Sunday, May 10, 2009

Smashing the Kindle

The Kindle Report:  
Smashing the Kindle

The time has arrived to take this project to the next stage. Let me explain to you exactly where we are in the project. I have just received Michael Hicks' interview questionnaire back from the author, but I have not even glanced at it yet. I have not begun to read his Kindle how-to book or the more advanced book on the same subject by Joshua Tallent. These issues represent further advanced stages of The Kindle Report.

The scan you see here is of the first page of my third book, The Last Horizon, as it appears on an actual Kindle screen. (Click the photo for a larger view.) Note that the opening title and subtitle pages have been moved closer together for the Kindle version of the book. This is a typical example of the sort of basic formatting information we are going to cover today. When you format your book for the Kindle or any other e-book reader, you want to remove a lot of the page spacing that is normally present in a print book, particularly within the front and back matter of the book. The second thing you may notice in this page scan is that the text is all Times New Roman and of a similar size. Most e-book formats are allergic to fancy fonts and many do not care much for spacing, font sizes, indentations, or other detritus, either. You might be surprised to learn that electronic readers rarely choke on bold or italic fonts, though, certainly less so than in this post you are currently reading. If you have been blogging for a while, as I have, you have probably discovered that there are certain elements of formatted text that Blogger will cough up just as surely as Fluffy will a hairball! Formatting for the Kindle and other readers can be a similar exercise in futility; however, you may be surprised at exactly what trips up the Kindle.

The title of this edition of The Kindle Report refers to a wonderful website run by a Silicon Valley tech nerd named Mark Coker. He named his site Smashwords and his main claim to fame is something he calls the Meatgrinder. Mr. Coker has done us all a huge favor by programming this element of the Smashwords site into which you can upload the Word document version of your book and the Meatgrinder creates a formatted version acceptable to practically all e-book readers! The service is free and the instructions for authors are currently the closest thing we have to the Kodak Instamatic camera of the '60's for would-be e-book marketeers. You just go to the Smashwords website, read through the detailed, yet simple for those who are HTML challenged, instructions, and then begin uploading the information about you and your book, much as you would do at Amazon's Kindle site. As with Kindle, the whole thing is free: the two sites make their money by selling your books on their respective websites.

Why should you care about Smashwords? First of all, the Meatgrinder creates formatting for Kindle, Mobipocket, the Sony E-reader, PDF, HTML, and JavaScript! Secondly, the site offers you a second location from which to market your books. The third reason calls for a drum roll, please: the Smashwords formatting grinder-upper is a more persnickety eater than is the Kindle itself. You can upload a lot more incorrectly formatted garbage directly to the Kindle format than you can to Smashwords! There is a fourth reason, and it harks back to that Instamatic reference. Most authors know a lot more about Microsoft Word than they do about the creation of PDF's, HTML coding, or Kindle's special system. Although the Kindle uploading machine will accept Word documents, and it is touted as one of its favorite dishes, Word documents are all the Meatgrinder likes to eat. Not only that, but the Meatgrinder is like Meg Ryan ordering at a restaurant in When Harry Met Sally. She knows exactly what she wants, how it should be prepared, and how you should serve it to her, and she gives you the waiter or waitress specific instructions. She does not want her pie ala mode and Smashwords wants the Word document set to Normal mode. Where I am going with this is advising you to create a version of your book that the Meatgrinder won't upchuck, set it up at Smashwords, and then copy and paste the exact same version of the document into the Amazon Kindle system. Voila! Meg Ryan just helped you publish your book for the Kindle!

Ya'll should all know by now that the reason we are discussing this stuff in the first place is that reading an e-book on your desktop has become about as passe as pay phones. It's all about Kindle, the Sony E-book reader, Mobipocket, and Smashwords now. A major step in this development was when Amazon bought Mobipocket and then created a very similar, yet just a little bit different, format for the Kindle it was developing at the time. You can go to the Mobipocket site and download its free Mobipocket Creator to format your books for this reader, but this particular subject will be covered in a later installment of The Kindle Report. I have already tried to utilize the Creator, only to make a mess of one of my books, so this subject obviously requires more research and study before I discuss that format in detail. I have yet to even approach the subject of the Sony system, so that will be covered in a later post, too.

For any of you who may have missed much of my blatant self-promotion in the past, allow me to describe my own books for you, with particular respect to The Kindle Report. One of the reasons I chose to undertake this massive project is that if you can successfully convert my books to e-books, you can certainly convert your Mr. Ordinary Novel. You could compare the structure of my books to an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, currently my favorite show on television. Bill's show always includes several formatted elements. He does a short standup monolog; he talks to one expert, either in person or via satellite; he discusses the news subjects of the week with three or four guests simultaneously; he interrupts the discussion for a bit of silliness; the discussion continues; sometimes an additional guest arrives at the opposite side of the table from the others; he does the popular New Rules segment; and closes with a sort of George Carlin-style wordplay, humorous rant. Well, that's what all my books do, too. My books generally include, to varying degrees, the following components: nostalgic stories, rants about socioeconomic issues of the day, bulleted lists, numbered lists, conversations between fictional characters, words that I just made up, deliberate mispronunciations and misspellings, fancy fonts, elaborate formatting, bibliographies, glossaries, tables of contents, acknowledgements, dedications, link lists, charts, textboxes, photos, and photo captions! Whew! If you can format that, you can format anything!

Here are the answers to a few basic, introductory questions you may have about Kindle and Smashwords concerning everybody's favorite department, money. The most important thing to any independent author is this: you choose the price you put on each of your books and Amazon and Smashwords takes their cut and gives you the rest. In most cases, the rest is only a little less than your standard royalty amount you receive from the sale of a print version of the book at a price that is probably 3-6 times the price of the electronic version. For all you POD authors out there, this is your Holy Grail! You can now market your books at a price that undercuts, rather than overshoots, the prices of the traditionally published competitors. The Amazon system has three advantages over the Smashwords system, but none of these should stop you from utilizing Smashwords, at least as an additional retailer for your e-books. The Amazon site has a million times the exposure; you are paid via direct deposit by Amazon and the check is in the mail by Smashwords; and Amazon has created the lovable little gimmick of automatically discounting the price of your book by 20%, but paying your royalty based on the undiscounted price! I personally recommend the following decisions when you price your books for the two websites. Do not price them too highly. You are trying to compete with Christians who have a hemorrhoid over anything involving their religion, teenage girls who love vampires, and the many sexual political scandals of the day. You are trying to sell The World's Next Great Novel and nobody gives a rat's ass! Set your price up to about $8, and never more than about half the price of the print version. A third or even a fourth the price is probably even better. Should you offer your book for free? Should you price it at a pittance such as $1.00 or $2.00? Should you offer temporary sale prices? These are all good, valid questions, and the answers vary with the individual book, author, and situation. One specific hint I can give you is to not price your book at $.99 at Amazon. If you do, some sort of automatic thingie kicks in and your readers will not get the regular 20% discount. A book priced at $1.00 costs eighty cents, but $.99 is $.99. The price you choose at Smashwords is the price everybody pays. Should you play the old $4.95 or $4.99 game? I don't know, but it does seem as if that whole idea seems to be considered old school in terms of e-book pricing. With my books, I did it at Smashwords, but I didn't do it at Amazon, so I guess my silly bases are covered.

One of the things I have spent a lot of time trying to ascertain is exactly how many POD print books are also available for the Kindle? The actual stated figures in the various search modes available at Amazon indicate that there are currently 275,000 books available for the Kindle, out of several million print books listed at Amazon. The most shocking thing to me is that less than 3% of all the POD books from the major publishing houses have been formatted for the Kindle! There is a big caveat here, though. Like the national unemployment numbers officially stated by the government, this 3% is most assuredly a severe understatement of the facts. My best guess is that the actual figure is 10-30%, with a strong intuition that it is much closer to 10%, and maybe even less. The problem with this assessment is the unknown number of POD authors who previously released their print paperbacks with a traditional POD imprint, but who have altered the officially stated name of the imprint for the Kindle version. There are a number of reasons for these alterations. Some are legitimate, some are absolutely necessary, some are deliberately misleading to the authors' potential customer base, and some are the result of the unnecessary monkeybusiness that sometimes runs rampantly through this cottage industry. For the purposes of The Kindle Report, all you need to know right now is that the following data was compiled from the officially stated Amazon Kindle search engine. I researched the figures for the major POD imprints on 4/9/09 and the figures stated below are what I found. Yes, I know the data is already a month old, but previous number crunching tests convinced me that these numbers are increasing ever so slowly. As I said, this data has shocked me repeatedly. I keep expecting an explosion that has not yet occurred.

These are the number of Kindle releases for each company, as compared to the total of each company's print releases. Note that the iUniverse figures include those for iUniverse,, iUniverse, Inc., and Writers Club Press collated together. iU had 357 Kindle releases out of a total of 56,779; AuthorHouse 115 out of 41,669; XLibris 133 out of 24,861; BookSurge 451 out of 21,430; CreateSpace 495 out of 11,339; Lulu 431 out of 26,278; Outskirts 131 out of 3998; Wheatmark 14 out of 627; Booklocker 25 out of 1811; and Dog Ear 12 out of 797. The only one that skews the whack out of the curve is the recently defunct Trafford with 3709 out of 12,430. Now is it time for the explosion?

See Also: Kindle the Gorilla
The Kindle Report Introduction

1 comment:

Lloyd Lofthouse said...

Loved this piece. Loads of information. What I learned means I will be reading it a second time before I visit Smashwords next week when I attempt to turn My Splendid Concubine into another e-book.

Thank you!
Lloyd Lofthouse