WHAT I’VE LEARNED ABOUT EPUBLISHING
Lately I’ve been looking into the new and growing phenomenon of ebook publishing. It’s not something I’ve come to easily, having devoted my life (as a writer, editor, publisher, teacher, and most of all as a reader) to books as paper objects. I may never read a book in digital form (although that prejudice may fade with time), but as a publisher, as a writer, and as a writer’s consultant, it’s important for me at least to know what this phenomenon is all about, and to learn a bit about how it works. To do that, I’ll have to keep on top of changes and developments, because this is a rapidly changing and developing method of publishing.
What I Learned at Bouchercon
In October Susan and I attended Bouchercon, the annual convention of the Mystery Writers of America, which was held in San Francisco this year (2010). We went as publishers, mostly to sell books but also to learn new trends in marketing and publication technology.
What I learned about, mostly, concerns epublishing, or publishing of ebooks and short stories. Specifically I was led to believe that thanks to epublishing, it costs nothing but some time and skill to get a book into (non) print, and there are no gatekeepers to reject you. By learning and using some technology, any writer can arrange to have his or her novels or stories available to be read on Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad and iPhone, BN Nook, Sony Reader, etc.
For us writers as well as us publishers, epublishing is free and easy. Supposedly.
Intrigued, I made it my Bouchercon business to learn how to go about getting a book epublished. It started with hearing, over and over again, the name “Smashwords.”
Smashwords is a free service for getting a book epublished. Info at: http://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords. As I understand it, you follow the clear directions about formatting your manuscript in Word, and bingo: your ebook will be distributed through Amazon’s Kindle Store and Apple’s iBookstore, so that it may be read on Kindle, iPhones, and other electronic reading machines such as Sony Reader, BN Nook, etc. Smashwords takes a small royalty for ebooks sold this way, which is how they profit from the free service they offer.
You also need a cover design created to the required specifications, as a jpeg, which is a separate skill. Some people hire a professional designer for that task; others design their own. For self-designers, Smashwords recommends a program named Gimp. Website: http://www.gimp.org/
The third thing you need is a marketing plan, because no matter how you publish—and this for the most part even includes being published by the establishment print publishers—the success of your book will depend on how hard and how successfully you market and promote it. To learn more, Smashwords recommends that you buy and study their ebook on the subject Smashwords Book Marketing Guide: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/305. This would be a good thing to do whether proceed with Smashbooks or use another service. For example…
There is another outfit that does what Smashwords does: Scribd. http://www.scribd.com/about. I don’t know how the two systems compare, but the buzz at Bouchercon was that Scribd doesn’t work as well as Smashwords. That’s not my judgment, just a rumor that I heard more than once; the rumor could be wrong.
Yet another outfit that does this sort of thing is Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/apple-ipad-publishing. They’ve been around a while. I’ve always known them as a POD publisher (and research reveals that they do this service for free, charging only for the copies you buy). But I learned that Lulu now is into ebook publishing as well.
(Aside: at Bouchercon epublishing was the topic du jour. By contrast, nobody was talking about POD, which has now become topic du yesterday.)
Another piece of buzz at Bouchercon: if you don’t format your book exactly as directed, Smashwords lives up to its name, and the result will be unreadable. I assume the same is true of Scribd and Lulu, and other ways to publish electronically. For example…
Another way to get your book or story epublished is to work directly with major vendors of ebooks and ebook reading devices, such as Amazon/Kindle, BN/Nook, Sony Reader, or Apple iBookstore/iTunes.
The Amazon/Kindle website for this is http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000234621
The Apple method is more complicated, it seems. Web: https://itunesconnect.apple.com/WebObjects/iTunesConnect.woa/wo/0.0.0.9.7.7.1
So much for what I learned at Bouchercon in October 2010. I don’t promise that all this information is accurate; it’s just the information I returned home with.
What I Learned After Returning from Bouchercon
After I returned to the office after the Bouchercon trip, I devoted some time to learning more about all of the above. I went to all those websites and tried my best to understand them. It was slow going.
I came to the conclusion that what seemed too good to be true (that epublishing is free and easy) is perhaps true for techno-savvy folks, but it’s not for me. It would take me many difficult hours, days, or weeks to be able to format my manuscripts properly, and even then I would be worried for the first few times that I was making mistakes that would prove costly to correct. So much for it being easy.
The solution, I decided, is to find someone who knows the technology and also knows the basics of book design, somebody with a good sense of design and the necessary hardware and software to format manuscripts properly into ebooks that can be sold on Kindle, iPad, and all the rest.
Luckily for me I know somebody who does this work well. Eric Larson of Studio E Books had been designing books for over twenty years, for Daniel & Daniel as well as for other publishing companies and self-publishers. He’s good, and he’s easy to work with. Of course he does this work professionally, and that includes formatting manuscripts and books for epublication. That means he charges for the service; so much for it being free.
How much? That would depend on the size and complexity of the project, but a couple of hundred dollars might be a good guess for most book-length manuscripts. I do know that Eric is reasonable, prompt, honest, and fair. For more information, check out Eric’s website: http://www.studio-e-books.com/index.html.
By the way, Eric Larson is also a talented cover designer, as you’ll see when you check out his website.
Another advantage of hiring a professional to format your ebooks is that you could then deal directly with Amazon, Apple, and other eretailers. That would save you the commission that Smashwords, Scribd, or Lulu collects on each sale.
A Personal Note
Why am I so interested in epublishing all of a sudden? Our publishing company, Daniel & Daniel, is already in that game, at least has one foot in the game, thanks to our distributor, who takes care of getting our books licensed to Kindle and other eretailers. Eric Larson has been converting our production files to epub files for this purpose. I didn’t have to know anything except that it was happening. And as a writer, I have two novels already available as ebooks on Kindle and elsewhere, thanks to my former publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. I didn’t have to be involved for that to happen.
No, the reason I now want to learn about this from the inside out is that I’m a frustrated writer who hasn’t had a book published for almost five years. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, I just haven’t been selling. I’ve always maintained that for me the joy is in the writing, not the selling; but it would be a shame to think of all my plots and especially all my characters (who became close friends as I created them) abandoned on a dark closet shelf. It would be a shame if my children and grandchildren and their unborn generations of children and grandchildren were not able to read what I found pleasure in writing.
Knowing that electronic reading is going to be around longer than I will, and knowing that at this stage in the game it can be done relatively cheaply and relatively easily, I seem to have no choice but to go forward. Which I have done, and expect to do more. To see my maiden effort, check out my first ebook-only novel, Swimming in the Deep End, as presented by Amazon/Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Swimming-Deep-End-ebook/dp/B004E113UM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1291574128&sr=1-1
A Final Word
Epublishing is not for everyone, but as time goes by it will be more and more important for everyone to know what it is and how it works. If you decide to try it out, I hope you’ll have a good experience with it, and I hope you’ll let me know. As I’ve made it clear, I’m only just beginning to learn about all this, and I need to know a lot more to become good at it.