After I published The Crossover earlier this week, a few people asked how hard it was to get it out on Amazon. The short answer: extremely easy. But to elucidate a bit further for anyone thinking about putting out their own e-book, I’ve broken the process that led to The Crossover down to seven simple steps. Hope this helps.
1. Get an Idea
OK, this is obvious, but the starting point has to be an idea that works as an e-book. The Crossover began in February when I was approached by King Kaufman, an editor for BleacherReport.com. King told me that the site wanted to start running work by guest columnists and asked if I was interested in being one of the first. I was. I just needed to come up with something I wanted to write about.
After giving it some thought, I realized that one really fascinating tangent of the research I did for The Hustle was into the history of basketball, specifically in how it came to be considered a “black” sport. I’d spent hours upon hours researching basketball history, but had hardly used any of it in the book. So I pitched King the idea of doing a chronological, eight-part series on basketball and race, moving from the game’s origins in the 1890s to the present day. King was into it and we were under way.
Again, somewhat obvious, but overlooked by too many people in their rush to put out a book. I was lucky to have a weekly deadline that pushed me to get the columns done. As with all writing worth the effort, each essay ended up consuming a lot of time. For research, I relied on the stacks at the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th Ave. and 42nd Street, which contain an amazing collection of memoirs and historical works. It was important to have King on hand to edit and help shape them. Bleacher Report readers also helped with encouragement during the process and caught a few errors as well. Writing a book in public was actually a pretty cool process – a lot more fun than sitting in a cubicle month after month with absolutely no feedback besides the crazy voice inside your head.
3. Thinking about a book
The series was eight essays and a separate interview with Earl Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA. During the process of writing, I got the idea that it all could add up to a short book. After I finished the series, I took a break from it for a few weeks and then went back to read it again. I liked the pieces and thought they were worth reworking and packaging together as a book, not in the least because it would be nice to have them all in one place instead of as disparate articles spread across the net.
Given that no publishing house was going to put out a 20,000-word collection of short essays on the history of basketball and race, I was pretty much left the obvious option of self-publishing on Amazon.
The original articles needed some smoothing over as well some transitions. Also, I’d ended the series with Michael Jordan, so I added a new chapter on LeBron James to take us fully into the present. My wife, Tracey, as always, read and commented on the pieces and copyedited them.
5. Loading It
Amazon lets writers self-publish through its Kindle Direct Publishing program. There was a learning curve, but overall it’s laughably simple.
Basically, when you’re done with your book, you’ll have a manuscript, probably in MS Word. To get it ready for Amazon, you take that and save it as an HTML file. Go through that file and make sure nothing got hinky in the conversion process.
You’ll also need a cover, ideally something that looks decent. I downloaded a photo with unreserved rights from Getty Images. It cost $35. I loaded it into Photoshop, messed around with the contrast, levels and sharpness, and then put text over it. A little tweaking and voila, it was done.
When you’ve got your HTML file and your cover, you need to download Mobipocket Creator, which converts everything to Kindle format. The software is super easy – you just load your files in. I also went through my manuscript and tagged every chapter title as “Heading 3.” In the “Table of Contents” section of the Mobi software, I inserted “H3” into the “First Level” tag section. The program then automatically created a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Sorry if this makes little sense, but if you get to this point, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
With that stuff done, you simply click “Build” and the program turns it all into a .prc file, which is the Kindle format. From there, you download a copy of the Kindle Previewer and use it to view your handiwork. If anything is messed up, go back to the HTML file, fix it, and rebuild the project in the Mobi software.
At some point, you’ll have a file you’re happy with. From there, just go to Kindle Direct Publishing, load everything in, and add the description of your book that people will see on its Amazon page.
I priced my book at $2.99, solely because at that price point and above Amazon pays a 70 percent royalty. Price it below $2.99 and the royalty is only 35 percent. I have no idea why they do this, but the substantial difference made me opt for $2.99. I figure it’s not outrageous, and if you did the work, you might as well make a few bucks from it. It’s not like I’m taking baths in $100 bills and Courvoisier XO over here.
Once you tell Amazon how you want to be paid – via check or bank transfer – and give them your tax information, that’s about it. I clicked the publish button and my book was up the next day.
Of course it’s just one of God knows how many out there on Amazon. I also sent an e-mail to Kindle Singles – firstname.lastname@example.org – and asked that it be considered for that program, for which Amazon highlights e-books they deem worthy on a special page. A few hours after I sent the e-mail, I received a form reply from an Amazon “associate” in India who said they will look at it within one to two weeks. If it’s chosen, I’ll get an e-mail; if not, I’ll hear nothing. Worth a try.
Obviously, if no one hears about your book, no one will read it. The Internet is overflowing with advice for writers on marketing their work. I see this particular book as a complement to The Hustle, which required years of effort and hair-pulling. If people with an interest in basketball history find and enjoy The Crossover, I’m happy. I really don’t want to kill myself promoting it. So I took a few simple, low-stress steps: I set up a page on my website; contacted a few basketball bloggers with whom I’ve corresponded and admire and asked for blurbs; and put out a notice on my Facebook page, just to let people know it was out there. I’m hoping that much of the rest can be done through the magic of the Amazon search engine, and that maybe it will find life somewhere out on the far reaches of the long tail. But who knows?
I was shocked to see that on the third day out the book had climbed into the Amazon Top 30,000 Kindle books and the Top 10 Non-fiction Basketball Kindle Books, right up there with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s memoirs. I have no idea who bought it, but thank you, whoever you are.
Overall, I just hope that whoever reads the book enjoys it. I figure it’s a lot less work to get through than The Hustle, which was 300 pages, so maybe some people who would shy away from reading that will give The Crossover a go. The best marketing long-term has to be putting out quality books that people like reading.
That’s about it. The next step is to get the book on some more platforms, such as the Apple Store, Borders, and Barnes & Noble. It looks like the way to go for those is to use Smashwords, which publishes e-books and disseminates them across platforms in exchange for a cut. I’m planning on figuring it out this weekend, so if anything interesting comes out of that, I’ll blog further.
My final thought at the moment is that it requires a substantial time commitment to write and prepare your own material for publishing, but it seems like a promising route to get out a specific type of writing that doesn’t quite work as a magazine article or a full-length book. If it helps writers reach new readers and maybe make a few bucks, it seems like a good thing.