I’ve published my first Alexa skill! Here’s how you can, too

I’ve published my first Alexa skill! Here’s how you can, too

Amazon recently made publishing skills to the

USA Alexa Skills Store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

very easy!

This feels potentially as significant to me as when YouTube started, or what became

Kindle Direct Publishing

It’s a new democratized distribution platform…a way for you to reach the public (or, and this is significant, a set of “followers” you specify).

Once you’ve set it up, it’s about as easy as using Twitter or publishing a blog post. Anybody with average computer skills should be able to put your information out there…and it’s then available to Alexa users in the USA (I’m sure other markets will follow).

You can have Alexa read text up to 400 characters a day (or once a week…your choice). You can also use your own voice, if you prefer.


How much is 400 characters? I’m showing you right now. Spaces and punctuation count, but this paragraph is going to be 400 characters. You can’t use special characters (like a colon or a parenthesis so this one wouldn’t work because of this parenthetical phrase), but you can tell, you could get quite a bit of information out to the public in 400 characters! Think of the possible uses! Go for it!-B


Here are some use cases which occur to me:

  • A special at your restaurant
  • A daily joke
  • A featured movie at your movie theatre
  • A new release at your bookstore
  • Your commentary on the news
  • A piece of trivia
  • News on your WIPs (Works In Progress) as an author
  • Where your band is playing

Now, while I’m saying single things, you could probably list more than one. I’ve also skewed this towards businesses/creators…you don’t need to be doing these as a business. I’ve been a writer for a long time, but I don’t make my living that way.

Oh, that’s important! With the method I’m going to talk about in this post (doing a Flash Briefing), I don’t see a way to monetize it at this point. However, I would predict that would eventually change…not necessarily that you are charging for the skill, but that there is some kind of revenue sharing from Amazon, like they do with borrows from Kindle Unlimited.

Here’s the skill I’ve published so far:

Bookish Birthdays

UPDATE: I now have created more of these, four at time of writing. You can see them here: https://amzn.to/2EmJkyc

You can add it to your Flash Briefing, and then manage it like you would any other news source in Flash Briefings (Alexa App – Settings – Flash Briefing).

This is content which I have already been creating. With any creative content, that’s often the hardest part…creating the content. Yes, a publishing process can take a lot of work, as can promotion, but you can’t do anything unless you have the content.

I have to massage it a bit to get it to fit into the Alexa skill…I primarily publish the

Bookish Birthdays

here in this blog, but I’ve already been reformatting them to fit into one of my Twitter feeds:

https://twitter.com/bufocalvin @BufoCalvin

It takes me less work to get it ready for the Alexa Skill than it does to get it ready for Twitter. It’s mostly removing parentheses, adding commas (which makes Alexa pause slightly…to separate the name of the author from the one representative work/series I’ve chosen), and then editing the skill.

One challenge to the Alexa Skill which doesn’t happen with Twitter: it’s moderated. When I update it, even when I’m just changing the birthdays, it has to be approved by Amazon. They say it could take 1-2 days, which could obviously mess up something which is date-based like this. Practically, though, it took several hours the first time (for the overall skill), but updating it just took a few minutes (YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary).

What negatives are there to this?

  • Even though it didn’t take me five minutes to update it today, it’s still a commitment
  • The way I’m doing it is manual updating. I’m on the West Coast…it’s entirely possible that I won’t have this updated on a given day by 9:00 AM Eastern (6:00 AM Pacific). That may disappoint people who want to hear it before they go to work. I’ve had that feeling that when a news source is a day behind in my Flash Briefing…and that could affect someone’s confidence in your “brand”
  • It’s also possible I might miss a day (I had major surgery about a month ago, for example). I’m not seeing a way to prepare them ahead of time (although it can be done with an RSS ((Really Simple Syndication)) feed, so it could possibly be scheduled ahead). I would love to see Amazon give us seven slots, so we could prepare a week’s worth at a time…maybe tied to a calendar. However, listeners don’t pay for this, so at least they wouldn’t “lose any money” if it isn’t there
  • There are some content rule limitations, but they are pretty generous; you are allowed to do “mature” skills, which could include profanity and nudity (these guidelines must go for all skills, since the Flash Briefing doesn’t have images)…here are the guidelines: https://blueprints.amazon.com/help/terms?page=content-guidelines

So, how do you publish an Alexa Flash Briefing Skill?

Start here:

https://blueprints.amazon.com/

  1. You’ll create an account (if you’ve made personal skills, you’ll already have one)
  2. You choose the Flash Briefing skill blueprint
  3. You’ll either enter an RSS feed or choose to update it manually (note: there is also a blog skill…you’d have to have an RSS just for your 400 character Flash Briefing to use that here. For the blog skill, you need to have a WordPress blog which can install a needed plug-in…I believe that’s the Business account, which costs $25 a month)
  4. You’ll choose daily or weekly
  5. You’ll complete the form and the details…this seemed reasonably clear to me
  6. You’ll choose to publish it or share it. With sharing it, you can choose who can have access…publishing it makes it available to anybody who can use the USA Alexa Skills store
  7. If you publish it, it will be reviewed by Amazon

If approved by Amazon, you’ll get an e-mail within a day or two.

I didn’t do every single step here, just fairly high level to let you see that it is pretty simple. If you have questions about the specifics, you can ask by commenting on this post.

If you do publish this, I’d love you letting me and my readers know! My guess? We hit a million Alexa Skills in the USA store before summer, as businesses, organizations, and individuals realize how this can work for them. I am very, very confident that we’ll see skills by politicians and political parties quickly. People supporting causes will use it. I’d expect to see recaps of TV shows. If you see something particularly useful or innovative, let me know…I expect this to be like Twitter in the way it proliferates.

Could it be better? Sure, and it will be. I’d like to be able to follow particular publishers (so I’m alerted when they publish new skills). I’d like to have a publisher page there like my

Bufo Calvin Amazon Author Central page (at AmazonSmile*)

Discovery of skills is going to be a challenge…but that’s always a challenge.

I’m mulling adding another four more skills in the near future….I just have to balance the time and energy that will take, even though it is minimal.

What do you think? Are you going to publish something? How will you use it? If you’ve tried it, did you find anything more challenging than I suggested? Have you published other blueprints? Will this add a lot of “noise” to the “signal” of Alexa Skills? What skills would you like to see? Would you add a J.K. Rowling feed from the author? How about a Stephen King blurb feed (it feels like the author could do one once a week)? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

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