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Friday, April 22, 2011

P.S. I Love You (Self-Publishing)

A couple of weeks back, I wrote about self-publishing and using myself as a guinea pig took a manuscript all the way from file to "book". Here, below, is the next installment of the story: a P.S. that assesses what worked and what, if anything, didn't.

The entire blog has been run on the site as a 5-part series this week. I'll run the fifth part to give a sense of flow as it reaches the P.S. The story itself can be found at, or by title and author: The Skins of Our Ancestors by Don Wallace.

How to Publish a Book in 8 Hours #5

By Don Wallace

This is the final installment in a five-part series.

In the morning, my eight years of publishing drought had ended. There was more to do in terms of proofing and other tying up of loose ends, including downloading Kindle’s Mobi and Adobe’s Reader programs to make sure that The Skins of Our Ancestors would meet their standards. But the book was done. All that remained was to set a price.

The Skins of Our Ancestors is a 24-page story. It’s dense and a bit of a risk. It was meant to anchor a whole book on my upbringing in a half-Southern/half-Northern family in Southern California during the racially turbulent ‘60s. I decided it was worth more than free, more than a 99-cent download from iTunes. The Newbie guys, Barry and Joe, had talked about the importance of pricing an e-Book low enough for it to be an impulse purchase. But this was a major chunk of my life and my output. Yeah, that’s worth $2.99.

My royalty breakouts will vary. From it’s possible to get a pure 70 percent. Retailers like Amazon and B&N and others take a bigger share, around 50 percent. But these are terms much, much better than legacy publishing offers authors on e-Books (around 14.5 percent after all their surcharges are applied).

In the coming days and months and years, we’ll see how it all plays out. But right now, the magic number is eight. As in eight hours from e-Book newbie to author.

My next step? This experience has me wanting more—now. I know that’s a danger with self-publishing; let’s call it THE danger. If you start ladling slop into your stream of books and publications, you’ll do yourself no favors.

Still, I’m not going to stop now. I think a story a month sounds right. Some will be free, some will be 99 cents. All will be from my archive of unpublished work—nothing just riffed off. I think it’s important to reserve a kind of writing for e-Book publication, writing that promises more than the shoot-from-the-hip stuff that fills the web today. Call it premium, or estate reserve, or private label.

Or call it literature.

I also think this may be the route I take with my six-novel series, The Log of Matthew Roving. So maybe that’s what I’ll be putting up six months from now, around September, the traditional fall season in publishing. I’ll need that much lead time, given that the 500 page novel is 25 times longer than The Skins of Our Ancestors and will require a lot of formatting and re-formatting . . .

# # #

Postscript: The initial experience of formatting and designing a book was such a head rush that it was surprisingly difficult to await the approvals that are normal in the publishing process. Smashwords is very clear about there being a time lag while your “published” work goes through both a computer-generated and a human vetting process. They mentioned two weeks as a possible time frame.

As soon as I pushed the final “Publish” button, however, I began to pace and rant. Two weeks? I wanted it NOW.

Funny how the Internet has made us into such babies. In the legacy print world I would’ve settled back and begun to write another novel while my manuscript was in preparation. In three months my editor might send me a set of notes, if he or she were so inclined. Six months later, I would’ve received a set of galleys and begun the proofing process. Nine months later, bound galleys. And after a year, with a fanfare of trumpets, the book would have been born.

E-Books come in a variety of formats. Print books only come in one, paper. Smashwords offers a thorough and, so far as I can tell, unique service in making the 10 most popular formats available. If your book makes it through all the protocols for all the formats, which include handheld mobile devices such as smartphones, you’ll have covered all the bases.

This is what makes Smashwords, in theory, a killer app in e-Publishing. It sure beats, which only sets your book up to be sold through the Apple iBookstore. At this time, it doesn’t look as if Apple will be able to reach an agreement with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Sony, and other distribution channels. While this could change (and undoubtedly will evolve), I think Lulu is aimed at Mac cultists. Macs are great, but the e-Book reading world is greater.

In the case of my “book,” The Skins of Our Ancestors was immediately available, in one digital format, if you were persistent and tek-savvy and could figure out which format was viable. I couldn’t. My pal Charlie could. He bought it, bless his heart. Nobody else could, or did, so sales remained at the loneliest number for two weeks while the Auto-Vetting program ground its mysterious gears.

But then, after two weeks, the approvals came through. Now all I had to do was assign new ISBNs to the book, which Smashwords offered to sell me at a no-markup rate. Then Smashwords would submit the book to Amazon and other outlets that required an ISBN. The ISBN would also get me a listing in Bowkers, the book catalog.

Today I will get those ISBNs, and in two more weeks the book will be as published as anything electronic can be these days.

This is both remarkable and sobering. We have witnessed the remarkable part. Sobering is the realization that, yes, if I can do it, anybody can. The spectre of a gazillion self-published books hovers like a horde of locusts in the sky. There are about to be more books than we know what to do with. People won’t be able to find us, quality won’t necessarily be distinguishable, in this mass.

My other worry is that Smashwords will become so successful that they’ll be overwhelmed. That’s always a problem with the free model. Book approval time might stretch out, distribution might crash. It happens in the digital age. These guys have created an amazing product with a brilliant, Facebook-style kind of crowd-sourced philosophy. They are doing no evil, that I can tell. Here’s hoping they have the backing to keep their servers running (or get some soon).

My immediate concern now is the same for any author: marketing. How to keep from getting lost in the mass of e-Books. E-Book authors are my new tribe, yet they are also my rivals. It seems as if we’ve created a monster, unless we as a tribe immediately set up our own system of filters and hierarchies and reviews and schools and clubs. This is already happening.

This is a good place to leave the topic of e-Publishing, with a cloud of locusts darkening the sky but a great shining city on a hill lying before us, where authors find readers and everybody gets a fair royalty.

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