Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to Drive Yourself Sane - Checklist for Self-Publlshing

It's easier to plan things out and work your plan, especially when publishing many books at once.

(photocredit: Seattle Municipal Archives)

(I've been owing you an update to "Just Publish!" [see links above right] - and this isn't a complete one, but it's a step in that direction. Note: this will be looong - and will ultimately wind up as a chapter, or replacing a chapter in that book. Get a cup of your favorite beverage...)

First rule to know:

1. You feed your stomach by publishing. You feed your soul by writing.

Note the differences.
  • Writing keeps you happy, contented. 
  • Publishing keeps you fed, a roof over your head, clothes on your back - and trinkets for your spouse.
Your Job, should you decide to accept this, is to get your work published and marketed to the world.

Your Bliss is writing the stories within you - so you can get them published and marketed to the world. 

Don't confuse the two. Both are necessary. Both have their disciplines.

Stephen King, in his "On Writing", used his most inspired times to write - which was the morning for him. In the afternoon, he answered emails and did the mundane. At night, he read books - which set him up for more inspiration for the following morning. 

So you write, you publish, you veg-out. The three actions any writer does.

This post is about how you publish.

When I started writing, I knew I had something to say - and kept writing until it all came out. Then started again the next day.

I write my most inspired stuff in the early am, often before breakfast, or right after.

Then I work on the farm, checking animals, fixing fence, etc. After lunch, I come back to my computer and do what's on my docket for the day, which is often publishing. (If I do have something inspired which is incomplete, then I'll come back to it and peck away mid-morning over my second cup of coffee before I get back to the farm work.)

In my life, the farm keeps me fed and a roof over my head. My publishing buys me clothes and trinkets.

When I sorted out that I could make a living from publishing and never again had to work for anyone, I quit working for anyone and looked around to see what else I could publish. Lots easier discovering what was deposited in my accounts each month than having to do dull, repetitious, dumb work which went no where. I play at life now, and get paid for it even better than having a JOB. Big difference.)

Some tests I did found that both Public Domain (PD) and Public Licensed Rights (PLR) texts sold well for very little time invested. (PLR -  think generic peanut butter anyone can slap a house-brand label on.)

You might think this sacrilege, but I found while my own books were appreciated, I needed to do substantially more work in marketing them - and I needed to study more about marketing. Meanwhile, I needed money for trinkets while I did these studies.  So it's a logical step to arrange things so that I can go back to "school" while continuing to have income meanwhile.

Real World Marketing

The first basic I learned is that every book has a market, and every market is a niche. No one market fits all.

When you pick up PD or PLR books, you are not just figuring that it's going to make you money simply because you are re-publishing it. Right now, there is a bit of a Gold Rush in getting books converted to digital versions, but most of this is already out there. Public Domain isn't liked by Amazon  or Smashwords because so many people are working at trying to get their version of some classic up for sale. 

Similarly with PLR - most of these have been around for years.

The trick is to discover a profitable niche and then provide that niche with value. 

Classics continue to sell well because 
a) they are damned good books, which inspire and entertain, and 
b) they've been well-marketed in the past.

The value of bringing these back to life is in 
1) A better quality edition - more accessible.
2) A better price (more value) as it's become a commodity of sorts, and you compete on pricing.
3) Access to valuable related materials (thank the "also-bought" and "related" algorithms.)

My SEO background says that I can add value by producing web sites for these books which enable someone to find all the "greatest hits" by that author in one place - a website which also then sends people to their distributor of choice in order to find related books. That such a website could be grown to enable anyone to join a membership of like-minded people where they'd welcome receiving related offers.

Right now, the main thing with most of these classics is that they are being poorly re-marketed, with drab covers, poor descriptions, and high prices in order to discourage readers. Converting these to quality ebooks at low prices and marketing them freshly as if said author is a new rising star - that is what people want. (Apply John Locke publishing theory without the scamming he did. Think 99 cent classics - all you can download.)

PLR is the same point, but in reverse. Peole are searching on the Internet for certain keywords in order to find solutions. You provide these with ebooks that they can find on Google Play or iTunes - and then they'll be able to find your site where you have related books and other offers. 

Or so the theory goes. 

My own work right now is to build a backbench of consistently-selling books so that I can then afford the time to get the websites and membership sites built for these niches. (Which is the subject of another post on a different blog.)

What to do with several dozen books to publish?

Now I can start to explain the assembly line basis for publishing books. 

I don't expect you to follow in my footsteps - only to just tell you that the below sequence has proved rather efficient. Pushing all these through has brought home what works and what doesn't.

To End Right, Start Right

OK, say you only have a half-dozen books you want to publish. These could be stuff you wrote years ago, or repurposing your blogs - or you found some really great books which have been out of print for years, but you know some people who would buy them...

You want to assembly line this, so you aren't bouncing around all over the place and getting nothing done.

The steps below we get done for every book you want to publish:

While you can work in about any word-processor, I work on Linux - so this means a cross between  a text-only editor (gedit is my choice) and LibreOffice (aka OpenOffice).  The easiest way to export a file to both epub and PDF is Libre/Open Office.

Note: This is a Lulu.com-centered process - because they work cheaply and fast. Cheap meaning it costs you only your time - which is like the rest of the programs below. We are going to use the lowest common denominator here in order to make it simple. If it can post to Lulu as an epub, you can post it anywhere - that will take that type of content, anyway.

1. Get your text cleaned up and all your chapter titles assigned either H1 or H2 headings. Make sure your body text is all one style, preferably a default one. Really, this doesn't have to be more than that. Your epub won't have (or have to have) special formatting to display on any smart phone.

2. Use GIMP to create a stylish, attractive cover - or pay someone to do this for you. 
The specs on this from Lulu say at least 612 x 792 pixels and at least 72 DPI. (If you don't know what these are, it's a good thing you're paying someone to do your cover - or have time to learn.)

But you have an option for larger files, since their default (and Apple's preference) is much larger.

3. Open up the LibreOffice properties dialog and fill in all these blanks.

4. Using the Writer2Epub plug-in for LibreOffice, get ready to export this into your epub. You'll see there is now a place for your cover image and some other blanks. Make sure you fill all of these out - most of them are in your properties - so you can simply copy/paste all these into your text editor, as you can't have two dialog boxes open at the same time on LibreOffice.

5. Now - go ahead and export your epub.

6. Open your new epub up in Sigil. What you want to do first is to create a new table of contents (under Tools) and it's also suggested you remove unused style sheets. iTunes and BandN are sticky about details, so just go ahead and do these - take my word for it.

7. Open up Calibre and have it add your book. Here, you again need to open up the MetaEditor and check all the spaces to make sure you've filled out everything there. Calibre will keep everything organized for you - just copy/paste from there.

While we are on this subject, read this Lulu notice: 

The first letter of all words in the title, subtitle and author name should be capitalized, except for the following words: a, an, and, for, from, of, or, the, to. The first and last word of the title and subtitle should always be capitalized.

Besides using anything besides H1 and H2 headings, this is the most common reject. Learn these nine words - memorize them until you notice them everywhere in titles. It's a good idea to simply put all your content into this format to save you later on.  Saves time and frustration.  (H3 and lower headings got eliminated late last year some time. No biggie. But it took some hours of forum searching and test submissions to find that using anything besides H1 and/or H2 would cause all sorts of mysterious rejects.)

Another minor point is to use the same punctuation in your title as on your cover. (See Lulu's "Top 10 Reject Reasons.")

Next in Sigil, do the epubcheck and fix anything that comes up - until it gives you a "No Problems Found" signal. Then save it once again - and you're ready with that book.

- - - - 

Do the above seven steps with all books you are publishing now.

A note on descriptions

The 1000 characters that Lulu gives you should be enough. Yes, you can have over 4,000 in all of the rest. But you may notice that when your book comes up, they all cut the description off at a few hundred...

What you are doing is writing compelling copy which will prompt the person to either buy the book outright, or click onto the preview to find out more. This is the smallest sales copy you need to write - and is probably an art form by itself (yes, this will be another chapter somewhere, some time...)

Remember - your opening line gets them to read the second sentence. And that sentence gets them to read the next, and so on.

Kobo and Google Play allow you to bold, italics, and generally fiddle around with your copy. Lulu only allows straight text and paragraph breaks (too many people abused their earlier html-enabled dialog box.) Yes, you should use bold, italics, and bullets. But the lowest common denominator to worry about first is whether the copy you have is well written. Later we can spruce it up on these other two.

How to Publish - Overview

Now, while I should have mentioned this easier, you've probably figured out that it's simpler to keep everything in one folder. All your text and word-processing docs, your cover, and your epub.

You are going to publish to Lulu, Kobo, and Google Play. I assume that you've already set up accounts with all these. And I did a separate write-up on how to publish to Google Play (as linked.)

What this does is get your ebook able to be accessed on 93% of the smartphones and tablets out there. By default. And you'll also get published on B&N and the largest international ebook distributor out there. As a side-benefit, you'll also be able to come back later and publish a hardcopy version - which is encouraged, since it looks like the market will settle down at a 60/40 or 50/50 split between the two. 

Again, we are leaving out Amazon because they don't like PD or PLR. You can take PD books and add 10 images to it, per my last check of Amazon's terms and conditions. However, they don't make that distinction with printed books. (Yes, you pay nothing beyond the proof copy to publish via Lulu to Amazon. But that is yet another chapter.) The other point is that Google Play will give you a link where people can buy your print book directly, right up there with Amazon and B&N.

Your workflow - windows on your world

You are going to have several programs open at once now. So it's a good idea to invest in a couple of monitors (or a second one) so you can see these easily. 

0. Close all the windows on your machine. This frees up machine memory and enables you to focus.

1. Get your directory up there as one window on your screen. Make a new folder outside of the rest. This is where your Google copies will go. You need a copy of the epub and a copy of the cover (can be PNG, JPG, TIFF, or PDF.)

Note: You can create a PDF file by opening up the JPG in Firefox and then printing to PDF.

2. Get your Browser up and open tabs for Lulu, Kobo Writing Life, and Google Play Partner (I use Firefox for this. IE and even Chrome still have issues which will bug your progress.)

Note: When I'm posting all-original content, I still start with Lulu and have Amazon's KDP open in yet another tab on the browser. The workflow below works the same. Chances are, original work will start selling on these other distributors before it will start selling on Amazon. You still want to distribute to the five other channels in addition to Amazon, because with their KDP exclusivity, you'll never know what income you just missed. In my case, it was hundreds per month - which started right off the bat on the other lines.

3. Calibre is open in yet another window with the meta dialog, preferably on that second monitor.

4. Get your text editor open with that quote above in it.

You now have four windows open. If you have to fix an epub reject, then you can open up Sigil again, but it probably won't be needed. Same for GIMP and your covers.

The publishing steps in sequence

5. With the Lulu tab open in your browser, enter your title (watch those nine words) by copy/pasting from Calibre. Remember that iTunes/B&N figure you've got a subtitle by seeing either a hypen ( - ) or colon ( : ) in that phrase.  (Kobo and Google Play don't work that way.)

Go ahead and put in your Author name and select the radio button that says you're ready to publish everywhere, not just Lulu. (They'll always ask - "are you sure?")

6. The next screen will give them permission to give you a free ISBN. 

7. Then they give you a screen with that ISBN with hypens in it. Copy that number and paste it into Calibre. Click on that little clipboard symbol next to that form box, and here's a tip: instead of editing out all the hyphens, just click "Back" and then "Forward" and Calibre will do it for you. If the ISBN disappeared you didn't click on that little clipboard symbol.

8. Select that un-hyphenated ISBN and copy it. 

Go to your Google folder and rename the epub and cover with that ISBN. That's the way they want it for upload. It's easiest to do it at this point.

9. Go to your Kobo tab and enter everything, copy and paste from Calibre and uploading when asked. Take this all the way through. 

10. Now, back to Lulu and finish up with them, again - all the data is in your Calibre dialog.

(Leave the Google files until your done with all the others - we'll get to this shortly.)

Click Forward on your Calibre dialog and go to the next book. Repeat steps 5-10 on each.

11. Once you're done with Lulu and Kobo, now open your Google tab and click "Add Books. " This gives you a dialog box where you can select all the files in that Google folder and upload them all. 

Now is the interesting part. 
  • Google will take some minutes or hours to process your books. 
  • Kobo might take a couple of days to get them showing up.
  • While Lulu itself is done, over the next few days they will be processing your books for iTunes and B&N manually, where they will give you little error notices for you to correct. 
12. In Google, copy/paste your data from Calibre into their form fields. Again, there's more about self-publishing on Google Play in this write-up (as linked.)

13. If Kobo doesn't get your books processed in 48 hours or so, send them a polite email. They will have to find the file and manually put it back in the machine hopper for processing. 

14. The Lulu alerts just need to be worked over daily until they quit showing up. The Lulu people will give you extra hints to help if they can, particularly on the 2nd or 3rd fix - if it takes that much. (Oh - I forget to tell you that not only does Lulu send you an email that you have something to fix, but they also send you an email about each new ISBN and having successfully published. So you'll have some in-box to clean up once you're done.)

At this point, you are published on the 5 biggest distributors outside of Amazon. (Technically - iTunes, GooglePlay and Kobo each all bigger than Amazon as far ebooks and countries they sell in, but don't have the volume of sales in general.)

Note 1: I made more sales for months - almost a year - from the other 5 than I did on Amazon, until just recently when one of my books finally got noticed by their algorithms. (This is about the same rate that John Locke did - before he started gaming their review system.) But meanwhile, I was making enough money to pay my bills from the other five distributors. I'll take eating over popularity every day of the week...

Note 2: I don't figure Smashwords into this as I'd have to make a special book just for them. And they can't convert epub to other formats as they do for Word Docs. Also, they simply won't take PD or PLR ebooks, so I stick with Lulu. 

Lulu gives me the lowest-common-denominator publishing approach which works everywhere else. I also don't have to buy a MAC and pay an annual fee just to publish on iTunes. 

Again, I just ran several (dozen) books through this process this last week, so it's pretty smooth overall. Needless to say, I'm right in the middle of chasing down the Lulu errors and filling out the Google Play forms right now - which might take a few more hours over a couple days. I've been publishing these books for just under a week at this point, not including rounding up all that PLR to begin with.

I expect that within two weeks, I'll start seeing some sales from these books. Some will never sell. The key is to providing value for people who are looking that way. "Put targets in front of where they are aiming." Meanwhile, I'll be busy setting up the SEO Marketing needed to alert Google about just how valuable my new books are. Again, this will result in a later post on a different blog. But will wind up as part of "Just Publish!" eventually.

Next is a test of this assembly line with a series of PD books on Copywriting. That post will show up here - expect it next week some time. 

Meanwhile: Good Hunting!

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