Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Old School vs the New School

The Old School way of doing things for most writers meant finding representation and spending a lot of time waiting for results.  The creative process was the easy part, and making money from the creation was the hard part.  You created the work of art, yet you were dependent on others to  present your work so you could make money.  You had to find an agent, the agent had to find a publisher, the book was edited, designed, proofed, printed, shipped - it was an exhausting process for a work of art that may have taken a fraction of that time to create.
The New School way of doing things now is that you can literally write a book on Monday, publish the book on Tuesday, and by Friday you can be making your first dollar.
My original expectation was to shop around my horror manuscript for an agent, but after months and months of sending out query letters, rewriting the query letters, and receiving nothing but rejection letters in return, my dream of having my manuscript published began to fade.  I began to doubt the worth of my work - maybe the plot was not as good as I thought, maybe the writing was amateurish, and maybe the whole thought of publishing a book was silly to begin with.  
Looking back, I am sure the rejection I received was no different than any other aspiring writer, and I am sure my reaction and the blow to my self-esteem was not much different than other writers.  But I believed strongly in my creation and despite the stack of rejection letters, I felt that the fate of my work did not have to rest on the decision of an over-worked agent - I could take a hands on approach and publish it myself if necessary.
Therein lies the Old School approach - who wants to go to a lot of expense of publishing hardcopy books and selling them out of the trunk of their car?  That was the Old School way.  I felt like I could write a good story, but I had no allusions about myself being a great book salesperson.  Especially trying to sell books out of my car.
At one time in my life I hung up my own shingle and operated my own business.  I was in the graphic design, advertising and marketing business.  One thing that I learned early on was that it was one thing to have an ability to do something - in my case, creating advertising, logos and marketing material - and it was another to operate a business to where you were the creative talent, you were the bookkeeper, you were the salesperson, and you were the gopher.  So actually, talent only accounted for a quarter of operating a business, and all the non-talent work accounted for the vast majority of the business.  So the Old School way is much like that - writing a book is only a part of what it takes to publish a book - you still have to find someone to represent your work, publish your work, market your work and do all the non-talent aspects of producing books for people to enjoy.  By the way, go click on the small lime-green ad for my book, A Collection of Short Stories - written by robots - located at the upper-right corner of this blog - it will make me happy, I might make enough to send my little boy to college if enough people do it, and it will make you happy reading it.  Plus, it is a simple, no-pressure form of advertising.
Then one day the Old School met the New School - I crossed paths with someone who managed to write a book and sell it via Amazon.  At the time I met that person, my book was just an old file on my dino-Mac in Pagemaker, with a hardcopy version consisting of a ream of paper in a dusty box in my attic.  I met this person while they were attempting to find a job, and while talking to this person I became fascinated with the fact that he managed to publish a book of poetry on Amazon.  I was not familiar with an eBook, and even the term sounded kind of silly at the time, but I was familiar with Amazon, and if your book was on Amazon, then you must be a successful writer - that was all there was to it.
I was too embarrassed to tell him that I had written a 70K word horror manuscript and several short stories, and it all sat on my computer gathering e-dust.  So rather than telling him about my lack of success, I asked him questions about his new found success.  He explained to me how he had written the poetry after the death of his father as a way of grieving, and his family had encouraged him to publish the work.  He found his way to Amazon, created an eBook, and then each day he would check out his stats to see how it ranked.
Afterwards I became energized and inspired to try to publish my book again, and see if going the route of an eBook was the way to go or not.  I scoured the web for info, googling key words, reading blogs, checking out the publishing sites, researching on Google, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  The main questions I had were, which site do I publish on, how do I distribute it, and what are the royalties.
I was tempted to go with Createspace.com and Amazon so that I could produce both a print-on-demand (POD) hardcopy book, along with an eBook.  In the end, however,  I decided to just try publishing an eBook and worry about producing a hardcopy book later.  It is such an involved process that I did not want to spend my time trying to do this and that, and not doing either well - I just wanted to focus on doing one thing - publishing a book electronically.
There was much to learn - what format do I want to publish in (html, mobi, pdf, rtf, epub), which aggregator to use (an aggregator is a company that will distribute your eBook to publishing websites, such a Barnes and Noble, Amazon and iTunes), and what aggregator will deliver the best product and the best royalty payments.
There are several aggregators that are well-known in the eBook world:  Amazon DTP, Smashwords, Lulu, and Barnes and Noble Pubit.com.  They all have advantages over one another, but I settled upon Smashwords.com as being the aggregator I wanted to go with.  
Smashwords.com has the best set-up, in my opinion - a How To Guide telling you everything you need to know in an easy to understand format, a thorough Troubleshooting Guide if/when you have problems, they will send your eBook to all the main publishing sites, and it is free - they make their money off of a small cut in the action whenever your book sells.  If I did not go with Smashwords, then I would have to publish my book on each individual site, such as trying to publish my book on Amazon, per their instructions, then trying to publish on Barnes and Noble per their instructions, and then trying to publish on iTunes per their instructions.  Plus I would have to hassle with obtaining an ISBN number, not using the same number on different books, and registering with each individual site... it can be a real hassle.
The simplest and most-efficient site to use, therefore, was Smashwords.  They do not have the greatest layout - the information could be presented much better than what it is, but it gets the job done and after a while you get used to their layout.  If you go with Smashwords, be sure to spend some time and read their guides:  How to Publish on Smashwords, How to Publish on iPad and iTunes, and their Style Guide.  Read them thoroughly and read them several times to really understand how everything works.  Yes, I know you are really excited about publishing your eBook, and yes, I understand it looks simple, but you have gone this far in writing your eBook, so go the extra mile and do it right the first time to avoid problems down the road.  I read everything very thoroughly, step by step, and I was able to upload my book in about 3 minutes without any problems or corrections.
Smashwords will give you some very good advice that you might want to follow in your writing from here on out.  Probably the most useful is to use Word, and to set up an automatic indent for each paragraph, rather than the Old School way of manually hitting the spacebar 2-5 times for the indent on each paragraph.  The New School way is to have an automatic indent, so each time you hit return you are ready to start a new paragraph.  It takes a little getting used to, but that is the way you need to start formating your writing.
Microsoft Word is the program you want to type all your work in, however I am a Mac guy and I had to do things differently.  I considered typing my work in Word on a PC, however Apple makes their version of Word, called Pages, and it is essentially identical.  It takes a lot of getting used to, but once you get the hang of Pages, it will do everything Word can do - indenting is simple, and connecting all the hyperlinks for your table of contents is a breeze.  When using Pages, you will want to keep the Inspector window open, as all the settings you will access are located there.
Here are the steps that you should have followed so far to produce your eBook in Smashwords:
1.) You have finished your manuscript in Word and it is saved as a Word document.  Your manuscript has been thoroughly edited and proofed - it is as perfect as you can make it.
2.) You have decided which aggregator to publish your work through.  The aggregator will take your work and electronically convert it and format it for all the various e-reader devices that a book can be read on - from an iPhone, to an iPad, to a Kindle, to a Nook, to a computer.
3.) If you decided to go with Smashwords then you are in luck, because I can tell you how it worked for me.
4.) You have read the available guides on Smashwords including, How to Publish on Smashwords, How to Publish on iPad and iTunes, and their Style Guide.  You really want to do a perfect job the first time, so you have reread the guides several times and you understand everything very well.
5.) You have formatted your manuscript per the Smashwords Style Guide.  You have properly formatted the paragraphs, you do not have any goofy text in the manuscript, you have added the SMASHWORDS EDITION to the first page, you have added a copyright notice, you have added a Table of Contents, and you have gone through the manuscript at least twice to manually check each link in the Table of Contents so that the links do take you to the correct part of the book.  One you have done this, the manuscript is finished and you can cross that off your list.
6.) You have designed a professional cover and it fits the proper dimensions that Smashwords asks for - 500 pixels wide by 700 pixels tall, jpeg.  Actually, designing the cover is probably the most challenging part of publishing your own book.  My background is in art, and even with that it took a lot of work to design something eye-catching, unique, colorful, and something that fit the title of my book.  Plus, it needs to look like a professional book you would see in a bookstore - if your cover does not meet the criteria, your book may not do well.  So if you have the ability to design a cover and know Photoshop well, then try to do a great job yourself, and if not, then google search for a bookcover designer.  But either way, do yourself and all other eBook writers a favor by having a professional-looking cover.  Your do everyone a disservice by coming up with something amateurish - it makes the manuscript you worked so hard at look bad, and it gives eBooks in general a bad name by being unprofessional.  Remember, in an e-bookstore you will just have a a few seconds at most for a prospective reader to decide whether they want to purchase your book.  A reader will typically base their decision to check out your book based on the title, the cover and the synopsis - do not handicap yourself by having a cover that looks like it was designed by an 8th grader (no offense to any 8th graders reading this.  But if you are an 8th grader, go do your homework).
7.) You have a nice professional-looking cover and you have your manuscript ready to be uploaded to Smashwords - you are all set.  When you start the upload process you will have the opportunity to upload your manuscript Word document as one file, and your cover design jpeg as another file.  Smashwords will tell you that this process will take either 5 minutes or 5 hours.  Mine took 3 minutes and I think it was only because I was lucky and God was smiling upon me.
8.) After uploading your cover jpeg and manuscript Word document, Smashwords will either tell you it was successful and your did everything right, or it will tell you there was a problem and you need to fix it.  I was lucky and did not have any problems, so I am not of much help on fixing problems, other than read over the directions again.
Once you have successfully published to Smashwords you can officially be called an eBook author and publisher, so relax, take a breath, and pat yourself on the back for an e-job well done.
Next up:  I am a Published eBook Author, Now What?

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