The Musclemen’ was initially well-received and was made an ‘Independent on Sunday’ Christmas acim for Children recommendation, but sales were disappointing, and it was soon remaindered. In hindsight this was predictable. I was at a point in my life where I was seized by an attack of shame and embarrassment whenever anything I had written found its way into the public arena – it felt rather like one of those dreams in which you find yourself at a dinner party without your trousers. As a result I did nothing to promote the book, and nor unfortunately did OUP.
The jacket was nicely drawn but insipid, and the whole production looked cheap and dull, like an easy reader. I had wanted illustrations – Quentin Blake would have done very nicely – but my editor at Oxford warned against it: she thought that pictures of toys would associate the book in its readers’ minds with Noddy and his friends. I probably should have pointed out that that might depend on the illustrator, but I was a first-time author, and only too glad to be getting published at all.
Once the rights reverted to me I could have published an edition myself, but to do it properly would have cost more money than I wanted to risk, and its publishing history with Oxford did not encourage me to think that I would get much in the way of a return on my investment. In any case, self-publishing carried for me the stigma of the vanity press. If a publisher wasn’t going to put their money behind it, then perhaps it didn’t deserve to be revived.
Kindle changed all that.
Reading about Amanda Hocking’s success immediately brought ‘The Muscleman’ to mind. How easy would it be, I wondered, to give the book a new lease of life by publishing it myself on Kindle? The copyright had reverted to me, and I still had the text on file in a version of Word. I googled ‘self-publishing on Kindle’ and was immediately taken to a page on Amazon.com which showed me how to add a book to the Kindle list. The process is extremely simple and amazingly it is completely free. To begin with it all looks quite complicated – there are a number of websites that give you advice on formatting – but unless you insist on setting every page yourself it is really amazingly simple. First download Mobipocket Creator.
Then compile your book into a continuous Word Document, save the string of chapters as a single HTML file (select Web Page Filtered), and build it into a Kindle document with Mobipocket Creator. After that all you have to do is open an account for Kindle at amazon.com (you can’t do it at amazon.co.uk for some reason) and follow the instructions for self-publishing. You set the price, your book can be downloaded by anyone with a Kindle, and you get to keep 70% of the proceeds (if there are any). Brilliant.
The whole process took me about a fortnight. I could have done it quicker, but I wanted to revise the book and give it a new title – ‘New Toys’. My son Henry designed me a very professional-looking (and rather scary) cover. I uploaded the cover and book to Kindle, and by the next morning it was already available on the amazon.co.uk website and on my Kindle.
The main job now is marketing. The book is on sale for £1.71 a copy ex VAT (you have to pay VAT on Kindle downloads, unlike books), and if you want to look at the first chapter there is a feature on the Kindle system that allows you to download a sample for nothing. Incidentally, you don’t actually need a Kindle to access the Kindle store; if you go to amazon you can download a simple application for reading Kindle books on your pc or laptop.
If you want to see what your book looks like on Kindle, incidentally, there is a simple way of uploading it onto your e-reader without committing yourself to putting it in front of the public. Amazon give you a Kindle email address; all you have to do is format the book as above and send it to your Kindle email address as an attachment. And there is is, thirty seconds later. This is actually an excellent aid to proof-reading: the fact that the text comes up on your Kindle screen creates that little bit of distance that allows you to read, evaluate and edit it almost as if it was someone else’s work. You can even annotate the file as you read.