Hey all. My name is Drew Hayes, and I’m here to talk to you about drinking responsibly… while working in an office.
Really? They want to hear about that? But I had this whole bit about making liquor injected donuts.
(More off-stage whispering)
Well, alright, I guess we’ll give them what they want. Ahem, so, my name is Drew Hayes and apparently I’m actually here to talk about the process I went through of taking my web-serial, Super Powereds (hosted at DrewHayesNovels.com) to an e-book.
Super Powereds was actually my second web-serial, following a comedic project called No More Ramen. My first web-serial was a test of self more than anything else, seeing if I had the gumption to actually put my work on display for the masses (masses here meaning the five readers I managed to accumulate). With SP, however, I decided to write it because it was the sort of project I really wanted to read but couldn’t find. All of the super-hero stories were either nothing but action with no emphasis on character development, or eschewed the abilities so completely that they may as well not have been there. I wanted to see realistic people coping with their own abilities in a world where you never know who can do what.
Super Powereds is the story of five(ish) people with super human abilties going to college. In my world, people with powers who want to serve as crime-stopping cape-wearers, Heroes, must get certified just like any other response personnel. This lead to the Hero Certification Program: an incredibly difficult course running four years in parallel with college. There’s also a bunch of sub-plots and blah blah blah, but we’re not here to talk about the work itself, we’re here to talk about taking it from medium to another.
Also, if there’s time at the end, liquor donuts.
Making the Change
When I started SP, I never imagined I would see it on any kind of digital format other than my website. This was 2008, and while there was undeniably an indie book scene on Amazon, it wasn’t nearly as touted and well-known as it is today. And, to be frank, SP didn’t have the makings of a classic book. It was long and sprawling, with a multitude of characters that require a wiki to keep track of. I’m pretty sure that even now, with good reviews and a history of sales, I couldn’t get an agent to touch the thing.
The e-book actually came about in response to reader request. Many of the people visiting my site would e-mail me or comment about how they enjoyed the story, but it wasn’t practical for them to sit at a computer all day. They wanted a digital version that would be portable and easy on the eyes. After a bit of debating, and a lot of research, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to throw an e-book into Amazon’s Kindle program to accommodate the people kind enough to read my words.
Now why Amazon, I’m sure you’re wondering. In the digital self-publishing world, there are three main entities I’ve become aware of: Amazon, Smashwords, and Nook. Amazon is actually the most limited of these, in that the file type used by its propriety Kindle (.mobi) will not work with any other e-reader. Smashwords usually sells both types, while Nook sells .epubs that will work with pretty much anything except a Kindle. Ultimately, I went with Amazon for 3 reasons:
1. Kindle Apps: While the structure of the Kindle seemed limiting, there was another side to it. There are Kindle apps for iOS and Android, turning nearly every phone and tablet into a Kindle with access to the owner’s library. Nook, at the time, had nothing approaching this, so going through them would have meant a far more limited options for the readers.
2. Price: Listing on Nook and Amazon are commission systems, where you pay them a portion of your sales. Smashwords, on the other hand, requires money upfront for formatting and various other options. You can make a free book on Smashwords, however it’s not quite as streamlined a process, and for the first-time e-book maker I was, ease was invaluable.
3. Exposure: Though Nook has rallied in recent years, the honest truth was that I viewed Amazon as having the biggest network available. Even though I wasn’t anticipating much in sales, I’m optimistic and ambitious. I saw no reason to hamstring myself from using the network with the widest reach and greatest opportunity to gather new readers.
For the record, I’m not trying to advocate that just Amazon, or Amazon at all, is the right choice for someone launching their first e-book. All I can tell you is that it was right for me at the time. Some of you might be asking why I didn’t do all three, or at least Nook and Kindle. That was the original plan, but Amazon’s Kindle Select Program ended up changing my plans. We’ll get into that a little later on though.
From Web to Book
There was never any question that I would need an editor. Some authors have amazing and honed skills; they can spot typos, inconsistencies, and grammar mistakes with eagle-eyed precision. Some of us having typo-based drinking games readers play when on our sites. I’m the latter.
Finding a freelance editor is a daunting task. A lot of the ones you find through Google are very expensive and difficult to book. I got quotes upwards of $3,000 dollars for editing on Super Powered: Year 1 (To be fair: they charged by word and it was over 200,000 words). Fortunately, if you’re plugged into the writing community you can find many editors who are newer in the game and hungry for work. They tend to have more accommodating schedules and reasonable prices. In my case, I got lucky. One of my best friends from college opened up a side-business doing editing. Shameless plug: She does great work and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once the editing was done, I had to think about the structure of the book. SP published twice per week, with chapters ranging from 1000-1500 words (sometimes more, but never less). Year 1 ended up having 156 chapters, each of which was far shorter than the length of an average novel’s chapter. It took a lot of puzzling (till my puzzler was sore), but I ultimately decided to keep it as it was. This was because:
1. The breaking points in the chapters worked for the overall flow of the story and I didn’t want to start jamming them up.
2. As I mentioned, Year 1 is really long. Putting the chapters in bite-sized pieces allowed a reader to take a few chapters down whenever they had time, without feeling like they were pulled out of the narrative or lost their place.
Despite my worries, this actually went over quite well, and when I put out Year 2 I decided to keep the structure once more.
The last thing to tackle was the cover. For my first release, I made my own, and I regret it to this day. A decent graphic image artist can get you a cover for $100-$200. I now know other authors who spend far more on custom images people paint by hand, so that’s a great option if you have the free capital. Bottom line: make sure the cover is professional looking. We all know the old adage, but the truth is people judge an e-book first by its cover, then it’s summary, and then its price. If you don’t grab their eye when they’re scrolling through countless other books, they never even get the chance to become customers.
When I converted the book (a tedious process documented at here) and uploaded it to Amazon, I thought that was the end of it. Oh how wrong I was.
First off, during the upload, I had to do something that had sincerely, never occurred to me: set a price. I, like most web-serial folk, give my work away on the site, only making a small bit from ads and donations. The idea of charging people for what I already gave away at first struck me as crass. However, since Amazon doesn’t allow free e-books without a lot of hoop-jumping, I made peace with it. I eventually settled on a price of $3.99: high enough to show the amount of value I felt the work had, but low enough not to trip anyone’s mental circuits as a major purchase.
When that was done, Amazon next presented me with another choice: Did I want to enroll in the Kindle Select Program? This essentially means you agree not to sell through anyone but them. In exchange you receive: the ability to make deals and promos, a higher percentage of international royalties, and a piece of the communal Prime Member pot when Prime members borrow your books. The promo deal intrigued me, and having just finished making the .mobi I was already dreading doing an .epub for Nook, so I signed on.
With that, it was just a matter of being reviewed, posted, and put up for sale as an Amazon e-book. At long last, my journey was completed.
When I graduated high school, I decided (on a whim) to go to college in a town ten hours away from my hometown where I knew exactly zero people. For most of my adult life, I referred to that as the impulsive decision that had the largest consequences. The e-book of Super Powered: Year 1 overtook that honor within months after it was published.
While I originally planned to put out a portable story for my more dedicated readers, the book quickly took on a life of its own. I didn’t realize it when I published, but superhero stories are a huge indie author bonanza right now, and I’d published right into the niche where books were being gobbled up. It was great; it meant a few dollars in my pocket and new visitors to my sites.
Then, as it always does, reality set in. There were forums with readers asking me questions on Amazon’s site, so keeping a good relationship with them meant hitting it several times a week. The longer I spent on the site, the more I got to see the various authors scrapping to keep their sales rank and review numbers high. As more sales came in, it occurred to me for the first time that it might be viable to make a living off that. It became a pipeline of both income and new readership, and like all pipelines it required management if I wanted the flow to continue.
I will say this to all of you who are looking at taking an established web-serial and making it into an e-book: you have a tremendous advantage over many of the other authors clamoring for attention. Having a reader-base right out of the gate is a great step-up, the only reason I saw such initial success was because of the kind readers who took the time to review the book and spread the word. They gave me such a good leg-up, in fact, that I’m only now beginning to learn about promotion and advertisement. Don’t be shy about asking them to review, I’ve found most readers want their authors to meet with success; it translates into more products available for them to consume.
In closing, I’ll say that taking a web-serial to an e-book is a very time-consuming and potentially expensive process, however it can be very lucrative even if you aren’t looking to branch out into more traditional publishing mediums. It’s a tool, and like any tool only the wielder can decided if it’s correct for that they want to accomplish.
There, now that ALL of that is done, let’s finally move onto to office drinking. To start, the “coffee” pot can warm a fine mulled wine if you-
Out of time? This is a written blog, that doesn’t even make sense. You can’t do this! I will not be silenc-
Drew Hayes is a little bit writer, a little bit performer, and currently being fed to the blog sharks. You may find his manifestos and his serial “Super Powereds” at at his website.