Why You Should Self-Publish Your Seminary Thesis on Kindle
Most of the major research projects that seminary students complete end up getting read by two people: the student and their professor. Or if there is a committee reading your dissertation, maybe a few more. But at the end of the day, that big hardbound copy gets stuck on the university’s bookshelf, destined to be read by... anybody? That is a really tragedy because, in many cases, you’ve poured in lots of time and effort into a project has real relevance for the life and ministry of the church but those who could really benefit from reading it will never read it. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
It used to be that in order to self-publish, you had put down a lot of money for a lot of copies that may or may not ever be bought. But with the advent of Kindle and other eBook readers, all that has changed.
After writing my Th.M thesis about evangelistic methods, I really wanted to have people read it, so I sent the PDF to some people I knew. But then I discovered that I could publish directly to Amazon’s Kindle store, at zero cost and without a publisher. Amazon is the big name in buying books these days, but I thought that in order to get on Amazon, you had to be a real publisher, not just somebody off the street. I also thought that in order to make an eBook, you had to have some kind of fancy technical skills (or the money to pay to some who does). I was wrong on both counts.
By following the guidelines at the Kindle Direct Publishing site, I was able to format my Word document, upload it, and watch with amazement as people actually bought my Kindle book. And when I ran free promotions of my book on Amazon, announcing it on Facebook & Twitter, over 1600 people grabbed a free download of my book. Although I make no money on freebies, a LOT more people have read my book than otherwise would have if the only copies of it were sitting imprisoned on my hard drive and in the seminary library. Even if only a quarter of the people who got my book for free actually read it, that is still 400 people who are reading the fruit of my research and the implications it has evangelism in the church today. From my experience, turning my seminary thesis into a Kindle book has been a fantastic way to get my work out there, and Lord willing, to make a real difference in the belief and practice of the church.
How to Self-Publish to Kindle
In the remainder of this post, I want to quickly run through some of the nuts-and-bolts of “how-to” self-publish to Kindle. Kindle is not the only show in town, but it is the far and away the most popular and widely-used eReader. If you have to choose one place to publish your eBook, the Kindle Store on Amazon is that place. There is a sub-section of the Amazon.com website called “Kindle Direct Publishing” which allows you to self-publish directly to Amazon. Another option is to use the Smashwords website, which allows you to self-publish to various platforms (iBookstore, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook, etc) all at the same time, although they don't put your book on Amazon for you. I looked into Smashwords, and still may use them at some point to get more distribution for my thesis, but initially I decided to use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) on the Amazon website to publish my book directly to there.
To publish via KDP, here's what you need to do:
1. Go to https://kdp.amazon.com and sign-in with your Amazon account
2. Click "Add New Title"
3. Choose whether you want to enroll in KDP Select
Whether you enroll in KDP Select or not, you can still publish directly to Kindle using KDP. If you enroll in KDP Select, the advantage is that you can run special promotions and offer your book for free on Amazon, and Amazon prime members can borrow it for free. The downside is you have to agree not to make your book publicly available online in any other electronic format for the duration of your enrollment in the program (print format anywhere online or offline is okay)
3. Fill in book details (title, author, publishing date, etc)
If you have projects to self-publish where "Publisher" and "ISBN" are irrelevant, you can skip those (I did not have them for my thesis). Make sure you include a description, because that's what people will read most on the Amazon product page (besides the reviews). If you have a thesis abstract, you could slightly modify that to sound more like what you’d read on the back cover of a book.
4. Upload book cover image
If you are good with Photoshop, GIMP, or some similar graphic program, then you can make your own jpeg image. Amazon's guidelines for jpeg book cover dimensions are here. If you don’t have the graphics skills for that, you can either have a graphically-inclined friend do it for you, use one of the book cover templates that you can find by googling, or hire a professional to do it. If you hire someone, the starting price is about $100-200, and can go up from there if you want something really fancy. If none of those options sound good, Amazon has recently introduced a “Cover Creator” on the KDP publishing menu so that you can make your own cover on the KPD website by typing your own info (and adding a picture if you want) into one of their pre-designed templates. Most of their templates are fairly decent and look sufficiently professional so that the common man probably won’t know the difference.
5. Upload your book file
There are many ebook conversion services out there. Googling will tell you what is available. The price is something in the range of $100 and up, depending on length, photos, charts, etc. That said, it is completely possible to do the ebook conversion yourself without much technical knowledge. It took me some time, but I did it myself. Basically, you start off with your whole book as a Microsoft Word document, and format it according to Amazon's guidelines (such as taking out tabs at start of paragraphs, removing page numbers, no more than four hard returns between sections, using "Page Break" between chapters, generate Table of Contents using styles, etc.). For me, formatting the MS Word doc was the step that took the longest, especially figuring out how to do an Active Table of Contents (meaning a table of contents that is hyperlinked to the various chapters in the book). Once you have your Word doc formatted, select "Save As Web Page" from the "File" menu in Microsoft Word. This will produce an HTML file, and a folder with the jpgs, etc. that go along with the HTML file. Zip up the two of these together and upload the zip file to Amazon.
Once your zipped HTML file is upload, Amazon converts it to Kindle format and you can preview it. If you notice problems, simply go back to your original file, fix the problem, re-upload and preview it again.
6. Click save and continue to move to the next page
7. Choose your price & royalty rate
Unfortunately you can't have it be free unless Amazon gets wind of it being free elsewhere online and does a price match. $0.99 is the minimum, and from $0.99 to $2.98, you only get 35% royalty. From $2.99 to $9.99 you can choose 35% or 70% royalty, and over $9.99, Amazon mandates 35% royalty for you. If you are enrolled in KDP Select however, you can offer your book for free for 5 days (of your choosing) for every 90 day period you are enrolled. If you do a free promo, contact www.gospelebooks.net, to see if they will put your book in their listings.
Make sure your bank account info is in Amazon's system so that they will know where to send your check / transfer your money for books sales (about every 60 days or so). If you are not a U.S. resident, you unfortunately need to have a U.S. bank account for this to work.
8. Click save & publish and you're done!
It should take no more than 24 hours for your book to appear on Amazon.com and all of Amazon’s international sites in the U.K., Germany, India, etc.