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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.