15 June 2012
Posted in Books and Poetry
Myles McLeod on self-publishing a picture e-book, Caroline’s World
On my brother’s 30th birthday I presented him with a poster of his rock family tree. It had all the bands he had drummed for to date. On my thirtieth birthday my brother presented me with an animation based on a character I drew as a child, The M Man. You can watch it on YouTube if you like. We’re not only brothers but business partners in the aptly named duo The Brothers McLeod. He does the pictures. I do the words.
On our sister’s 30th birthday we hit upon the idea of making her a book. Having two older brothers can’t have been easy for Caroline growing up. That might be why she invented Caroline’s World. When we made things difficult, or told her something wasn’t how we wanted it, she would respond with, ‘It’s not like that in Caroline’s World!’ It was the perfect comeback. It’s also what provided the inspiration for her book… a picture book that her child self could have called her own. So we wrote it, illustrated it and then worked our way around the self-publishing site blurb.com. We printed a few copies and gave them to her on her birthday. She loved it. She wasn’t the only one. We sent it to a few publishers too. They read the book and wanted to see us! Great! They also loved it. They passed it round the office. Everyone in their offices loved it! So, did they want to publish it?
So that means one of two things. Either they didn’t really love it after all, or it was good, but for whatever reason it just wasn’t right for their limited list of picture books. So what next? The obvious next step was to look at self-publishing. Blurb.com was good, but the print version of the large hardback book was forty pounds just to produce. Not very commercial! Instead I started to try and get my head around the Amazon based Kindle market – e-books. Kindle isn’t just the hand held device, it’s also an App you can download to any computer, iPhone of Android phone. I spent a lot of time reading how to format the book, with the added complication that ours was really just a series of pictures that had to be formatted to the correct size and resolution. Then I had to fiddle around with the HTML of the file. Fortunately I did some website development a few years back. I have to say it’s not quite as simple as I hoped, but I got there in the end.
During this time I also went to a very useful and informative talk by Andy Conway who self-published a number of books last year. He’s much further ahead of the game than I am and also self publishes printed books. You can find him and his blog online at andyconway.net. His talk helped confirm I had been doing all the right things and wasn’t about to publish a load of gobbledegook.
Finally I published the e-book on Amazon. It was now available to buy in the USA, UK and some other European countries. Initially, only a few friends bought one in the UK. We had no USA sales at all until I enrolled the book in the KDP Select programme and gave the book away for free for a few days. Yes, for free. Over 2,000 people downloaded it. Strangely I wasn’t annoyed. I was pleased. I liked the idea that the story was out there, being read and shared. However, after the free period ended we had a few US sales as well. It had basically worked like a promotion.
The self-publishing dream is of course to make enough money by directly selling your books to punters that you don’t have to do anything else. Of course, the reality is more prosaic. I’m led to believe most successful e-book authors do a lot of blogging, tweeting, guest blogging on other people’s sites, online forum discussions, and that sort of thing. They obviously also use the KDP Select programme to promote themselves as well. The other main factor in success is the number of titles you publish. The more you have, the more they help to promote each other.
So far we might have made enough money to buy a couple of pints of beer. To be fair it’s only been online for about a month. Also we’ve only published one book. Added to that our book is full colour which doesn’t look so great on a black and white Kindle device (though not as bad as you might think). In the USA they have the Kindle Fire which is a full colour tablet. It should be out here eventually. The funny thing is I’m just happy that it’s out there and that we’re in the market. It seems to me it’s only going to get bigger and bigger over the next ten years and our book is there ready to be purchased, and more importantly enjoyed, and hopefully yes, even loved.