Thursday, March 14, 2013

Michael Stanley Investigates...ePublishing

Last month I engaged in a learning exercise.  With our new Kubu novel – DEADLY HARVEST – out in May, we thought it would be fun to put together a small ebook of our Kubu short stories.  The idea was to give it away as a teaser for readers who might not have met Detective Kubu before, as well as to provide a Kubu ‘fix’ for enthusiastic readers complaining about the delay between books, the non-existence of audiobooks, and any other Kubu related grievance.  How hard could it be?  From the dizzy height of ignorance I was sure that anyone with a computer and a few hours could put it together.

We expected the only potential snags to be finding a good title and getting permission from the editors where the stories first appeared.  While we waited for the latter, we wrote a new short story to throw into the collection; as for the former, we started calling the collection DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES while we came up with something catchy.  The editors all responded quickly and positively, fortunately, but we'd used the temporary title enough times between ourselves that it became the permanent one.

The first problem was giving the ebook away.  I suppose it’s not rocket science that since distributors take a percentage of the sale, they’re not too keen on the idea of the sale being zero.  There are rumors that if you sell it somewhere for nothing (e.g. on your website) then your friends can alert Amazon to the fact that their price is higher and they’ll reduce it.  Well, we don’t sell things on our website (even for nothing) and don’t want to start.  Also, we were told that people believe they get what they pay for.  So if it’s free…  Eventually we compromised.  We would make the book available free to download from our latest newsletter; everyone else could fork out $0.99 – the lowest price Amazon allows.

Now came the fun part.  Stan consulted the Sisters.  No, not a witches’ coven but the Sisters in Crime (SIC), the great national organization of women crime writers.  Not sexist, though.  Stan is a member.  The reaction was muted.  Terms like "Smashwords", "Draft2Digital", "KDP", "EPUB", "Kindle Select" and "Good Luck" were tossed around.  I started to feel a bit daunted.

Now, if you have a Kindle, you probably know that you can send Amazon an email with a PDF attached and get the document back in Kindle format by return of mail so to speak.  I took a look at what came back when I sent them DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES and started feeling more daunted. 

As the old saying goes, when all else fails read the manual.  One of the Sisters had suggested that.  I downloaded the manual with trepidation.  (You can find it for free HERE.)

Well, here’s the good news.  It’s short and comprehensive.  When it asks you to do something unusual in Word, for example, it tells you exactly how to do that.  It tells you what not to do.  If you follow it carefully, pretty soon you have something.  You upload it and it lets you pretend to be any Kindle of your choice.  What does your masterpiece look like on a Fire?  How about a DX? (I don’t know; I never discovered what a DX was.)  What I did discover was that our atmospheric red-tinged cover just looked a mess in black and white, and was illegible as a thumbnail.  So back to the earlier, plainer version.  And there were things wrong.  But really not a lot.  Pretty soon I was proudly looking at the advert on Amazon for DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES complete with cover picture, blurb, about the author and so on. 

But our $0.99 book was $2.99 in South Africa!  Hell, it’s the cost of all those extra electrons it takes to deliver it here.  What’s more I had no access to a file that we could deliver to our loyal newsletter readers for free.

I took a look at epub for Nook.  They invited me to download the manual and noted that I had to have a US tax number.  I gave up round about there.

I took a look at Smashwords.  It’s website was long and detailed and invited me to download the manual.  I was getting desperate.  I tried Draft2Digital (D2D), and suddenly everything was simple!  Why hadn’t I come here first?  Just send us more or less a book and we’ll set it all up and publish it for you.  For 15%.  

Now at this point we have a book for $2.99.  The electrons take 2 bucks. Of the 99c left, Amazon has 70% which leaves 29c.  Hell, if D2D wants a nickel of that for setting up the book, they’re welcome!

There had to be a catch.  Actually there were three.  The first one was that when, bubbling with enthusiasm, I clicked YES SIGN ME UP! I got a polite message telling me D2D was in beta testing.  If I had an invitation code, I was welcome to continue.  Otherwise they would let me know when a slot opened up.  I gritted my teeth and prepared to download the multimegabyte Smashwords manual.  But almost instantly my email pinged and there was the code!  Apparently a slot had just opened up in D2D’s testing program for DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES.

So I sent them the book.  That’s when I hit the second catch.  They didn’t expect me to have done all the good things in the Kindle manual.  They expected me to have thrown together a mess of pages and let them make it pretty.  Making pretty twice produces a mess.  I had to back off and send them a vanilla version.  Then I could see what that would look like on Kindle, Nook, PDF, KOBO, Apple and so on.  (Actually not Apple.  They wanted money for their free simulator.  But Stan could test that one on his iPad.)  DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES was released not only to Amazon but to the world!  And we had our own freely distributable copies. Life was good.

All was well until we tried to offer the books for free in the Newsletter.  To cut a long story short, our website host doesn’t recognize the file types and won’t deliver them.  We were eventually saved by one of my students who put them up on his server.  (If you wondered what Trained Monkeys have to do with Detective Kubu, now you know.)  Then add a bit of finger trouble and the first lot of newsletters went out without the links active.

I’d like to say there was a flood of complaints, but there wasn’t.  I think anyone interested in DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES decided it was much more convenient to pay the 99c and get it comfortably delivered to their Kindle, Nook, whatever.  And give us some money.  Thanks, everyone.  We really appreciate that 24 cents!

Oh, the third catch with D2D?  They never asked me for any details of what to do with the money they received from sales.  Maybe that’s why it’s still in beta testing.  Maybe we achieved giving the book away for nothing after all!

Michael –Thursday.

*If you still have the courage to try, you are welcome to download a free version of DETECTIVE KUBU INVESTIGATES by going to our latest Newsletter HERE (page 3)*


  1. Why do I have the distinct impression one of the stories is titled, "Death of the Links." Sorry, I just couldn't help myself, Michael. The same as I can't resist giving you your $.24 (maybe) right after I push "publish" here--which is about the extent of my ability to publish anything on my own in this digital age, despite your guidance. Congratulations on DKI.

  2. Yikes! And there are those who think self-publishing is the easy way out! I love the cover! Who designed it? Down loading as soon as I click "publish" here.

  3. Thanks for the congratulations! Actually it wasn't that challenging; makes a good story though!

    The original Kubu design was a friend of Stan's and my step daughter - who is a graphic designer - put together the cover.