The Print-on-Demand Cover vs the Ebook Cover

Publishing Print-on-Demand and Ebook Simultaneously

Lessons Learned for Book Cover Design

Cool in Tucson First Edition

The cover of the original Severn House edition (2008).

Mystery writer Elizabeth Gunn’s Cool in Tucson has been out of print for a few years, and we are in the galley proof stage of reissuing this first Sarah Burke mystery in both print and ebook formats.

We’ve been working with ebooks for several years now, but this marks the second time we’ve utilized print-on-demand services concurrently with producing an ebook. (The first was the similar relaunch of Elizabeth’s Jake Hines series with Triple Play.) Below are some lessons learned from the process regarding the print-on-demand cover and its relationship to the ebook cover. Continue Reading →

Triple Play lives again through print on demand

Triple Play proof copy

The first proof copy of the Elizabeth Gunn’s re-issued Triple Play paperback arrived in the mail earlier this week.

As readers of this blog may have noticed before, I’m rather proud of my Mom-the-novelist, Elizabeth Gunn. To date she has not ‘broken out’ and become a big name the way other regional mystery authors, such as Tony Hillerman and Archer Mayer or Wyoming’s own CJ Box and Craig Johnson, have done. But she has had 13 novels, in two different mystery series, ‘traditionally published’ in the last 17 years. Her publishers have always been conservative with their print runs but we’re pretty sure they sold every copy of her books ever printed. And that’s are remarkably achievement by any standard.

Mom, with the help of my Dad, who did the technical heavy lifting, was also a pioneer of ebook self-publishing. Continue Reading →

Self publishing: a flawed but useful overview

Guy Kawasaki's new book on self publishing#APETheBook: Buy the ebook not the softcover. Pick your chapters. Enough value to justify the price but some silly stuff to ignore.

Last month I gave a short talk to the Arizona Mystery Writers group in Tucson, Arizona. The presentation was supposed to be an overview of ebook production for self-published authors. But I ended up broadening the topic to attempt an overview of the larger process of self publishing, that is, how to target, produce, sell, and promote your own book.

One of my main themes was that authors who self-publish embark on an adventure that is much more like being a software entrepreneur than it is like being a writer. Both the technology and the markets are changing out from under you. Every day is full of too many good-ideas-that-should-be-done-right-away. The technology entrepreneur’s life is a sea of hard choices and risky trade-offs.

I thought that was a fairly original, clever idea until, late in my preparations, I came across a reference to Guy Kawasaki’s new book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. Kawasaki and his co-author Shawn Welch not only made the same connection I did, before I did, he wrote a whole book on the topic. How’s that for embarrassing and affirming at the same time?

I didn’t have a chance to read the book before my presentation, but I did toss a reference to it into my hand-out. And I placed an order for the print edition so it would be waiting for me when I got back from Tucson. When a master entrepreneur and author arrives somewhere before you do, the only thing to do is stand back, bow respectfully, listen and learn what you can.

I bought the print edition because I was pretty sure I’d want to share the book. And, indeed, I ended up ceding right-of-first-read to Bret, who was on the cusp of publishing his own book of short stories. But now I’ve read the book, thrown the book across the room a couple of times, re-read and digested some of the good parts, stomped across the hall to Bret’s office to rant more than once, and, finally, am ready to recommend it, with reservations. Continue Reading →

An iBook achievement

Screen shot 2013-09-05 at 2.30.27 PMApple Inc has such a gift for making small incremental achievements seem like huge victories. Our latest victory? All three of our ERG editions (English, French, and Spanish) are now for sale in the iTunes iBook marketplace.  It’s really just a small huzzah but it feels like a big deal to me.

Frankly, each of the ebook marketplaces presents its own set of challenges to the small publisher or self-published author.

Apple makes everything hard. Or, at least, it sure seems that way as you get started.  Only part of the toolset you must use to create and administer your ebooks in the iTunes marketplace is browser based.  The other part has to be installed on a local machine and that machine has to run OsX. So you have to own and use a Mac in order to publish an iBook. Doesn’t that seem just a bit narrow minded and self-serving to you? It does to me.

Most folks also have some trouble with the very strict epub validation step that Apple puts each epub file through. We did. But I have to say that the work we did to clean up the three ERGs so they would pass validation — and there was rather a lot of — also made the books more readable. I try not to complain, even about Apple, when the result is an improved product for our mutual customers. Continue Reading →

Ebook production: chaos and opportunity

Chaotic_mixingAugust was a busy month both in and out of the office. In house, we published the French Kindle edition of the ERG 2012, GMU 2012 : Guide Facile, and we successfully shepherded the English iBook edition through Apple’s tedious review process. We also learned, surprise!, that it takes at least as long for a change in the product description to get through Apple’s review process as it does the for the actual book to be reviewed. No quick fixes with Apple, ever.

Out on the road, I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a few specialty publishers who are either currently publishing ebook editions or are evaluating that option. Along with the phone conversations I had earlier, I’ve now had a whirlwind tour of the current state-of-the-art for small publishing houses.

The good news, for readers, is that most publishers are either on-board the ebook train or making their reservations as we speak. They know their readers want ebook editions. They are finding ways to supply those editions.  And they aren’t letting marketplace or technical uncertainties hold them back.

The bad news, for publishers, is that there’s no consensus yet on a best practice for producing those ebooks.  Each publishing house has had to, essentially, put together a DIY ebook production process

In my notes from the last five specialty publishers I’ve talked with at any length, I count a total of six separate production strategies. One house has experimented with two different processes and isn’t particularly satisfied with either yet.  Another has a ‘single’ strategy but it involves separate, parallel processes for producing their Kindle and Google Play editions.

Continue Reading →

The Ebook Cover: Graphic Design for the Under-Confident

Part two of two in a mini-series on ebook covers. The first part was about meeting marketplace specifications in the simplest way possible. Here we’re going to talk about the ebook cover design itself.

Graphic Design

Books get judged by their covers. One cannot over-stress how important visuals are for making a sale. Are you a graphic designer? How many clients have contracted your services? Unless your answer to this question is a non-zero positive integer, you might want to find someone else to help you.

Of all the aspects of producing an ebook as an individual who is self-publishing or as a small business, this is the one thing you really should consider outsourcing if you do not have the skills ready at your disposal. The human beast is a visual animal. It doesn’t matter what the inside of your book is like–nobody will see it if the outside screams unprofessional and low-quality product.

That’s an exaggeration. Actually professional publishers put out a lot of mediocre covers, and those books still sell. The cover is less-than-optimal because they are keeping production costs down, while the book still makes it into consumers’ hands because they have a great big marketing machine at their disposal. The difference between you and them is that you don’t have the goliath marketing machine. A great cover can only help you overcome this handicap.

The Blue Fox by Sjon (Bjartur, 2003)

A fine cover in my opinion. Anybody else get the sense Sjón is attempting to make a brand of himself? (Image: Bjartur)

For the bold DIYer who is not frightened by this attempt at intimidation, a few basic design guidelines can help you out. Like guidelines in any artistic medium, they are meant to be broken and fudged, but in general: Continue Reading →

The Ebook Cover: How to Meet Requirements–Size, Format, Legal

As part of her series on ebook production, Anne has invited me to prepare some distilled guidelines for ebook covers. This is part one of a mini-series on the cover. In this segment, I tackle best practices in regard to the major marketplaces. Part two will be about graphic design.

Ebook Cover Requirements

Ebook cover example

You might not believe it, but you should be able to satisfy all major ebook marketplace requirements for cover size if you follow two simple rules:

  1. The small dimension (width) of your cover should be at least 1400 pixels, which sounds like overkill given that your book cover will almost always be displayed either as a thumbnail or at about 400-800 pixels when viewing the ebook on a reading device, but I guess we need to prepare for that one in a million ebook aficionado who insists ebooks are best read on a plasma television screen. (Okay, I exaggerate, but this does make the cover wider than the screen of my 13′ MacBook Pro.)
  2. Your cover must be taller than it is wide, like most physical books. Most stores will recommend that your specific ratio is close to 6:9, but will not enforce exactitude. Others such as Barnes & Noble prefer a tall aspect, but do not require it.

You should consult the literature for the marketplaces you plan to partner with, but if you make it bigger than 1400 wide, you should be set for most (I won’t claim all) stores, including these biggies: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Also I highly recommend picking a value somewhat above 1400 pixels but probably less than 2000. In resolution, bigger is better, but you aren’t going to be putting this on a billboard or a movie screen…Or are you? Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — publishing iBooks

(Fourth post in a series that begins here.)

The goal of doing the clean docx to epub conversion with Calibre, which is the topic of this series of posts, was to have an epub file worthy of submitting to the iBooks marketplace. Apple’s validator is known to be the pickiest of all the four main marketplaces (Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, and Google Play).

We’ve done all our ebook publishing, to date, in the Kindle and Nook marketplaces only. But Bret and I put our heads together recently and concluded we should start selectively publishing in the iBooks and Play marketplaces also.

It’s hard to come by market share numbers for the different ebook marketplaces. The last credible numbers I saw still had Kindle way ahead in book downloads and iBooks with a miserable 5% share. But this is a market where the tide can turn in almost an instant.

I’ve been seeing a lot of reports that the sales of dedicated reader devices (Kindle, Nook) is going down as the share of all-purpose tablets is going up. If true, much of the future growth in ebook sales will be to people using all-purpose tablets not dedicated readers.

The Kindle and Nook Reader apps are free and available for almost any device from desktop to phone. So you can, already, read your ebooks from Amazon or B&N on your iPad or Android tablet without ever having to own a Kindle or a Nook. But Bret believes that the users of iThingies, in particular, are eventually going to want an iBuying experience for their ebooks.  And I’m inclined to think he may be right. So I want to make sure the books we publish are in the right boat if the download tide does turn. Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — Calibre conversion

(Third post in a series that begins here.)

So, let’s move on to the actual ebook conversion of our little novella using Calibre.

First, a word about Calibre itself. The website says that Calibre “is a free and open source e-book library management application developed by users of e-books for users of e-books. It has a cornucopia of features . . .”

It’s exactly the range of features — ebook library manager, news feed reader, ebook converter, etc — that can make Calibre a bit bewildering to those of us who just want to use its GREAT ebook conversion tool. It will really help you, as you use Calibre for ebook conversion, to remember that, from the software’s and the developers’ perspective, conversion is just one feature among equals. The developers who contribute to this open source product have clearly invested an enormous amount of time and attention in this feature. But it doesn’t get top billing in the user interface (UI).

Frankly, the whole UI is a bit unconventional. Literally unconventional. It doesn’t follow the conventions of the Windows interface — no File/Open menu item to be found. It doesn’t follow the conventions of the Mac OsX interface — the menu bar has none of the standard File, Edit, View, etc entries.  On the other hand, the product is absolutely consistent in look-and-feel across platforms — the Mac and Windows versions are identical.

Continue Reading →

Word docx to ebook — generating a clean docx file

RunawayCoverAmazon(Second post in a series that begins here.)

I’ve got two files that Mom mailed me when we first agreed to publish these two short works in the Kindle and Nook marketplaces.  Both are .doc files, probably from Microsoft Word 2003, definitely from before MS Word 2007 when Microsoft switched to the .docx format.

There are two options for converting the files to .docx. If I thought the formatting in the files was super clean, my guess is they’d be equivalent.

  • Import the .doc to my Google Docs account, letting Google convert it to the native doc format, then export it as a .docx.  (But note that this will only work for relatively small files; there’s currently a 2mb size limit.)
  • Open the .doc in a current version of Word and resave it as .docx.

I’m going to do the latter.  Since I think the internal formatting for these two documents needs to be cleaned up to make Calibre’s conversion go more smoothly, I want to work with them in Word anyway. However the process I’m going to describe should work equally well via Google Docs for a short manuscript.  In other words, if you have an old .doc file (or even an old WordPerfect or Ami Pro file) and don’t have a current copy of Word, don’t despair.  Free and open software can come to your rescue.

Please do try this at home.  Please do NOT try this on the only copy of a file that you have.  BEFORE you start this process, make sure you have made a safe copy, other than the one you are about to work on. Pretty please? Continue Reading →