Yearly Archives: 2014

Some annoyances with Self Publishing

It’s been a full five days since A Sour Chord has gone on sale through various publishers, including Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Smashwords.

If you’ve been following along with my blog this entire time, you know that I’m not only doing this because I wanted to write and publish something, but because I was curious to learn about the process of doing so.  I’ve learned some incredible things since I started this process in March of 2013.  Over the past two weeks, though, I’ve learned quite a bit more about actually publishing.

Getting the book online

Once you get the book ready to go — you’ve checked it on your iPad and Kindle a hundred times, mucking with formatting, deciding on a price, making sure everything’s perfect, you’re only halfway there.

Actually getting the book online is a journey not for the faint of heart, though some publishers make it easier than others.

For example, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Google make it incredibly easy to get uploaded.  You create a “project” or “book” (the naming convention varies based on what platform you’re on), type in some information and upload your ePub file.

Smashwords, a lesser known publisher – often frequented by people who want to buy books from a third party but still be able to read their books on their eReaders, is kind of a nightmare.  They have their own formatting rules and guidelines that don’t jive with the same formatting regulations for other publishers.  To be honest, I’ve ignored their warnings and will likely just pull the book down from there as I don’t see any real benefit in having it for sale there.  The actual publishing process is easy, but their special formatting requirements are a bit clumsy when you’ve already got your work formatted perfectly fine.

Apple’s publishing process, for someone who’s never done it before, was quite frustrating.  The entire time I’d been researching how to do this, I had sworn I’d seen that their process was the same as Amazon’s — you just upload your file and you’re done with it.  How wrong I was.  Apple’s publishing process requires using a specific publishing application called iTunes Composer, only available for the Mac.  Not a big deal for me, as I’m a Mac user.

The problem is that if you’ve never used it before, it can be quite daunting to figure out.  It took me a good three hours to get my book uploaded through it, having to fight through a number of cryptic error messages and timeouts while uploading. Not to mention that version 3.0 of their software locked up my computer multiple times before working.

Once I finally got my book uploaded, that was just half the battle.

All of the publishers go through a review process to make sure your book looks right on their devices, is formatted correctly, and doesn’t contain anything hateful.  None of them tell you how long this process should take, and some of them don’t even tell you there is a review process until you click the “Publish” button.

Amazon’s review took about 6 hours.
Barnes & Noble’s took just about 80 hours.
Apple took almost 96 hours.
Google took about 4 hours.
Smashwords took the better part of a day (though I didn’t keep an eye on it diligently, as it was an afterthought.)

My only annoyance with this was that I wanted to have the book “go live” on all platforms at once.  Without knowing how long this process would take, it was impossible to do that.  I had to wait for the process to complete, then unpublish the book and wait for the other publishers to be ready to go.  The only problem with this is that the only publisher that notifies you when they’ve approved your book is Amazon (which they do via email).  The others require you to check back through their website to see if your book’s for sale.

Which brings me to my next point.

Support

Throughout the process I had to reach out to the support teams at most of these publishers, for a variety of reasons.  The reasons aren’t important, but the response times varied greatly, so I thought I’d document them here.

Barnes & Noble

Between email and their live chat support, I contacted Barnes & Noble a total of 5 times over the course of the three weeks when I was getting ready to publish.

The two live chats I had deferred me to email and assured me that someone from the email team would follow up with me in “two business days”, which is the same time frame that they give you when you fill out their “email us” form.

The first email that I sent them got a response after 8 days.
The second email that I sent them got a response after 7 days.
The third email still hasn’t been responded to after 11 days.
The two emails that were generated by the live chat agents (supposedly) haven’t been responded to either.

All of the replies from Barnes & Noble’s email team were frustrating. They deflected the problem, asked questions I already provided the answers to in my initial email, or flat out didn’t understand the question.

The one email that they replied to saying that they didn’t see the problem anymore, was simply because enough time had elapsed between my sending the email and their response that the issue had resolved itself.

Apple

I emailed Apple twice asking for help, both about the same issue.

The first email was responded to in less than 8 hours.  I replied back to that same email four times in that same day, and the Agent handling the case responded to every one of those four emails within an hour of me replying to it.

The second email was responded to in about 2 hours, simply saying something to the effect of “It looks like my colleague is already helping you with this on another case.”

I was okay with that second email’s response.

Google

I reached out to Google to ask a question once I’d finished publishing.  Their website said that my book was live in their store, but I couldn’t find it through their search.

It took them about an hour to write back and say that they simply had to wait for the new book to be indexed by their search, and to “check back in a few weeks”.

While I wasn’t stoked to hear “a few weeks”, they were at least quick about writing back to me.

Note: the book showed up in search results the following morning, not a “few weeks”, like they said.

Smashwords

I’ve said it a bunch of times here — I don’t really care or understand Smashwords.  I don’t think many people will buy my book through there, so I didn’t really have much interest in this.  Some folks on Twitter suggested using them, so I gave it a shot.

I reached out to them asking a question on Monday May 19th.  I’ve yet to get a response.

Amazon

Amazon was the only company I didn’t have to ask for help from.  Their UI was easy to use, the uploading process, territory selection process, and pricing was simple enough that I didn’t need help.

Reporting

The biggest frustration for me was that the various levels of reporting through these five publishers varies enormously.  None of them appear to be real-time at all, though some are updated more frequently than others.

Apple’s reporting doesn’t update until the following day.
Barnes & Noble appears to be delayed by about 5 hours. (I only know this because a friend said she bought a copy, and I didn’t see it show up in “today’s sales” until around 5 hours later.)
Amazon’s appears to be delayed by about 8 hours, but does show you metrics for the same day.

I don’t know about Smashwords or Google Play because I haven’t sold any copies there.  However, Google’s reporting doesn’t really exist.  To be honest, theirs is the most frustrating of all, given the size of their company.

Their reporting interface doesn’t even show you metrics on screen. You have to download a CSV with your data and open it in Excel. Seriously. There’s no web interface at all like the other systems.  Even though the data might be outdated, at least you can see it online.

The last thing I want to do is download a CSV and open it to find out that there are no sales there.

Having to log into the five various publisher websites to see how many total copies I’d sold in a day was annoying me, so I sought out a service that would compile all of the metrics into one web interface.  I stumbled across Vook, which appears to do just that.  However, in the five days I’ve been using it, it appears to be wrong.  They’re not showing any Kindle sales (which their support team says is Amazon’s fault, because they don’t update the data very frequently) and the Apple sales are incorrect.

If they can help iron out those kinks, I think their service would be very beneficial, rather than logging into each of the websites every day to view sales metrics.

The Fifth Day

Today’s the fifth day since A Sour Chord went on sale.  It was finally approved to all of the publishing websites on Monday at around 8:30am EST.

The response has been bigger than I expected — not that much in terms of sales, but moreso in engagement.  Through my primitive marketing skills and efforts, in the course of this week, I’ve managed to:

Increase Twitter followers by 31%
Increase Facebook Likes by over 150% (not that I had many to start with!)
Have my Facebook posts seen by 2,478.6% more people than the previous week.

In addition to that, I’ve also sold a total of 9 copies, which is much more than I thought I’d sell during the first few days.  Nine may not seem like a whole heck of a lot to you, but I’m really really happy with that number.  I had set out a silent and internal goal of selling 100 copies in total, so starting with 9 in the first week is definitely a positive for me.

My hope is that over the coming weeks, those 9 people will rate and review the book and that’ll help with other people wanting to read it.  I think, like with much anything in life, no one wants to be the first to do something.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of things this week about the publishing process, including how amazingly frustrating some of the tools are (which I’ll detail more in a complaining post over the weekend), and I’m just incredibly proud of myself for seeing this all the way through.  That’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life and this book represents a new me, figuratively speaking.

If you’ve bought or downloaded a copy of the book, thank you.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing, editing, and publishing it!

It’s Official, I did it!

The culmination of a total of 440 days of work has finally come to an end.  The write, edit, and publish journey has come to an end.  What started way back on March 5th of 2013 has finally come to a close as of this morning.

I’m fully published on Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble as of this morning.  You can find the links to those specific providers on the A Sour Chord page.

What took so long? I’m glad you asked.

The first draft took me 17 days (looking back at my daily word counts is sort of astounding. I wrote just shy of 80,000 words in just over two weeks). I wrote another thousand words after reading the first draft over a few times, then handed it off to my buddy Austin for a first pass edit.

That process took close to three months to complete, at which point I hired Lauren to do my real edit.  That took way longer than both of us anticipated, and we didn’t get that complete until mid-February.

At that point, I contracted Scott Pond to do the artwork for the cover artwork.  After a few rounds of back and forth and a handful of iterations, we had the final artwork done last week.

Then the process of compiling the eBook, formatting to the specific publisher’s specifications and getting it through their review process took exactly a week (I submitted it to all 3 of the publishing platforms last Monday morning). And here we are, 440 days later.

I told my first copy last night through Barnes & Noble, and I’ve never in my life been more proud to make a $2.65 commission.

If you buy a copy — even if you hate it — please review a review on whatever service you bought from.  That’d be appreciated immensely!

Phase one is now over.  Phase two is marketing, selling, and re-marketing.  And then I’ll get back to My Last Days and go through this whole thing again.  Once I get some sleep.  Thanks for coming along on this journey with me, dear reader.  Without you this wouldn’t be worth it.

Apple’s Publishing Platform is Terrible

Part of this whole “I’m writing a book” process has been to educate myself about how it works from start to finish — what it’s like to write a book, edit a book, have artwork designed, and finally publish the book.

I’ve been rolling with the proverbial punches since I started this journey in March of 2013.  I haven’t been frustrated at all, despite many parts of the process taking much longer than I wanted.  Until this week.

I was finally done with everything. Artwork done, book compiled into eBook format, ready to publish and start marketing myself and the book.

I uploaded the book to Barnes & Noble first, typed in a few bits of information, uploaded my file and had a button that said “Publish” in a matter of minutes.

Amazon’s process was similar — ready to publish in just a few minutes.

Apple’s process has been frustrating and confusing, to say the least.

I found out that you need their own proprietary publishing software, called iTunes Producer. After downloading 3.0 (the latest version), I had nothing but problems. Even on my brand new Mac Pro (one of the most powerful computers on earth), it just kept freezing.

Google suggested that it was the same for most people who’d upgraded. So I found an older version and used that.

After two, or maybe it was three, hours of confusing unhelpful error messages, I finally got the book to compile into their iBooks format, and started the upload process.

My 1mb file took ten minutes to upload. Ten minutes!

Once that completed I was happy. I was ready to go!

Wrong.  Then Apple’s “review process” began.  They, much like apps submitted to their store, review your book for quality — though it’s unclear what they’re looking for.

This was Monday morning, around 10am.  Cut to Friday, they finally approved my book and made it for sale immediately.

I wasn’t ready to be on sale yet, so I went in and turned off the “Cleared for Sale” option on the United States store, which then triggered an error message in their system.  It eventually fixed itself, but now I see a big error of “Not available in 51 stores” on my book’s management page.  I filled out the contact form yesterday asking for help, but I imagine it’ll be a few days before I hear back.

While the book was up for sale, the “Sample” file that was provided (which may have been my fault), was the entire book, not just a sample.  Clearly no one’s going to buy the book if they can get it for free through the sample.

I’m hoping I can get all of these issues cleared up next week and finally be on sale.

I do have to say, though, seeing the book on an iBooks page and in the iBooks app made me feel an extreme sense of accomplishment.  Even if no one buys it and no one cares about it or likes the story, I did it. And that’s the most important thing for me.

Uploaded and Queued Up

As of around 24 hours ago, I’ve uploaded A Sour Chord to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble were quick and painless.  After mucking around with my eBook format a few times and testing it on their preview systems, I got it right and had it queued up, selected what countries I wanted to sell in, and set my price.  All I have left to do there is click the Publish button on both platforms.

Apple, on the other hand, has a review process built into their system.  I won’t even get into what a pain it is to upload your book to their service if you’ve never done it before — they have their own proprietary app that only runs on OS X (not a big deal, I’m a Mac user), which the current version doesn’t work properly — but I managed to get that all sorted out.

I couldn’t find anywhere in their membership agreement, or documentation when I signed up that they can take up to 30 days to approve your book.  Apparently it’s the same review process that apps for the App Store go through.  I’m not sure if that means I have to wait for someone to actually read the book, or if they just download it, scan through it, and then approve it.

At this point, I’m at the mercy of the might fruit company.  My plan is that once they approve the book, I’ll flip the switch on all three services and be for sale all at once.  Then I’ll have some updating to do here on the website, including publishing the book details, updating the navigation menu, adding buy links, etc.  My task manager app is brimming with things I’ll need to do once I go live.

In case you’re curious, I settled on $3.99 for my initial price and will play with that over time.  It’s surprising how much of that money the companies selling for you take.  For example, of that $3.99, Amazon will give me $1.40.  That’s 35% if you wanted to do the math.

It varies by country, but given that most of my sales will be US based, I’ll get $1.40 per copy sold.

I’m hoping for, and will consider this endeavor a success, if I can sell 100 copies.  Fingers crossed!  Once this waiting game is over, it’s game on.  I don’t want to say that I’ll have to start pimping myself out, but it almost feels that way.

Progress Update: A Sour Chord

After what felt like forever of no progress, things are finally moving in the right direction with A Sour Chord.

I got artwork back from the graphic designer who implemented all of the changes I requested and it looked amazing.  To make sure I was really in love with it, I compiled the book into Kindle and iPad format with the artwork and put it on all of my devices.  I then stared at it for a good three or four hours to make sure it really said what I want it to say.

Turns out, it didn’t.  The concept was the same, but we’re changing a bit of the minor details and should have it finalized by this weekend.  Which means I’m one step closer to publishing.

Since I’m getting so close to publishing, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to two important pieces:

  1. The price point.  I’ve read almost every suggestion on the internet about how much you should charge for a self-published first time novel, and there’s really no right or wrong answer.  I think that’ll come to me in the spur of the moment and I’ll just pick something, wait a couple of weeks and see how it goes.
  2. The description of the book.  All three of the systems I’ll be selling through (Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble) allow you to provide a description of the book to help people know what it’s about.  Writing that — without spoiling the book itself — is proving challenging.  I’ve written four or five so far and will gather feedback from those that have read the book before picking one.

It’s really interested to me to learn that the hardest part of this whole book writing process isn’t writing the book itself.  The book just flew out of me, word after wild word, flowing from my fingers faster than my brain could process what I was writing.  The first draft was finished in roughly four weeks back in April of 2013.

Ever since then, I’ve been working on the harder parts; the editing, the artwork, the setup of the online services.  I had no idea that so much went into this process, but I’m glad I’m learning.  If this goes well and I go back to working on the second book, I’ll be a lot more educated on how this all works.

I’m hopeful that this’ll all tie together in the end and I’ll have something to show for all of my hard work (and money spent) in the next month or so! I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey as much as I have!

Artwork just about done

The graphic designer that’s working on the cover art for A Sour Chord emailed me a few tests last night to see what I thought of them.

We went back and forth a few times about placement of a few of the components and after going back and adjusting them, we’re just about done.

He’s out of town this week for business, but says that he’ll likely be done next weekend when he’s back. Which means I have one week to re-read through the entire book and make sure that it’s really done.  I realize I’ve been calling it “done” for months now, but I want to make really-super-duper-extra sure that I’m fully done.

A few different treatments for the typeface of the title and byline and we’ll be good to go.

I can’t even express how excited I am about getting this done so I can finally get the book on sale.

Once that happens, I’ll be blogging about my experience with the selling process, how I’ve been marketing it, and anything else I can think of that’s interesting. All the while picking up work on My Last Days, that I stopped working on back in October to finish up A Sour Chord.

Also, if you haven’t checked it out yet, my story telling website went up a few weeks ago.  All true stories from my really bizarre life (so far). Feel free to check it out at www.thesearemystories.com