The iBooks Author Gamble

Taking a chance and not liking what I see so far.

iBooks IconIn late February and early March, I spent about 2 weeks porting my existing 242-page iBooks Author book to iBooks Author software for publication as an iBooks 2-compatible interactive (or “enhanced”) ebook.

Moving over the text wasn’t a huge deal — mostly copy and paste, followed by the application of styles I’d created or modified for my custom iBooks Author template. But rather than simply copy and paste the 100+ screenshots that are part of the print, epub, and Kindle format books, I decided to rely on videos to tell the story. So I spent most of that time recording a total of 3 hours of original video content based on the numbered step-by-step instructions in the book. I also used the Gallery widget and created an illustrated Glossary.

The final book turned out to be 150 pages and 1.3 GB in size. And it looked awesome (if I do say so myself) — the perfect example of how a iBooks Author could be used to create how-to content.

The Waiting Begins

Final Count
It took 55 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I submitted the files to Apple via iTunes Connect on Sunday and began waiting for approval.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — I spent the week waiting. It’s now Friday and I’m still waiting.

In iTunes Connect, the book’s status remains:

Book In Review. This book is currently being reviewed for quality assurance.

A New Week brings New Developments

Final Count
It took 75 days for this book to be approved by Apple.

I’d already committed to converting my Making Movies book to iBooks Author format. Because the video for that book already existed — I used video clips taken from the example movie — the creation process was much quicker. I figure I put a total of 10 hours into the conversion process. I submitted it today.

And that’s when I discovered two things:

  • Apple no longer allows submissions of books created with iBooks Author 1.0 (or 1.0.1). It requires the latest version, released the other day, iBooks Author 1.1, which includes support for the new iPad. My iBooks Author book was created with the previous version. Is that what’s holding up approval?
  • A warning appeared on screen when I attempted to upload my 233 MB book, telling me that Apple recommends that books be no larger than 200 MB because some users might have trouble downloading a larger book file. My iBooks Author book was considerably larger than this. Is that what’s holding up approval?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing. Apple’s iTunes Connect/iBookstore support is absolutely dismal. If you ask a question, you’re lucky to get a response in less than a week — if you get any response at all. And that response is likely to be “canned” — in other words, boilerplate text possibly chosen at random by the support person who handled your request.

Rejection Could Be Painful

And nagging away at the back of my mind is a blog post by Seth Godin where he reported that his book had been rejected from the iBookstore because it contained links to printed books on Amazon.com.

While my book doesn’t contain any offensive links — at least I don’t think it does — what if Apple decides to reject it because it’s too big? In the wrong format? They don’t like my videos?

All I can think of is the hours and hours of work I put into that edition, possibly wasted on the whim of some reviewer at Apple.

Apple Needs to Get Serious

Today I read a blog post on TUAW about the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice is apparently mounting against Apple. In it was this line:

Apple says that it wants to sell as many ebooks as possible, which is totally believable since the company is still a relative bit player in the ebook market.

From where I sit, I don’t see Apple being very serious about this at all. If Apple were serious, it would have a much better process in place to review and approve iBookstore submissions. After all, you can’t “sell as many ebooks as possible” if dozens or hundreds of them are stalled in the approval process day after day for a week or more. It wouldn’t be rejecting ebooks because it doesn’t like the links they include. And it certainly wouldn’t generate frustration and dissatisfaction among content creators — the people actually creating the books they supposedly want to sell.

Call Me an Idiot

I’ll beat a few of you to the punchline by admitting that I look like an idiot.

Back in January, when everyone was voicing outrage over the iBooks Author EULA, I wrote a blog post that told people they were basically worrying about nothing. In response to concerns about the approval process, I said:

I see Apple’s approval process as a GOOD thing. Right now, there’s nothing stopping anyone from publishing any crap they want as an ebook and distributing through services like Amazon Kindle. This is a far cry from publishing as we’ve known it, where only authors and works approved and edited by an experienced, professional publishing company team would be published. Apple’s review process helps weed out the crap and make its library of content more valuable to iBookstore shoppers. While some folks might be fearful that Apple will not approve their work, I’m not — and you shouldn’t be either. People who can turn out quality work should have nothing to worry about as far as the approval process goes.

Now there is some concern over Apple using this power to censor content. For example, perhaps they refuse to publish a book that says negative things about Apple or its founders. (Remember how they pulled all of a certain publisher’s books out of the Apple Store after they published an unflattering biography of Steve Jobs some years back?) I’m not terribly worried about that, but I do admit that it is a possibility. Obviously, if there are documented examples of Apple not approving something that should be approved, I’d be willing to revisit this point. For now, however, I don’t think it’s an issue.

Yes, I’m an idiot.

I didn’t realize that Apple’s approval process had the potential to be slow and unfair.

I naively assumed that Apple was concerned with quality — after all, isn’t that what’s holding up my book: a quality review? And quality didn’t worry me because I know I can create quality work.

But what if it’s some other criteria that Apple’s reviewers are concerned with? Something other than links to Amazon.com? File size, file format. Or, worse yet, something I can’t fix? And how will I know? When will I know?

Every day that book isn’t in the iBookstore is a day that I — and my partner, Apple — don’t sell any copies.

What to Do?

What’s the right answer? The right approach?

Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: I’m not going to waste another second of my time assembling yet another title in iBooks Author and submitting it to the void via iTunes Connect.

Instead, I’ll wait — as if I have any other option — and see approach. And I’ll use this experience to guide me for future submissions created with iBooks Author.

Got any iBook Author/iBookstore stories you want to share? Comment on this post.

March 19. 2012 Update: It has now been more than two weeks since I submitted my first iBooks Author-created book for approval to the iBookstore. I am still waiting for approval. This is not a good sign, folks. If you’ve already gone through the approval process, please take a moment to tell us how long it took. And if you’re waiting, please let us know how long you’ve been waiting. I’ll update this when (or if?) my book is approved.

March 28, 2012 Update: I finally heard from Apple about the first book I submitted. It had a number of trademark-related issues that needed to be resolved. I wrote about them here.

May 1, 2012 Update: While I was traveling, my iBooks Author book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approval was about 55. I removed the count up timer. My Making Movies book has still not been approved. I feel completely idiotic that I actually believed my books would be reviewed within a week.

May 23, 2012 Update: My Making Movies book was finally approved. I believe the final count of days until approved was 75. The last 3 weeks was spent nagging Apple to explain why it was holding back the book for metadata issues without putting a “ticket” on it.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

Join the club.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. But it is bothersome — an uncomfortable feeling that makes me question everything about my life.

I’ve made some serious personal decisions recently that are likely to rock my world over the coming months. This is a stressful situation that’s not made any easier by the lack of support by friends and family members. I’m going it alone — as I so often do — and it’s weighing heavily on my mind.

But the feeling of being overwhelmed is primarily due to my workload. As a freelancer, I work when there’s work to do. When there isn’t work to do, I’m usually waiting for or looking for more work. Sometimes I need to make work. Other times, work appears unexpectedly — even when I don’t want it or have time for it. But I have to do it all — to turn down work is to possibly miss out on future work.

Such is the life of a freelancer.

Right now, I’m working on four content creation (writing, video, etc.) projects:

  • Book CoverFinishing up a special iBooks 2 interactive edition of my iBooks Author book. This requires me to record and edit dozens of screencast videos and completely re-layout the book in iBooks Author. The good news: I might be able to finish up today. That is, if Alex the Bird can keep quiet and the landscapers don’t spend much time blowing leaves outside my window. And the neighbor’s dog doesn’t bark nonstop for an hour. Again.
  • Lynda LogoPrepare scripts for a revision of my Twitter Essential Training course on Lynda.com. We’ll be recording this course soon and I want to be fully prepared before I fly out to Lynda to record. And my new producer, wants to see the scripts, too.
  • An aerial photography book. I began writing this last year and have put it aside repeatedly because I need artwork and photos that I can’t produce on my own. I suspect it’ll have to wait until this summer to finish up.
  • A book of helicopter pilot stories. I’m collecting these stories from other pilots and plan to compile them in a book for release later this spring. As I get more and more bogged down with other things, however, the self-imposed deadline keeps slipping. I suspect this will be finished up when I get to Washington, too.

Of course, with Mac OS X Mountain Lion announced, I know what I’ll be doing first when I get to Washington: Revising my Mac OS X Lion book for the new version of the OS. Oh, yeah — and then there’s the videos and Websites I’ve been asked to create for a handful of winemakers up there.

It’s not just writing work and the occasional helicopter flight that’s stacked up before me. It’s all the paperwork that goes with it.

I have two separate businesses, each with their own bank accounts and accounting records. I don’t have an accountant — hell, I am an accountant; my BBA is in accounting. To hire an accountant would be silly, since I could do that work myself and save a bunch of money. So I do. Or I try to. Often, it just stacks up, waiting for me to get to. I haven’t balanced a bank account in several months. And I’m only partially switched from Quicken (since it no longer works in the current version of Mac OS) to iBank (which I really don’t like). It’ll take days to sort out the accounting mess I face when I get around to it.

And then comes tax time. What a freaking nightmare that is.

And then my annual migration back to Washington. That’s a logistics issue. Find someone to fly up to Washington with me to help cover the flight costs. Do the flight. Catch a commercial flight back to Arizona. Pack the RV, get the truck ready. (Did I mention that I might have to buy a new truck this year, too? And take delivery before the end of April?) Make the 1200-mile drive to the Wenatchee area. Retrieve the helicopter from wherever I left it in Washington. Get my contracts set up for summer work.

Of course, that’s if there is summer work. My clients never want to sign up until after the last frost. There’s a chance I might get to Washington with the helicopter and a frost will wipe out the cherry crop. No need for my services then. Ready to fly but no clients. How do you think this possibility affects my stress levels?

On the flip side, there might be too much work for me to take on by myself. Then I have to scramble and find people who are willing to put their life on hold for 3-6 weeks and wait around for the rain in Washington. I’ve already started collecting possible candidate phone numbers. None of them are happy that they’ll have to wait until May to know whether there might be work for them.

Before I leave Arizona, however, I do have to pack up everything I own that’s in our Phoenix condo in case it’s rented or sold while I’m gone. That’s a whole office full of stuff, as well as clothes and other personal effects. Hell, I haven’t had enough time to unpack the boxes that brought some of this stuff here.

And I did mention that I have to travel to Lynda.com for a week to record a course, right?

And there is the possibility of a very big client needing to fly with me in late March or early April, before I go to Washington. Unfortunately, they can’t pin down a date. Once they do, if I’m not available, I’ll lose that job — and it’s not the kind of job I want to lose.

Along the way, I need to start seriously considering where I’m going to live and what I’m going to do when my work in Washington is done this year. I’ve been wanting to relocate for years. I’m sick of Wickenburg’s small-mindedness and the bullshit politics and greed that have ruined the town. Phoenix is no gem, either — except on February days like yesterday when the temperature hovers in the high 70s and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The personal decisions I’ve made recently give me a good opportunity to make the change. Unfortunately, I don’t know where I want to live. I’m leaning toward Oregon — perhaps in the Portland area — but who knows?

So with all this on my plate and on my mind is it any wonder that I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed?

But this is typical in my life — and in the life of most hardworking freelancers and business owners. Things don’t get done by themselves. And if things aren’t done, I start feeling it in the bank account. I don’t know about you, but I like to pay my bills on time and eat.

Guess I’d better get back to work.

Is iBooks Author the Right Tool for Publishing Your Ebook?

Answer: It depends.

iBooks Author IconI’ve been working a lot with iBooks Author lately. Not only did I write and publish a 242-page book about it within 2 weeks of the software’s release, but I’m now deep in the process of converting that book into an iBooks Author file. The result will be a special iBooks 2 interactive edition that includes all the bells and whistles I can cram into it: images, interactive images, galleries, videos, tables, sounds, links — you name it. If I could figure out a way to use the 3D image widget to show something meaningful in the book, I would.

The Limitations of iBooks Author-Generated EBooks

Lots of folks wondered why I didn’t just create the original edition of my iBooks Author book with iBooks Author. Indeed, one reviewer on Apple’s iBookstore had the nerve to [unfairly] bash the book because it wasn’t created in that format. (As if I should write my Excel books with Excel or my Mac OS books with TextEdit. But I digress.)

Some people might think the reason is Apple’s “evil” EULA, which prohibits sale of an iBooks Author-generated ebook in any outlet other than the iBookstore. That’s not the reason at all. After all, if I wanted to sell to iBooks 2 users, where else would I sell it?

The reason I didn’t create the original edition of the book in iBooks Author is flexibility.

You see, if I created and published a book about iBooks Author using iBooks Author as my creation and publishing tool, the resulting ebook could only be read by people who meet the following criteria:

  • Have an Apple iTunes account.
  • Are willing to buy from the Apple iBookstore.
  • Have an iPad.
  • Are running iBooks 2 on their iPad.

What percentage of the population do you really think that is?

It’s All about Reaching the Biggest Audience

While I’ll be the first to admit that my book’s target audience is likely to be made up primarily of people who meet this criteria — after all, who wants to develop for a device when they can’t even test it on that device? — by publishing for just that audience, I automatically exclude all the people who want to read it on a Kindle or NOOK or the Kindle/NOOK apps that work on their desktop and laptop computers or other mobile devices.

I see the sales numbers. For this title, about 1/3 of all sales are being made to Kindle and NOOK readers. Do you really think I’d want to cut my sales by 1/3?

In addition, by using iBooks Author to create and publish, I’d exclude the people who might want to read it the old fashioned way: in print. The print edition is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, and at a wide variety of other online booksellers. Because I use a print-on-demand printer that handles all sales and fulfillment for me, I make money on every single copy sold. No, I don’t expect to sell 10,000 copies in print, but heck, even 100 copies is money in the bank. (And yes, I am doing this for money; I earn my living as a writer.)

I reasoned all this out before I began writing. And then I wrote the way I usually do: in InDesign CS5.5, creating a printer-ready document that could also be exported in a matter of minutes to formats for publication in the iBookstore, Kindle store, and NOOK store.

And Speed

Remember, my goal was to get this book done quickly and make sure it was available to readers as soon as possible. That means before my competition did the same.

I’ve learned over more than 20 years of experience as a computer how-to book author that the first book out on a new software product has a competitive edge that sells books. After all, if someone wants a book to teach them how to use software and there’s only one book available, what book do you think they’ll buy?

How do you think my first Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guide sold out at Macworld Expo and reached sales rank of #11 (for a short time) on Amazon.com back in 1997? I had a three month jump on the competition.

And I think that’s what bothered me most about the idiotic reviewer on the iBookstore. His comment said something like “why not take a few extra minutes to do it in iBooks Author?” A few extra minutes? This guy has obviously never actually worked with iBooks Author and is a victim of the Apple’s video magic in showing off software features.

The truth of the matter is that iBooks Author is not a quick way to publish a book. Sure, you can throw some text in there and get it out to the public without a lot of effort. But that’s not what iBooks Author is for.

What iBooks Author is Really For

iBooks Author is a tool for creating interactive, multi-media books. Using it for anything less is just plain silly.

Think about it. If you wanted to share just text and images with other readers, why would you use iBooks Author and limit your book’s audience?

Yes, you can argue that the layout features of iBooks Author make it a great tool for fixed-layout designs that can make design-centric books so amazing to browse. But are most books so focused on design that they must have a fixed layout? And aren’t such fixed layouts possible with other electronic book formats that can be read on all platforms? Like maybe PDF?

iBooks Author includes tools for creating interactive elements that can change the meaning of the phrase reading experience. Reading isn’t the important word anymore. Experience is.

Page 4
Page 14
Two pages from my iBooks Author “special edition” ebook in progress. The top page shows an interactive image; the bottom shows an embedded video clip.

iBooks Author’s tools help you communicate your message in ways that are simply not possible with other ebook publishing tools. I’m talking about interactive graphics that zoom and pan when the user touches a label. I’m talking about video and audio that can show how a task is done or provide additional information that no text on a page can convey. I’m talking about photo galleries that save space on the book’s page but can be zoomed out and enjoyed on command in a full-screen view at the reader’s own pace.

And these are just the tools I use in my work. If you’re writing about science or architecture, why not include some 3D views? If you’re an educator, why not include some fully-illustrated review questions? If you’re a corporate communicator, why not include your latest Keynote presentation?

This is what iBooks Author is for: creating multimedia, interactive electronic publications. It isn’t for distributing text and a handful of pictures in a pretty format that only a small percentage of readers can access.

And believe me, it’s not a matter of “taking a few minutes” to whip one of these ebooks up.

You Need Content

Apple’s videos make it look so easy. Sure — all you need to do is drag and drop a 3D image on a widget, set a few options, and publish so the reader can manipulate it with multi-touch gestures. Very cool. But what Apple fails to mention is that someone has to actually create that 3D image in the right format for use in iBooks Author. And that takes more than “a few minutes.”

Right now, I’m faced with the daunting task of creating approximately 75 screencast videos for my book. I spent several hours just setting up and testing my computer and recording software/microphone. Then another hour or two figuring out how I’d edit and save the files. Then it was time to script the videos and record them. And edit them.

Sure, once all that is done, it takes less than a minute to insert each video in an iBooks Author media widget and place it on a page. But it takes a good 30 minutes to create, edit, and save each video.

But the content has to be created before it can be inserted.

(By the way, I’d be recording videos right now if it wasn’t for the fact that my neighbor hired a work crew to remove most of the trees in his yard. Do you think my readers would enjoy listening to chainsaws in the background audio of the videos in my book? No, I don’t think so either. So I’ll be up tonight doing the work I should have been able to do today.)

I Love iBooks Author

Don’t get me wrong. I love iBooks Author. I love the power it gives me to communicate. I love the fact that it makes it easy for me — a words person who couldn’t design her way out of a paper bag — to create beautiful looking publications.

But I haven’t swallowed the Apple Kool-Aid on this one. iBooks Author isn’t the best solution for my publishing needs. After all, I need to earn a living. I need my work to reach the most potential buyers possible. And that means publishing with a tool that enables me to create for the most reader platforms.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t use iBooks Author to create “special editions” of my books — when I have the content to share that makes it worth the effort.

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.

My Experiences (So Far) as a Self-Publisher

Making it up as I go along.

I’m in the middle of my third self-publishing project since October and, of the three projects, this is the most challenging. But what’s more interesting, perhaps, is what I’ve experienced and learned along the way.

Project One: The Test


This is actually the revised cover for this book; the first one was just too awful.

The first project, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, went remarkably well, despite the twists and turns along the way. From the start, I’d wanted to publish the book in both ebook and print formats. I built an InDesign CS3 template and used it to lay out the book. The text and illustrations were already written; they’d been published online and I got rights back for them. I struggled a bit to create the epub and Kindle mobi formats I needed to publish the ebooks on the iBookstore, Amazon.com, and BN.com, but with the help of an excellent Lynda.com course by Anne-Marie Concepcion, I succeeded.

I took a wrong turn with the print edition of that book. For some reason, I thought MagCloud would provide a good solution. MagCloud is a print on demand (POD) printer which also sells through its website. The quality of MagCloud’s work is excellent — they print in full color and the work really does look good. But they’re also terribly expensive. My 64-page book cost 20¢ per page to produce, making it far too costly for its size. It would not be possible to sell at a retail price that included a cut for me. And, frankly, the book that resulted didn’t have the kind of look and feel I wanted.

Clearly, I had to either give up on the idea of printing the book or find another POD printer.

So the first book, which was done as a sort of proof of concept to see if I could actually get a self-published title out there, was a limited success.

Finding a New POD Printer

I had already done some research on POD printers. I did not want to go with Amazon’s CreateSpace service because it was acting as a publisher instead of a printer.

There’s an important distinction there:

  • A publisher pays an author a royalty percentage on every book sold — even if the author buys the book.
  • A printer charges the publisher a fee for each book printed; the publisher earns money based on the difference between the book’s selling price and the amount it cost to print.

I felt that the CreateSpace percentage was not very generous; they were obviously set up for self-publishers who needed a lot of help with manuscript preparation. I didn’t need help. I’ve been preparing camera-ready book pages since my first Visual QuickStart Guide back in 1995.

CreateSpace also offered a free ISBN for those who didn’t have them. That’s a huge stumbling block for many self-publishers. Apparently the prices for ISBNs have risen to cash in on the self-publishing craze. Fortunately, I set up my publishing company, Flying M Productions (formerly Giles Road Press) back in 1994 and have all the ISBNs I need. So that didn’t attract me to CreateSpace, either.

Finally, I just wasn’t willing to jump into bed with Amazon.com — unless I had to.

Lulu wasn’t an option. Too costly and I’d heard rumors that Amazon.com wouldn’t sell Lulu books. (Wish I could remember where I’d heard that so I could link to source for you.)

I wanted a more professional-level POD printer, one that worked with real publishers and not the average self-publisher. What I wound up with was Lightning Source. This is a real printer, one that assumes you know what the hell you’re doing. Best of all, they’re part of Ingram, the company that catalogs books for resellers and libraries. Publishing with them would automatically get my book listed for sale in all retail outlets. They had a great deal of flexibility with book sizes and styles, from small to large, from softcover to hardcover, from black and white to full color.

And their prices were reasonable.

As a test, I redid my Making Movies book as a black and white title, redesigned the cover, and sent it in. The proof came back looking great and the book cost about 1/4 what it did through MagCloud. I was very happy. I’d found my POD printer.

The Logo

I had developed a series of books — Maria’s Guides — and I felt that I needed branding to go with it. So I started looking for a designer to come up with logo.

I already blogged about my Elance nightmare. My advice: don’t waste your time.

A friend of mine, learning of the problem I had with Elance, mentioned on a list she subscribes to that I was looking for a designer. I was contacted by one. I looked at his Web site. I liked what I saw. We chatted back and forth. We came up with a budget. I signed a contract. I paid him 1/3 up front. And then the trouble began.

He’d spend days laboring over what should be a simple task, like choosing a font I liked. I loaded up a bunch of fonts, picked about 10, and sent him samples in a PDF. He then proceeded to make sample “word marks” using four fonts I didn’t have. I liked only two of them; buying those fonts would have added another $150 to the project budget. I told him to pick one of my fonts and that I’d send him the typefaces to work with. He did so, grudgingly. Two weeks gone.

Then it was time to come up with the graphics to go with the word mark. No matter what I suggested, he pushed back, telling me I was wrong. I was getting pissed off very quickly. Finally, I emailed him, told him to keep my 1/3 deposit, and to forget the project. I never heard from him again. I’m beginning to think that’s how he earns a living: 1/3 of a job at a time.

Maria's Guides LogoIn the end, I took one of the fonts I liked and threw together a simple graphic word mark. It would have to do for now.

My Deal with the Devil

I guess it was around Christmas time that Amazon announced a new program for its customers. If you were an Amazon prime member and you owned a Kindle (not another device with the Kindle app), you could borrow ebooks for free.

This freaked out a lot of authors and publishers — at least at first. After all, if people could read our books for free, how would we sell books and make money?

It soon became clear that only a limited number of publishers would allow Amazon to use their titles this way. My publishers were not among those participating. Amazon had obviously used this well-publicized offer to get more people to buy Kindles.

Of course, when publishers made it clear that they weren’t interested because there wasn’t any money in it, Amazon stepped up to the plate and created the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program. They’d put $500,000 in a special account each month. Publishers that put titles into the KDP Select program and allowed Amazon Prime members to borrow them for free would get a cut of this big pie based on the percentage of borrows their books got. So suppose there were 1000 borrows during the month and a publisher’s book accounted for 16 of them. The publisher would get 16/1000th of the $500,000. Of course, the numbers would be much bigger than that and the percentages much lower. But the potential for sales was there.

Of course, there was a catch: you’d have to give Amazon an exclusive on ebook sales. That means it could not be sold as an ebook anywhere else. And you’d have to commit for three full months.

A friend of mine who self-published the novel Soléa, decided to give this a try. Since my book sales weren’t exactly stupendous, I figured what the hell? I’ll try, too.

So I took the book off the iBookstore and BN.com. And I turned off the PDF ebook option on MagCloud. And I enrolled Making Movies into the KDP Select program.

That’s when things started getting weird on my sales reports. The report would show sales with an average selling price of 9¢ per copy. (I’d priced the book at $3.99.) When I contacted Amazon about that, they said it was due to price matching. I responded that (1) they had an exclusive on the title, so there was no one to match with and (2) the book had been (and would again be) available at the same price everywhere; no one discounted it. I’m still waiting for an update on that.

And then there was the positive sales with the negative royalties. WTF?

Oh, and about Amazon’s royalty percentage…the 70% is only for sales in 6 countries that, for some reason, have favored status. If you sell to any of the other countries in the world, your rate drops to 35%. I’m still trying to figure out how they can justify that.

Needless to say, when the 3 months is up, my book will be yanked out of KDP Select so I can get it back in the iBookstore and BN.com. And no, none of the other titles will ever be part of KDP Select.

Project Two: Fine-Tuning the Process


I fine-tuned the cover design to make the book name larger.

My second project, Sorting Excel Data: The Basics & Beyond, went more smoothly. Encouraged by what I’d read about InDesign CS5.5 and its ebook publishing features, I upgraded. I ported my InDesign template to the new version, fine-tuned it, and wrote a 114-page book with dozens of illustrations.

The writing took about four days and went very smoothly. I felt good about the template design, especially since I watched the CS5.5 version of Anne-Marie’s Lynda.com video and adjusted my template to take advantage of new features.

Once the InDesign file was done — including title page, copyright page, table of contents, and index, I was ready to publish. I budgeted two days: one for the print edition file submission and one for the ebook file submissions to Amazon.com (Kindle mobi), Apple iBookstore (iBooks epub), and BN.com (NOOK epub).

I had the print edition’s files, including the cover, submitted before noon. After lunch, I knocked off the three other submissions. It went that quickly.

The iBooks edition was available first. It appeared in the iBookstore less than 2 hours after submission. The Kindle version appeared the next day. The NOOK version appeared the day after that.

I got my proof from Lightning Source a week later. I approved it the same day.

At this point, I felt that I had the process down to a science. Only a bit more fine-tuning and it would be perfect.

Project Three: The Challenge

I knew as soon as I heard about iBooks Author that I wanted to do a book about it. I downloaded the software the same day. I learned it over the next two days.

I spoke to one of my publishers about doing a book. They were interested — at first. Then they got spooked about the EULA that everyone is whining about; I addressed some of those issues in this blog post. By the time they confirmed that they weren’t going to do a book about it, I was already 1/4 into my own book. You see, I never really thought we could come to an agreement on the book, so I’d started writing it for Maria’s Guides.

This is going to be a much longer book — likely 200 pages. I’m about 1/3 finished now. Although I’m trying to stick to the basics, I don’t want to disappoint readers by leaving important information out. So it will be quite a complete guide.

I’m thinking of changing the dimensions of the printed book to bring it more in line with trade paperback titles I’ve written in the past. This won’t affect my ebook editions, however. It won’t even delay them; they’ll go out first — likely sometime next week.

There will be a “multi-touch” version of the book available for iBooks readers. That’ll have a separate ISBN and likely more multimedia content. I’ll do that after the print edition goes to the printer.

Motivation…and Uncertainty

The real challenge, however, is motivation. As I’ve aged, I’ve developed a remarkably short attention span. I get bored with any project that takes more than a week or so to complete. Normally, there’s an editor out there, waiting for the next chapter. This time, there isn’t. It’s just me. I’m the author, the editor, and production person, and the publisher.

No one — except me — will know if I slack off and put this project aside.

But the worst part about it is the complete uncertainty. When I write for another publisher, I get an advance on royalties. If the book doesn’t sell well, they don’t take that advance away. In other words, I’m compensated for my work no matter what.

Not so with self-publishing. You only get paid when your work sells.

So I could be working my ass off on a book that no one will buy. A book I’ll never make money on.

It’s a terrible gamble, one that nags at me. In the back of my mind, I’m constantly wondering if I’m wasting my time.

But to help prevent me from slacking off, I’ve publicly announced the book — not only here but on a variety of other places. I’ve had potential readers contact me, telling me that they’re waiting. They’re motivating me to finish.

So I’ll finish.

And maybe in a few weeks or months, I’ll blog an update to this story to let everyone know what else I’ve learned.

iBooks Author and Apple’s “Evil” EULA

My response to the negative commentary.

iBooks Author IconI need to start by saying how surprised I am at the negative opinions regarding Apple’s EULA for its free app, iBooks Author (iBA). In general, the concerns can be broken down into two main areas:

  • If you plan to sell a book created with iBooks Author, you can only sell it through Apple’s iBookstore. Apparently, some people think this is Apple’s attempt to claim the rights to the content. So not only are they accused of “forcing” publishers to pay their normal 30% commission, but they’re being accused of making it impossible for the same content to be published elsewhere.
  • Apple has the right to reject any work submitted for publication on the iBookstore. This is making people accuse Apple of censorship. It’s also raising concerns about publishers spending hours preparing documents that they might not be able to sell at all.

This is typical anti-Apple fear mongering, being spread primarily by people who haven’t taken the time to look at the software, see how it works, and see some of the amazing documents it can create. I was pretty much ignoring all of it until today, when I read a post by Liz Castro titled “Ten reasons I can’t recommend or use iBooks Author.”

My Response to Liz’s Comments

I greatly respect Liz. Her HTML Visual QuickStart Guide was a major learning tool for me as I began developing websites. She has been working with ebooks for a while and should have a lot more insight on ebook publishing than I do. So when she came out so strongly against iBooks Author, I had to read what she said.

And sadly, I didn’t agree with a lot of it.

I composed a lengthy response to her 10 points. Unfortunately Blogger (her blogging platform of choice) does not accept more than 4000 characters. So I cut it in half and the first half was lost. Fortunately, I’d composed it in a text editor (so I could see her points as I addressed them) so I still had a copy. I reposted it. The result on her blog, however, is a disjointed mess.

So I thought I’d present my response here.

If you haven’t read Liz’s blog post, please read it first and come back. I’ll quote pieces of it here, but you really do need to read the whole thing to get her complete point of view.

And please don’t think this post (or my response on Liz’s blog) is an attack on Liz. It’s not. I still respect her and her opinion. I just think that she and so many others are missing the point of iBooks Author. And it really saddens me that they’re going on the offensive to attack Apple when I don’t think Apple deserves it.

1. Apple has the final say in what can be sold on the iBookstore.

I see Apple’s approval process as a GOOD thing. Right now, there’s nothing stopping anyone from publishing any crap they want as an ebook and distributing through services like Amazon Kindle. This is a far cry from publishing as we’ve known it, where only authors and works approved and edited by an experienced, professional publishing company team would be published. Apple’s review process helps weed out the crap and make its library of content more valuable to iBookstore shoppers. While some folks might be fearful that Apple will not approve their work, I’m not — and you shouldn’t be either. People who can turn out quality work should have nothing to worry about as far as the approval process goes.

Now there is some concern over Apple using this power to censor content. For example, perhaps they refuse to publish a book that says negative things about Apple or its founders. (Remember how they pulled all of a certain publisher’s books out of the Apple Store after they published an unflattering biography of Steve Jobs some years back?) I’m not terribly worried about that, but I do admit that it is a possibility. Obviously, if there are documented examples of Apple not approving something that should be approved, I’d be willing to revisit this point. For now, however, I don’t think it’s an issue.

2. It’s not at all clear how far Apple’s control of an iBA book’s content goes.

I’m certain that Apple’s ELUA does not cover the content of an ebook. For them to do that would be akin to taking copyright. I have every intention of continuing to publish my own ebooks on Kindle, NOOK, and other distribution methods/formats, as well as in print using Print on Demand. I do, however, plan to create special iBooks Editions that showcase the special features. I have absolutely no concerns about Apple trying to stop me from publishing the same content in other formats elsewhere or taking action once I do so.

3. It’s not at all clear that Apple’s exclusivity benefits kids, schools, or teachers.

No argument there.

(You need to understand that I have little or no interest in developing for the K-12 educational market, mostly because I know nothing about it. Best for experienced educators to approach that market.)

4. iBA ebooks will work only on iBooks on iPad.

I think this point gets to the reason why the exclusivity doesn’t matter. If you use iBA, you are automatically accepting the fact that what you create with it will only be usable on one platform. So where else would you sell it if not the iBookstore? Yes, this does make more work for publishers who want to take advantage of the capabilities of iBA and continue to publish elsewhere — I understand completely that this will increase my workload and I have accepted that. I think others will, too.

I don’t agree that Apple wants control of the content. They’ve created a proprietary file format — that’s all. I addressed this point earlier.

As for iBooks not supporting traditional epub — that would be a serious error on Apple’s part. I already prefer Kindle for ebooks because of its multi-device flexibility. If Apple removed flexibility from its ebook reader app, they’d only make it less attractive. I can’t see Apple being that stupid.

I do want to point out, however, that if a book I considered buying on Kindle was available as an enhanced ebook in the iBookstore for a similar price, I’d probably buy it in the iBookstore. I see that as a competitive edge for publishers willing to do that extra work.

5. It fragments the ebook ecosystem and requires new publishing tools and workflows for publishers.

Agreed — this new tool will increase the amount of work we need to do to get our content on multiple platforms.

Right now, my workflow is pretty simple: create in InDesign, export to epub for iBooks and NOOK, convert to Kindle. This is a very smooth process for me. Once I finalized content in my latest ebook, for example, I sent it to my POD printer and submitted it to Amazon, Apple, and NOOK all in one day.

When iBA came out, I immediately began converting that title to iBA format. I’ve put more than 12 hours into the process and am only half finished. I see at least 3-4 days of extra layout work for each of my titles. Is it worth it? Well, until I get a title out there and see how it sells, how will I know?

6. Apple’s iBookstore currently serves only 32 countries.

Apple’s iBookstore may serve a limited number of countries, but let’s all consider how Amazon, for example, handles royalties. If a book is sold a country other than the six or so on a special list, your royalty rate drops from 70% to 35%. Apple doesn’t screw around with the royalty rate. It is what it is. I don’t know about you, but I write and publish in English only and don’t see a huge international market for my work. So this is a non-issue for me.

7. Apple iBookstore is not that great.

Agreed. Apple’s iBookstore isn’t as good as it could be. I think that’s because of its limited market. As I mentioned earlier, even I prefer Kindle — and I’ve been a loyal Mac OS users since 1989! Apple could certainly get more people using the iBookstore if they introduced apps for more platforms and allowed cross-platform synchronization. More users would result in more reviews, more recommendations, etc. But I do agree that the whole system needs to be revamped to make it easier to use.

8. It’s bossy.

I think this is a silly point.

9. It’s unnecessary.

Not sure what you mean by this one.

10. Books are special. This is about books (for teaching our children!) which in my opinion should not be controlled by any company or government.

I really don’t agree with your concerns on this given everything I’ve said above.

A Few Parting Thoughts

I’ve read a lot of what people are saying about Apple’s “evil” EULA for iBA and although there are plenty of valid points, I think the software and its ability to create amazing books really makes most of those points moot.

I say embrace iBA as a tool to set your work apart from the competition and attract new readers. At least on a trial basis. Rather than get angry about this free software’s limitations as far as distribution goes, consider the new market it opens for you by providing an easy to use tool for taking ebooks to the next level.

Remember — technology continues to move forward. This may be a great tool for today, but who knows what will come up in a month or two? Perhaps new epub standards will emerge with universal support, making something like iBA completely worthless.

That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

The Ebook (R)evolution

I summarize how I see the growth of ebook publishing — and what it means to me.

I’ve been writing traditional print books since 1990 — that’s just over 20 years. In that 20 years, I’ve seen massive growth and changes in the publishing industry. But none of the changes I’ve witnessed were as dramatic as those I’ve seen in the past four years.

My History in Publishing

I got in on the ground floor of the computer how-to book field in 1990. When I started, it soon became obvious that if I wanted to make a living as a writer, I’d have to write a lot of books. (You see, contrary to popular belief, most authors do not make a lot of money writing.) So I buckled down and started churning them out as fast as I got contracts. For years, I wrote or revised an average of two to six books annually. I clearly remember the day I received six book contracts at once; soon after that, I put out ten titles in one year.

Mac OS 8 VIsual QuickStart Guide
My first bestseller, published in 1997.

It was the advance money that paid the bills. In the beginning, I supplemented that with consulting and classroom training income from hourly or per diem contract work. In 1997, I wrote my first bestseller and, amazingly, in 1998, I wrote another. Revisions on those two books — as well as the new and other revised titles I churned out — earned me a good income and a secure position as a computer how-to book author.

But just as my career took off, so did the Internet. By around 2005, the Internet was offering a lot of free — although often not very complete or well-written — information about how to use computers. Just the the kind of content I was writing — although I like to think I was doing a better job of it. Quality didn’t matter on the Internet; convenience did. If you were working with Excel and needed to perform a task you didn’t know how to do, would you drop everything, run out to a bookstore, and buy a book? Or just do an online search for the information and hope for the best? And why pay for a huge hunk of information when you can get just the information you need for free?

As more and more computer-related content came online, the demand for my books — and I can only assume the books of other authors like me — began to decline. Titles that I’d been revising with every new version of software released were allowed to die, unrevised. The last version of Word I wrote about was 2004; the last version of Excel was 2007. The surviving titles earned out their advance, but often just barely. And with publishers putting out fewer and fewer titles, it was no longer possible to fill in the revenue gap by simply writing more books. There weren’t enough new titles to go around.

The Rise of Ebooks…and their Shortcomings

Of course, while all this was happening, ebooks began to emerge as a real challenger to traditional print publishing. Although ebook readers had been around for a while, it was the Kindle and iPad that put ebooks on the map. But even before this, people had begun reading books in PDF and even HTML format on their computers.

I saw this trend and wanted to jump on board. Maybe it’s because I was simply enthralled by the technology and the idea of being able to travel so easily with books. Or maybe I’d seen the writing on the wall, a sort of foreshadowing of the death of print publishing.

I think it was in January 2008 that I traveled to Macworld Expo in San Francisco and met with my publisher. It was a lunch meeting with two editors and the person in charge of their ebook distribution method. At the time, their ebook publishing consisted of taking specially formatted PDF versions of books and making them available as heavily DRM (digital rights management) protected PDFs and online-accessible files. Their solution introduced several problems:

  • The Adobe DRM they used put too many restrictions on an ebook file. I was actually contacted directly by a reader who had bought one of my books and was frustrated by her inability to read it on her PDF reader of choice or transfer it to a different computer.
  • The online solution required an active — and relatively fast — connection to the Internet. If you didn’t have an Internet connection, you couldn’t read the book. I don’t know about you, but when I buy a book, I want to be able to read it anywhere.
  • The ebooks were not formatted for onscreen viewing. Because the ebooks were basically PDF versions of existing books in their normal (portrait view) layout, viewing the books on a computer’s (landscape view) display — especially a small display, like a laptop’s — made it difficult to see an entire page at a time with print large enough to read. This meant the reader had to combine scrolling and paging to get through a page of text and images. (Remember, tablet computers and, for the most part, compatible ebook readers did not exist yet.)
  • All images were in black and white. Why? Because that’s how they appeared in the print book. Instead of reformatting for ebook production, they simply generated a PDF from the files they had. (I should mention here that if the print book was in color, the ebook would also be in color; the vast majority of my books were not in color.)
  • Ebooks were priced the same — or nearly the same — as their print book counterparts. So not only were readers expected to accept a completely unsatisfactory reading experience, but they were expected to pay about the same as they would for a paper book.
  • Ebooks, once published, were widely available on pirate Web sites. The irony of this did not escape me. People who had paid for the book had trouble reading it, but people who tracked down an illegally distributed copy of the book had no problems at all.

Needless to say, the ebook versions of my books — and the books of all the other authors I’d spoken to — were selling very poorly. I felt that a change needed to be made. I felt that my publisher — a company that had been started by a man with a vision — was bogged down by old technology, old ideas, and fear. They were trying to use print concepts to publish electronically and were paranoid about piracy.

So at that lunch meeting, I introduced my solution. It had several components:

  • Break down the content of a book into modular pieces, each of which would contain several related chapters from the book. I took my current Mac OS title, which was selling like crazy, and broke it into five or six topic-based books and presented them with an outline.
  • Format each book for the best onscreen reading experience — which, in those days, was landscape view, like a computer monitor’s screen.
  • Take advantage of ebook features, like hypertext links to other content in the book or on the Web.
  • Include color images for all books — not just the color ones. After all, why not? It doesn’t cost more.
  • Do away with DRM. The reader should have a positive experience and be able to read the book wherever he or she wanted to, on any compatible device, with any PDF reader software.
  • Price the book low. I suggested $5 tops. The idea was that people weren’t buying the whole book, they were buying the modular components they needed. If they bought all five or six ebooks that made up my entire printed book they’d wind up paying nearly the same as the printed book anyway.
  • Stop worrying about piracy. Honest people will pay a reasonable amount for an ebook. Pirates are not the kind of people who would buy books anyway.

To help make my point, I actually prepared a chapter of my existing book as a PDF in the format I imagined. I showed it to my lunch companions on my MacBook Pro. There was no need to scroll; every page was complete and filled the screen. Every word was perfectly legible onscreen. The screenshots looked great. And clickable links led to cross-referenced content. Best of all, I was able to create this version of the book in a few hours of layout work in InDesign, once I’d come up with a good template.

Sounds like I should have sold them on it, right?

Wrong. Although the once small and innovative company had been started by a man with a vision, it was now part of a huge, slow-moving (think plant-eating dinosaur) publishing conglomerate. They weren’t interested in new ideas or new ways of doing things. All they apparently wanted was to cling to the same old print publishing standards and ideas that they’d been using for decades.

In my mind, it was like continuing to rely on monks as scribes after the introduction of moveable type.

Maybe, in the back of management’s minds, they were hoping their failure to make ebooks palatable to readers would cause the whole ebook concept to fail. After all, people had been talking about ebooks for years and there were more than a few failed ebook devices. Maybe this new trend would go the way of the others and they could sink back into the oblivion on their old ways without another thought about this newfangled ebook idea.

They apparently didn’t foresee the Kindle, NOOK, or iPad.

Ebook Readers that People Want

First Generation KindleFirst Generation Kindle

The Amazon Kindle was first released in November 2007. It wasn’t a very impressive device. Small, awkward, and only able to display 16 shades of gray, I found it completely unappealing. Just another entry into the ebook device market.

Fortunately for Amazon, there were plenty of people more impressed than I was and they sold enough of them to keep developing newer, more impressive models. Today’s Kindle Fire is almost a tablet computer, making it a huge leap forward from that original clunky device.

But what Amazon really got right — and what I think supercharged the ebook publishing movement — is that it:

  • Embraced a standard (almost) ebook format, MOBI. Amazon bought MobiPocket in 2005 and uses a version of its ebook format for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This format adjusts page layout so scrolling is never necessary — and enables readers to customize (with limitations) the font and font size.
  • Released Kindle reader apps for desktop and mobile computing devices. These apps allow readers to keep a copy of a book on up to five devices and automatically synchronizes last point read, highlights, and notes. Yes, you can start reading a book on your laptop and easily pick up where you left off on your cellphone, while waiting in line for Chinese takeout.
  • Made it extremely easy for anyone to publish a book of any length with virtually any content. Now the wannabe novelist can be a published novelist, all without getting a publisher or agent involved. This brings more books to the market, giving readers more choices. Best of all, with these new publishers determining prices and being able to keep 35% or 70% of the retail price (vs. 8% to 20% of the wholesale price), they’re pricing books low (or even free) to move more copies. That benefits readers, who can now afford to buy more books.

So Amazon set the stage with Kindle books. Kindle owners and ebook enthusiasts — people like me interested in the portability of ebook format — stepped up to purchase Kindle books. When it looked as if ebooks might actually thrive this time around, other organizations took notice. In addition to a new crop of ebook readers by personal electronics makers, Barnes & Noble released the NOOK and Apple developed the iPad’s ebook reader platform, iBooks.

Fast-Forward to Today

On May 19, 2011, Amazon.com, the biggest bookseller in the world, announced that it was now selling more ebooks than print books.

To the dinosaurs of print publishing, this must have looked a bit like a meteor coming out of the sky.

While the statistics seem pretty solid and do exclude free ebooks (as they should), they likely do include the huge number of extremely cheap ebooks — those selling for 99¢ or even less. This is throwaway money — the kind of money some people spend without thinking about. I think this lessens the impact of the announcement. After all, “real” publishers aren’t going to sell anything for 99¢. Indeed, it’s difficult to get them to release a book at Amazon’s preferred price point of $9.99.

But what does the announcement tell us about ebook publishing? It tells me that ebooks have a large, viable market. And as technology moves forward, that market will grow. (After all, how many books are being hand-copied by scribes these days?)

Sadly it doesn’t seem as if my print publishers are interested in making the most of this development in ebook publishing. They continue to sell my books in a variety of PDF-based formats — including that online format they were using years ago. While some titles are available in the Kindle (Amazon) and iBooks (Apple iTunes) stores, the series I write doesn’t translate well to those formats. The resulting reading experience is disappointing, to say the least. Books are selling better, but certainly not good enough to have much hope for the future with existing author/publisher relationships.

Embracing the Revolution

Yet as a writer, I’m embracing the ebook revolution.

Like other writers, I see ebooks as a way to get my original content out to readers quickly and easily — without being at the mercy of decision-makers within huge publishing organizations.

But unlike most other writers, I have the benefit of experience at not only writing and editing, but publishing. For years, I’ve been writing and laying out my own books — books that, for the most part, are very lightly edited or revised by my publishers before they appear in print. I know how to write cover copy, how to assign ISBNs, how to register copyright. I know how to market my work. I can publish professionally produced content because — let’s face it — I’m a professional writer.

Making Movies book coverThe first book in the new Maria’s Guides series.

So I’ve begun publishing my own series of books computer how-to books, Maria’s Guides, which utilizes ebook publishing formats as well as print on demand for people who still want books in print. The first title, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, was published in October 2011 and the second title (to be announced) will be available shortly.

The design and execution of this series is based, in part, on my proposal to my print publisher years ago:

  • Short books. Each title will be 50 to 200 printed pages in length.
  • Low price. Ebooks will be 99¢ to $4.99; printed books will be $7.99 to $11.99. Length and topic determine pricing.
  • Good format. Book design works well both in print and onscreen. Ebook formats utilize hyperlinks for clickable cross-references.

I see this as a way of supporting existing readers of my work by updating the content found in books my publishers have elected not to revise. I also see it as a way of attracting new readers interested in learning the the things they need to know without spending a lot of time digging through online resources that may or may not address their questions.

You can learn more about Maria’s Guides on the Maria’s Guides website. Right now, this site provides support for all of my books, but I’m likely to move support for my other titles to another website later this year.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to know what you think about the ebook (r)evolution and the opportunities it presents to writers. Share your comments on this post. Let’s get a discussion going.