Publishing My First Book

Back to the Future (warning: three-decade old spoilers) is a story of how a single incident in people's lives can create dramatic change in their fortunes. In the beginning of the movie, the McFly family is comprised of a bunch of losers: all the McFlys — father, mother, sister, brother, and lead character Marty (Michael J. Fox) — are bullied in various ways. Enter mad scientist; enter the second most famous car model failure in American history (nothing can top the Edsel); enter some free-range lightning left over from the Bride of Frankenstein and X-Men. The crew gets transferred back in time. Hijinks ensue culminating in Marty's future father, George, punching out the high school bully who was sexually assaulting George's future wife. Post hijinks: Marty returns to the present where, as a result of George standing up to the bully (and winning the heart of his future wife), each member of the main character's family has been transformed from losers to players. The momentous symbol of that transformation? George opens a box delivered by the post office that reveals his newly-published sci-fi novel.

Three decades after the movie hit the theaters, the casual sexual assault and creepy racist scenes in an adventure comedy are sure signs that time has passed. Another sign that time has passed is that to have a published book is no longer a symbol of success and prestige. This is in part because waiting to be anointed by a publisher is as dated as sitting by the phone waiting to be asked to the prom. You can publish your own book, and that may even be a superior business decision. Furthermore, new books are as rare as Facebook likes. There are several million books published in the U.S., alone, every year, and only half of those are variations of How to self-publish your book on Kindle... on Kindle.

Another author deflator is to stroll through Barnes and Noble. You'll see books similar to McFly's badge of success languish on the discount shelf like a rescue pet hoping to get adopted. Or go online to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing; their suggestion of how to price your self-published book will make you aware that you're not an artist, you're a serf in Jeff Bezos's kingdom.


No money, no respect. Why am I still satisfied? Because I beat the boss. In computer role-playing games (especially old ones), you build skill through victorious battles. To win the game, you must beat the biggest and toughest foe — the boss.

I suppose this is where I'm supposed to recount how the boss was a symbol of my self-made barriers —how I overcame my writer's block, self-doubt, blah, blah, blah. Nah, the boss was Kindle Direct Publishing.

How did I build the skills to beat the boss? It didn't come from first publishing to Apple's iBooks. That took little resolve. After I filled out the required business forms, publishing on iBooks took only minutes. From my editor, Ulysses, I exported to a ePub file, previewed it as an iBook, and uploaded my manuscript to iBooks using a Mac app called iTunes Producer. A short wait for Apple approval, and my book is published.

To publish to Kindle, in retrospect, I built my skills three decades ago. In the pre-Windows era (1990 was the first usable version), I configured PC games for my children. MS DOS games had to be configured to work with your computer setup from among a zoo of displays, sound cards, and mice that populated the PC landscape. Now, that experience is recreated when publishing to Amazon's Kindle store. Only this time, it's not displays, sound cards, and mice, it's the chaos of Kindle E-readers, Fire Tablets, and Kindle apps for Apple devices, Android, and Windows PC.

In my attempts to persuade my manuscript to properly display on Kindle, I used about a half-dozen input file types, and more apps than I can remember to transform the files into a Kindle-compatible document. I tried five versions of Kindle previewers to view the results, but peer pressure was futile — each previewer marched to it's own beat. It took me over 70 hours of experimenting to accept that, because of the numerous Kindle models and software versions, I had limited control over how my e-book would display. If you care how your Kindle book will look to your readers, ask yourself: Do you feel lucky?

So, while I'm not the serene type, I did accept what I cannot change, Kindle klutziness. I'm more or less content with my latest version of my book on Kindle. That's how I beat the boss.