A few months back I found a really good Guide to using the Amazon Kindle (the free PDF version convinced me to post about the guide) and wrote about it. These days I’m getting 5-10 people a day checking out the PDF guide and people occasionally buy the Kindle version from Amazon (it shows up on my amazon records). I ended up checking Brent’s blog and found his post on his experience of self-publishing for the Kindle and that he’s sold nearly 300 copies (extremely impressive given that he’s giving the PDF away). The combination of it being a great story about self-publishing for the Kindle and being a Kindle User Guide made it a great candidate for a guest post. Hopefully, I can add on more guest posts in the future. For now, our very first guest post –
*** Brent Newhall Guest Post – ‘Self Publishing on the Kindle’
When I heard about the Kindle, I got so excited that not only did I
order one within a week, I also dove head-first into the Kindle forums
on Amazon.com. As I familiarized myself with the discussions, I
noticed that the same questions popped up over and over. There seemed
to be no single manual or guide to using the Kindle, other than the
one included with the device itself.
So I saw a need and filled it. I gathered all the frequently asked
questions in the Kindle forums, and wrote a short book called the
Kindle Fan Guide, answering all of them. I then
faced the dilemma of figuring out how to release it to the public.
I wanted to publish a Kindle version, obviously. But I figured that
people wouldn’t buy a technical book sight unseen;
they’d want to see the quality of the writing. I also thought that
some people would want a printed copy that they could lay next to
So I settled on three versions of the Kindle Fan Guide:
- A Kindle version, priced at $5
- A free PDF
- A printed version, through the print-on-demand site Lulu.com,
priced at $11
I then looked around on Amazon.com to find out how to publish a book
for the Kindle. The process is relatively straightforward; you
go to http://dtp.amazon.com, sign in using your
existing Amazon account, then click the “Add new item” button. This
displays a wizard, with fields for entering the book’s title,
description, language, categories, etc.
You then have to upload the book, and this was my first surprise: the
site wanted the book as a single HTML file. I wrote
the Guide in NeoOffice (a Mac OS variant of OpenOffice), which
exported to HTML with a lot of advanced HTML formatting that the
Amazon site couldn’t understand.
I ended up saving the Guide as HTML, then hand-editing the HTML to be
very simple. The Amazon site supports very basic HTML–essentially
HTML 1.0–which required quite a bit of fiddling. If I had it to do
over, I’d write it in HTML, then open the HTML file
in NeoOffice and tweak the NeoOffice file.
You can’t tweak any of the formatting once the file’s been uploaded to
Amazon; you can only change your local copy and re-upload it.
Fortunately, Amazon does display a preview of what the file will look
like on the Kindle.
But after cleaning up the HTML to basically just use ‘div’, ‘strong’, ’em’ tags and the like, the file uploaded to Amazon. I’ve since discovered
that Amazon will take files in .doc and .pdf versions, so it
may have been better to save the document as a .doc and
Once it was uploaded, I had to wait about a day for
Amazon to finish converting it and make it available.
I then created a webpage, http://brentnewhall.com/kindlefanguide with
links to the corresponding page on the Kindle store, and the PDF and
Lulu.com versions. I posted an announcement on the Kindle forum, and
every time I incorporated a significant set of changes, I re-uploaded
them and announced the changes on the forum.
Overall, the process of converting the book to simple HTML took about
10 hours. Today, if I just converted the document to .doc and
uploaded that, it would probably take more like 2 hours.
In the five months since the initial release, I’ve sold just
under 300 copies of the Kindle version of the Kindle Fan
Guide. I’m very pleased with that. I sold no copies of the print
version, and unfortunately, I have no statistics on the number of PDF
Why did I sell so many? I think the free PDF version
was a major factor. People could check out the content and see if it
worked for them. True, people could send the PDF to Amazon for
conversion and put it on their Kindle, and some did. But I think
people are wary enough of the vagaries of the PDF conversion that they
wanted my carefully-formatted Kindle edition.
I’m also helped by demographics. People who spend $400 on a device
are willing to spend $5 on a short technical book. I deliberately
kept it inexpensive, too; $5 feels almost like pocket change in a way
that $7 doesn’t.
Here are the qualities I emphasized when writing the book:
- The writing stays focused. Many technical books are too
“chatty,” wandering off on long tangents. I made sure that every
paragraph furthered the reader’s knowledge and stayed relevant to the
- I maintained an informal style. I wrote it as though I were
sitting at a kitchen table, explaining technical issues to a friend.
I assumed that those reading it were not tech-savvy, so I
elaborated on some explanations that might be obvious to a more
technical audience. I figured that a tech-savvy reader could always
skip over the detailed explanations if so desired.
- I kept it short. Instead of inflating the page count, I stopped
when I ran out of material.
- I started the book with a high-impact chapter covering the most
frequently-asked questions about the Kindle. I figured that those
curious about the Kindle would benefit from having those answers
addressed within their first five minutes of reading the book.
If you’re thinking of self-publishing on the Kindle, here’s my advice:
- Kindle readers want good content. The Kindle store still doesn’t
have the breadth that voracious readers want, so there are gaps to
fill. Look for underserved markets.
- Write the book so that conversion to HTML is easy. Convert
to .doc or .txt. Expect to spend a few hours tweaking the format.
- If your book isn’t long enough for Amazon to provide a sample,
provide a sample yourself. Make it easy for people to read
your writing. Don’t worry about protecting the sale; people
are willing to buy if you’ve courted them with plenty of material.
- Get involved in a community. I answered many questions for weeks
on the forums before posting my first announcement about the Guide, so
my announcements didn’t come across as advertisements.
- Don’t use marketing-speak. My announcements were simple and to-
the-point. Since I only marketed on the internet, and there are plenty
of scams out there, I wanted to avoid looking like a scam or a huckster.
I’ll happily answer any questions you have; just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
.. If I get enough questions, I’ll write a follow-up article.