Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Too Many Books Being Published?

Recently I posted that Createspace was taking longer than normal. They process 1,500 books every day – 365 days a year. And, that was a figure from 2016! I would assume it’s even larger now.

I also saw an article on one of the blogs I follow, sort of under the topic of “there are too many books being published” - a topic I run across once in a while. From the article:
  • Title: “No, you probably don’t have a book in you”
  • Subtitle: “A literary agent on why your good story isn’t likely to be a bestseller.”
  • “Every story is not a book.”
  • “Publishing is a retail industry, not a meritocracy.”
  • “Writing is hard.”
  • “You can tell a story to anyone who’s willing to listen. But writing a book that people will pay money for or take a trip to the library to read, requires an awareness few storytellers have. It is not performance, not a one-person show. It’s a relationship with the reader, who’s often got one foot out the door.”
Read the entire article...

Harsh words. But, haven’t we all read books that seem to be stuffed with filler that should really have been short stories at best?

I’m not posting this to discourage anyone from writing, trying to get an agent of publisher, or self-publishing. I do implore you to tell the story, and let it fall where it may. Don’t force it to fit the expectations of a genre. If it ends up a 5,000 word short story, so be it. If it ends up a 150,000 word epic – ditto. There is a place for both in publishing today.

Problems With Third-Party Sellers on Amazon

Harold Walker’s latest book, The Grotto, recently went online at Amazon for $19.99. But, something weird happened. Before his Amazon listing was available, a third-party outfit called Prepbooks offered his book for $27.34 on Amazon! How did they get online before Harold’s own listing got online? One person, that Harold knows of, bought the book at this price. Equally mysterious, when the Amazon listing came online at $19.99 (within an hour or so of the Prepbooks listing), the Prepbooks $27.34 listing disappeared! I never really solved that mystery, but third-party sales of your books are an issue that you should be aware of.

I checked the Amazon and Createspace forums for information on this and the vast majority of posts said to chill – that for self-publishers like us this isn’t that big an issue. The third-party will buy the book from Amazon, you will get your royalty (on your list price, not their price) and ship your book to the buyer. (Note: It does appear that is what happened yesterday with Harold’s book – there is a sale recorded.) However, a couple of issues still loom. First, one of your dear readers, or a friend, might overpay for your book. That stinks. Worse yet, the third-party listing might say “Out of Stock” - since they technically are, and that might make people not order your book.

I also found some articles online about this issue, but it’s a much bigger deal for the big 5 publishers than us. Apparently these third-party outfits are getting their hands on returned books from bookstores and selling them as new online. Then, the publisher and author gets nothing. That doesn’t happen to our books because we don’t have large inventories or returns to deal with. (Though piracy may occur sometimes.)

What to do? First, make sure when you advertise your book to include the price. That way people will not be so inclined to overpay. Encourage your readers to buy either directly from you (at a reading or event) or directly from Amazon – NOT through third parties. When they click the Buy button on Amazon, it says who they are buying from. Lots of people probably don't look, but we should encourage them to pay attention. Here’s how it shakes out:
  1. You buy at author cost and sell yourself: even with shipping, depending on what you sell it for – you’ll probably make the most profit.
  2. Direct from Amazon. Usually at least 3 – 4 TIMES the royalty you make at expanded distribution.
  3. Expanded distribution: you make the least royalty. This includes third-party sellers and places like Ingram – that bookstores order from.

You could opt out of expanded distribution, which would lock out third-party sellers. But by doing this you also lock your book out of Ingram and other legitimate distributors. If your book is not likely to be carried by bookstores, then there is little downside. I took my sole book out of expanded distribution just on principle. It’s a short 52 page book that will never see a bookstore unless I put it there.

Here are some of the articles I read about this, but remember they are whining mostly about the large publishers and I have a difficult time feeling sorry for them:

Monday, July 30, 2018

Words From the Past

"The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone.

The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of the literary aesthetes and drawing-room heroes.

Aldoph Hitler – Mein Kampf

Italicized emphasis added by me.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Financial Headlines

I read a bunch of blogs every weekday. Most of them are about the publishing world, but I also follow some financial related ones. Today's headlines are ominous:

  • Stock outflows swell as investors seek refuge in bonds
  • Housing market looks headed for its worst slowdown in years
  • U.S. jobless claims rebound from more than 48-and-a-half-year low
  • Nightmarish profit warnings have Detroit reliving bad old days
tRump: "Trade wars are good, and easy to win."

Maybe not so much. He's hurting our country. Please get out and vote in November so that our system of checks and balances can work again!

Winding Down Createspace | Impressions of KDP Print

I read that Amazon has announced that they are closing the Createspace DVD/CD Production component and switching everyone to Amazon Media on Demand. Amazon previously shut down the Createspace Publishing Services group (the people that would format the book for you) and started KDP Print. I think it's obvious Amazon will shut down the rest of Createspace soon.

At Createspace, you submit your book files and then wait for them to review them prior to ordering, or viewing, a proof. Historically the review process has taken 24 hours or less. The last two books I've submitted (one last week, one this week) have taken closer to 36 hours. I went on the Createspace forums and saw that I'm not the only one to have experienced this. Either they are extremely busy (on average they process 1,500 books every day - 7 days a week) or they have moved people to KDP Print and there are fewer people available to process the Createspace submissions. While I have no facts to back this up, I suspect the latter is probably the case. It only makes sense.

I combined my two published ebooks into one book to try out KDP Print. Here are my impressions:
  • The specs for the PDFs, both the interior and the cover, appear to be exactly the same. I also evaluated a new tool in this process, but I didn't have to change anything in regards to margins, bleed considerations, sizing the cover...
  • The screens are different, but they ask for the same information. 
  • The flow is different. At Createspace you submit your files and then they review them prior to ordering your proof. At KDP Print, you must review your book digitally and click "Approve" prior to being given the option to order a physical proof. Not a bad idea really, it's just different. You can order a physical proof prior to clicking the Publish button. The review process, however, happens after you click the Publish button - a difference from Createspace. I think I'd rather they conduct their review prior to me spending money on a printed proof, but we're the publishers and the burden is on us to do the book right.  It's hard to complain when they aren't charging us a penny for the whole process. 
  • The review process at KDP Print happened in about 12 hours for the first review. They discovered a mistake I made in the book's header. I fixed it and the second review happened in about 2 hours. I don't think that this timing will necessarily continue as the vast majority of self-publishers are still using Createspace, but I was pleased. The KDP Print screen says the review can take up to 72 hours, so we'll see what happens once Createspace is shut down. After getting the OK I clicked Publish. I ordered some copies. I haven't seen them yet, but I would bet they use the same printing facilities as CS, so I don't expect the quality will be any different.
  • I had some difficulty selecting Expanded Distribution when I initially loaded my book. It would not let me, but it gave me no message - it just didn't work. However, after publishing I selected it and it worked fine. Perhaps I wasn't allowed to select that prior to publishing, but it should either not be an option or tell me what's going on.
  • I also submitted the ebook version of my new work. I really liked that. I didn't have to sign out of Createspace and sign into KDP to accomplish everything, it all happened in one session very smoothly. 

So far, I would be fine with putting a new client on KDP Print. I might change my mind after I see my printed books, but I doubt that there will be a problem. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

New Tools for Self-Publishing

I've been using Scrivener for ebook design since I started doing it 6 years ago. When I began doing printed books I used Microsoft Word. For a long time, if a client wanted both printed and ebook I'd have two source files to maintain if post-publishing changes were needed. I liked the extra control I got from Scrivener for the ebook process (though I had to use Sigil to get the table of contents just right), but could not get the Createspace formatting done through Scrivener.

Now, Amazon has come out with Kindle Creator. I can convert a Word document formatted for print, without removing the headers, footers and special formatting (e.g., drop caps). It works quite well. You can choose from a few themes to give your Kindle version a really nice look. The only downside: no EPUB file, which clients are more and more asking for.

I've also become unhappy with the way Word handles images. I have to go to what I consider ridiculous lengths to get my PDFs to contain images at 300 dpi or better. Word has a couple of settings where you can tell it not to compress images, but the Save As PDF option seems to ignore that. I tried third-party PDF printer software, but my PC began to shut down, completely, randomly. I uninstalled those programs and no problems since. I felt like I was screwed!

Some friends recommended Adobe's InDesign, but it's expensive and I'm cheap. I considered Acrobat too, but with the PC crashing issue I thought that would be a bad idea.

I read online that some formatters were happy with Libre Office. First, it's open source and free! So far, the Writer program has worked out great.

  • Page styles work just like Word's sections, giving me the control I need over headers, footers and page numbering.
  • Text and paragraph styles work the same as Word.
  • Images put in at 300 dpi stay at 300 dpi after the export to PDF - without any third-party PDF converters!
  • The export to EPUB works great too. I don't have to remove all the print formatting! I still need to use Sigil to tweak the table of contents, and the Kindle Previewer to create the .mobi file.

One source document and I get all three: PDFs for print with the images done right, EPUB and .mobi files. I'm sure I'll discover some things I don't like, but so far I'm quite pleased.

July 31 update: I discovered that the export to EPUB does not support images. Normally this isn't a problem, but sometimes it is. Supposedly, the 6.1 version, due out August 12th, does support this. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Happened to the Internet?

It had so much promise. I was a true believer, in both the power of the internet and self-publishing to free us from the shackles of the gatekeepers. It hasn't turned out the way I had hoped.

The internet has morphed from a decentralized collection of authors and ideas to an advertising medium dominated by a few huge players: Facebook, Twitter, Google and some smaller players. I do believe some people think Facebook IS the internet now. I read an article in Vanity Fair recently about this very topic. In it, Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the worldwide web, expressed some regret:

"Berners-Lee understood how the epic power of the Web would radically transform governments, businesses, societies. He also envisioned that his invention could, in the wrong hands, become a destroyer of worlds, as Robert Oppenheimer once infamously observed of his own creation."

"'The increasing centralization of the Web, he says, has “ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human.'”

"The power of the Web wasn’t taken or stolen. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways."
Read the entire article.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Not All People Suck

On Wednesday, July 18th, I posted that the The Trolley Museum in Elgin, Illinois was vandalized by two punks aged 11 and 13! The estimated damage is around $100,000. As of this morning (and I take absolutely no credit for this), they have received $16,120 in donations to help fix the damage the kids caused. So, obviously, some people are cool. I always knew train-people were some of the nicest people around. If you have even more money to spare, you can go to https://www.gofundme.com/fox-river-trolley-museum and help them out.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

More Proof People Suck

The Trolley Museum in Elgin, Illinois was vandalized by two punks aged 11 and 13! The estimated damage is around $100,000! They are a great little train museum staffed by all volunteer train geeks (disclosure for those who haven't figured it out already: I'm a train geek!).

From the Chicago Tribune / Elgin Courier News:

"'I have a lot of different emotions (about what happened),' Konecki said in an emailed response about his reaction to the vandalism. 'Yes, anger, but even more (I feel) confusion, sorrow and hurt, wondering what drove children to do such a thing. Did the museum offend them (in some way) that we don't know about? I feel bad that alleged vandals wanted to destroy instead of build and create. There is so much to do that young people could participate in along with their parents. The museum is a group of volunteers that wants to both preserve the past and create a family experience where people can relive part of the past of the Chicago area and the Fox River Valley.'"

The people who run the trolley museum set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to fix the damage: https://www.gofundme.com/fox-river-trolley-museum. If you have a little extra money to spare, consider giving them some help. I did.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Climate Change: Will We Ever Do Anything?

I saw this quote in an article today:

“We didn’t trigger climate change on purpose. It was an accident. Any technological civilization that evolves on any planet cannot help but trigger climate change. Climate change is not our fault. Not doing something about it — that will be our fault.”

-- Astrophysicist Adam Frank

It seems the right-wing wants to deny it even exists - they do this by discrediting the scientists, even science itself! That's a loser attitude. The right-wing war against facts, against science, against expertise has to be squelched. We can use our brains to apply better technology to try and mitigate the effects of climate change, even if it's too late to stop it altogether. Let's get started.

Read the entire article.

Learned Something New: Railroad Drumheads

I went to the Monticello Railroad Museum Saturday, July 7. It was a perfect day and I had a great time. They had a display of railroad drumheads. I had never heard the term before. These things were placed on the back of passenger trains to identify them. They were also lit so they would be visible at night. I suppose they were valuable to railroad personnel - it might have been a way to know which train was what, but I imagine they were also used as advertising. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but they were about 2 feet in diameter.

I like the idea of naming trains. I also thought they were beautiful as art - simple, bold, my kind of graphic design!

Beautiful Fall Day

It's a beautiful fall day here in Illinois. Seen on the Fox River Trail