by Will Viharo
Without a doubt, the most popular self-publishing platform in the world is Amazon’s Kindle, both for indie authors, and for readers.
Speaking from my own experience, Amazon is extremely accessible and author-friendly, and their upload feature is very easy, even for a tech-challenged guy like me.
But I can’t ignore all the recent backlash against the company. And neither should you…
As I described in detail for a column about my early self-publishing efforts with Lulu, the self-publishing boon can be a double-edged sword, even if words are supposedly mightier. Just be careful not to fall on it.
Remember, like Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti western trilogy, you’re mostly on your own as you navigate a sometimes treacherous literary landscape.
So let me arm you with some information about the Kindle option, culled purely from my own personal experiences:
For me, the best part about being associated with Amazon is the instant access to customer service representatives. Despite headlines decrying Amazon’s “hostile takeover” of the entire online marketplace and charges of low morale amongst at least some employees due to unfair treatment, I must admit they are more than fair when it comes to their direct dealings with their literary clients, like me.
Amazon Author Central is a valuable author’s resource, providing writer’s with a professional looking platform as well as easy communication with actual people via phone or email. Their responses to my questions and issues have always been fast and friendly, with any problems quickly resolved.
As for actually publishing your work via Kindle, the process is very simple and straightforward. I have experienced some formatting issues, even though they convert Word docs to eBook format in seconds via the press of a button, so some authors opt to format the books themselves before uploading.
I must confess my cluelessness when it comes to DIY eBook formatting, plus small presses that possess this knowledge have already reissued all of my previously self-published titles. I left my “selfie” Kindles out there as a cheap, introductory option for curious but thrifty readers.
Which leads me to my next point, and another upside of the Kindle option: by strategically pricing your eBooks, you can increase the odds that readers unfamiliar with your name and work will take a chance on you, especially in such an overcrowded field, where it’s increasingly hard to stand out.
Recently eBooks have been getting a bad rap, as claims of plummeting revenues have dominated industry headlines and alarmed authors solely relaying on this inexpensive format to distribute their work to as wide an audience as possible.
No worries. Even with fluctuating sales, both digital and print books are here to stay, and each retains their own unique appeal and special value. That’s why the small presses reissuing my self-published books offered both formats, to suit all needs and tastes.
Amazon offers authors the print publishing option via CreateSpace, and while I haven’t used this platform myself, Scott Fulks, an amateur scientist who commissioned and co-wrote a couple of sci-fi titles with me, It Came from Hangar 18 and most recently, The Space Needler's Intergalactic Bar Guide, swears by its efficiency and easiness, echoing my positive relationship with Kindle Direct Publishing.
You’ve probably read about the raging controversy about Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which offers a great deal for readers, while leaving many authors complaining they’re being given short shrift in the bargain.
Basically, enrolling your books in this program allows you to reach a much broader potential audience, since they’re part of a cheap “lending library” that offers subscribers unlimited access to any books on these virtual shelves for a small, flat monthly fee.
In short, you’re practically giving them away. The idea is to expand awareness of your work, which is not a bad policy at all. But you’re put in the position to choose which titles you want to exploit as marketing tools, as opposed to products. It’s totally your call, and it might pay off in the long run.
Or it might not, and readers are being given free access to your work, without compensating you with loyalty, and subsequent sales, down the line. For some it may be worth the risk. But you can only find out the hard way.
This issue enraged so many authors, in fact, that it has led to calls for a boycott, which so far hasn’t seemed to have had much effect. This controversial payment policy – which essentially pays authors with “exposure” rather than cash - remains in effect, at least as of this writing.
But wait, there’s more!
Most recently, Amazon’s professional reputation amongst their indie authors took another huge hit with their decision to start filtering out product reviews by “friends,” without even revealing how they discovered this alleged personal relationship in the first place.
I haven’t experienced this problem myself, and I don’t know anyone who has, but I’ve read several accounts of writers being notified that glowing reviews were rejected or deleted because they were mysteriously designated as “ringers.” Despite protests from the authors, and demands that Amazon’s determinative “research” tactics be fully revealed, so far the company has refused to offer any explanations, apologies, or retractions.
The Not So Ugly
So overall, if an aspiring author asks me which DIY publishing platform to choose amid the many out there these days, I always suggest Kindle and CreateSpace. Sure, the company has some questionable business practices, but many successful corporations do. I base this recommendation mainly on the fact that I can always get someone on the phone, which is a rare accommodation these days, especially compared to certain cable TV companies.
But still, there are other viable options to explore, and while my own self-publishing history is limited to Lulu and Amazon, in future columns I will be sharing my research on a few other popular platforms, just to save you the hassle.
Because hey, the way I see it, we indie authors have to stick together.
What are some of your own personal experiences with Kindle and/or CreateSpace?
PHOTO: WILL VIHARO