Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP

Published September 28, 2013 by Elsa Pla

ghost girl

Hello, fellow writers!

I’ve been busy revising, editing, and formatting my short story “Ghost Girl: The Story of Jamie Jones” and self-publishing it as an ebook through Amazon KDP. I thought it would be a good idea to share my process and the resources that helped me along the way. Please note that I’m not a techie person, so I had to search for the easiest–not necessarily the fastest–way to do this. Yes, it was a trial-and-error, time-consuming endeavor, but it wasn’t impossible, and if I could to do it, then so can anyone else.

So here’s how I did it:

1- I revised and revised my story and–with the help of my editor (you really should have one)–created the best possible final copy.

2- I copyrighted my work ($35 online). (This was a personal choice.)

3- I downloaded and studied the following two guides:

a) Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing

b) Building Your Book for Kindle

4- I used the following two internet sources to help me create a cover:

a) (I found a great public domain photo for my story in Wikimedia Commons.)

b) (The dimensions suggested by Mr. King [6 x 8] no longer work [KDP image requirements have changed], but, other than that, the instructions for creating a cover using powerpoint and then saving the image as a jpeg are clear, simple, and very helpful. KDP’s new image requirements are: a height/width ratio of 1.6 [divide the longest side by the shortest side], minimum dimensions of 625 by 1000 pixels, and preferred dimensions of 1563 by 2500 pixels. What I did was play around with the dimensions in powerpoint [page setup] until I found the ratio in inches that most closely transferred to 1563 by 2500 pixels in jpeg.)

4- I used the following source to write my copyright notice and legal disclaimers:

5- I followed the instructions in Building Your Book for Kindle (see step 3) to format my ebook and get it ready for publishing. (This step took a long time!)

6- I joined Amazon KDP and followed their step-by-step self-publishing instructions. 

7- Success! (With many trial-and-error stressful moments along the way.)

I plan to dedicate more time to my poems and stories, which means I’ll be blogging less. My goal is to add a post to each of my blogs (I’ve got four!) at least once a month.

“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” (she, in my case) –Roald Dahl

Blogs and More

Published August 4, 2013 by Elsa Pla


Check out this photo: A Passion for Words

A few writing blogs you may find useful or inspiring:

And this jewel:

“As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.” Hunter S. Thompson

“To Write is to Take Some Words for a Walk”

Published July 20, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Neighborhood Walk

I just finished reading My Name Is Mina, the prequel to Skellig, by David Almond, one of my favorite children’s writers. The book is an intimate portrait of Mina, a creative and philosophical girl who loves to observe nature, reflect, and write. The story reads like a journal and is sprinkled with interesting exercises made up by Mina, which she calls “Extraordinary Activities.” Here are the ones that have to do with writing:

1- Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else.

2- Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself.

3- Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you.)

4- Joyous version: Write a page of words for joy. Sad version: Write a page of words for sadness.

5- Write a page of utter nonsense. This will produce some very fine new words. It could also lead to some very sensible results.

6- Write a sentence that fills a whole page. Write a single word at the center of a page.

7- Take some words for a walk. Find out what you’re writing when you’ve written it.

And here are two excerpts — extraordinary as well — from the book:

First excerpt:

I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will be, it is a place of wonder.

Second excerpt:

“So let’s walk,” she [Mina’s mother] says, “and think about a theory about walks by Paul Klee.”

“Who’s he?”

“One of the great artists of the twentieth century. He said that drawing was taking a line for a walk.”

I thought about that, about the way a pencil point moves as you draw.

“So if drawing is like walking,” I say, “then walking is like drawing.”

“Yes, and if you think of it like that, it allows you to wander and to roam and to explore.”


“Maybe writing’s like walking as well,” I say. “You set off writing like you set off walking and you don’t really need to know where you’re going till you get there, and you don’t know what you’ll pass along the way.”

She smiles.

“So writing’s like taking some words for a walk,” she says.

“It is.”

Wonderful reflections, right? My Name Is Mina is a great little novel for creative minds of all ages, and especially for writers. Reading it will bring you joy and spark your creativity. I found it delightfully inspiring.


A Push

Published July 9, 2013 by Elsa Pla

The Salty Sea

I took a leap of faith and self-published my second collection of poems in eBook format. It’s available through the Amazon Kindle store.

Today I’m posting 20 quotes.  (Because we all need a push sometimes.)

1- “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

2- “You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you. Go work with it.” –from

3- “Guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.” –J.K. Rowling

4- “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” –Roald Dahl.

5- “When asked ‘how do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.'” –Stephen King

6- “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.” –Confucius

7- “Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.” –Walt Disney

8- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking down your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” –Mark Twain

9- “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the art of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul.” –Julia Cameron

10- “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” –Kurt Vonnegut

11- “Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” –Red Haircrow

12- “Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used.” –Diana Wynne Jones

13- “I became a children’s book writer because it was the most subversive thing I could think to do.” –Bruce Coville

14- “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” –Stephen King

15- “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” — C.S. Lewis

16- “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –Ray Bradbury

17- “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

18- “Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.” –H. Jackson Brown Jr.

19- “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” –Margaret Shepard

20- “You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.” –Louisa May Alcott

Now let’s go write.

It’s All Good.

Published June 25, 2013 by Elsa Pla
Lovely Old Church in UCD - Auraria Campus

Lovely Old Church in UCD – Auraria Campus

I recently attended a workshop offered by the Denver Writing Project on submitting your work to literary journals. I enjoyed the discussion and appreciated the helpful handouts. One interesting thing we did was make a list of good and bad reasons for wanting to get published. Here it is — I added three more good reasons:

Good Reasons:

To help others

For validation

For credibility

To be revolutionary or subversive

To be part of the “larger conversation”

To know that you are not alone and let others know they’re not alone

To give something of yourself — something of value — to the world

For the joy of seeing your work become the thing you love: a book

Bad Reasons:

To get rich

For fame and universal love

To please someone else

Food for thought, yes?

The one gold nugget I took from the workshop:

It’s quite pointless to submit to the slush pile — the goal should be to bypass it. How? By seizing opportunities to meet editors and publishers (attending conferences, etc.), by participating in writing contests, and by submitting your work to journals and publishing houses that are just starting out.

I plan to continue to try to bypass the slush pile, but I also plan to continue to self-publish online. Life is too short to do otherwise. I wish to create art and share it with the world; to be part of the “larger conversation;” to connect with like-minded/like-hearted human beings. I’ll just keep doing it any way I can. It’s about doing what I love, so it’s all good.

“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.”  Jane Yolen

Simple, beautiful, and profound

Published June 18, 2013 by Elsa Pla


I’ve been doing close readings of Herman Hesse’s poems and Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child.

I love Herman Hesse’s work and admire him as an artist and human being. I identify with his search for knowledge and transcendence, his personal struggles, his independent spirit, and his aesthetic philosophy:

“For Hesse, art — the ultimate self-fulfillment — meant connecting with a profound, essential feeling associated with “home.” But this home was not the home of his parents. Home was something intangible that was linked to aesthetic intuition and nurturing maternalism but was unique to each individual. It was both a return and a moving forward at the same time, and it could be attained only through art, through the artful formation of the self.” –Jack Zipes from “Herman Hesse’s Fairy Tales and the Pursuit of Home”

The collection of poems I’ve been studying deal with the theme of homesickness (the longing for that personal, intangible, beautiful place [often associated with childhood] where we can feel we are truly ourselves). I love the simplicity of Hesse’s poems — they match the way I’d like my work to be: simple,  beautiful, and profound.

Here’s one of his poems:


My farthest valley, you are,

Bewitched and vanished.

Many times, in my grief and agony,

You have beckoned upward to me from your country of shadows

And opened your legendary eyes

Till I, lost in a quick illusion,

Lost myself to you wholly.

O dark gate,

O dark hour of death,

Come forth,

So I can recover from this life’s emptiness

And go home to my own dreams.

Sonya Hartnett’s writing is often dark and heartbreaking, but also exultantly poetic. The premise of The Ghost’s Child is simple: An old woman entertains an unexpected young visitor, narrates her life story, and dies. The narrative, however, is lush and poignant, at times fantastical and surreal, and hauntingly symbolic and profound. And Hartnett’s use of literary devices (especially imagery and figurative language) is mesmerizing.

Notice the use of imagery and the characterization (what the characters think, do, and say) in the following excerpt:

It happened on a day like most others. She hadn’t known Feather for very long, although it seemed a long time, and she wished it was. Maddy had stepped onto the beach unseen, as she had done many times before. Feather was sitting on the sand and considering the clouds, as she’d seen him do so often. Apart from his hair jinking on the breeze, he sat as still as stone. The ocean itself, with its succession of waves, seemed more likely to stand up and walk than did he. Maddy paused in the shadows, not wanting to disturb him — longing, at  the same time, to run to him, fall against him, hold his wrists very tightly, bite her fingernails into him. A fleck appeared in the blue distance, catching her eye; as it drew near, the fleck became a petrel. Maddy watched the bird come closer and closer until finally it swooped steeply to the ground and skipped across the sand to Feather. In its beak it held a wan sardine. Feather thanked the bird, took the fish between his fingers, and swallowed the sardine in a gulp.

Maddy gasped. She knew then that she would certainly die without him. Hearing her, Feather looked around. He was not always a gentleman, so he didn’t stand. His gray eyes squinted, he shaded them with a hand, and when he saw her he smiled. “Hello,” he said. “I was hoping you would come.”

She crossed the sand and knelt beside him. “Have you missed me?”

“Yes,” he admitted, “but not much.”

And here are a few examples of her creative use of figurative language:

“She was like a piece of glass that has been tossed in water for a long time: mysterious but simple, without sharp edges, and not as fragile as it looks.”

“Maddy saw that people were pleased to receive Papa’s attention — pleased, and also alarmed, like children noticed by a nun.”

“Mama seemed to teeter forever on the crumbly threshold of fury.”

But what I like most about Hartnett’s writing are the same things I like most about Hesse’s and my other mentors’ work: its simplicity, beauty, and profoundness. I’m making those my three guiding lights.

I end today’s post with the ending of The Ghost’s Child:

Matilda turned to the boy, who stood by the door. “Is it peaceful, where we are going?”

She held her breath waiting for his answer.

The boy said, “Only if you want it to be.”

Beyond the door, very oddly, was an emerald ocean and a blue sky. A wooden boat bobbed on the water, and Matilda and the boy stepped into it. Matilda looked back to  the little dog who lingered behind, uncertain if he had been invited. “Come on, Peake,” she said, and he ran to her, springing into the boat. The boy hauled up the anchor and Matilda hoisted the sails; the slim boat caught the billowing breeze, jumped the ripples of frothy green waves, and was away.

Reading Like a Writer

Published May 7, 2013 by Elsa Pla
Romantic Pier in Old San Juan

Romantic Pier in Old San Juan

I finished reading Reading Like a Writer –A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose, and I strongly recommend it. Prose not only explains how to read like a writer — she breaks down the close-reading process into categories of purpose, and she models each one. Plus she includes a useful and diverse reading list.

I made my own close-reading checklist based on her table of contents:

Analyze the Author’s:

1- Word Choice

2- Use of Rhetorical Devices

3- Sentence Structure

4- Paragraphing

5- Use of Narration

6- World (& Mood) Building

7- Characterization

8- Use of Dialogue

9- Use of Details

10- Description of Gestures

11- Revelations of Themes and Messages

12- Writing Journey

I plan to continue analyzing the writing of authors whose style I admire. Right now I’m studying the work of Sonya Hartnett (Thursday’s Child, The Ghost’s Child, Surrender, The Midnight Zoo, and others).

I end the post with three motivational quotes:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

“It is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula Le Guin

“Little by little, one travels far.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Let’s keep writing! 🙂

Said Is Not Dead

Published April 30, 2013 by Elsa Pla
Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan: a lovely place to sit and write.

Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan: a lovely place to sit and write.

It’s taken me a bit longer than planned to get back to my blogs, sorry! I had a great time in Houston and San Juan visiting family and friends, but when I got back, I had to take a vacation from my vacation, if you know what I mean.

Today I’d like to share something that’s been bugging me. As guest teacher and writing tutor, I visit many schools and have access to different writing resources. This school year I’ve noticed a common practice that troubles me. Writing teachers are labeling words such as “said,” “went,” and “got” as “dead words” and are insisting that students not use them in their writing. I’ve seen “Said Is Dead” posters on bulletin boards, in school catalogs, and on teacher websites. I understand the reasoning behind the gimmick: teachers are pushing students to use more high-level words in their writing, and that’s a good thing. But to tell students that perfectly serviceable words such as “said” are “dead,” is wrong. As it happens so often in education, we’ve missed the point and have thrown the baby out with the bath water.

So what’s the point? Good writing is about clarity, balance, and ear. We do want our students’ writing to be interesting and exciting (containing vivid verbs, precise nouns, artful adjectives, etc.), but we also want it to be succinct and clear. We want them to avoid redundancy, expand their vocabulary, and learn to choose the words that best express what they’re trying to say — words that match their mode of writing, their audience, and their voice, and define their style. What we don’t want is for students to substitute simple words that provide clarity for fancy words that muddle the writing, just because they’re trying to impress the teacher. All words are serviceable, depending on how they are used. The point is to learn to choose the ones that best serve the purpose of the writing.

Here’s a paragraph from the award-winning children’s book Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata:

“Lynn pulled at the dog’s tail and shouted at me, “Run, Katie, run!” I ran, hearing the dog growling and Lynnie grunting. When I got to the house, I turned around and saw the dog tearing at Lynn’s pants as she huddled over into a ball. I ran inside and looked for a weapon. I couldn’t think straight. I got a milk bottle out of the fridge and ran toward Lynn and threw the bottle at the dog. The bottle missed the dog and broke on the street. The dog rushed to lap up the milk.”

Notice how the author balances vivid verbs with blander ones. By doing so, the stronger verbs (their actions) stand out. Also, the simple, clear vocabulary matches the voice of the narrator (a young girl) and makes the book easy to read and understand.

Another misconception is that “said” should be avoided in dialogue attribution and that the attributive verb should be supported by an adverb. (For example: “It’s a puppy!” she blurted excitedly.) Dialogue attributives (if needed) should be unobtrusive. “Said” is okay in most cases, and adverbs should be avoided (the dialogue by itself should convey the desired emotion).

Here’s how Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) explain it:

“It is seldom advisable to tell all. Be sparing, for instance, in the use of adverbs after “he said,” “she replied,” and the like: “he said consolingly”; “she replied grumblingly.” Let the conversation itself disclose the speaker’s manner or condition. Dialogue heavily weighted with adverbs after the attributive verb is cluttery and annoying. Inexperienced writers not only overwork their adverbs but load their attributives with explanatory verbs: “he consoled,” “she congratulated.” They do this, apparently, in the belief that the word said is always in need of support, or because they have been told to do it by experts in the art of bad writing.

I’ll close with the following advice from

Stick with “said” with occasional exceptions for variety. Avoid substitutes that call attention to themselves or sound forced or clunky.

“Don’t make the attribution word do all the work. The best alternative is to provide the context that makes it clear who is speaking and thereby omit any attribution.”

Fellow writing teachers: You are awesome at what you do. I learn something new from you every time I visit your classrooms. Now please consider this: certain words are blander than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re “dead” and have no place in good writing. So please don’t throw the little babies out with the bath water!

Enough said. Now, to get back to my work. 🙂

Moving Forward and Reading Like a Writer

Published March 10, 2013 by Elsa Pla

The Author

What I’ve been up to lately:

1- I’ve been revising/editing a collection of 35 poems that I plan to publish as an e-book. The final copy is almost ready — I just need to figure out the order of the poems. It will be my second electronic publication.

2- I’m preparing two manuscripts — a picture book and a story book — to submit to publishers.

3- I’ve been creating new products for my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

4- I’m reading a fabulous book titled Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. I strongly recommend it (more on this below).

5- I’ve been working at different schools, guest teaching and helping with state assessments.

6- I’ve been spending time on Pinterest, adding pins to my boards, creating new ones, and getting inspiration and ideas for my work. (I love Pinterest.)

7- I continue to blog (I have three blogs in addition to “The Write Town”: “The Write Kitchen,” weekly writing lessons for middle school students; “The Reading Café,” monthly juvenile and YA book recommendations; and “A Season of Butterflies,” personal reflections on living a simple, frugal, spiritual life.), but I’m keeping my posts simple — I want blogging to enhance my writing life, not hinder it.

8- I slipped and fell on a patch of ice and twisted my left leg. I’m sitting a lot and using a cane to walk. 😦

The point is that — slowly, but surely — I’m moving forward with my writing, searching for different publication venues, studying the craft, feeding the muse, doing actual writing, and remaining focused and motivated. Yay.

An excerpt from Reading Like a Writer:

” In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.

” I read closely, word by word, sentence by sentence, pondering each deceptively minor decision the writer had made. And though it’s impossible to recall every source of inspiration and instruction, I can remember the novels and stories that seemed to me revelations: wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction.” (from Chapter One: “Close Reading”)

Yes. I believe close study and imitation are the best ways to learn any form of art. And as we recognize, analyze, and imitate the beautiful, our own style begins to develop.

So here’s my ongoing writing exercise: to identify, study, and emulate the authors I admire. I’m creating a board on Pinterest titled “My Mentors” to motivate me in this endeavor.