More considerations on writing and Amazon

Focused?

When considering writing books, some more considerations on writing and Amazon.
To be successful, authors should build a “following”. That however requires to focus on and remain in a specific type of literature: e.g. fiction, romance, philosophy, name it. The more focused, the better.
My case is pretty hopeless as all books have nothing in common and I am working in more than one genre. “Toxic Capitalism” is a comprehensive study of environmental issues; “Laugh and Get Wiser” is a collection of (English) jokes; the next book will be a political manifesto. While the third book will use some of the themes of the first one, the three definitely have a different audience. A possible fourth book might be a collection of professional experiences; the other titles are still too far away to put a sticker on it.

dreaming of big sales?

The idea is that  when readers like your book they might want more of the same. So in my case, pretty hopeless…

Amazon can be a bit “complicated”

As mentioned earlier my book “Laugh and Get Wiser” has a mention for me that it does not ship to Beijing. It actually does…
Some of my friends complain that when searching for it on Amazon UK it somehow gives strange feedback, like “Exclusive for UK clients” – it is widely available on all Amazon sites (except China of course).
The comments posted on Amazon sites are disconnected. If a friend posts a comment of my book on Amazon Italy it does only stay there and does not appear on Amazon USA. That is bad for the author as it gives an incomplete picture of what readers said about the book. Also, the author has to register on each Amazon site separately to introduce himself even if the book is available on that site. In my case till now I registered on the USA and UK sites.
The shipping charges vary considerably. I made shipments to Indianapolis, Brussels, Beijing: the cost is pretty different and goes up in that order.
If I sell hard copies myself, taking advantage of the special discount as the author (very reasonable indeed!) those sales do not appear in the Amazon overview. I sell to a bookstore in Beijing and to many friends who insist on a signed hard copy.

BISAC codes

One miscalculation: before uploading “Laugh and Get Wiser” I studied in detail the BISAC codes – the codes for the book genre, e.g.:

HUM018000   HUMOR / Form / Puns & Wordplay
HUM008000   HUMOR / Topic / Adult
HUM019000   HUMOR / Topic / Language

I thought defining focused BISAC codes was essential to the Kindle listing. I even registered as a member on their website, so I could have access to all details:
“The BISAC Subject Headings List, also known as the BISAC Subject Codes List, is a standard used by many companies throughout the supply chain to categorize books based on topical content. The Subject Heading applied to a book can determine where the work is shelved in a brick and mortar store or the genre(s) under which it can be searched for in an internal database.”
See the website:
BOOK INDUSTRY STUDY GROUP https://bisg.org/page/BISACSubjectCodes

Well, disappointed when I entered all my data for my book “Laugh and Get Wiser”. Nowhere to be found were the BISAC codes and the choice offered by Amazon was way too general. I still need to understand this…

Publishing in Chinese

As said in an earlier post Amazon does not accept books in Chinese. Guidelines are not always obvious. See the languages accepted for Kindle:
https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200673300

However an English book that contains Chinese characters seems to work… But one can’t publish a Chinese book.
An alternative: Smashwords ignores (Amazon) limitations by allowing all authors from around the world and who have never heard of Steve Jobs to have the same reach. Another alternative to Smashwords would be the Draft2Digital platform.
As my wife is ready to publish her Chinese book, it is a challenge right now.

Yes we are a family of writers, each in a different world. Those are our first books. In both cases, not the best of experiences. See: http://www.damulu.com/2017/04/17/the-book-about-sun-bingwen/

Using external help when going indie

 

The two musts

Using external help when going indie is mandatory for two tasks: the cover design and professional editing. Also, pay the right price to avoid having crappy results.
In Beijing I could not find the proper services but an Internet search produced good leads.

Cover page

For the cover design I had to use a two-step process.
I wanted to use a cartoon of a bar scene according to my specifications. After some search I finally ended up on a great platform where cartoonists offer their services and clients like me can call for quotes. It is called fiverr.com.
All exchange and payment is done through the website. That went very well and the cost was very reasonable.
Once I had the cartoon I searched for a cover design company to do the cover for the e-book and the covers for the print (front, back and spine). To choose a company and ask for a quote I used another website: Writers’ Cafe on kBoards: https://www.kboards.com/index.php/board,60.0.html

There I communicated directly with the companies.
Very happy with the design company I ended up working. For the front cover I provided the cartoon and the text; for the back cover I provided the picture and the text. The company then did the design and it took only one slight revision to have the end product.

The end result

See the pictures of the front and back covers, and the spine.
As explained in earlier post (https://www.damulu.com/2019/01/06/using-scrivener/), you need to have the estimate of the number of pages so the cover design company can make the proper size for the spine. See also the inside where I adjusted margins and headings in MS Word.

Both cartoonist and design company are quoted in my book.

Professional editing

I did however not use an editor. The reason: the language of “jokes” is not your Shakespeare type. So to avoid having endless arguments with an editor I did myself the review of the text, trying as much as possible to clean up the obvious wrong spelling, grammar and vocabulary all while preserving the juicy aspects of the jokes: how the Irish talk, among others. It was a painstaking job to verify some rather weird words and define a uniform formatting and spelling. For the non-jokes parts (very little) I asked some native English speakers for corrections.
For my book no. 3 I will however definitely require an editor.

The cost

So, how much did it cost to get my book of jokes written and published?

– Scrivener + cartoon design + cover design: total a little over US$500
– My weeks of staying in a nice Phuket hotel: difficult to give a correct estimate as it was also somehow a very enjoyable time… Guess yourself…
– Amazon: zero cost.

 

Using Scrivener

Learning then using

I still use version 2 for MAC; a newer version 3 is out but I can’t use it on my old MacAir.
It took some time to get familiar using Scrivener as it is a rather unusual software. I had to view several times the many video lessons before I managed to use it correctly.
Once I started using it for the jokes and worked on my notes for the book no. 3 I fully understood the advantages of Scrivener. Simply said, Scrivener is a must.
Read more about it: https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview

Back in Beijing it still took me some time to complete the final output. And then I did ran into a brick wall when I tried to deliver the print and e-book versions.

I needed to finish first the output for the print version because the cover design company needed to know how many pages the book had. It was frustrating. Nothing went right. I was close to give up but then tweaked and tweaked the settings till one day it worked. For the print I could not really finish the task as it turned out correctly setting the margins and the positions of header and footer were not possible within Scrivener. I solved it by exporting from Scrivener to MS Word, something that worked well. The Table of Content is a bit tricky to format correctly but one needs to keep in mind it is NOT a Word ToC but a list of links where one must “update links”. Inside MS Word I was able to fine-tune the choice of font type and size as well as the headers and footers. Also to fine tune all pages so they would look nice – e.g. no title of a joke at the bottom of the page, shifting it to the top of the next page. Last step converting into PDF – the format requested by Amazon for the print.

CreateSpace is now history and Amazon directly handles the print too, making it much more easy.

Finally getting there

Once the problems with the print version were solved, the output of the Kindle files was much easier. Basically the challenge is to get the settings right in the compile dialogue, combined with the right settings for each document in the chapters (the settings are pretty much linked). In my case, see the screenshot:

the compiling dialogue

There are some add-ons to Scrivener that allow you to test the Kindle version in the Kindle app on the Mac desktop. The only tricky thing was to delete the old versions in the Kindle app: one needs to go into the (hidden) folder of Kindle in the MAC and there manually delete the old files. I was also able to put the test Kindle file in my iPhone to see how it behaved.

You must have a table of content

Amazon requires your book to have a table of content, and – it must be at the beginning of the book, not at the end.
So I was forced to artificially create a table of content for the mountain of jokes. Obviously the result is rather artificial and not always logical… Well I had no choice but to be creative, inventing chapters and making sure the length of the chapters was not too unevenly spread. It took some time… and finalizing it was easy with Scrivener.

How I wrote my books

Everybody and every book is different

How I wrote my books is a personal experience; everybody is different. Here is my approach.
My first book “Toxic Capitalism” was written using MS Word. The file was sent to AuthorHouse who did the rest, except for the design of the cover page that we (read: my daughter) did ourselves. As that book involved tons of data, sitting in my computer or in piled-up cutouts from newspapers and magazines, there was little choice other than working at my home office. It was a crazy and frantic experience. Nobody can believe the book was finished in less than six months, all while I was still involved in doing business, and having Christmas, New Year and Spring Festival making a mess of my time schedule.
I guess I emptied quite a number of whisky bottles working until very late at night in a frantic way.

late nights…

Difficult to believe when one reads the book that has far over 500 endnotes with the references to the tons of data. Somehow the whole process on how to process and organize the data had been spinning in my head for some time. Processing the pile of paper clippings and data in my digital database was labor-intensive but also systematic. OK, I swear I will never do anything alike again. I hope.

Running away from Beijing

For the second book, the jokes one, I figured out I would never get anywhere staying in Beijing where I have a rather hectic life full of diversions. Basically I had 3 issues to deal with: learning Scrivener – entering all my written notes for book no. 3 into a Word document – cleaning up and organizing the collection of jokes.

the notes

So, I ran away to Phuket, Patong Beach (Thailand). It was a good decision. During the day I did not leave my room, just a quick snack for lunch while working. By the end of the day, a dip in the swimming pool or then gym. And a dinner outside and drinks in the famous bar street, to relax. Often it rained heavily during the day, even better to keep me working in my room.
I stayed in a nice hotel to have a quiet and comfortable environment.
In 2017 I was there twice for two weeks each time. In March this year, three weeks, all mostly in Baanlaimai Hotel.

It allowed me to basically reach my three goals. More about that in next post.

Discussing The Shortest History of Europe

Internations Book Club

In the afternoon of Sunday 16 April 2017 the Club was discussing The Shortest History of Europe by John Hirst.

The venue: the Tree Gallery and Cafe is located not too far from the southwest exit of the Liangmaqiao subway station on the Liangma River.Now closed it had a very pleasant ambience and moderate pricing.

 

Intro by Kevin Paul Gouldmann, Activity Host

This is a short and concise overview of European history, viewed from the outside by historian John Hirst. It is quite enjoyable, and amazing how he can trace the streams of European history from the ancient Greeks to the present day in such a reduced and often humorous manor. I personally gained several new insights reading this book–a good experience!
Available in both English and Chinese.

My take

I read the e-book and it is indeed a very different view on the history of Europe, pretty creative angle. Interesting indeed even if you might somehow disagree.

About the Beijing Internations Book Club

I was one of the earliest members of the Club and enjoyed quite a number of meetings.
I however left in protest a few months ago. As a writer I did not like the attitude of some members who think pirated copies of books are “OK” as either the authors made tons of money or the authors are too insignificant. Unfortunately a common attitude in China.
More about Internations: https://www.internations.org/