Sunday, April 10, 2016

The self-publishing process: Should I do print?

If you've made the decision to self-publish, the next think you need to decide is whether to publish print books or ebooks or both.

POD

To self-publish in print, almost the only viable option, unless you are rich enough to invest the money needed to print several thousand copies of your book, is to use a POD service. POD stands for print on demand, a process that takes advantage of new technology that melds a high speed printer/copier machine with a book binder. So far as I know, the only commercially available one is called the Espresso Book Machine. Some bookstores have invested in these machines, but they are expensive, so they are not generally affordable for a small business. But several online companies are out there, including Lulu and CreateSpace (from Amazon) and Barnes and Noble, that provide a way to print and sell your book using their POD machines and their websites.



However, even the POD process requires that you format the manuscript properly, and create a PDF that looks like a typeset book, with all the correct information on the title page (front and back) and with proper headers and footers, including page numbers. That is much harder than it sounds! Some people use MS Word templates from companies like Joel Friedlander's Book Design Templates. Other use desktop publishing software, like Adobe InDesign (which can also produce an epub file for the ebook version). But InDesign is complex and not free, so that's a real investment of time and money.  There are commercial services that will format print books, just as there are for ebooks, but all of them have the same limitation: correction workflow. If you give a commercial services a word processing file, and they give you the a PDF to publish from, how do you correct that if you find an error later? Generally, unless you can edit PDFs, you have to ask them to make the correction for you.

Obviously, everything should be proofed carefully before you hand over the m.s., but it's difficult to be sure you got every single tiny typo.  Correction workflow should be factored into your decision on how to produce the PDF.  And keep in mind you will need a full-color PDF of the entire cover (front, back, and spine), not just a front cover image, like you do for an ebook.

Pricing

The per copy costs involved in producing a print book mean that you can't price it as competitively as you can an ebook. Amazon will let you set the price on a Kindle book as low as 99¢, but because they have to pay for paper and ink, they will not let you price a CreateSpace POD book at a loss; generally, a POD book will cost about the same as a commercially-published trade paperback. This is a significant drawback if you're starting out. One reason self-published ebooks sell as well as they do is that they are so much cheaper than ebooks from traditional publishers, who price them high to protect hardcover sales.

Selling

Another limitation is that POD books are not generally found in bookstores,. Even the B&N POD books are only at  few B&N stores that have Espresso machines. This means online sales are your only retail outlet, unless you want to go around to bookstores and persuade the owners to carry your books on a consignment basis. Some people do this successfully, others not. Some authors carry extra copies of their books to conventions and sell them to people they meet. You need to decide what you're willing to do to sell your books.

The Payoff

Quite frankly, most self-published titles don't sell well in print unless they are by an author who was already well established before the self-published titles came out. However, even if you don't sell that many copies, having a print version of your book is an advantage. You can give away free copies as promotions and (hopefully) get reviews, and if you make contacts at conventions or readings, you have something available for those folks who just don't want ebooks. And you can hold book signings!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Is Google serious about its ebook platform?

Almost a year ago, I blogged about starting to load my books onto Google Play/Google Books.  I just got Saronna's Gift loaded yesterday. I've had very few sales on Google Books, but I figured it couldn't hurt to expand. For a while there was a major hold-up in loading new books because Google Books had no filter to stop people from pirating other people's work. I'm not sure when that was resolved, because they're not good at communicating. When the new book would not load all the way, I didn't get any message as to why; it turned out there was an epub problem, but I had never gotten a notice about it.

I have to say, Google has not made a lot of (or maybe even any!) improvements in the "Books Partner Center" in the last year. The interface is still clunky, and seems to be designed by geeks, for geeks. I guess you could call it the UNIX of book platforms; but unlike UNIX, there's no graphical interface available to make it easier.  One of the things that takes up a lot of room on the report screen is the pie chart it draws to show you the percentage of books that are live and for sale.





That's a lot of screen real estate for something that will usually be 100%. 

Features that are still clunky or problematic:

  • You have to download a new CSV file every time you want to see your sales figures. There is no way to generate a report on screen.  This is my single biggest complaint. What a pain! Even Barnes & Noble is better than this.
  • Reporting is erratic. I checked every day after I ran my last promotion, and it took a full week for the books I had given away to show up in the sales transaction report. On the other hand, I often see sales and giveaways the next day.
  • If you want to run a Google Books promotion, you have create a CSV file and upload it. For every book, you need to provide the following info:  Identifier, Title, Currency, Amount, and Countries. Except that their program doesn't actually use the title column, so you can leave it blank. And you can say WORLD for country if you want it everywhere. 
The message you see on loading a book is the reason it's still worth it.

This book is live in the Google Play store in the following regions: AR, AS, AT, AU, BE, BG, BO, BR, BY, CA, CH, CL, CO, CR, CZ, DE, DK, DO, EC, EE, ES, FI, FR, GB, GR, GT, GU, HK, HN, HR, HU, ID, IE, IL, IN, IT, JP, KG, KR, KZ, LT, LU, LV, MH, MP, MX, MY, NI, NL, NO, NZ, PA, PE, PH, PL, PR, PT, PW, PY, RO, RU, SE, SG, SI, SK, SV, TH, TR, TT, TW, UA, US, UY, UZ, VE, VI, VN, ZA. It is also listed on Google Books.

Of course, if you need all those country codes explained, you'll need to look it up elsewhere. Google is a huge company. I expected better from them, so this makes me wonder if they really care about Google Books or not. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Promotion Smackdown: The Fussy Librarian vs eReader News Today


I ran two more promotions recently, to advertise The Sixth Discipline being free. That book is always free, but the Amazon numbers for it were dropping; I wanted to get more copies out there, because it drives sales of No Safe Haven (the direct sequel, which is not free, but is reasonably priced at $2.99). I blogged about my earlier promotion efforts back in October.


The first service I used this time is called The Fussy Librarian. A friend had recommended them, and the fee for my options (science fiction for the genre, and free for the price) was only $25, so I went with it. The Fussy Librarian (TFL) sends email to their subscribers (free to readers, of course), and also maintains a searchable database of free books, which contains all the books that have been included in emails for the last 30 days. I'll be interested to see if The Sixth Discipline gets any lift from this. It's an added benefit for the same price.

Of course, it might be hard to separate, because I did do back-to-back promotions again. I had a second promo on eReader News Today (ERNT) the day after the one on TFL. Interestingly, promoting a free science fiction book was also $25 with ERNT.

Well, it as been a few days now, and ERNT won hands down. TFL did okay; I gave away 189 Kindle copies, 20 Nook (B&N), and 11 iBooks. The ERNT promo was the very next day, and that one was huge! Not BookBub huge, but almost as good as my earlier FreeBooksy promot, which cost more than twice as much. I gave away 755 Kindle copies, 23 Nook copies, and 11 on iBooks! Now, a dozen or two could well be hold overs from the TFL site/email, but I can't believe it would be more than that when the intial number topped out at 189. The virtue of those kinds of number is they jump your book up in the Amazon sales rankings.

Amazon has links for the 100 most popular free Kindle books, and also the most popular 100 by genre, e.g., 100 top free science fiction and fantasy. These appear at the bottom of the product page, where the book's ranking is, but you only see the genre links if the book ranks in the top 1,000 of a genre or subgenre. Before these promotions, The Sixth Discipline was hovering around the 25,000 mark for overall free Kindle books.

This was the ranking for T6thD on the day of the Fussy Librarian promo:


4:00 pm

10:00 pm
This was during the ERNT promo:

7:00 pm

11:00 pm
So, what that means is the giveaway numbers stay higher for several days after the promo. In the three days after my book ran on ERNT, its Kindle "sales" per day were 116, 36, and 39.

I think I will try another promotion for a book that's not free, to compare. My Freebooksey promo did much better than when I used Bargain Booksy. That might be purely because there are more people looking for free books than bargain books, which would mean no promo for a sale book is going to do anywhere near as well, not even BookBub.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Act now to win a Kindle copy of Saronna's Gift

Amazon lets anyone host a giveaway of any print book sold by Amazon. If you look on the product page of a book, you'll see the icon right below the "Create a review" button.


Interestingly, you don't have to be the author or publisher to set up a giveaway. The link appears for everyone. Once you click it, you have to commit to paying for the books you're going to give away, select the number of copies, the odds of winning (e.g. one in 100), and provide the wording for win and lose messages. You can also specify a single requirement, such as making people follow you on Twitter or watch a short video or follow the author on Amazon. You can even control whether the link can be shared or not, which controls who can see it.


If you wanted to find a way to gain more Twitter followers, for example, you could pick a popular book and host a giveaway of it.  This is more feasible now, because Amazon now allows folks to host a giveaway of a Kindle book. This is much less expensive (cheaper price and no shipping costs), so it's easier to give away more copies.

I did some print giveaways a while ago, and now I've started one for the Kindle version of Saronna's Gift. Click here to enter!

nb:  The link above will only work until the giveaway runs it course and all five copies are claimed, or March 16, 2016, whichever comes first.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Story-telling versus writing

I consider myself primarily a storyteller. I've chosen the written word as a way to tell my stories. Or perhaps I mean the written word chose me, as I never envisioned another method.

But there are plenty of other ways of telling a story.




Some people use songs. I have a tin ear myself, so that was never an option. Some people use dance. Hawaiian hula dances always tells a story, as do classic ballets like Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. Musical theater combines songs, dances, and spoken words, as in the traditional The Music Man and more recently in the edgy new Broadway hit Hamilton.





Interestingly, the modern era has produced some excellent story telling in television commercials. One of my all time favorites is this Tullamore Dew whiskey commercial; it packs a huge amount of story telling into a small amount of time, and pulls off a surprise ending, too.  In spite of my tin ear, I love the song in it.


A Toronto artist found a unique, visual way to tell a story. He makes dioramas out of vintage ring boxes, in an effort to make the viewer feel transported to another world. Each of his creations is a complete scene, and each viewer can interpret it in his or her own way.

Dance, music, songs, movies, TV. commercials, visual art, books, they're all good. What works for you?




Friday, February 12, 2016

Technology is changing at an incredibly rapid pace!

I was browsing the web the other day, when I saw a set of photos of events in history. Image #17 is of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States.  He helped negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812. His father John Adams was the second US president. JQA was nine years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

I had no idea a photograph of this man existed! It just shows you how new our country is, and also how the pace of change is accelerating. JQA's image was captured in his mid-70's by a technology that didn't exist when he was born, or even when he was president, although daguerreotypes were being made a decade or so after he left office. Photographic technology improved over the decades, but it took a long time until it looked radically different.


On the other hand, look at two famous entertainers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In addition to being in many “Road” movies together, they also shared a birthday month and year. They were both born in May of 1903. In December of that year, the Wright brothers made the first manned heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk, NC. Both Hope and Crosby were 66 years old when humans first landed on the moon. The jump in technology from the Wright Flyer to Apollo 11 was enormous, and yet it took only 66 years.




Who knows what a baby born in 2016 will see! I'n guessing that when he or she grows up and has a child, they may well come home from the hospital in a self-driving car to a house where all the appliances can be given verbal orders. The really interesting question is what will he or she do for a living when robots cans do so much?


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reading aloud — Is Alexa a better reader than the Kindle?

I love my new Kindle Voyage! It's very like the Paperwhite, except screen resolution is a tad better, and it has two spots in the bezel that you can depress to page forward and page backward, if you prefer that to swiping or tapping the screen (actually four spots, two each on the left and right sides, so it works whether you're left or right-handed).  But like the Paperwhite and unlike earlier Kindles, one limitation of the Voyage is that it cannot read aloud to you. I blogged about this when I was thinking about getting a Paperwhite, because I liked to use the read aloud feature for proofing manuscripts.

I assumed that Amazon killed this feature in the newer Kindles because their data showed that not many people were using it. Certainly, other e-ink readers never bothered with it.  Now, however, Amazon had enhanced their voice-activated personal assistant Echo, so that it can read your Kindle books to you.

If Alexa (the voice of the Echo) has the same limitations as the Kindle robot voice, this feature may not be that big a deal. The Kindle voice was not great at pausing in certain situations, like between paragraphs of dialog if the first one ended with a question mark. Also there was the problem of homographs. The robot voice could not tell from the context whether the word "bow" was pronounced with a long o, as in "bow and arrow," or a short o as in "take a bow."

Possibly, newer, more sophisticated programming has improved both pacing and assessing meaning from context. Or possibly not, depending on how much research and effort Amazon put into this. The reviews I have seen don't mention either problem, so it's possible it's much better. I don't know anyone who has an Echo, but if you do, please post a comment with any insight you might have. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A mystery about a mystery: How can two books have the same set of reviews?

I am quite fond of murder mysteries, especially British ones. One of my favorite authors is Dorothy L. Sayers, author of a series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, the younger son of a duke, and an amateur detective. I've read all of them, some of them many times,  When we renovated our house, I donated 18 cartons of books, including all my Sayers copies to the local thrift shop. However, when Open Road Media started reissuing them as ebooks, I bought some of them, so I could reread them when I felt like it. I loved what a fantastic job OR did on them. I even wrote a post about it.


Now, however, someone else is publishing Dorthy L Sayers (presumably, it's out of copyright) and they are no Open Road. You can tell it's a different version because it not only has a different cover, it has a different ASIN (Amazon's unique stock number). The Open Road cover is shown above.

I got an email promotion for Clouds of Witness for only 99¢ (ASIN = B00LDSUTMC). There was no warning on the Amazon page saying "You bought this book on [date]" so I didn't realize I already had the Open Road version (ASIN = B008JVJKXK). I bought the 99¢ version and it was terrible. I have never seen an ebook with so damn many errors!  Most obviously, there were 25 instances of [garbled] and 26 of [missing] they had not bothered to clean up.

They looks like this:

“[Garbled] least--not [garbled] see him. But there was poor Denis's body,

“My lords, it is your happy privilege [missing] his grace the Duke of Denver these [missing] of his exalted rank. When the clerk [missing] address to you severally the solemn [missing] find Gerald, Duke of Denver, [missing] guilty or not guilty of the dreadful [missing] every one of you may, with a confidence [missing] any shadow of doubt, lay his hand and say, 'Not guilty, upon my honour.'“

There were also plenty of plain old typos:

“What did you say you found on that skin Bunter?” (this should say "skirt," not skin)
. . .and bunked Silly-ass thing to do . . . * (missing the period at the end of the sentence)
“The position of the fingers being towards the house appears, does it not, to negative the suggestion of dragging?” (should be "negate")

But because it turns out Amazon lumps the various editions together, there is one set of reviews. You see the same reviews for the Open Road version, the crappy, cheapo version, and the print version. People are giving the book one star because this version looks so bad!

 I didn't write a review, but I did email Amazon and ask for my money back. It had been more than the 7-day limit, but they credited me anyway. I wish they would make the seller take down the new version.  Formatting that could make me feel cheated after paying 99¢ is truly terrible formatting.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Print versus ebooks: it's still a debate

You might think that more than eight years after the Kindle launched*, the debate over print books versus ebooks would be settled, but it looks like it's not. CBS News recently weighed in with a post titled Books vs. e-books: The science behind the best way to read.

It gets some things right: it mentions that studies of e-reading interrupting sleep are about LCD screens, and that dedicated ereaders have non-light-emitting screens (although it never calls them e-ink screens). It talks about the advantages that controlling the appearance of the text can give to people with reading disabilities.  There's even link to a website where readers can try out that kind of feature to see if it helps.



Things the post gets wrong: The title implies one best way to read, and there isn't one! It also calls print books just "books." That's like saying "Cars vs. Electric Cars: Which Is Better?" They're all books! Way back when the codex replaced the scroll, it was just a new format for the same thing.



This post also sites a specific Australian study of students to make the claim that "avid readers also tend to prefer reading on paper." I find this bogus! I think if you made a point to include people who own dedicated e-ink ereaders, you would find they are some of the most voracious readers out there.  Furthermore, Australia doesn't have as mature an ereader market as the US.


* I know the Kindle was not the first ereader--not even the first e-ink ereader--but it was what launched the digital transition. The pre-Kindle market for ebooks was minuscule.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How is Saronna's Gift like the latest Mad Max?

I seem to be posting about movies lately. But this writer's post about Mad Max: Fury Road rang a bell with me.

The plot of the movie illustrates that an absolute matriarchy, where all men are seen as evil, can be just as toxic to humanity as an absolute patriarchy. And in Saronna's Gift, that is, in fact, the way Krueger's World is portrayed. I won't go into details, because that would spoil the unfolding of the plot, but the religiously-based colony on Kruger's World has both an absolute patriarchy and a hidden matriarchy. Neither is kind to its adherents.

There is a human tendency to  want to punish oppression with oppression—to oppress those who oppress you—but it's not a humane response. Nor is it healthy, because the act of oppressing someone else makes you less human as well as less humane.

The world is grim enough as it is. We all need to be kind to each other.