Thursday, October 3, 2019


Michael - Thursday

Courtesy Authors Guild
All the writers on this blog are “traditionally published,” that is their books are published in paper and as ebooks by a professional publishing house that makes its living as an intermediary between the author and the reader. Their role includes detailed editing and copy editing of the manuscript, cover design, marketing and distributing the finished books to booksellers, and, to a varying extent, publicising the book to the readers. The idea is that the authors can concentrate on writing the best possible books and the publisher (and the author’s agent if s/he has one) deal with everything else. Stan discussed here a couple of weeks ago that this isn’t quite how it works out in practice!

Self publishing has moved on from here!
Mainly as a marketing exercise to introduce Detective Kubu to readers who would like a taste and didn’t want to pay for it, we published a small collection of short stories called Detective Kubu Investigates as an ebook in 2013. We were in for some surprises. We wanted to give the book away, but Amazon wants a minimum of 99c. (Even 66% of nothing is nothing and Amazon doesn’t find that attractive.) However, we also offered the book for free from our website. The first surprise was that no one was interested in the free book. They wanted the convenience of having the book downloaded to their Kindles immediately and were willing to pay 99c for that. The second surprise was that what seemed like a straightforward process to get the book on Amazon turned out to be quite complicated and it all had to be repeated from scratch to make the book available through other ebook distributers. The layout, formatting, typesetting, and cover upload in terms of size and shape and a variety of other irritations meant that it took several days to learn what to do and get it done. Even then, the result wasn’t really something a professional publisher would regard as acceptable. It also took multiple iterations to get it right. We were glad we did it (in view of the last surprise), but also glad when it was done. The final surprise was that we sold several thousand books and are still selling them.

In the meanwhile we’ve written several more short stories and we quite like them, so we thought it would be fun to put together another collection to follow on—Detective Kubu Investigates 2. So I dug out my Kindle Direct Publishing manual and got to work. Another surprise. Amazon has a completely new program - Kindle Create - to do this. It took a few minutes to learn how it worked, and after that about an hour to upload the manuscript and get it into a professional format. I’m not sure why I was surprised because it seems reasonable that Amazon would have done a lot of development in five years. I just assumed that, like most software upgrades, they would have made it still more complicated in order to permit me to do a whole lot of things I didn’t want to do in any case. Amazon has gone another route. The format is still pretty rigid, only allowing the choice of a few styles and layouts. They point out that readers have their own preferences and that they can reset font size and style themselves, so the body of the book needs to be in a standard font. Still, you are offered enough layout and style options to make the book look professional. So much so, that I actually redid the original collection using the same software to make it consistent and upgrade its style and format. In a couple of hours. And there is a previewer that allows you to see the result as if you were using a Kindle or a tablet or even a phone to read it.

KDP Cover Creator
I was sufficiently intrigued by all this to try the paper book version. Why not make a joint collection from the two short story collections available in paper? I imagined that this would be much harder. Well, it is a bit harder because now you can’t actually see the final paper copy and you have to make the cover wrap around the book. But Amazon has Cover Creator. It enables you to set up the cover, using your own picture or offering you a variety of set templates or open source pictures, and various styles for the title text. You can upload an author picture. You can fill in the blurb on the back of the book. And then it tells you what problems it’s found and simulates the paper book for you to view and correct. Once more a few hours was all that was needed. But a warning here is that the Amazon version expects you to sell the books through them. Not so good if you want to print some copies and hawk them around. The bookstores will be expecting a big discount and Amazon isn’t going to pass that on. My advice on this would be to print yourself a couple of copies and look at the result. The beauty of print on demand is that it’s easy to correct text and layout at any time.

I came away impressed. But this was only the first step in the process. I also wanted to make the book available in Nook, Apple, and Kobo formats. We published the first book in those formats through a company called Draft2Digital. (There are multiple options now—SmashWords is another one.) I remember that as being yet another learning curve. But again I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was their software just as user friendly as the Kindle one, but it was just like the Kindle one. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So, once again, the process was quick and painless. I haven’t tried the paper version yet, because it’s still in beta testing and I’m awaiting my “test slot.”

The moral of all this is that it’s really easy to make something like a collection of short stories or a novella available as an ebook and print on demand paper, and I recommend anyone to who wants to do so to give it a go. BUT. There’s a reason I called this “Self-printing.” These systems do not do the other things traditional publishers do for you. You design your own cover, and if you use their templates it’ll be pretty generic. Perhaps okay for ebooks, but not great for paper—especially if you're trying to get a book store to carry it. Speaking of bookstores, they will expect you to supply the books and take them back if they’re not sold—like the publishers do. Then there is the editing. The self-published ebooks I’ve read look nice but tend to need a lot of editing. The best these ebook systems will do is highlight spelling and basic grammar—but you get that in Word or the like anyway.

Then there is the issue of marketing. Nowadays, authors are expected to do a lot of that themselves anyway, but the publishers do help, and some help a lot. I do know authors with successful, well-edited and well-presented self-published books with great covers that sell a lot of copies. But it’s comparatively rare and lots of hard work.

If you intend to self-publish, my advice—for what it’s worth—is spend your money on a good editor and cover designer. There’s simply no need to pay someone else to set up the book for you. There's really no reason to worry about the physical or electronic nature of the book anymore.


Tuesday, October 29: 6:30 pm Murder by the Book, Houston, Texas. Michael joins Yrsa Sigurdardottir for a discussion and signing.

We’ll be at BOUCHERCON in Dallas at the end of the month. It looks like an exciting meeting and we’re looking forward to these panels!

Thursday, October 31:

11:00 – 12:00 Panel: The Novel Stands Alone
  Kendra Elliot, JT Ellison, LS Hawker, Stanley Trollip, Sheri Lewis Wohl
  Participating Moderator: Laura Benedict

Sunday, November 3:

8:30 – 9:30 Panel: Detectives Overseas
  Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, Jeffrey Siger
  Moderator: Nancy Tingley

After Bouchercon we’re on tour. Please join us somewhere if you can!

Tuesday, November 5: 7:00 pm Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona, with Solari Gentill and Tim Maleeny

Wednesday, November 6: 4:30 pm Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour, Stillwater, Minnesota. Contact Valley Booksellers at (651) 430-3385 for tickets

Saturday, November 9: 10:00 Private book club event

Saturday, November 9: 1:00 pm Barnes and Noble, HarMar, St Paul, Minnesota

Tuesday, November 12: 7:00 pm Mystery to Me, Madison, Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 13: 7:00 pm Centuries and Sleuths, Forest Park, Illinois

Saturday, November 16: 10:00 Nokomis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monday, November 18: 7:00 pm Barnes and Noble, Galleria, Minneapolis, Minnesota. More details to follow.


  1. This this from Annamaria, who just spent half an hour of her flight from SFO to EWR trying to sign in to this page. Here is what she has been trying to say:
    I am pleased to hear, Michael, that Amazon has improved their software. I remember vividly how Stan struggled with it when we were self-publishing Sunshine Noir. Your words here encouraged me that I might be able to master it myself.

    As an addendum to your post, here is a fact: According to the Authors Guild, hybrid authors—both traditionally and self-published—fare better financially than authors who are only traditionally published. If this works out for me, who knows, I may be able to treat us to a bottle of wine. If so, don’t count on it being Chassagne.

  2. I'm such a luddite I got confused even reading that blog!
    That goodness I have 'people' who still do all that, I don't know what I'd do without them. Well I do, I wouldn't be published!!
    Total respect for you both! I'll boogie over to Amazon and download it right now.