Friday, October 29, 2010

The long road ahead

My first full-length novel is currently in editing and I’m looking forward to releasing it on Kindle in early November.
Now that it’s almost done, I’m looking ahead to what comes next.
Other Kindle authors (most notably JA Konrath) explain that having more than one book on Kindle is better. If someone likes one of your books, they will buy others. If you only have on book out, they can’t spend any more money on you. Very logical. So, the wise author writes as much and as quickly as possible.
This is what I would like to do. However, I already work 40 hours a week at my technical writing job. It uses a lot of my mental energy, since I’m spending all day writing (albeit technical content). So, when I get home at night it is sometimes difficult to actually write creatively on my novels.
I can write about 1000 words per hour. So, it would take me about 80 hours to write the first draft of a full-length novel. Then, I iterate through seven or so revisions. Bottom line, I need to spend about 200 hours at the keyboard to get the novel ready for editing.
On good weeks, I can get 12-14 hours of novel-writing in. But, usually it’s less than 10. Let’s say if I can average 10 hours a week of writing. That means it will take me 20 weeks to get the novel to an editor. Add a few weeks for working with the editor. Say, 24 weeks from start to finish to get a novel written and ready to publish. This is a best case scenario.
That’s about 2 new books written per year.
I’ll make about $2 per novel sold. So, if I can sell 1000 per month, that’s 12,000 per year, and that’s $24,000.  That’s enough to cover my mortgage, which would be nice. Well, before Uncle Sam gets his greedy, taxing fingers on it.
But, getting to 1000 sales a month will take a long time. How long? I don’t know. I’ve read other newbie Kindle authors who said it took them 7 months to sell 1000 books. Will I do any better? Any worse? No way to know today. But, by this time next year I should hopefully have 3 full-length novels on Amazon and a year’s worth of sales data to extrapolate my future potential.
Anyway, if you are a newbie author like me, I guess all I’m saying is that it looks like a very long road from here. Don’t get discouraged, though. You have to dedicate a good year to your Kindle writing before you can find out if you can be successful.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Step-by-by step Kindle ebook HTML formatting instructions

UPDATE!!! (Jan 6, 2010)

I have just published these instructions in a new Kindle eBook:  Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour - A Step-by-Step Guide. It's only $2.99!! I've updated the instructions to be easier and hopefully quicker. Plus, it's only $2.99! If you found these instructions helpful, please consider buying the ebook to help support this blog. Thanks!
Some other aspiring Kindle authors have asked about formatting their books for Kindle. They’ve wondered whether they should pay a professional service to do it, or do it themselves. They lamented that Amazon’s conversion tool doesn’t do exactly what they want – such as extra line breaks, page breaks, starting chapters further down the page, and so on.
In this post I will give you step-by-step instructions on how to format your Kindle book.
For anyone with HTML coding experience, this is really easy. For those of you without HTML coding experience, I provide my own Kindle ebook HTML template file, which you can start from. You just need to replace some stuff in it.
I don’t do anything fancy in these instructions. No additional images, no cross-linking other than the Table of Contents, no enhanced content. If this post is popular and I get many requests, I may provide similar instructions for other, more complicated formatting.
It took me about an hour to manually format my ebook into a Kindle format.
I am using my first ebook, Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds, as the basis for these instructions. If you want your ebook to be formatted simply and cleanly like my ebook, then you can follow these steps.
It might be helpful if you buy the Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds ebook and review it while you are reading these instructions. It is available on Amazon for $0.99. It is NOT required to use these instructions.
(But, if these instructions are helpful to you, you can thank me by buying the ebook.)
Since most people probably have Word, I’ll explain how to format your ebook using Word 2007 and a simple text editor (like Notepad). You can also use more advanced text editors, such as Microsoft Expression Web 2.
And, off we go…
  1. Create a new folder on your computer, such as YourBookTitle.
  2. Save your book file in the YourBookTitle folder.
  3. Save your cover art file in YourBookTitle folder. Remember to comply with Amazon guidelines on your cover art.
  4. Save the following HTML file to the YourBookTitle folder: YourBookTitle.html. To save this file, right-click on the link and then click Save Target As. This will open the Save As dialog box and you can save the file.
  5. Rename the YourBookTitle.html file to whatever the title of your book is, such as DeadDwarvesDirtyDeeds.html. I will continue to refer to this file as YourBookTitle.html, though, so you don't get confused.
  6. Open the YourBookTitle.html file in Notepad or some other text editor or HTML code editor.
  7. The template file has all the formatting code already coded into it. You only need to replace some temporary placeholder text with the specifics for your ebook. For each item in the following table, locate the Placeholder text with the appropriate text for your ebook.
    Find this placeholder text in the HTML fileAnd replace it with this
    YourBookTitleThe title of your book, such as Dead Dwarves Dirty Deeds.
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourCoverThe filename of your cover art, such as Deeds. You might also need to change the format extension from .jpg to whatever format you are using.
    YourNameYour name, the author of the book, such as Derek J. Canyon
    This appears 3 times in the template file.
    YourWebSiteYour website URL, such as
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourCoverArtistWebsiteThe website of your cover artist, such as
    This appears 2 times in the template file.
    YourEditorThe name of your editor, such as Joel Palmer
    YourEditorEmailYour editor’s email address, such as
    Chapter001The code identifier for your chapters. Change the number for each chapter.
  8. Save the HTML file.
  9. If you don’t want to have a Table of Contents, delete everything between the START_TABLE_OF_CONTENTS and END_TABLE_OF_CONTENTS lines.
  10. If you DO want a Table of Contents, you’ll need to add entries for each of your chapters. I’ve only included entries for the first three chapters. For each additional chapter, replicate the existing chapter code lines and change the chapter numbers. Such as:
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">Chapter 4</a></p>
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter005">Chapter 5</a></p>
    <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter006">Chapter 6</a></p>
    And so on...
  11. If you want to change the text that shows up for each chapter in the Table of Contents, replace the “Chapter 4” with your new text, such as:
    Old: <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">Chapter 4</a></p>
    New: <p align="center"><a href="#Chapter004">A Short Cut to Mushrooms</a></p>
  12. If you do change your chapter titles in the Table of Contents, remember to do the same at the beginning of each chapter of the story, such as:
    Old: <h2>Chapter 4</h2>
    New: <h2>A Short Cut to Mushrooms</h2>
  13. Save the HTML file.
  14. Open your book in Word.
  15. Remove the Word headers and footers.
  16. Delete the cover page, title page, copyright page, and all other pages that are not actual pages of the story. You need to start with a clean file of just paragraphs and chapter headings.
  17. Click Replace.
  18. In the Find and Replace dialog box, in the Find What box, type the following: ^p
  19. In the Replace with box, type the following: </p>^p<p>
  20. Click Replace All. This will add the required HTML tags around your Word paragraphs.
  21. Notice that the first paragraph does not have a starting <p> tag. You must type that in now.
  22. Each paragraph must have a <p> at the beginning and a </p> at the end. Go through your story now and make sure this is the case.
  23. If you had blank lines in your story these will now show up as <p></p>. To clean up your HTML, you can replace <p></p> with <br />, if you want. The <br /> tag adds one line break, so if you want an empty space between two paragraphs, you’ll need to add two line breaks: <br /><br />
  24. Check the very last line of your story. There is probably a lonely <p> tag there at the end. Delete it.
  25. If you have any chapter headings, you’ll need to change each of your chapter titles from <p>Chapter title</p> to be the same as the content between the START_CHAPTER_1_HEADING line and the END_CHAPTER_1_HEADING line.  Of course, you'll have to change the relevant parts for each chapter.
  26. Copy everything in the book Word file (you can use Ctrl-A and then Ctrl-C).
  27. Go to the HTML file, put the cursor after the <!-- PASTE YOUR STORY CONTENT AFTER THIS LINE--> line, and then press Ctrl-V on your keyboard to paste your book content into the HTML file.
  28. Save the HTML file.
  29. You are now done formatting your book for Kindle.
  30. However, now you have to compress it into a zip file. This is pretty easy.
  31. In Windows Explorer, select the HTML file and the cover art file.
  32. Right-click on the HTML file, point to Send to, and then click Compressed (zipped) folder.
  33. Your book is ready to be submitted on your Amazon Digital Text Platform Bookshelf.
If you have any questions, use the comments below.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance handed off to editor

On Thursday, I handed off the manuscript to the editor, Joel. I was three days late, unfortunately, so I missed my self-imposed deadline. Curses!
Joel will be working on the 78,000 word manuscript in sections. He expects to be done with editing by November 5th.  This means that I’ll have to push back my original release date estimate from “late October” to “early November”.
Since Joel will be giving me his edits back in chunks, I should be able to get the edits resolved very soon after November 5th.  I’ll try to get it all done and submitted to Amazon by the end of that weekend. It takes up to 2 days to get approved and online. So, in a best case scenario, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance will be available for purchase on Amazon by November 9th.
That’s all the gritty business detail. Now for some musings on the travails of creativity.
I broke my mind last weekend trying to get the manuscript ready for editing deadline on Monday. I worked on the manuscript a couple hours on Friday after real work (technical writing), four hours on Saturday, and seven hours on Sunday. By the end of Sunday, my mind was stuck in the “on” position, and I couldn’t stop thinking! I couldn’t sleep, even though I also couldn’t work any more on the story. After a while, I got up and watched some TV and played some Borderlands. Finally, I got exhausted enough to go to bed and sleep despite an overactive mind.
On Monday I was burned out and couldn’t work on the manuscript, even though I only had 24 pages left to rewrite. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I banged out those last pages. Whew!
From now on I’m going to avoid writing for seven hours in a row. Anything more than five hours is less efficient. And, it burns out my imagination. Three hours per day on the weekend seems like a good goal. Let’s shoot for that.
And now for some numbers:
The first draft of Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance capped out at 88,332 words. The fourth draft is 78,165 words. So, over the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts, I pared away over 10,000 words. I’m not surprised. I always put too much content in the first draft.
I wrote the first draft 15 years ago, and it took me about three months. Rewriting this year took me 3 ½ months, and about 47 hours of sitting at the computer (plus unknown hours thinking about it).
Now, the end game is nigh, and I’ll soon have a full-length novel on Amazon. Woot!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

NovelRank – Tracking your ranking and sales numbers over time

I just discovered the NovelRank website. It provides free Amazon Sales Rank tracking of book sales on Amazon, including Kindle Edition e-books and printed editions.
It’s a very cool FREE service. You can review sales rank and sales numbers for various time spans (up to the whole year) and in different domains (uk, us, ca).
Disclaimer: Book sales estimates are still estimates, and for books selling a low volume ( less than 100 copies a month for instance ) the estimates are most likely accurate within 1%. In the end, it is all based on sales rank changes rather than sales numbers, and NovelRank should not be used to dispute hard sales figures from publishers or Amazon.
Anyway, here are my charts for Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds since yesterday (each dot in the graph is an hour):

Not much data yet, I know. But, with just 3 book sales on Wednesday, I got down to a Amazon Kindle Sales Ranking of #8,627 (out of over 700,000 ebooks).
Wow! That means that 98.8% of Amazon ebooks sell less than 3 copies a day, on average. Or, about 692,000 sell around 1,000 books a year or less. Maybe. Extrapolating out a year from a few days data probably isn’t too wise.
Another interesting feature of NovelRank is that you can see data for ANY book (as long as someone has entered the book into the NovelRank system). So, I can review the rankings and sales numbers for the best-sellers! Let’s do that.
The first one I checked was Karen McQuestion’s A Scattered Life, currently at #16.

So, Karen McQuestion’s success seems to indicate that you need to sell around 10 copies a day to break the top 20 in rankings (or thereabouts). Again, the book sales numbers are estimates.
I wanted to see the rankings for a title that’s been in the top lists for a longer length of time. I found Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, currently #22, and in the top 100 for 318 days! Good job, Abe!

Very nice numbers there. But, it looks like Abe had double Karen’s sales in September (600 over 320), but she got to #9 while he got to #12. Obviously, the idiosyncrasies of daily and hourly sales spurts causes fluctuations that cannot be explained by only looking at monthly numbers.
NovelRank also provides you with a Widget to put in your web page to show the up-to-date sales rank of your ebook.
You can also download the data to an Excel spreadsheet for your number crunching delight.
I heartily suggest that you use NovelRank if you are publishing on Amazon if you want to monitor your rankings over time.

Progress report

I’ve sold 8 copies since publishing last Thursday, minus one that was refunded, for a total of 7. One sale was my own, so I’ve had 6 real sales. That’s almost 1 a day. I’m pleased with that.
What’s interesting is that I got all the way down to #8627 on the Amazon Kindle Best Seller rankings (that’s out of 700,000). Looks like you don’t need many sales to get close to the top 1%.
I’m also up to #34 in the Books>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Science Fiction>Anthologies category.
I haven’t spent any money on advertising or marketing. I’ve only posted on Kindle Boards and JA Konrath’s blog.
So, all in all, I’m pretty pleased with my first week’s results. If I can get to 30 sales in the first month, that’ll be sweet.
I’ve put in almost 6 hours of cleanup writing this week. I’m now 72% ready for handing off to editing. I’ll have to cram a bunch of work in this weekend to be ready for Monday’s handoff to Joel my editor. I just went through one of the major action sequences in the book and still enjoy it. That’s always good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds now available!

My first ebook is now available!

Buy it here for 99 cents!

DEAD DWARVES, DIRTY DEEDS: Three hard-boiled short stories of crime and violence set in the technological excess of the 22nd century.

Angel: Ross Drake is a cybernetic hit-man who stole millions from his corporation masters. Imprisoned for mass-murder, he escapes with the help of two strange men and a mysterious benefactor. Unfortunately for Drake, they don't just want a piece of the action. They want it all.

Gift Horse: Mutilated by rival convicts, Marco Vance is brought back from the brink of death. Outfitted with the latest cybernetic enhancements, he returns to the Regional Atlanta Metroplex as the conquering criminal kingpin. But, his savior demands that he deliver a message to repay his debt. A message that no one will forget.

Money Is Everything: Street gangs hunt a deposed crime boss carrying a case of cash. Pursued and friendless, he can trust no one. Except someone he can buy. Luckily, Noose the genetically engineered dwarf mercenary is always for hire. But, what is his price?
Total length about 15,000 words.

Includes a free 8000 word excerpt from the full-length novel DEAD DWARVES DON'T DANCE.

According to Amazon reports, I've sold 3 copies since it went online. Woot! ;) I'd like to thank my coworker Michael Gardner for being my first official customer! And, I'd like to thank myself for being my second customer. :) Whoever bought the third copy, thanks to you, too!

I'm up to Amazon's Bestseller Rank #27,618 (out of 700,000) in the Kindle store. That doesn't really seem right to me. I would think I'd need to sell a lot more than 3 copies to get to the top 5% of rankings. Maybe my sales reports are lagging.