Tag Archives: self-publishing

Let’s Get Real…About Self-Publishing

Yes. Let’s get real. In self-publishing, a few people make a little money on their books. A very few make a lot of money on their books. But most self-publishers run in the red.

Tips to help make writing a priority when life is busy.

One of these days…

P&S Press makes a little money (very little) on its proprietor’s golden words. But most of the press’s revenues have come from helping others prepare their books for publication: that is to say, The Copyeditor’s Desk is the main driver of income for the entire incorporated enterprise.

In consideration of that reality, some time ago I stopped actively trying to sell Plain & Simple books. Revenues from Amazon have remained the same, whether I hustle as hard as I can or whether I just let the stuff sit there: about $15 to $19 a month.

Fifteen bucks a month…on over 40 titles. That’s combined Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races output. And no, speaking of Camptown Races: soft-core “erotica” does not sell better than ordinary nonfiction or genre novels.

A couple new books of my own are in the works — but they get put aside whenever paying work comes in from a client.

That means, in effect, they’re always set aside. Every single time I sit down to format the boob book for print or finish off the guide to writing & publishing, someone shows up at the virtual door asking me to edit this magnum opus or to index that scholarly tome. So…I’m always busy, but rarely busy on my own stuff.

“My own stuff” is, de facto, no longer a business but a hobby.

Nor was it ever much other than a hobby, given that it ran the S-corporation deep into the red. If I land the indexing project presently under consideration, that fee will bring the bottom line back to where it was before I took to sailin’ the Amazon. But just barely. And it’s taken over a year to do it.

The plan now is to keep on writing, in idle hours, to publish the stuff on Amazon, to make it available in hard copy whenever there’s something to publish. But I’m not spending any more money on it. And it will always go on the back burner whenever a paying customer shows up.

My own writing will revert to hobby status, to be posted on Amazon much as one displays one’s quilts or needlework or pecan pies at the County Fair.

If I can get one or more of the local colleges to let me teach extension courses — the “lifelong learning” sort of thing — I may use the writing guide as a “suggested text” (we’re not allowed to require people to buy our own books). That will sell a few. But otherwise, that will be about it in the marketing department.

Marketing is what costs you money. And time.

Since time supposedly is money, you could say book marketing costs you money in spades. It’s a huge time suck, and unless you like marketing, have nothing else to do, and love diddling away your time on social media, it’s an ongoing annoyance.

If you enjoy sales and marketing, I’m sure it’s fun. I personally don’t: if I were good at marketing, as we scribble I’d be making a decent living selling cars or refrigerators or radio ad space. Writers don’t live in their garrets because they so love hustling wares, their own or anyone else’s.

 

Writing Enterprise: Nose permanently attached to grindstone

Actually, I believe my nose has grown onto the grindstone, sort of like a tree trunk growing around an object in its way. Progress is being made on the new Racy Writing enterprise, but as usual everything has to crash on my head at once, so I can’t focus on the specific tasks at hand without distraction.

The last freshman comp course I will ever have to teach (I sincerely hope!) is now over and grades are posted. No one flunked, thank God, and only two got D’s. So that’s a mercy, and it’s also one distraction permanently off the table.

A week or ten days ago, I compiled a list of Über-To-Do’s needed to change heading for The Copyeditor’s Desk and its imprint, Plain & Simple Press. Tacking this particular ship into the wind is quite an undertaking. I figured if I could do three of the following per day, in a week or so I’d be ready to devote most of my time to writing and publishing short racy squibs.

Move the Blogging Empire, which consists of a lot of sites, from my web guru/friend’s server to WestHost.

Said friend does a wonderful job of wrangling websites, but he’s a young dad of four who recently landed his Dream Job in the corporate world.  Bizarrely, though, Dream Jobs require you to work, and since this guy isn’ta slouch, you can be sure every living, breathing moment of his life when he’s not caring for his family is spent working. So he folded most of his small IT business when he jumped on the commuter train. He kept a couple of his old clients, including moi, but it soon became apparent that he was going to need some time to have a life.

Another blogging friend referred me to her back-end Web guru. At this time we’ve moved the passel of websites to the self-hosting server. In the next few days, the new guy will reorganize the sites (well.. re- is not operative for something that’s grown up like topsy: he’ll organize them into something rational.

Writers Plain & Simple remains alive, despite WordPress.com threatening to close it down. We will move it over to WestHost and make it a subdomain of plainandsimplepress.com, the site for my S-corp’s Plain & Simple Press imprint. Watch this site, and please…try not to get lost! 😀

Assign remaining ISBNs to upcoming books.

Mooted. You have to have the cover art to do that, and I still haven’t been able to get the artist off the dime. He says he’s done about half of the covers for the Fire-Rider series.

Purchase another 100 ISBNs.

Done. All upcoming books now have informally “assigned” ISBNs, which at least I can enter on the copyright pages. Officially inscribing them with Bowker will have to wait until (yesh…) the artwork surfaces.

Set up Excel spreadsheet to track ISBN purchases and assignments.

Done.

I really need a database. Access didn’t come with the version of MS Office I bought for the Macs. And come to think of it, I don’t even know if Access will run in the Mac environment. In any event, it’s been so long since I’ve used Access, the re-learning curve would be excessively high…so for the nonce I’ll have to make do with Excel and Quickbooks.

Experiment again with using PowerPoint to create cover art for e-books. Check out that link: King’s covers don’t look staggeringly awesome, but they’re sure as heck good enough for genre fiction. And believe me, folks who buy the kind of stuff Camptown Races Press will publish are not buying it for the covers. 😉

To do, pending download of some stock art.

Actually, in the past I’ve tried following the guy’s how-to steps with an ordinary photo and found that it’s easy to do. Remains to be seen whether I can faze the result past Amazon and Nook. But…huh…if he can do it, so can I. By golly.

Buy a month’s subscription to Shutterstock and download as many images as allowed.

Pending.

Before I actually pay for a subscription, I wanted to find and compile lists of images fitting as many categories as I imagine the naughty novelettes will require over the next six months to a year:

Biker stories
Ghost sex stories
Traveler stories
Banner images for websites
Generic sexy images
M/M
W/W
Threesomes of various combinations
Racial configurations of various combinations

Create an Excel workbook with spreadsheets to keep track of stock art and public domain images

Done.

Did I mention that I need a database?

Study the user manuals for the Friedlander templates used to compile the stories in hand. Study the user manual for Calibre. Figure out how to use Calibre to convert from Word to Kindle and ePub formats.

Done, sort of.

Today I will try these on the cookbook and hope to get the thing online, around the ongoing hassles of trying to straighten up the sites on WestHost, which as we scribble are consuming more and more time.

Because the diet/cookbook has a lot of lists, formatting it may be difficult, and so I don’t want to just hand it over to Amazon to do the conversion. If I can’t do it myself, then I’ll hire my ebook guy to do it…but of course, that means it will be weeks (if ever) before it goes online.

The novelettes and the Fire-Rider serials have virtually no elaborate formatting: no subheads, no lists, no tables, no images. So I think those can simply be uploaded to Amazon along with their cover images.

Learn specs for Kindle and Nook covers.

Done.

Learn how to upload content to Nook.

Done.

Write proposal and cover letter for Boob Book.

Done

Find a half-dozen agents or markets for Boob Book. Send proposal to the first of those.

Done.

Learn how to upload files to Snowflake Press for print-on-demand; do so for Slave Labor and order ten copies.

Under way. To be completed today, I hope. Maybe.

Learn how to sell hard-copy books on Amazon and do the fulfillment in-house, not through fulfillment by Amazon.

Later!

Publish the diet/cookbook in e-book format on Amazon.

Pending: whenever I figure out how to get it formatted propertly.

Establish an account and publish Slave Labor and the How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months on Nook.

Later!!

To accomplish most of these little tasks in a week or so has required me to start at around 5 in the morning and work all the way through, without stopping except for a few snacks and to cope with things that can’t be put off, until I can’t work anymore, which is about 8 or 9 p.m.

And that, my friends, is what’s entailed in quitting your day job.

Diet/Cookbook Almost Ready to Go!

HAY cook book3 3-16-2015How do you like the cover design for How I Lost 30 Pounds in Four Months…without Hardly Trying?

It needs a little adjustment for the PoD version, but I think it’s fine for the e-book. The byline needs to be a little larger, I think. The subtitle looks microscopic in this WordPress post-drafting mode and presumably will need an electron microscope to be visible in a thumbnail.

HAY cook book3 3-16-2015Oh heck. Let’s try that in WP… Ohhh WordPress WordPress on the laptop, which font is tiniest of them all?

Hmmm… We’ll be asking for a couple of adjustments on that thing. But the artwork’s kinda cool, isn’t it? Original stuff from multi-award-winning artist and former art director of Arizona Highways Gary Bennett. Apple…apple a day…get it? 😀

For the interior copy I used the “Pulp” design in a Word template from Book Design Templates. As I remarked awhile back, “Pulp” is one of several two-way templates that allow you, with just one upload of your copy, to convert from Wyrd to e-book formats and also to do a print-on-design layout.

It worked reasonably well. The cookbook is pretty complex because of all the lists, but once you figure out the styles (which could use a little better organizing IMHO), the template goes a long way toward ensuring consistency in all your design elements.

However, things are never so simple as you think. Preparing a manuscript for e-book and print incarnations requires a fair amount of fiddling around: the basic design needs are not the same. For example, in a print book you’d like chapters to open on recto (odd-numbered) pages. For an e-book, that not only is unnecessary, it’s undesirable.

Thirty Pounds in Four Months has two sections: one consisting of four chapters describing how I managed to lose one-fifth of my body weight (and drop the elevated blood pressure into the “normal” range) without starving myself and without beating myself up at the gym, and one that offers over 125 recipes. Setting every one of those recipes on a recto page would have required hundreds of Wyrd commands that would have to be inserted when I went to create a hard-copy layout (or undone if I started with the PoD layout).

So, I decided to lay out the first section in the traditional hard-copy manner but let the recipes appear on whatever page they would naturally fall on — this, by the way, is what “Pulp” was designed to do in the first place. Said scheme then requires me to do the PoD version first, save it to disk, and then go back and delete only the three odd-page section breaks in Section 1 for the e-book’s purposes.

That is much easier than deleting 130 or 140 of the things!

The result looks OK, I think. Certainly good enough for government work.

But I think I’ll spring for a full multi-use license for the “Focus” design that I used to lay out Slave Labor (which will be ready for the printer as soon as the hard-copy cover is done! wahoo!). At the time I purchased a single-use license, I was in pure experimental mode — had no idea how this was going to work and didn’t want to spend any more than necessary.

Now that I see how they work, though, I think I really like “Focus.” Even though its typeface and design will create more pages in any given hard-copy book, it’s really very attractive AND — big, very big! — it’s more streamlined and simpler to use. The template’s “styles” are easier to find and more intuitive to select, and the effect is quite handsome.

Most of the books I get up to self-publishing are likely to sell best as e-books. The ability to print a few on demand for the occasional buyer who craves to feel pages under the fingers will be good, but I don’t think I’ll need so many of them that a dollar or so difference in price will matter much.

The entire Fire-Rider series and the next book that’s in hand will be produced as serial electronic “bookoids” through Amazon. I may produce a hard-copy “collector’s edition” that I could give away for free to people who buy X number of e-books (enough to cover the cost of printing), or to those who have bought the whole series. Those who would like to have just a hard-copy version, then, would have to pay the freight for printing plus enough for me to turn a little profit. Or I might give it away to those who buy XX numbers of the next book’s serials.

Which is to say…I hope to use the PoD version as a marketing tool.

Last night I installed the content of the first Fire-Rider serial in “Focus,” just to see what would happen. It was extremely easy.

There’ll be 18 of those. I figure to do a “Save As” for each serial, but meanwhile have a larger file for the PoD version into which I paste the formatted material out of each serial’s file into the longer PoD file. Then when all is said and done, I can get into the file for PoD, adjust the formatting, have a wrap-around cover done, et voilà!

The Book Design Templates folks allow you to upgrade from single to multi-use, so that’s what I’m going to do with “Focus.”

So, I’m excited about it. Is this enterprise gonna make any money for me? I’ll be surprised. But thrilled beyond measure if it does — cannot tell you how much I never want to slog through another turgid scholarly work or another awful freshman comp essay. Probably the best way to make money through self-publishing is by writing porn…and that this point, I am not above that!

Two Book Design Templates: “Pulp” vs “Focus”

So the hard-copy version of Slave Labor is now laid laid out in Joel Friedlander’s Book Design Template called “Focus.” The result is pleasing enough and was not too difficult to achieve.

These tools really are just Word templates tricked out with margins and gutters appropriate to the trim size of your choice, with fonts for body copy and heads, alternating recto/verso running headers, and a set of “styles” commands that allow you easily to format body copy, the various heading levels, and details like italic and boldface.

Most of the templates allow you to create an e-book or a hard-copy (print-on-demand) version. To do both, you evidently import and format your copy twice, once to create the appropriate e-book formatting and once to do the hard-copy layout.

A few, however, are programmed so that you can switch back and forth, with the same layout, and extrude the e-book and the PoD layout. Once you’ve imported your MS and applied the appropriate Word “styles,” so the makers say, you can produce both an e-book version and a PDF for print in one swell foop.

Since I’ll want to do some of the upcoming gilded volumes in both formats, I decided to buy one of those. “Pulp,” on sale at a ridiculously low introductory price (none of these things will break the bank to start with…), looked like a good choice. After I’ve emitted all of Fire-Rider in e-book serials, I may (or may not) produce a print “collector’s edition” that will gather all the copy and artwork in one place. Pulp mimics a dime novel, with a small typeface and narrow margins that minimize the number of pages you have to print — good for Fire-Rider, whose length is best described as “epic.”

So I got this thing and decided to start with the diet/cookbook, using it as a kind of secondary-level “sandbox” project to expand what I’ve learned in self-publishing Slave Labor. This is a single book that I’d like to sell in both formats, since it seems highly unlikely to me that anyone would want to use their iPad, Kindle, or phone to follow a recipe in a messy kitchen. But…some people claim they do. WhatEVER.

By quittin’ time last night, I’d installed the four chapters on dieting and the first two recipes in cookbook section.

This provides an opportunity to compare the two templates — or, more accurately, the two types of templates.

Of the pair, I’d say I prefer working in “Focus,” the “premium” variety that allows you to do both an e-book and a print layout but apparently requires entering and formatting the copy separately. Its “styles” are easier to work with and better organized, and the layout for hard copy is much more appealing.

However, if you expect to do a lot of books and emit them in both formats, “Pulp” may be a better choice, despite some significant drawbacks. Time, after all, is money; the ability to enter copy once and have it suffice for both purposes represents a considerable advantage in that department.

Focus appears to create a much nicer print-ready product. The fonts (Cambria for chapter titles and Alegreya for subheads and body copy) are handsome and the layout is attractive. It’s also quite easy to use — assuming you have a very high level of proficiency with Wyrd. As usual, one has to deal with all the Wyrdnesses that come with that program, but the designers have done a good job of customizing the template to minimize formatting hassles. The styles are intelligently named, and they’re simple and intuitive to use.

The main grutch I would have is probably a Word 2008/Mac problem rather than a direct issue with the template: when you insert a section break (odd page) where a chapter ends on a recto page, the program does not consistently insert a break in such a way as to let you begin the next chapter on the next recto. So, to get from the resulting verso page to the desired recto page, you have to insert a page break as well as a section break. This doesn’t matter much in a PDF. But…hold that thought for a minute…

I have yet to see what a printer will think of the result, but we’ll know as soon as my designer converts Slave Labor‘s e-book cover to a 5.5 x 8.5 wrap-around.

Chapter opening on recto page, Focus“Focus” chapter opening, recto page
(Click on images for a better view.)

Focus 2 pages“Focus” two-page spread, showing margin, gutters, A-level head, bulleted block, running header

Moving on to Pulp: the 10-point Gandhi serif typeface prints out OK — it’s reasonably readable when translated to the page. But on a MacBook screen, it’s a pain.

For a print layout, one would ideally like to see the pages two at time, verso on the left side and recto on the right. Zooming to 150% will accomplish that. Increasing the zoom much above 150% will allow you to see only one page at a time. But even at 150%, the type when seen on a MacBook is pretty small and cramped. It’s not impossible to read, but it’s potentially eyestrain-inducing.

The styles are a little harder to use in Pulp than in Focus. There are a lot of them, and they don’t seem to be organized well. I found myself searching interminably for this, that or the other frequently used style, trying to figure out what it might be called. On Word’s 2008 version for the ribbon-aversive Mac user, it’s much easier to use Format > Style > Styles than to dork with the Styles drop-down menu. Even still, at some points I had to create the occasional new style to accommodate the book’s needs.

Admittedly, the template is designed for fiction, and I’m trying to make it work for a piece of nonfiction. Still. {grump}

One notable style that I had to fiddle with was for footnotes, which I had to use in the “diet” section of this book, by way of supporting some of the claims I allege. The footnote style wants to set type larger than the body style. That. is. exceptionally. annoying.

But okaayyy…if you know how to use Wyrd, it’s easy enough (sort of) to create a new body style for footnotes. But…if you have to build your own styles, why pay someone else to do it? {grump, crab} If you create a style for a graf with no indent based on the regular paragraph style (which should’ve been included, btw), you can use that for the footnote style, but of course it comes out the same size as the body style. For my purposes, that’s fine, but if the book were more formal, one might like footnotes to be set in slightly smaller type.

The template comes with at least two body styles. It’s unclear which you’re supposed to use. I selected the one labeled (normal), guessing that “normal” was…well, normal for this template. There’s also two variants of something called “balloon text.” Don’t know what that is and am not sure I want to know. Whatever it is, in my file it produces 8-point Tahoma. Gandhi is a serif typeface, so…what the point is escapes me.

Pulp defaults to lay out pages consecutively, whether or not you’re opening a new chapter or section. Thus chapters’ opening pages occur at random on recto or verso pages.

This does not thrill me.

Pulp chapter opening“Pulp” chapter opening, recto page

Pulp 2 pages“Pulp” two-page spread, showing margins, gutters, A-level subheads, footnote, running header

For an e-book, of course, you would not want to force section breaks for the purpose of starting a chapter on a recto page, because…well, there ARE no recto or verso pages in an e-book. You insert breaks to force the chapter title to appear on a new digital “page” (we might call that a pageoid), but these are all identical.

Identically ugly, we of the digitally unbaptized might suggest…but what can one say?

For my taste…ugh. I don’t care for a book layout that opens a new chapter on a verso page, in the manner of a magazine or a newspaper. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just inelegant.

But to make that happen, in Pulp as well as in Focus, you have to insert section breaks. And the apparent random workings of section break (odd page) seen in “Focus” hold true in this template. For e-book purposes, a lot of extra section and page breaks are going to be mightily superfluous. Yea verily, we could say they will dork up your e-pageoids!

Pretty clearly, if you want a print layout with a less cheesy flavor, you’re going to have to create the e-book first and then go back and insert section breaks to force the desired layout for print.

This will not double your total time spent on a given book project. But it surely will interfere with the scheme to do two formats in the time it would ordinarily take you to do one.

Given that some of Book Design Templates’s premium products are much handsomer than Pulp, it may be worth spending the extra time to input and format copy twice in a different design.

Maybe not, too. It would depend on how many books you’re cranking at any given time. I intend to crank a lot between now and the end of 2015. I think Pulp will do quite nicely for Fire-Rider, given the novel’s unseemly length. The small type and tight leading will save on printing costs, and of course the typeface makes no never-mind for e-books.

But for the other books? Well. The romance/soft-core porn numbers, which I hope to churn out in gay (heh…sometimes) abandon, probably need appear only in ebook fashion. Pulp will do just fine for those, except for the relative difficulty of using it. Focus is so much easier to use, though, that I may spring for an upgrade allowing me to use that template for an infinite number of bookoids. Also, I probably could use it for certain clients’ books — at least one current customer hopes to self-publish, and it would be convenient to be able to offer a rudimentary formatting service.

The Copyeditor’s Desk does have a subcontractor who formats e-books, but at this time he has so many clients of his own it’s hard to get the man’s attention. And he doesn’t do print layout. (Plain & Simple Press is the micropublishing imprint of The Copyeditor’s Desk.) Two graphic designers who subcontract to us both do very fine print layout…at very fine prices. Obviously I’d rather foist the work on them. But given a choice between doing the work myself at a lower (get-what-you-pay-for) rate and losing a client who won’t pay professional rates for graphic design, I just might take the former.

By the way, if you’re interested in using one of these templates for your own book project, remember to set Word to save every five minutes! Wyrd is given to sudden catastrophic lose-ALL-your-data crashes, especially if you’re working with tables or with anything at all elaborate or exotic. That’s why we call it “Wyrd.”

weird; comparative adjective: weirder; superlative adjective: weirdest

  1. suggesting something supernatural; uncanny.
    “the weird crying of a seal”

    Old English wyrd ‘destiny,’ of Germanic origin. The adjective (late Middle English) originally meant ‘having the power to control destiny,’ and was used especially in the Weird Sisters, originally referring to the Fates, later the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth ; the latter use gave rise to the sense ‘unearthly’ (early 19th century).

Producing a PDF for a Printer

Okay, so using a preformatted Word template, I did the page layout for Slave Labor, which just now exists solely in e-book form. By way of learning how to do it, I want to present the thing to a print-on-demand outfit, of which there happens to be one here in lovely uptown Phoenix.

Normally, when you prepare page layouts for a printer, your PDFs have to include what is called crop marks, which show the printer where the edge of the printed document will be, based on your book or brochure’s trim size. They look like this:

cropmarks-02Word has no function that will allow you to make these. So, a PDF created with Word’s “Save as PDF” command does not now and never will have crop marks.

To make them, you need to create the PDF with Adobe Acrobat Pro.

I happen to have a copy of Acrobat Pro on my handy-dandy MacBook, but the dear Apple folks rendered it nonfunctional with one of their endless effing updates. So it’s useless.

In response to Apple’s decision to invalidate an entire suite of software used by millions of graphic artists, most of whom own Macintosh hardware because said software works a lot better on a Mac than in Windows, Adobe moved its programs into the cloud.

You can still buy a copy of Acrobat Pro: $445. Or you can subscribe to it, to the tune of $15 a month.

This presents a problem or two or three…

1. Honestly. I don’t want to buy an expensive piece of software or commit to a year-long subscription unless I know I’m going to use it regularly and a lot. We’re still in the sandbox stage with this self-publishing adventure. I don’t know if or when the enterprise will show any sign of life. If it doesn’t return $445 (so far Slave Labor has netted a grandiose $9), buying it will cost my shirt.

2. Some printers do not require crop marks. I don’t know which do and which don’t, and I don’t want to approach the outfit I hope to work with until I have something to approach them with. Finished camera-ready PDFs.

3. At $15/month, the free-standing version would pay for itself in 30 months. Clearly, if my scheme to build a publishing empire quickly comes to naught (as most entrepreneurial schemes do), then I’d be better off to subscribe to the Acrobat’s cloud version. But… What if the self-publishing scheme works? Then a monthly subscription will soon add up to a huge waste of money. If the plan flies, I’ll need to software in-house, not off on someone else’s servers.

What it boils down to is, at this point,

a) one would be crazy to subscribe to Acrobat Pro; and
b) one would be crazy to buy Acrobat Pro.

We might call that the horns of a dilemma.

Since I’ll need to emit about eight or ten books, all of which are sitting in a queue waiting to be published, before I can know whether the plan is going to work, and because only three of them need to appear in hard copy very soon, we need a way around this dilemma.

Someone, somewhere must have Acrobat Pro and be willing to hire out for the tiny job of opening a Word file, clicking on two boxes in Acrobat’s “settings,” converting the file to PDF, and saving the result to disk.

So when I was over in the East Camelback district a day ago, I dropped by a FedEx office where my little editorial company does fairly regular business.

Sure, they said. They’d be happy to that conversion. Ten bucks a pop.

Well. That would be better than Adobe’s $15/month subscription if I crank out no more than one bookoid a month.

But right now we have not only the proposed PoD version of Slave Labor, we have How I lost 30 Pounds in Four Months, which is ready to go in e-book format and also should be produced in hard copy, and we have 18 serialized “books” generated from the FireRider novel, all of which in theory could be offered either as e-books or in hard copy. Plus once all the serials go online, I could in theory offer a “collector’s edition” of FireRider, publishing everything in one expensive volume.

I could easily put these things out at the rate of one a week, which is precisely what I intend to do.

At ten bucks a hit, I’d be better off to subscribe to Acrobat. And if the other novel in hand comes into being very soon, then I might as well buy the damn program.

So I called my honored graphic designer and whined about this state of affairs. He said he could make the conversions — no problem. And we discussed converting his cover design for the originally planned full-length FireRider into covers for each of 18 serials. He doesn’t seem to think it’ll be very hard, but…when I reached him yesterday he was knee-deep in another client’s project. So how soon we’ll get that under way remains to be seen.

He also said, though, that most printers demand crop lines only if the pages contain bleeds. If it’s all copy, the way most novels are, crop lines may not be necessary at all.

Amateur publishers across the Web report variously that some PoD publishers won’t look at your project unless you’ve generated PDFs with crop lines, and some will take PDFs without them.

 At any rate… It appears that if you can find someone to use Acrobat Pro to create your PDFs for a minimal amount — $5 per document or less — it would be cost-effective to hire the job out. At $10 per document: maybe not so much.

Print-on-Demand Layout: Is this the answer?

So as you may have noticed, I’ve been thrashing around trying to find something that will allow me to create e-books and plain-vanilla print-on-demand layouts with a minimum of technological whizz-bangerie.

Scrivener, we’re told, will convert your golden words to .mobi, ePub, and various other electronic formats. Unclear, though, whether you can use it to do hard-copy page layout. And the learning curve: steep.

InDesign: Well, let me put it this way. I’ve taken two formal courses in InDesign and still can’t figure out how to use it. It is way, way, way over the English-major head. And, btw, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

A reader here kindly suggested PressBooks.com. I checked that out. Brought to us by the folks who bring us beloved WordPress, it uses a WP-like platform to allow you to generate book-like things for print and electronic publication. On close inspection, it has some serious limitations. One is that they want you to have your author page on their site. Another: unless you cough up a chunk of dough, your “book” contains a honking big ad, plus their watermark appears every few pages.

Off-putting.

Spent yesterday evening crawling around the Internet searching for some sort of program that would let me do my own e-books (the FireRider serialization is going to generate about 20 books in quick succession; the diet/cookbook is still sitting there waiting to be published, and the Old New Bad Novel will probably present us with 12 or 14 serial bookoids). And lo! What should I stumble upon but the latest enterprise mounted by Joel Friedlander, the dean of self-publishing.

What the guy has come up with is the soul of simplicity: professionally designed Word templates suitable for building camera-ready PDFs and Kindle-ready electronic files.

Okay, before you fall on the floor laughing, yes, it is true that Word a layout program does not make. MS Word (or Wyrd, for those of us who have come to know and loathe its weirdnesses) is a word processing program. Its fonts are not up to the job of producing high-end, fancy publications. It lacks the versatility of InDesign or Quark. There are things it just flat can’t do.

All those things are true.

But consider: most self-published books don’t need InDesign-level power. Most readers can’t tell the difference between an OK font and a great font. And if you’re not doing a lot of swell graphics, all you really need is something into which to pour copy, maybe a few tables, and some catchy heads and subheads.

Something with the correct margins for the correct trim size. Something designed by someone who knows what a gutter is supposed to look like. Something with a nice running header. Something that will break pages so chapters start on recto pages. Every time. Something, in short, built by someone with a modicum of design taste who understands what you need. And what you don’t need.

For that purpose, Word suffices.

Friedlander has selected a variety of fonts that work pretty well in the book-printing environment. Are they perfect? Well…no. You might be able to do a little kerning here and there to pull up a loose line, but by and large, that’s beyond the average writer’s ken and doesn’t do that much good, anyway.

Artistic perfection, however, is probably unnecessary for the genre novels and pieces of casual informative nonfiction most of us are putting out. Readers who find Kindle a desirable platform are not the kind of people who spend a lot of time caressing paperbacks and admiring the visual effect of the type. That’s not what they’re reading for.

These templates of Friedlander’s look nice. The margins are set up to accommodate whatever trim size you choose, of several possibilities. They guide you through the steps of setting up your front matter and back matter. And they use styles to build consistency throughout the document.

They’re easy, they’re efficient, the program is familiar…and the price is right. For $37, I got a template with a design that looks like it was made for Slave Labor. That’s far less than it would cost to have my designer lay out the book for print.

If it works, bully for me. If not, forty bucks is not going to put me in the poorhouse.

You can take just about any Word file and present it to Kindle for e-book conversion. Most or maybe all of Friedlander’s templates can be used for that purpose. He has several, though, that are specifically designed to let you prepare e-book and camera-ready copy in one swell foop, saving you a lot of time.

Since Slave Labor is my sandbox project — something I put on Amazon for the express purpose of learning how the whole Amazon enterprise works — I’m going to use it to try laying out a PoD version of the book.

And if it does work? It’s on to FireRider, at last!

 

Making Money on Amazon?

The other day I learned of a gentleman who earns $30,000 a month on sales of Amazon e-books. As it develops, what he writes is erotica, which he markets in 5,000-word novelettes selling for $2.99 apiece. He cranks these things out as fast as he can, targeting a rate of one a day…at this point, he has 265 racy bookoids posted on Amazon.

Holy mackerel.

Well. I don’t need to earn 30 grand a month. Twelve hundred would free me from adjunct bondage, and that is all I want.

What I learned about the man’s enterprise inspired some insight into how to turn one porn author’s experience into the next scribbler’s profit. This morning I held forth at my personal-finance blogsite on the subject of how to accomplish this.

Right now I have to get to work for a client, and besides, I really don’t want to reiterate what I just wrote in all new words. So, if you’re interested in what I think would work to generate profit in the Amazon retail environment, come on over to Funny about Money and check out the proposed new business model.

Self-Publishing: Pro’s and Cons

A good ole’ friend of mine, an IT dude with a liberal arts degree and a career in education behind him, has reinvented himself as an e-book formatter. He loves it. And in the course of loving it, he’s decided that The Future Is Self-Publishing. Print is dead, he tells us, as are brick-and-mortar bookstores and conventional publishing houses.

Well, I’m not so sure about that. Self-publishing certainly presents itself in a better light than it used to, when only suckers and incompetent writers paid someone else to publish their books. Today there are some circumstances in which it makes sense to self-publish a book and market it on Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.

And there are some circumstances in which it does not.

This morning I gave a presentation to a business group on the pro’s and cons of self publishing. This is how it came down…

Pro: No Gatekeepers

When you market a book to a mainline publisher, you have to faze your way past not one but a whole string of gatekeepers.

First your (or your agent’s) proposal hits the desk of a low-paid underling — possibly even an unpaid intern. This person’s job is to winnow the wheat from the chaff, rejecting about 90 percent of the queries that arrive in the e-mail or the snail-mail. She or he forwards the 10 percent (or less) of incoming proposals that she thinks might interest the press to her boss, an acquisitions editor.

The acquisitions editor tosses most of these, recognizing through experience which are likely to make a profit for the press and which will not. Maybe one in a hundred, then, will meet this editor’s provisional approval.

However, she or he is not in a position to send you an acceptance letter — not  yet, anyway. First, she has to persuade a committee of fellow editors and marketing executives that your proposed book is a good fit for their publishing house.

Most to the point: she has to convince the marketing department that your book will sell. If she can’t, it gets rejected no matter how much she loves your idea.

Got the picture? Your chances of selling a book to a mainstream publishing house are very low, no matter how many New York editors your agent takes to lunch each week.

Con: No Gatekeepers

Now, it’s true that when you trick out an e-book or a print-on-demand book for Amazon, no one tells you that Amazon won’t buy it because it’s not “good” enough or not “salable” enough. And that’s nice for you: it means you can self-publish darn near anything.

Therein lies the problem: you can self-publish darn near anything. But… can you sell it?

By way of selling it, one crucial — maybe even indispensable — marketing tool is the book review. And not just any book review: reviews that appear in large, mainstream media such as the New York Times or Library Journal or even your local metropolitan newspaper (if your city still has such a thing). These periodicals, which indeed are staples of people who read, do not review self-published books. The reason: no gatekeepers.

Newspaper columnists and reporters are busy people. They don’t have time to plow through mountains of amateur productions. They direct their attention to works that have already been filtered through the selective eye of a mainstream publisher’s acquisitions editor. So when you send a press release or a “free” book, the first thing that reviewer is going to do is find out who published it. If the publisher is “Joe Doakes and Friends” or some obscure name that doesn’t appear and never will appear in LMP, she’s not going to give it a second look.

To get an interview on, say, NPR or Good Morning America, most authors will need at least a few reviews in mainstream media. No recognizable reviews, no interview. No interview, no marketing opportunity. No marketing, no sales.

Meanwhile, librarians, who form an important segment of any publisher’s market, are swamped with products coming at them from all directions. They also have no time for amateur productions whose authors could not or never even tried to get the attention of a mainstream publisher. If your book isn’t reviewed in Library Journal, it’s unlikely ever to land on a library shelf.

Acceptance by a traditional publisher gives you an imprimatur that gets you into some very important doors.

Pro: You retain control over all aspects of publishing, sale, and distribution (assuming you buy your own ISBN).

This is nice. You own the book. You own its copyright. When you publish through a mainstream publishing house, the publisher typically buys all copyrights (unless your agent negotiates a better deal for you). You’re paid for your rights in the reproduction and distribution in certain markets, but…if a movie producer comes along and wants to option rights for a film, he does business with your publisher, not with you.

And of course, if you’re the publisher because you self-published, you negotiate movie rights, play rights, or whatever yourself. And you get a bigger cut of revenues from any such uses.

Con: You have to handle all aspects of publishing, sales, and distribution.

None of these are simple, easy endeavors. All three of them are difficult, complex, and often expensive jobs.

Can you learn how to do them? Sure. But fools step in where angels fear to tread…

Pro: Fast turn-around

At Amazon, you can get published in as little time as it takes to slap a manuscript together and convert it to a .mobi file. When you peddle your book to a mainstream publisher, it may be a year or more before you see your golden words in print.

Con: It’s easy to put together a substandard product when you get in a hurry.

Publishing a piece of schlock is not in your best interest. What is in your best interest is to publish a book that’s as good as can be. And you don’t accomplish that overnight.

A traditional publisher may indeed take a year to bring your product to light, but in that year the book goes through a couple of editors (neither of whom you have to pay out of pocket), a professional designer, a graphic artist, a marketer, and often a number of other professionals, such as indexers and lawyers.

Would you rather get something out there right this instant, or would you rather wait to build a truly high-quality product?

Pro: You get the lion’s share of sales revenues.

With a traditional publisher, you may (or may not) get an advance against sales. After your book has sold enough copies to reimburse the advance to your publisher, then you get a royalty, which these days is around 7 percent.

At Amazon, you get most of the book’s sale price, and that is one heck of a lot more than 7 percent.

Con: Amazon is about your only retailer, except for the much smaller iBooks and Nook and, for some works, special-interest sellers.

Amazon is vast, of course. It has a killer marketing scheme. And it shares a lot more revenue with you than traditional publishers do. However, it’s not the only game in town. And some distinct potential disadvantages arise when a gigantic monopoly takes over any business.

A monolithic seller like Amazon can block readers’ access to any book. We saw that when Amazon picked a fight with Hachette: if you were one of Hachette’s authors, your would-be readers were told your book wasn’t available, or that it couldn’t be shipped for weeks. You were, in a word, screwed.

Amazon also can remove any e-book you purchase from your device at its pleasure. Or at the government’s. We saw that in 2009, when Amazon elected to remove (ironically) copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle devices of users who had purchased the the books in electronic format.

What if your book appeared only in Kindle’s .mobi format? What if Amazon decided to take it off the market and remove it from your paid customers’ devices? Your book would simply go away.

A print book printed through mainstream publishers and distributed through a national or international network of diverse retailers cannot so easily be censored.

Pro: The book remains on the virtual “bookshelf” forever.

The shelf life of a book sold in brick-&-mortar stores can be very limited – a matter of weeks or months. But once you have your book on Amazon (or iBook or Nook), it’s likely to stay available to readers for a very, very long time.

Con: An electronic book’s longevity will be limited by the technology’s longevity.

Is .mobi format going to last forever? Unlikely. What happens when .mobi becomes tomorrow’s Betamax or tomorrow’s Zip disk? How much will it cost you to convert your book to whatever the new format is? Will it even be possible to do so?

A hard-copy print book will remain readable no matter how much or how often digital products evolve.

Pro: Some people make a fair amount of money on self-published books marketed through Internet retailers.

If you’re a great marketer and you have a book that hits the market at the right time, yes, you can make some money on it. But…you could win the lottery, too…

Con: As a practical matter, sales revenues are likely to be minuscule.

A mainstream publisher doesn’t pay authors royalties based on what someone thinks a book will earn. It pays for what experience shows a book will earn.

As an amateur self-publisher, you have no practical way to gauge how well your book will sell. Your self-publication is a pig in a poke: sure, it may make a ton of money…but it may not. Matter of fact, it probably will not.

Pro: You have full control over marketing strategies.

If you’re an effective marketer or can afford to hire an effective marketing company, this is good. Very good.

But “full control” over something that you know nothing about? Maybe not so good.

Con: As a self-publisher, you have to market your book yourself. A full-service publishing company has a professional blogsite, newsletters, and catalogues that help market your book, plus it has a direct line to library buyers and book reviewers nationally and internationally.

Marketing is neither easy nor cheap. To sell your book effectively, you’ll need to learn a trade that many people go to college for four years to learn. You do not have the resources of a large operating business, either in terms of money or in terms of manpower. Marketing for most self-publishers ranges from “nil” to “weak.”

Pro: You can make it look any way you please – to the extent you can afford.

As the publisher, you get to pick the cover image, choose cover stock and paper stock, select fonts and chapter heading designs, decide how many and what pictures and graphic elements should appear inside. You can, in theory, produce a very beautiful book.

Con: You have to hire editors, graphic designers, and illustrators.

You have to find them, assess their skills, hire, them, and pay them. A traditional publisher already has such artists on staff or on contract.

Producing a print-on-demand book is expensive. An original cover image can cost upwards of $400, and a quote of $1,000 to lay out two hundred print pages is not out of the ordinary.

Pro: Seeing your golden words in print is a nice ego trip.

Con: An ego trip does not reality make.

Books That Should NOT Be Self-Published

Quality nonfiction. Any book that is heavily researched and artfully written, any book that comes under the heading of “literary journalism” or “literary nonfiction” and really, truly is engagingly written, should seek a traditional publisher.

These works need the support of traditional book reviewers, librarians, and academics, none of whom will notice your book if you self-published it on Amazon.

Quality fiction. Books that are not pieces of genre fiction (i.e., not fantasies about ghosts, dragons, fairies, and zombies; science fiction; romance; formulaic detective stories; etc.) should be marketed to mainstream publishers. Reasons: same as above.

Any book whose credibility will be needed to help you get any kind of academic job. If you are applying for tenure-track positions, your work must be peer-reviewed and published by an academic press — and not the kind that charges you for the privilege.

Any book whose credibility will be needed to help you attain political office. Really. Would you vote for some fly-by-night soul who published his jeremiad through Amazon?

Any book that you need to market through mainstream media such as NPR, the Washington Post, The New York Times, Library Journal, The New York Review of Books, or Publisher’s Weekly

Ideal Candidates for a Self-Published Work

Any book whose primary purpose is to market a business or nonprofit. A book that is first and foremost a marketing tool may in fact best be published through Amazon or a print-on-demand outfit, for reasons mentioned above: you have full control over its marketing, you own all the copyrights in it, and no one interferes or acts as an intermediary in any way. Often such a book pays for itself with its first medical or chiropractic patient or with the first few sales of a product or service. And a pure marketing tool will not need to be advertised through mainstream book reviewers.

A how-to or self-help book with a sharply focused market. Some years ago I ran across a guy who bought an RV and took off into the wild blue yonder after he retired. Before long the RV developed some ailment and needed repair. Being a handy sort of fellow, he figured out how to fix it. And having nothing better to do in his retirement, he wrote a little guide on how to do this repair and published it on Amazon.

To his amazement, every RVer in the nation soon found out about his booklet. It sold madly and he soon turned a nice profit on the thing. Readers begged him to publish more advice along the same lines. He did, and before he knew it…well, he was no longer retired. He had himself a new career as a writer.

Books intended to educate customers broadly (as opposed to selling them on your product or service). Sometimes you would like to inform your customers or potential customers about some consumer issue. Your impulse to do so may be altruistic, or it may be that you hope informed potential customers eventually will walk in your shop’s front door. This is a reasonable candidate for self-publication.

Books with a narrow audience that is widely separated geographically or may grow over time. For example, one of my clients wrote and will self-publish a memoir intended to be read by members of a large extended family or by future children and grandchildren. No mainstream publisher could make a profit on such a thing — but if your goal is not to make a profit, it makes sense to self-publish.

A truly entertaining piece of genre fiction written by an author who has a strong social network and effective marketing skills. On the other hand, sometimes self-publishing makes sense if your goal is to make a profit. Genre fiction, especially the romance novel, lends itself to this, because it’s the sort of thing that readers will seek out once they know about a given author. I suspect that many genre authors may be best served by self-publishing; if your book sells itself, you have no reason to share profits with a middle-man.

§§§

Print lives. Mainstream book publishers are still with us. But the Internet has changed the game of self-publishing. Before assuming that one or the other is best, consider the nature of your work, your goals and preferences, and your choices. They may be different than you expect.

Launching the Amazon Adventure

So I’ve established my “author’s page” on Amazon. The URL is supposedly www.amazon.com/author/victoriahay, but when you enter that your address line magically changes to the strange set of characters that is the back-end URL: http://www.amazon.com/Victoria-Hay/e/B00PRINAQG So, though it gives you a more plain-English URL, it doesn’t save a lot of space. If you wanted something shorter and simpler to put on a business card, you could easily generate one through Bitly.com or some such. Strange.

I hate this kind of techie thing. Such a time suck!! And frustrating. Beyond frustrating.

The first frustration has already cropped up. I have a name that I deeply dislike: Millicent V. Hay. Because I was endlessly bullied and abused as a child, and because one aspect of the bullying had to do with the weird name, just the sound of the name “Millicent” makes my skin crawl.

But when I published my first book, which was a historical biography, it had to come out under my full legal name, because there was a good chance I would use the publication to try to get an academic job. And of course, I did not want to have to explain to hiring committee after hiring committee after hiring committee that “Vicky” is “Millicent.”

Later, I started a C-corporation, a finder’s agency that farmed out work to established writers, photographers, illustrators, and graphic designers. My business partner was an old-line PR guy and marketing agent. He thought “Vicky” sounded way too informal — “infantile,” I believe, was his term. He suggested identifying myself as “Victoria.” So, henceforth “Victoria” it was, and so it stayed, even after I sold the business to him.

Well, so I have three books other than the do-it-yourself Slave Labor: The Essential Feature, published by Columbia University Press under the name Vicky Hay; Math Magic, cowritten with Scott Flansburg and published by William Morrow under the name Victoria Hay, Ph.D., and The Life of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, published by Folger Shakespeare Library under the name Millicent V. Hay.

So. That’s all well and good. On your author’s page, you can publish links with colorful widgets to all your books as they appear at Amazon.com.

But. Well. No, you can’t if you used the various permutations of your legal name as bylines. When you go to claim a book with a slightly different byline, you’re told “this doesn’t appear to be you.”

Ask customer service, and you learn that to bring those books into your author’s page, you have to state that the variants of your name are NOT your name but are “pen names.” A-N-N-D when you do that it creates a different author’s page for each not-a-pen name.

I don’t want separate author’s pages for each of my books. I want all my books to appear on MY page, under the name I presently use to do business.

A-N-N-D…it gets worse! I intend to publish my first novel, which is ready to go except for the final e-book formatting, under an actual pen-name: Estabanya Marcanda do Tilár. But Amazon limits the number of “author’s pages” you can have to three. If I’m made to call the two variants of my real name “pseudonyms,” then I can’t publish Fire-Rider under the pen-name I invented!

And that pen-name is part of the entire conceit behind the book. If I have to take the pen-name off the cover and title page, that will wreck the whole crazy premise I cooked up!

Presently I’m trying to explain this to their customer service people. But experience with these kinds of bureaucratic structures promises that I won’t get far with it. So I guess I just won’t be able to have my other books show on the Amazon Author’s Page.

It’s not like that will bring an end to the world as we know it.

It’s just annoying.

{sigh}

First eBook: PUBLISHED!

Pleased to report that my first effort at e-publishing is now live at Amazon. The title is Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education. If you are enrolled or about to enroll in a college or university, if your kids are going to college, if you’re a graduate student who has designs on an academic career, if you’re a legislator who cares about the future of this country, if you’re a member of a board of regents, if you’re a college administrator, this book is for you.

Slave Labor describes the short- and long-term effects of replacing professors with part-timers and chronicles one adjunct’s semester in America’s largest community college district.

IMG_3006

Click on the image to go to Amazon. And buy, buy, buy!

This is the first stage in what will be a fairly elaborate experiment — or so it’s planned. We’re told the key to making a profit at Amazon is (in addition to astute marketing) to get several titles on the market there. And we have several more titles forthcoming. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next year and a half. For nonacademic clients who are writing book-length works for business marketing or for personal reasons, I believe it will be very interesting, indeed.

The cover design was done by colleague James Metcalf, a veteran of many a magazine issue and many an advertising campaign.

The physical e-book itself was created by Ken Johnson, proprietor of Your eBook Builder. Copyediting was done by my business partner at The Copyeditor’s Desk, Tina Minchella. I did the easy part: writing it.

Self-publishing, I have to allow, was never my style. As a creature of an earlier era, I was brought up to believe that only writers who weren’t good enough to persuade an acquisitions editor to buy their work self-published books, usually at great expense and to little profit. My books appeared through mainline publishers: William Morrow, Columbia University Press, Folger Shakespeare Library.

But times have changed. Among the crowded mediocrity, a fair number of decent writers are publishing on Amazon, Nook, and iBooks. Most are nonfiction writers — a salable piece of nonfiction is not very difficult to write, and occasionally you come up with an idea with some real redeeming value. Some decent fiction surfaces in those precincts, too.

More to the point, Amazon’s publishing model offers the potential to earn much more money from a moderately successful book than you could expect from a traditional publisher. You do split some of the revenue with Amazon, but it’s negligible compared to the proportion of gross sales that goes to a major publishing house. The books you see to the left here paid me 10% royalties. Today, 7% is more typical.

Amazon flips the traditional model upside-down: because of the almost nonexistent cost of production — at least to the “publisher,” Amazon itself — and because neither Amazon nor the author has to pay bookstores and distributors to get the product on retail shelves, the author collects a large share of gross sales.

As pretty as that looks, though, one can’t expect to get rich publishing squibs on Amazon. Some people do, of course, but they’re the exception. What I have been told, however, is that with consistent marketing of a number of Amazon-published books, it’s possible to earn something approaching a middle-class income. We’re told (depending on who’d doing the claiming) that the critical mass, as it were, is five to eight books.

Well. I can churn out books as easily as I can breathe. As we scribble, two more are under way — a work of speculative fiction and a diet/cookbook. I hope to get these out by the end of this year or, at latest, in Q1 2015.

And I’m nine chapters in to a second novel; a book of essays is in draft; and several other schemes lurk at the edges of the drawing board. It’s within reason to think I could put five books out by the end of 2015.

Giving this project two years should reveal whether revenues from a number of books residing on Amazon actually do cumulate to yield a living wage, given an active marketing plan. I think it will be interesting to see what happens.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to take part in the experiment, buy that book!

🙂