Saturday, June 14, 2014

Leanpub Joins the Mix - Extending the Top Distributors List

Getting More Distributors Means More Eyeballs, More Income 

Posting your book to multiple distributors will give you more paying eyeballs = more income.
(photo: Jena Ardell)
This post is to update the publishing sequence to improve your profits with your home publishing business. We're going to get into Leanpub next, a logical step - and a profitable one. What I found here shifts what we do first to earn that extra income...

I'm now actively into writing the book on publishing at this point. Publish. Profit. Independence - or something even more catchy (see this link as this title may still evolve.) 

Of course this interrupted publishing my Copywriting books again, as the research muse took over my life - like the over-curious cat.

  1. Filled out the OverDrive form and submitted it. Haven't heard back.
  2. My MAC-mini does a great job submitting PD books to iTunes, so that is completely valid for any book I want to publish. Published 3 and they were all accepted in about 24 hours. Again - they'd already passed muster at Lulu.
  3. has been DIW (dead in the water) for most of last week. I can't get through to it. Their loss. I'll keep trying.

Update 2: Finally got through to NookPress - they seem to have some sort of javascript framework problem which hangs on slow connections. However, early tests show that Nook accepts books readily. So I don't know what the delay with Lulu is. It's a corporate thing, I'm sure. Nook does have a glitchy interface with problems processing epubs directly, even though they passed elsewhere. So each book will probably have to be tweaked to get it accepted. As Nook isn't the best income producer, this probably should knock them down a bit. Maybe below Amazon, just based on potential income. That's if I got pressed for time...

- - - -

This again brings up the point as to whether having an aggregator do this for you is the best investment of your time. It's still the argument that you do this once and it pays you from here on out. You're aggregator does it once for you and get's 10% (or more) from there on out.

Lulu did good for me for years - but since they lowered the boom on PD books, I've been looking at how much they've been making off me. Other than the time I'd have to take moving these files, it will bring me better income to move my books - lots of work, though. (Not my first priority - but it will be Lulu's loss when I do.)

In my book (the one written by "Frugal Publishers, Inc.") it's better to invest your self in the process to get it done right. (Note to self: upcoming posts are overdue on both iTunes and Nook.)

That brings us to Leanpub

Not for the faint-hearted. Practically, this has been put off as long as I could, since it's a completely different way of doing things. As with all things I do for you, there's a more elegant way of doing things which takes the least time for the best result you can use in the most places.

Overall, it's a smart model, treating a book like a startup. Most of the books here are on programming, although there are some fiction. They've made it as easy as possible. You write in Markdown, which is a very simple formatting language. For most fiction writers, this would be a cinch to move over to this platform. Writing in a simple text editor is the easiest way to get your content out. Much like the old days of writing on a typewriter - no distractions, just write.

My problem with this is in porting my 150+ books over to this platform. You can't simply upload an epub. The closest thing is saving your .doc or .odt file as .html and then uploading (see, it's already geeky...)

[Update: A forum post brought me reassurance that they are working on this, so people can upload their files directly - maybe a couple months away.]

The blog-to-book scene is similarly problematic. Because unless you have a no-frills Tumblr blog or something, then it also works to convert all your special programming to this format. Related links show up, etc.

You're then re-editing every page again.  So scraping your own blog and dropping it into LibreOffice would probably be smarter.

I did the blog import and it trashed the book. Took hours to sort it out. My approach then was to take their generated epub and edit in Sigil. Once the bulk of it was in place, then I imported that into Calibre, and converted it to HTML. (Although this had its quirks as well - see below.)

At that point, I punted and brought it back into LibreOffice - my comfort zone. (Sure it could have gone back into Leanpub at that point, but I've worked for hundreds of books-worth in LibreOffice and is what I know best.) I'm also looking for the fastest route for me to port existing content into the only bundling distributor I know of.

Don't do what I did - Build your book in Leanpub first.

Still, Leanpub should then move to the front of the queue in terms of creating your epub. After you have a decent book to begin with (in PD or PLR) you'd work within Leanpub to create a representative work. You could then take the generated files and edit them. (Since they are all branded with Leanpub logo, they will have to be tweaked to publish them elsewhere.)

It's just simpler to include Leanpub the epub creation process at the beginning. The advantages of being able to create binders and also have an affiliate program from the start is worth potentially having two versions of the same ebook.

A Critique of Leanpub

This is it's own beasty to master. Like any horse, it's an individual and while still having four legs and a head, it will take learning to ride on its own - as its own.

It's very much a scene of based in its roots, which started as writing each chapter as its own file in Markdown.  While they've added support for importing blog posts and html, these work best where you actually have separate files for each entry/chapter.

Importing a blog post is problematical. Because the extra links you put into a blog post, plus the graphics, give problems you don't have to deal with when you write a book from scratch. Blog posts are meant to stand alone, and link out to Wikipedia and other sources for better edification of your readers. Books have an integrity of their own, as you bring your readers along and try not to repeat yourself on anything not vital.

Meanwhile, when you export a book to HTML from LibreOffice, you get a single file. To Leanpub, this looks like one big chapter. While you can split it at the section breaks (headings/chapters) you can't get a decent Table of Contents (TOC) out of it.

For a PDF, no TOC is OK, since most don't. But in an epub, a TOC (and split sections/chapters) is what separates the cheap epubs from the quality ones.

While I have other tests going, it looks as if you are going to have to do a bit of work to port a LibreOffice document into Leanpub and get it to produce properly.

At this writing, I see that you will need to take each chapter and create an HTML file for it (cut/paste from your .odt master file into single .html files.) Similarly, with a blog you are better scraping each individual post and creating a standalone html file to import it. You may still want to aggregate the whole thing into one master file to edit it into a single book. Depends on your work flow and what works for you (as well as what your audience wants.)

Once you compile it, then you are best editing any errors on their site in Markdown rather than editing the master and re-uploading that chapter.

This should then give you a decent .epub and .pdf file to work with.

Their .epub does pass (usually) epubcheck, so it can be used elsewhere. Just note that they brand their .epub and PDF files, so you are going to need to edit these if you don't want that. Safest is to just open up your epub in Sigil to double-check everything. (Since editing completed PDF files is tricky, you're better off just porting them from LibreOffice.)

Note that you are still going to have to remove any H3 (heading 3) and below in order to get it accepted through Lulu. (I'll be doing tests shortly to see if this is their arbitrary on posting to iTunes and Nook.) So editing your epub for use anywhere besides Leanpub is a given.

Here's the first test I did: Publish. Profit. Independence.

Problems I ran into on Leanpub

As I said, there's no simply uploading a finished file other than html (for now, at least.) So you need to start here with all your new books. Regardless. It all adds up, quite in addition to other benefits.

They have support for DropBox, which is great once you get it going. Very painless. Just move your files around on your own computer and it updates everywhere else. Then tell Leanpub to process your files and they generate previews and completed books.

They recently added support for Git - which I don't get. It's an uber-geek thing. I set it up and then retreated gracefully back to Dropbox. At least you can switch from Git to Dropbox to Markdown editing anytime you want.

The workflow currently looks like this.
  1. Find and edit a PD, PLR, or own-written work into shape using LibreOffice.
  2. Save as HTML and import to Leanpub - one file.
  3. Have Leanpub process this for you.
  4. Create your cover and upload it where Leanpub likes it.
  5. Tweak your book.txt file and formatting template until you're happy with the results.
  6. Launch it for sale and set up affiliate sales.
  7. Edit the finished epub so you can port it elsewhere.
  8. Generate the PDF from LibreOffice if you want to get Lulu to print a hardcopy for you.

Current publishing-distributors sequence:

1) Leanpub
2) Lulu - for ISBN and also your print books.
3) GooglePlay (save meta-data in Calibre)
4) iTunes
5) Nook
6) Amazon
7) Kobo
8) OverDrive

Arranged in order of complexity, not ROI. Publishing your book gets simpler as you go. After #3 it's mostly cut/paste.

Again - work in batches and complete each distributor before you go to the next. That seems to prove the most efficient. Build a set of books, preferably a series, and epubcheck them all before you start. Use Leanpub to edit, or simply port to them.

How to make money with these distributors

My experience (in purposely not marketing, devoting my time to getting more books published) is that until you can crack Amazon, these other distributors will give you a fair shake based on just your cover, description, and price.

This is what my experience was. Amazon luckily "kicked in gear" for one of my books, which also sold well on the other distributors. After a couple of months, that one book on Amazon was now selling more than the rest combined. Before that, I sold twice as much on any of them as Amazon.

The point of having a deep backbench is to also take advantage of "related books" algorithms they all have. Your tags and other metadata can help you improve your referrals. Google Play, for one, sent out an email recently telling people to use their BISAC categories so the referrals would be more accurate. Both iTunes and Nook enable full BISAC listings, so this should help quite a bit.

Note: Google wants the BISAC number, which is freely available as a spreadsheet from The Book Industry Study Group. Amazon and Kobo have bastardized versions of this - Amazon allows you two categories, and Kobo - 3. Lulu and Leanpub have their own categories. Lulu allows a single category, while Leanpub allows multiple ones from their list. Google allows you an unlimited number of actual BISAC codes, as does iTunes - Nook limits you to 5.

Income from additional print and audio versions. You should also set up your print books via Lulu and get these posted with or slightly before your ebooks. So they show up on Amazon when your epubs do. Any additional version raises the authority and so increases the algorithm effect. Publishing a paperback is a simple and cheap route (you'll have to buy a proof copy.) You can also publish a hardback, or a separate sized paperback (overkill.) When someone offered to record my bestseller as an audiobook (for a fee) I took them up on it and promptly doubled my income from that book. On Amazon, the more books, the more sales. Just a point.

Most of my experience has been solely from ebook sales - which are a quick route to financial freedom. My current test has paperback versions of the 14 books in my next batch. We'll see.

Notes on how to start your own home publishing business

There are two models:
  • A writer with a backbench of created works.
  • A publisher with a backbench of other's works.

For the writer, you should use Lulu as an aggregator so you can focus on your writing while Lulu distributes everywhere else (except GooglePlay) for you. You'll also publish to GooglePlay in batches (far more efficient here.)

You can use any computer you have, since the distribution is all online. As well, using free programs:
  • LibreOffice (with the Writer2Epub plug-in)
  • Sigil
  • Calibre
  • GIMP (or hiring out your covers.)
Those programs run on any platform, so you're set. You can use Leanpub instead of LibreOffice as your editor. There are many standalone Markdown editors, as well as online versions. Sigil will still be needed to check your work and tweak it. However, you may find that Leanpub gives you a completely acceptable epub and print-ready PDF for Lulu.

For the publisher, use a MAC (mini) as this is the lowest common denominator.  This is because individually publishing to iTunes, Nook, and the rest will be required for any public domain books. This will give you more administration (8 separate distributors sending you royalties) but higher income as you aren't using an aggregator. You'll still use Lulu for print and ISBN's for your epub files.

The four programs above are suggested for a publisher, exporting your docs to HTML in order to upload to Leanpub. You'll be able to use the Leanpub epub file, or create your own with LibreOffice. Your own most-efficient workflow will determine which way you want to go.

Again, why Lulu? Because some independent bookstores don't like Amazon. Createspace is owned by Amazon, so is blacklisted as a publisher by some. Lulu not only will get your print book distributed, but will also distribute your ebook (or at least tell you what has to be done to get it to a standard Apple and Nook will accept.)

Building an Audience

This factor is more present on Leanpub than anywhere else. And why you should include Leanpub as a priority for porting in your batch to distributors. As you post each book, you are opening up your lines for feedback on each book, as well as the set. So you'll produce more valuable books and can also then engage them for the releases on other platforms, or related books in that series or a following one.

A series would get the feedback you want faster and so you can test/prove the viability of such a launch. As well as getting ideas for your next set. Frankly, posting your earlier series here will show whether you need to spend any great amount of time marketing them. Or what marketing you should use for them.

There's more about why Leanpub needs to go first in your distribution on their Manifesto. Check it out.

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