How to Write a Book in The Bookworm

Rotaract talk

This time I gave a talk on how to write a book in The Bookworm, on 11 March 2019.
We were far over twenty people, mostly Rotaractors but also one more Rotarian and others who were interested in the topic.
This time I had nearly one hour to cover the topic and to answer many questions. A longer version than the talk in Rotary.

The Bookworm

The well-known book shop, meeting spot and restaurant in Sanlitun is the center of literary and other events in Beijing. We were lucky to basically have the whole room for us.
Rotaract meetings are now mostly held there on Monday evenings, 8 pm.
See: http://beijingbookworm.com/

Self-publishing in Rotary Beijing

Rotary lunch 29 January 2019

Rtn Gilbert told his story on self-publishing in Rotary Beijing on why and how he became an author, publishing two books: “Toxic Capitalism” and “Laugh And Get Wiser”.
The first book was done through a “Vanity Press Company”, a bad experience that led him to go “indie” and do self-publishing totally himself. That required mastering a software called “SCRIVENER” and enrolling as an author with Amazon. He shared the challenges he encountered and how he succeeded to self-publish on Kindle and in print.
It took him three extended stays in a nice hotel in Phuket to find the right and motivating environment. He explained the three very different roads to publishing: the traditional publishing companies, the vanity press and self-publishing (such as through Amazon, the giant in that field).

Our lunch

As usual in Kempinski hotel. As I complained the December birthday members never get the birthday cake, I was asked to cut it also… As we had only one table Gilbert simply sat down to talk.

The full story is featured on this website

During the lunch Gilbert only gave a quick overview. See the first of several posts: https://www.damulu.com/2019/01/03/why-self-publishing/
There you find the full story in a series of posts.

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.

 

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.