Stitch has been officially published for 10 days now, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I am the author of a published book. So in the meantime, I’ve been keeping track of the timeline by which Stitch went up on Amazon and Smashwords after I hit the “go” button to put it out in the world, since I thought that a) this would help me to better remember this pivotal moment in my life, and b) I thought it might be useful information for other self-published authors who are asking themselves, “How long will it actually take for my book to show up on Amazon and Smashwords?”
When I started looking into publishing Stitch through Amazon’s CreateSpace and KDP and also Smashwords, I was surprised (and disappointed) to find that as an independent author/publisher, I really have very little control over when and how my book becomes available to the public. My goal was make my self-published book and release look and feel as much like a “real” published book as humanly possible – I didn’t want readers to even notice or care about the publisher, b/c I was offering a quality product that was 100% professional. I had originally hoped to come out to a big bang with a blog tour leading up to the launch day, where I could take preorders the whole time and it would all be glorious and gay. BUT, much to my frustration I could not seem to figure out a way to arrange this with the tools that are currently at my disposal through Amazon and Smashwords.
Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s AMAZING that I can even self-publish at all, and though it took a bit of work, I’m THRILLED with the quality of the final print book and e-books that the CreateSpace, KDP, and Smashwords tools allowed me to create and the relative ease with which they have enabled me to get my book into all the major online sales channels. So, if anyone from those companies is reading this, please know that overall I think you are wonderful, but if you’re looking for suggestions for what tools you should implement next, this is my request: give me more control over how and when my book appears, and especially allow me to pre-load all my book’s information and take preorders so that I can have a big fancy launch day just like the New York publishers do.
My ideal scenario:
3-4 months before launch day, I upload my manuscript files and book metadata. I can proof not only what my book will look like, but also the product pages and search results for the various versions of my book, and my author pages. I can tweak and retweak to my heart’s desire until everything looks just perfect, without any of this ever showing to the public.
Once I am happy with how everything looks, I hit a button which makes the pages live on Amazon, but in preorder mode. Perhaps it takes a few days to a week for everything to propagate through the system and appear online, and that’s just fine, b/c I have plenty of time and can wait until everything is live before I start contacting bloggers about my blog tour.
The preorder pages are live and look great, my print and electronic version product pages are linked and show up in search, and the review feature is fully functional, so I start emailing bloggers to book them for a tour leading up to launch day. If I find typos in my book or decide to make other revisions over the next few weeks/months, I can of course still edit the manuscript and get more proofs of my book (and as many as I would like, since I’m starting to send ARCs to bloggers now and I’m sorry CreateSpace but a maximum of 5 print proofs is just not going to do it!).
The blog tour begins six weeks or a month before launch, and it’s going awesome. Reviewers are loving my book, they’re posting glowing reviews on Amazon, and their followers are placing boatloads of preorders through Amazon and Smashwords (and maybe even through extended channels like Barnes & Noble and iTunes, since I was a good girl and uploaded my metadata months before launch so that there was plenty of time for all their feeds to update).
At midnight on launch day, I login to CreateSpace, KDP, and Smashwords and hit the big green “Go Live!” button (or even better, at some earlier point I set a setting to do this automatically so that I can go to sleep at my normal bedtime and be well-rested to maniacally push the refresh button for the first 24 hours of the book’s sale!). Any existing preorders are processed and readers can start placing orders right away. I wake up in the morning to a gazillion sales and my book in the Amazon Top 10… Hey, a girl can dream! This is my ideal scenario, remember?
Okay, so now let’s talk about reality:
T-1 month to launch: It’s my first time publishing a book and I’m not really sure what to expect. The official help pages on CreateSpace, KDP, and Smashwords are a bit vague and give wide ranges to cover their own butts, so they say things like it will take 48 hours to three weeks for my book to appear, which is just not all that satisfying of an answer, since I’m trying to schedule a blog tour starting two weeks after launch and I need to know at what point I’ll be able to email bloggers and they’ll actually be able to see my book and the reviews that my beta readers have posted. I try searching the forums and the internet to see what other indie authors have experienced, and the best I find is this thread which says 5-15 days to be fully operational. I’m not exactly thrilled about this, but I can’t find any way around it. Also, the only way I can figure out how to take preorders is a huge hack and will only work for print books, and since my big launch day plans now seem like a fantasy, I opt not to do it since I’m not confident that I can even give an accurate launch date.
T-1 week: I upload my manuscripts to the various sites and start proofing the output. Unfortunately there’s no way for me to proof what my product pages, search results, or author pages will look like (in fact, I can’t even create an author page until after I hit the publish button), so I just focus on proofing the various versions of my book and trust that the system will do everything right (and oh does that trust come back to bite me in the behind!). Also, there’s no way to proof my Smashwords output (which needed a LOT of tweaking to get right) without publishing it first, so I publish it, save the proofs, and quickly un-publish. But then I realize that it will take 2-3 weeks or more for my book to appear on Smashwords’ partners’ sites (B&N, iTunes, etc.), so I decide to just quietly publish it and hope that it will show up in those partners’ catalogs by launch day (it doesn’t).
T-1 day: My book has been live on Smashwords for a week and still no movement on the expanded retailers, but perhaps this is my fault b/c I updated the manuscript with some last minute changes the day before launch and it takes some time for it to be reviewed and submitted again. Oh well, it’s worth the wait to make sure my book is the best it can be before it lands in readers’ hands.
T-7 hours to launch: I know that after I hit the publish button on CreateSpace and KDP it’s going to take some time to for everything to appear in the catalogs, so I decide to do this the evening before launch day hoping that the system is actually quicker than Amazon is letting on and my stuff will all be up by morning. It’s 5 pm on 7/31/12 – from here on out, I’m considering this T-0 (even though official launch isn’t until the next day, 8/1).
T+2 hours: Both the Kindle and print version product pages have appeared on Amazon, but they’re not linked, so both show up separately in the search results. The Kindle version page has all the metadata and is fully purchasable, yay! The print version page is showing all the metadata except Look Inside, which is good, but is not yet purchasable – instead, it showed only “email me when this title is available” (and when I signed up, I never actually did get an email when it became available). In addition, I realize that my cover designer – who I listed as a contributor on the metadata forms on both CreateSpace and KDP – is showing up in the Amazon search results seemingly as a co-author due to some unclear formatting, and even though I really wanted to give him (the amazing Damonza.com) credit on the product page, I’m forced to remove him as a contributor, since I think the search results will be confusing to readers. I’m not able to update this on the KDP or CreateSpace websites b/c my book status is still publishing and I therefore cannot edit any metadata, however, I am able to call CreateSpace customer service to have the contributor removed. KDP will have to wait until morning (I prob could have called, but I didn’t). Now that my book is searchable on Amazon, I’m able to setup my Author Central page and I do so immediately, but I’m informed it will take a few days for it to be publicly visible and for my vanity author link to be functioning. I also submit a manuscript file to the Look Inside team to get the Look Inside feature working for the print version of the book as soon as possible.
T+12 hours: The print version is now purchasable and shows a link to the Kindle version on the hand side left of the product page (“start reading this title on your Kindle in under a minute”) but the usual format selector in the top-middle of the page is not there. Also, there is no mention of the print version on the Kindle page. Both versions still show up separately in the search results. I call Amazon’s Author Central customer service to get an ETA on when the linking will be done, and they report that their system shows that the books are linked, but it may take up to 3 days for the formats selection box to appear. KDP finally shows the book status as published which means the metadata is editable again and I can (remorsefully) remove Damon as a contributor (sorry again!!). In addition, it occurs to me that I should check if the book is showing up on Amazon’s international sites (.co.uk, .de, and .fr) and it is, but I’m not sure when exactly this happened b/c I forgot to check earlier. I also check my Author Central dashboard, and when I login I can see both versions of the book, though the metadata on only the print version is editable. The public version of the Author Central page is not accessible yet, though.
T+17 hours: The Kindle and print product pages still are not linked properly, but my beta readers post reviews and are happy to find that reviews posted on one Amazon page automatically appear on both. However, for some reason the print version is no longer showing up in search, which I call Amazon about and they assure me will be fixed once the linking is complete. Luckily, I had saved a hyperlink to the print version product page and it still works (which is a good thing, b/c I’d already sent it out to like 500 people on Facebook!), and I am still getting plenty of print orders.
T+20 hours: I get an email notifying me that my Author Central page has gone live, and though the vanity link doesn’t work yet, all the biographical info I entered during setup is there and it’s showing both versions of the book. On the back end, I can see/edit the print version of the book on my Author Central site but the Kindle version only shows “coming soon” and is uneditable (which, interestingly enough, is the reverse of how things were 8 hours ago). Amazon search results are still only showing the Kindle version. 15 minutes later, the Author Central vanity link begins working.
T+41 hours: The print version is finally showing up in search again, but the print and Kindle product pages still are not linked with the format selector box. At this point, I feel that things are in good enough condition to start contacting bloggers, so I begin sending out emails.
T+74 hours: The print and Kindle product pages are finally linked properly with the format selector box, yay!
T+4 days: With the help of an incredibly supportive blogging community, I’ve completely booked my planned 30-day tour which will begin 2 weeks after the book’s launch. Since there’s so much interest, I decide to extend the tour by a month and email even more bloggers.
T+1 week: The Author Central dashboard finally shows both books linked correctly with all the metadata editable.
T+10 days: The Look Inside feature on the print version is working, but I’m not sure when this happened b/c I forgot to check. On the Smashwords front, the ebook version is still not listed at the extended partners like B&N and iTunes, though again this might be my fault b/c I published another update to the manuscript on launch day after finding a typo (as explained in my previous post). On the blog tour front, I’ve managed to book all but a handful of dates for the extended 2-month tour and am confident that I will have all 60 days booked (and some double-booked!) by the start of the tour (remember when I said I love book bloggers? I really, really do!). In addition, I receive my very first review from a blogger and it’s even better than I had allowed myself to hope for, so I’m pretty much floating all day long!
So that’s what happened. As you can see, it wasn’t the worst experience in the world (and the whole blog tour planning aspect was just about the best experience in the world!), but it wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, either.
Amazon/Smashwords, if you’re listening, hopefully this will be helpful feedback to you when planning your upcoming releases. And for all the other first-time self-published authors out there, perhaps this will help you to set your expectations and plan more effectively for your own release.
As for me, I’m just counting down the days until this blog tour begins! More info coming soon…