100 days in: Tractor Big Year

Daily research into and exploration of how to self publish towards the end of the second decade of the Twenty-First Century . . . have I accomplished that? A resounding yes, for 85 days (15 days have been travel days or sick leave).

My assessment of this Big Year’s impact? Entirely positive. I have a halfway understanding of what I need to do, I’ve put steps in place to self-publish a murder mystery upon our return to Australia, and websites/blogs have been refreshed in a most satisfying manner. So . . . a tick for this Big Year.

Tractor Big Year: Self publishing scrambles your head

In the Old World, my Big Publisher did all the work for me, the writer. (This remains a strategic option.) My only job was to mail in my printed Word document.

In the New World, I, the Self Publisher, have quite some work to do, and at each step, I can DIY (do it all myself) or pay someone else to do all or part of the job.

An example? An ebook needs a cover as much as a paperback does. I can DIY this task: conceive a nifty design, then take a photo or draw a picture on my iPad, then type in the title, etc., using some software program, and finally upload it to the Amazon website. At the other extreme, I can pay mega bucks to any one of a multitude of firms who can make my entire book, including using my title to design and manufacture the cover. In between, there are many, many firms or individuals who charge a lot or not much to do part of the process. As one example, there are “build your own cover” websites that give you a range of options but don’t cost much at all (but typically give shoddy results).

A wealth of options, expensive or cheap, wonderful or abysmal, exist for other self publishing steps: copy editing, proofreading, book layout, indexing, referencing, publicity, promotion, distribution (to bookshops, for a print-on-demand paperback), etc., etc.

What a minefield!

Tractor Big Year: What’s the worst that can happen?

In the Old World, pre Kindle, you, the writer, sought the attention of a Big Publisher who stuck your paperback in Billy’s Bookshop. You can still opt for this strategy in 2018 and it can be sensible. What might you expect? At best . . . an Oprah bestseller! Or you might sell a few or more than a few. What’s your worst outcome? No Big Publisher notices you . . . not one . . . you don’t end up with a book at all!

In the Old World, pre Kindle, if you were REJECTED (note the jilted lover language), you could (and still can) pay someone to print your PDF and Photoshop’d cover, stick the book in your garage, and hawk it to friends. This was the old “Vanity Publishing” approach, one rightly stigmatised.

In the New World, your strategy can be to Self Publish your ebook and pbook. This is NOT Vanity Publishing – you mimic the professional steps of the Big Publishers by paying for editing, for cover design, for this and that. Your ebook and pbook will NEVER end up in Billy’s Bookshop. What might you expect? At best . . . a bestseller! Or you might sell a few or more than a few. And your worst outcome? Because it’s not in Billy’s Bookshop, no one even notices its existence and all you end up doing is hawking a few to friends.

The worst outcome in the New World is no worse than it was (and can still be) in the Old World. At least your garage doesn’t smell of mouldy books!

Tractor Big Year: It’s a confusing world out there

Five days out of every six in 2018, I’ve spent an afternoon hour puzzling how to self publish. I can’t be more pleased with both my diligence (my “off” days have been travel or sick days) and my improved situation of the complex, messy world of publishing.

Needing to be bold, and acknowledging I might be mistaken, here’s how I’ve begun to see my environment in deliberately simplified language: (i) old people still buy paperbacks from Billy’s Bookshop, but ebooks will demolish all but a handful of bricks-and-mortar establishments within a decade; (ii) for romances, sci-fi, mysteries, and thrillers, self-published ebooks priced at $1 to $5 dominate the sales charts (in spite of all those James Pattersons you see in airports and supermarkets); (iii) kids’ books and textbooks are still physical; (iv) my history book lives somewhere in between those worlds.

Readers and writers, both, can choose to live in either the ebook world or the pbook (paperback) world. Readers and writers can stick with the Big Publishers or opt for the great unwashed world of Self Publishers.

In this interregnum of epochal change, there is no obvious optimal strategy. Me? I’ll aim for the future, take risks, and try to have fun.

Tractor Big Year: Better data on who publishes and sells what

Plenty of guff gets written about ebooks versus “real” books, and self-published books versus those produced by Penguin, Hachette, etc. For a huge industry, the publishing world has crap data, but over the past few years, a mysteriously named Data Guy, on a website called Author Earnings, has been gathering fresh data, especially from Amazon, and he has just published a landmark report that reinforces my plans. I can’t say I fully understand Data Guy’s analysis versus that from the older data providers, but other more experienced observers  trust his work and consider it to illuminate.

Take a look. Browse Data Guy’s findings. More than half the books sold recently are ebooks, and the share of market held by traditional publishers is steadily declining. Once upon a time, if you self-published, you ended up with a vanity project and a garage full of mouldering books. Now, self-publishing holds its head high.

Tractor Big Year: Inspiring good fun!

Every afternoon (mornings are for “real” work) I’m meant to spend an hour investigating the modern publication scene and tooling up to produce an ebook plus a paperback. The good news is that I’ve managed to do just that, each and every day (it hasn’t been easy to fit this in). The better news is that it’s a thrill a minute. If bookshops are still your thing, you’re missing out on the revolution-in-the-making that is rolling out, mainly courtesy of Amazon. Daily I’m amazed, discovering how much power modern authors hold in their hands.

That doesn’t mean self-publishing at the tail end of this second decade of the 21st century is easy, cheap (heck, no) or profitable (double “heck, no”), but more of that in future posts . . .

Tractor Big Year: This book is a great overview of self-publishing

An hour a day learning how to produce a book. How to self-publish. It’s more complicated than it looks. At each stage of the process, companies have sprung up to do it for you, for a buck or a cut. Such a wide subject cries for an introductory text and I’ve found one: Choosing the Best Self-Publishing Companies and Services 2018: How To Self-Publish Your Book” by Jim Giammatteo & John Doppler.

Here are the seven stages I need to navigate:

  • Write
  • Edit
  • Make me a book cover
  • Physically make an ebook or print book, including delivering the text in a suitable format
  • Distribute the ebook/print book to the places readers come
  • Market and promote
  • License other rights (audio, libraries, etc.)

I’m doing the first part right now. In the meantime this Big Year enforces discipline in negotiating all the complexities of the other six stages. The Giammatteo & Doppler book evaluates options for each stage and recommends the best ones. I cannot recommend it too highly.