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Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Experiment 3: ALWAYS Read The Fine Print


I've been searching through lists of printers and POD printers, trying to find one that I feel comfortable entrusting The Artifact, and my hard-earned money with.

Although I am trying as much as possible to minimize my costs, it does seem likely that I will have to outlay some serious cash for the self-publishing quest to be successful. However, my objective is to spend as little money as possible on the actual printing/publishing as the book, so that I could spend more money on the marketing part of the equation; I feel very strongly that as important as a quality print run is going to be for the success of this project, that marketing the book, creating a buzz, a curiosity, a demand for the product is going to be at least as important, if not more so.

But the problem is, as I have posted previously, the expense of most POD printers/DIY publishers is, at least from my perspective, prohibitive: between $300 and $1500 USD. Well, having done my research a little more that figure should be revised upwards: the best services I've found would run me between $750 and $2000 USD.

Okay; this isn't going to be that big a deal. Yes, it means that I have to push back my schedule until I get my annual bonus from the phone company in February; it also means I have to really start chiselling down my credit card debt (because additional expenses are going to drive it back up there after). I mean, yeah, it's discouraging news. However, one of the things I've come to realize since deciding (long before now) to self-publish, is that the one, all-pervasive and overriding theme of self-publishing is HURRY UP AND WAIT.

Armed with this knowledge, I becan searching in earnest through my lists of POD printers and DIY publishers. One of the problems I came across in my search for a printer/publisher is book formatting. Obviously, the first thing you want is a printer that does perfect binding, and, where possible, offset printing. But another concern is the size of the book being printed.

Paperback format, the "pulp" format we're all used to picking up at the bookstores or from the local pharmacy book rack is 4" x 7" in size.

However, not a single POD printer or DIY publisher I came across offers this format.

The most common formats offered are 6" x 9" or 5.5" x 8.5" both of which are a little bit larger than the 5.25" x 8.25" trade paperback format.

The problem with 6" x 9" is that it is unwieldy; When Irvine Welsh's Glue came out a couple of years back, my wife got me a copy for Christmas. The odd size of the book made it very difficult to read, and sometimes made it distracting to the reading process.

5.5" x 8.5" and 5.25" x 8.25"trade paperback formats are easier to deal with and more common. Realistically, as 4" x 7" isn't commonly available from POD or DIY, the ideal is to aim for the trade paperback format.

I went to several different sites, and ordered information kits and cost quotes. Through the process I hit on what I thought was an ideal company: Xlibris Press. They offered not only POD printing of my book, but also a full range of services: they would format the book from my original Word files; they would acquire the barcode for me; they would help with the cover design, marketing and placing it not only with a distributor but onto Amazon.com.

I asked for a publishing kit. When it arrived and I read over the contract I was more than a little disappointed when I read the clauses concerning payment to the author and indemnity.

It seems that despite the fact that the author pays 100% of the cost of printing and marketing the book, he only gets 10% of the profits. And, the author indemnifies the publisher against any legal liability. So, basically I pay the full cost of printing, marketing and distributing the book, assume full liability, but Xlibris gets 90% of what my book earns.

Like the title says: always read the fine print.

So, needless to say I'm still shopping around for a printer. And a marketing service. And a distributor.

It's discouraging, to be honest. I thought I was closer to my goal than this; I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I can't get mired down; this is one setback, and I know I should expect many more before reaching my goal. So, I'm going to carry on, continue looking for the POD or DIY printer that I can work with. I still have a lot of info packs wending their way through the mail to me; I still have a requests for price quotes to come back to me.

I keep reminding myself that I want to do this right; that I want this book to be the start of something. I keep reminding myself that if I cut corners or look for the easy route it won't be.

Mind you, I wouldn't say "no" to a serious influx of cash.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

About Not Updating



One of the first rules of a successful weblog is to update often.

Obviously in the last two weeks I have not done so. First off to my readers, let me apologize. My time away from this place has not been deliberate, or what I wanted.

When I started this weblog, it was my intention to post between 2 and 3 times a week. While this seems reasonable and certainly seemed reasonable to me as well. However the reality is that time spent posting is time away from other things.

On average it takes me 60 minutes to compose my posts. While this certainly doesn't amount to a lot of time, I spend 8 hours a day at work, 2 hours a day in transit to and from the office, and somewhere in the rest of the time available to me, I have to find time to do my share of the housework, eat, shower, write, revise written projects and sleep.

I also choose to spend as much time as I can (without neglecting my other responsibilities) with my wife, because I am deeply in love with her, and value her above all things.

Basically One of the reasons I haven't posted is because it's been a juggling act and I finally dropped one or more of the flaming chainsaws I had up in the air.

However, I have also been sick for the last week and a half: a bad case of food poisoning/indigestion followed by the gift that keeps on giving, a chest cold. Being under the weather, I haven't had motivation to do much with my free time.

All that to say that I am back; despite the unforseen down-time, I have still been doing research for my self-publishing project, continuing in the vein of finding a printer/POD publisher I can work with. So, coming soon to ){ Space: The Experiment III: ALWAYS Read The Fine Print!

"How Soon?" You ask?

Soon.

I promise.

Steve Karmazenuk,

The ){eeper of ){ Space.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Experiment, Part Two: The Print On Demand Controversy


So while waiting for funding to come through on my purchase of a UPC code (and of course by "funding" I mean paying enough down on my credit card to actually have credit again) I have been researching Print On Demand (or POD) publishing.

POD publishing has a very bad rep, if you read a lot of the press that's out there. This is because so many vanity presses have set themselves up by using "POD technology" (a term that sounds suspiciously like a marketing ploy even if it is used by both opponents and proponents of the technique) to produce their work.

The thing is, you can usually spot the vanity press assholes by the simple fact that they, as their name implies, go out of their way to appeal to the vanity of their target market, unpublished (and naive) writers looking for a quick break into the "industry".

Vanity press outfits almost invariably pepper terms like "you deserve to be published" or "taking control of your destiny as an author" or "At last you will be published" and other ego-flattering catch-phrases into the lengthy blocks of texts that are plastered on virtually every page of their websites.

But what I don't understand is why every printer who offers writers the chance to use POD to produce copies of their work are hampered by the same blanket condemnation reserved for the vanity outfits.

So besides just compiling a list of POD printers and comparing the services and prices offered by the different companies, I also looked into the controversy surrounding POD and POD technology.

At the risk of sounding like some sort of radical, most of the bad press seems to be coming from "The Establishment"; IE, Publishers, and "recognized" authors (Anyone who's read by entry on the Author's Guild will know what I think of author "recognition).

Here's an example of the bad press, from one David Taylor. The article can be found in full, by clicking here

"...Why hasn't the potential and promise of print-on-demand technology been realized? It's not just POD's poorer quality (especially evident in images and covers) or cost (POD can be three or four times more expensive per unit)...Here's what POD publishers fail to arm their writers with and thus lead them to slaughter:

• Trade quality design. "Trade" refers to bookstores. And the author-chosen templates that Xlibris offers, for example, are instantly recognized by the trade and rejected because of their quality. Writers are not book designers, a fact which is evident in virtually every book it produces. There's a standard that must be met in order to get into bookstores, and few writers know enough about graphic design and book production to get there.

• An offset book. As a rule, bookstores and libraries do not accept POD books. Although the differences may not be immediately discernible to most customers, book professionals know instantly if a book was done on a souped-up Xerox copier (which is what POD publishers use) or if it was produced by offset lithography..."

The "bold" highlights are my own; I felt it necessary to point out both Mr Taylor's apparent bias against Xlibris, his disdain towards independent authors, and his lack of knowledge about the quality of POD publishing.

First off, while I neither support nor endorse Xlibris, it must be said that the full article in question seems to be more of a subtly directed attack against that company than an actual report into the POD industry. Taylor makes several references to Xlibris in his article, none of them very flattering.

Secondly, as to the quality of POD publishing, the American Council of Learned Societies, the London National Gallery, CAP Ventures (article), and the Bellagio Publishing Network, among many others all either endorse or use POD publishing. Likewise, there are colleges, universities and trade schools that offer courses on POD printing.

Thirdly, the condescending and insulting claim made by Taylor that POD publishing is done on "souped-up Xerox copiers" is obviously a dig at the fact that Xerox manufactures the offset printing machines that are used in POD printing. But Xerox is hardly the only company who makes the printers used in POD printing.

There is no question that POD-printed books are of lesser quality than offset litho books. However, the consensus seems to be the opposite of Taylor's claims. I quote below from Forner Books, on POD versus Offset Printing:

"...If you're publishing a full color cook book, there's just no way you can do it with print on demand at this point. The cost is too high and the quality isn't there...On the other hand, for a novel or a nonfiction book with limited black and white illustrations, print on demand quality is good enough. Print on demand printing is actually cheaper than a short run of offset...

Printing Offset
High quality from a good printer
Low unit cost if printing in large quantity - F.O.B.
Tremendous flexibility in cut size, paper weight and color
High storage cost
High distribution cost
High initial investment
High prepress cost, errors extremely expensive

Print on Demand
Low quality relative to offset printing
Uniform unit cost at all quantities
Limited flexibility in cut size and paper
No storage cost
Low/No distribution cost
Low initial investment
Low prepress cost, errors easily corrected..."

So it looks as though POD is a viable option for self-published authors. So what's the problem? Well, one thing that opponents of POD and its proponents can agree on is that all a POD printer does is print up books to order and specification. The author is responsible for everything else.

That means the onus is on the author to have the book proofread and copy edited. Likewise, cover design, marketing and distribution are all problems the author must overcome:

Distribution isn't a problem; you don't go to your local bookstore and try and get them to sell your books on consignment. There are numerous legitimate book distributors out there who will work with you. The more helpful ones will even give you tips and advice you'll need to consider before going to press. Granted, you have to shop around first, find a distributor who is both above board and right for your needs, but they are not as closed a circle as Mr Taylor's article implies.

The great thing about small business, though, is that small businesses tend to encourage other small businesses. Chances are you can find a journalism student at your local college to proof and edit your copy; chances are they won't charge you the small fortune that "professionals" do. Granted, you have more of a guarantee of quality with the pros, but odds are good that you don't have the capital to hire them.

Unfortunately, book jacket design isn't as simple as going to Chapters or Barnes & Noble and studying the books on the shelves of the genre section you're trying to break into. But again, there's a good chance that a graphic design student that'll be willing to help for cheap if you can't afford a professional's services.

The same goes for marketing. If you do have a decent budget for your publishing project, my honest suggestion is that you invest it here. You'll need a consultant and a campaign. You won't sell unless you can generate demand; you won't generate demand unless you create a buzz. Unfortunately, putting a URL in your email sig and in your sig line on message boards won't suffice. Yes, I know; it's ironic that I've been doing just that, along with this weblog. However, the small things are necessary steps, but the big things, like a marketing strategy are essential steps.

And as this experiment continues to go forward, I will look at all of these issues (and more) in future weblog updates.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Experiment, APPENDIX TO PART ONE: Acquiring a Barcode


So this week I've been digging a little deeper into the whole barcode issue. Once again, my friend Tom was indispensible (although he did it out of his own sense of curiosity and not because I'd asked him to). Tom found out that an ISSN isn't necessary, as it only applies to periodical publications.

Armed with this knowledge, I proceeded to the Bookland EAN page to get my free barcode. Here is where I balked; the Bookland EANs are not guaranteed:


ISBN bar codes are provided here WITHOUT WARRANTY. The program that generates the bar codes is free software and has not been shown to comply with any set of bar code specifications...You must verify the bar code before going to press.
It's best to use a professional bar code verifier...Going to press with a bad ISBN bar code can be costly. If you can't afford this risk, please contact one of our sponsors for a professionally generated bar code.

As a small self-publisher, or more precicely as a soon-to-be self-published author, I do not feel I can afford the risk of a barcode that could be invalid. Another problem is that it is entirely possible that the barcode may already be assigned to another book or product. Worst of all, as an unguaranteed barcode, the barcode isn't registered. This means that I could slap this barcode on the back of my book and later on the barcode could be registered to another book or product at a later date. As the barcode would THEN be registered to that particular product, and I would have to get a new barcode for my book.

This isn't a risk I can afford to take. This isn't a risk I feel that anyone in this particular situation can afford to take. As a self-publisher, I cannot afford any damage to my credibility. If the book isn't properly printed and bound, if there is anything that can adversely effect the distribution, sale or shipping of the book it can destroy my reputation, and my ability to print, distribute and sell anything else.

At the outset of this experiment I said that good, bad or indifferent I was going to put down everything I experienced and everything I discovered while trying to self-publish. That includes my mistakes. The goal is to learn how to self-publish without getting burned, and in the process, maybe some other authors will learn how to self publish as well.

I am a little frustrated and quite a bit disappointed that my plans have been frustrated. However, by doing all my homework and not leaping in with both feet, I saved myself from making a terrible mistake.

However, the difference between making a mistake and failure is that failure comes from not learning from one's mistakes; failure is in not moving forward.

So, I did more research; obviously a free barcode isn't a viable alternative. But neither is paying $120.00 USD for one. So I did some digging, and found the site for Barcode Graphics. They offer single barcode purchases for $10.00 USD by credit card.

Unfortunately, this means that I need to put enough money on my credit card to actually be able to BUY a barcode, but it'll be worth it. That'll mean a bit of a long wait as my card is maxed out.

The wait is also going to afford me more time to research Print On Demand publishers, and to contact book distributors and find one who will work with me.

More will be reported, soon.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Experiment, Part One: Acquiring a Barcode



My initial phase of research (Called asking my friend Tom, who is, I am sometimes convinced, the physical embodiment of Google, much the same way as Locutus was the physical embodiment of the Borg) into getting a UPC code for my novel, The Artifact yielded rather disappointing results. Tom has, for his own business, contacted Eric at BuyABarCode.com and was quoted what I have to agree are very reasonable prices. If you intend on buying one or more bar codes for whatever product your small business intends on selling, I recommend them.

However, the prices quoted (I refuse to offer too much free advertizing for a company I'm not doing business with, but you can get a single bar code for less than $120.00) were out of MY particular price range, which is to say, I wanted it for FREE.

I figure that considering the National Archives of Canada provided me with a free ISBN number, why shouldn't I get a free UPC code, as well?

So I did some research, and I discovered that through Archives Canada, I can get an International Standard Serial Number for The Artifact, apparently for as little (nothing) as I paid for the ISBN!

While this is good news for me and for my fellow Canadians, I realize that this might not be of any value to my US or UK readers.

GS1 (Formerly the Uniform Code Council) handles the issuing of UPC codes in the United States.

In the UK, there are apparently different agencies that will issue UPC codes for your book. Actually, for the United Kingdom you can find several resources from the Book Industry Communication website.

All of the above links, by the way, can be found in my links section. If they aren't there yet, it's probably because I'm in the process of updating the page. My God, you got here fast! Keep hitting your browser's "refresh" button until the links appear.

Anyway, getting an ISBN and an ISSN is only PART of the battle. I STILL need a bar-code to be able to affix to the back of the book!

Well, that's when my searches led me to Barcodes For Books, an article on PublishingCentral tells me how I can get a Bookland Ean barcode (Although the link is to a pretty sloppy looking website it is legit) once I have the aforementioned ISBN and ISSN.

So, assuming that my ISSN application is approved as quickly as my ISBN application was, I will soon be moving onto the next phase of my operation, finding a Print On Demand publisher. Again, Tom has provided me with a good lead, which I will be soon investigating.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Experiment



Over the coming weeks, I will begin research for my latest writing project. As I research things, I will also be moving forward, step by step, with said same project.

I have recently acquired an ISBN for The Artifact. The ISBN was provided free of charge by the National Library of Canada. With the acquisition of an ISBN, The Artifact now has its own unique identifier, recognized in over 160 countries all over the world. The story was copyrighted years ago, and although I have recently hosted it on ourmedia.org (where it will remain) I have decided to begin a print run of the story.

I will chronicle the experiences here in ){-space. This way, instead of relaying information to you in a "theoretical" format, I will actually take you, step-by-step through the process of printing, distributing and marketing The Artifact.

Some things I need to consider:

--Finding an affordable Print on Demand publisher.

--Manuscript formatting

--Acquiring a UPC code for the book

--Getting distribution

--Marketing and selling enough copies of the book to break even.

Of course these are just the issues I can think of, off the top of my head. As I move forward with the experiment, I will, of course, undoubtedly discover more problems, issues, and disasters-in-waiting.

All of them will be posted as they happen, here.

What I want to accomplish in this, besides selling The Artifact, is to establish myself as an independant author. Most importantly, I hope to lead by example, start a movement: I hope to show you how it can be done; I hope to start a movement that will change the way publishing is done.

I hope that other writers languishing in obscurity will take control of their fates, write what they want to write, publish what they have written and show the supposed literati that success comes not from appealing to the lowest common denominator, but by producing quality storytelling.