• Direct to Kindle Publishing

    I have just finished a book Balancing the Budget is a Progressive Priority that is now available on Amazon and published via Kindle Direct Publishing. This book is different from anything I have ever done; I would call it a polemic that is based on evidence. This post is not about the arguments of the book, but about my decision to publish it via Kindle Direct Publishing (I will write about some of the themes of the book in coming days).

    I am engaging in this publishing experiment due to the timeliness of the topic. I began writing this book about one year ago, and planned to be seeking a traditional publisher now, a process that I have begun. However, a quick turnaround of the book for an academic publisher would put it out next summer, if the book sailed through the review process. In late July, I decided that if this book was to have a chance of having an impact on the policy process, I had to publish it now given the creation of the super committee. I intend to seek a book contract for a fuller version that also comments on whatever the super committee actually does with an academic press as well, and only time will tell if I am successful in doing so.

    I almost certainly would not have done this were I still an Assistant Professor who was still to be reviewed for tenure. However, I got tenure last year, so decided I would rather try and have my ideas have an impact and was therefore willing to risk getting less “academic credit.” Further, I am a professor in a School of Public Policy, and we claim to be interested in “policy engagement” so I decided to move ahead.

    What about the practical details of publishing direct to Kindle? Austin asked me last night via twitter:

    Let me put it this way: suppose I had a monograph, all text, no figs, in Word. What does it take to get it to Kindle?

    The short answer is 72-96 hours, but with some caveats. Here is how it went for me. I decided to publish my book via Kindle Direct on July 25, 2011, and the heart of the text was mostly completed at that time (of course I tinkered with it). After the debt ceiling deal was reached, I wrote a prologue to the book and a concluding chapter that put the long run deficit problems in context with our short run economic problems and the upcoming work of the super committee. I put the text to bed on August 9, 2011 and the book (mistakenly) was published on August 12 (I meant for it to publish on August 15; you can set the date). One person stumbled onto it and purchased it that weekend.

    My plan was to have the book live for the week of Aug 15-22 while I addressed some formatting issues; I thought of it like the soft opening for a restaurant. I had to submit three updates to the book during this period of time to fix formatting issues. Persons who buy the book get the updates for free, though there is evidence this works much easier with a Kindle device than it does with the free software that allows you to buy/read a Kindle e book on a PC (they also have it available on Android and iPad/iTouch platform).

    I tweeted some about the book during the first week, but began to market the book on August 22, 2011 when I sent emails to approximately 100 persons who I thought would be interested: academics, persons working for think tanks, a few politicians, journalists, my Father, other bloggers, etc.

    So, from completed word file to having a book out on Kindle is feasible in 72-96 hours if you have nothing but text. If you follow the pointers below you can likely avoid the formatting problems I had. Still, I would publish it and read over it to make sure the formatting is as you want it before you start pushing the book because the last step of publishing a book via Kindle Direct is totally black box (mobi.pocket Kindle’s proprietary software).

    • To publish a book to Kindle you must go from word file —> html —> Kindle’s proprietary software mobi.pocket, which is available for free download
    • There is a Kindle “previewer” on-line that shows you how the book will look once published; I had spacing problems that looked fine on the “previewer” but were messed up in the published online version; the problems were due to microsoft word spacing/html conversion issues. Especially troublesome were the fact that hard carriage returns for a new paragraph in word were lost in the html to mobi.pocket translation causing there to be no spacing between paragraphs.
    • The spacing between paragraphs issue was fixed by going to the Page Layout/Spacing/tab in word and setting the spacing before and after each paragraph.
    • Do not use the latest version of word. We had other formatting problems that did not resolve until I went from .docx to .doc file. Kindle’s guidance says you may have problems with .docx; first thing to do is save your word file to an older version of word.
    • Note that you have to use very basic formatting in Kindle; no bullets, special symbols and the like. You have to use indentation, capitalization and italics to highlight points so this means you need to pay attention to the Style used in word. We used Style/Simple though I am sure there are better ones. Because the document was written initially in chapter-specific word files that had different styles, this took some time. I would get the book into one word file sooner rather than later.
    • A quick look into the formatting of tables in Kindle made me decide to have none in the book, and instead to have a web page with supplementary materials. Stephen Cohen and Brad Delong did this (no references or tables in book; all on a website) even with a hard cover  book The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money (New York: Basic Books: 9780465018765). This also gives me the flexibility to respond to comments/concerns about the book with more supplementary materials.
    • There are companies that specialize in conversion of books to Kindle that are listed in the Kindle Direct publishing materials and I talked with a few of them via email. I would not personally try to do a direct to Kindle book with tables and figures without hiring someone.
    • Bottom line: use older version of word, put the entire book into one file with consistent formatting, and do not depend upon hard carriage returns to set spacing between paragraphs and you can go from clean word file to Kindle book in less than a week, easily.
    • As of 11:20 am on August 23, 2011, the book is #1 in the Kindle e book store for nonfiction books focused on Social Security and #2 for those focused on Health Policy.  It is #10,499 in the Kindle store overall….so don’t get too excited; it has sold 33 units, which I assume means copies. So, I am encouraged but not quitting my job.
    • My colleague Khuwailah Beyah helped me greatly with this conversion, including usefully telling me to “shut up and go back to your office and stop worrying” a few times.
    • Hey Don,
      Did you try using Latex at all for the publishing it might be easier instead of word.

      • @Jonathan
        I did not. have you done this?

        • No I have not but a quick google search yielded me this link with a template:

          • Hey there. That is a link to my blog.

            I have used that template for a number of books. Especially a number of books I only had in plain-text files or docs. Books that authors make available for free for instance. While it is convenient to use latex, I also found it relatively easy to generate my own MOBI books through Calibre (free software).

    • Don,
      I have read a few chapters, and its very good stuff. I look forward to reading it in its published, unified form.

      You mentioned something above that resonated. I am late to the party with this read, but just finished Tipping Point last weekend. When you wrote:

      “tweeted some about the book during the first week, but began to market the book on August 22, 2011 when I sent emails to approximately 100 persons who I thought would be interested: academics, persons working for think tanks, a few politicians, journalists, my Father, other bloggers, etc.”

      Not only is self-publishing a new venture, but how you get the word out, by whom, and through what platform is also worthy of consideration. Are we saturated and immune (“uh-oh, another e-book on auto pilot vs “less eyes, more focused channels”).

      Keep blogging this. New world.


    • I would encourage you to try the Calibre program (free), by Koyid Goyal, at http://calibre-ebook.com/

      This can convert from many formats into many others, including into mobi.pocket. You have a great deal of control over the details of the conversion.

      Mr. Goyal makes two suggestions in dealing with Word files. First, if you convert to HTML using Word, he recommends using the “Save as Web Page, Filtered” option to get cleaner HTML. He also suggests opening the .docx or .doc file in the Open Office wordprocessing program. You can then save it in the native Open Office .odt format, which can be directly converted by Calibre. Open Office is available at http://www.openoffice.org.

      There is a Word macro package that can automate the conversion of Word documents using Calibre. It supposedly also makes generating the Table of Contents much simpler. It is called BookCreator and is available for free at http://www.mobileread.com. I haven’t tried this, but Mr. Goyal suggests it.

    • Sorry, a mis-spelling. It is Kovid Goyal.

    • @David
      these are great suggestions. I confirm that there is a difference when saving to html with and without the “filtered” extension.

      @Brad F
      your questions are good ones. How do we get through the noise to something worth spending time reading/considering? Everyone of course assumes their stuff is the nugget of gold and not the noise. At every step of the way in doing the self publish thing I have realize anew that I don’t know how to do many of these things (technical, marketing,etc.). If you are a publisher reading this and you want to help me let me know! ha….

    • If you’d be willing (or able) to tell us, how much to you receive for each unit sold? I imagine this compares very favorably to traditional publishing on a per-unit basis.

      • Actually, had a chance to look around on the Direct-to-Kindle site… royalty structure seems very straight-forward and easy. Very nice.

    • I formatted my own book for the Kindle (Imaginary Games, if you’re interested), and did it the way you describe above. The process got easier as I went along, but at first I was pulling my hair trying to figure it out. Now I’m formatting a well-known literary journal for the Kindle, and discovered that InDesign has a plug-in that allows you to export InDesign documents directly to .mobi files with just the press of a button. It also allows you to add a cover and create a table of contents. The InDesign way is MUCH easier than the Word/HTML way, although tables and the like are still a challenge. I am doing pictures, though, with relatively little trouble. I didn’t try pictures when I used Word/HTML, so I can’t speak to how hard or easy they are to do when going that route.

      Of course, using InDesign to publish to Kindle means you have to transfer your text into InDesign (and format it again) before exporting to .mobi. Something to keep in mind, although I still think InDesign is much easier than Word/HTML, even with this extra step. It’s a little more time-consuming (although not much), but much less frustrating.

    • @Jason
      I would not be surprised if others had an easier time with formatting, etc. than I did knowing myself! Thanks for the lead on InDesign

      70%. They have a 30% and a 70% option and it depends upon the price of the book that you set

    • I’m in the process of finishing a niche novel for Kindle publishing, and I cannot recommend the application Scrivener enough. It’ s a powerful writing tool for both fiction and non-fiction documents, and it can publish a mobi file book directly. I’ve been able to preview it and give our draft copies to friends with Kindles as well.

      It’s available for Windows and Mac. I just love the program, I don’t have anything else to do with it.


    • @Mr. Nosuch
      interesting. I had no idea there were so many options. Key for me is whether it allows figures/tables much easier….I will look into it. thx

    • Latex makes more professional tables in general. I’m not sure they are exportable for kindle in general. But the important thing is that it allows you to make the tables directly from STATA, SAS, etc.

      • @Jonathan
        thanks….sounds like my approach too flat earth. Not sure if I will do another addition or not with tables…depends on how this one goes.

    • I recently published a book on Kindle. “Packaging Matters: John Henry on Packaging, Machinery, Troubleshooting”

      It is a collection of 10 years of articles and columns that I wrote for Food & Beverage Packaging mag.

      Once I got them all collected, which took a week or 2, publishing to Kindle could not have been easier. One mistake was including page numbering in the Table of contents. They don’t mean anything anyway in a Kindle book and they screwed up the formatting of the TOC.

      If you like Kindle, you should also look at Amazon’s Print on Demand service at Create Space. Formatting was a bit trickier and I had to learn some details about Word before I got it the way I wanted. Nothing hard, just a bit time consuming. The final book is about 145 pages.

      It is available at Amazon or can be purchased direct from Create Space. They let me give out a discount code so if ordered through a link at my website http://www.changeover.com, you can get a 15% off.

      Once submitted, I had to purchase a proof copy for approval. That cost less than $5 and was my total out of pocket cost.

      The book came out very nice, like a good quality trade paperback.

      Shipping is fast. I ordered 25 copies to give to some folks who had helped me with my writing over the years and to clients. I ordered them on Tuesday, regular shipping, and they were delivered to my PO Box on the following Saturday.

      As the author, I can buy unlimited copies at about $4.75 each.

      Hard to imagine a better deal.

      John Henry

    • Nice post. I agree that ePublishing is WAY more timely. The loss of editorial/review from an academic press can hurt, but sometimes they are useless. Marketing, as always, requires energy and imagination.

      I’ve got 3 versions of my book (paper, kindle, PDF) and think that Kindle is the *worst* for non-fiction. That said, you gotta give people what they want.

      Protip: download your book and “read” it using Kindle’s desktop reader.

    • Dear Don,

      I wonder how you get in touch with this specific niche, your refer to. This is broadly speaking similar to mine regarding my book P&C. Do these reading community members have a Kindle or divert their attention to a wider range of relevant aids or input? From my experience in the service (I had among my departmental exams Financial Instructionsand Store Regulations) I understand that a good deal of administrative cost is rolled to the beneficiaries of a particular service. In such cases, I think. it is proper to satisfy the need under consideration before spending on other issues. I believe the input of rolled cost is a serious indicator and should not be ignored. If you like to have a look at my P&C, the ASIN is B006RFLFR4