Friday, November 26, 2010

Tales from the Self-Publisher

As professionals, it is helpful to know our industry and the people we serve (i.e., readers, and sometimes authors). As publishers, it is helpful to be aware of the entities competing for our respective niches. Self-publishing has in recent years become a more viable competitor to traditional publishing, especially for trade books, and the number of reasons behind the decision to self-publish is as high as the number of authors turning to self-publishing to realize their goals. Perhaps in learning these reasons lies the way to help publishers survive the sea change and come out intact on the other side.

Last April, Colin Sandel self-published Tales from the Securemarket(tm), a sci-fi/fantasy romantic comedy novel. This in and of itself is not terribly unusual; after all, the decentralization of the publishing market has made such a thing almost commonplace. However, less commonly, Sandel has enjoyed a bit of success in his venture; while he claims that he has sold "a statistically insignificant number of books," as of this writing he has personally sold over 100 print copies of Tales in person, and has reached more readers by making the entire work available online, for free.

Sandel's Tales actually began through a blog he keeps for a series of short stories written in the same universe as Tales, the Age of Corporations. As he kept writing in that environment, responding to requests to portray the lives of everyday people in it, he eventually realized that "[he] had written half a novel and still had plenty of plot arc left to resolve."

Once the novel was written, the author decided he wanted to share it with more than just the blog's readers. However, as Sandel explains, he didn't trust himself to have the patience to go through the traditional publishing process: "I had written a book. I wanted it out there.... I saw (after my first round of rejection letters from agents) that there was a very real danger that receiving a second round of such letters would put me in danger of losing so much momentum that I never picked up the project again. Self-publishing was a route by which I could actualize my project without the danger of losing momentum while waiting for someone to notice it."

This taking-notice seems to be a guiding principle for him: "it's more important to me that my work be read and experienced than that I make a living off of having written it." To this end, Sandel and a few volunteers (in particular Dani Church, cited as patron and publisher) have made the entire 300-page book available in HTML and PDF formats online.

"A lot of people don’t like to read on a screen, but won’t buy a book without knowing a little bit about what it's like. Having the book available in full on the site means that they can get a taste of the book, then have a physical copy when they’re willing to commit to reading it," says Sandel.

The biggest driver of sales, however, has been of the person-to-person variety. Far and away, the biggest sales have come from author-hosted events and bigger convention events related to the book. Sandel ran a live-action role-playing game (LARP) at Intercon J set in a Securemarket like the one in Tales, and "even though the LARP didn't go as well as I wanted, I sold 35 books." Most of the marketing for Tales has come from word-of-mouth, and by publicly planning parties; people outside of the author’s personal network have bought the book because he mentioned it on a blog and people followed his link.

The blogosphere's role in this is rather unsurprising: "My initial target audience was somewhat geeky, the critical intersection of sci-fi/fantasy nerds with fans of Kevin Smith movies," Sandel explains. "In truth, my real audience for the book seems much wider. Something about 'sci-fi/fantasy romantic comedy' seems like it should scream 'niche market,' but some of my best compliments have come from the parents of my little brother’s high school friends, and one from a lady in her sixties, who called the book 'so realistic.'"

When asked about what he might do differently now that the book has been out for several months, Sandel replied, "Not a whole lot. I think it went very well. As a publisher, Dani did an amazing job. I worked really hard on editing and so did my volunteer friends. I guess the only other thing I can think of is that I probably would have done well to push harder on advertising. Getting on the reading list for Arisia 2010 would have been very valuable. I plan on doing so for Arisia 2011, and hopefully other cons too."

Having learned a few lessons from this process, it's no surprise that Sandel has several plans for future projects. Right now he's working to expand exposure for Tales through further marketing and cons, as well as adding formats:

"I've been meaning to convert [Tales] to ePub for a while now, and have that available too. There’s a PDF version available on the site right now....I also plan on recording an audiobook, although I haven’t yet decided how exactly I want to handle distribution. It'll take up a lot of my time and it'd probably be wise to charge for it somehow." He's considering a "ransom" model to monetize the audiobook effort. In a "ransom" model, an author solicits donations for a work in progress on the premise that once donations reach a certain threshold, a new installment will be released, usually free of charge. The concept as previously been successful for some webcomic artists, as well as some independent role-playing game publishers.

Sandel is not against the idea of publishing future projects in the traditional way, although he says he would be very wary about losing creative rights: "I’ve heard some serious horror stories. But I have no real problems with the idea, and it certainly wouldn’t pay me less."

Tales from the Securemarket (tm) is available through Amazon and through the book's website. The website also has a link at the bottom to contact Colin Sandel directly.

Author's Note, in the interest of transparency: Colin is a friend of mine, and has been for a few years. I attended one of the aforementioned author events last summer, and I own a copy of his book. Many thanks to Colin for taking the time to let me pick his brain on the process behind the publication.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Get Your Fashion On...

For this project, team Epsilon decided to create a website based on what most ladies love--fashion--and so Capitol Style was born. Next, it was decided that our site should focus on the fashion scene here in Washington, D.C. After looking at a variety of fashion websites like and, we decided on a basic layout for our site based on these sites. Our team liked how easy these sites were to navigate and how the layout showcased the fashion.

Our next task was to divide the pages among the members our team. We took a look at various stories, photos, and blog posts and used what we thought was significant to our site. In some cases we developed our own stories based on trends and events we thought we worth covering. We decided on a basic format, and made the formatting of text and content on each page similar. Overall, the largest hurdle was making the formatting of each page identical. We hope you enjoy our website (and get some fashion inspiration!).

Friday, November 12, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

and by that I mean not an ePub file... but rather this hilarious proposal to a potential publisher on McSweeney's.

Have a good weekend folks!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

EPUB editors - a recipe for consternation

Season and Debbie did a ton of work over the last couple of days to perfect our chocolate cookbook in the EPUB format. It's continually astounding to realize how much variance exists within a "standard" applied by so many platforms! As a group, we had devoted significant energy to determining how we wanted our content to present, and following through on that promise took a significant amount of back-end tinkering as well. After coming up with a lot of workarounds, we're up, fucntioning, validated, and looking good on a few platforms. Looking forward to seeing everyone's product tonight!

-Rob (for the ePUB Bees)

Old Mr. Toad Wasn’t the Only One Who Had an Adventure...

During the final stage of production, we focused on the completion of our product through the validation, proofreading, and packaging phases. Much like the previous week, we divided the work among the team members to complete tasks more quickly and efficiently. The first step was to finish the HTML coding and the accompanying CSS. We incorporated a variety of different design elements so that are final product would be easy to read as well as aesthetically pleasing to our audience. We also block displayed the images to ensure that they did not run over any of the text. Next, we cleaned up the HTML files to ensure that our document was well-formed. Once this task was completed, two team members tackled the validation of the HTML file. In the final phase of production, we packaged our files and tested them across different programs.

Overall, the production process ran smoothly, though we did experience a few problems during validation, particularly with the images. Once we were able to put the images in the correct class and replace all quotation marks and special characters throughout the text to display properly, we were able to package our eBook; however, problems still arose. We are able to view our ebook through various eReaders, but our CSS shows up inconsistently. We are unsure as to why this is occurring, but believe it is rooted in our CSS selections and their compatibility with different readers.

Although somewhat tedious and challenging at times, we feel that this project enabled us to evaluate errors and problem solve in the creation of a successful Epub file.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fallen Down the Rabbit Hole!

Luckily, we have had more success than Poor Alice. We have successfully uploaded an epub file (created in SIGIL/valid on threepress epub validator), a basic CSS file, and a cover image created by Corey that we have all made comments on. Prateeksha tested the epub file on Google Chrome eReader and Calibre and it works, so we are optimistic that our team work will lend itself to success on Yelba's iPad and Kindle.

The challenges we have had to face while creating this epub file have luckily been few, and we were able to address a lot of them in class as a group and by sending messages through BaseCamp. I am going to run through a final edit read before Tuesday's class to make sure our coding didn't go wonky as we noticed in earlier versions. The CSS looks good, thanks to Randy and Yelba's mad skills and has changed the look and feel of the original copy we pulled from Authorama making this particular edition feel more like a new and awesome work created by Team E. 

We are all looking forward to hearing feedback from the other teams about our ePublication of Alice in Wonderland as well as seeing what you've been able to create.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chocolate Recipe E-Book!

Currently, our e-book team (Season, Rob, Debbie, and myself) is working on editing/proofing the structure of the e-book's content i.e. reformatting recipes and so on (Rob has taken the lead on editing). We have completed our CSS, but will also make a final edit and then match it to our edited XHTML file to make sure it validates properly. Once this is done, we will again convert the edited pieces into the Epub and revalidate. We are also commencing our e-book device testing this weekend as well (test on Ipad, Kindle, etc.). As many of you may have noticed, everytime we place any changes to our CSS and XHTML files, we know revalidating is extremely necessary to continue any portion of the project to just note. Lastly, BaseCamp has been a useful communicative tool for our team thus far, and we are also using Campfire as a chat tool so we may collectively work via chat this weekend.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Question/Survey for the Cohorts

So since at least some of you are in STM publishing and/or are involved in operations where there are telecommuters (or off-site reviewers, or other people not physically in your work space) involved, I figured I would attempt to pick the collective brain about ways of going about tracking edits to content from many collaborators:

How do your places of work handle the workflow, especially with lots of collaborators/editors? Is there particular software in place on your servers (that is preferably less unwieldy than Word/Excel)?

Does your workplace's method rely on in-person/on-site contact? How well does your method work as far as the users are concerned?

I've been temping (mostly copyediting and proofing work) for the last month or so and I've been to several sites over that time, and there seem to be quite a few publications departments out there that are looking to streamline their content systems so that they aren't anywhere near as chaotic in tracking multiple editing passes and the like; does anyone's workplace have a particularly good way to manage this?

Like I said, I'm particularly interested in the STM folks and the telecommuters (my background is in directories where we did a lot of our work and content generation on-site), but if anyone's got something that works, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dubliners

So, The Dead is actually a story within the Dubliners... but you get the picture. We are working on this ebook of all the stories, and I think it's getting kind of confusing. Although, it might just be me. I am having problems with the CSS! Also, I really do not know what files need to be included. When we looked through the zipped folder of an epub a few weeks ago in class, there were all these elements that I remember each epub had to have... certain file extensions and containers telling the ereader the type of content, etc. However, I do not know what all those elements are, nor do I understand how to create those elements! My group is going to talk about it more tomorrow night in class. Nevertheless, I can actually view our ebook in Calibre, and that's pretty neat!

Oh, Alice!

Great minds think alike! Group D, "The Dementors," (Amy, Elizabeth, Kat, and Lindsey) chose Lewis Carroll, as Shelby's group did. We chose the Through the Looking Glass portion of his classic book though. We chose this book because both the text and the original illustrations are in the public domain. We also got our html from authorama.

We've had a lot of success using zoho for our project management. As you will hear again in class tomorrow... we have compiled all the html chapters into one file and are currently working on validating it. We have been having lots of problems with the "pre" tag, which the validator doesn't seem to like. The "pre" tag is quite important though, as it allows us to retain the line breaks and white spaces in the various poems that are in Through the Looking Glass. Currently the poems appear exactly as they do in the printed books, and we would like to keep them this way if possible. So we will need to find out how to replace the "pre" tags with something that validates.

Additionally, we've got a preliminary CSS design and a cover image chosen. All that's left is to finish validating, link to the images, design the cover image, and test the ebook on two different readers.

The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad

Group A (Devon Carter, Brooke Morris, Heather Norton, Ryan Reeh, and Sarah Weisse)

Our group began by developing a project plan based on specific goals and division of responsibilities.

We first determined our criteria for selecting a title. We agreed by vote that we would like to work with a book that contained images, dialogue, block quotes, and chapter divisions. We decided to develop the CSS based on classes for styling chapter names, chapter numbers, chapter introductions (block quotes), and illustration presentation. Further, as a group we made the basic style decisions regarding fonts, colors, and location of images in relation to text.

We then listed the tasks involved and split up the chapters among group members, giving each member four to five chapters to create according to the style decisions. As a group, we decided that the best way to organize our work and share ideas with each other would be to use Google Docs.

We divided the project plan into four stages: file development, file packaging, proofreading, and validation.

At this point, we have completed the first stage, and we are working to combine our work in order to package the files for the next stage. We will then move into the proofreading and validation stages.

"Chocolate" anyone...

Currently, our e-book team (being myself, Debbie, Rob and Season) has been collectively working to smooth out the structure and layout of the e-book we chose through Project Gutenberg (“Chocolate and Cocoa Recipes” by Miss Parola). Our group decided to utilize Basecamp as an online project management tool that Season helped us create. Basecamp has been a useful tool for our team as were able to see any team member’s suggestion/feedback in one clear-cut medium. We all have taken on specific responsibilities to construct our e-book. Deb is working on the TOC, Season is managing/organizing out the team’s efforts, Rob is working on the editing/proofing of the e-book’s content, while I have taken on the CSS. We have basically finished up our TOC, and are working on our CSS at this time. We then plan on editing the HTML and making sure everything is validating within the next week. These are the updates thus far…. :)