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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

choosing a publisher

9 Publishing Options You Should Know About

Once you've decided to self-publish your next book, your next decision involves  choosing a platform or publishing software.  We'll go into more detail on that decision later, but at the beginning, I suggest you look at the various free sites available on the web to help you turn your manuscript into a readable format.  Here are some options. Take time now to visit their pages and compare their packages and free options.  When it comes to releasing your product into the world of readers, there's no such thing as being too well informed.

Amazon KDP
Kindle Store’s self-publishing dashboard. Your book will be offered in the largest e-book catalog, available on many devices for users in over 100 countries.

A true multi-channel digital publishing solution. Publish a book at Smashwords and it will be available at Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Sony eBookstore, Diesel and iBookstore. More than 40,000 books have been published so far.

This site produces a widget for  your book, which you then add to your website, Facebook page, or other social networking sites,  You can include part or all of the manuscript -- whatever you are willing to offer for free.  Clicking on a thumbnail of your book brings up a surprisingly realistic book, complete with turning pages. 

Self-publishing platform of Barnes&Noble.

iTunes Connect
Use this extended procedure to get published exclusively in Apple’s iBookstore.

An easier, more friendly alternative to get published in iBookstore.

Although you can only offer free books at Feedbooks, you can use it to check great stats feature as well as the easiest possible way to have a book published. No file is required for upload. You just copy&paste a text into an HTML editor.

The popular online community of readers lets authors also upload e-book files, so they can be read right after they are discovered.

Also called “YouTube for documents” – the largest reading social network lets you share book files in .pdf or .txt formats and send to many mobile devices.

I have borrowed this list from Piotr Kowalczyk and the blog posts on his website.  I can only vouch for the first three of them, but they come with recommendations from many other bloggers, including:
The Bubble Cow, Marketing Tips for Authors, The Creative Penn, The Book Designer, Publetariat, Authors Tools Blog, Author Tech Tips, Inkygirl, and The Bookwright.

Second Thoughts on Publishing eBooks

Do you really need to publish your book as an eBook?  Won't that hurt your "real" book sales?  Isn't there something perverse about writing a book and then publishing it as something that is not really a book? Over on one of the discussion lists I follow, there's a debate going on right now about publishing in both hardback and paperback editions at the same time.  That's dangerous enough.  Why complicate matters by putting your hard work out there in some electronic form that people can't even pick up?  I've heard all these questions, and I understand the unwillingness to jump into a new-fangled technology.  But please pay attention.  The Savvy Book Marketer has an excellent column on this topic. Read it here if you need more confirmation. You NEED to do this!

I understand how satisfying it is to pick up a beautiful book and be able to say, "Hey! I wrote this. This is mine."  The thrill of finding your book in a bookstore -- maybe on a table at the very front of the store -- is worth all the effort you put into it.  But what do you really want?  You write because you want others to read.  If you want to keep your words secret, get a diary and hide it under your mattress.  If you want living, breathing readers who will engage in  your ideas, you have to go out and find them where they are.  And the truth is that more and more readers are turning to e-books as their reading choice. 

I'm not going to go into all the reasons WHY people like e-books.  Let's just accept the fact that readers are turning more and more often to their electronic gadgets instead of lugging around a book. And when they are looking for a good read, they have lots of choices. According to one set of figures I saw recently, there are more than 900,000 books for sale in the Kindle Store.  With an e-reader, you can also have access to 1.8 million out-of-copyright books published prior to 1923.  And they are FREE. With all those choices, who (except your mother) would pay $25.00 for  your real book?

As the diagram shows, the question is not whether to publish an e-book, but in what format. Should you go with Kindle, or Apple's iBook, or the Nook, or the Sony reader, or . . . . ? The answer is YES. Until the industry settles down and creates a single standard, you need to put your material out there in every available format.  That sounds daunting.  If you're a complete technological klutz, you can hire someone to do the formatting for you, but it's really not all that tough. 

Start with Kindle.  Kindle editions show up as format choices on Amazon.com, right along with your print edition, and a large share of the reading audience will find your e-book there.  Kindle offers complete instructions on how to submit your manuscript in acceptable format. They accept Word files (.DOC)  or .PDF, or .TXT among others.  Just follow the instructions here, and your e-book will appeal like magic.

Then turn to Smashwords.  These folks take your .DOC file and convert your work into all the different formats needed for  second-tier readers.  They also handle the distribution of your files to the ordering websites of all of those different readers.  There is no charge for that service, and they stand behind their work.  Apple's iBook store recently tightened their standards for e-book coding and notified me that my version of Beyond All Price had coding errors.  I simply forwarded the message to Smashwords, and they fixed the problem within hours.  They make their own money by featuring your book as a page in their own catalog and taking a small amount of the sales from that catalog as their profit.  You get about 60% to 85% of the sale, without doing anything except letting them put  your work out there.

There it is: No difficult formatting.  No inventory to clutter you dining room.  No sales pitches to deliver.  No advertising to pay for. No sales to handle. No shipping to worry about. Just money coming in, steadily and reliably every month.

Why wouldn't you do this? 

Second Thoughts on Book Publishing

Publishing print books is an easy category. This diagram offers  you only two choices, CreateSpace and Lightning Source.  I agree.  Here's why.
It sometimes seems that for every aspiring author, there is a shady book publisher waiting to take those dreams and turn them into cash for their own pockets. You need to understand how book publishers can fleece you and how different types of presses work.

Vanity Presses have been around a long time.  They will publish almost anything short of pure pornography, so long as the author agrees to pay ALL expenses.  The author keeps all rights to the book and retains all profits, but these deals come with the requirement that the author purchase a large number of books up front.  Unless you have a huge empty room you can fill with unwanted books, steer clear of any deal that says, "we'll publish your book if you buy 3,000 copies, or 30,000 copies at whatever price we want to charge you." The press gets the money for the books up front; you must recoup all the expenses by selling the books yourself. How many friends do you have?

Subsidy Presses may sound like a better deal.  They still charge the author for most expenses, although they may offer a few limited services such as marketing or editing.  They retain all the rights to the books and you get to sell them by sending people to the company to make their purchase.  The company makes a huge profit and the author gets a small royalty, sometimes as little as 5-10% of the proceeds. And they sell about 40 copies per title.

Print On Demand sounds even better.  Thanks to the miracles of digital printing, books are only printed when they are sold, so no one gets stuck with a huge unmovable inventory.  However, most of these companies still charge large fees up front by offering package deals of services.  You must pay them to do your cover, your layout, your editing, your press releases, and your marketing, and you get  only a part of the proceeds of the sales.  Most also insist on providing the ISBN, which gives them the rights to your book.  Care to sell your soul while you're at it?

After you've looked at all the deals and one-time great offers, we can recommend only two companies -- CreateSpace, which is the POD arm of Amazon, and Lightning Source. In both cases, you can purchase services that you need, but you are not required to pay for anything you can do for yourself.  With CreateSpace, it is theoretically possible to have your books printed and distributed on Amazon.com at NO CHARGE.   They make books available to you on a copy-by-copy basis for a small fee that just covers the printing cost, and you can sell them for whatever the traffic will bear.  You retain all rights.

Now in the real world, you are going to need some services.  I chose to have CreateSpace do my layout and my cover, based on my own rough design.  I did my own editing because I'm an editor. I also pay them a small percentage of the profits from each book they sell on Amazon.com, but that seems only fair, since they are paying for advertising, handling, and shipping. I made one additional purchase, which I came to regret.  I paid CreateSpace to do my press releases.  They were sloppily done and showed little understanding of the book.  I had to demand that they be redone several times before I was satisfied. They then sent those releases out to a list of some 10,000 outlets -- TV stations , radio programs, newspapers, magazines, talk shows, libraries, etc.  But out of the entire list they sent me, I received exactly one inquiry for further information.  And it came from my own local newspaper!  Lesson learned the hard way.

How do you choose?  Every author has his or her own opinion.  For me, CreateSpace  (except for their press releases) was totally satisfactory.  They were responsive when I had questions, and they turned out a superior product.  People who use Lightning Source are also satisfied, although LS offers fewer services and expects its authors to do more of the work.  It's a toss-up, depending upon how computer savvy you are.
Once you've made your choice, the rest of this chart applies.  Save  your manuscript as a PDF file, open an account with the company, and upload the files. Voila!  I had my books in six days!

The Parable of the Pumpernickel Baker

Once upon a time, there lived a talented baker named George. Long before dawn each morning, while most people slept, George arrived at his employer’s successful bakery. The boss was demanding and grumpy, always telling George what to bake and when to bake it.

“The customer is always right,” the boss said.

George would just shake his head and get back to the work he loved, crafting the tastiest varieties of bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies that the neighbors had come to expect. Each afternoon, when he left for the day, he said to himself, Someday, I’ll open my own bakery, and I’ll bake whatever I want. He saved his money and waited patiently for that day to arrive.

At long last,  the perfect building for George’s bakery became available. It was located on a busy street, near a bus stop, a school, a factory, and many homes. This is wonderful, thought George. I’ll have customers all day long, and maybe during the factory’s night shift, too.

For weeks before the grand opening, everyone in the area eagerly anticipated the breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies they’d be able to buy. The factory workers and tired commuters looked forward to a savory, ready-to-eat dinner; the schoolchildren waited for a sweet after-school snack; everyone looked forward to their favorite varieties of breads and rolls.

George was more nervous than he expected, so he played it safe. On grand opening day, customers streamed into George’s bakery, but curiously, the only item for sale was pumpernickel bread. Dozens and dozens of loaves of pumpernickel bread. Nothing else.

Oh, well, they thought, it’s only the first day. Maybe tomorrow there will be more breads, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies. Some customers bought a loaf  of pumpernickel bread, because they had waited so long for George’s bakery to open, but most customers decided to return the next day.

The next day, and the next, and the next, they gave George another chance, but again they found only pumpernickel bread. Each day, one or two people bought a loaf. Finally, an exasperated customer asked George, “This is a bakery! When will you offer white bread, rolls, cakes, cookies, pies, and pot pies?”

“It’s expensive to bake those things,” he replied.  “I want to make sure my bakery is a success first.”
“Oh,” said the disappointed customer.

Gradually, the flood of new customers slowed to a trickle. After a few visits, the factory workers went back to brown-bagging it and the schoolchildren realized they would find no cookies at George’s bakery.
Everyone else reluctantly accepted that George would only offer pumpernickel bread, no matter what they wanted.

Finally, the day came when not one customer showed up. George was puzzled. Isn’t my pumpernickel bread any good, he wondered? So he walked out front and stopped a gentleman on the street. “Why don’t you come in to my bakery,” he asked?

“Because I don’t like pumpernickel bread,” the man replied simply. “I buy quite a lot of white bread, cakes, and pies.”

“Oh,” said George. “But I can’t afford to bake those things. At least not until I make some money from my pumpernickel bread.”

“Very well,” said the gentleman.

We know how this parable ends, don’t we? Poor George’s bakery failed. He went back to work for his grumpy, demanding boss who understood that it was necessary to give customers what they want.

New publishers who decide to test the market with only an eBook are making exactly the same mistake that George made. They rightly offer their eBook on Amazon and other online retailers where millions of customers can see it 24/7, but then fail to offer the book in other formats that customers want to buy.

It’s undeniably attractive to publish only an eBook. The costs are minimal and it’s scary for any new publisher to invest in cover design and typesetting when they don’t know if their book will be a success. But guess what? Plenty of people still prefer a printed book, no matter how much eBook devotees bend and twist the statistics. No business owner can lock out a significant portion of their potential market and hope to succeed.

Today, publishers are not just book providers, they are content providers. Consumers want to receive information in different ways at different times. Some people buy printed books to read at home, a welcome change from looking at a computer screen at the office all day. Others buy Ebooks to read at the airport. Others listen to audio books while driving. Some consumers buy the same book in multiple formats. It’s risky to provide content in only one form. Publishers may sell some books in that format, but it’s impossible to count the number of sales that were missed.

My advice? Offer that eBook, but also print POD at Lightning Source. Yes, there’s the one-time charge for cover and interior design, but at least  you will be offering your book to everyone who may want it. If and when the day arrives that you are selling only eBooks, you can always stop printing.

As Dan Poynter, The Book Futurist, says: “Some writers plan to publish digitally only—to save money. This is a mistake. If you publish an eBook, you are perceived as a writer. If you publish a pBook (paper), you are regarded as an author. Paper books are retained; PDFs disappear in a click. Self-publishers should offer editions to fit any lifestyle: Paper, eBook, LARGE PRINT for the visually impaired, audio book, etc. Give the buying customer what he or she wants.”

Just like George’s very smart boss.

Michele's company, 1106 Design (http://1106design.com) works with authors, publishers, business pros, coaches, consultants, speakers . . . anyone who wants a beautiful book, meticulously prepared to industry standards. Top-quality cover design, beautifully designed and typeset interiors, manuscript editing, indexing, title consulting, and expert advice. All available from one convenient source. All offered with our most important service, hand-holding. Prompt, personalized service. Satisfaction guaranteed. We’ll take better care of you and your book than any “self-publishing company.” How may we help you?

The Perils of Publishing, Part III

As I negotiated the rough waters of writing and publishing for a general audience rather than an academic one, I learned a lot.  I knew I could no longer rely on a professional identity to pave my way, and that I had only made a start at building a viable platform as an author.  I recognized the warning signs as publishers reacted to a faltering economy by restricting their publications to authors they could count on to generate huge sales.  And I had identified my niche among potential readers.

My real breakthrough, however, came as a result of some casual questions from an acquaintance. "I'm betting that you write exactly the kinds of books you most enjoy reading," he said. "So how do you choose? When you walk into a bookstore, do you browse or head straight to pick up what you want?  Do you buy best sellers or look for hidden gems? Do you buy hardbacks or paperbacks? Do you want a quick read, or a hefty volume to fill long hours? What kind of cover makes you pick up a book and examine it? If you know what kind of book you buy, you'll understand what your readers want from you."

His point was well-taken, but my answers brought me up short.  You see, I have a Kindle.  I'm fascinated by gadgets, and I'm frequently the first to adopt a new technology.  I bought my Kindle in 2008, and since then my book purchases have dwindled to a trickle.  I've bought a couple of used editions of books that are out of print, but I don't buy new books unless I can get them in an electronic edition.

That surprises even me.  I was intrigued by the idea of a Kindle. But I've always loved the feel and heft and smell of books.  They fill my office, every end table, and overflow the living room book case. I thought reading on a Kindle would be a novelty, but I  didn't expect the device to become transparent, leaving only me and the printed word -- just the way a book does! I found it much easier to carry around than a stack of books, and my hands didn't get tired holding a heavy book. The cat quit stealing my bookmarks because they no longer dangled out of the book.   

I knew I had come to depend on my Kindle in ways I never expected.  Kindle provides immediate and inexpensive gratification.  If I hear about a book I want to read, I can buy it and start reading in less than a minute. I upload research documents that I want to have instantly available. I now have an application that allows me to read Kindle texts on my desk computer, my iPhone, or my iPad. All those devices synch themselves, so that I never lose my place or misplace a text when I move from one device to another. So what kind of a book do I choose for myself?  Obviously, the answer is one that comes in an electronic version.

And there -- staring me in the face --was the answer to all my publishing dilemmas. Kindle editions (and the other versions that are now coming out) don't require a traditional publisher.  In fact, in some cases, having a traditional publishing contract limits or squashes an author's ability to jump into the e-book market. I learned that when I tried to talk the publisher of A Scratch with the Rebels into doing a Kindle edition. Eventually they tried, but they did a really poor job of it and refused to advertise that the e-book was available because it cut their profits.  

I was about to become a self-published author. I have to admit that the idea made me slightly uncomfortable in the beginning, because I was still carrying around some leftover baggage from my days as an academic. Most professors have run into one or two folks who use a vanity press to publish their books because no one else will touch them.  Within the university, publishing with a vanity press -- in effect paying somebody to publish your book -- was a career killer.  My first hurdle was recognizing the difference between a vanity press (which charges a hefty sum to produce a book) and a self-publishing company (which allows an author to contract for services only when production assistance is necessary)

My production company of choice was CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon.  If they accept a book for publication, they do not charge for the privilege.  They will provide guidance on how to prepare a manuscript for Kindle, and they will carry the Kindle edition in the Amazon catalog.  The author pays nothing up front; the company takes a small cut of any sales for its handling and delivery of the e-book.  They offer more elaborate services, of course.  I wanted my Beyond All Price to be available in trade paper, so I contracted for their printing services.  That also meant that they would sell my books on Amazon, thus releasing me from the need to distribute all my books myself. I wanted the book to look as professional as possible, so I also paid a layout person to handle things like interior appearance, margins, pagination, etc. Those were services I could not do myself.

Traditional publishers, of course, do more than print a book, but I felt fairly confident of my ability to provide those other services.  I already knew exactly how I wanted my cover to look, and I owned the photograph I wanted to use.  All I had to do was prepare the cover art and submit it to the printer.  All manuscripts need editing; traditional publishers have their own editors to proof-read, catch stupid errors, and clean up grammar and punctuation.  In my case, I had years of editing experience of my own, and a couple of talented friends who were willing to comb through the manuscript to catch any errors I missed. I did not need to pay an editor.  Publishers also assume some responsibility for marketing a book, although in recent years they have demanded that authors do more and more of their own marketing. Since I already had an internet presence, as well as a small but loyal base of followers, and since I was writing for an electronic audience, it was easy to do my own marketing.

Was it the right decision?  So far, I have to believe it was.  In the current market, bookstores are closing and e-book sales are leaping ahead.  I've already sold more copies of Beyond All Price on Amazon and Kindle than the total three-year sales of my last traditionally published book. Plus, Kindle pays 70% royalties, while my traditional publishing contracts offered 5% to 12%. Oh, I'm not going to get rich from the sales I generate.  But I have paid off all my publishing costs, and I am in complete control of future sales. I'm my own publisher, and I love it.