Ebook Launch! 3, 2, 1

launchThe past few days have been a whirlwind of ebook formatting, and I haven’t taken the time to keep up the idea of a regular “diary” here, so I’ll just plunge in with a countdown from where I am.

3. New Cover

Since the last post, I came up with a final ebook cover that spoke “this is it” (after several trial versions)”

Oscar's Gift ebook coverI wanted the cover to capture several aspects of the story and the characters: farming and breaking ground for a new life; Oscar Micheaux’s film career; a still shot from The Great Train Robbery, which Oscar describes to Tomas. An e-cover is often different from the paperback cover, in my case for a couple of reasons: 1) The ebook image needs to be able to stand out as a thumbnail (which my paperback cover doesn’t do as well), and 2) I used CreateSpace’s cover creator tool to design the paperback cover, and the only electronic version I have access to isn’t of high enough resolution to use for other purposes. I used Paint to make the ebook cover.

2. Ebook Now Available

Oscar’s Gift is now available as an ebook on Amazon.

1. Limited-Time Free Copy!

Finally, another advantage of publishing on Smashwords is that it allows me to offer coupons for discounts as well as free copies! As a thank you to this blog’s readers, from now until the end of Thursday, August 18th, 2011 (GMT California time), you can order a FREE copy of Oscar’s Gift in the e-format of your choice from Smashwords. Just enter the code VM64S before completing checkout. And, if you enjoy the book, I would greatly appreciate your recommendations to friends or a review on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.

Blast Off!

4 Terrific Indie Author Resources

The e-Publishing Diaries: PBS’s MediaShift and Other Supportive Resources

August 8 (P Minus 24): Today’s updates:

  • Received an email from Bowker’s saying that my ISBN order is being processed and should be emailed soon (more about ISBNs later this week; it’s more complicated than I first thought)
  • Began gathering visuals for a book trailer
  • Changed the method of file sharing for the Kindle sample chapter to Dropbox, after the Box.net widget looked too clunky (see upper right; I will add more file versions, including a pdf, in the coming days and weeks)
  • Am getting excellent proofreading feedback from my eagle-eye final proofreader
  • Am almost ready to send out blog tour information and options to those who expressed interest
  • Am generally far too excited about working on Oscar, given the other work I also need to do during the day!

Here are a few really good resources I’ve found recently and have learned from. At the end of this series, I’ll collect all of the links in one place to share in a tab.

1. PBS’s MediaShift (“Your Guide to the Digital Media Revolution”) has a section titled BookShift that has several informative, interesting, and motivating articles, such as these:

2. Jenny Blake has put together an amazing 15-tab “Book Marketing Master Spreadsheet.” Download it. Now. (Shared by Seth Godin)

3. “Self-Published or Independent? What’s in a Name Anyway?” makes the argument for using the descriptor “independent publisher” rather than “self-published,” and offers some valuable perspective-changing tools in the process.

4. Finally, Bryan Young similarly argues why authors should consider “approaching book publishing as an entrepreneur” in “Combating the Stigma of Self-Publishing“:

“JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury Press picked her up. Would it have made the Harry Potter books somehow less good if she went to self-publish them instead of try another publisher? Maybe they wouldn’t have had the runaway success they did, but she certainly wouldn’t have produced a bad book.

On the other side of the coin, how many terrible books have you read coming from publishers? The answer is a lot. They get it wrong as often as anybody. They really aren’t the tastemakers people seem to give them credit for.”

“A decade to become an overnight success”

The e-Publishing Diaries: Seth Godin on Self-Publishing

I am running across so many interesting articles and other resources in this self-publishing journey, that rather than try to weave all of them into longer pieces, I’m going to share some in shorter asides as they come up.

From Seth Godin:

“Building a tribe is not a matter of a miracle, instead, it’s about converting tiny groups of people at a time, leading them, connecting them, building an audience. When a self-published author does this, she has a new job. Not the author part, the publisher part. She’s not putting a book into the universe and hoping it will be found. She’s not even putting a book in a journalist’s hands and hoping it will be hyped. No, she is engaging in a years-long journey to build a platform. It might take a decade to become an overnight success, but if you keep it up, if you keep building, the odds keep getting better and better.” Read More

Formatting Kindle eBooks, Part 1

The e-Publishing Diaries: Formatting Kindle eBooks, Part 1

August 7 (P Minus 25): Thank you to everyone who has responded to the blog tour request! I’m putting the details together and will get back to you within a couple of days. 

When many people think of e-publishing, the first thing that comes to mind are ebooks for Amazon’s Kindle, which is why I want to spend at least a couple of posts in this series on that format specifically. When I first considered the possibility of e-publishing, I assumed that offering Oscar as a Kindle ebook was all I would want or need to do.

I soon learned it’s not quite that simple (see also author Elizabeth Spann Craig’s thoughts on the ebook challenge). Different companies and e-readers (for example, Amazon’s Kindle and B&N’s Nook) require different kinds of file formats (mobi and epub, respectively). Wikipedia has a good breakdown of the different formats, with tables at the bottom of the article that offer quick visual comparisons of features.

Guest writer Guido Henkel on The Creative Penn explains why he takes the time and effort to customize his works for each of the different formats, rather than limiting himself only to mobi and/or epub, or using a company such as Smashwords to do the formatting and distribution for him (click on any Smashwords title to see a listing at the bottom of the screen of available ebook reading formats):

“To me it is important to give my readers the choice to read in whatever format works best for them. I would never want a single reader to abort a purchase because he or she realizes that the book is not available for their format of choice. Even if I make only a single sale in the Palm format, I feel it was worth the effort, if only to show that I care.” Read More

So while this post is about Kindle (mobi) formatting, I want to be sure to be clear that mobi is far from the only game in town, especially with Nook’s color capability and the iPad’s interactive potential. Since Kindle ebooks are perhaps the best known, however, let’s begin.

First, if you have never done any ebook formatting, and especially if you aren’t that familiar with html, I recommend using MobiPocket Creator (free to download), which allows you to “build” a mobi file using a fairly intuitive drag and drop system.

The bulk of the work comes in creating “clean” html files to upload to Mobipocket Creator. Give yourself a few days or weeks to learn. CJ’s Easy as Pie Kindle Tutorials are an excellent free resource to take you through the steps, or, if you don’t mind spending a few dollars, get a copy of Joshua Tallent’s Kindle Formatting: The Complete Guide to Formatting Books for the Amazon Kindle.

Here’s the most important part: Practice on one or more projects at a leisurely, stress-free pace before you format your “masterpiece.” Once you create an ebook using Mobipocket Creator, you can read it on your own Kindle (or a Kindle reading app) just as you can any purchased book. The possibilities are endless! Make an ebook of family recipes for holiday gifts. Make an ebook of your child’s stories. Or make your own edition of a favorite, public domain classic from Project Gutenberg (download the html version). While Mobipocket Creator does give the option of officially publishing through their services, you can skip that step and keep the ebook just for yourself.

I’ve found the process to be a bit slow and putzy (there is a lot of uploading, testing, revising, uploading again) but not all that difficult—enjoyable, even. I’ve done two previous projects before tackling Oscar’s Gift, which takes a lot of the pressure off and gives me a realistic sense of how long the process will take.

The e-Publishing Diaries: No Going Back

August 5 (P Minus 27): It’s time to kick these diaries into gear!

I made an important decision a couple of days ago to publish Oscar’s Gift as both a print book (via Amazon’s CreateSpace) and an ebook, so I’ve been happily busy formatting the text for the print version and creating a new cover:

Oscar's Gift Book Cover

The story takes place in 1904-1905, and the photograph on the cover of the boy plowing (a public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons) is circa 1900, from Manitoba, Canada, directly north of South Dakota.  One of my goals with this book is to take historical fiction to the next level for young readers by including original photographs of the time period and explanatory notes that, while offering further information and resources, can be readily skipped by those readers who choose to do so.

Fiction for Young Historians. I like that title for a series.

I should probably give some background into this project before going much further.

A few years ago, while doing some research for family diaries that I am (ever so slowly) transcribing, I ran across a reference to Oscar Micheaux’s filming of a black-and-white film, The Homesteader, in Winner, South Dakota, about 30 miles from where I grew up. I wondered, Who is this Oscar Micheaux? I also was surprised that I’d never heard of him before. When I learned that he not only made several films but also was a novelist and had a homestead in the same county where my grandparents had lived, there was no going back. I was hooked, and I knew I had to write about this fascinating man. How, exactly, I did not know.

Then, a little over two years ago, my teenage son gave me as a birthday present the instructions to write at least 250 words every day. He knew I’d been skirting around several ideas for writing projects, and he knows not only how important it is for me to write but that I need to break big tasks into small chunks. What may very well have been a last-minute, creative way for him to dodge having forgotten to buy a present turned out to be just what I needed. We agreed that I would email him my word output every day for a month, to keep me honest.

It wasn’t until about half-way through the month that I began Oscar’s story, and, thanks to my bad email hoarding habit, I am able to retrieve exactly how I began:

Oscar’s Gift

Oscar knew he was different. His teachers had often complained that he talked too much and he was too curious. His classmates had nicknamed him “oddball.” He read more than they did, learned faster, worked harder, and dreamed bigger.

Even in his family he was different. He could talk more than all of his fourteen brothers and sisters combined and could sell almost anything just using words. He wasn’t afraid to question authority or to tell his elders that they should stop complaining about wrongs done to them. He couldn’t abide a lack of ambition.

Oscar was also used to being looked at. So when Oscar stepped off the train in the middle of South Dakota on a hot summer day in 1904, he wasn’t surprised that most people stopped in their tracks and stared. Their stares didn’t bother him. In fact, he liked to be noticed, just as he like to observe other people. He was over six feet tall, and he carried himself to use every inch to his advantage, both to see and to be seen. He knew that many of them had probably never seen a black man before, much less one that was a head taller than everyone else.

He was looking at the people around him with more than curiosity. He had fifteen hundred dollars in his pocket, and he needed a locator.

The rows of cottonwood trees stood proud against the river banks, their branches reaching one hundred feet into the sky. The diamond-shaped leaves fluttered in the wind and glistened like glass trinkets in the midday sun.

Snips and snails. Random thoughts based on biographical information (much of which was gleaned from his autobiographical novels). The very clear image of Oscar’s getting off a train and being the object of everyone’s attention. I hadn’t yet decided to tell his story for children rather than for adults, so only later did the eleven-year-old character of Tomas come on the scene.

After a few months, I had the draft of a middle-grade chapter book. The rest of the story I will save for another day…

Your Questions

Q: How much does it cost to self-publish?

The cost can range from almost nothing to several thousand dollars, depending on your goals (there’s that “beginning with the end in mind” thing again), level of comfort and skill with technology, and willingness to part with cash. Joanna Penn has an excellent post on the topic.

I haven’t set a firm budget for myself, but I’m hoping to keep costs at about $200-$300, most of which is going toward an ISBN and the rest for incidental costs, ordering one or two proofs from CreateSpace, a couple of good books on formatting for the Kindle and iPad, and so on. I already have a website, and I’m not counting costs that are an investment in my writing career as a whole and not specific to this project, such as SCBWI membership. I’ll be sure to tally the costs along the way and give a reckoning at the end, for anyone who is interested.

I do think that spending more money for a cover design or professional editing or promotion can be worth it, especially for writers at the beginning of their professional careers. For print-on-demand books, for example, CreateSpace has a wide range of services, from the almost-free level that I am using to ones that cost a few thousand dollars. However, because I have some practice and experience in editing and formatting and am learning more about marketing every day, I feel comfortable taking on these tasks. Also, to be honest, part of the thrill is doing it myself. I love all aspects of working on Oscar’s Gift and wouldn’t want to farm it out (pun emphatically intended) to anyone else.