In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I answer frequently asked questions about Kindle ebook publishing and talk about some fears that people have about writing and publishing ebooks.

You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 24 minutes long.

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Kindle FAQs and eBook Fears

This is episode 51 of the Digital Publishing Podcast, a podcast about ebooks, blogs, podcasts, social media, and other forms of digital publishing.

My name is Tristan Higbee, recording today in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the last time. I’m heading to Singapore in a few days, and then I’ll be back in Nepal next week.

And if you’re reading or listening to this on the day it came out or the day after, I invite you to go download my latest ebook. It is FREE today and tomorrow. It’s called Everest Pilgrim: A Solo Trek to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp and Beyond. It’s an account of the trek to Mt. Everest that I made last year around this time.

Ok, I’ve got 4 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started. Topic number one is…

1. Answering Kindle book FAQs

I make a significant chunk of my income from my ebooks, and I get more questions about Kindle ebook publishing than any other subject. Here are some questions that someone emailed me recently about Kindle publishing.

Question #1: “When you launch a new Kindle book, do you try and build an audience for each book before launching?”

It depends how much I care about the book. I wrote a book of poetry a few years ago. I didn’t expect it to sell, and it hasn’t sold. That’s fine with me. I didn’t write the poems to make money. If I had spent time and effort trying to build an audience for that book, it would have been completely wasted. So I guess my first point is to ask yourself whether building up an audience before you publish a book makes sense in the case of your particular book.

My second point is that if you will have multiple books in a niche that will appeal to the same audience, building up that audience makes that much more sense.

Really, the only downside to building an audience before you launch a book is that it takes time, but that can be a big downside. If you have plenty of time, go for it. If you don’t have the time to do both, focus on writing. And even if you do have time to build an audience and write, you might want to spend that time writing another book instead of trying to build up readers for your first one.

It really depends on how people will be finding your book. Is it the kind of thing that people will just run across on Amazon.com and want to buy? If so, the need to build an audience isn’t quite as strong. But if you’re writing a young adult dystopian novel, you’ll probably need to build up your own audience sooner or later.

The last thing I wanted to say about this is that you’ll be more excited about promotion and building an audience once you actually have something to promote. And if you wait to promote the book until it’s done, you won’t have wasted any time, since a lot of people start books and never finish them. You don’t want to have spent time building an audience for a book that you actually won’t end up finishing.

Question #2: “Do you worry about getting people to review your book to increase its rankings in Amazon?”

Do I “worry” about it? No. But I do try to get people to review the book. I do this by giving it away for free and promoting when it’s free, and then occasionally asking people specifically to review it, though that’s something I don’t do too much. I don’t pay for reviews and don’t recommend that you do either. If you’re really desperate for reviews, you should be able to get your friends and family to leave a few.

Question #3: “What advice do you have for someone interested in writing and selling an ebook on Amazon?”

Just do it. It’s not as difficult or scary as it can seem (and I’ll talk about that a bit more later on in the episode). Also, don’t write a crappy book. If it’s crap, it won’t sell, and if it does sell, the reader won’t be happy. Don’t think of Kindle books as a get-rich-quick scheme, because they’re definitely not. Writing a Kindle book is fundamentally the same as writing a print book, and how often do you hear people talking about all the money they’re making from being a print author or writer? Write a book because you love writing and because you have a book inside of you that you need to share with the world.

2. Laptops, posture, and ergonomics

I do all of my work on a laptop, and I have done all of my work on a laptop for the past several years. A few months ago, I become more concerned about my body position when using my laptop and about my posture in general. I noticed that when I used my computer at a desk, I’d be all hunched over, and my neck would be bent down toward the laptop. It wasn’t comfortable, and it wasn’t good for my posture, back, or neck. One way to solve this is to use a standing desk. This is where you stand up while working; the screen is at about eye level, and the keyboard and mouse are at about elbow height. This kind of thing isn’t practical for me. I travel a lot and don’t have a home where I could put a standing desk. And on top of that, I don’t want a standing desk. I don’t want to stand up all day. I don’t enjoy that kind of thing. I’ve tried it out in the past, and it’s just not for me.

So then I thought about what I could do, and I decided that my best bet would be to just raise the height of my laptop screen on the desk so that it’s more at my eye level. I’ve always used my laptop with a wireless mouse, but I also bought a wireless keyboard so that the laptop could be higher up but my arms wouldn’t have to be that high up.

I’ve tried elevating my laptop in a bunch of different ways over the past months. I’ve rested it on top of a few toilet paper rolls. I’ve put it on top of an inverted trashcan. I’ve had it on stacks of books. I’ve had it on top of a big pot. But then I decided to make my own solution, one that would work better than all of those but still be very portable. What I did was end up getting some cardboard and making a stand. It’s made from just two pieces. When they’re put together, they make a sort of a triangle, almost like a capital letter A. It raises the laptop up by about 6 or 7 inches, it folds down perfectly to fit into any bag, and it barely weighs anything.

My cardboard laptop stand

Above: My cardboard laptop stand

But most importantly, it has helped with my posture and my neck strain. I have noticed the difference. If you work on a computer or spend a lot of time at a computer, I highly recommend doing whatever you need to do to raise up the screen. There are commercially available laptop stands out there, and they may work great for you. If you don’t want to spend any money, or if you just want to see if elevating the laptop works for you, use a stack of books or make a stand out of cardboard. I’m willing to bet that you’ll notice a difference, and you’ll be able to sit and work with less discomfort.

3. Overcoming ebook publishing fears

I’ve been talking with a lot of people recently who are interested in publishing their first Kindle books. Most of these authors are making one of two mistakes: they’re either taking their book too seriously or not taking it seriously enough.

The people who take their book too seriously are those who are almost paralyzed by fear. They’re scared by any number or combination of things. They’re scared about charging people for something they created. If you’re one of the people that feels this way, have you ever bought a book? If you have, what’s the difference between paying someone else for their book and someone paying you for yours.

A lot of people are paralyzed by the immensity of the task of writing an ebook. The best advice I can give is to make a detailed outline of the book. Instead of thinking of a book as one finished whole product, break it into smaller chunks. That’s where the outline comes in. Create the outline in as much detail as possible. Then take the individual points from the outline and write them until you don’t have anything else to write about.

If you’re a nonfiction writer and even that is too intimidating for you, just turn your book into a big list or series of points. My book 101 Rock Climbing Tips and Tricks is a good example of this. It’s essentially just a big list of tips. You could do that for any niche. It’s a very easy type of book to write. Or if you want to write a book about the history of your hometown, break it up by year and write something for every year. Giving your book that kind of structure makes it much easier to write because you always know what to write next. (If you’re interested in more nonfiction ebook ideas, I have more than 50 of them as a module in Osmosio.)

A lot of people think that writing a book is a big deal. They build it up as this huge event, and a lot of emotional baggage comes with that. It’s scary. Thinking that way reminds me of when I was younger and asking girls out was absolutely terrifying. But the more I did it, the easier it became. It’s the same with book writing and publishing. It’s only a big deal if you make it one.

Some people take a book too seriously because they’re afraid to open themselves and their work to a new audience and, potentially, new critics. But as long as your book doesn’t suck, more people will like it than not like it. Keep asking yourself the question, “Does this suck?” If the answer is no, there’s nothing to worry about. Just put your head down and write the book. Not every single person will like your book, and that’s fine—you can’t please everyone—but if it’s a good book, you won’t have many critics to deal with.

While I’m on the subject, one way to make sure a book gets written is to give it a finite, definite scope. Give yourself parameters to work in to make sure there will be an end to the book. Then when you reach those parameters, you’re done. That way you won’t keep agonizing over whether you should add this or that to the book.

And now I want to talk about the people who don’t take writing a book seriously enough. This is the kind of person who wants to put a Kindle ebook up on Amazon just to see if it will sell. They’re curious about Kindle ebook publishing. Because it’s kind of a test, they don’t spend a lot of time or effort working on the book, and the result is that the book sucks. It probably has typos and/or formatting issues, and the cover looks look bad. And then the person will be surprised or angry that the book either doesn’t sell or doesn’t get good reviews. Well of course a crappy book doesn’t sell well.

I will just say that if your target audience thinks your book sucks, it will not sell well. It’s really that simple. That is definitely not the only factor that will determine the book’s success—a book can be amazing and still never sell, for example—but it does have to be good in order to sell well. So put effort into it. Make it good. Go through multiple drafts. Have multiple people read through it. If you haven’t put that kind of effort into it, your book deserves the lack of success that it will undoubtedly have.

4. A great niche and business

Go check out RVmobileinternet.com. I’m not affiliated with the site or the people behind it in any way; I just think it’s really interesting. It’s a site all about how RVers can have Internet access while on the road. It’s a perfect example of taking a niche that is not popular or sexy and building a business out of it.

There are three different tiers of information that you can buy. The first is a book. It’s called The Mobile Internet Handbook. It’s available as a PDF, Kindle book, iBookstore epub book, and print book. Each digital version costs $9.99, and the print version is $19.99. Because the subject changes so much, a new edition of the book comes out every year.

The second information tier is a membership site called Mobile Internet Aficionados. It’s $39 for an annual membership, and membership includes Q&A forums, discussion forums, newsletters, exclusive content, webinars, and chats.

The third tier of information is what they call Personalized Mobile Internet Advising. It’s essentially personalized consulting and recommendations, and there are three tiers of this service. They charge $45 for a 20-minute consultation, $75 for a 45-minute consultation, and $95 for what they call the advisor package, which includes a consultation, more personalized recommendations, and a written writeup after the consultation.

Even if you have no interest in information about mobile internet, go check out this site to see the different ways that these people are selling information. The site itself looks great too. Check it out at RVmobileinternet.com. Take a look at the various business models and think about how you could do something similar for a niche that you are interested in.

Pick of the week: Kindle Unlimited

And that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. My pick this week is Kindle Unlimited. This is Amazon’s version of a Netflix for ebooks. You pay $10 a month and can read as many books as you want as long as they’re enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. You can try it for a month for free, which is what I did, and I read something like 20 books in that first month.

I really like Kindle Unlimited. The best part for me is that I tend to enjoy reading very specific, very niche nonfiction travel and adventure ebooks. They’re the kind of thing that are usually self-published, and those are the kinds of books that there are plenty of in Kindle Unlimited. There are a lot of well-known books like Life of Pi, The Giver, Water for Elephants, the Hunger Games books, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But the overwhelming majority of the books are ones you’ve never heard of. That doesn’t mean they’re any less good, though. Whatever your reading interest is, I’m sure you’ll be able to find plenty of stuff to read.

I think the reason that I’ve been reading so many books through Kindle Unlimited is that I now have an essentially limitless well of books to draw from when I want to read something. No matter what mood I’m in or what I feel like learning about or being entertained by, I can always find a book that will fit me perfectly. The result is that I always have something I want to read, so I do always read.

With Kindle Unlimited, you can have as many as 10 books checked out at a time and on as many different devices as you want. There are a couple other perks too. You get access to a bunch of audiobooks. For applicable audiobooks, it’ll say “Kindle Unlimited with narration” on that book’s page on Amazon. I just downloaded and listened to one and it worked great. Once you open the book up in the Kindle app, there will be a little headphones icon. You click on that and can then download the audio version of the book. Once it’s downloaded, you can set the playback speed (which is something that is very important to me if you remember what I said about the Overdrive app back in last week’s episode), and you can also set a timer so that you can listen to a book while in bed before falling asleep.

And finally, you can also get a free three-month Audible.com membership with a Kindle Unlimited membership. If there are any other audiobooks you want to listen to that aren’t available as part of Kindle Unlimited, they’re probably available on Audible. So that’s a nice additional perk.

I love Kindle Unlimited. My free month-long trial is over, and I am now a paying member. If you love to read, I can’t imagine a better use of $10 every month.

Final words

And that’s all for episode 51 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out Osmosio if you want to learn more about digital publishing. And again, if you’re reading or listening to this on October 30th or 31st 2014, my book Everest Pilgrim is free to download.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast. Thanks for listening.