Price drop

My book Castle Falcon, formerly $14.99 in paperback from Amazon, is now only $12.99!

Stock up for the holidays next year! Impress all the people at the beach who are blindly following the crowds and only reading those best sellers! Fix that wobbly table with the short leg!

486 pages!

“…will last a household all winter, with care, providing no one’s ill and the paper’s nice and thin.”   – Granny Weatherwax, Lancre.

Nook version done (finally)

The “formatting tweaks” took more tweaking than I thought (I won’t bore you with the messy details), but I fired off my EPUB version of Castle Falcon to Barnes and Noble this morning. I’m interested in how the book’s online web page will look.

As I said before, the hardest part of e-book publishing is coming up with a file that does what you want it to when it shows up on someone’s e-reader.

A quick summary of programs I found helpful:

Adobe InDesign is great for formatting real paper books but it’s expensive. If you’re a student, you can get it a lot cheaper. The Kindle Plugin turns out reliable Kindle files, but I found that InDesign’s EPUB save function had some bugs. Your mileage may vary.  Most people will get more use out of methods of converting Word files and the like, and unfortunately I didn’t do a lot of that so I don’t have much advice in that area.

Calibre is a great program for dealing with e-book files on multiple levels. I used it to create good EPUB files by simply converting my final Kindle files. It can do a lot more, but that one function was what saved my bacon.

Sigil is another editing program for working with e-books. Although I only used it for one minor formatting issue (losing my “coding virginity”) the program would be excellent for those familiar with HTML and working “under the hood” on e-books.

You can find book viewers (Kindle or EPUB) for any computer or almost anything that has a screen. If you don’t actually own an e-reader, this is critical for previewing your final files. All of the readers are free.

Kindle viewers can be found here.

Nook (EPUB) reading apps can be found here.

Now maybe I should get back to actually writing books…the one part of being an author that’s even harder than creating e-book files.

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.

“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.

Doing the book-buying links

I wanted to put up a couple of those nice picture links that would take interested people to places where they could buy (or at least take a look at) my self-published book.

Amazon has a program called Amazon Associates that allows a blogger or website to get a little commission from links to Amazon that they put on their site.  A lot of websites use these.  Ain’t It Cool News, a movie critic and review site, must have hundreds of these.

So I checked it out, and it looked a bit complicated to me.  I didn’t want a pile of ads of all kinds.  It’s not like I have a big “circulation” anyway.  I just wanted a few permanent links related to my own writing, and maybe some other things later.  And the Amazon-provided widgets had some coding involved, which began to put it in the category of “Work.”  (Your mileage may vary, though.  If you have a blog or website you think could use this, go for it!)

I ended up doing it the easy way.  In the standard WordPress “widget” page (under the “Appearance” menu), there’s a widget called “image.”  Drag it over, and it will put an image on the sidebar.  A form comes up where you give the URL of the image you want, and it also gives you the option of filling in a URL that will come up when the image is clicked.  That was all I needed.

Of course I had to go to Photoshop and build up my own images, and upload them to my Media Library, but that was easy enough.  If you are doing Amazon links, you could copy and paste images from the associated Amazon page that will get the job done with little artistic input.  You can resize the images once they’re in place, and do a few other things, too.  My images are larger than most such link images, but I wanted the cover picture to be clear.

Tweaking this site to look like what I want is an ongoing project.  That header picture (currently a theme-provided placeholder) is on my list.

What?  Me, use my blog to plug my books?  Perish the thought.

Buy my book

Final self-publishing notes

So, this basically brings me up to date on my first experiments with electronic and paper self-publishing.  Mostly I covered the mechanics of creating product.  The wide world of marketing is yet to come, and I have a lot of research to do and more decisions to make.  I’ll be posting on this. (Occasionally.  This isn’t a daily blog and never will be).

There are a lot of places that have much more detailed information on things like formatting than I’ve discussed here.  Amazon, Createspace and Lulu offer instructions and advice at every level.  Some of it, like the detailed HTML manual for Kindle formatting, is over my head.

All of these outfits will be more than happy to do extra things for you for a fee.  Editing.  Artwork and cover design.  Professional formatting.  Marketing.  You name it.

That’s up to you.  The way I see it, I’m just dabbling in this, and I didn’t want to spend money on the project.  Of course, I already had some decent publishing and artwork software, a manuscript that had already been professionally edited, and some experience in manipulating documents.  Your own mileage may vary.

Just be aware that these companies will happily take large chunks of cash for services they will try to sell you.  This isn’t a rip-off:  the services are probably good ones.  But how much are you willing to sink into a product that’s going to earn you a couple of bucks at most for every sale?  Always calculate how many books or e-books you’ll need to sell to make it back.  It’s usually a lot.

This is why a lot of professional authors are using these methods to publish old works that are out of print.  The product is already there, and ready to go except for possible conversion issues.  What’s to lose?

And me?  Why am I doing it?

I wrote Castle Falcon for my kids.  Finished the first draft on Midsummer Eve of 2006.  I started out, completely naive, to find an agent.  With a book over 200,000 words long.  The first agent who was seriously interested, in the beginning of 2008, wanted to cut the length (no problem.  I shaved 30,000 words on the first try).  But then she wanted to cut out all the adult characters, too.  I agonized over this, and decided to keep looking.

A year later, another agent was very enthusiastic about the book (at this point about 143,000 words long).  This was after over 120 rejections.  He signed me on almost immediately, but had trouble selling it to publishers.  Based on feedback, his editorial assistant recommended–yes–cutting all the adults out again.  Apparently the school of thought is that a book for young people where you haven’t kicked all the grownups out of the picture won’t sell.

This time, I did it.  Chopped huge chunks of story and characters out, knocking it back to 100,000 words.  I didn’t have anything left in me to drop the agent and go back out into the query cycle (not to mention the world was running out of agents for me to query).  But to ease the pain, I constantly kept a “director’s cut” of my own vision going in parallel with the “abridged” edition that I was working on for the agency.

Two years passed, and a number of publishers were approached with the “abridged” version.  The agent, to give him credit, made his best efforts.  But no sale.  Eventually, the agent started focusing on non-fiction, his original strength, and we parted company amiably, with all rights returned to me.

So Castle Falcon has already been through the wringer, and I frankly don’t see how further attempts to go the agent/publisher route are going to get different results.  Now here I am, taking my “director’s cut” (145,000 words), and trying the Road Less Traveled By.

The point is, I’ve got little to lose now by sticking Castle Falcon out there on self-publishing venues. It isn’t cost me any serious money (so far), and I’m learning a lot about how to put a book together, both physically and electronically.

However, this may not be the right road for other people who are just starting out with their books.

This is just my opinion, but if your dream is to really see your book in your local store, with a major publisher’s name on it, don’t go the self-publishing route until all the others have been exhausted.  I mean, really exhausted.

Maybe you’re looking at your tenth query rejection, or your twentieth, and feeling kind of low. You know what?  That’s a lot less than the 120 rejections I clocked before I signed up with an agent who loved the book.  I made a lot of mistakes early on (like trying to pitch a 200,000 word book), but learned as I went.  Try to find reliable critics and readers (not easy, but possible).  Tune your queries.  Get advice.

Getting your work published through the conventional routes requires the persistence of a glacier, and skin like a rhino.  Believe me, you will need to cultivate these traits.

Keep in mind that I have another completed middle-grade book that I’m still shopping to agencies, and a third YA fantasy in progress that I also intend taking through the conventional publishing routes when it’s done.  After all I’ve been through, it’s still my preferred way of getting my work to the bookshelves.

To all the other aspiring authors, wherever you eventually go to make your book real:  Good luck!