More Self-Publishing Insight

With project #3 done, I have a few more experiences to share.

Late last month I wrote a typically lengthy post about my experiences to date as a self-publisher. At that time, I’d finished two book projects and was in the middle of my third.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m not new to publishing. My first self-published book was my 79th book. I’ve been at it for 20 years. But as my publishers begin to cut back on their publication schedules, I had to do something to find a market for my work. My self-publishing solution seemed like a good idea.

The jury is still out, however.

What Book #3 Taught Me

My third and biggest (so far) self-published book.

My most recent project, iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook, taught me a few things:

  • I don’t write as fast as I used to. Sure, I knocked out a 242-page book with 274 screenshots, all laid out in InDesign CS5.5, in about 10 days. But they were grueling days that never seemed to end. And the whole time, I was racing against the clock, doing what I could to be the first book out about iBooks Author. I’m not sure, but I may have succeeded. But I’m really tired.
  • An InDesign to EPub conversion process doesn’t always work as smoothly as it did the last time I did it. Indeed, Apple’s iTunes Producer program kept choking on the epub I created, even though it proofed fine in multiple tools. (Note to self: Make sure the name of the InDesign file does not include spaces. Further note: Make sure all filename extensions are in lowercase. Sheesh.)
  • None of the ebook sellers are interested in providing support for publishers. Amazon.com sends an automated response, follows it up with a canned response two days later, and then ignores subsequent requests for help on the same issue. Apple’s Contact page takes you through a list of possible FAQ responses and then tells you to get an aggregator. Barnes & Noble won’t allow pubs over 20 MB in size. Period. If you don’t know their rules or have a clue what you’re doing, you’re screwed.
  • Amazon.com will squeeze every single penny they can out of a publisher. My final book was huge — after all, it included 274 color screenshots. Amazon.com’s “delivery” fee ate up half of my royalties. I had to recompile the book with all images converted from PNG to JPG to regain about 50¢ per copy in royalties.
  • DRM might not be a good idea. I’d been sitting on the fence about this option and decided to try it for this book. I really thought Amazon.com and Apple’s iBookstore would have had this figured out, but apparently they don’t. On the third day after publication, I was getting complaints from readers. I wound up republishing the iBooks version with DRM turned off. We’ll see what happens with the Kindle version.
  • I hate indexing books. Well, this book didn’t teach me that. Other books taught me years ago. But it did remind me. Unfortunately, when there’s no advance and no guarantee of sales, I can’t afford to hire an indexer. So I have to do it myself.

I Like My POD Printer

A few days ago, I searched for my first self-published book, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, on Amazon.com and was pleasantly surprised to find both the print and Kindle versions. Apparently, the Amazon.com Website is automatically populated from data in the Ingram Catalog. Since my print books appear in that catalog, they also appear on Amazon.com. The second book was there, too.

What was odd, however, is that the book is available from other booksellers who sell through Amazon. They’re discounting it. I don’t personally care what they sell it for because I don’t earn based on a fixed wholesale price, which is 55% off the retail price. The POD printer gets the money they send, subtracts the cost of production, and sends me the rest. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. We’ll see, I guess.

I should mention that the print books are on Barnes & Noble’s Website, too. BN.com even showed the correct cover photo. (I had to contact Amazon to get the cover photo to show up for the print book.)

Books Do Sell

Although sales for my first two titles were a bit sluggish — and remained so — the third book is selling quite briskly, especially on the iBookstore. I’m able to monitor sales at Apple, Amazon, and BN on a daily basis for the previous day’s sales. I’ve sold about 100 copies in 3-1/2 days.

Oddly, it’s also the most “popular” of my books on Amazon.com right now, even beating out my Lion book. It’s currently #9 in the Graphic Design category in the Kindle store; it was #16 yesterday. (Of course, one of my Mac OS books once hit #11 storewide on Amazon.com, but I fear those days are long gone for me.)

But I’m no fool. I figure I need to sell an average of 80 books a day to make a living doing this. So, in a way, I’m back to where I was when I started my writing career 20 years ago. Back then, I realized that if I wanted to make a living as a writer, I’d have to write a lot of books.

What Are Your Experiences?

Someone recently commented on my first self-publishing post to thank me for sharing my experiences. But I’d like to read what others are going through. Why not use the comments link to share your experiences with me and the others who read this? Surely we can all learn from each other.

I don’t know about you, but I never stop learning.

5 thoughts on “More Self-Publishing Insight

  1. You are a prolific writer, that’s for sure. And I don’t envy long nights pumping out 242 pages and 274 screen shots. It seems to me you could take a break from writing and spend time selling, for which I think your blog entries do a good job. I’d love to share my experiences, but I’m green at this and am spending more time researching than I am producing. My biggest question is: if everyone can be a self-published writer, what’s the use of a designer such as myself? So far I have learned that I can contribute: 1) labor to do the production work for you after you finish writing, 2) value with specialized graphical treatments, multimedia, and interactivity, and 3) knowledge by learning the pit-falls and pathways, much like you have, to make the process easier for others.

    • Prolific but tired!

      Unfortunately, as self-publishing continues to be the norm, I can imagine the book (and ebook) market being flooded with new material — far too much for the reading public to consume. To compete, authors/publishers will have to sell for very little money or possibly give their work away. As a result, all productions will be very low budget. That means no money for editors, designers, production staff, etc.

      It’s the public that will be hurt by all this in the long run. So many people are more concerned with inexpensive consumerism — buying cheap or getting goods for free — that the high cost/price material will be in lower demand. Cheap will sell, expensive won’t. This will require authors/publishers to further cut costs — and likely quality. Soon, we’ll be faced primarily with a supply of low-quality content.

      In a way, it’s like what we’ve done to the market for hard goods that are now manufactured in China, often with a huge reduction of quality.

      In any case, I don’t think the future looks good for anyone.

      • Why the grim outlook? I see your point, with an increase in quantity, quality will decline. However, there will always be people who value high quality content just as there is a market for luxury goods and high-priced concert tickets. Don’t you think?

        • Sure there will be a market for it. But what percentage of people can afford luxury goods? And how much can they consume?

          Likewise, what percentage of people will be willing to pay for quality content? And how much can they consume? Is it enough to support all the content creators who want to earn a living creating original content?

          The thirst for cheap (or free) goods and services is slowly killing our country. Just as our textile industry has pretty much moved to China, jobs creating written content will soon be the domain of hacks who can knock off nearly meaningless drivel quickly and cheaply to satisfy the needs of the shrinking population of readers.

What do you think?