Tuesday, March 19, 2013

7 Things We Learned About ePublishing

On April 12, just over three weeks from now, there will be a publishing conference at UMD. The event has been dubbed “21st-Century Publishing: Industry, Media, and the Future of Print." Having dipped my toe into the shallow end of the ePublishing pool, I'm looking forward to catching a close up peek at where publishing is today and where it's headed tomorrow

My first foray into ePublishing was in 2011. I'd determined that year to publish some of my stories and The Red Scorpion, a novel I'd labored over for the course of many years and failed to find a home for. Enter TJ Lind, a high school sophomore who became jazzed at the notion of starting a ePublishing business. By November four books were now available on Kindle, Nook and in the Apple store. 

Here are some of the lessons we learned from that experience.  

1. Conversion software can be frustrating.
Writing a book using your favorite word processing program is only the beginning. You still need to convert the manuscript into a specialized form for eBook readers, and it isn't quite as easy as it looks. For a couple of the books we launched, over-hurriedly, the final day involved numerous iterations which TJ would format, email to me and I would review. Sometimes the revisions he made would "take" and sometimes they would not. It can be a tedious process but you have to review every single line every single time if you care about the quality of the final product.

2. Learning time management is essential. 
Both TJ and I are very busy. In addition to being a full-time high school student, he has the same full life of most teens his age, which includes a job, friends, and other interests. One of his interests is the Proctor DECA program, which is how our paths crossed. Currently he is planning a run for International DECA President, which is simply one more thing he's added to his plate for the year. And with my own host of activities, including a full time career in advertising, my free time outside the office is fairly chewed up as well. The key for every collaborating team is to learn the others' rhythms.

3. Fast communication is easy, but accuracy is also needful. 
It's so easy to send a lot of quick snippets and messages these days. But a book needs the same patient attention as ever before, and you just can't ignore this.

4. eBooks can be corrected after they are in print.
The Red Scorpion was a major undertaking. And I'm embarrassed by how many errors slipped through the cracks. At one point I asked TJ to change Mr. Harris to Mr. Henley near the end of the book. For some reason the software inserted Mr.HenleyMr.HenleyMr.Henley in the place of Mr. Harris. Fortunately, an early reader caught this and we corrected the online version of the book. Unfortunately, for the sake of the September book launch party we had fifty copies printed, all of which had this funny Mr. Henley in triplicate. Maybe this erratum will make these original 50 books more collectible some day, though I doubt it. It's just embarrassing.

5. Market research helps. 
While preparing for the novel's launch we had designed two different versions of the cover. When we produced the 50 printed versions we weren't sure which book cover to use. I liked TJ's version with the haunted house, and he liked the original with the red scorpion that I painted. We printed 25 of each to see which one the public would prefer at our launch. The scorpion covers were favored 3 to 1.

6 The economics of printed material is a problem. 
Even with today's print-on-demand options, it's still going to require an outlay of capital to print books. Then there's shipping, storage, and marketing. If you go the traditional route of printing a total run, you have to print a large volume to get your cost per book down to something reasonable. And then there's distribution. It's not as simple as putting up a book stand at the bagel shop.

7. It's gratifying.
It's gratifying to see your eBook on Amazon.com. That's the amazing part. Your book or books can be listed, purchased and reviewed in the same way as George Plimpton's or Hemingway's, Conrad's and Ogilvy's. There is a perceived legitimacy right off. This doesn't mean your books will automatically sell. You still have to get the word out.

Currently TJ and I have several books in the docket for 2013. I'll keep you posted here as things develop.

In the meantime, if you're a writer interested in publishing, check out the April 12 conference at UMD.

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