Kindling for beginners: notes from a non-digital native

Kindling for beginners. Humphrey Evans
Inspired by a case study in our recent ebooklet on New Ways to Make Copyright Pay, self-confessed non-techy Humphrey Evans launched himself into the Kindle world. In the letter below, he documents the nitty-gritty of his experience.

Dear Alex,

You asked about the learning points of my Kindle experience. I’ve just finished putting up another couple of titles in the Kindle Store, my fourth and fifth.

They’re the collected pieces I wrote for the Chief Sub column in the NUJ magazine the Journalist, plus a few more. The reason for two is that I split the material (about 20,000 words in all), at quite a late stage, when I realised I could put a price of around £3 on each, rather than, say, a more off-putting £5 for a combined book.

I made of note of time spent, and problems encountered.

The biggest problem, at least the one that put the biggest delay in the process, was completely unexpected. After I’d gone through the complete preparation and uploading process, Kindle queried whether I actually had to right to publish the material – on the grounds that much of it was widely available on the web. It turned out that they were basically seeing my own website, where I had put up much of the material.

It took a long, detailed email and a two day delay to sort this out. It’s worth bearing in mind for anyone else pulling together material that has already been published on the internet. Kindle doesn’t seem to be bothered by the idea of republishing material; what it is worried about is becoming the battleground for some copyright dispute.

The main problem, for someone who is not very technical, is of being on edge the whole time. It seems so easy to make a major mistake – at one point I found I still had the entire 20,000 words in one book, when I thought I’d cut 10,000 out when splitting it.

The Kindle manual is good in that it is comprehensive and exact, and the Kindle website interface is good, but there are still moments when you have to work out what it is that a computery person expects you to do next.

I’ve given myself an extra problem because, although I could do the main editing on my normal computer, with a large screen, I had to use a netbook to do the covers and the Kindle process because that’s where I’ve got Microsoft Office 2010, which includes the Paint programme for the covers. That means using a touchpad instead of a mouse, which I would never recommend for fiddly work.

The basic editing of the 20,000 words took about two days. That’s collecting and arranging the various articles into one file and splitting it, making all the headings and intros roughly the same length, providing material for the title page, copyright notice and so on, giving it a final read for sense and proofreading it. This would have to be done whatever route you would be taking into publication.

Next came styling it up typographically, which took about half a day. On top of that was something like an hour establishing the two Contents lists.

Then came the covers. They are just typographic, which is as cheap as it comes and shows up brilliantly well in the small sizes of Kindle listings. I could do these in Paint, which comes free, bundled up in Microsoft Office 2010. It is an irritating programme, because it doesn’t allow you to go back and make corrections, or to establish a template (did I mention it is cheap?). If you want to resize one element after you see how it is working with another, you have to scrap what you have done and start again from scratch. Anyway, it took me about an hour to do the two.

The final Kindle stage, working my way through the Kindle website interface, took exactly 45 minutes to do the two. You then have to wait about 12 hours for them to go on sale live.

It is interesting, pulling together these bits and pieces which otherwise would probably have no further life – I could never see this Chief Sub material making a printed book, for example, although I have used it when teaching.

As to money, I will let you know what happens.

Best wishes,


Humphrey Evans’ Edit: 23 Guidances for Editors, Subeditors, Copyeditors and other titles are available here.