little easier to find.

Since it was a book of short stories, you could choose a sub-category of romance such as romance>short stories.  That would list it under romance and short stories – two categories for the price of one. You could do the same thing with the second category – say fantasy>anthology.  Now you have four categories.  Your book will now be listed under romance>anthologies and fantasy>short stories.

You could go to a really, really, really obscure category – but only if your book is appropriate.  Don’t go to romance>short stories>zombies if your book doesn’t have any zombies.  Readers buying it will soon complain.

Choosing More Effective Keywords

Once you’ve chosen your categories, you can use your keywords in two ways – to add sub-categories or search parameters.  Both can work effectively – but in different ways.

At KDP there is a useful list of keyword modifications in the Help section.  For some categories you can use a keyword to put your book into a sub-category or even a sub-sub-sub-category.  The categories with modifications include romance, teen and adult, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, mystery and suspense, and literary fiction. Each can be narrowed with keywords – but they only do it in the US Amazon store, which is why I made a mistake with my book. I turned my keywords into sub-categories that did not exist on Amazon UK – so readers in the UK could no longer find my book using search words.  What a mistake!  Be careful you don’t make the same error. Don’t use all of your keywords for this purpose – choose only a couple to narrow your book into a sub-category.

Amazon’s information tells you that you should not repeat categories as your keywords as that is redundant – but it does not make it clear that you can use the category name as part of a phrase for a better search result.

For the example book of romantic fantasy short stories here is a list of possible keywords for the book that you could try: romance, fantasy, short stories, romance and fantasy, great new book, (name of another book), (name of another author)

Don’t use those keywords!

That list is seriously flawed for a number of reasons:

  1. romance (wasted because it is one of your categories)
  2. fantasy (again – already used)
  3. short stories (nothing wrong with this one – but very general)
  4. romance and fantasy (unlikely to be searched for)
  5. great new book (hyperbole and not allowed under Amazon’s rules)
  6. (name of another book) (forbidden under the rules)
  7. (name of another author) (forbidden under the rules)

The last three could get your book banned, though more likely those keywords will just be ignored by Amazon’s search algorithms, leaving your book with fewer functional keywords.

Better Keywords

Better keywords are words and phrases that readers search for when browsing – which appear as suggestions as you type words into Amazon’s search box.  The suggested phrases are popular search terms essential to finding a new title without knowing the book’s title or the author’s name.

Visit the UK and US Amazon sites to find keywords popular at both websites. Write down the most common phrases appropriate to your book and have a look at what comes up for each.  Some will produce results that are too general – so your book won’t appear on the first page with those.  Some will be so specific nobody will ever enter the search phrase – but your book would appear if they did.

Here are some better keywords for the example book:

    1. romantic short stories
    2. romantic fantasy short stories
    3. fantasy collection
    4. fantasy love stories
    5. romance short stories
    6. contemporary (a keyword sub-category)
    7. fantasy short stories

There’s a lot of overlap between those keywords – but you want to make sure that popular search phrases will hit your book regardless of what the reader uses as their search criteria.  The problem is popular keywords become too popular.  When that happens, your book will be competing for attention among a vast number of similar titles.  You might need to experiment to find a combination of general and highly specific keywords that will result in your book appearing on the first page of results.  If your book doesn’t appear when you type in your own keywords, you should probably consider picking new ones. However, once a book starts selling it will rise in popularity under those keywords – so if your book became popular your keywords will make it appear at the top of the page.  It’s a tricky problem balancing specific with general phrases.  Good luck choosing them!

The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

Giving stories away for free is one method authors can use to boost their visibility on Amazon – but you can have mixed results doing it. It really is a last resort because you never know what will happen.

I have one title that proves this perfectly. It’s a horror collection called The Bone Yard and Other Stories, which reached #3 in the UK Horror Anthology list this week.

The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.
The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.

About two years ago it was not selling – so I signed it up to KDP Select. My first promotion gave away about 300 copies in the US and a 100 in the UK. It started to sell afterwards in a roughly three-to-one ratio – exactly what you’d expect given the number of downloads. It continued to sell steadily for months in small numbers, but it received no reviews in either region. Since the free promotion had worked, I repeated it. Sales received a boost as a result. I started to earn my some reasonable money from Amazon – but sales eventually tailed off.

On Halloween in 2012, I did a third free promotion.

That resulted in my first reviews in the US and UK. Both reviews were five-stars. Great! I hoped that would help sales. I expected sales to be boosted in a 3/1 ratio based on the download ratio – but something very weird happened.

The next day after the five-star review appeared in the US my sales stopped. Completely. Looking at the chart on Author Central, it was like seeing a lemming dive off a cliff. My book’s ranking plummeted. Weeks went by without selling a single copy. Then months. Then a whole year.

I was baffled and dismayed. What had happened?

Meanwhile, my sales were improving in the UK where the first review was by an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. That made me wonder if that first US review had done the damage. Some people think reviews don’t effect sales – but I had solid proof that they did. That five-star review in the US killed my book on the day it appeared. I studied it to figure out why. The US reviewer did not go into specifics about why they liked my book. It was the sort of review you’d be suspicious of because the reviewer had not written many reviews – unlike the prolific Top 500 reviewer in the UK. Though that US reviewer was well-meaning and genuinely enjoyed reading my book, I wished they had not written it because my book would have been better off without it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s US customers assumed my five-star rating was a fake. It certainly looked like it. Cautious customers avoided buying my book at its pre-promo price of $1.99 price and even when I dropped it to $0.99.

Later on, I did another freebie to try to get some more US reviews – but that resulted in a troll posting a 1-star review based solely on the cover picture. They had definitely not read the book when they reviewed it. They posted the review minutes after downloading it. That gave my book an unhelpful 3-star average. Another person posted a four-star review soon after – but that made no difference to sales.

That book has not sold one copy in the US since that first five-star review. It doesn’t even appear on the first page of results when you type the search words “bone yard” into Amazon. Books without those words in the title appear first.

In contrast to that negative experience, the same book did well in the UK thanks to that first five-star review by a respected reviewer. The Bone Yard and Other Stories is currently in the Top Ten UK horror anthologies, where I am pleased to see it reached number three last week. It just proves that reviews matter a lot more than some people think!