The Brutal Truth About the Third Child by Shannon Meyerkort

How to Self-Publish an eBook on Amazon

You may be familiar with my story about a post I wrote a few years ago: The Brutal Truth About the Third Child. It has been republished on a number of other sites, much bigger than my own, and as such – has always done a lot better for them, than it ever did for me.

Recently, I wanted to see if I could cash in on my own success, so I decided to turn The Brutal Truth, and a number of other posts about The Third Child, into a book which I self-published on Amazon.

The Brutal Truth About the Third Child available now on Amazon

 

The process was amazingly simple, and I am sharing it here – partly so I can remember it next time – but also for anyone who is considering self-publishing a book.

This is a really basic guide, and I do not pretend to be an expert. My book was text heavy with hardly any formatting and only one photo. If you have a lot of fancy formatting and pictures (such as a cook book) then I strongly suggest you head over to Kindle Direct and follow their much more comprehensive guide.

Before you start

When browsing on Amazon, readers can view the first 10% of your book free of charge. Therefore it is vital that you don’t waffle in your opening pages – move your acknowledgements to the back, don’t write a prologue about the time in Year 6 you decided you wanted to write a book. Put your best work upfront – this is what people will be basing their decision on.

Where should you start

Amazon supports uploading text in a number of formats, but for the sake of brevity, I am assuming you are writing your book in Word. Forgive me Mac users – I cannot help you today.

Make sure your text is 100% perfect. Find a professional editor or copyeditor if you can afford it, to ensure there are no typos or errors. That being said, one of the benefits of publishing an eBook is that you can easily ‘unpublish’ it, fix the mistake, and republish – and no one will probably even notice.

TIPS:

Do NOT add page numbers.

If you want chapters, then you must go into INSERT – PAGE BREAK.

If you want a contents page, then highlight

the name of each chapter and click on HEADING 1. Be consistent. All titles must be in the same style for the content page maker to recognise it. When you have highlighted all your chapter headings, go to REFERENCES – TABLE OF CONTENTS and it will automatically fill. Delete all the’ ……’ and page numbers. In the world of Kindle there are no page numbers (because every reader will choose a different font size to read in, each book becomes fluid and page numbers keep changing.)

Create an Amazon account

Create a Kindle Direct Publishing account.

You will need to complete all your normal personal details (name, address etc) as well as complete a section about tax and royalties. I won’t pretend it is easy, but even I managed to complete it (eventually). Keep in mind Amazon really tries to make the process as simple as possible for authors worldwide to do this, so don’t be put off when you initially see the tax interview section.

You will need to select which countries you want your book to be available in (there are at least a dozen different ‘Amazons’ worldwide) and nominate a bank account into which your millions of dollars (hopefully) will be paid.

Royalties are paid monthly – assuming you earn a certain amount. If you earn less than the set amount in a month, it simply accrues until you reach the minimum and your money (less tax) is deposited.

Upload your book details

Before you actually upload your finished manuscript you will be asked to upload certain details. Unlike the book itself, some things cannot be changed, so make sure you really think about the answers you give. Don’t rush this process in your eagerness to publish. It might be the difference in someone finding your book, and it sitting on the virtual bookshelf gathering dust.

You will be asked to give the book a title and subtitle (optional) and if it will be part of a series.

It will ask for a publisher (optional). Unless you are actually affiliated with a real publisher, leave this one blank, or make one up – such as (MMM Press) Meyerkort Magnificent Manuscripts.

The next section – description – is really important. This is the text that will appear on your book’s sale page – and will be the first thing (apart from the cover) that potential readers will see. This is no time to be modest. I trawled back through my blog and found some comments on my original Brutal Truth post by big-name bloggers. I then contacted them and asked if I could quote them (most responded, and all who did, agreed). My biggest tip here is to pretend you are a publicist rather than the author – write about yourself in the third person (or ask someone else to write it for you).

The next section is contributors – usually just a single author, but it also allows you to give credit to illustrators, editors, narrators, translators or if someone wrote the introduction or forward.

Verifying your publishing rights is straightforward: if it is an original text that you wrote yourself, then click the box that says you hold the necessary rights.

Target your book

You are only allowed TWO categories by which to classify your book, so you need to be very precise and honest. This is how people will find your book when they are browsing.

Start with the major headings and work your way down until you find the two categories that best suit your manuscript.

You can also nominate the age and reading levels that are appropriate/necessary for readers (or just leave this area blank). Unless it is full of sex and rude words, then perhaps put a minimum age limit on it.

The last vital section is to nominate 7 key words – again this is how potential readers will find your book. Choose wisely.

Upload a cover

Your book will need an eye-catching cover and you have a number of options. KDP offer the use of Cover Creator so you can design your own. You can also make your own in programs such as Canva, or you can engage a professional designer, or crowd source one (designcrowd.com; fiverr etc).

Be warned though there are a number of guidelines you must follow – I had my cover designed through designcrowd, and once I had chosen a winner, I still had at least three revisions afterwards getting the exact dimensions and approved colours right before Amazon would approve it.

You can upload a new cover at any time.

Upload your manuscript

It’s practically the last thing you do, but eventually you are asked to upload your book. It only takes a few minutes depending on how long your book it. Here is a tip – make sure you preview your book before you hit ‘save and publish’. The publish option may be given to you before your book is fully uploaded, but the preview option only appears when it is fully loaded. Do NOT hit save and publish until you are happy with how it looks (trust me, I made this mistake and had to wait three days for it to be approved and hit the shelves, before I quickly took it down again and checked the formatting). You may need to separately download the online previewer to do this.

Despite your best efforts, the formatting of the uploaded text may not be what you expected.

I think I uploaded and deleted the book a dozen times before I was happy with the layout. Little things like single lines to a page, a rogue hyperlink that somehow didn’t get deleted, a heading I forgot to highlight – all these changes needed to be made in the original Word document before re-uploading it to Amazon, and checking out the preview.

Once you publish, it can take up to 72 hours for Amazon to approve it and for the book to go live.

Choose a price and royalty

There are hundreds of blogs on what is the best price to sell your book at and you may have a specific figure in mind already, but you can either offer it for free, 99c or between $2.99 and $9.99 (or higher).

If you sell for 99c you can only get 35% royalty.

If you sell for between $2.99 and $10.99 (US Dollars) you choose either a 35% royalty and a 70% royalty.

You set the price in US dollars but it will automatically change with currency conversions to a different amount in other countries. For example I selected $US2.99 but it sells for $AU3.99.

(There is a lot more to the royalty issue, but one of the main issues is whether you are offering the book for sale elsewhere. If you are selling copies on your own blog, you will only ever be eligible for 35%. I advertise my book all over my blog but the link always sends people to Amazon to buy it from them.)

Claim your author page

Once your book is published you can claim your author page here.

The bio you create here will appear at the bottom of your book sale pages on Amazon, and you can also link to blogs and other sites.

Consider Kindle Select

This is such a big and subjective topic I will only touch on it – but if you enrol your book in Kindle Select, it means that your book becomes available FREE to the millions of Amazon Prime customers. But don’t worry about lost royalties, because for every page of your book that a Prime customer reads, you are will be paid a certain amount from the monthly pool. In June the pool was $13,000,000. Some authors make more from ‘lending’ their books to Prime customers than they ever do selling them to paying customers. Learn more here.

It also allows you to do certain ‘deals’ such as offering your book for free for up to five days each period (three months). It might sound counter-intuitive to offer your book for free, but I trialed it for two days, and saw the number of readers increase ten-fold. Sure, I didn’t receive any money but it pushed my book up the best seller lists for a while, and when the price returned, it was in a slightly better position than it had been before. And with any luck, all the people who read it for free might have mention it to a friend who will buy or borrow it.

Sit back and wait for the money to roll in

The Brutal Truth About the Third Child is currently ranked #68,794 in the Australian overall best seller lists, hardly a mentionable achievement. But it is also #33 in the Humour/Parenting and Families best seller lists, up against some awesome books like Darth Vader and Son and Go the F*ck to Sleep.

I won’t be paying off the mortgage any time soon, but it’s out there now and it’s certainly made me want to do it again.

 

 

Have you ever published an eBook? What advice would you give to people considering self-publishing for the first time?

 

 

1,000,000 Clicks and Counting: How to write a viral blog post

On Monday the 13th of February in 2012 I sat down at the kitchen table and bashed out a post for my blog Relentless. I was about a week short of giving birth to my third child, and it was a tongue in cheek comparison between the first, second and third pregnancies. Much of it was based on experience, some of it was – shall we say – writer’s liberties.

It took me a bit longer than usual because of how I structured it, but when I was done I was pretty happy with it. I gave it a title and hit publish. Then I forgot about it. For about four hours…

‘The Brutal Truth About the Third Child’ quickly become my most popular post. By mid afternoon it had been read 4,500 times, by bedtime on Tuesday it reached 10,000 views. Within a month it had been read around 25,000 times. Two years on it has been read on my blog a quarter of a million times. But these numbers are relatively small, and it was only when other websites asked to republish the post (and I allowed only three other sites to do so) that the numbers went viral.

When the post was republished on ScaryMommy, a hugely popular and very funny site in the US, it was shared over a million times in the first five days. ScaryMommy founder Jill Smokler said she’d never seen anything like it.

I’d like to think I could match its success, but in the years since I have tried and failed. But something resonated with readers, so today I am going to pick apart the anatomy of ‘The Brutal Truth’ and list the seven key essentials for writing a viral blog post.

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1. Sharable Headline

Unless they’re your mum, most people won’t read a blog post simply because you’ve written it. You’ve got to give them a reason to click, and by this I mean a killer title.

For some reason, negative headlines seem to be more popular than positive ones. Therefore while my choice of the word ‘brutal’ was dumb luck at the time, I realise now it was inspired dumb luck. Everyone wants to read horrifying things, they want to be shocked. If I had called it ‘The Exciting Truth About the Third Child’ or ‘The Inspiring Truth About the Third Child’ no one would have bothered reading.

I’m bored already.

2. Killer content

A great headline might make people click, but unless what you have written is gripping and well paced, people won’t read to the end, and they sure as hell won’t share. Shares are what makes a post go viral, and it also makes it almost impossible to track.

A few months after I published ‘The Brutal Truth’ a friend sent me an email she said had been making the rounds. It was really funny and she thought I’d like it, since I now had three kids. I scrolled down and sure enough, there was my post. It had been cut and paste into the body of an email and was being forwarded. Unfortunately there was no link to my blog nor any mention of who wrote it.

3. A Little Bit Longer

When you think about all the blog posts your friends have been sharing and reposting and saying ‘you have to read this’, they probably all tend to be a bit longer than the average blog post, which runs between 500-800 words. The Brutal Truth was a whopping 1,900 words, which breaks a number of blogging rules, but it didn’t seem to make a difference to readers. Perhaps people are more likely to share something they have invested more time in, and short crappy posts can make people feel ripped off. ‘I wasted my click!’

4. People love lists

So many viral posts are lists of some form, and this is apparent in the title. Seven Reasons Why Cat People are Better than Dog People. Nine Things You Can Learn from Your Fetus. Five Things Only a Pregnant Woman Will Understand. (Feel free to use any of those titles and write your own viral post, by the way).

Lists are popular for a number of reasons. We are all lazy readers these days and the way we read text on a screen is different to how we read hard copy, and we are much more like to scan and skim read. Lists make it easy to do this. It increases the amount of white space on the screen, making it easier on the eye.

And for some reason, odd numbers have a bigger impact than even numbers. It’s true – have a look at the next ‘list’ post that comes your way.

5. Make it urgent

The blog has to be written, titled and marketed in a way that makes readers feel that if they don’t read it, they will be missing out. No one likes being the person who hasn’t heard of the hottest new trend, so you need to create the desire for people to click. Sometimes this is by writing about a controversial topic, or giving an ordinary topic a controversial spin. You should never tell a reader what to think in the title (eg don’t say ‘ten things you must know about packing school lunches’ but say ‘ten things you should know about packing school lunches’). It should make them desperate to read it.

Like you all now want to read about school lunches.

6. The curtains should match the carpet

It should be obvious, but if you’re going to use a really dramatic, negative, punchy and urgent headline, make sure the blog post is actually about that topic. Don’t use controversy to attract readers and then waffle on about your cat. That really pisses people off.

7. Be different and specific

Everyone is a writer these days. All you need is a computer and an internet connection, and away you go. There is a lot of great content out there, but also a lot of crap, and it makes it a lot harder to be noticed when there is something like half a billion blogs in existence and more being published every day.

How can you stand out in such a noisy crowd, when we are all shrieking ‘look at me, look at me’?

You need to find your niche and you should work with what you have. I am a mother of three now. 90% of the random traffic to Relentless are people who have googled topics to do with having three kids. Should they have three kids? How to tell their husband they’re pregnant with number three. How to cope with three kids. That’s what people want to read, and I’m fine with that. Sob.

The brutal truth though, is that you can’t actually write a viral post. There are no ‘rules’ or guarantees, otherwise we’d all be doing it, all the time. And I’d be very rich because I would put advertising on my site and cash in on my own success. Readers are a fickle lot, one day they want to read about grumpy cats and the next day they want awkward pictures.

My advice: keep writing if that’s what you love. And maybe one day, you’ll get lucky.

Should I Let Other People (Re)Publish my Posts?

This is an issue I have been grappling with for a while: should I let other websites publish my posts on their site?

What about SEO and duplicate content? Will Google freak out? Will readers get annoyed when they see the same post in multiple places? Will I be losing blog traffic? Will I be making other people money at my own expense? Will it affect my blog’s ranking?

On the other hand, will I be getting great exposure? Will I have access to thousands of other readers who wouldn’t normally come across my work? Is this actually the big break I am looking for?

The answer is: I don’t know.

I recently found this article by Kathryn Rose, where she discusses the topic of duplicate content, along with something called rel:canonical tags (which I’d really like to more about if anyone can translate), but the article focuses on when you guest post on someone else’s blog, and then republish on your own.

My specific question is whether I should let other sites republished my content. Do the pros outweigh the cons, especially for new writers, and are there circumstances when it is a bad idea?

In January 2013, iVillage Australia (23,000 Facebook likes) asked to republish ‘A Letter of Apology to my Middle Child’. I agreed on the basis that they were a respected Australian site with a decent following. It was the first time one of my posts had been republished and I was pretty flattered: apparently the editor followed my blog Relentless. Shortly after they asked to republish The Brutal Truth About the Third Child but at the time I refused, since that single post was bringing in about half my blog traffic.

Nothing much happened for a year, then suddenly in February 2014 I had multiple requests to republish The Brutal Truth About the Third Child. First was the UK site Best Daily (31,000 Facebook likes), then came the US site Scary Mommy (164,000 Facebook Likes), the Australian site Mamamia (123,000 Facebook Likes) and finally News.Com.Au (113,000 Facebook likes).

These are big sites, and have brought me an enormous amount of exposure.

Scary Mommy recorded over 1 million shares of my article in the first week, with the editor Jill Smokler saying that only 6 or 7 posts published on her site have ever recorded those sorts of numbers. My Facebook followers have tripled over the past couple of weeks, and Relentless (and this blog) is seeing a lot of traffic coming from these sites.

So I think the first point to make is that compared to my modest number of followers, these sites are massive. The exposure alone is worth the price of possible issues with ranking (though I doubt my ranking was that impressive to start with). So while it would make little sense to allow a site with a smaller fan base than your original blog to republish a post, there are plenty of benefits of being republished on a much larger site.

What about money you say? Those sites earn money from advertising, and people reading your article are probably earning them money.

True. Sort of. In the case of Scary Mommy, Jill puts her money where her mouth is, and Scary Mommy Nation raises money to help feed families who are in need of support. I’m happy to donate my words to an awesome cause like that.

The other sites are commercial, and yes, in a roundabout way my post might be making them a (tiny) bit of money. But I made the decision long ago not to monetise Relentless (maybe it is a decision I will regret) so every time someone clicks on Mamamia and not Relentless, it is not as though I am losing money I would otherwise make.

What about duplicate content?

I’m still scratching my head over this one, because Brutal Truth has now been published on three major sites in three different countries, in addition to my original Blogspot post. That means there are four sets of identical information out there (actually, the version on Best Daily isn’t identical – they wanted me to cut it down to 500 words, an impossible task considering the original is 1,900. We settled on 1,200 words).

So far Google hasn’t seemed to spit the dummy, but what will happen if it does? When you Google ‘The Brutal Truth About the Third Child’ the original blog still comes out on top, closely followed by Mamamia. Scary Mommy had the decency to change the title of the post so that I wouldn’t lose my original traffic, and Best Daily also changed it considerably. Mamamia didn’t change the title of the post, even though I asked them to, and I suspect with their followers it’s likely it will overtake Relentless on the rankings soon enough.

I have also decided that enough is enough, and I will have to say no to future requests to republish The Brutal Truth. It’s out there now, it’s a bit like a mogwai that got fed and now is a gremlin, threatening to take everything else over. I would like to see some of my other babies get some attention.

Another thing I didn’t plan for once the post was republished on big sites, was smaller sites then duplicating their content, with or without my permission. I have found  brutalised versions of The Brutal Truth, chopped and edited to pieces, without my name or blog mentioned anywhere. Needless to say, I have written some strongly worded letters asking them to cease and desist.

So what are lessons I have learned from this, and should you let other sites duplicate your content?

I think for someone in my position, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

I wasn’t make any money from the post anyway, so it’s no issue that commercial sites might be making a few dollars from my post. (It would be nice though, if I could cash in on my own success though.)

The enormous number of new readers is something I could never have hoped to achieve from my own modest blog, and it means that my writing – and my name – have now been seen by millions of readers that otherwise would never have stumbled across Relentless.

I have seen a boost in my Facebook followers and my blog readers.

Finally, I would like to think it paves the way for me to approach these sites (and others) with original work in the future, and hopefully negotiate a payment for new work. Which (I sometimes need to remind myself) is the whole reason for me being here.

 

What are your thoughts on having similar stories published on multiple sites? Is it annoying? Is it dangerous?