by Hugh Gilmore

Once I learned that Amazon Books sold more e-books than print books, I wondered if I might benefit from their new way of buying and selling books. After all, Amazon is the largest American bookseller and I am the smallest.

Disclosure: Actually, I’m probably tied for “smallest,” with at least a few hundred thousand other hopefuls who have written books but been unable to find a print publisher. I have written three novels, a memoir and several hundred columns that I always intended to gather into a book or two.

We unpublished souls grew up in a writing and reading culture that valued, above all else, the status achieved by writing a book and having it published by a New York publishing house, such as Scribner’s. The publisher would then make sure our books appeared on the shelves of Borders, Barnes & Noble, Brentano’s and their like.

The ultimate dream: walking into such a bookstore, seeing multiple copies of your title, neatly arrayed, ready for the living rooms and personal libraries of America. Oh, I used to fantasize, would I ever be able to restrain myself if I actually saw someone browsing my novel? I know I’d want to walk up, tip my cap, remove my pipe from my lip, smile and hold the dust jacket photo next to my face. See anyone familiar?

“Yes! Can it be, are you actually he? The man who has …”

Failed to find an agent? Yes. Also failed to find an editor? And a publisher? A man who has failed to get half his queries answered? Yes, madam. Yes, sir. I am he who keeps three novels, a memoir and several hundred columns in his desk drawer.

The bookstore dream of accosting my potential reader bursts quicker than a soapy bubble. The simple fact remains that there are far too many people writing books, far too few people reading books, and an intense, insane, ungodly war going on between authors looking for agents and agents looking for authors. The authors go down to the docks waiting for their ships to come in, while the agents gather at airport terminals, looking for writers.

Despite this, the occasional collision occurs and an audition happens. Da-da-da-dah, ta da!: “Give me the sentence that summarizes your novel, and I’ll tell you if I want to read more.” Kaboom.

“Don’t let the swinging door hit you … ”

But now, so they say, a new day is here. A whole new set of rules governs the old game. At least once a day I read an Internet article, or receive an e-mail from the Publishers Lunch website I subscribe to, telling me it is possible to bypass the traditional process of agent-editor-publisher-sales staff-marketing team-distributor-book store manager and bookshop cat.

Bypass that insufferable chain in favor of offering your book for sale by Amazon, either as a self-published print book, a print-on-demand book, or as an electronic book. And, if you like, you may list your book as a purchasable download to Amazon’s Kindle electronic reading device. All this, and a 70 percent royalty rate to the author.

That’s what I’ve decided to do. I’ve chosen my most recently finished novel, “Malcolm’s Wine,” to test fly with Amazon’s system. Supposedly, if one knows what he’s doing, and has all his information handy, he can go from unpublished to being on Kindle in about eight or nine minutes. I found the speed a bit frightening, unsettling as my first experiences with air travel: one minute I was in Philadelphia, and then, a sneeze and a sandwich later, I was breathing Denver air, and seeing mountains and people in cowboy hats. It was like the after effects of accidentally saying “Shazam.”

But so what? Success is not for the faint of heart.

Okay. Step one: Google “How do I get my book on Kindle?”

You’ll see more than a hundred responses. I found one offered by quite helpful. But the most helpful of all, (duh!) is the one offered by Amazon. Go to their Home page. Scroll to the bottom, to “Make Money with Us.”

Scroll down their list to “Self-publish with us.” Click. That takes you to the page where all the details are laid out. And laid out fairly clearly.

Read through the entire process, ready to print out sections you’re not sure about, or directions that need to be followed before you try actually downloading your book. You’ll find that, in addition to the text itself, chapter titles, index – if relevant – dedication, acknowledgements and so on, you’ll also need a little preview that makes people want to buy your book. This “blurb would function the way a dust jacket flap does: describe the plot, characters and flavor of the book and make people want to read it.

You’ll also need to go through a set of instructional steps because they contain legal language. The purpose is very simple: Would you like to download your file to Kindle and thereby offer your book for sale? But actually you’ll be signing a legal contract. Not to worry though, if you’re an unknown there’s nothing for you to negotiate. Take it, or leave it. But it is a contract.

Once you’re satisfied that you’d like to move forward, you’ll run into the next obstacle. If you’re computer smart you just keep going without breaking stride. If you’re not, you’re going to need a fair amount of head scratching time, or ask for help. The big task is: formatting the text for Kindle. In my case, I write with Microsoft Word for Mac 2008, version 12.2.5. The file that contains “Malcolm’s Wine” is in that format – a doc. file on my computer.

Kindle will accept a doc. file, but requires a few modifications to the way one normally lays out text. The steps needed to do this are offered in clear fashion and don’t seem beyond my capacity. They do seem time-consuming though.

So, forget that “eight minutes” claim.

I’ll not say more at this point, other than to mention that the entire “Kindle direct publishing” page feels friendly and welcoming, and offers step-by-step directions for every phase of the rags to riches dream. Sections include

“”Getting Started,” “Prepare Your Book,” “Publish Your Book,” “Merchandising Your Book,” “Managing Your Sales,” “Frequently Asked Questions,” “Legal” and a guide to “Amazon Programs.”

My publishing goals for this week are: (1) Write my ‘blurb to the reader,’ (2) Write my acknowledgments to those who helped me rewrite the book, (3) Reformat my novel so that it is ready to send, and, finally, (4) send it to Kindle. I hope “Malcolm’s Wine” will be on Kindle this time next week.

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