on Dec 16, 2011
I apologize in advance. I find there is nothing more agonizingly tedious than an author who keeps talking about a book they’ve written but isn’t yet available. A mention is fine. An overview is okay. But post after post of chatter is irritating. It’s like when a game publisher pesters you with a never-ending stream of substance-free teaser trailers for a game you can’t play and know nothing about. You can’t build hype until you can make people care, and you can’t make them care until you have something to show.
I understand this. However, this makes it kind of hard for me to put anything on this blog, since this is all I have in front of me these days. I really hate this. Someone asked about the process of self-publishing, and I thought I’d give a quick look at how it works.
I finished my story over a month ago, and it’s still weeks before it will appear for sale. I realize this sounds perfectly reasonable – perhaps even ludicrously fast – to people used to traditional publishing. But for someone like me who “publishes” crap every day via blogs posts and YouTube uploads, this seems like a lot of needless friction and hassle.
If you’re curious what it takes to make this happen, here it is:
- Send the manuscript off to your editors. I’m self-pubbing, so this means sending it to a few trusted people. I have several very, very good editors for this project, all of whom I met through the ‘net. (Plus my mother, who I met much earlier.) I don’t want to out them without their permission. Having said that: If you guys want to identify yourselves, please feel free to take a bow. Your input has been invaluable.
You send out the document. You get feedback. You make changes. Rinse, repeat. Since proofreading a book means reading it all the way through, multiple times, while making notes, this process can take weeks.
- Book cover. Have fun with this one. Traditional books benefit from gorgeous, detailed images. (Warning: These types of images can be expensive to produce.) A good image can make someone pick up and examine a book out of sheer curiosity.
On the other hand, digital books work very differently. Your “cover” is going to be reduced to a little 120 pixel wide PNG on the sales site, so that $1,000 watercolor of a dragon that you commissioned will end up looking like an indistinct smear of red pixels. On the e-reader, the user won’t see the cover often, and odds are they’ll see it in black & white. Your cover should be high-contrast, look good in monochrome, and be discernible (and even compelling) after extreme reduction.
- Format the document. You’ll need to do this at least twice. Once for print, and again for digital.
In print, you have the book broken into fixed pages with predictable layouts. You arrange it so that chapters begin on right-hand pages, inserting blanks as needed. You have a large selection of fonts to choose from. It’s easy to do fancy stuff like drop capitals. You need to set up page headers and footers.
In digital, the number of “pages” is determined by the size of the user’s screen. Blank pages make no sense, and chapters usually run together on the page with nothing more than a divider symbol between them. Headers and footers don’t work the same way. You have a very small number of fonts to use.
Also, there is more than one digital platform and there a discrepancies between them. Fancy bits like drop capitals are easy, or impossible, or very fiddly and hard to get right, depending on a bunch of factors I don’t yet understand.
This process is days of work, even if you know what you’re doing. It can be weeks of trial-and-error if this is your first time.
- Set up the books on the various sales platforms. Assign the ISBN numbers. (You’ll need different numbers for digital and print editions, and may even wind up with different ones for the same edition on different platforms.)
Each system works a little differently. Amazon has a bunch of rules. (Rules like: You promise not to sell your book for less on other platforms.) If you abide by the rules, you make 70% royalty. If not, you make 30%. Different systems have different regions of avilability, different ways of taking their cut, different restrictions on what the minimum price can be, and so on. Some will deal only in digital. Others only in print. Some will want to link the two. Others will offer both but treat them like different things.
It is, basically, a confusing mess. You want to offer your work on as many platforms as possible, but each platform requires a non-trivial investment of time and learning. For each one, you’ll need to create an account and push your book through their review process. If you want to update your book, you need to upload the revision to all platforms and re-submit it for review. Suddenly fixing a single typographical error becomes a major investment of time. And if you miss something? Yay! Now you have different versions of the book appearing in different places.
I suppose a successful author can pay somebody to handle all of this for them. For me, it’s really painful to burn a bunch of creative time on non-creative bureaucratic fussing.
I’ve always insisted that videogames should constantly lower their prices until they hit some bargin-basement minimum, or until all the units are sold. There’s no reason to keep your four-year-old game sitting around for $30. If anyone wanted it for $30, they would have bought it by now. Bring that price down and capture the people who impulse-buy at $20. Then nail the people who aren’t willing to risk more than $15 on an unfamiliar title. Then grab the buyers who just traded in $10 worth of games. Then get the guy who has just $5 left on his gift card and is looking to get rid of it.
Assuming my books sell and I’m not forced to re-apply for my old job at McDonald’s, I plan to practice what I preach with regards to my own sales.
In keeping with this idea, I’ve moved How I Learned down to $1.99 or $2.99, depending on what the minimum allowed price is. I’ve somehow sold a few dozen copies, which is odd because I didn’t expect to really sell any at all. Thanks so much to Peter and Michael Goodfellow for taking the time to review the book.
Preferred link for the e-book:
How I Learned on Smashwords. (e-book only. All readers – Kindle, Epub, HTML, RTF, PDF, Plain Text.)
Preferred link for the print version:
How I Learned on Create Space. (6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback.)
Both digital and print are available on my Amazon author page.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.