Nook’s new POD service

Nook Press has come out with a Print-On-Demand (POD) service.

Note that this isn’t like Amazon’s Createspace — Barnes and Noble isn’t going to put your paperback up for sale online or in stores. It’s more like an alternative to Lulu.

I fed Castle Falcon into the system to see what I would get. Like Lulu and Createspace, you upload PDF files for interiors and covers.

The purchase price is lower than for Lulu books. My hardcover dust jacket version would cost me $16.42 at Nook versus $22.55 for the Lulu version. A Nook casewrap version is $14.92 versus $19.55 at Lulu. A Nook Press 9×6 paperback is about $10.00, compared to $6.80 if I order a copy of my Createspace version, so they don’t beat Amazon’s price for author orders. They barely beat Amazon’s $11.69 retail price. There don’t seem to be any quantity discounts.

I don’t know what the binding and printing quality for the Nook version would be. My main complaint so far is that the Nook cover creator is primitive compared to the options available for cover creation at Lulu or Createspace.

Nook lets you upload a front and back cover PDF image. That’s it. For dust jacket covers, front and back flaps are plain white. Nothing else. You get to pick a spine color: black, white, or tan. Spine text is in a font of their choosing (see my Nook Press cover below).

Nook_Cover_Castle Falcon_Casebound_200dpi

Check out that elegant spine art. Not sure where that white rectangle under the barcode came from either.

On the other hand, Lulu and Createspace have several methods for making covers ranging from easy-to-use online template options all the way up to advanced single-image options where I can upload one image, an actual layout that wraps all the way around the book, flaps and all (see my Lulu dust jacket below). The latter is a pain to create in Photoshop, requiring careful attention to size and positions, but at least I control everything and the spine looks like it belongs to the cover.

Cover_Castle_Falcon_11.0_HC

It’s possible the Nook POD system will improve. It’s cheaper than Lulu, but I won’t be using it unless I can bring things like covers and fonts up to my standards.

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.

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!

Createspace

Createspace is basically Amazon’s hard copy publishing system.

The interface is pretty easy, same as with Kindle. Upload a PDF of your inside material, and an image file of your cover. I used the “full cover image” method, same as for Lulu. Createspace has some decent tools to create “off the shelf” covers using themes, but these won’t be as good (in my opinion).

Createspace assigns an ISBN to your work, and will automatically generate and place the barcode on your cover artwork for you.

The publishing interface is a lot more elaborate than Amazon’s Kindle interface, but very easy to navigate.  Their online preview system is very good, showing exactly how your book would be laid out, cover and all.  You also have the option of ordering a physical proof copy for about ten bucks.  The publishing process is set up on a chart with green checks showing what’s done, and you can skip around or go back if you need to make changes.  I found I had to make a lot of changes as I spotted formatting issues.

The bad news is that Createspace doesn’t have any other options besides softcover (essentially a large paperback.)  It’s one reason I stuck to Lulu for hard cover versions.  Maybe this will change.

As with Lulu, there are prices to set, and distribution choices to make.  Three of the distribution choices (Amazon, Amazon Europe, and Createspace Store) are free.  An expanded distribution option costs $25, and I’m still figuring out exactly what that means.

I’ve set up the book and am ordering a proof copy, but haven’t decided to pull the trigger on full publishing for this method yet.

Lulu

Oops. Got things out of order, there. This was supposed to come before Kindle.

So, I’ve had Lulu versions of my first novel sitting around in a private Lulu page for quite a while now. I printed books, not for general sale, but to give as gifts to friends and family (hang on to those, people. They’ll be worth big cash someday!)

I put together three formats: hardcover with dust jacket, hardcover casebound, and pocket book. Not so much because I needed all three, but because I had fun figuring out how to do it. Again, Adobe Indesign was the tool of choice. I went into this project knowing a lot less about how books are designed than I do now. I did a lot of internet research on exactly how a book should go together, with things like front matter, gutters, and lots of other terms.

I cheated a bit: I pulled a Harry Potter hardcover off the shelf and basically copied the general format. Garamond text, spaced just so. Title at the top of the left-hand page, chapter name at the top of the right-hand page. I discovered that real books are justified on both sides. After reading thousands of books, I’d never actually noticed that before!

When I started doing the pocket book edition, I found out the layout rules were completely different. I spent a lot of time checking out my wife’s romance paperbacks. For the formatting! For the formatting!

I ended up with some nice-looking books to hand out. Lulu generates good quality stuff. I got only one paperback with a bad binding, which they quickly replaced.

I have added a table of contents in the past week, and a better image on the title page. Other than that, the book file I had a couple of years ago was good as is.

So, to make the Lulu books available to the public, all that’s left for me to do now is just flip a toggle from “private” to “general access.” Then somebody can search Lulu and find the books, or can go there if they know the URL. This is free, and you can set your own prices.

There are other things to work out, though. Lulu’s default is mailing out checks for royalties (20 dollar minimum). They also have a Paypal option. All of these companies at some point will ask for things like your Social Security number. They aren’t being nosy: the IRS needs it for anyone paying you money. We should all be so unfortunate as to make enough money on our books to pay taxes!

Lulu offers wider distribution packages, too. The Amazon one is free, and the Ingram Catalog one is only $75. The price is right, but the catch is that you must add a big retail markup to your existing price. In my case, this would take a “not cheap” book and move it into the “ruinous” category. That option would also assign me a Lulu ISBN. Not for me just now.

Once you’ve published for the public, you become eligible to create an “Author Spotlight” page. You’ll see the link over on the left of your “dashboard” in your account. This allows you to make a little marketing page of your own with all your books on it, with it’s own unique URL. Mine will look a bit weird since it would just be three versions of the same book.

Lulu turns out good quality books, but the prices are high, and profits low (in my case). Customers also pay for shipping, and it takes a couple of weeks for the books to show up in the mail (print on demand, you know). I’ve picked it for a very specific niche: books to libraries, and those who really want a hardcover instead of a Createspace softcover or a Kindle version. Not a giant market, there.

Self-publishing fun

I’ve been fooling around with various self-publishing methods for a while now. I learned the ins and outs of Lulu while making gift books for my family, and frankly, that taught me ninety percent of what I needed to know for other methods, like Kindle or Createspace.

Formatting is always the prime issue. I compose my manuscripts in Microsoft Word, but methods of converting Word to workable text for publishing aren’t the best. For a real professional job, you need a real publishing program. I was fortunate that Adobe Indesign was part of the Adobe suite I had purchased some time ago (mostly, I use Photoshop and Acrobat in my regular work).

Indesign allows you to lay out the book as it will appear, with good tools for adjusting text for appearance, although the interface is more difficult in some ways than Word and it took a lot of learning. Fortunately, I don’t have to learn all of it, just what I needed to make a simple all-text black-and-white book.

Once you have that Indesign document, you can output PDF files that are accepted nicely by either Lulu or Createspace (the same file, actually). The Kindle plug-in I mentioned in an earlier post does fine for Kindle (.mobi) files that import quickly into Amazon’s publishing program.

The covers I did myself (the one seen in earlier posts was for Kindle). For the Lulu books I designed artwork for the “one-piece” option, that basically wraps a single cover image (text and all) around the entire book (even further if you’re using dust jacket layouts).

Next post: Taking those old Lulu gift books into the public space.

A quick P.S.:

Don’t go running out and trying this stuff with your favorite unpublished manuscript until I get to the end of this series. There’s things you need to know.