Starting from Scratch by Lynne Benton

I am a complete novice at this game, ie building my own ebooks. However, I have finally succeeded in publishing my very first ebook, Jimmy’s War, on Kindle, thanks to the inspiration, help and advice of several friends in the Scattered Authors, most notably Jen Alexander, Jennie Walters, Susan Price, Katherine Roberts and Lynne Garner.

At first I was completely daunted by the prospect of doing all the technical stuff BY MYSELF! (My husband, bless his heart, relies on me to do any techy stuff in our house, and our children, all very computer literate, live too far away to help out if I get stuck.) So eventually I took a deep breath and started.

The KDP helplines were helpful, at least to start with, until I reached the page where I had to give details about my tax status, when my computer froze completely and refused to carry on. I wasn’t sure whether this was KDP, me, my new computer or the battery in my mouse that was causing the problem, so I turned it off in disgust and left it till the next day. Next day the same thing happened, despite me changing the battery in my mouse, so again I had to leave it. Then the next day, for no apparent reason, it all worked again, enabling me to go on and sort out the tax details. What a relief when it accepted what I’d done and allowed me to go on to the next page!

Then I had to give details of my bank account, into which they are planning to pay my (huge?) royalties. They required two numbers, an IBAN and a BIC, neither of which I knew, nor could I find them on any of my bank documentation. After much faffing around and trying every number I could find anywhere, I found a letter from my bank about some change of something, which had, magically, a phone number. I rang it and a very helpful lady dictated both the numbers I needed. One had 22 assorted letters and numbers in it, and the other 8, but I still don’t know where else I was supposed to find them, and there’s certainly no way I could have remembered them even if I’d ever seen them before. Ah well, I reasoned, at least it should be incredibly secure!

So far, so good.

Luckily by now I had my cover picture – my son Tim, who is a professional illustrator, did one for me to the exact specifications KDP required, so that was uploaded easily. The book itself, however, took a little longer…

I’d already tried formatting my book myself, checking all the time on my Kindle how many spaces I needed to leave at the start of each paragraph. But somehow, no matter how careful I was to make each indent exactly the same, when I uploaded it on the Preview they were all over the place. Very unprofessional. And as for linking the contents list to the individual chapters… that sounded so complicated that I contemplated not bothering with links at all.

Eventually I rang a friend who had already published several of her own ebooks and had a chat to her, and she advised me to look at Katherine Roberts’ blogs, which, bless her heart, she would email me directly.

This proved to be the turning point. Katherine’s instructions were so much easier to understand that I went back to square one with the formatting and managed it with no problems. Hooray! She also suggested the obvious thing that hadn’t occurred to me: I should email my final ms to my Kindle for checking! That was brilliant – I could see immediately that it was all working – except for the links. So I took another deep breath and began on those. Again, it sounded easy – and it almost was. Except that my new computer had more options than I was anticipating, so I wasn’t sure which to go for. Eventually, after two steps forward and one step back several times, I discovered that I had to make sure I clicked on “In This Document” at the Hyperlink stage, rather than going with the default “Web page”.

And at last it worked. I sent it to my Kindle, and it worked. I previewed it, and it worked there too. So I took a very, very deep breath and clicked PUBLISH.

One thing I wasn’t sure of was whether enough children of the book’s target age range (it’s intended for 9-12 year-olds) would be likely to access it as an ebook, so when friends (ie fellow-writers) suggested I should also make it available as a POD paperback I thought in for a penny… “It’s quite straightforward,” said KDP and CreateSpace.

Well I suppose it was slightly more straightforward than my initial attempt at doing an ebook, but still not completely plain sailing. I had to make so many decisions before it was publishable, eg how big the book should be, how many pages, what size font, how much to charge etc etc. But at last, after several trials and errors, the book too is now out there and I’m delighted with how good it looks (thank you, CreateSpace!)

To date around 600 people have downloaded it or bought it, which sounds wonderful to me, though of course it’s nowhere near the thousands mainstream publishers would expect to sell. (I now have a lot more respect for all the decisions they have to make before a book is published!) However, I feel really proud that I actually managed to do it myself.

And now I know how to do it, I am keen to do it again, with other books I have already written and waiting. Not to mention the other ideas I’ve got in my head! In fact I’m raring to go.


Sue Purkiss said…
Brilliant! Will be coming to you for advice, soon, Lynne!
Jenny Alexander said…
I've done it - but with a designer! I'm completely in awe of your tech skills, Lynne! But I completely get that 'yay, that was great, I want to do it again' feeling :)
Penny Dolan said…
So lovely to hear of your determination and success in publishing "Jimmy's War!", Lynne. When so many seem to be far on with the process, or using others practical support,it's good to hear the voice of someone at the start of doing this for themselves. And hooray for the generous Katherine Roberts and others for sharing their techy information.An encouraging & useful post. Thanks.
Chris Longmuir said…
Great post on the trials and tribulations of self-publishing. And congratulations on those 600 sales, and don't knock yourself. A friend of mine who was on the sales side of publishing once told me the average sales for a first time traditionally published author was in the region of 350 books. So, 600 is very good.
Bill Kirton said…
Interesting blow by blow account of it all, Lynne. And 600 sales! Excellent.
Dennis Hamley said…
Great stuff Lynne - and I think 600 sales is, by my standards, fairly stratospheric. I'm having a go at Createspace as well but have come up against a very simple obstacle which I can't seem to crack despite help from other AEs. And it was all going so well until then.
Susan Price said…
Congratulations, Lynne! So glad to hear it all turned out so well.

We're all about sharing tips and wrinkles, here at AE. When you start your next attempt, remember to check out our 'How-To' page. It has an index, with links, to all our posts which offer help on various aspects of e-publishing, and it's always being added to.

I, too, think 600 sales is a very good start. You were wise to go with CreateSpace. It's my experience that the paperbacks really boost your sales - they doubled mine.

And Dennis - post your problem on our private page. Maybe we can help.
Leela Soma said…
Great blog. I loved your hard work that paid off. Wishing you all the success with the Kindle book.
Lydia Bennet said…
Great stuff, and congratulations on the book and the very impressive sales!
Glad you found the blog series helpful - I keep worrying it's out of date now, but if it still helps people I'll keep it up on my site!

And 600 sales? That's amazing numbers esp. for a children's book. Many congratulations. And remember you are making more royalties per sale than you would from those thousands of publishers' sales, so the scale of viable publishing 'indie' is a lot smaller.

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