The paperback vs the Ebook

Share the Road is available in three different versions – Paperback, Kindle and Nook. This is how my January sales were split between the three.

The order does not surprise me. Even though it is priced higher, I figured that the paperback would sell more quickly in the first month. I was pretty sure the Kindle would outsell the Nook, but the number of Kindle sales were higher than expected. They were not that far behind the paperbacks, and they clearly trounced the Nook.

What was a little surprising, if you combine the two Ebook formats, the paperback just edged them out. I am a fan of Ebooks, own a Kindle myself, and have been hearing all about their increased popularity, but I was still a little surprised that the markets were almost equal in January.

In the next few posts, I will pass along my experiences with preparing and selling each version, and let you know how I would do it differently next time.

Nerdy, proud moment

Someone posted on Facebook a screen shot of his Kindle. He was excited about getting the Wheel of Time series in Ebook form.

The nerdy proud moment is seeing my book on the same screen.

Why self-publish

The world of book publishing is changing by the minute. The introduction of both the Ebook and the ability to Print on Demand have opened up access to the market. No longer are book publishers the gate keepers to decide what books do and don’t make it into print.

And of course most authors need an agent to even get in the publisher’s door. This adds another level of gate-keeping, for you need to convince an agent that your work is worth their time, and it adds another person who needs to be paid for their work.

By some estimates, three out of every ten thousand unsolicited manuscripts ever get accepted for publishing. And the lag time is significant. Even if you are one of the lottery winners to make it through, your work won’t see the light of day for 18 to 24 months.

Some say the current model is broken, but it is resisting change. Many of the major publishers continue to discourage Ebook sales by pricing them too high. Publishers make most of their money on hardback sales. They not only delay Ebook release as they do with paperbacks, but they often price the Ebooks higher than the paperback, even with the reduced production, shipping and return costs. But trying to kill the Ebook appears to be a losing battle with the increased popularity of the Kindle, Nook and iPad.

But I didn’t self-publish Share the Road because I wanted to thumb my nose at traditional publishers because of their broken system, or because they rejected me. I did not find an agent, and I knew that after the first draft was finished that I wanted to self-publish the book. There would be no monetary advance, book tours, and my book will likely never grace the shelf of a bookstore. So why self-publish?

Share the Road is not a typical book. And I don’t mean that it breaks new ground that hasn’t been seen or understood by the fiction genre. What I mean is that I can’t point to the book and say that it is similar to the work of this author, or this type of book. I can’t say it is the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or Girl Who Plays With Fire.

Chasing what is popular in the moment can be a pointless exercise with the built-in delay to publishing, but agents and publishers need to feel confident that there will be an established audience for your book. They don’t want to risk their time or money on a brilliantly written book that no one will buy. They want a sure thing, they want the next John Grisham. Movie houses are much the same, which is why we see so many films that are near carbon copies of past hits. There are no zombie, vampires or wizards in my book. Just a guy and his bike.

Another reason I self-published was the ticking clock. Share the Road ended up being a pretty personal book. I feel like I understand things better for having written it, and I think that others may find their own meaning in the story. Also, a portion of the book was written to honor a friend who had passed away. I think that those that knew him and know me will appreciate the story. And quite frankly, no one knows how long they have. I didn’t want the book sitting on my hard drive never to be read.

Do I think the book would have made it past the traditional gate-keeper? We may never know. I am proud of the book, and I think it could find an audience. Otherwise I would have just printed up copies for my Mom and not released it on the world. It is possible that it could get picked up by a traditional publisher at a later date if it does well, but that might be another three in ten-thousand type of shot.

I may try to find an agent and submit my next book to traditional publishers. I have not yet tried the typical route, so I am not soured by it. The self-publishing adventure has been a great learning experience, and I am glad I chose to do it for Share the Road.

One more place to pick up the book

Share the Road is now available as an Ebook for the Barnes & Noble Nook. Just like the Kindle version, it is $2.99 and can be purchased through the link in the left sidebar. Or you can just search for “Share the Road” on the Barnes & Noble site. Or I could just point you there.

I will have a post up soon on my first impressions with Ebook publishing.

Scrambling at the last minute

My goal was to get my first novel published by the end of the year, and I got it in just under the wire.

I finished off the latest edit, and I sent off a copy at the end of November to one of my beta readers to check for typos and grammar errors. While I was waiting to hear back, I read it again. And edited it again. This really could go on forever.

As I mentioned in my last post, the book still needed a new cover before I put it up for sale. I had some initial pictures and better ideas were developing, but then rain and a trip to Seattle for the holidays stalled progress on the new cover.

While I was in Seattle, I got my typo report back, fixed them, worked on the website and other background stuff, but I couldn’t do anything about the cover until I got back in town. I returned the night of the 26th and headed out on the 27th for another photo shoot. After lots of dashing back and forth with the self-timer, I had thirty more photos. I couldn’t really see how the photos turned out with the sunlight bouncing off of the camera screen, so I went home hoping I had something good. I ended up using the last photo I took, so I am glad I kept trying.

I updated the cover with the new photo, and was ready to submit it for file approval. And I was still messing with the text. I had to get this thing out of my hands. I uploaded it to CreateSpace and waited for them to make sure there weren’t any formatting problems. I received their approval on the 29th and immediately ordered a proof. Now I had to wait for the hard copy to show up so I could make sure everything looked okay in print.

The anticipated ship date was sometime around January 6th, so I wasn’t going to make my year-end deadline. But I was so close I was willing to call it a victory. Then, somehow, during the post-Christmas chaos of shopping and shipping, CreateSpace and the Post Office had the proof in my hands on the afternoon of December 31st.

I filled out all the last minute synopsis, author bio and pricing information and hit “Approve” at around 5:00pm. I was published. More or less. The book could have been purchased on the CreateSpace site that day, but it didn’t show up on Amazon until January 1st. The listing still isn’t completely ready as the web machines haven’t attached the synopsis and preview, but it is available for sale!

My first novel.

A new cover to judge it by

Back in May, I printed  up a couple of copies of my book, even though it was still a work in progress. I had earned a free copy from CreateSpace by completing the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word challenge. The coupon expired sometime in June, and I didn’t want to see it go to waste.

Even though the book was not ready to be published, it was a great opportunity to see what it would look like in paperback form. I found a nice sunset photo that I had taken at the Grand Canyon. It has nothing to do with the story, but it was a nice picture. I was impressed with the printing and the look of the cover, but I knew I would eventually have to change the cover to give a reader a better idea of what the book was about.

I had vague ideas floating around in the back of my mind, but had done nothing of substance in the past six months. If I was going to make my goal to publish by the end of the year, I needed to come up with something soon.

I took my camera and drove down the coast. I had a certain image in my mind, though I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to make use of it. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I was mostly scouting on this first past through. Almost as an afterthought, I backtracked to another place off my route and got out to take some actual photos.

Armed with a self-timer, I tried to find a place with a good backdrop and a place to prop up the camera. I used benches, garbage cans, and the bike rack on my truck as makeshift tripods. I took several shots, dashing back and forth, trying out multiple looks, and trying to ignore the odd looks I was getting. I ended up with some good initial shots, and just seeing these first attempts gave me some more ideas.

I went out for another afternoon in a different location. On the second day, I found some spots where I could have a wider photo that would wrap around the book from front to back.

After two days, I had several good shots and started playing around with them in my photo editing software. The more I messed with them, the more ideas started to take shape. I had the back cover figured out, and just needed to go out and re-shoot the new idea for the front cover. But then a strange thing stopped my momentum. Rain in San Diego.

I didn’t get a chance to re-shoot before heading to Seattle for the holidays, so it is still in the idea stage. I am hoping to capture the cover I have pictured in my head when I return. In the meantime, it is back to the less glamorous stuff to get the book ready.

Final cut

I spent the month of October doing what I thought would be a final edit of Share the Road. I wanted to get the edit done before changing my focus to the new book, and I thought that going through the novel would also recharge my writing battery for NaNoWriMo.

If I haven’t lost count, this would be the fourth edit of the book. Each round seemed to dig a little deeper, make finer corrections, but they would also add new things to the story. And each time something was added, it was fresh material that needed to be tweaked and corrected.

For the fourth trip through the story, I decided to print it out. For some reason when something is printed out it is much easier to detach myself, and read what is actually there instead of what I think is there. Problems don’t seem to jump out as readily when I am staring at a computer screen.

Reading through it on paper, smaller problems seemed bigger and I was able to focus in word choice and eliminate some repetition that had slipped through the cracks. When I was finished, it felt like it was about ready for a new audience. I set it aside for November.

December 1st I left the new novel at the halfway stage and returned to Share the Road. It had been in the back of my mind while I struggled with the new story, and I was hoping to get it completely finished by the end of the year so I move on. I sent off a copy of it to a friend for a typo check, and decided to give it a final read-through.

And I am still making changes.

It has been said many times by a number of people, a book is never really done, you just finally have to let it go. If you are fortunate enough to be a professional writer, a deadline forces you to stop endlessly tweaking it. For we amateurs, you have to force yourself to stop in order to move on. A book doesn’t come alive until someone reads it, and if you endlessly rewrite it, it is almost as if it was never written.

This is my last time through. I have a couple more chapters on my read-through, and my typo/grammar check should arrive in a week. I need to get this book out of my hands before I do anymore damage.

Beta readers

It was time to let someone else read my novel. Oddly enough, the novel proofs I had ordered were cheaper than printing the book out on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. So my beta readers were about to be duped by the appearance of a finished novel.

Over a few months, the three copies got passed around to eight people. I actually ended up formatting the book for a Kindle (more good practice for later), so one of my friends could read it without waiting. And the feedback was really interesting.

I was mostly interested in whether or not the story held together well enough for them to keep reading, and whether there was enough there to bother working to improve it. I asked them to write down any errors that pulled them out of the story, but I wasn’t expecting a total proofread. It turned out there were plenty of things that jumped out at them.

The first two people to send me their notes each noticed about 50 errors each. The surprising thing that there was only one error in common between their two lists. Not a big boost to the ego to have ninety-nine errors caught by the first two readers, but not entirely unexpected.

As more feedback came in, each person had a different sort of thing jump out at them. One person focused in almost entirely on punctuation, while another caught words being repeated within paragraphs. Every read was seen through a different lens.

Beyond the long list of corrections that was building, each person also had different things stick with them from the story. A particular scene, a good turn of phrase, a point where the story didn’t ring true, etc. One reader would mention a point in the story that really grabbed them, but the other seven wouldn’t even mention it. Another would say that a certain thing needed to be bumped up, while another thought it could be cut.

It was awesome.

It was great to have so many people helping me out. I did my best to improve the things that were mentioned by more than one person, but of course it was still up to me to make the choices about how the book should be changed. The buck stopped with me and I didn’t take every bit of advice.

But the book is absolutely better because of these eight people. Anything that isn’t great is all on me. I can’t imagine doing any differently in the future.

Thank you.

 

 

A false front

I was close to seeing my book in print. It was finished, but still really rough. It wasn’t important to have the cover be perfect at this point. In fact, it didn’t need a cover at all, but I was interested to see what a finished book from CreateSpace would look like. And just like the formatting adventure, it was something new to learn.

As I mentioned before, CreateSpace offers professional help to produce a good looking novel. But in the spirit of the self-publisher who wants to go it on his own, there is also a cover creator program on the website. There were several themes to choose from, each with a different color scheme and with varying picture sizes. The program is pretty straight forward, and you could probably whip out a cover in a half hour or less.

But I knew I would eventually want something different, so I decided to experiment. But I didn’t have any photo editing experience outside of the very basic cropping. More things to learn.

Still not wanting to spend any money, I went searching the web for a free program. From what I found, it appeared that the program gimp (GNU image manipulation program) was one of the best. I downloaded the program, as well as a very helpful manual produced by one of the discussion board regulars, and set about trying to learn to make a cover.

Like the movie making software I have used in the past, the gimp program could do far more things than I would ever need. As is true of many non-entry level programs, it was not incredibly intuitive to use, but the manual helped tremendously. But just like the formatting of the Word doc, there were still hair-pulling moments where I didn’t understand why things weren’t working.

I was still in the messing around stage of things, but I wanted the cover to look as nice as possible. There were several old photos that I thought I could use, but they were taken with an old camera and the resolution was not good enough to fit without blowing them up. I saw a cover of a book at my girlfriend’s house that reminded me of a photo I had taken at the Grand Canyon. It had nothing to do with what the book was about, but it was a nice shot and I thought the color scheme worked.

This is what the test run of the book ended up looking like:

I sent everything off to CreateSpace and I had a novel proof in my hand in less than a week. I knew it wasn’t really a novel, but is sure looked like one. It was a great feeling.

I noticed a couple of formatting errors (my mistakes), made some quick changes and ordered a couple more copies. Now it was time to pass them out to the first people who would read them. Yikes.

Getting it in print

After a couple of rounds of editing, it still wasn’t near ready for prime time, but it felt like there was enough there worth working on. But of course how I felt about it would change day to day, paragraph to paragraph. I needed to get the book out of my hands and get someone else’s opinion. I could have just printed it out, but I had the opportunity for something a little nicer.

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization, and they depend on the support of both users and corporate sponsors. Some of the sponsors provide discount codes to participants, and others offer prizes for those who make it to the 50,000 word goal.

One of those prizes was a free paperback proof from CreateSpace, a print on demand company owned by Amazon.com. The coupon for a free proof expired sometime in June, and I didn’t want it to go to waste. But of course I couldn’t just send them a Word file and expect it to turn out looking like a book.

Fortunately, they provide lots of help for the first time novelist. They offer professional services that you can buy piece-meal, as well as some help for the do-it-your-selfer. Not only are there guidelines and FAQs on the site, but there is also an active discussion board where people that have been through it all can pass on their wisdom.

The first step was to get the Word doc formatted to work as a paperback. CreateSpace has Word files on the site that you can use as a template, and they come in various sizes for your desired book size. This made things much easier than starting from scratch, but even so, there were many hair pulling moments trying to get the page numbers and blank pages to work. I was using features I hadn’t used before, and trying to learn how they worked by trial and error.

After much cutting and pasting, references to the help files, and heavy use of the undo key, it was starting to look like a book without a binding. Now I just needed a cover.