Tuesday, October 25, 2011

From Author to Publisher: The Future of Books

Today I begin my promised series on the future of publishing, especially bringing out an author's backlist into e-books and also the prospect of self-publishing. It's hot news, the fact that publishing is in such flux with the proliferation of author-to-publisher opportunities on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook. In fact, there's a fascinating article in the 10.25.2011 edition of The New York Times with a lot of savvy commentary from authors about self-publishing at this link:

And having just brought my own two out-of-print novels back into e-books, I want to share with my readers this exciting but often laborious process. The pitfalls and the possibilities. 

First, for those authors who have already published books but seen them languish in publisher's backlist or haunting themselves on Internet shelves where no one ever sees them anymore, don't despair. These books can be reborn as e-books. I just reissued DUCK AND COVER, my New York Times "Notable Book of the Year," which was a critical success. In 2003, I was one of the first authors to publish in paperback via the Author's Guild BackinPrint.com program.

e-book is now available on Amazon.com at this link:

But in paperback, royalties were as minimal as hardback publication, 10 or 15%. It was the old publishing model with the author receiving very little. When I started tracking the 70% royalties available via Kindle, iBooks, and Nook, I decided to venture into the publishing business myself. Here's what I've learned:

                 E-Book Formatting: Don't Listen to the Ads

All the technologies have changed so quickly that a Quark format from Adobe's InDesign, which most publishers used for many books, now must be translated into either WORD or pdf before it can become an e-book. 

There are two main e-book formats. The first, used by Amazon, and the easiest, is MoBI. The second, used by iBooks and Barnes and Noble, Nook, is e-pub format. If you remember nothing else about this first blog on e-books and self-publishing, remember this: Don't translate into e-book formats yourself!

Even though all the e-book publishers advertise that it's easy to translate your WORD or pdf files, you'll soon discover when the book goes up for sale that it is full of weird font problems and spacing gaffes. Sometimes there is dropped copy and unintelligible squiggles that look like an alien landed right in the middle of your story. 

Trying to get a lower cost for e-book translations led me to several very quaint and courteous conversations with e-book formatting entrepreneurs around the world, especially in India. While their emails were polite and professional, most of them were full of grammatical errors. And though they offered formatting at prices as low as .25 per page, this did not include hand or "human" proofing. It would all be done by machines. The chances of errors goes up exponentially.

After much research, and more than a little bewildering exchanges, I finally found myself on an online forum via Digital Book World on Linked in. Digital Book World Group

I've never in my life been in a chat room. But suddenly I found myself conversing with total strangers about formats, pricing for e-books, and cover designs. My author peers and some small, independent publishers were extraordinarily helpful. It felt like writers had at last found a kind of union -- all organized around How To.

Another forum that was helpful was on Linked In, which has a very lively conversation about e-books and the future of self-publishing -- everything from children's books to YA to memoirists.

It was through Digital Book World that I discovered one of the very best e-book formatters -- Data Conversion Laboratory at www.dclab.com

 They do e-book formatting for Amazon.com. When I contacted them by e-mail, they set up a phone call with real, live people. They informed me that they not only translate from Quark, pdf., scanned pdfs, and WORD, but they also proof with a hands-on process.

In about two weeks, DC Labs sent me my beautifully formatted novels in both MOBI and e-pub. I hired a professional proofreader, just to make sure they had translated the book well. I found only two errors in over 300 pages. This is quality work! I give them my highest recommendation.

But then what? I had the inside of my book ready to publish. But what about the outside? That little thumbnail cover that appears on your computer screen. The first thing a potential reader sees? Again, even though Amazon, iBooks, and Nook offer you a fairly inscrutable process to create your own cover -- please don't do it yourself!Stay tuned for my next blog in this continuing series -- Cover design. 

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