Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Confessions of an Ebook Writer
I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences publishing online for a long while now, but have been looking for the right moment to sit down and bash out a page or two on the ol’ keyboard. I thought it might be interesting for those who know me, or those looking to have a go at epublishing themselves whatever the topic they might be writing. So, I hope it is!
How did it all come about, that I started this epublishing thing? Well, when I travel, ever since my first trip in 1999 I have kept a diary. I wasn’t so crash hot at keeping it up to date in 1999, but I did get in the habit of writing long entries. Anyone who’s read the blog knows I have a penchant for waffling on!
I started to really enjoy writing after a while, especially when I travelled the next time at the end of 2000-01, and I began to keep up much better. I would set aside time for writing each day when possible so I didn’t fall too far behind and had a clear recollection of what I was recounting. When in India 1999 I saw someone else sticking in postcards and tickets and the like into their diary, and I thought that looked like a great idea too, so I did it as well. As a result my diaries were getting longer and longer and heavier and heavier. When I left a country I would stick in money – coins and notes. Not of high value of course. The coins really weighed the diary down but I was really enjoying it and I haven’t stopped.
So after a while I had a lot of diaries, information and thoughts about the travel I had done, I started the blog in 2006, and I always wanted to try writing. My 2004 trip ‘Dhaka to Dakar’ became three trips finishing finally in 2007, and I thought this was a good topic to attempt for my first book. Looking at options, I decided to give Amazon Kindle a try. I had written drafts a few years earlier of the whole thing, but in 2011 I decided to put my head down and get them out there.
Except I was travelling. But in the second half of the year I was stopping a bit and had my laptop with me, so I took to editing in earnest. I’ve recently re-released Dhaka to Dakar Book One on Payhip and Lulu, and re-edited the whole thing adding a lot more photos and certainly felt a bit embarrassed by the book, especially the first chapter. So many errors I couldn’t believe I missed, and I’m sure I must have missed a lot more again. C’est La Vie. The first chapter was very clunky and I did my best to neaten it up, but it’s still not as I would like it.
With the first volume on Amazon not doing much, I didn’t have a lot of motivation to get the next two volumes up. I did eventually, but decided to release them one chapter at a time to make it more palatable. It seemed to work to some extent – I’d hardly had any sales, like less than 2 a month for the first six months, but the individual chapters were specifically about one country. They seemed to have a target. Eventually I released them as entire books and also the first book as chapters. The chapters on their own have been far more successful than the three books.
Last year I saw the sales improve somewhat, although I hadn’t seen a single cent from Amazon I knew it was a only a matter of time. Except that getting paid for an Australian is really difficult from Amazon. To accrue 100 dollars in sales to get a cheque could take five years to be honest. I see 35 cents from a sale of a chapter – the rate is 35% unless your book is over $2.99, then you can get 70% for anything sold from the US Amazon store.
And there’s another issue – the Amazon stores. There is a store in the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Japan, India, Brazil and now Australia. Your sales only accrue from the individual stores. So you need to earn $100 or thereabouts from each store to get a cheque sent to you in Australia.
Well, that’s pretty darned frustrating. Amazon opened up a Kindle store for Australia with payments into Australian bank accounts. Only problem is – it’s only from the AUSTRALIAN store, so the other options are cheque – takes forever to accrue and costs to bank, maybe $25, and ‘wire’ transfer into your account, again accruing maybe $15 in bank fees. That will go through automatically every month in theory, but as I am presently earning around $10 a month, well, I can’t possibly see any of that money.
Having said that, here in Japan I can get a direct EFT deposit into my account and I am seeing something every month. It took 3 months of being stuffed around to happen, a comma was out of place or something I still don’t understand was preventing the transfer and it took three months of emails back and forth to sort out the issue. The bigger issue is that soon I return to Australia and how will I get paid? $10 a month is not much but it means something to me.
Amazon have told me they are working on other payment options but for now they can’t tell me what they are or when they will be ready to go. Last year I started ‘Short Journeys’ - a series of books to talk about my experiences in other countries and give a little bit of travel information to the interested backpacker. So far I have four of those up for Kindle, Ethiopia (which has outsold everything else thus far), Kazakhstan, Laos (doing quite well) and Cameroon. I realise I may have done better to start with places more often travelled, but such is life. This weekend will see ‘Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’ released.
I have developed new skills and learnt some valuable lessons. I had dreadful covers for the three Dhaka to Dakar books originally featuring a myriad of photos on each. In October 2013 I scrapped them in favour of better, clearer one-photo covers. I do believe that’s made a bit of a difference. I have been working on social media, trying to use it better.
All the literature out there about how to market your ebooks tells you in no uncertain terms to get on social media and plug plug plug! And so those following me on facebook will know that’s what I’ve started to do in the last twelve months, trying to tread a fine line between letting people know what I’ve written and annoying everyone with what constitutes as advertising! It seemed that in the end I had to start twitter as well, and so far I have managed to garner 42 followers in about four weeks. If you do want to follow me, you can @WorldJourneys75
On top of that is the World Journeys Website, with links to the blog and each of the titles I have published including information and more. This is the third version of the website. Amazon provides an author page, but it doesn’t allow me to organise it or set it out the way I would like and hence it’s quite a jumbled mess.
The next move (watch this space) will be to start a podcast. Everyone else is doing podcasts, right, and a travel podcast I think would be really interesting. I will be interviewing people about their travel experiences, different kinds of travel, favourite places and countries. Initially whilst I am still in Japan I want to do a couple of podcasts to kick it all off about life as a foreigner in Japan. I am hoping the podcast will be up and running in April or more likely May.
So anyway – The issues with Amazon are becoming more significant as I will be returning to Australia in a few months. Hence I decided it was time to spread my wings and publish on more platforms. I went for Lulu and Payhip. Payhip is basically just a platform that allows you a page for your book where it can be paid for by credit card or paypal. The payment goes direct to your paypal, so there is no waiting for payments. It’s a good system in its way, the books are pdf format there, however authors don’t have the advantage of the publicity of Amazon.
Lulu publishes on their own website but also publishes your book to the Apple Ibookstore and Nook which distributes through Barnes and Noble. They offer a better percentage of the sales than Amazon, however they take the first 99 cents so depending on your book price you can be better or worse off. They do pay direct to paypal as well. The advantage of this is that I will have access to my earnings easily in Australia, whereas with Amazon that simply is not the case. On the flip side of that, so far after two weeks with two books for sale on both Payhip and Lulu I am yet to achieve a single sale.
Amazon does help out with some publicity, although a lot is left to the writer to push his product. I get frequent emails suggesting I check out my own books and usually they are at the top of the list. (I get emails periodically suggesting I check out a list of titles) Still, Kindle is the most popular of ebook formats. Amazon also lets you promote your books for free if you’re part of their KDP programme, although despite the number of free promotions (I put the book on for free for a period of 1-5 days) and a number of people taking the free offers up, I haven’t managed to garner more than 3 reviews for all my works in total.
Using Payhip and Lulu has meant that I have to create two other formats for my books. Payhip is using PDF whereas for Lulu I use Epub, albeit with their epub creating tool which formats my word document. I need to use certain heading types and do a bit of reformatting to make that work, as I do need to make a couple of changes to get it to work better in PDF.
As it stands, I am just getting started with Lulu and Payhip, and will have to see how they fare over six months or a year. It took longer than that to get consistent sales on Amazon. Today I usually have 20 sales or more on Amazon, netting me around $10 every month. It’s far from a raging success and I have to work, blog, write, promote to keep the sales at that figure but it is something.
And so here I am, a few years in with still so much to learn, but getting better. Any other independent epublishers out there with experiences to share? Please comment!
Some of my ebooks:
Short Journeys: Ethiopia
Follow my route around Northern Ethiopia where I visit Addis Ababa, Lalibela, the Simien Mountains, Gondar and Bahir Dar. Full of tips and experiences.
Short Journeys: Cameroon
The latest in the Short Journeys range covers a country in Africa not so visited, but with a wonderful vibe, vibrant, colourful, interesting and friendly. I visit Douala, Kribi, Limbe, Bamenda and the Ring Road and Yaounde. I take a boat ride into the jungle, see gorillas and other primates up close and explore one of the less-visited countries in Africa.
Dhaka to Dakar: Through Asia (Second Edition)
The first of three books about my epic journey from Dhaka in Bangladesh to Dakar in Senegal. ‘Through Asia’ takes me through seven Asian countries including India, Pakistan and Iran and a wealth of experiences. The second edition features many more photos and the text has been re-worked. Second Editions of Books 2 and 3 are due out March and early April. On Payhpip (PDF) this book is only $1.39!!
I have combined my experiences of travelling to 69 countries (and I haven’t finished yet!) into a short cheap read for the first time or inexperienced backpacker keen to learn tricks of the trade and tips and hints of how to organise a budget, what to bring, and how to prepare for a backpacking adventure.