Tuesday, October 21, 2008

POD Publishing and Amazon ... patience is a virtue

One of the most challenging aspects of being a writers and/or publisher is the length of time it takes to do ANYTHING in this business.

The Internet has trained us to expect instant gratification, and we often overlook the fact that a web browser is just an interface between us and the real world. Sure, if you're talking to a computer (an online bank, the IRS, a store) you'll be able to work more or less in realtime. But where human beings are involved on the other side of the browser window ...

Take a number and wait, the chairs are over there. Take a diploma in thumb twiddling, perhaps, to pass the time. The Reader's Digests are five years old. Dust begins to thicken as you wait ... vultures gather in the rafters, ready to pick clean your bones after you've expired of sheer old age sitting there, waiting...

Like diligence, tact, politeness, punctuality, frugality, compassion, chastity and charity, patience is a virue. Hmmm. Ever noticed how a lot of these virtues tend to drive up your blood pressure, keep you awake nights, upset your digestion ...? You'll get away with a couple of them without resorting to the Pepto Bismol. It doesn't often hurt to be polite and punctual ... and compassion and charity are certainly their own rewards.

But, patience is not merely a virtue, it's the key quality without which writers and publishers will go bonkers, or quit, or both.

So, you think you'll beat the time lags by using POD, and you'll have your book in the stores in time for Christmas. Brilliant idea ... with a couple of surprises just around the corner, with their feet stuck out, strategically placed to catch yours.

Christmas 2008 is about nine weeks away, and THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE is virtually ready to go. We're still hoping you'll be able to get it from Amazon for the holiday feeding frenzy -- uh, that is, gift-buying season.

But this is the first time we've sweated through the process of publishing a work and releasing it on Amazon, and apparently we have a lot to learn, not least about patience!

The process works like this:

Your book is complete and your two PDFs are perfect -- one is the interior, one is the cover. Anyone who's been through the (must faster) Lulu.com process will already have a viable interior PDF, so you're a few steps ahead. The book we used as the pilot project headed for Amazon is, of course, THE SWORDSMAN.

You set up an account with CreateSpace:

Now, it's free to set up the account, but unlike Lulu.com, CreateSpace works hand in glove with the Uncle Sam's trusty IRS. No matter where in the world you come from, you're going to have taxes withheld -- which is fair enough. However, there are quite a few hoops to jump through in the set-up phases. You have to track down, download, fill out and fax in the American IRS paperwork; a human at CreateSpace will go over it, check it out, and so forth. It takes a few days.

With your account set up, you can now tackle your project. Upload the interior, and they'll give you the stats around which your cover will be designed. So long as you have the original DTP file of the design, you can push and pull elements to your heart's content -- this is not a problem, just a faint annoyance, because you have to redesign your back cover around a barcode.

(If your book has been in print for some time, and you were never bothered about barcodes, because you were selling Lulu direct -- like us -- shuffling cover elements to accommodate the barcode is ... well, not a pain in the bum, exactly, but an hour you could have spent more pleasantly. At left is a snapshot of the finished cover ... if you have the Lulu version, you'll notice the difference. A great big white swatch with a lot of bars and numbers.)

So, with the interior and cover files uploaded, the next thing you receive from CreateSpace is a service message: thanks for uploading your files. They'll be checked for viablity, and we'll email you when you're clear to order your proof copy.

In fact, as delaying/annoying as this part of the process is, it's actually the one area where Lulu.com could learn a thing or two from CreateSpace. At Lulu.com, no human eyeballs see the project between the uploading and the delivery of the proof copy. Via Lulu, there's no manual check that things are problem-free before you order. Now, Lulu.com they could really use a human in there, because they also use EPS printers which can make for some "font issues" that can break your heart. (My vampyre novels, for instance, were proof-printed three times before they were right.) At CreateSpace, it appears that human eyeballs look at the PDF, or its technical details, and the file will be pronounced "good to go."

Patience, here, again: it takes a day or two for this process.

As soon as you receive your email, you're clear to order the proof. Get ready to wince, if you're overseas, because USPS priority is your budget option on the shipping ... at around US$26. On the current exchange rather, that's about A$35, plus the cost of the proof itself. Bite the bullet and pay the money.

Now, CreateSpace promises (warns?) that it can take five working days to manufacture the book, and USPS can't guarantee delivery in less than four weeks. In reality, the book was shipped in 24 hours, and it was in my mailbox ten days later, 11 days total.

The quality is superb. I don't have a single criticism to make. CreateSpace do an absolutely top-line job at the technical level. Kudos to all concerned. It was also securely packed, and delivered in perfect condition.

Now, the cost of an average book manufactured via CreateSpace is about US$8 ... unless you upgrade to a "pro" account for the book. "Pro accounted" books are manufactured for about half the price -- which makes you viable in the Amazon marketplace. Remember, the Amazon share of the list price is about 55%, so if your manufacture costs are too high, your profit margin from the sale might take years to pay back the costs of pre-press work, before you see a buck for yourself. The cost of the upgrade to "pro" is US$39 per book, and if you're publishing a lot of books to Amazon, it's going to get a bit expensive. There's no way to circumvent this. Like the commercial says, "just do it."

Okay ... you've gone over the proof with a fine-toothed comb, and she's good to go. You now go back to CreateSpace, log in, and activate the book -- open it for sale. This is the point where you're wanting, expecting, NEEDING the instant gratification of clicking the "publish" button, as you do on a blog -- or, indeed, as you do at Lulu.com -- and having the book just appear in your storefront.

Get ready to start the thumb twiddling diploma course.

There are two places where your book will appear at, or via, CreateSpace: in your estore, and on Amazon. The book will be in the estore instantaneously, but (!) the cover image will not go online for five days ... so before you can start in on the marketing and the mailing lists and the and campaign ... you better hold your horses and take a Valium or two ... actually, try valerian, it's better for you ... for five days, because the cover won't be up. (By contrast, at Lulu, the whole thing is automatic and instant.)

If that isn't enough, consider a PhD in thumb twiddling, with a second major in advanced cat's cradle studies. Because it will take FIFTEEN DAYS for a just-published book to appear on Amazon.

Two weeks will go by between publication and availability.


And this is why THE LORDS OF HARBENDANE might be published and available in paperback, hardcover and ebook via Mel Keegan OnLine, and Lulu.com, and Payloadz.com ... but if you want to give it for Christmas (or get it for yourself as a holiday pressie), you might not be able to track it down at Amazon.

Infuriating, isn't it? To date, we've been going through the process since October 4th, and have about ten days to go, to get THE SWORDSMAN "up there."


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