Last month I announced my new
obsession project: Literary Kicks will be publishing one e-book a month for the next year. The new book is now out! It’s a literary book about poker, and it’s called The Cards I’m Playing: Poker and Postmodern Literature.
I’m going to write about the book tomorrow, but today I want to share some lessons I’ve learned during my quick education as an e-book publisher. Part of the fun of e-book publishing in 2011 is a sense of community, innovation and adventure, and I hope the points below will help others who are launching their own e-book ventures.
1. Cover Art: I began this project with one absolute principle: any e-book published by Literary Kicks is going to look good. I don’t understand why other e-book publishers put out such shabby-looking product. For the cover of The Cards I’m Playing, I’m proud to present a design by Vince Larue, an up-and-coming graphic artist from France. Working with Vince was a pleasure: I told him what I wanted, he sent a couple of quick sketches, and within 36 hours I had the final draft that you see on this page. I love this cover — merci beaucoup Vince!
2. Manuscript Preparation: Formatting an e-book manuscript is a bitch. If you buy a copy of The Cards I’m Playing (and I hope you will, it’s an awesome book!) you may notice the version number 1.05 on the title page. Why would I go through 5 versions before the book was published for the first time? Because formatting an e-book manuscript is a bitch. This is because you have to integrate with your …
3. Publishing Services: To produce an e-book, you must choose one or more publishing services, and pray for a minimum of technical hassle. E-book publishing is a fast-changing field, but right now there are two essential services you can use to cover the main bases: Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (for the Kindle version, and for that all-important Amazon page) and Smashwords (for ePub and every other format, including versions for iPad, iPhone, Android, Kobo, Nook, etc.). If you have the time to spend (and, honestly, I don’t) you may also want to bypass Smashwords for some formats and publish directly with various services like Nook and Apple. I plan to reach more platforms directly in the future, but if you’re just starting out in the e-book business (as I am) you may want to avoid wasting too much time conforming to a tangle of different platforms.
Both KDP and Smashwords accept documents in Microsoft .doc format, and my goal (though I have not yet reached this goal) is to be able to prepare a single .doc version that will successfully publish on both platforms.
Kindle Direct Publishing is excellent, fast, efficient and easy to use. I had plenty of problems working with it, but the problems were usually my fault, not the platform’s. Smashwords has a harder job to do than KDP, because it produces output in multiple formats and therefore imposes more rules and conditions. Unfortunately, at this moment I still do not have Smashwords versions I’m completely happy with for either my first e-book Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters) or the new one. I am working hard on this, and will let you know when I’ve got the results I want. Both of my e-books are for sale on my Smashwords page, and I think they’re about 95% ready for prime-time at this moment. But I’m not going to push my Smashwords versions until I’m 100% happy with the formatting, and I’m not quite there yet.
4. Finding Readers: This should be the biggest question of all: how will you get people to buy your books? If you don’t have a good answer to this question, e-book publishing is probably not a good use of your time. When I began this project I pledged to focus my efforts completely on sales success. I’m not going to pat myself on the back because my Amazon page looks pretty. I love what I do, but this ain’t no labor of love. My only goal here is to sell books (and, I’m happy to say, my first e-book is performing well, and remains in the top 100 in Amazon’s Politics/Ideologies bestseller list today, more than a month after publication).
My strategy with Literary Kicks Publishing in 2011 has been to turn the big question 180 degrees. Instead of asking “how will I get people to buy my books?”, I ask “what books am I interested in writing that people will want to buy?” Fortunately, I have a laboratory to work with: my blog covers a wide range of popular topics, and I can tell by looking at my traffic reports which topics are hottest.
I was very passionate about a series of articles I wrote debunking Ayn Rand’s ethical philosophy earlier this year, but it was not my passion but rather the fact that readers seemed to respond so quickly to these articles that inspired me to publish the first e-book in the series. Poker is another natural choice, since readers have always liked my articles about my favorite game, and I think the topic of Texas Hold ‘Em brings out the best in me as a writer.
I hope The Cards I’m Playing will appeal to anyone interested in either the psychology and strategy of the game or in the playful, sneaky aspect of creative writing. This book is about the zone of life where the two meet (this is the zone where you can always find me).
I’ll be posting again here with a more substantial focus on the book itself tomorrow. Then I’ll be off to spend several days this week at BookExpo 2011 … where you better believe I’ll be paying extra-close attention to e-book buzz.