Digital-Age Publishing

By Shamus Posted Friday Dec 16, 2011

Filed under: Projects 82 comments

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Requisite links:

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.


From The Archives:

82 thoughts on “Digital-Age Publishing

  1. Vect says:

    Well, luck be with you man. While I can’t say that this book will probably be a best-seller or something like that, you’ll start off with a fair amount of support at least. No offense.

  2. Amarsir says:

    Hey now, they said that about Duke Nukem Forever, too. And that came out! So you just tell naysayers that you’re the 3D Realms of authors. ;)

    1. Wes1180 says:

      Only problem with that is that Duke Nukem Forever was supposedly really bad. (I say supposedly becuase I haven’t played it myself) Don’t want people thinking that about Shamus now do we? :P

      I bought How I Learned and plan on re-reading it when I get my new tablet, mainly becuase I read it on the blog and really enjoyed it. So thanks for making a way for me to be able to support you somehow :)

    2. Adam P says:

      It’s funny you mention DNF considering that Duke is used for the category image.

      1. Another_Scott says:

        It may be what primed the example in Wes1180’s head.

  3. ehlijen says:

    Best of luck with your book!

    And congratulations for having gone through what sounds like a painful process with most of your mind intact.

  4. Arjen says:

    Wow. $1.99 for that thing? That’s just too good a price.
    By the way; I want you to know this is the first time I have ever bought something purely digital. I have the same desire for holding something physical when I make a purchase as you, but sod it; my mother (who is a teacher) should read this and so will I, again.

  5. Scott Richmond says:

    Congratulations Shamus! Must be such an immense feeling to getting so close to releasing your book. You really should feel special, honestly. Regardless of how well this book does in the marketplace, very few people have the passion and drive to finish such a creative project.
    Make the most of it mate.

    Oh hey I’d just like to put my hand up as someone who’d definitely buy Free Radical if you gave it a rework and you didn’t have to take out so many IP related names (SHODAN, etc). I believe you’ve really struck a niche nerve with me on that novel – I haven’t seen any other space story like SS/Free Radical.
    Something to think about.

  6. Confanity says:


    Seriously, though, an interesting and potentially useful look at the self-publishing business’ current state. Thanks for putting this up. 8^)

  7. Joshua says:

    Well, I’m very likely to be getting a Kindle from my wife for Christmas, so I’ll be sure to buy How I Learned after that point in time. Cheap price to pay for all of the entertainment you’ve given me over the past 5+ years.

  8. Chuck Henebry says:

    It’s just good to hear you talking. Your clear-headed accounts of complex situations are what keep me coming back here.

    1. Kerin says:

      That, and how Shamus can turn his own exasperation into something that I can relate to without it turning into whiny diatribes. The only thing that worries me is that one of these days he’ll figure out he’s good at writing and get smug and hard to read. ;]

      1. Mari says:

        I don’t think that will happen. One thing I’ve learned by editing these two books for Shamus is that he’s very certain of his “voice” as an author. The things that make him easy and entertaining to read are parts that he’s very firm in holding onto. I’ve also discovered that the informal conversational style of his writing translates better than I expected into a more formal fictional narrative.

  9. X2Eliah says:

    Kind of interesting how publishing digitally – which is supposed to be more convenient and hassle-free – is actually such a confuzzled mess…

  10. Mari says:

    I’ll out myself as one of Shamus’ editors. Which means, yes, I’ve read the book. Or at least, I’ve read the pre-final version. No doubt he will have made some minor changes between the version I’ve read and the version that everyone will read after they pay for the thing.

    I’m also going to confess that editing Shamus’ novel has been incredibly difficult for me. First off, the story is very compelling and I kept getting wrapped up in it and forgetting to, y’know, EDIT. So it took me forever to get through it, which would have caused a hold-up on it getting into your hands if Shamus’ evil eye hadn’t conveniently masked my slowness with the red pen. Then there’s the fact that the story is very compelling and I’m now about to explode with the desire to shout from the rooftops how incredibly awesome it is except I can’t yet because it’s not officially published yet. This is causing me some consternation.

    Ultimately, the best thing I can say about “The Witch Watch” is that if there were pre-orders available for it I would already have done so. As it is I can’t wait to pick up a copy for my house and a half-dozen or so more to give away to every fantasy-reading person I know.

    1. MisteR says:

      Should’ve known that it’d be that good ^_^ Now I can’t wait!

    2. RTBones says:

      Mari – I can say, I feel your pain. I am a sometimes proof-reader of a long-standing series of stories called The Adventurers, by Thomas Miller. ( The hardest part I have at times is not getting caught up in the story itself.

    3. Clint Olson says:

      I’ll out myself as another proofreader and concur with Mari — when reading through it, I kept finding myself getting lost in the narrative and not paying attention to the grammar. My solution was to read the entire thing out loud to myself, since that way I was forced to at least hear every word and any slightly-off word choices or missing punctuation would stand out when my brain attempted to translate the words into coherent spoken sentences.

      Also: Thanks to Shamus for allowing me to proof his work — it’s an activity I very much enjoy doing, and it’s even more enjoyable when the underlying story is as spellbinding as this one.

      1. How can you be a proofreader? Didn’t you die from Iocaine powder?

      2. Mari says:

        Wise option, Clint. I wish I had a quiet place to do that but if I’d gone that route my kids and/or hubby would have lurked just to hear it all. My solution was to give up and read it through once just to get the story arc out of the way then go back and re-read thrice more for proofing.

      3. Just adding in that reading the text out loud is an excellent tool in making sure the text flows right. Ideally the author should be doing this, either alone or with friends.

        When (ha!) I write major works, this is something I intend to do.

        1. Mari says:

          This is very true although some of us have a talent for “hearing” what we read even when we aren’t reading aloud. Shamus can attest to the fact that my edits included numerous “word flow is off” suggestions despite the fact that only two sentences from the entire novel crossed my lips. Those two sentences should, IMO, be part of the book “blurb” because they cracked me up so much that I had to repeat them aloud to everyone in the house once I had caught my breath from laughing so hard. I don’t think Shamus intended them to be that funny but his deadpan delivery made them even funnier.

    4. susie day says:

      I also help someone proofread their books, and to help with the whole, ‘this book is too good to stop reading to proofread’ problem, I do two passes. The first time, I upload a copy into my kindle, and just make small notes when I notice them. This gives me a good idea of what sections are good, as they have very little editing! Then, I make those changes, and print it out and go through it again with a colored pen. Since I’ve already read it, I’m not as distracted by either the story or the glaring mistakes I picked up the first time.

      Good luck Shamus! I’m absolutely going to pick up a copy of your book once it comes out, I really enjoy your writing :-)

  11. Meredith says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been considering self e-publishing and it’s good to get a glimpse of how it works.

  12. RTBones says:

    Excellent. Thank you for your all-too-recent first-hand insight.

    I think it is established that I travel…a lot. If it isn’t – hey, welcome to establishment.

    I have, over the years, written little pieces here and there for friends (at their request) on XYZ city or GotoPDQPub or See123Attraction or ClearCustomsAndThen9876 or whathave you. I have also served as a ‘tour guide’ to many of the same or similar people (again, at their request). Feedback I have gotten has, in general, been quite good. I have been asked multiple times why I don’t put together my own guidebook.

    Your post? Yeah, it highlights exactly why I have done nowt with any of it.

  13. rayen says:

    there is going to be a print version avaiable right? besides just not trusting digital distrubuters right now i don’t have any kind of e-reader thing. this may or may not really be problem but the other thing is i like reading print form more than stuff on a screen. I can’t read more than one or two articles before i have to do something else to give my eyes a rest.

    Other than that i look foward to reading, and best of luck with that publishing stuff… looks like a mess.

  14. Zombie Pete says:

    My question is, are there any sorts of gatekeepers at these self-publishing sites? Or do they let any dross through the door will to jump through their hoops? (Shamus’ work excluded from said dross, of course.)

    1. Raygereio says:

      Sort of, kinda and not really.

      Createspace for instance offers certain guidelines that content sold through them has to adhere to:
      But as you can see those guidelines are rather vague, especially what falls under the offensive material catagory. itself isn’t much better in this regard. I recall a while ago there was some ruckus a year ago about a self-published book that judging from the title was about how to go about practicing pedophilia (though if I recall right, it wasn’t actually about that and the author just used that title to get attention or something). People petitioned Amazon to remove that title, but Amazon stated it “believed it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable”.
      But on the other hand there was another commotion earlier this year with deleting certain self-published titles that contained erotica. I recall an outraged blogpost from someone who demanded a refund for her lost ebook titles who was apparently even scolded by customer support for her choice of reading material. Amazon then stated it reserved the right to remove titels as it saw fit.

      Long story short: yeah, there is apparently some form of gatekeepers on at least some self-publishing services. But as far as I can tell as a person from the outside, not directly involed in any of it and thus not in posession of all the information, it isn’t anywhere near properly organized.

      1. Zombie Pete says:

        Interesting, but I didn’t mean gatekeepers to keep out offensive content, but to keep out plain, old bad writing. Obviously, you can still buy crap from a traditional publisher, but there at least you can be assured (rightly or wrongly) that editors with a modicum of intelligence have vetted the material and deemed it readable. I suppose peer reviewers are indispensable, but I wouldn’t want to take one for the team, as it were.

        1. Raygereio says:

          Oh you meant that.
          Well, let’s be honest: the traditional publishers aren’t a gatekeeper against bad writing anyway.
          There days I do my best to avoid that sort of stuff, but I’ve read countless books back when I did bookreviews that were from a strictly technical viewpoint (so I’m not even talking about the content of the story itself) just awfully writen, below the sort of crap a 12 year old would write, and these went past an editor and were published by a big company.

          1. Mari says:

            Amen and hallelujah. Even fairly well-written books drive me batty in terms of editing and proofing. I don’t think I’ve read a novel published in the last 5 years that I haven’t mentally “red penned” numerous typos, grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. And these are the ones that made it THROUGH the traditional publication process and theoretically were edited and proofed by professionals. Now don’t even get me started about the amount of dross I’ve inadvertently consumed that never should have seen a printing press (except maybe a vanity press). I used to have a policy of always completing a book once I’d started it but I gave that up about a decade ago when some publishers started happily selling me the bound equivalent of “My Immortal.”

    2. Brian says:

      No, there aren’t gatekeepers, AFAIK.

      I can’t speak for Shamus or anyone else, but I think that’s a good thing. These days, the official gatekeepers of publishing, our lords of culture define dross as “I don’t think I can make money off this.” While that may be a praiseworthy business practice, it’s lousy for the consumer. What we get is the same kind of thing that people complain about in movies and video games: Endless remakes, sequels, and series.

      I don’t want to come down hard on publishers by this. There’s a large financial risk in the way they do things, a risk that self-publishers and e-publishers in general don’t necessarily run. If you experiment and it flops, you’re not just out what you paid the author, you have a building full of books that become a huge financial liability. (My reading revealed that it wasn’t always the same liability, as they were able to write off the books for tax purposes as depreciating in value. About 20 years ago, the Supreme Court in the US said they couldn’t anymore.)

      The point being, no, there are no self-appointed guardians of what is good. So as always, caveat emptor! That’s one reason why I think Shamus is so exuberant in his thanks for the fans who reviewed his book, because that’s how a savvy ebook buyer knows he’s got a safe buy. We assume that if a book has a few good reviews from confirmed buyers, that they’d mention if there were glaring errors, odd typography, or amateur storytelling.

      That said, let me encourage you to do the same. When you leave a positive review, you help the author and let prospective buyers know a little more about the book. Conversely, if you invest and there are glaring problems, leave a review letting them know that as well. It might spur the author to revise the problems.

    3. BeardedDork says:

      You are the gatekeeper. You and your three bucks, and your downloading and reading the sample before purchasing.

      There are no “gatekeepers” in publishing of any sort. Traditional publishers buy books based on whether or not they think they can sell them, not whether or not somebody thinks they are any good. If a self or E-pubbed book isn’t any good then very few people if any will buy it.

      Nothing really changes once you have your book in the marketplace, enjoyable books sell, unenjoyable ones don’t.

    4. Shamus says:

      I’m wondering that myself. They “review” books submitted for publication, but it only takes a day. That’s not enough time to read the whole thing. What if I sent in a book titled, “Quantum Theory Made Simple: A Guide for Laymen”, and inside I just had the word “BURP” over and over again for 300 pages. Would they really approve it? Would it really appear in the marketplace? Seems crazy.

      1. Raygereio says:

        That's not enough time to read the whole thing.

        I reckon they’ll likely have some sort of bot go over the text you submitted and make it raise a flag if it finds anything “suspicious”.

      2. Mari says:

        There was actually a stink a while back on Amazon about places that were copy/pasting Wikipedia entries and selling them for a profit through the Kindle marketplace. I think that sufficiently answers your question…

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Actually, that’s something I’ve been wondering about. Can I get a copy of Wikipedia somewhere? How much space would it take up? You know, just in case the whole wikimedia thing implodes (more than it already is).

          1. Raygereio says:

            There are several ways to do that; google things like WikiTaxi or Okawix.

          2. Mari says:

            Errm, I’m not sure. I’m guessing that at this point the whole of wikipedia is probably measured in terabytes but I could be wrong. But yeah, feel free to spend $5 for 30 pages of wikipedia entries that aren’t labeled as wikipedia entries on the topic of your choice, assuming you can find them.

          3. Alan says:

            Yup: . If you just want the latest versions of the English articles, it’s as “small” as 31.0 GB uncompressed.

            1. Paul Spooner says:

              Awesome, thanks. That’s what I was looking for.

          4. susie day says:

            on the left-hand side of wikipedia, click ‘Print/Export’ and from there you can make wikipedia books yourself on topics / pages YOU choose. and then either get them printed or just download as a PDF. Warning … it takes entirely too little time to come up with a 500 page book :-)

      3. hewhosaysfish says:

        It would be best to do 30 pages of authoritative-sounding technobabble followed by 270 pages of “BURP”. You know, just to be certain.

  15. Ingvar says:

    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.

    That’s basically where the “traditional publisher” comes from. One of the business ideas I’ve been considering running with is to do something similar for faster-track primarily-electronic publishing, but there are a couple of interesting gotchas.

  16. Brian says:

    Shamus, congrats on all your progress. My wife is an aspiring author, and is really excited about self-publishing…the freedom offered creatively, etc. She doesn’t have to write to fit a predetermined mold. She can write til her story is done, and price it based on its length and content. Did it end up a short story? Maybe that’s worth $.99. A novella? Maybe a buck more. Typical fantasy doorstopper? That could be worth six dollars or more…it’s her decision to make.

    As her primary editor/critic/proofreader, I seem to be the opposite of your proofreaders. She’ll give me a hunk of story, and I’ll sit down and point out grammatical and spelling errors, nitpick word choice, etc. She’ll want to know what I think of the story. My response is generally, “If there was something wrong with it, I would have said something. Silence implies consent.” I think she’s going to divorce me.

    Frankly, I found this blog post interesting, and I’d encourage you to blog more about your book. I don’t speak for everyone, but I’m here because I am interested in what you have to say. I like your insights and your output. By all means, talk about your passion.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      All I know about the phrase “silence implies consent” is from A Man For All Seasons. I seem to recall that standing on that phrase got our hero jailed and ultimately killed. Might want to remember that when using it in your marital relations :)

  17. LexIcon says:

    I like the idea of putting money in your pocket, Shamus. But I’ve never been a fan of just giving the money as a donation, I prefer to buy things from the person in question. So, with that in mind: Which gives you the bigger $$ per purchase, the digital copy or the TPB?

  18. I actually find this interesting and potentially helpful and am thinking of bookmarking it.
    Heck, if your travails were to turn into a little list of the different e-pub platforms you consider potentially worth messing with and some of the potential pitfalls involved with each, and then you e-published that as an article on how to go about e-publishing, I’d definitely buy it. The number of wannabe authors (like myself) it would be useful to could be surprisingly large.

  19. Burek says:

    Since the book will be self-published. Will we be able to buy the book directly from you and will you ship it worldwide?

  20. Alan says:

    Bah, to get back at you for this “Digital-Age Publishing” nonsense, I am resolutely putting on my luddite hat and buying a *PAPER* copy of How I Learned.

    And you know what? I am going to do the same with the other book that you have written, because these digital books just don’t feel right, plus kindles don’t make very good emergency toilet paper and won’t survive the zombie apocalypse.

    So, me with my 14 overflowing bookcases in 2 houses is sure that none of this digital nonsense is going to infect me (As I sit here typing at my laptop on the computer after buying a book about someone who taught themselves to program, which I heard about on the Internet…).

    Seriously though, you can’t be too bashful about promoting your own products, the Virgin CEO Richard Branson said that you are the only person who is going to promote yourself.

    As long as each post you write actually contains something of interest, feel free to let us know what is going on.

    1. Raygereio says:

      you are the only person who is going to promote yourself.

      I don’t know about that; connections and relations are an important factor in terms of self-advertisement. If people like you and whatever you’re doing, they’ll often end up advertising for you.
      If I end up liking Witch Watch I know, I’ll pimp it through various channels.

    2. Rodyle says:

      Same here. I’d have loved to buy a physical copy. Unfortunately, circumstances require me to buy a digital one; create space is an Amazon site, and Amazon sites have only hatred and contempt for people without credit cards.

  21. MaxEd says:

    I wish digital publishers would settle on some open universal format with enough features for most works and be done with it… Surprisingly, pirates did just that, at least in Russia: most “online libraries” offer books in FB2, a very cross-platform standard with lots of features (but no DRM support, of course).

    Also, I have a question to ask of American & European e-book users: does everybody (read this as “most people”) really use those awful vendor-locked e-readers, like Kindle, Sony’s or Barns & Noble? Everyone I know in Russia use Chinese e-readers with open-source firmware which can usually read any format from plain text to pdf, with html, fb2, .epub and .lit in between (unprotected versions, obviously), but when I read western internet articles, I usually see something about “Kindle that vs. Sony this” or something like that, without mentions of more open platforms…

    1. Raygereio says:

      Surprisingly, pirates did just that

      It never fails to amaze me how pirates (yarr) get the concept of user friendliness for the products they’re offering for free and the companies that try to sell you things generally do their damndest to make things as user unfriendly as possible.

      1. ehlijen says:

        It’s not that hard to understand when you remember that security and convience go against each other. Pirates don’t care about security, that in itself makes the product more convenient already.

    2. Mari says:

      I kind of sort of do. Actually, each member of our household owns a B&N Nook Color which we subsequently rooted to remove the vendor locking and turn them into full-function tablets about equal to an original iPad for a third the cost of picking up a used iPad from eBay. But most people I know feel incompetent to do that.

    3. Rosseloh says:

      Probably a question of advertising, honestly. I personally use an Android tablet with a free app that uses epub format. But you say “e-reader” in this country and the first thing someone will think of is “Kindle” or “Nook”. And of course, this isn’t a big deal to retailers/manufacturers, because hey, if someone wants to buy a tablet and a Kindle, let them.

      1. Elethiomel says:

        Tablets and e-readers are entirely different beasts when it comes to readability. E-ink technology is vastly easier on the eyes than a traditional screen, but updates too slow to do other things than read static text. Tablets and e-readers are different tools for different purposes.

    4. Dasick says:

      Having a different format helps gain exclusivity. Until a leader is established in the commercialized e-book reader ring, the publishers think that having a unique format will help them chain down authors. After a leader is established, everyone will rush to be compatible with the leader, playing catch up. Happens in every field, and still happening. Превратности капитализма, товарищ ))

      And yes, people here in the “civilized world” (well, Canada, at least) really do use the commercialized e-book readers. It's just a difference in mentality ““ here, people are content with giving up a little bit of freedom/power to get quality (until all their freedom/power (money, vote with the wallet) is spent and so the publishers have no incentive to give them quality).

      But Back in the Motherland(TM), people would rather keep their freedom/power/money, and make up the quality by themselves. Until the quality gets so bad, that you're spending all of your freed up power to make up the lack of quality.

      For example, those cheap but open source chinese readers? There's a reason why “Made in China” has become a punchline. For now, at least, the kindle/sony e-readers are really concerned about getting customers, so they're all about making their product as hassle free as possible (within limits, as seen with the formats). So I can fiddle around with an e-reader of questionable quality, or I can get one that whose makers are itnerested in making me a junkie… erm, valued return customer.

      Please note: not trying to start a flamewar. I realize (now, after the wall of text is complete >> ) that this stuff can be highly flammable under certain mindsets, but I tried to provide an unbiased, objective, neutral stance on the pros and cons of how the system works in two different societies, using very broad generalizations about the general trends of the people using and forming the two systems. Not saying anything about which system is better, but if I missed something, I would be happy to be corrected. In short, let's all be nice to each other :)

    5. Elethiomel says:

      I own an Onyx Boox X60S, which is working out brilliantly. It’s an independently produced e-reader that isn’t leashed to a particular store, but it supports DRMed e-books. I generally buy from , but it isn’t like that’s my only option.

  22. Dasick says:

    Hit wrong button. Meant to reply to max.

  23. albval says:

    My OCD demands me to say this: this post is missing its date on the main page. On this page the date is OK, for some reason. Please fix this meaningless and trivial error immediately. Thank you.

    Also: yay for new non-video content.

    1. Chris Robertson says:

      “I Am Not Dead” ( is showing the same symptoms.

      Funny to see I wasn’t the only one “bothered” by it.

      1. Shamus says:

        This is a long-standing problem with my theme. On days with multiple posts, the date only shows up on the latest post for the day. It’s probably a simple one-line fix, but I’m never thinking of it when I’m working on the site and so the bug has been around for over a year. Sigh.

  24. Scott Schulz says:

    I will be buying a copy when it comes out, but I’d also like to post up a review at the Pagan pop-culture blog, The Juggler (hopefully, the existence of that link will trap this in the spam queue if Shamus cares to address this out of the comments – but do feel free to let the post through if Shamus wishes to address the issue of review copies more pubically). Is there any way to land a copy early, so that I can coordinate the review date with your release date? I know that Shamus is Christian, but we do try to cover every significant work with “Witch” in the title (here, for instance, is my review of Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches). I did sincerely search for a contact address, but I can understand the lack of one on a site that’s this popular.

  25. Steve C says:

    A computer programmer I know who’s self published and submits academic papers got around “#3. Format the document” by approaching his publications as a computer program to be compiled. He has a source code version with tags. It is then compiled automatically for each version (print, digital etc) based on the formatting required and tags. I’m pretty sure he uses LaTeX and BiBTeX. I could provide more info if you care.

  26. TechDan says:

    It’s funny. I’ve had a number of ebooks on my hard drive for the last few years (via Project Gutenberg) that I never really got around to reading. Last week, however, I upgraded to an iPhone (my first personal smartphone) and immediately threw two of those books onto it. Even though I’m in the midst of finals, I’ve been reading on buses and at meals. It’s amazing how different having something in my hand is from trying to read on a laptop.

    I’m very much looking forward to the release of this book. Might be the first ebook I ever purchase.

  27. FatPope says:

    Reading this post I couldn’t help but think that LaTeX would significantly reduce the effort involved in format changes. In fact, that’s pretty much what it’s designed to do! Using it the content and the format are independent, with the latter defined by markup. Whilst it is a bit of work to set up, for large projects it can make things much much easier.

    I’m surprised that as a programmer Shamus doesn’t appear to favour it

  28. Maldeus says:

    I’ll laugh if How I Learned outsells the “real” novel you were practicing for.

    1. Deadpool says:

      Funny story, ever hear of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman? It was originally conceived as a way to get his name out there so that Black Orchid, the comic they actually WANTED him to write, would sell better.

      Sandman was CONSIDERABLY more popular than Black Orchid… Or anything else Gaiman’s written…

  29. Luke Maciak says:

    Shamus, I’m one of the people who bought “How I learned”. I really got a kick out of reading your autobiography on this here blog, even though my experience in schooling was more or less the opposite of yours. I’m one of these few people who actually enjoyed sitting in class and absorbing knowledge. Then again, I was blessed with few really excellent college professors who kindled, nourished and helped me to expand my passions for programming, tinkering and etc…

    Anyways, I immediately grabbed your book it when it became available. Even though I already read it, I felt like I ought to give you some cash for that. I plan to buy your “real book” as well. I’m not a big fan of fantasy/steampunk type stuff but hell – I’ve got years of enjoyment out of your blog and your auxiliary project so I’ll buy whatever you are selling because I know it will be entertaining.

    So yeah, I wanted to let you know that you have at least one devoted reader/customer here. :)

    1. Mari says:

      I just wanted to address this because it’s pretty much the sentiment I had at the beginning with “The Witch Watch.” I’m not much of a steampunk fan but I DO enjoy fantasy. My first impression from what Shamus said about the book was that it would have a fair bit of steampunk but after editing it I can say that the steampunk elements are there only as flavor and they’re very much background elements. It’s not oppressively steampunk. Although, yeah, it is heavily fantasy. With magic. And stuff. But it’s not “high fantasy” in the way of Tolkien. All of the fantasy is in a solidly “real world” setting that makes it, I think, probably easier for the non-fantasy reader to stomach. There’s just enough of the familiar to ease the distress of the fantastic. I really think you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you read it. I definitely was.

  30. Deadpool says:

    I bought two copies of How I Learned: One for me, one for my girlfriend. When we first started dating, we’d race in the morning and text either other about when the blog was updated. It was one of the first few things we enjoyed and experienced together (besides the obvious), so I figured owning a copy would be nice.

    I do have Amazon Prime so I used THEM… Which I know, kinda sucks for you, but alas. Free, next day shipping is kinda awesome…

    She’s read your book. Says it’s awesome. I haven’t yet, but I’ll pick it up when it’s for sale. Probably two again… Hopefully more people will join in.

  31. X2Eliah says:

    Hm. One thing, though – I really hope you are not pulling a G.R.R.Martin on us, by leaving half the characters killed and the others on a cliffhanger by the end…

    Edit: Ofc it that would mean that you get a TV show on hbo about your book, lots of money and signed sponsorship for sequels, then I’d say go for it.

  32. “But for someone like me who “publishes” crap every day via blogs posts and YouTube uploads…”

    I suppose the second worst thing for authors to do is turn their inward eye into self-promotion techniques, but truly, this – blogging and Youtube uploads – is what sells your book more than the content of the book itself. The book’s material must be high quality, no question, but in self-publishing, an author often must sell themselves even beyond the book.

    In fact, this is often a road to traditional publishing – self-publish a book and show a professional publisher that the book is marketable because it has sold umpteen thousand copies already and has a steady following online.

    It feels an awful lot like revealing the man-behind-the-curtain, but it should be noted that everything listed in the above post is only the capstone to a tremendous amount of groundwork that often needs to be done in self-publishing – sell the author first, and then the book.

  33. Jobber says:

    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.

    This sentence is four words too long. But I keep reading the blog anyway, in hopes you eventually have something else to talk about again.

  34. Kerin says:

    What sort of sales are you seeing on print editions?

    1. Shamus says:

      Wow. Looks like I’ve sold a couple dozen print copies.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Mine just arrived. Looks really nice! Amazing that we can produce books so quickly on demand these days. Are they all print-to-order?

        1. Shamus says:

          I believe they are.

          I think each paperback costs around $13 or so to print. That’s a lot for a book this size. I’m sure if bulk printing were feasible the margins would be much better.

          1. siliconscout says:

            Any “rough” idea when the novel would be ready? I only ask because I am going to a guys weekend in the middle of Feb and would love to drop off half a dozen copies or so as Xmas gifts. (we always get together in mid Feb so that is when we do the exchange).


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