Publishing, Part I

I thought it would be no big deal to toss my completed novel up on Amazon. Gazillions of other authors have done it. It can’t be that hard.

I had already finished the work of editing it, designing a cover, and releasing it into the world. This was just one more minor box to tick, so I could feel like I’d covered all the self-publishing bases. I figured there would be some annoying details to work out but nothing that couldn’t be settled in a day or two of concentrated effort.

I underestimated a bit. The novel is up there after a week of concentrated effort, not counting a couple weeks of prep beforehand. It might have taken me so long because I’m too detail-oriented and paranoid for my own good, so YMMV.

Here’s what I did:

Amazon gives you seven keywords or phrases (made up of two or three words) to help readers find your book. I made a few passes at this. My first try, I tried to think of words that I thought described my novel. Amazon suggested coming up with keywords for the setting, character roles, themes, and the tone of the story. I came up with some, but I didn’t know if they were the right choices.

I read a few different blog posts and articles on ways to optimize your keyword selection. A lot of the things I read were gimmicky and seemed designed to get me to buy the author’s book listing all the things you need to know about publishing on Amazon.

One strategy actually did help me, however. A few posts recommended typing each keyword from the list I created into Amazon’s search bar. If you type slowly enough, you get suggestions from Amazon about what they think you are trying to type in. The results really helped me refine my keywords. For example, instead of just using “Antarctica” as a keyword, I used “Antarctica fiction,” and instead of “suspense novels,” I used “suspense thrillers,” based on the Amazon search bar suggestions.

I spent a lot of time with the categories section of the Kindle Direct Publishing How To Guide, trying to decide if my book was more of a science fiction mystery, thriller, or action/adventure. I had two categories all picked out, but when it came time to enter them, the selections were organized differently than the KDP chart suggested they would be.

It turned out to be more useful to look up novels I thought my novel could hang with category-wise, and scroll down to the section where they list “Product Details.” In that section, below the page count, publisher, and language, are the categories for “Amazon Best Sellers Rank.” These categories more obviously matched up with the category selection part of the metadata entry section.

Amazon provides a checklist for sections it recommends you include for the front matter and back matter of your novel: title page, copyright page, and dedication. I added an “about the author” section after looking at the e-books of a few authors I like.

I use Scrivener to write fiction, and its “Compile” function has made it easy for me to export manuscripts in multiple e-book formats, including MOBI files, which Amazon accepts for upload in KDP. As straightforward as I thought this would be, it was the part of the process that took longer than anything else.

When I released the novel as episodes, I ran into a problem with the indents I wanted corrected before I uploaded to Amazon. Some of the chapters’ indentations were further in than others. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the weird indent distribution. I don’t think it was a problem with Scrivener, I just think when I imported some chapter revisions, the indents didn’t sync with the rest of the manuscript.

This translated into me going through the whole manuscript, line by line, and correcting the deeper indents. I cursed the amount of dialogue in my novel on those eye-bleeding days of click-delete-click-delete monotony.

Then I discovered the weird indent had also mucked with about half of the chapter titles’ ability to be centered on the page. That realization added on a few hours of click-scoot tiny margin triangle over-click-delete to my task list.

When I got through the last of the Indent Crisis, I compiled into a mobi file and looked at it in Amazon’s Kindle viewer to make sure all my formatting corrections were good. I clicked every weblink I included and made sure the table of contents links actually took you where they said they would.

Even with all of my scouring, Amazon found three misspellings in my manuscript when I loaded it into their system. I wouldn’t recommend relying on their screening program to do your spellchecking, but it is a pretty nice feature I wasn’t expecting and was grateful to have.

In Part II, I’ll go into the trials and tribulations of modifying my cover, getting ISBNs, making my U.S. Copyright submission, and prepping my author page.


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