An Author’s Review of Pronoun
Pronoun is the newest self-publishing platform on the Internet. Think Smashwords 2.0 – a single central place where you can prepare an ebook, add covers, titles, keywords, bios, and, with a few clicks, have it blasted out to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and Apple’s iBooks. Pronoun was recently bought by Macmillan, one of the Big Five*.
I tried out Pronoun with my self-publishing debut: The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne, a hard sci-fi novella about an alcoholic and a black hole. Rohan shot pretty fast into Amazon’s top 10 for scifi and lit-fic short reads (holding #1 and #2 respectively), so technically, I should have plenty of sales and review data by which to evaluate Pronoun’s post-publish workings.
The pre-publication prep phase. Verdict: epic.
Pronoun is gorgeous. There’s a very slick interface where you give them your email, log in, and create a book. Whoever does their user interface deserves an award.
But down to the process. You pick your title, upload your cover art, and, my favorite step of all: you can upload a Word document or an ePub. They convert it to a Kindle-ready file with a click, and allow you to download the ePub / Kindle files. They’re yours.
This part of Pronoun is the easiest converter I’ve come across. Scrivener, as awesome as it is, produces bad Kindle code; I tried uploading a mobi directly to Pronoun and was politely told that Amazon would turn this down. Vellum is as expensive as hell, but now my process is as simple as compiling an ePub with Scrivener (3 minutes) and hitting upload.
Then you get to pick your categories and keywords, and you’re shown others in the category. As thrilled as I am to be in spitting distance of Ted Chiang and Bradbury, this is just a feel-nice thing. The real usability comes from the keywords.
The pre-publication keyword stuff
The indie publishing world has tools like KDSpy and KDProcket. These treata Amazon like the search engine it is and help authors figure out keywords so that they can rank better.
Pronoun does this by default. The moment you start entering keywords it shows a list of similar keywords, ranked by popularity and attainability. If this is anything like what KDPSpy and KDPRocket does, you have a really good chance of ranking up in keywords with high popularity but high attainability. That means people are searching for it, but few people have listed books in it.
Here’s a screenshot from sci-fi author Navin Weeratne.
And here’s mine. Note that the Monkey’s Paw is a very available category, but that’s an entire search term based on one really popular short story. I picked the ones that made sense.
Next, you set your pricing (you get a free ISBN). Something I appreciate very much: that breakdown of pricing. It looks like @0.99 and $2.99 are the places to be,
Keywords really are the only thing that you have to think hard about when submitting (other than the blurb, cover and actual story, of course). You hit publish and you get some fanfare (thanks!) and a book page. It looks like this:
Post-publication analysis: needs work
This is where things get slightly less savory.
Firstly, note that Pronoun does send it out to all stores listed above. You have control over who gets what, except for Amazon. Your book MUST be in Amazon.
This makes sense, because Amazon accounts for the overwhelming majority of book sales and has the Kindle exclusive programs going on.
But Amazon is also where Pronoun drops the ball. Firstly, my book showed up on Amazon, but Pronoun did not acknowledge it until three days later.
Secondly, Pronoun has daily sales analytics, but it somehow completely missed out on an entire week’s worth of Amazon analytics after the launch. It knows how many reviews I’ve gotten, it even offers me helpful advice on dealing with reviews, but I have no idea how many downloads I got for a whole week.
10 reviews, all of them four and five star, zero downloads reported. While Amazon is showing me a strong, consistent climb in rank, and and people are downloading, sending me photos of the book on their Kindles, and so on. Clearly there’s an issue with API calls on the Pronoun front.
This isn’t a game-breaker, because my Amazon author account is giving me some data, but this side of Pronoun is not foolproof.
Note that Pronoun pays by PayPal, and PayPal only. This can be a blessing or a curse depending on which side of the world you’re from.
And lastly, something interesting.
When my book broke into the top 10, the ‘Sold by’ field switched from Amazon Digital Services, LLC, to Macmillan.
I checked with other authors, and there’s absolutely no harm done – my rights are my own, as Pronoun specifies. Nevertheless, it’s pretty cool to see the Macmillan network running with it. Not a bad debut at all.
*The Big Five: https://almossawi.com/big-five-publishers/
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