Wednesday, 14 December 2011

That's not real publishing (Part 4)

I’m holding a book signing event. Please bring your Kindle
and the engraving device of you choice. RSVP ...

E-publishing is very strange. After a year and a half or more of hard writing, editing and re-editing, the writer commits to e-publishing and ends up with a product that he can’t actually hold in his hands. Except on an e-reader or maybe a memory stick.

Many publishers seem averse to the concept of e-books. They seem intent on suppressing the market by overpricing the product. For instance, PD James has recently released her latest novel – Death Comes to Pemberly. On Amazon (UK site) you can purchase the hardback book for £8.55 (reduced from £18.99), or you can download the Kindle Edition for £6.64. Considering that the average paperback goes for around £6.99 - £8.99, how does the publisher justify such a high price for the digital edition?

Colin Bateman, one of my favourite authors, has had a string of comedy crime capers published. Not all are available as Kindle editions but Of Wee Sweetie Mice & Men: currently, the pre-order price for the Kindle edition is £4.99 - 30p more expensive that the paperback version. On Amazon, Bateman's most recent release, Nine Inch Nails is priced thus:
·                     Hardback - £13.99
·                     Paperback - £8.40
·                     Kindle - £7.99
Does that mean that the publisher only spends 41p on the paper, printing and cover materials for the paperback edition? I doubt it. In some cases, the e-book is more expensive than the paperback version, particularly if Amazon is discounting the paperback. How can this be?

The Kindle price is set by the publisher. I appreciate that there are overheads to cover, but the digital versions require no typesetting, no printing, binding or shipping costs: all they require is digital formatting, and even a dummy like me can do that. There is, however, the addition of  VAT.

I’d be interested to know what percentage goes to the author – not much, I imagine. I may be wrong, but my guess is that publishers are trying to make a hefty profit out of e-editions - that, or they want e-publishing to fail in order to protect their interests. They conveniently 'forget' that e-book owners have paid an up-front price for their device, so the books should be at least a couple of quid cheaper than their paperback brothers and sisters.

It was seeing the price of some of the titles published by companies that led me to believe that there was some strange, dark art that would make it impossible for me to publish to Kindle, let alone all the other formats that there are out there. But a small amount of knowledge and a free download or two made my job quite easy.

After a false start or two, that is. What follows is a summary of how I got Pike’s Quest into e-book format.

My first port of call was Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Easy-peasy: you have a Word.doc, you upload it, KDP converts it and you publish. Name your price, click ‘publish’ and you have an instant best-seller. Except, of course, nothing actually is that easy.

MS WordTM   is a wonderful word processing package, but it carries lots of hidden code. If you use TAB to indent your paragraphs, the Kindle conversion will go wonky: some paragraphs will indent, some won’t:  some will indent in their entirety – every line of several paragraphs go right, others go left.

If you’ve used chapter headings to create chapter titles and a table of contents, by the time the conversion takes place the table of contents links to some parts  of text you never intended, and when it does link to a chapter heading, the formatting goes awry.   It didn’t take me long to realise that I would have to take drastic action.

I copied and pasted everything into a plain text document and saved it as a .txt file. Then I copied it back into a new Word.doc and formatted it afresh, And if that had worked it would have been fine, but it was only partially successful. I didn't knoiw then about the hidden book marks that Word inserts.

I won’t bore you any further: if you are going to try it for yourself, read the Smashwords FAQ section abut formatting and download the Smashwords Style Guide.Then format exactly as it instructs and save the Word.doc as a “web page – filtered”.

Download Calibre. Read the instructions, import the filtered web page, publish as a .mobi file, check it, upload it to KDP and check the preview. It should be fine. Calibre is brilliant – it will format to just about any e-book type; it’s free, but you can donate to the makers.

To publish via Smashwords (which is the best way to get an indie book onto Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the iTunes Book Store, you have to upload the original Word document, but as long as you follow the advice given by Smashwords, it will work.

So, now you have your e-book out there, you just have to convince people to buy it, and this is where the snobbery comes in. Remember that quote at the head of Part 1? No? Here it is again:

“Oh, it’s an e-book.” She gave a knowing grin. 
“That’s not real publishing, is it?”

This is the type of comment you hear from people. They say similar things about other self-published authors:

“Oh, he published it himself? That’s not real publishing, is it?”

Often this will be said just as the author passes by, and the person saying it does so with the back of a hand up near the lips, as if to shield the author from those hurtful words, but in a stage whisper loud enough for all of the English-speaking world to hear.

Someone who came out with this argument openly is a lady named Michelle. She posted a venomous response to a posting on 
THIS WEBSITE. There are many responses to the main article, but let's focus on Michelle: her posting is reproduced in full on THIS BLOG by Phantomimic. It cooked up a storm. Almost as venomous as Michelle is someone calling him-/her-self Observer. His comments are astoundingly bigoted. He may have had a bad experience with one or two independent books, but if one day he ate bad sandwich, would he then declare that all sandwiches are bad?
I know a plumber: his name is Terry Cobby. He’s very good and far cheaper than the like of British Gas. A more polite and accommodating plumber you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere. I’ve recommended him to loads of people, just like others recommended him to me. He’s self-employed: he doesn't work for a large conglomerate, but I know of no one who whispers, “Oh, he’s an independent. That’s not real plumbing, is it?” as he passes by.

I know another plumber called Brian - he's really crap. He is also self-employed. Now HE doesn't do real plumbing. Don't hire him.

The point is this: just because a writer is self-published does not mean the work is rubbish. I think there is a fair chance that some of them (quite a few, actually) will be rubbish. But many, many "traditionally published" writers are of doubtful quality and ability.  Dan Brown, multi-million-book-selling author of The da Vinci Code has come in for a lot of flack over his writing abilities (I know better than to comment in a public forum, personally), as has Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame. Stephen King has had many highlights, but I think even his most ardent fan may admit to a low light along the way. Stieg Larsson wrote the immensely successful Millennium Trilogy - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc. I read and enjoyed all three books but, I have to say, I would have enjoyed them all far more if they'd been cut down by about 150-200 pages each, especially his detailed shopping lists!

And what of all these celebrity authors? They are “traditionally published”, and some of them didn’t even write the stuff themselves. Does anyone consider  Katie Price (Jordan) to be a literary genius? Actually, it's a serious question: DOES anyone consider her to be that? I've never read one of her books and I have no idea if she is ghost written, although I note that the copyright in at least two of her books (the only two I could bring myself to look-up on Amazon) is co-assigned to 
Rebecca Farnworth.

Ah, where was? Oh yes: nor is an e-book published by 'the professionals' likely to have better proofing and formatting than one that is self-published. Don't believe me? Just check out the samples on Amazon. Some are ludicrously formatted with chapter headings that run into the first paragraph, double line breaks between random paragraphs, poor spelling and punctuation, badly formatted tables of contents, etc. In fact, some paper books have many proofing errors despite having been through a professional edit. I recently read a book published by a relatively small publisher where within the first forty pages there were at least a dozen errors including random paragraph indentation (some, none or too much), missing full stops, missing ellipses, missing quotes, etc. (Does a quick proof read in the hope of eliminating all typos in this posting. Did I miss any? FURTHER EDIT: NO! Found some more several hours after posting.)

There are, of course, some downsides to e-publishing that transcend even normal self publishing: the lack of signing opportunities, for example.  Kindle/Kobo/iAnydevice owners tend to look at you in horror when you produce a felt-tipped pen and attempt to scrawl across the cover of your book – on their screen!

In the fifth and final part, I shall delve a little further into some more of the pros and cons of e-publishing and will discuss various e-reading devices.

Pike's Quest
Amazon for Kindle on these links - UK - USA - DE - FR - IT - ES  

To read the blurb, click HERE

1 comment:

  1. Dear K J Bennet
    I have read your blog and book and I am an avid Kindle reader. Your book is funny well paced and once I was in I couldn't put it down. In this tough world if you're not already famous or as lucky as you are talented it's very difficult if not impossible to get published. This is of course not news to readers of your blog!
    Look at the music music is in a similar place. There are no barriers to getting your song on the net. There is no shame in e-publishing. Your book can be a success even if sales are slow.
    Thanks for the tips. They may come in handy for me if I ever get to perfect my rough drafts.
    Keep writing. I want to know what happens next!
    MooNettle aka clairelhobson


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