Q&A: Pete Smith, author of 'Project Management: All You Need Is Love', on self publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing

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pete-smith.jpgTech Digest eBook Self Publishing Season – Pete Smith Q&A

Pete Smith, native of Brixton in South London, worked for nearly ten years with charity Save The Children. His book ‘Project Management: All You Need Is Love‘ details that period of his life and his time in the commercial world as a Project Manager, describing his travels around everywhere from Peru to Angola, from Ethiopia to Vietnam. Pete shares his experiences self publishing the book through the Kindle Direct Publishing platform in this Q&A.

What originally drew you towards the self-publishing route and have you any experience with major print publishers before finding success through Kindle?

My book Project Management: All You Need Is Love wasn’t finding a road to publication within the traditional industry, despite considerable help from The Literary Consultancy, who opened the ‘magic door’ into the literary agent world for me so that my book wasn’t gathering dust on the slush pile. The reason given for rejection was always the same, not ‘Your book isn’t good enough’ which any writer has to be prepared to deal with, but ‘Your book doesn’t fit’.

‘Doesn’t fit to what?’ I screamed a few dozen times. Preconceived ideas of what a book should be; this book is a memoir, that book is a business book; this book is filed under humour. I had written a book that was a little of all those things and it was being refused publication because it didn’t fit a straightjacket. Self-publishing was the best way forward.

What do you consider the main benefit of Kindle Direct Publishing?

It enables you to publish, it is technical ridiculously easy, and the basic royalty split is much more reasonable that in the traditional world.

Are there any limitations to Kindle Direct Publishing and How would you like to see the Kindle Direct Publishing process improve or evolve in the future?

In terms of getting a traditional text based book or novel published, I’d say there are no obvious limitations. But going forward I do think technology will change the reading experience.

Short term we could see a lot more use of hyperlinks as ‘better than footnotes’, but in the near future I think the obvious area for development will be Voice. Perhaps a mixture of reading and listening that you, the reader, controlled. Perhaps dialogue in a voice/accent suggested by the author that you could override. Somehow you need to retain or ideally expand the balance between the author’s imagination and the reader’s interpretation.

Further ahead, more of a multi-media experience. So if you’re describing something in an African rainforest, let’s see one with just a flick of the hand. And not just a still picture.

What challenges face those looking to self-publish their first eBook?

There are two primary differences. Firstly you are responsible for the production process. The technical side of that is extremely straightforward with Kindle Direct Publishing, but you have to get the cover design right, and you have to get the content to a professional level of proofing. That is a genuine challenge without throwing money at it.

Secondly you are responsible for marketing. Perhaps this area isn’t quite as different as in the traditional model where you still would have to do much of it yourself anyway. But just putting your book on Kindle Direct Publishing will sell zero copies. Social media, email, web sites, blogs, talk-radio, trade press, book reviewers…you have to do it all yourself and it takes time. Everything works but has tiny results; but you try to get all the tiny results to add up and hope that the trickle develops.

Can a successful author make a living solely through Kindle self-publishing?

Well there are some who are, so the obvious answer is yes, although they are a tiny minority. I think for a much larger group of writers it will represent one income stream, and you will need others. Some of those may well be related to Kindle Direct Publishing. Marketing is not simply a cost but opens up other doors too; speaking engagements, advice columns, new opportunities.

Is your eBook also in print? If so, how did the process of getting the book in print compare to your experiences with Kindle self publishing?

I use Amazon Createspace for printed books. I like the system and approach as much as Kindle Direct Publishing, but it is a step up in terms of technical difficulty as you are responsible for the look and feel of your book, which you aren’t really with a Kindle as the device handles it.

Examples of challenges include font selection (find a true type, serif font that you like and then figure out how to pass that with your book to Createspace), kerning and orphaning – terms you are unlikely to be familiar with as a new writer but in which you will need to develop at least a basic competence.

It isn’t rocket science but it isn’t straightforward either. If you can Google around, read a few ‘how to’ blogs and deduce which ones are worth following then you are well on your way.

Do you see a future where brick-and-mortar book stores are replaced altogether with digital eBook stores?

With a very few exceptions such as mathematical and scientific textbooks in specialist university stores, I suspect the answer to that question is ‘yes’. The cost model of b-and-m with printing costs, plus the cost of stock, together with the cost of a physical location is simply too unattractive. The love of physical books is a generational issue; I fell in love with paper books as a child and that has stayed with me and won’t go. So, as well as both having Kindles, my wife Sarah and I have rooms stacked from floor to ceiling with paper books. But children today will learn to read on eBooks and stay with eBooks their whole life. They might become nostalgic about the eBook reader they learnt on, which doubtless by the time they are 40 will seem hopelessly quaint and old-fashioned, but they won’t love physical books as I do.

Do you feel Kindle Direct Publishing is affecting the relationship between authors and traditional publishers?

Inevitably the eBook revolution led by the Amazon Kindle is changing the industry. At the most transparent, anyone can see that you can go on to Kindle Direct Publishing and publish your eBook under a very few conditions, and keep 70% of the royalties. That is quite unheard of in the traditional world. If you are being offered 60% less, you are bound to ask ‘what exactly do you do for the money?’ in a way which I don’t think many authors did historically; they were so grateful to get any deal. And if you break that 60% down into production (author support, drafting, copyediting, cover design etc) and marketing, there are still some fairly large questions out there.

There are some that still feel self-published eBooks are not of the same literary quality as those published by major publishing houses. How would you respond to those remarks?

I’d break that into two – technical and literary quality. In terms of technical quality, the basic process of copyediting is too often skipped especially at the lower end of the eBook market. You can see why because with a sale price of 99p or less, investing well over £1,000 is going to be problematic for some authors. I expect to see an alternative model evolve in the flexible freelance copyediting market where some editors offer a proof service on a declining royalty split basis.

In terms of literary quality, I think it is true that eBooks enable a wider range of writing to be published, and that is broadly a good thing. Some of that work will have great merit, other parts rather less. Critics and the public can decide which is which with more choice than they had in the past.

Would you ever go back down the traditional publishing route?

Never say never. The traditional publishing industry will evolve; it has to in order to survive. Personally I look at music and films, and see how those industries have both successfully adopted a ‘label’ approach rather than the mega studios in the face of comparable challenges. If you go to see a ‘Working Title’ movie you have a fair idea what to expect before the opening scene. The same with record labels; they each have a ‘sound’. I can see benefits to promotion being marketed under the right banner. But the publishing label would need to be a lot leaner and smarter, more agile and ‘in tune’ than the publishing industry today. That’s just one model and maybe there are other approaches, but we are too new into ePublishing to think all the answers are here already.

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Gerald Lynch
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