ISBN adventures

I finally had to spend some money on my self-publishing odyssey, but at least I put it off as long as I could.

I’ve been researching marketing and review opportunities for my book, and discovered that some places don’t take a book seriously unless it’s got an ISBN, particularly paper versions.  My Kindle version has an ASIN assigned by Amazon, and Amazon gave the Createspace paperback an ISBN, but my Lulu-printed hardcovers had no numbers, and the dust jacket hardcover is the most professional-looking edition and the one I’d prefer reviewers to see.

Lulu will give you a free ISBN if you sign up for their distribution programs, but there’s some baggage attached to that.  Nothing sneaky, but for maximum future flexibility and control, I decided to cough up cash for my own ISBN numbers, which will list me (not Lulu) as the publisher of record.  Besides, I’m not interested in their distribution programs just yet.  My hardcovers are only being sold through the Lulu store (you might have noticed the subtle links on the main page).

Bowker, the place where you buy these numbers, charges $125 for one ISBN number.  Ouch.  But you can get ten numbers for $250!  How’s that for a price break?  Each edition of a given title needs its own number, and I have three Lulu versions, so I went with ten.  That leaves me seven for future use.

Bowker also has an interface that records and organizes book information for each ISBN number you buy.  I’m just starting to explore it.  I don’t think it’s mandatory, but it might be useful.

Lulu, in its revision process, has a step where you can add your own ISBN to the book.  I did that.  Then I had to revise and upload a new text file because I added the ISBN number to the copyright page (required).

The next step was revising the cover to add the bar code. That’s this thing on the back cover:

How you do that depends on how your cover was created in the first place.  Cover wizards sometimes generate these automatically.  I usually import a one-piece cover image, which is harder to do but gives me more options.  When I imported the cover image for Amazon’s Createspace paperback, Amazon automatically assigned the ISBN and pasted the bar code on the book cover image.

With Lulu, you are responsible for adding the bar code image to your cover graphics.  They are pretty good about reminding you of this during the process.

Bowker will gladly sell you bar codes for your numbers for $23 each, but I suspected I had other options.  Here’s one of them I found, a website that will create bar codes for you and deliver them in PostScript and PDF formats.  I used the default 90000 code in the price part, but you can plug a price in there if you want.

After that, it was simple to use Photoshop to convert the PDF to an image file I could paste into my cover on its own layer.

I also found a nice tutorial on the process here.  Be careful not to scale the image, as this will change the nice sharp edges of the bar codes into aliased gray edges.

Once I had modified all the cover images I uploaded them, and my Lulu books with ISBNs were ready to go.  Here’s my one-piece cover image for the casewrap hardcover:

I found out that Lulu does change the price structure on ISBN-equipped books, even if you don’t use their distribution.  The books immediately developed a more expensive purchase price for Lulu marketplace customers (the purchase price for me was still the same).  Fortunately, by using their price discount function, I was able to twiddle the price back down to the same price it had before.

Now the book will be more appealing to reviewers, libraries, and such.  I hope.

I ordered a bunch of copies to send to reviewers (getting reviews as a self-published author is a major topic of its own).  Which also set me back a nice chunk of money.

Oh, well, at least it’s deductible.

The 2011 winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Bad writers welcome!

Guilty admission:  I thought some of these weren’t bad at all, if you were writing for comic effect a la Terry Pratchett.  “They called her the Cat” falls into that category for me, as well as “Deep into that particular wet Saturday night” and a couple of others.

As for the puns, Feghoot would be proud.

(Hat tip to Aaron Williams again!)

Nine and Sixty Ways

(Link to comic source.  Check out Aaron Williams’ blog, too!)

Anyone who spends time on writing forums or reading “how to write” books knows the paralysis that sets in when the sheer number of “rules” overloads you.  A lot of them even contradict each other.

When the rulemakers are arguing endlessly with each other, “use the one that bugs you least” works as well as anything else.  If you’ve been reading good books for years, down deep you sort of know what works.

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!”  – Rudyard Kipling

“How Amazon Saved My Life”

There was a short piece on the opening page of today by Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO and founder). He talks about an author named Jessica Park.

Jessica Park wrote an article for Indiereader on how self-publishing worked for her.  Quite well, it seems.

I have to say I’m not anywhere near as down on the traditional publishing industry as she is, but her frustration is understandable.

The long and mysterious road of social site promotion

One thing I’ve observed about successful self-published authors is that most of them move comfortably through the vast nations of online social networks.  Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and many others.  While quality of writing is important to success, exposure and participation on these networks seems to be important too.  The ultimate word-of-mouth.

A lot of people are social network experts.  My kids are.  So how hard can it be?

I’ll tell you how hard.  I’m like a fish that has just been informed that he has to become an expert bicycle rider.

I’m already on Facebook.  Barely.  I have exactly sixteen “friends” (mostly relatives) and almost everything on my page is restricted to “friends only.”  I mostly joined to keep track of my college kids and other relatives and friends.  Certainly I’m not getting a wide audience, and the idea of opening the page up to more of the world makes me nervous.

I have yet to Twitter.  Or is that “Tweet?”  I hope it’s not “Twit.”

I do post now and then on Litopia, and a few other forum sites for writers.  I started writing this little blog, too, but all of this is more for fun than any kind of organized promotion.

Today I started gingerly stepping into Goodreads, and I’m still finding out about other places.

Wish me luck out here in Networking Noobville.  I’ll need it.

Seven things that will doom your novel and how to avoid them. Plus vampires.

This got dropped in my e-mail from Writers Digest.  I thought it was pretty good.

I’m not that sure about number five, about writing for a market. Where do you draw the line? Where’s the border between “writing for the market” and “market conscious?”

“There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it.”

Maybe. But some trends seem to have a long half-life. Supernatural romance, often involving vampires and/or werewolves, doesn’t look like it’s run its course yet. Not my style, unfortunately. Girls and women in my books are more likely to pop you in the nose than get all moon-eyed over somebody with unusually pointy teeth.

I get a daily e-mail as part of my Publishers Marketplace subscription. It lists new deals for books. For a while, just for fun, I kept track of the new book deals that involved vampires in some way. I’d cut and paste them to a Word document. I got bored after the second page, but I got the idea that the trend was still pretty healthy.

A couple of days ago I was tracking Kindle best-sellers out of curiosity, and the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series occupied the top three slots. Haven’t read them, and don’t plan on it, but I looked up the author and background. I was surprised, but only a little, to find out that this series had its genesis as Twilight fan fiction.

Ray Bradbury, RIP

Ray Bradbury died yesterday. He was 91.

People who like to write fantasy and science fiction may remember a phase they went through when they tried to write like Ray Bradbury. Well, at least I did, back in high school. This turned out to be a lot like trying to follow a Tolkien elf through deep snow: you watch in amazement as he dances lightly over the snow ahead of you, barely leaving a mark, while you slog through the drifts, up to your waist and struggling for every step.

There was some Bradbury I liked better than other Bradbury, but none of it was bad. I have a shelf of his most famous work. It’s still growing. I hadn’t kept up you see, and while I’d gotten copies of new works when I learned of them I was amazed to find–at a used bookstore–two books of his that I had never read or even heard of. Short stories and detective novels! After all this time, I finally got to meet Elmo Crumley.

Needless to say, I did a sweep of the internet and found a few more new/old Bradbury books to fill in the gaps.

There are words in foreign languages for things that don’t have good English words that quite fit. There should be one for the wonderful feeling you get when you find out a favorite author wrote a bunch of things ten years ago that you haven’t read yet.

The number of people he inspired to become writers must be legion.

In my other life as a space entrepreneur and rocket designer, Bradbury stood as one of my greatest inspirations there too, with his love of space and people going out there. A Muse for all seasons.

Neil Gaiman, another snow dancer who makes wordsmithing seem so effortless, wrote about Bradbury’s passing on his journal.