Workflow for self-publishing on Amazon’s kindle platform

This blog has been a tad neglected as my spare time has been eaten up by completing a short story I wanted to put out on the Kindle. In this post, I want to reflect on

a. The importance of self-publishing platforms in the realm of creativity
b. My own experiences with working with the Kindle platform

Before we get into it, here is the title in question.

If you decide to read it, thank you. In itself the story is about my main passion – the power of creativity in every individual. Here is the synopsis:

One Tuesday evening, 143 people find themselves on board a subway train from East Tsim Sha Tsui Station to Central Station on Hong Kong Island. As the train hurtles through the tunnel, a freak power surge causes the lights in the train to flicker in a bizarre, random sequence, inducing epileptic seizures in all 143 passengers. When they wake up, they have all been transformed.

I planned the draft in Literature and Latte’s Scrivener. For long form text, Scrivener is unbeatable. You can divide text up into several layers of nesting and easily move concepts, chapters and sections around. Version control on different sections is also a breeze.

Once I had the basic structure on the cork board, I used iA Writer to write the raw text for the different sections. In this phase of writing, I write really fast, without thinking too much. I just want to get the ideas on the page as quickly as possible. And really, for distraction free writing and simplicity – nothing beats this beautifully designed piece of software. It works on the iPad and on the Mac too and unlike Apple’s own iWork packages, allows you to switch effortlessly from device to device on the same document. Whilst in this phase, I was switching between a MacBook Air (trains, planes and coffee shops), an iMac (at home) and an iPad (bouts of insomnia).

Each time I finished a section, I pulled the text back into Scrivener to populate the cork board.

Once I had a workable draft, I uploaded a version on Google Docs where I had some very good friends helping me with proofing and suggested edits. About five eagle-eyed (I hope!) readers commented and often debated merits of lines of copy in the manuscript. Google Docs’ commenting feature really is amazing for this type of application.

I went through two rounds of crowd sourced proofing. After the first round, I simply pulled the edited Google Doc back into Scrivener and rebuilt a brand new draft with the new copy. With Scrivener’s split pane function, this was pretty easy and really useful to compare versions. In each instance, I backed up .rtf copies of the manuscript in a special folder within the Scrivener project.

Once I had the manuscript done, we got to the hard part. Preparing the text for Kindle.

The way it works is not exactly consumer friendly. Kinde relies heavily on html formatting, so if you are comfortable with markup language you could probably prepare the book file yourself.

To understand how that works, and for deciding on what to include in this length of manuscript, I looked to screen writer John August’s posts on the matter. His post on publishing The Variant was pretty useful.

I decided I wanted a heavily stripped down book file. No table of contents needed (10’000 words only) and no images.

Scrivener itself offers a conversion to the kindle .mobi book file format using the Amazon command line editor (which you have to download – for free – from the Amazon site and then simply tell Scrivener where it is on your drive). In any event, this tutorial was incredibly useful.

I experimented with a few different compilation settings and eventually got to something that seems close to what I wanted.

The actual upload and publishing process could not be simpler. If you already have an Amazon account, you can easily sign up for the KDP programme and get your work out there.

And this is where I get to reflect on the power of this type of platform. In the pre-internet age of publishing, it was pot-luck to publish and achieve success with your work. Now, it will be the power of the market to decide what works and what doesn’t. No talent now needs to remain undiscovered. The only thing you need to have your ideas out there, is an internet connection.

As an experiment, I will also make the story available on Apple’s iBooks store in the coming days. Having just begun to convert the text using the new iBook Author, the differences are already apparent. Apple’s made a very consumer friendly product. What you see is what you get. No weird formats or surprises when you compile.

(If you don’t have access to the Kindle and you’d like to read the story, contact me and I can make an epub version available to you.)

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12 comments
  1. Jaye said:

    Most interesting article. I just recently started using Scrivener, so am learning the ropes, tricks and fun stuff. I also recently discovered Google docs is a handy tool (I edit as a sideline and am very old school–time to quit demanding paper copies). I’m bookmarking this post as a reference (Hey! I can insert it into my Scrivener file!).

    Thanks for the share.

    • Scrivener is amazing. In some way I wish I could launch iA Writer inside Scrivener as the full screen editor because the actual experience of writing on iA Writer is so good – for example focus mode. But Scrivener, as a tool for organising your thoughts, tracking versions, making edits – its unbeatable.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jaye.

  2. Catana said:

    I found this very interesting, but it leaves me with a few questions. I looked at iAWriter and, aside from being able to easily use it on different machines (a feature I don’t need), what advantages does it have over doing the raw writing directly in Scrivener? If I don’t want to be distracted, I just go to Compose mode.

    I put a book on Kindle recently, and after reading all that I had to do to get a mobi conversion from Scrivener, I dumped the book into Open Office, saved it as a doc file and voila, it went to KDP without a hitch. The Mac help files on Amazon make it clear that either method is acceptable, and the doc file seems to be the easiest. As much as I love Scrivener, and I’ve been using it for over two years, I found the compilation process anything but simple.

    Not strictly on topic–looking at iAWriter reminded me that the migration of Mac apps to the App Store has meant that fewer apps now allow trial downloads. I’ve been disappointed so often by glowing descriptions of apps that I’ve become reluctant to buy anything I can’t try out first.

    • Scrivener’s full-screen compose mode is probably sufficient. The difference with iA Writer is that it is the closest you can get to the feeling of writing on a typewriter for two simple reasons.

      1. The words look beautiful. They have taken real care in the way your type appears on the screen.

      2. It has a focus mode which places the cursor in the middle of the screen all the time and only highlights the sentence you are writing. Every other sentence “fades” a bit into the background.

      As for Scrivener’s compile function to mobi … yes, it does unexpected things, but with a little experimentation you can have a lot of control over the type versus just sticking in a raw word processor file. For example, I wanted line padding above each new section and with Scrivener’s compile setting I could control exactly how many lines to have there.

      • Catana said:

        :-) You gave me the perfect reason for not wanting to go any further in exploring iAWriter. The further I can get away from the feeling of writing on a typewriter, the better. Scrivener has a similar mode that keeps the cursor in the middle. Tried it and hated it. But I always appreciate the opportunity to take a look at writing software. Thanks.

        I do intend to try Scrivener’s mobi conversion when I’m not in a frazzled rush to get another story out.

  3. scotslawstudent said:

    My Scrivener workflow also involves occasionally compiling drafts as Kindle files and then using the Kindle as a second medium (I tend to write my work directly in Scrivener) for personal proof reading. I find it avoids a good amount of printing out draft chapters.

    I think the Kindle support is one of the handiest features of Scrivener.

    • Well, if you use a Mac, I don’t see anything other than Scrivener that gives you the same feature of controlling your output to kindle – even if it is not perfect …

  4. charles said:

    We just published a coffee table book ,titled Transformation through the eye of a camera.Launched date 1May2012.Museum Africa.Newtown Johannesburg.South Africa.

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