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Some reflections after self-publishing on Amazon KDP

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I have spent the better part of a year writing a book, 
<a href=360 Federal Crimes. Click on the link or the image to see how it looks on Amazon.

I co-authored a couple of books in the 1980s, one of which, the Law of Confessions, is annually updated and still in print. From 1995 to 2018 I worked for the Department of Justice Office of Legal Education, where I edited and wrote dozens of books, practical skills manuals for government lawyers that are not publically available.

A *lot* has changed since the 1980s, and for a lot of reasons not worth reciting here, I was determined to self-publish this time. I have a working knowledge of how publishing works—how to create what we used to call a camera ready copy, how to spec print orders, the proper fonts, gutters, how to create a cover, etc.—but did not want to get involved in processing and shipping book orders or maintaining an inventory. I have no idea how successful the book will be, and do not wish to put up a lot of money up front (ISBNs alone cost $$$). Also, I wanted to publish an ebook edition. After quite a bit of research, I have decided, at least initially, to go all in on publishing with Amazon.

I wrote the book using Microsoft Word, and then converted it to PDF (there are more sophisticated products for writing books, but Word is what I know and have). Amazon initially rejected my PDF with a cryptic "error processing interior" message. Some online research suggested that this might be an Internet transfer corruption issue, or perhaps a problem with fonts that have not embedded. I pulled up the File/Options/Save menu in Word and checked the "Embed fonts in file" and "Embed only the characters used in the document" boxes before saving in PDF/A format, and after a couple of tries the upload was accepted.

The cover file, once again created in Word and converted to PDF/A, was offset a bit when I previewed it. The problem turned out to be my margin settings, which needed to be zero on all four sides. Amazon has a free Cover Creator application that I did not use, and that might have saved me some time.

The other part of this was the creation of a Kindle ebook. I had very limited experience with Kindles (I like to read physical books). But there is no doubt that ebooks are part of the market, and Amazon Kindle has a near-monoply position in that market, so I went to work.

I think that it is possible to simply upload a Word or PDF file, and let Amazon convert it. But my book has 1448 footnotes, probably a thousand internal cross-references, thousands of links to statutes and cases, and a 120-page index, and I wanted to have hands-on control of all of those links. So I elected to convert the book to HTML, carefully edit the HTML, and convert the HTML to the MOBI format used by Kindle.

The first step was converting the Word file to HTML. I have a lot of experience with file conversions. My rule of thumb is never to use file conversion programs, including the one that is part of Word. They spit out hopelessly complex HTML that is impossible to edit. Instead, my first step was to use macros to insert the bold and italic tags, and to similarly tag the footnotes. Next, replace all the paragraph breaks (Word ^p) with HTML <p> tags (I don't use </p> tags; they really don't do anything).

The next step was to save the file as a plain text file, and go to work adding other essential HTML tags. There are not many of these; Kindle wants your HTML as vanilla as possible, because they want the initial control of how their books look, and want the customers, not the creators, to make any changes in that format (this makes perfect sense to me). I use Notepad++; be sure to set your encoding to UTF-8.

This took *hours*, but I am very happy with how it turned out. The book is full of links that work as intended, and looks great on Kindle devices.

The MOBI conversion process was a bit of a challenge. It actually involves using a command line program, not an issue for folks from my generation, but probably intimidating for others. I had unsatisfactory results following instructions on Amazon and on various blogs and Web sites. I finally got error free code by *precisely* following the instructions on this site (well, I did get "warnings" about my unclosed <p> tags, but as noted above, those warnings may be safely ignored).

The last step was pricing the book. I did a bit of online research, and tried to price it compared to other similar books (one outlandish comparison; the list price on my other (professionally published) book is a cool $1300). But the pricing process is very complicated, because the royalties vary based on how you price the book, and the level of your participation in programs like Amazon Select and Kindle Unlimited. I ended up selecting every option, with the purpose of seeing what works.

In closing, I don't want to pose as any sort of expert here. And it's way to early to call this a success. For one thing, I have not seen a physical copy of the book. But so far, so good. I'll post again when I know more.

(05/06/20) (permalink)

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