Self-Publishing a Paperback with Amazon KDP

Easy enough, but not ideal.

Part 107 Explained
Want to become a commercial drone pilot? Start by learning all about the FAA’s Part 107. This book will help. Buy the ebook edition on Amazon or from Apple. Or buy the paperback edition on Amazon.

Back in April, I wrote and published a short guide to FAR Part 107, which are the regulations governing commercial small UAS (drone) pilot operations. In the U.S., a pilot who wants to fly a drone for hire must get some training on these rules and then prove they know them by taking a test. If you’re not already a pilot, there’s additional certification and training that must be done. The FAA has recognized that a small UAS is an aircraft and must be regulated as such. As a helicopter pilot sharing airspace with drone pilots, I’m pretty happy about that, although I’m not happy about the folks who operate with little or no regard for the rules.

In preparing for the test and later answering people’s questions about the regulations, I looked for a guide that explained everything in plain English. When I couldn’t find one, I wrote one. It was my first book project in about four years and it wasn’t very tough for me. When it came time to publish it, I did it the easy way: I created ebook files in the correct formats and published them in the Apple bookstore and on Amazon.com.

Understand that I’m a big proponent of ebooks and very rarely buy printed books anymore. It’s a lot more convenient for me to read on my iPad and I get the added benefit of taking as many books as I want with me on trips without adding any weight to my luggage. I assumed that the folks who wanted a book like this would be on the same page as me.

But apparently that isn’t so. Lots of people seem to really like printed books, even for something as short as this one.

I normally use a print on demand publisher for my paperback book publishing needs: Lightning Source. They are affiliated with Ingram, so any book I publish using their service is automatically listed in Books in Print and appears in bookstore book catalogs, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The service isn’t difficult to use if you have the ability to create a PDF in the correct format. I usually write my books in InDesign, which can spit out documents in the formats I need. I fill out a few online forms, I upload the content and cover files, I pay a nominal fee, and I wait. The books are usually available within a week or so.

But yesterday, while checking the sales for the Part 107 book on Amazon, I saw a link for creating a paperback using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I did some research on how it worked, what it cost, and how royalties were calculated. It seemed straightforward enough so I thought I’d give it a try. I figured that if I didn’t like the results, I could cancel publication and get the paperback printed through Lightning Source.

I spent about five hours yesterday prepping the manuscript for print publication. The trouble was, the manuscript I’d published as an ebook was absolutely filled with links to references on the web and cross-references to book content. In the ebook, you could tap a link to go right to that source — another benefit of ebooks over printed books. I had to manually convert all of the references to URLs in footnotes or page references in parentheses. I also had to remove all of the URL formatting that had been applied to link text. And because many of the URLs were really long, I had to use a URL shortener — I prefer bit.ly — to give each link a short, custom URL.

When I was done, I tried creating a PDF but didn’t like the results. I was working with Microsoft Word 2011 — I never did go to the Office 365 suite — and it doesn’t offer many options for PDF files. And, for some reason, it was spitting out a separate PDF for each section of the document. (I used sections to add custom headers for each chapter of the book.)

Since the KDP system accepted Word documents, I uploaded in that format. I then spent another half hour recreating the book cover for print.

When I was all finished, I previewed the book. That’s when I discovered that KDP had changed pagination for some reason that wasn’t immediately apparent, thus making my table of contents incorrect. Great.

I was offered the option of downloading a “corrected” Word document, so I did. When I opened it up, I discovered that the “correction” included changing the margins for the document. I knew what they said the margins should be, but I thought that was a suggestion. Apparently, it was a requirement. So I opened my “uncorrected” file, changed the margins, updated the table of contents and cross-references page numbers, and made a few other minor tweaks. Then I saved the file, uploaded it again, and previewed the results. It was fine.

Ready for Publishing
Here’s the dialog that appeared when I clicked Publish.

I clicked the buttons that needed clicking and eventually saw a dialog box telling me that my paperback had been submitted. Although one message had told me it could take 72 hours, this one said 12 hours. Whoa.

I shut down my computer for the day and went about my business. It was only 3 PM. I think I spent a total of 6 or 7 hours on the conversion process.

This morning, a little black dog who will remain nameless in this discussion decided she needed to bark at the coyotes howling off in the distance at 3:15 AM. That was all I needed to wake me up.

I lay in bed for a while with my iPad, checking weather, doing a word puzzle I do every morning, and checking in on Twitter. Then I decided to check Amazon to see if my paperback book appeared. I was very surprised to see that it did.

Book Listing
Here’s my book, all ready for purchase. I think it might be #1 in New Release and #11 in in Books > Arts & Photography > Photography & Video > Aerial because I bought two copies this morning.

Of course, I bought two copies right away: one for me and one for my friend Jim, who got me into drones. The only way I’m going to see the book is by buying it. At least I earn royalties on the purchase.

I guess what blows me away is just how quickly the book was made available. When they said 12 hours, they weren’t kidding. I used standard Prime shipping; my book will arrive Monday because today is a holiday and they don’t deliver on weekends. Still, that means they’ll print and ship the book tomorrow.

If the book looks as good as the ones I get through Lightning Source, I might have a new provider for my limited audience paperbacks. Let’s face it: Amazon sells more books than anyone else. For a book that normally would not appear in a brick and mortar bookstore, there isn’t much of a reason to get it in that Ingram catalog. And although I need to run the numbers, I suspect I might actually make more money publishing through Amazon; I’ll have to do a cost analysis to see.

As for ease of publishing, well, if you don’t try to get fancy and you use the Word template Amazon provides, it’s pretty darn easy to publish a book. So easy that I’m thinking of doing it again this month. The only thing I miss is the flexibility of getting my manuscript just the way I like it. Maybe it’s time to fire up InDesign and use that to create PDFs that KDP can’t change.

Personal Aerial Photography

A few thoughts from someone who has been doing it for a long time.

I’ve been doing aerial photography since I began flying helicopters, way back in the late 1990s. At first, it was a few digital images shot awkwardly with my left hand while my right hand was busy on the cyclic. Later, I went through a variety of different cameras mounted in and on the helicopter, some set to automatically shoot whatever was in front of them and others with limited control from inside the cockpit. I had a POV.1 camera in 2008, which I replaced with a GoPro Hero in 2010. Since then, I’ve had a variety of GoPros, right up to a GoPro 3+. (Even I get tired of throwing money at new versions of hardware.) I’ve created numerous still and video images from my helicopter, some of which still amaze me.

Great Salt Lake
This is one of my very favorite aerial photos: the north end of the Great Salt Lake, shot with a GoPro 3 mounted on the nose of my helicopter as I flew it south to Arizona last autumn. The camera was set to time-lapse mode, shooting one photo every minute. We were probably about 700 feet up here.

But the point of this discussion is this: I’ve been looking at the world from a different point of view for about 20 years now. It’s not the same point of view as an airliner cruising at 29,000 feet and 500 mph. And it’s not the point of view of a private plane cruising at 1,500 feet and 140 mph. It’s the point of view of a helicopter, usually cruising at an average of only 500 feet at 90 miles per hour, with the ability to stop, make sudden turns, or descend for a closer look.

Pilots get used to seeing the world from this different perspective. After a while, it isn’t anything special. We can get a feel for how different things might look from the air: a canyon, a river, a farm, a junkyard. That doesn’t mean it gets boring — it doesn’t. But it does mean that we don’t see anything special about it anymore.

Kind of sad, isn’t it?

That’s one of the reasons I like flying with first time passengers. I get a reminder of what it’s like to see things from a new perspective.

Part 107 Explained
Want to become a commercial drone pilot? Start by learning all about the FAA’s Part 107. This book will help. Buy the ebook edition on Amazon or from Apple. Or buy the paperback edition on Amazon.

But I was reminded again about the novelty of seeing everyday things from above when I watched a documentary on Lynda.com called “Flight Club: Drones and the Dawn of Personal Aerial Imaging.” Listening to the people explain how they felt when they saw these low-level aerial images really helped me understand just how amazing aerial photography is, especially to folks that don’t have a helicopter at their disposal — which, admittedly, is most people.

Folks who know me well know how anti-drone I was when they first started appearing on the scene a few years back. But what convinced me that they were serious photography tools is the quality of the images they produced and the ease at which an operator could get them. I dove into drone photography last winter with the purchase of a Mavic Pro and will be doing a lot more of it in the months to come.

If you are curious about drones for aerial photography, I highly recommend you spend 25 minutes or so watching the documentary I saw last night. I think you’ll enjoy it and learn a lot about why people are so excited about it.

If you do watch, let me know what you think.

More about the Wind Machines

A few new videos.

Back in April 2015, I blogged about the wind machines commonly used for frost control in the Wenatchee Valley. Resembling tall fans, different versions of these machines can be found in agricultural areas throughout the west wherever frost — especially early spring frost — is an issue. Around here, they’re often in low areas subject to thermal inversions.

Wind Machine
The wind machines that were running this morning. That’s the Mission Ridge Ski resort in the background. Photo shot with my Mavic Pro.

The machines are fans that generate wind. The blades spin fast — faster than you might think watching the video below — to circulate the air. The fan heads rotate to constantly change the direction of the wind. The net result is that the air is circulated, bringing warm air from above down into the crops.

In the almond orchards of California, they use helicopters to do this. I think it’s because the orchards are so big that they simply can’t install and maintain as many wind machines as they need. The helicopters are likely a lot cheaper in the long run, especially when you have a few years in a row when they’re not needed. I’ve been on frost control contracts for the past five winters now and have yet to turn a rotor blade over an almond tree. (Global climate change?)

This winter was particularly long, setting the tree fruit back two to four weeks. The cherry trees are still blooming around here; last year, the cherries were already beginning to redden in the orchards closest to my home. Nighttime temperatures at my home have been in the low 40s. But in the orchards below me, pockets of colder air form. And this morning, they got cold enough to trigger the temperature-set auto start feature on the wind machines in the closest orchards.

I don’t know exactly when they started. I was up at 4:30, reading before getting out of bed, and I didn’t hear them. But by the time I made my coffee at 5 AM, I could hear them faintly through the walls and windows of my my home. I stepped out on the deck for a better look in the predawn light. The sound was louder and I could see two of the machines to the west spinning. My ears told me that one to the northeast, which I can only see from a handful of spots on my deck, was also spinning.

Here’s the zoomed in video I shot with my phone. When I shut up, you can hear the wind machines.

I did a Periscope — that’s a live Twitter video — of the wind machines. A handful of people tuned in and I answered questions as they came up. I was frustrated that I couldn’t zoom in. I signed off, used the video feature on my phone to capture a short zoomed-in clip, and posted it on Twitter. Then the sun rose and the light got good and I did another Periscope that was mostly to show off how beautiful the area was. The wind machines droned in the background of my voice as I described various things and answered questions.

I went inside, washed some pots from cheesemaking, and listened to the radio. I could hear the wind machines faintly through the walls and windows. I was sort of bummed out that I couldn’t give people a better view.

Part 107 Explained
Want to become a commercial drone pilot? Start by learning all about the FAA’s Part 107. This book will help. Buy the ebook edition on Amazon or from Apple. Or buy the paperback edition on Amazon.

And then I remembered my Mavic Pro.

It took only two or three minutes to set it up. I launched it from my deck, got the video camera going, and sent it to the wind machines, stopping before it got so close that the wind could affect it. The light was beautiful and the image the Mavic sent back to me was clear. I hovered for a while to capture a good clip and then flew around a little, just taking in the view with the camera running. I stopped the video camera, took some stills, and then flew home for some more video of my home and the area around it.

Back inside, I made a fresh cup of coffee and spent a few minutes editing the video and setting it to music. It’s unfortunate that the Mavic doesn’t capture sound, but I understand why: it would be capturing its own buzzing sound, which isn’t pleasant. So music will have to do.

A side note here: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I like living here. I realized — and I think I mentioned in one of those Periscope videos — that I like it here more than anywhere else I’ve lived. I’m not sure if it’s because of the place itself or the fact that I have a home with an amazing view built to exactly meet my needs or because after a stifling relationship that went on a lot longer than it should have I finally have the freedom to do what I want to do with my life and time.

Whatever the reason, I just want to remind readers that we all have just one life and it will eventually end. Don’t waste it stuck in a rut or in a place you’re not happy.