As regular readers of The Whine Seller know, I like to write from personal experience. So, with publishing on Amazon’s Kindle getting a lot of attention lately, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to give this topic the attention it deserved since I have not yet published anything on the platform. Instead, I turned to my fellow Lulu alumni, science fiction/fantasy author Gregory Bernard Banks. Greg is a rare find in this in the he has not only published both fiction and non-fiction but also has experience in publishing on many different platforms (including Amazon, Lulu, and CreateSpace) so I know he could give readers a rounded perspective on what it’s like to publish to the Kindle from personal experience.
If you have even toyed with the idea of publishing some content on the Kindle or in eBook for, there is a wealth of information in my interview with Greg below so you may want to bookmark it and revisit it at a later date to soak all of it up.
So with many grateful thanks to Greg for taking the time to do this, if you find Greg’s advice and experience useful, please take a moment to visit his website or maybe even buy one of his books or stories.
Whine Seller: Firstly, do you own a Kindle?
Gregory Bernard Banks: Yes, when I first decided to publish on the Kindle, I decided that it would be a worthwhile investment to own one so that I could see how my works were displaying firsthand. I’m not a perfectionist, but since I am a graphic designer, I like having control and presenting my work in the best light possible.
WS: What made you first decide to look into publishing your content on the Kindle?
GBB: I published my first book on Kindle (my short story collection, Phoenix Tales) in April of 2008, a few weeks after receiving my Kindle. I think I first heard about the Kindle through Amazon, as I am a frequent and long time customer there. E-readers have actually been around for years now, and I’ve always looked at them with absolutely no appeal whatsoever. But when the Kindle appeared, and I began digging into its features and capabilities, it intrigued me because unlike all e-readers before, this one had a company with a powerful presence in the book industry behind it. In my mind, that meant it at least had potential that all its predecessors did not. Next, I started hanging out on the Kindle boards to see what others thought of the device. I was surprised to see how overwhelmingly positive the response was, and as I got to know some of the people there, I realized that these were not just hardcore geeks” who collect every cool new device under the sun as if their lives depended upon it. These were average, everyday people, many of whom you wouldn’t have considered the target demographic for a new venture of this sort. And then I realized that not only were people passionate about their love of the Kindle, but that many of them were also rediscovering their passion for reading. All of those factors together suggested that the Kindle had not only potential, but was already making an impact far beyond any other similar device before. And this was an eager audience in a market where reading material was still limited in comparison to the number of books actually in print. Publishing on it was extremely accessible, cost nothing, but with the potential for a tremendous payoff in the long run. Since my belief is that a true writer’s ultimate goal is not to be wealthy (though that’s certainly welcome too), but just to be read. And what better audience to target than those eager for new materials to read on their shiny, new Kindles? So that’s when I took the plunge.
WS: I’m so jealous, I totally want a Kindle. Have you been happy with your Kindle experiences thus far?
GBB: Extremely happy. The Kindle proved not only to be a good business investment, but I became one of its rabid fans, to the unfortunate detriment of my monthly finances. I’ve been an avid read since I was young, but in recent years not so much. Between the distraction and time demands of computers, writing, and the graphic design business I run, combined with the fact that with my disability, wrangling with books just turned trying to leisurely read a good book into too much of a chore. Although everything I may want to read on my Kindle isn’t available yet, much of it is, and I’m pleased to see this situation improving steadily month by month. I used to like to have someone take me to the bookstore and spend time shopping for books. The Kindle brings the bookstore to you, and you can have your book in a minute or less. What a better enticement for the reader? What better market for a writer or publisher?
WS: I know you offer some of your eBooks through Mobipocket. Did you use them to publish your book to the Kindle or did you upload them directly to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP)?
GBB: I tried to upload to Kindle DTP through Mobipocket with my first book, but for whatever reason, it never went through. After that I submitted everything else directly to DTP, and then separately to Mobipocket. I prefer it that way because it gives me better control over my Kindle books, both in their design and formatting, but in being able to make changes and have them update quickly. For me personally, I consider Amazon the prime ebook market for my books, and it’s also the most easily accessible except for perhaps Mobipocket (which is an Amazon property as well). In my mind, utilizing DTP directly is the best way to go.
WS: As someone who has first hand experience with several publishing services out there (Lulu, CreateSpace, and now Amazon) how would you rank the experience of publishing your content to the Kindle using? How did it compare in terms of both ease of use and speed to other platforms?
GBB: It’s actually pretty straightforward. But frankly, the main caveat I would say when formatting for the Kindle goes for any of the other services and options as well. The more precise and professional you want the book to appear when the customer buys or downloads it, the more work and time you must put into preparing it for the service you are targeting. Each service has its own particulars for best results, although both Lulu and CreateSpace are very similar.
WS: Amazon’s formatting requirements are a little different than those of other publishing companies. I know they recommend publishing in HTML rather than PDF or doc file. Did you have to heavily convert or format your material to get it to look right for the Kindle?
GBB: You really don’t have to do an abundance of formatting, assuming your book already has a straightforward layout (single columns of text, no tables or charts, no fancy drop caps or tons of images). However, the more simplified the layout from which you produce your Kindle book, the better, since Kindle content is essentially formatted in the same way as a web page, just less content per screen.
WS: You help authors format their books all the time in your role at BDDesign. What formatting advice would you give someone looking to publish on the Kindle to go through the process with the least issues?
GBB: Create a version of your file without all the extraneous details such as headers and footers, as those are meaningless on the Kindle. Make sure you have only single columns of text and no tables (although I hear that the new Kindle can handle tables, unlike Kindle 1). Finally, export your file to HTML. In MS Word, which most people use these days, and probably in most other word processors as well, doing this is a simple matter of choosing Save As…”, and selecting the HTML format. In MS Word, it’s imperative to choose HTML (filtered)” as the format to save as. Otherwise, MS Word will add in a lot of Microsoft-specific coding that the Kindle probably can’t read.
WS: You enjoyed some success with the Amazon Shorts program with several of your stories ending up on the Shorts bestseller list. While Amazon is no longer accepting new submissions for Amazon Shorts, your stories are still available on the Amazon site and you have also republished some of those stories for the Kindle. To me, the Amazon Shorts program seems like it was a precursor for the Kindle publishing platform. How would you compare the two processes? Have the same stories sold more on the Kindle than they did in the Shorts program?
GBB: I don’t have actual numbers in front of me (and with the Shorts program, you didn’t have direct access to the numbers the way you do with the Kindle), but I’d say my Kindle sales have far outweighed the Shorts program sales. With the Shorts program, there was no real target audience, and nothing to drive people to buy ebooks, even though they were only 49 cents each. The reason the Kindle works, and has literally sparked a new and growing interest in ebooks in the US, is because the Kindle takes the reading experience away from the glare, the tether, and the bulk of a computer or notebook and literally puts it in the palm of your hand. You can’t walk around with a desktop, you’re not going to stand in line at the grocery store holding a laptop, and after spending all day at work in front of that glowing LCD screen, the last thing you want to do is turn to the same screen for some leisure reading. So the Kindle not only created a better reading experience for ebooks, it created a market and demand for them as well. That’s the one thing that the Shorts program could never have generated on its own, and given that Amazon seemed to have given up their aggressive promotion of the Shorts program early on, I suspect that they came to this conclusion as well. With the Shorts program, we had to face the challenge of convincing people that they wanted to read an ebook. With the Kindle, we only need to convince them to read our ebooks next.
WS: You have works that are long and short, fiction and non-fiction all on Kindle. What has worked best with that platform so far?
GBB: I’ve found the longer works easier thus far, but to date I haven’t introduced any longer works (except for the former Amazon Short novelette, The Summoner), which wasn’t in print first. They have more of an established footprint,” so to speak, with reviews already in place to help persuade the reader to give it a shot. If Kindle allowed us to price our ebooks less than 99 cents, I think one could do even better business with individual short stories. With the busy lives people live today, I could see the Kindle sparking resurgence in interest for short stories.
WS: Your books are available in print, eBook, Kindle format and more. Do printed books still make up the bulk of your sales or are you seeing an increase in electronic book sales?
GBB: Actually, Kindle sales have far exceeded my print sales. The ease of purchase, the reduced price that I am able to sell my ebooks for, and the ability to interact with and get to know this specific audience of consumers through the Amazon Kindle boards (not as easy in the broader overall audience for printed works), has made the Kindle by far my number one outlet for book sales. I’m not retiring to Tahiti anytime soon on profits from either platform, but in terms of sheer volume of sales, the Kindle format averages double digit sales (low double digits, that is) each month. POD printed books are lucky to achieve that in a year in the last year or two.
WS: You have your eBooks available in several places (Amazon, Mobipocket, Lulu, etc). Which platform has been the most successful for your eBooks so far? Which one do you think shows the most potential in the future?
GBB: The Kindle format, to date, is the clear winner. If Lulu could cut their cost per book price point down to match CreateSpace, I think they would easily have the most potential, since they provide a broader platform through which your books are available. As of right now, CreateSpace is probably the option with the most potential. Despite the fact that your audience is limited to Amazon properties, and I believe just US properties at that, Amazon US makes up a very substantial piece of the book buying audience. If I had to really guess, however, I’d say that eventually ebooks will be THE place to be. Whether it proves to be the Kindle format or another rival that’s yet to come, I think the future, and the potential, for the ebook market is without limits.
WS: In the world of e-commerce, multi-channel selling is a big buzzword right now and that seems to be what you are doing with multiple versions of your works out on multiple sites. In the end, are sales from all platforms about equal or is there still a clear winner?
GBB: Again, ebooks, and as of right now, the Kindle, is by far the leader. I’d like to think that success in one channel will eventually help spur sales in the other, but I don’t know how much the two audiences comingle. Do people without Kindles even know (or care) what’s selling well in ebook form? The reverse is certainly true. I think we’re still in the infancy of all this, so how it will play out in the long run remains to be seen.
WS: As an author, you understand the value of getting your books in the most places at once for the most exposure. But as a reader, how often do you read eBooks?
GBB: I read them primarily now on my Kindle, but as I mentioned previously, I have extenuating circumstances that made a device like the Kindle a literal godsend to me. I haven’t abandoned printed books because many of the books I need to read to study design related topics are not Kindlized” yet, and more graphics laden books don’t lend themselves to the limited black and white screen anyway, but still, ebooks are my primary reading platform now. For a variety of reasons, the biggest being sheer convenience in the hectic, always on the go lives most of us lead today, I think this is going to be increasingly true for more people over time.
WS: How far in the future do you see eBooks replacing printed books?
GBB: People thought television would replace radio, but it still hasn’t over 50 years later. People feared that VCRs (later followed by laser discs, DVDs, and now BluRay) would replace the movie theater, but a $55 million debut weekend for the film Watchmen suggests that the old gray mare ain’t quite dead yet. Ultimately it’ll boil down to when, if ever, will the printed book no longer offer an experience that nothing else can. One can’t watch TV while driving, so radio persists. Although you can simulate the theater experience in your own living room today, telling your date that you’re taking her in” to the other room for the latest flick still isn’t going to fly for most. Those experiences are still relevant, still desired, and still unmatched by any other medium yet. Whether printed books will be equally as stubborn in giving up their crown, I don’t know. I suspect not, but that’s at least ten years away I’d think. Printed books will probably never go away completely, but I suspect one day they’ll be relegated to the realm of record players and typewriters (assuming you know what either of those things are). Not gone, not forgotten, but sitting in a rocking chair in the home of has been tech” reminiscing about the good old days. But as long as there are people out there who still crave the scent of fresh book in the morning, someone will be there to feed your need. But if you are an author or publisher, the time of the ebook is now, and I suggest that all indie publishers and authors dive in while the waters are fresh and the audience is eager to give you a try.
Gregory Bernard Banks is a graphic designer, community leader and customer support person at Lulu.com, co-Webmaster for the Speculative Literature Foundation, author, and owns publisher WheelMan Press. His publishing credits include such places as AlienSkin Magazine, The Speculative Fiction Centre, and Amazon Shorts. He’s also published five books: Crossroads and Other Tales, Phoenix Tales: Stories of Death & Life (www.phoenixtalesbook.com), A Writer’s Journey in Poetry & Prose, An Interview with Santa and Other Christmas Treats, and his bestselling ebook now in print for the first tie, The Summoner, along with a variety of ebooks and articles which frequently break into the top 100 in Amazon.com’s Kindle store.