Amazon Publishing Services: It Ain’t the Whole Loaf — Part 1

Today I spoke with Thom Kephart, the community outreach manager for Amazon.com. OK, full disclosure—he answered a question of mine; mostly I just listened.

Kephart talked about Amazon’s self-publishing divisions, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, at this month’s meeting of the Publishers & Writers of San Diego in Encinitas, California (North San Diego County). As evidence of how big of a phenomenon Amazon has become, roughly 150 people crowded into the meeting room, about double the attendance of most PWSD meetings.

Some of Kephart’s comments surprised me. I had expected total PR spin, with him telling us how CS and KDP are the greatest triumph for book publishing since Gutenberg. I did not expect him to be so candid. I found his honesty refreshing. More on that in a minute.

He did deliver the CS/KDP spiel, which is OK. That’s his job—to point out the benefits to authors  and independent publishers of his employer’s “free” publishing services. There are many advantages to CreateSpace for some people, and Kindle is a great way for an author frustrated with the status quo in New York to get a book to market for minimal cost and reasonable economic return. (It eliminates the cost of printing, has global distribution, is not returnable, and the compensation—on a percentage basis—is better than any book deal with one of the Big Six.)

Kephart noted that the CS/KDP customer service reps are not in India, that they are all native English speakers in South Carolina (I might argue that point) and South Africa. (Ahem. According to The Times of India, there are more than twice as many English speakers in India as in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of the English language. Mind you, comprehending the Indian accent can be challenging for Americans—particularly those in South Carolina.)

Surprise, Surprise

Yet, and this is where the surprise element came in, Kephart admitted that CreateSpace isn’t for everybody—that it’s not necessarily a one-stop shop. He encouraged authors to use, in addition to CS, other services (including Lightning Source, Inc.) to reach as many potential book buyers as possible. (In case you’re unaware, there’s an ongoing debate within the indie publishing community over the best path to publishing. I will address that thorny issue in Part 2.)

Kephart also recommended that authors obtain their own ISBNs, the universal identification number (on Planet Earth, anyway) for published books. I, too, am an advocate of authors obtaining their own ISBNs.

CreateSpace will provide an ISBN, but that makes CS the publisher of record, not the author. Which in turn carries some baggage or “taint” with it. (TK didn’t get into this.) I.e., it tells the world—and book reviewers and booksellers—the book is self-published. Some book reviewers refuse to review self-published books, and some booksellers have said they will not carry books published through CreateSpace. The problem is two-fold: (1) self-published books have a (deserved) reputation for being riddled with typos, bad grammar, poor writing and plot holes, and (2) some booksellers do not like the way Amazon has muscled into their territory.

In addition, if you own your ISBN, you control the meta data, which contains all the pertinent information about your book, including keywords that might trigger a search result. If you don’t own the ISBN, you don’t have full control of what comprises that meta data.

In that vein, Kephart suggested that authors interested in broad distribution for their books should look at using Lightning Source in addition to CreateSpace to publish printed books. (My hat’s off to you, Mr. Kephart. You didn’t have to say that.) I have my own perspective on this, which I address in Part 2.

And I cheered when he advised all authors to hire an editor. (I are one, after all.)

He also acknowledged that KDP’s tool for converting manuscripts to Kindle’s e-book format “does not work most of the time. . . . A Word doc is not the best way to submit to Kindle.”

I second that. The conversion of Word docs and PDFs to HTML is often filled with errors and bad formatting, requiring someone with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of HTML and Web design to sort it out. (HTML, in case you don’t know, is the coding that underpins the Web, and an e-book, in essence, is a series of Web pages cleverly disguised as chapters.)

What is the best way to submit to Kindle? He didn’t say this, but the answer is “an HTML file,” which is problematic for those who have no clue how to create or edit HTML. Yes, Word will convert a document to HTML, but the result ain’t pretty. Trust me on this. (Again, the subject of a future blog.)

One thing Kephart said did bother me—a lot—because it tells us where Amazon is really coming from. Amazon, from what I can tell, doesn’t give a crap about literature, literary value or even decent writing. Its mission, it seems (Mr. Kephart’s “hire an editor” comment notwithstanding), is to be the Wal-Mart of written works, never mind how poorly written those works are. (Which is not to say HarperCollins—isn’t that a cocktail?—Penguin, Simon & Schuster, et al., are not of the same mind set. Witness 50 Shades of Grey, begat aboard Kindle, as I understand it.)

On one of the slides in his presentation, he had the headline: More Books Content for More People in More Ways. (He had crossed out “Books” and inserted “Content.”)

To me, these are still books, whether it’s India ink on velum or e-ink on a touchscreen. The word “content” demeans the process, treating it as a commodity. Call me old fashioned, but I do not consider creative works a commodity. (Unless it comes from James B. Patterson, Kenny G or Thomas Kinkade, but in the latter case I probably shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.)

All in all, though, Kephart gave an informative and useful presentation, and I applaud him for being forthright. I also applaud PWSD (specifically Karla Olson) for inviting him to speak.

Next episode: Part 2—Take Off the Gloves: Create Space Versus Lightning Source.

PS: Oh, and Thom? It’s “et cetera” not “ek cetera.”

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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12 Responses to Amazon Publishing Services: It Ain’t the Whole Loaf — Part 1

  1. Penelope J. says:

    A helpful report for those of us who couldn’t make it to Thom Kephard’s talk at the PWSD, Interesting that he recommended using both CS and LS for print books. It corroborates what I’d read about doing this, given Amazon’s increasingly monopolistic practices.

    • Kephart knows full well the advantages of Lightning Source over CreateSpace. I suspect he was making an offensive move to divert critical comments or questions in advance, rather than be put on the defensive. He has to tout CS, so he comes up with a solution that still puts CS in the frame, but I would be hesitant to jump into “Plan B” without serious deliberation. I will address this in my next post and relate a first-hand experience.

  2. Shirley says:

    Larry, it appears that you are just beginning your blogging career, but you certainly know your way around words! I have a contract with a small press, so what you said about Kindle formatting is something I will pass along.

    Glad you found the Gutsy Writer Group. Sonia Marsh is doing a great job of networking and aggregating resources.

  3. Thank you for the kind words. Actually, I have been “blogging” for some time — even before the term was coined. I am new to WordPress, however. Over time, I will incorporate previous items as back-dated posts. But I don’t see blogging as a career. I am a writer by profession, as well as an editor and publisher/publishing consultant. I see blogging as another wrench in my marketing tool chest. I also deal routinely with writers and those seeking opportunities to get their work published, but who tend to be wandering in the bewidleredness. This is a way of communicating with them and others who are looking for sound information and advice.

    Again, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated. I am interested in your experience, if any, with CreateSpace and/or Lightning Source.

    I hope our paths continue to cross, if not here, then at Gusty.

  4. Pingback: Amazon, Part 2 — Take the Gloves Off: Create Space v. Lightning Source | Polishing That Prose

  5. Linda Loegel says:

    Thank you, Larry, for presenting such an informative discourse on Saturday’s meeting. I couldn’t make it so I doubly appreciate your reviews. I knew nothing about Lightning Source, now I do. I’m looking forward to the third installment. Love your folksy style of writing.

  6. largolobo says:

    Hi Larry,
    Thanks for being my eyes and ears at this meeting. I couldn’t make it due to the $15 barrier at the door. I guess I owe you $15 now!

    You are the vanguard for the local aspiring writer, or in my case, a man whose muse was taken out in a drive-by. Great write-up. All the players are in the room when Amazon steps onto the carpet. They should know all the secrets. They caused most of them. Hats off to Mr. Kephart. It’s nice to know someone in corporate America can speak without the political shock-collar placed around their neck.

    Writers are a curious breed of innocence until they have to face publishing. It is then they realize, if they have their eyes open, that publishing sells a product and the business model to do that effectively is the objective, not the rolling thunder in their prose or creative poetry in their writing.

    One can develop a following via independent publishing and gain that respect for what has been created, but that is a one-on-one routine of meeting and greeting, talking and arm waving. I have great respect for the writer that is also an orator. This take time and patience. Most of us want the flash of glory to blind us into false hopes if it must be. What makes the process still fascinating to me, is out of the mist pops the unexpected novel that truly carries its own weight and a joy to read.

    There is no better experience to sooth the mind and position one’s self in the world than a great read, because it all gets staged, choreographed, and director by you to the screenplay that is the writer’s creative communication to you. Long live the writer with guts.

  7. Thanks for an eye opening post for those of us yet to reach this marker in their writing. Those of us with Southern accents do struggle with the Indian accent, but not nearly as much as some US citizens struggle with ours. :) I appreciated your comments especially about an author obtaining the ISBN; I had read that once before and a second opinion affords validation on the point. I love your tongue in cheek regarding Patterson, Kenny G and/or Kinkade. Off to read Part 2!

    • Oops — are you from South Carolina? Not the first time I put my foot in my mouth. (Mind you, I have friends in South Carolina and other Southern states — or at least I used to.)

      My aim is to provide useful information to others. Glad it helped you — and gave you a chuckle. Best of luck with your writing and publishing.

  8. Pingback: Amazon, Part 3 — Kindling the Fire With KDP | Polishing That Prose

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