"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Why I'm Being an Absolute Sloth!
Lessons We Learn Too Late
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"


Nobody's Perfect!

With just three days to go, I've been busy all day punching buttons.  I've given the "PRINT IT" word to CreateSpace, and they in turn have created my "Damned Yankee" book page for their own site, so if you want to order a print copy, the book is technically available, although you wouldn't receive it until May 1 or thereafter.  CreateSpace has also forwarded the book to Amazon, and the word on that is that the paperback book will become available in 3 to 5 days.  It may appear in their listings earlier, but again, it will take a couple of days to fulfill any orders.

My next project was to prepare the Kindle edition.  That one took most of the morning because of all the details that needed to be filled in.  Then I started the upload process, which involves letting the upload take place, followed by formatting checks, spell checks, etc.  The file was rejected once because of three spelling errors.  To correct them, I had to resubmit the entire file.  Then, with the second round of checks, I realized that there was an error in the ISBN, which required a third upload.  Everything is set to go now, but because Kindle publication takes only 4 to 6 hours, I won't give the final "OK, publish it" command until Wednesday evening.  It should be there when you wake up Thursday morning.

I'm pretty well satisfied by now that the Kindle version will be as good as it can possibly be.  But of course, in the process, I had to realize that those same three typos will appear in the print edition, and I'm obsessing over them.  It's too late to stop the print editions, of course, so I just have to hope that most readers will not notice 3 types in a book of 105,000 words. As a percentage, that works out to 0.0000285% of the words are incorrectly spelled. Maybe I should offer a prize for the person who spots them all!

What's next? Well, among other things, the Katzenhaus website needs to be re-worked to take into account this latest publication.  But that's a project for another day.  For tonight, I'm off to a dinner meeting -- if the tornado warnings don't get us first!

Second Thoughts on Publishing Your Print Book

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 Many Roads to Publication

Now let's take a look at all the publishing options and see how they compare.
1. Traditional Big-6 Publisher (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, Simon&Schuster):
  • Yes, they will lend great prestige to your book, and they will do the heavy lifting of editing, design, promotion, and distribution.
  • But, you will lose most of your control over the book, and their royalties tend to be very low in order to support all their services.  In addition, you first need to have an agent, and you can expect them to be extremely selective in what books they publish.  They will always support an already-contracted author before someone whose work is untested.

2. Small Publisher:
  • Yes, there are thousands of them in competition, and most will be willing to read your manuscript without an agent.  They also tend to be quite supportive of their authors.
  • But, they have only limited funds, and sometimes limited knowledge of the publishing business. Quality can be "iffy." You will have to do most of your own promotion and selling.

Vanity Press:
  • Yes, they may offer help with editing and layout, and they probably will not turn you down, no matter how bad the book really is.
  • But their pricing is often out of line, and they will require you to buy the whole print run and then distribute and sell the books on your own.  How big is your garage?  Can you sell 5000 copies to your friends? You do NOT want to do this!

4. Print-on-Demand (POD):
  • Yes, they, too, will not reject you, and their books are usually of fairly high quality.  Plus, you do not have to buy any books before they are sold.
  • But they, too, carry a high price tag, and book stores will not take a chance on their books because unsold copies cannot be returned.  Authors who go with some POD companies fail to sell a single copy.

5. Do-It-Yourself:
  • Yes, this method gives you total control over your book because you are solely responsible for EVERYTHING! You also get to keep all of the profits..
  • But, how much do you know about editing, cover design, page layout, bookbinding, marketing, and distribution channels? Poor-quality books do not sell, no matter how good the content may be.

Independent Book Producers (CreateSpace or LightningSource):
  • Yes, these two companies are reliable, fast, accurate, and helpful.  They succeed because CreateSpace works with Amazon, while LightningSource is a subsidiary of Ingram, the largest book distribution company. If you can do the preparatory work yourself, they will print, bind, and distribute your book at no cost to you. They also offer complete publishing services, from editing to advertising if you need help, although these services come at high cost.
  • But while their royalty rates are quite high, up to 75-80% if they sell your book out of their own online store or as an ebook, their sales at regular brick-and-mortar bookstores are dismal because books are not returnable (the old POD curse). And if a store does manage to sell one of your books, you'll need a magnifying glass to find the royalty.  CreateSpace just sold a copy of my $17.95 "The Road to Frogmore" through a bookstore order, and my share came to $0.18 -- yep, that's 1%!

7. Ebook Publishing:
  • Yes, there are a lot of advantages to this style.  Ebooks sell well these days, and although their prices are low, they make up for that in volume.  By selling only ebooks, you completely avoid the costs and headaches of production and distribution.  It's also easy. Amazon will walk you through the Kindle conversion and Smashwords.com provides complete instructions on how to format  your computer file to suit all the other ebook channels (Apple, B&N Nook, Sony, Kob, etc.) Even if you need formatting help, you can hire it for well under $100 a book.
  • But, there are people out there, still, who want to hold a book in their hands.  You may be one of them; authors often need the satisfaction of holding their books in their own hands. And bookstores are not dead yet.  Can you hold a book-signing or a launch party for something that only exists in the ether? Putting your book out only as an ebook keeps many people, including reviewers, from fully appreciating it.

There you have the choices. My choice was  a combination of #6 and #7.  I have used CreateSpace to produce my last four books and have been entirely satisfied with the results. They have also handled my ebooks on Kindle.  For the other sales channels, I turned to Smashwords, and as a result, Barnes and Noble now sells almost as many of my ebooks as Amazon does. Of course, as an indie writer, i still had a lot of work that only I could do.  So next week we'll talk about how and why independent  authors need to think of themselves as a business.

ADDENDUM: Today I ran across a publishing column by Penny C. Sansevieri in which she took up the fight to make independent publishing a norm rather than an afterthought.  She ended with this challenge:

Welcome to the revolution. If you're just showing up to the battle we welcome you, if you've been here for a while we're grateful that you're still here and for those of you still uncertain, still thinking that you'll wait it out and see if you can get a big name interested I wish you all the best. Just remember, while patience is a virtue there's nothing in the world like seeing your work in print, your words on a page bound and ready to find readers. And ask yourself: are you waiting because you really want a big name behind your book? Or are you waiting because you're not sure your book is good enough? There's only one way to find out.


4 Problems That Suggest It's Crisis Time for Indie Authors

I wish I could start this blog by promising to bring you new solutions to current problems, but unfortunately all I can manage is an identification of those problems.  The topsy-turvy world of publishing is facing a whole series of crises at the moment, and e-book authors are not immune.  In fact, we are at the very center of some of these problems. Here are some of the trends I’m noticing.  What are we to do about them?  I have no easy answers, but I suspect the first step comes with recognizing that there are problems.
1.     The big crisis of the week was the revelation that Todd Rutherford and others like him have been selling 5-star book reviews to anyone willing to pay for them.  You’ve likely heard the outcry! Once it becomes known that not all reviews are legitimate, all reviews become suspect. Those of us who work hard to earn the praise of strangers who read our books are tarred by the same brush as those who have laid out thousands of dollars to fill up their Amazon ratings. Because, after all, how can a prospective customer know if that great review came from a happy reader, or your doting Aunt Sally, or one of Rutherford’s lackeys who churn out reviews based on a picture of the cover?

If there’s any comfort in this, it comes from viewing our less-than-stellar reviews with a certain amount of gratitude.  In one location I have a 2-star write-up that goes on for some time about how boring my book it. Now I can say “Thanks” for demonstrating that at least I haven't purchased my reviews!

2.     The second crisis that disturbed me this week was triggered by a status that appeared on my Facebook page from someone I have never heard of.  How did this gentleman get there? I have no idea, which is in itself troubling.  However, what really worried me was his message. This was a writer who, based on the popularity of “50 Shades,” had determined that no one wants to read anything but sex today. So he had just issued a 12,000 word, 40+ page “book” that contained nothing but one prolonged sexual encounter – no plot, no setting, no names beyond “he” and ‘she” – just steamy scenes. He offered the “book” for free, with a link to a Smashwords page, where a prospective reader could download the first few pages to whet the appetite – or something!  I have no idea how many downloads he chalked up, but his approach to writing a “book” must cast a shadow over all our legitimate efforts.

3.     And in the midst of unscrupulous people out for a buck without caring about the overall effect of their actions, we’re getting word that the rules of social media are changing – faster and more quietly than we can keep up with.  I pointed out a couple of changes on Amazon last week, having to do with the way they count free downloads as “sales.” Now I’m wondering what they will do about some of their lists, like the ones that rely totally on customer reviews to provide the “top-ranked” books in each of their categories. If reviews are now suspect . . . . . . . .?

4.     Another place where the rules are changing is Google. They, too, are changing their algorithms that show the relative popularity of websites.  I can’t begin to explain what’s going on, except for pointing out that one Google mogul has been quoted as saying, “We’re changing it, and  you’re not going to like it!”  I’m seeing the effects of it (whatever it is) already.  The report that tells me how many hits my website gets  has been running even, or growing slowly, every day for the past 18 months.  How, then, did it plummet from an average of 450 hits per day to 47? I don’t think I said anything offensive enough to cause a total black-listing, but there it it. Rumor has it that they are no longer counting back links or connections that come from other sites such as Twitter or Facebook. If so, internet marketers will have some major adjustments to make.
Have you noticed any other changes coming? Do you have any suggestions as to how we meet the new challenges? Let’s start a conversation.

Why Academic Publishing Needs To Give Way to the Present

Before we start looking at Arnulf in detail, let me explain why I'm re-publishing this book. I came into academia late. I was fifty years old by the time I got my PhD, which meant that I probably looked at the whole profession of college and university teaching a bit differently than my younger colleagues did. They seemed to enjoy the whole atmosphere of exclusivity, while I found it annoying.

Here's what writing a doctoral dissertation and publishing it as a book involved, a least in the field of medieval history. We spent close to ten years researching, traveling back and forth to Europe, writing, and supporting ourselves on small stipends to pay for our Ramen noodles. When we finally finished the dissertation, it went to a panel of academics to be read, criticized, and corrected. Then we faced an oral exam, open to the public but attended only by academics, during which we had to defend our work against all comers.

Once we actually received that coveted PhD, the search began for an academic job, which was the only acceptable employment option.  At the same time we embarked on a quest to find an academic publisher (no other kind would do) who would agree to publish the book under the copyright of some big-name university.  The academic press claimed the right to edit the work unmercifully, market it only to other academics, and take all profits for themselves.

When the book appeared, it was sent to a few academic journals for reviews, displayed at academic conferences, and listed in the university's academics-only catalog. It sold to a pre-determined list of academic libraries who had a contract with the press to buy one copy of everything they printed, plus a few academic friends in our own narrow academic specialties. Eventually, if we were lucky, a review actually appeared in an academic journal. But then the next class of newly-minted PhDs arrived with their new dissertations, and our shiny books went to the back shelves and then the remainder boxes.

What a waste! All those "academics" amounted to only a handful of readers and nary a cent of profit for the writer. Our time, our knowledge, our insights suddenly seemed unimportant. Meanwhile a whole generation of history buffs were settling for reading historical novels (don't get me wrong--some of those were quite good), watching the History Channel (no comment!), and going to movies that distorted the truths of history to please the box office. Today, with all the innovations in the publishing work, I'm betting that there will be quite a few readers out there who will welcome a good story and solid history, even if it comes with all those academic footnotes attached.

 I've encouraged my fellow academics to consider self-publishing their out-of-print books, and I support the new PhDs who are finding publishers hard to reach.  A few of them are already turning to alternate publishing methods in hopes of reaching the wider reading audience. They're taking a risk, of course. The granting of tenure and promotion still hinges on traditional publication in most institutions, but I firmly believe that policy must, and will, change. But that won't happen until those of us who no longer have to worry about tenure and promotion step forward.

Maybe Arnulf can finally find his mission by leading the way.