Archive for December, 2009

My First Ebook is Launching

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

If you’re a frequent visitor here, you might want to keep an eye out: I’m teetering on the edge of releasing my first ebook in a series. None of them will be long: this one’s about 33 pages of text and 13 pages of spreadsheets and charts illustrating the techniques.

I’ve found that this is about the length at which the eyes roll back in the head and the brain shuts down, so why go longer??

I hope that any of you who grab a copy will like it. I’d love to hear what you think. (And if you email me with an error or confusion, I’ll send you a free copy of the next work in the series!)

Ebooks: What We Lose With Them

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Ebooks are wonderful things. I love them. I read on my Kindle, and on my Kindle app on the iPhone, and wouldn’t give them up for worlds.

With ebooks, we gain convenience and the ability to change font sizes. We gain on price and on environmental impact. We gain a number of obvious things. But we lose, as well, and some of the losses are less obvious.

We’re losing privacy, and we’re losing control of our books. We’re losing readability (both in terms of text design and in image resolution). And we’re losing barriers to entry, which is a two-edged sword.

Privacy: Some ebook readers already “phone home” and report what you’ve read and how far you’ve gotten in it. It’s not hard to imagine that this information could be used in many ways. Even if you’re reading on a device or an app that doesn’t seem to do this, it’s not hard to imagine hackers or security agencies that could install backdoors in your software that would allow them to monitor your activity. Paper books never do that. And it’s almost impossible to track your purchases at random stores, especially if you use cash.

Control: With a print-on-paper book, it’s very hard to take or damage your copy. With ebooks, someone else can take your copy without any physical contact with it. Amazon has already proven that they can pull your books back off the Kindle. Other ebook providers may or may not have the same capability.

Digital Rights Management techniques (DRM) also cuts into your control. It’s quite difficult to craft DRM that doesn’t prevent you from doing things that are within your rights, as well as those that aren’t. Certain types of copying are allowed, even by the most draconian interpretations of copyright.

Readability: Text design is an art that’s generally under-appreciated. But it doesn’t take long with a badly designed book before you realize that something feels wrong. It’s just harder to read, and often harder to understand. It’s not comfortable on the eyes. Something feels “off.”

But being able to change font sizes within a fixed screen size means that you text design and composition go out the window. Of course, the e-readers could come with a hyphenation and justification program, such as the modules that underpin TeX or InDesign, which would help enormously, but they don’t now, and they probably won’t in any near future. Who wants to wait for the text to be re-flowed when you change the font size? Who wants to pay more for the program or for the cpu size needed to run it?

Screen resolution on the Kindle is roughly twice what the resolution is on a computer screen, but it’s still only 1/2 to 1/4 what a printed book offers. And it’s black on gray only. The color screens of iPhones and laptops offer the lower dots per inch to offset their colors. It’s not as easy on the eyes.

Lower Barriers to Entry: The last loss I listed is the lowering of barriers to entry. This means that we gain ease of publishing. But as readers it means that we have a harder time finding the books we’ll enjoy. And as publishers it means we have a far harder time rising above the roar of the crowd to draw our readers’ attention. And that means that more new readers will experience fewer wonderful books in the short time during which they decide whether they “like books” or not. And that’s the worst loss to our literary community.

As usual, I invite you to tell me what I missed or messed up. The comments section doesn’t require registration, although it is moderated to reduce the flood of spammers.

When Should I Use POD?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

First, let’s separate the two kinds of POD: there’s Printing On Demand and Publishing On Demand, and they’re quite different. Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell them apart.

The publishers are services like Lulu and AuthorHouse that take your manuscript and publish it for you, at your own expense. They call it self-publishing, but if you’re using their ISBN, they’re the publisher, and you’re not. It really does make a big difference.

The publishers offer a range of services, but they usually include design of the cover and text, and may include some copyediting. They rarely go beyond the template-level in design, which means that the books don’t usually come up to commercial standards, and usually can’t compete on the bookstore shelves. They also almost never offer a deep or structural edit, which is what makes the biggest difference to a book’s success or failure in the market.

The printers offer very few services indeed. They all print your book, if you have an appropriately formatted file. Many of them will also do the packaging and shipping of your book, and some of them will take orders for you.

But if you send your book to a POD printer, such as LSI or 360 Digital, you get a much lower cost per copy, and you avoid many of the problems inherent in a vanity press. And make no mistake, the Publish on Demand movement is just a new form of the vanity press.

So, when should you use either one? If you’ve read my posts at all, you know that the first and most correct answer is “It depends. . . . ” (in this case, upon your book and your market and your ability to support your book in that market). The second answer is crunch your numbers, using a Single Title P&L. Estimate your sales, your costs, and so on and so forth.

(Expect a very short, very inexpensive, ebook on how to crunch numbers from me in the very near future. Email me if you want to be notified when it releases.)

In general, I suggest that people use publish on demand when you expect to sell fewer than a few dozen copies. I’ve done that myself.

More often than not, I would suggest using print on demand when your book is selling a couple of hundred copies per year or less. At that point, the improvement in your sales if you get a better design and if you have your own publishing company is usually enough to be worth paying a little more for the services.

In general, if you believe your book will be able to sell profitably in bookstores, you should not use POD. POD originals (books that start out as POD, in either meaning of the initials) don’t have costs that are low enough to allow them to compete on bookstore shelves. Either the terms of trade offered to the stores are inadequate or the retail price has to be too high, given the cost per copy.

And last, but not least, if you think your book might sell more than a couple of thousand copies, then you should probably avoid a publish on demand contract at all costs. Why? First, because you don’t own your own ISBN. So you lose all connection between their edition of the book and yours if you decide you want to drop your costs and use offset printing. (And that will make thousands of dollars of difference in your bottom line.)

Second, because in those arrangements you very rarely own the rights to the design of the book. And the cover design is a critical part of your marketing momentum, too. So you’re taking a double hit if you switch.

That’s the short and most general version of my take on the subject. Do you think differently? Please do feel free to challenge me below. More opinions and information can only be good.