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/

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.

Internations Book Club discussed Toxic Capitalism

Internations Book Club

In the afternoon of Sunday 26 February 2017 the Internations Book Club discussed Toxic Capitalism, in the Tree Gallery and Café, a nice coffeeshop near Capital Mansion and Liangma River – now closed as many other venues.

It was a lively discussion I enjoyed personally, always well hosted by Kevin.
More about Internations: https://www.internations.org/

Intro by Kevin Paul Gouldmann, Activity Host

At our next activity, Gilbert has kindly agreed to give a brief talk and join our discussion about his book.

Short bio

Gilbert Van Kerckhove, is from Belgium and graduated as master in electronic engineering.
Since 1980 he has been working with China, where he spent over 30 years, mostly in Beijing but also in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
He is the president of a Beijing-based management consulting that provides strategy guidance to foreign and Chinese companies.
Since 2000 he has been assisting the Beijing Municipality in the areas of economic studies and foreign investment promotion. He has received the highest Chinese awards for his role in the 2008 Olympics, including the Chinese Green Card. He considers Beijing his home.
He is an avid reader of regional and international news and has built a large database on issues related to the environment, economy, public services, trade, labor markets, and more.

The book

Toxic Capitalism criticizes the overconsumption and wastage caused by questionable companies, financial institutions and governments, and leading to depletion of natural resources and to environmental destruction.
Living in China, Gilbert became alarmed by the dramatic pollution levels and the impact of Toxic Capitalism – an unwelcome strain of capitalism that thrives on overconsumption and indiscriminate wastage, promoted by the West with the help of questionable companies, financial institutions and governments.
China, as Factory of the World, is facing depletion of resources and roams the world to satisfy its voracious appetite for energy, raw materials, and food.
How serious is the environmental destruction? Is capitalism fundamentally wrong? How did we come to this madness?
What can we do to preserve the future of our children?

The giant of self-publishing

Why Amazon

There is little doubt that Amazon is the giant of self-publishing. One can hate the company, one can have so many complaints about them but in the end, one has to swallow pride and criticism as it has become difficult to avoid the giant. They can be arrogant, at times chaotic and messed up, their rules can be irrational and obscure. All that being said, they are difficult to ignore as they become bigger by the day. Yes there is Apple and some others but…
I considered my project of publishing my book of jokes as a learning curve: to produce the files for print and for the Kindle, to register as an author on Amazon and then publishing. I hit a series of walls, got desperate, persevered and finally succeeded. The book is out in Kindle and print, all through Amazon USA.
It was a frustrating experience… But in the end, success!

Sorry you cannot publish on Amazon

Here more details on the story, already mentioned in an earlier post.
Once I felt my e-book and my print file were ready I logged on the Amazon U.S. site to register as an author, the first step. I had prepared all I thought I needed, the description of the book, the keywords, the categories, the book blurb and my American ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).

The registration process was pretty complicated. I did it all very carefully, including the “tax interview”. I gave my official address in Beijing as well as my ITIN, getting the message back I could take advantage of the USA-China tax agreement. Hitting the final FINISH button, the operation never succeeded. There was “an error”, I should try again or contact their service. After many attempts I had to give up and contacted the service. And they replied – simply stating Amazon did not accept authors “based in China”. Do note this “rule” is nowhere mentioned on Amazon! What the hell, I am a Belgian national, my banking is located in Belgium. No way. I saw my dreams of becoming an indie author shattered.

Finally I switched to my official postal address for my banking mail, an address I use in Belgium. That however implied I could not use my USA-China tax advantage and I was notified I would have to pay the full USA 30% withholding tax. Yes, you can be on the moon but you are subject to U.S. tax. Sigh. Well at least I succeeded registering myself as an author.
If you reside in the USA it is all much more easy.

Important to note: one could say, why not register on Amazon China and to submit your book there? Well, books submitted there are rarely if ever approved for publishing.
Clearly Amazon wants to cozy up to the bosses in Beijing.
Also, it is not possible to publish a book in Chinese on Amazon. See the supported languages:

Next frustrating step: uploading my Kindle e-book

That resulted in a painful rejection as Amazon (I guess their automated Internet robots) found out “some of the content of my book was (freely) available on the wide Internet”. Of course it was true, due to the nature of my book.
I replied and explained in detail the reasons and did change a little my foreword. After a few desperate emails came an enigmatic reply: “please upload again”. I thought it was a meaningless thing to do. Guess what, it worked and my e-book was soon online.
The same happened submitting my print file, it was rejected again but soon after explaining and reloading – online too.
So, while Amazon seemed draconian one must admit they do listen to your explanation and are flexible. Thanks.

My books are for sale

So, both Kindle and print are on Amazon USA, and then also on all other Amazon sites around the world – except Amazon China.
I also decided to opt for the KDP Select program, for at least 90 days. That means I cannot publish anywhere else during that period.
Another strange thing: on Amazon USA when I check my book it says “This item does not ship to Beijing”. Some friends had doubts about that. So I ignored that warning and ordered ten copies to be sent to Beijing. Guess what, they arrived well in my Beijing home… Of course only ten copies as this is the maximum allowed to be imported per book (Chinese customs regulations).

And yes, my two books are now on sale in the Beijing Bookworm! See the pic. Toxic Capitalism is sold for 200 RMB and the Jokes for 150 RMB.

 

More copies of my books are with my daughters in Belgium and in USA and are arriving in Beijing. See the former stock in Brussels.

The little brother is born!

A difficult delivery

As I commented earlier, finally the little brother is born!
I always looked at my second book as a learning curve on how to completely self-publish. As expected, I often hit the wall and for sure it will not be the last time.
First of all I got refused as author to publish on Amazon (Kindle, KDP) because I reside in China. Nowhere on their website or publishing media this is mentioned. Until you fill out all info then, the web page stops working. I had to contact the service to get the explanation. Why? WTF, I am Belgian. Oh well, I changed my profile to my Belgian contact address and launched my Kindle book.
But then I got shot down because “some of my content was on the Internet”. Yeah of course it is because it is in a way a study and compilation of what is going around on the Internet, in emails, in chat rooms.
I gave KDP all the explanations and clarified that better in the Foreword of the book. Well, thanks to Amazon staff who accepted it and approved the ebook.
I then launched the print version, same objections, same explanation, then approved. Whew!

I had a proof copy made of the printed version, sent to my daughter in Brussels who checked it and sent me pics back. All OK, online!

The little brother is born! What’s his name?

See here the links to Amazon USA. Both versions are on all the Amazon sites worldwide.

“LAUGH AND GET WISER! Jokes and witty wisdom for adults” is out! The Kindle version US$2.99: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H291Z61
ASIN: B07H291Z61
Leave a comment after reading!

“LAUGH AND GET WISER! Jokes and witty wisdom for adults” is out! The print version US$19.99
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1720004226
ISBN: 9781720004226
Leave a comment after reading!
If you buy the print you can get the Kindle for US$0.99!

More about the content later!

The pricing

As I am completely doing self-publishing, I can fix the price myself.
Some books and ebooks set a too high price, pretty unreasonable especially for ebooks. See here some examples, typical when you depend on a “real” publishing house such as Springer:

I opted for a pretty low price, so one has no reason to complain about the cost: the Kindle goes for less than the price for a cup of coffee!
As for now the ebook is on KDP Select, that means only available on Amazon.