There’s a rumor going around that you can get rich by self-publishing ebooks, so I decided to finally throw my hat in the ring and follow my own advice, putting together a manuscript of favorite poems and essays, and as much as possible, going the DIY route.
Inspired more by friends like Chuck Wendig, Will Hindmarch and Jane Friedman than Joe Konrath, et al, and emboldened by everything I learned from working with Joshua Tallent while running Digital Book World, my goal for the project was two-fold: do enough of it myself to have hands-on experience of what it takes, what’s “easy” and what isn’t; and to get the monkey of finally publishing this particular book off my back!
And thus, Handmade Memories was born!
I started earlier in the week with the realization that I didn’t have access to many of the poems I wanted to include because of a hard drive crash last Fall, but was fortunately able to get the document I sent to Poetry Speaks back in 2009 when I set up some of my poems there. For the poems that weren’t there, I had to pull out a copy of Burning Down the House and retype (and lightly edit) them, which I did on Friday night. I also wanted to include a couple of relevant blog posts as essays, one from loudpoet.com and one from my other new initiative, freeversemedia.com (more on that soon), and those were easy enough to cut and paste into the document.
I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the manuscript to flow; the order of the poems, where the essays fit, and the story that would unfold if you read them in order. I was partly inspired by Charles Bukowski’s Run With the Hunted, which is arranged chronologically, by the periods of his life as opposed to the publication dates. While not overtly noted, Handmade Memories is broken down into three sections:
- Autobiography: From “Handmade Memories” through “Old New York Love Story,” I basically tell the story of how I became a writer, from growing up in the Bronx, to serving in the Army, to ultimately finding (and accepting) my place in the world.
- Odes: “Daughter of the Revolution,” “latter-day saints,” “Party Like A Rock Star,” and “Crazy White Devil” are all honoring specific people who had a profound experience on me.
- Evolution: The two essays, and the poems they bookend, illustrate the influence the poetry slam had on me as a writer and community organizer, connecting the dots from the first time I got on stage at the Nuyorican Poets Café to the launch of Free Verse Media. “I Am – Cryptogram” is actually the little known poem that led to my being banned from the Nuyorican for a couple of years.
I purposefully left out any acknowledgement or explanation of the underlying story being told, curious to see whether any readers actually pick up on it, and if/when I decide to publish a print version, I’ll probably include some “director’s commentary” that explores it all a bit deeper.
Rule #1 of self-published ebooks, possibly even more important than writing a good book: have a good cover!
Nothing screams amateur more than an ugly cover, and I knew what I wanted mine to look like, using a picture my wife had taken a couple of years ago of our daughter’s hands while she was playing with a pile of pebbles. I actually used the picture here on the blog once to illustrate a poem I’d written about her during NaPoWriMo, back in 2009.
I wanted the picture to dominate the cover, and I wanted the title to reflect the whole idea of DIY/handmade, thus the Stencil font, recalling my old days of publishing zines. I created the image using Paint.net, and while the result isn’t quite “professional,” I think it came out pretty well.
THE KINDLE FORMAT
I decided to start with the Kindle format for two reasons: Amazon is currently where the majority of the ebook audience is, and creating in the Kindle format is easier than ePUB.
On Friday night, giddy over putting the manuscript together, I bought Joshua Tallent’s book, Kindle Formatting: The Complete Guide, because I’d worked with him before and he’d proven often that he knows his stuff. I bought the Kindle version and kept it open in Kindle for PC while I set about formatting my manuscript in Microsoft Word according to his directions. First, I stripped all formatting from the document, and then reformatted it from scratch so the file was as clean as possible. I created the Table of Contents, wrote the introduction right into the document, and then downloaded Mobipocket Creator Home Edition to create the Mobi file.
The only place I ever got stuck was on creating the TOC.NCX file, and I suspect that might be because I should have downloaded the Publisher Edition of Mobipocket. Testing the file on my Kindle 3, Kindle for iPod Touch app, and even my wife’s Kindle 1 showed the plain TOC works, though, as it’s the “Beginning” of the book, so I left it alone.
SIDE NOTE: There’s been a lot of debate over poetry’s viability in ebook form, thanks to reflowable text corrupting line breaks and, in many cases, skewing the reading of a poem. Some of my prosier poems run into this problem, especially on the iPod Touch’s small screen, but being able to flip to landscape mode addresses most of those issues. I plan to write about this specifically in the near future, but briefly, my take is that poets (and publishers) intent on forcing legacy forms into ebooks are missing the bigger opportunities digital offers, but that said, the limitations of ebooks are no reason to avoid them. The potential to reach new readers is far too great to pass up.
With everything pretty much in order, I logged into Kindle Direct Publishing at about 1:30am, submitted the file, and by yesterday afternoon, it was live on Amazon.com and available for sale!
Oddly, I never received any kind of confirmation from Amazon that the file had been processed and was live, and on the backend, ~30 hours later, it’s still not letting me access the “Actions” function so I can submit an updated file (I left my wife’s middle/maiden name out of her photo credit!) and edit some of the book’s promotional info. I can see the sales reports, though, and as of 11:30am today, I’ve sold three copies, one of which I bought!
Look out Amanda Hocking!
The ebook is also now appearing on my Amazon author page, and I was able to access it via Author Central, too.
I’m currently working on the ePUB version so I can make it available via B&N and Goodreads, but have run into some challenges with creating/converting the file. In Part II, I’ll go through that process, and perhaps have a positive sales update from Amazon as, with the exception of a few tweets yesterday, this is the first official announcement of Handmade Memories‘ existence!
If you’re a Kindle user, go buy it now!
If you’re not an Amazon customer,
stay tuned for availability in other formats/sales channels.
If you’re a reviewer, and you’d like a review copy in PDF format, drop me an email request and I’ll send it to you.
And, of course, if you’ve read it, let me know what you think!