Monthly Archives: June 2012

Is the indie stigma shifting?

One reviewer recently signed off her blog post about Pegasus Falling thus: “If you think self published books are never going to be any good then try this one – you may just change your mind.” I was chuffed to read that – but it made me think – despite the huge upsurge in self-publishing, there is still, quite obviously, a big stigma attached to it. But it is changing. And has the balance tipped?

I’ve been amazed at just how many bloggers I’ve approached have been open to the idea of reading a book by someone they’ve never heard of before and with no previous pedigree. Indeed, it’s heartwarming to see so many bloggers welcoming submissions from indie authors and publishers with open arms. These people obviously feel that they have found a deep and rich vein of talent which they consider untapped and worthy of discovery. Of course, by offering reviews, in return they get the ultimate prize – an unending supply of books to read! But it’s a win-win situation. All indie authors/publishers should be thankful for these intrepid bloggers’ efforts, and I for one am extremely grateful. 
Another aspect which has surprised me is that the local press have run with the story and I was invited to appear on the local radio station. Although it’s probably more to do with the human aspect of our own little backstory than anything else, even so, it’s quite an achievement to garner such widespread acknowledgement from the establishment given the circumstances.

Even the local branch of Waterstones in Milton Keynes, a shop which William frequented almost on a daily basis before his illness struck, now stock Pegasus Falling. (*SHAMELESS PLUG: it is for sale in the Midsummer Place branch at the bargain price of £5.99, so go forth and buy it before they run out!*) 

All this for a book written by a pensioner 20 years ago and published by his grandson. Not a bad reaction so far…

And on a bigger scale, there is evidence to suggest that wider opinions of self-publishing are changing. Three years ago when we published the hardback of The Cypress Branches, things were quite different. Although the local newspapers ran with the story then too, in my research into various marketing opportunities, there was a feeling that self-published books just weren’t up to anything and there was very little interest. Self-publishing was referred to disparagingly as the “vanity press” – a term still with us today, but used much less frequently now, I find.

There were several reasons why The Cypress Branches failed to sell – for a start it was too big and pricy – a behemoth of a book which intimidated rather than lulled. But throughout my efforts to get the book seen by reviewers and retailers, I was faced with the same brick wall, an attitude that if it’s self-published, it’s bound to be bad. Out of the countless emails I sent out, I received but a handful of replies, all of them a swift but courteous, “thanks but we can’t help you”.

Well, all but one. It was the reaction of a particular bookseller near where I live which finally drove home the final nail back then – this particular reaction had more to do with the man’s ingrained prejudice against self-publishing than the book itself, for he didn’t even entertain the idea of peering inside the front cover before dismissing me with the sneeriest of tones. I ended up leaving the shop, one which I had enjoyed browsing on a few occasions in the past, feeling utterly deflated and angry. I can take rejections, but not sheer bloody-minded nastiness (and yes, I am still bitter, and no, I will not be approaching him again with the paperbacks).

So, to try again three years down the line, it has been refreshing to receive the positive reactions I have so far. Yes, there are still the unanswered requests for reviews and the press releases which inevitably end up being ignored – there always will be, and that is to be expected – but this time, I was quite pleasantly surprised to receive so many replies with a resoundingly positive “yes please”. Of course, many lessons have been learned since my fumbled attempts at marketing the hardback. For a start, Pegasus Falling is a much more inviting product which has benefited greatly from past lessons learned. But I think it is a wider acceptance of self-publication which is helping as well.

Just take a look at the cover article from the Guardian’s g2 magazine a couple of weeks ago. This article (very useful reading if you’re new to self-publishing) is just the latest of a tranche published by the Guardian in recent months extolling the virtues, impact and success stories of authors who go it alone.

Even so, there is still a lot of evidence to show that there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. I wonder if it’s thanks to the fact it’s very easy indeed to put a book out there. Too easy, perhaps, given the ease with which authors can publish ebooks with the likes of Amazon’s KDP and Kobo’s new offering. There’s a feeling amongst some media professionals that publishing an ebook isn’t real publishing. But I find that very disparaging. It may well be easy peasy to hit the “publish” button on KDP. But there’s still a heck of a lot of hard work involved before that button is pressed.

And it’s not just the mainstream press which views the indie publisher/author negatively. Not all bloggers are open to the idea of reading self-published books. I’ve encountered a large number (probably the majority – just), the authors of which make it quite clear that they will not review self-published books, no matter how well received it has already been, or how interested they may be in the story / subject matter. Their loss, I’d say, as there are obviously some high quality (or at least mass-appeal) indie books out there which are well worth reading.

And this underlying prejudice has a big impact on how self-published authors publicise themselves. I for one feel that it would be a waste of time and energy to approach newspapers and television / radio shows on a national scale – certainly for now. Perhaps one day soon, when the book has garnered more praise, it would be an idea to, but I can’t help but think that as soon as they smell a self-published novel, their opinion would immediately be tainted. After all, how many self-pubbed books have you seen reviewed in the national press lately (discounting the self-pubbers-done-good who have landed themselves a deal with a mainstream publisher)?

But the fact is that indie publishing is here, making an indelible mark on the industry and it’s definitely here to stay.

For decades, independent film makers have been able to make their own films, the best of which have found fame and fortune. Young, independent film makers have strived to be creative away from the mainstream and cut their teeth making wonderful (and not so wonderful) films without major backing. The lucky, talented few have been discovered and been given a leg up – funding and encouragement, in order to make sure that the right talent can be successful.

And now the publishing world has its own equivalent, thanks to ebook manufacturers and the growing online community supporting independent writers. As the latest indie successes have shown, the cream will still rise to the top, but now it is taking a different route than it used to.

Yes attitudes are changing, but possibly too slowly and the stigma attached to self-publishing needs to be lifted. I believe that mainstream publishing will come to rely on the self-published author, just as Hollywood relies on the independent film world for discovering new talent. As self-published authors continue to up their game, it is time for the big publishers to change their attitude, for their own good, as well as that of the wider reading public. 

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Deleted Scenes

In Here We Go Again, I talked briefly about the necessary sacrifices that have to be made when editing a larger book into a trilogy. One of those sacrifices is the occasional scene which has to be cut in order to make the book work better in its new format.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to cut many scenes at all from Pegasus Falling. True, entire chapters were excised, but they will appear in book two, so all is not lost. But there were one or two scenes which ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. As their absence is intended to improve the book rather than detract, that’s not to say that they were no good. Indeed, in some cases it was a bit of a wrench making the decision to pull them. One passage in particular springs to mind.
Any author / editor / reader will tell you that the opening passages of a book are hugely important in getting the reader on board. First impressions, and all that. The opening chapter of Pegasus Falling is actually chapter six of The Cypress Branches. I was very aware that this chapter was never written with the intention of opening a book and in my opinion, the opening couple of scenes didn’t have the snappiness needed to hook the reader straight away. 
The opening scene is, of itself, not a bad scene. Set in the Ops room during the operation briefing just before Sammy’s battalion is deployed to Arnhem, it sets the scene well for the coming action. It was our first glimpse of Sammy, who, being the awkward bugger he is, asks some pertinent questions. It also opens with some army badinage and boyish humour which was undoubtedly fun for William to write. But as I read through the manuscript, it was clear that it just didn’t have the flair needed to get the reader’s pulse going.
So, the difficult decision was made to delete it from the final draft. Also deleted was a short introduction to the Doorns, the family whose house is commandeered by the paratroopers with such devastating effect. Again, well written, nice to have, but not a great way in to a novel. There was no information in there absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the novel. So, that too went.
Am I comfortable with that decision? Yes. Because I’m certain that if William had been involved in the decision, he would have come to a similar, if not the same conclusion as me. He may well have gone away and re-written it to make it more of an opening scene. But under the circumstances, that just wasn’t an option.
Here are the scenes, as originally written with just a light copy-edit and proofing. These scenes were immediately followed by what has now become the opening to Pegasus Falling. Have a look at the new opening (you can use Amazon’s Look Inside feature or download the ebook preview at Goodreads) and I think you’ll agree it was a good decision.
The battalion assembled in the ops room for the operation briefing. A long trestle table stood upon a dais behind which sat a group of officers; the battalion commander, a major from army intelligence, a RAF meteorologist and a captain from the Pathfinder Company. The wall backstage was concealed behind curtains. Captain Stan Parker, Sammy to his men, sat among the babbling paratroopers, forearms on knees, staring at the floor. He was already bored by the whole affair. He looked up as the voice cut through his musing. ‘Right! Come to order and pay attention, the sooner we get through here, the sooner we can get away…’ He wondered why intelligence officers appeared to have a gift for making the crassly obvious sound like intuition. ‘Curtains please!’ The drapes covering the wall were drawn back to reveal a large map. ‘Right!’ The officer approached the map and tapped it with a long wooden cue. ‘Operation Market Garden!’ He looked around at the sea of faces. ‘Now, why do you think this operation has been given such a name?’
‘The NAAFI’s run out of water cress?’
‘No, Jerry’s developed a new pilotless cucumber to attack Londonwith.’
‘Doodlecumbers, they call ‘em…deadly.’
‘They ain’t cucumbers really, they’re dildos. They want to attack the moral fibre of our women.’
‘Why? Are we falling down on the job?’
‘Fallin’ down, that’s a good’n.’
‘Alright, alright!’ He waited for the laughter to subside. ‘It is because it will take place in Holland, a country famous for market gardening.’
‘‘Olland’s more famous for gin, why didn’t they call it Operation Mother’s Ruin?’
‘SHUT…UP!’ The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John ‘Jack’ Frost, gave them one of his iciest looks. ‘Right, Major, get on with it, and stop asking silly bloody questions.’
‘Right, Sir. Now, Operation Market Garden is a plan devised by the high command to speed up the Allied advance into Germanyby forcing a crossing of the Rhine. As you will see from this map, the main front is very broad, stretching from here…all the way up to…here. The plan is a bold one. British XXXth Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks, will smash through Holland up to…here, crossing into Germanyproper…here. Any questions so far?’
‘Where do we come in?’
‘HERE!’ someone shouted.
‘Yeah, why are all the towns in Holland called “Here”?’
‘Now come on, lads.’ The troops settled. ‘OK. Crucial to this plan is the capture, intact, of three bridges. The first across the Meuse, or Maas as the Dutch prefer to call it…’
‘They don’t prefer it, they just can’t bloody say it, it’s double Dutch to them.’
‘…the second across the Queen Wilhelmine canal near Eindhoven…’
‘HERE!’ they chorused.
‘…and the last across the lower Rhine at Arnhem…’
‘HERE!’
The officers on stage could barely contain their laughter as the hapless major pressed on. ‘The first two bridges have been assigned to our American comrades-in-arms, the Eighty Second Airborne. The last, and most crucial, the bridge at Arnhem, is assigned to First Airborne. The American One Hundred and First Airborne division will be dropped er…here, to take Eindhoven, secure the road to Grave and contain any German counter attack.’ The major placed his pointer on the table and sat down.
The colonel rose and looked at his men. ‘Right, lads, you’ve heard the plan, are there any questions before the major goes on to detail our part in this?’
‘Where’s the DZ?’
‘We are coming to that now…Major.’
‘Right Sir, next map please…OK, here is your objective, the bridge over the Lower Rhineat Arnhem. The main assault is by First Brigade, reinforced on days two and three by the Poles and the Gliders. It will establish a salient on the north bank of the river against enemy counter attack whilst you, Two Para, take and hold the bridge until the tanks of the Guards Armoured Division reach you. Divisional HQ will be established in the village of Oosterbeek, here. As you can see, once XXXth Corps is over the bridge, they have a straight run across open flat terrain into the industrial heart of Germany, driving down…here, into the Rühr, thus encircling the enemy in a giant pincer movement.’
‘Yeah, but where’s the poxy DZ?’
‘The three brigades will drop…’ He hesitated then tapped the map rapidly with his pointer, indicating the three dropping zones. ‘Second Battalion will muster just west of Oosterbeek.’ He tapped the map again.
‘That looks miles from that bridge, what’s the scale?’
‘It’s twelve kilometres, eight miles, give or take.’
‘Eight miles? Give or take what? We’ve got a route march just to reach our objective?’
‘Yeah right, what’s the point being a para? We might just as well have stayed in the poxy infantry.’
‘What’s stopping us getting closer to that bridge then, mountains?’
‘The planners considered the possibility of the Division being scattered on both sides of the river. It is imperative that we secure a bridgehead on the north bank. So they deliberately chose a site a little inland of the river.’
‘A little inland? Eight miles?’
‘It’s a good job they didn’t go over the top yanto, mate or we’d be taking fucking Berlin.’
Sammy raised his hand. ‘Yes, Captain.’ The major sounded relieved. ‘You have a question?’
‘Intelligence report.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Intelligence report. This is the third of these junkets I’ve attended and we always have an intelligence report, you know, enemy dispositions, local hazards, anything which may be of use to a bunch of blokes dropping in on a place they have never seen in their lives. What opposition can we expect?’ The major looked at the colonel, uncertain how to proceed.
The colonel stood. ‘British Intelligence reports nothing unusual for an operation of this nature. Arnhem is somewhat off the beaten track. There is a small garrison here, at Elst, and a larger one here, at Apeldoorn. The Germans will not expect such an audacious assault and we do, of course, have the element of surprise.’
Sammy nodded. Surprise, after an air armada of hundreds of planes has spent three days crossing the north sea and most of Holland and thirty thousand paratroops and gliders have drifted gracefully to earth in broad daylight, ten thousand of them a full two hours march from their target, he thought. ‘It had occurred to me, Sir, that if we can see the strategic advantage of crossing the Rhine at Arnhem, it may just have occurred to Jerry. But then again…’ He hesitated as he silently considered the prospect. “Nothing unusual for an operation of this nature”, probably means they will kick the shit out of us. ‘…you mentioned only British intelligence, Sir, how about reports from Dutch resistance?’
‘I am not aware of any reports from that quarter, Captain Parker.’ Sammy nodded and returned his gaze to the floor. ‘Right, we have just to hear from the pathfinders and the Met boys, then you can get a good night’s rest before we kick Jerry’s arse this one last time. Good luck, lads.’ The colonel raised his fist. ‘Geronimo!’
‘GERONIMO!’ they chorused exultantly.
Jan Doorn lived with his wife Marie and daughter Druschke in a large house close to the bridge which carried the road across the Nieder Rijn from the village of Oosterbeek to the city of Arnhem and onward across open country to the German border. He came to the village when his father, a doctor, opened a general practice and surgery there. As a child he played by the river, fishing and rafting often following it to its confluence with the river Ijsel. He met his wife, a student of Fine Arts, at the university of Utrecht where, like his father, he studied medicine. The couple fell in love and after graduating, married and came to live in the house of Jan’s parents. He assisted in the practice and when his father died, the couple assumed the mantle of village doctor and wife. The invasion of the Low Countriesin 1940, the air onslaught upon Rotterdamand the brutal persecution and deportation of Dutch Jews and forced labourers made Jan Doorn implacably bitter toward the Germans. His outspoken criticism caused his wife much concern and she was grateful there was no German garrison in Oosterbeek.
‘You should be more careful, Jan, you know how touchy they are, especially now that the second front has opened.’
He looked at his wife, waving his hand defiantly. ‘That’s where they belong, over there in Germany, those swine. They have no place here and the sooner they go home the better. If they had any sense they would leave now before the Allies get here.’
‘Geography was never your strong point, Jan, was it?’ She laughed as she spoke. ‘This country is crisscrossed by rivers and dikes and most of it is below sea level, the Bosche can inundate us any time they choose. There are only three bridges of any size between here and the Flemish border and all can be blown. Why else would the Bosche have chosen to build that huge rest and refit depot over at Elst? No, my love, the Allies won’t come this way. We will be liberated only after they are beaten and a good thing too.’
He stared at her aghast. ‘Marie! How can you say such a thing? Do you like having them here?’
She smiled patiently. ‘You are such a sentimental fool, my darling. We are a tiny country with an ocean of water to the west and an ocean of Teutons to the east and we shall always be at the mercy of both, for our survival depends on them. What difference does it make if they stay a few more months if it means sparing our country the devastation which has already befallen France and Belgium?’
He shook his head in bewilderment. ‘I shall never understand you, Marie.’ He smiled at her tenderly. ‘Perhaps that’s why I love you so much…Now, I have to make a few calls. With luck I shall be back in time for dinner.’
‘But Jan, it is Sunday, for God’s sake.’
‘It is always Sunday, for God’s sake, my love.’
He was still laughing at his own joke as he rode off on his bicycle.

Pegasus Falling is available to buy now in paperback and for Kindle from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Print On Demand vs Short Print Runs

I finally received the proof copy of Pegasus Falling from CreateSpace yesterday which seemed to take its time crossing the pond. I had a good look over it and thought this would be a good opportunity to showcase the differences in build quality between the original Short Print Run (SPR) copies we had made by Biddles for the UK market and the Print On Demand (POD) copies made by CreateSpace which will be sold through Amazon in the UK and US.

As you can see from the photo below, the front covers belay quite a few differences, despite the fact that both books have been built using almost identical files. In all photos, the short print run copy is on the left and the Print on Demand copy on the right.

There are both positives and negatives to be had from both manufacturing techniques, some of which I touched on in an earlier post. Here, I’m looking at the build quality in particular.

FRONT COVER

Two Pegasi: The SPR copy is on
the left, the POD copy on the right

Now, bearing in mind that I have tweaked the artwork slightly from the original print run (in order to highlight the text on the cover) so ignoring those traits, it immediately struck me that the colours on the POD copy were vastly different to those on the SPR. The colours are much warmer, with a slightly reddish tinge to the whole cover. I’m putting this down to the CreateSpace printers being calibrated differently, as both cover files were built using a CMYK colour space. I think I prefer the toned down hues of the SPR book, but others may “warm” to the other cover (see what I did there?).

The board used on the POD cover is of a lower grade – it feels flimsier, and you can see how much it wants to curl in the picture. This isn’t necessarily a problem, as some readers have commented that they prefer their paperbacks to be flexible and the SPR copies have too stiff a cover. Personally, I prefer the feel of the SPR copy, but that’s personal taste!

BACK COVER

You can see the red tinge in the POD cover on the supposedly monochrome back cover here. Thankfully, the quality of the image rendering on both covers is acceptable, and the text is legible. 
The biggest difference on the back cover is the barcode area. CreateSpace insert the barcode automatically, meaning you have no control over where it goes on the design. This is all to do with making the process as easy as possible for authors who might not be technically minded. For me, though, it caused a headache. As I had designed my back cover before CreateSpace was available, and therefore had to add the barcode myself, this meant a redesign.

I’d have preferred it if CreateSpace gave you the option. It’s a shame, because I prefer the white box design on the SPR cover over the white bar on the POD. Still, both are fine, and contain identical info (bar the pricing which reflects US and EU prices now we’re international and all!).

Since the proof was completed, we’ve had a couple of fairly high-profile reviews. I’ve added some excepts to the back cover, so it will look slightly different on the finished books. 

SPINE

Now, this is the biggest difference between the two. The CreateSpace book is a full 5mm thinner than the short print run copy. This is because I decided to opt for a heavier grade of paper stock for the original print run. Believe it or not, both books contain an identical number of pages. Biddles offer different paper stocks (and will even send samples to help you make your choice, which was very helpful) and I have to admit I was tempted by the thicker stock. This added to the cost of the run, but I felt it was worth it, as it made for a more impressive spine width.

CreateSpace, however, only give you a choice of white or cream – there is no choice of paper weight. And I wasn’t even given that choice, as cream paper stock is only available with a limited choice of paper sizes, and I wanted to match the paper size of the UK books, which happens to be one of the sizes cream paper isn’t available for.

As an aside, I’m really happy with the changes that have been made to the spine artwork. It’s amazing the difference that some shadowing makes to the text. I’m particularly pleased with how the cropped cover image has come out. This was included because I figured that most books on bookshop shelves will not be front-facing, so it needs something to entice the wannabee reader. I love the cover image for Pegasus Falling (courtesy of the very talented Dewi Clough) and it looks great on the spine too!

INSIDE

Short Print Run

Print on Demand

Finally, a look at the interior…the meaty bit…let’s face it, the bit that matters the most (to the reader, at least). Like the cover, the interior was built using almost identical files. The CreateSpace system, however, insisted on minor changes being made, which caused some head scratching and late night cursing a couple of weeks ago. The eagle-eyed among you will spot that the gutter (the area where the pages disappear into the spine) is wider on the POD copy. A wider shot of the pages would show that the outside borders are narrower than the SPR book too. The difference is only a few millimetres. This is an improvement in a way because the writing doesn’t slip into the gutter quite as much as on the SPR book.

The difference is negated, though, because as you can see, the CreateSpace book folds back much more than the Biddles book does. I’ll almost certainly make this change on future short print runs.

Now, I know that the act of breaking the spine can be a controversial one. Personally, I hate doing it (so this test broke my heart a little bit), but another member of my household loves doing it, and complained to me that Pegasus Falling‘s spine didn’t break easily enough.

I cracked both books roughly in the middle. I wanted to see firstly, how easy they were to bend and secondly, how flat they’d lay. The POD copy was a lot easier to bend back, so spine-breakers will love it. It also lies very flat compared to the SPR copy, so it’s a good one to lay down on the table. Readers who like to keep their spines in tact, on the other hand, will prefer the SPR copy! 


As you can see from the close ups below, the spine on the SPR copy looked to be in much better shape after the crack, with the binding starting to show through on the POD copy. Now, I did give both books a good old bending back, which was probably a bit rougher treatment than they would get in every day use, but it does point to better build quality on the SPR copy. 

The SPR copy – the spine was harder to bend

The POD copy – note the binding starting to show through

Another difference is that the text is heavier on the SPR copy. The paper stock seems to be more porous, and the ink has been soaked in a bit more. It’s not a big difference, though, and I’d rate the print quality highly on both copies. 

IN CONCLUSION

So, both copies have their positive and negative traits. I would say that the build quality on the UK-made short print run copy is slightly better than the US-made print on demand one. However, the choices made (and available to me at the time) have had a bearing on this outcome. The thicker paper stock makes for a more substantial SPR copy, and the spine is certainly a lot more sturdy. However, the POD copy is probably a bit more “reader friendly” thanks to its more pliable spine. 


From a publishing point of view, I’m very happy with both copies, and I’ll continue to use both manufacturing techniques in the future. The choice is there to just use CreateSpace. Copies can be ordered in bulk at a discount for the author to distribute themselves and the prices per copy are comparable when ordered in batches of 100. However, all CreateSpace bulk orders are manufactured in the US and shipped over and I’m keen to support British manufacturing wherever possible. So, Short print runs will continue to be made for distribution to UK bookshops and CreateSpace will be used for all Amazon sales channels. It’s fantastic that the choice is there. 


So, to you readers after a copy, I’d say the choice is yours…


If you’re a spine breaker, head to amazon


If you’re a spine preserver, order it from your local bookshop or head to acuteanglebooks.co.uk


If none of this is of concern to you because the spine on your Kindle will never break, try here


Happy reading!

Alzheimer’s and the author: The long goodbye

As many of you will know, William has Alzheimer’s. He began showing signs of dementia shortly after finishing writing the Cypress Branches 15 years ago. Since then, his health has deteriorated steadily and he is now cared for in a home in Milton Keynes in the UK.

It has been a struggle for the family to see a man so vibrant and intelligent in life slowly slip away from us.

Browsing through some old photos a few days ago, I found three photos of William with his wife Sheila, each taken 3 years apart covering the last six years. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to see the difference in each photo.

The first was taken in April 2006 on a holiday in Somerset.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila on holiday 2006

The next was taken three years later, at the launch of the hardback book in July 2009.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila at book launch 2009

And most recently, this one, taken in March 2012, at the launch of Pegasus Falling.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila in 2012

Alzheimer’s is called “the long goodbye” for a reason. I was asked recently during a radio interview whether the family had said goodbye and the question floored me for a second. Although William’s personality and vitality has diminished rapidly in the last six years, there are still glimmers of him that come through. On most occasions, he won’t talk and rarely recognises members of his own family. We’re all prepared for the inevitable. He’s not going to get any better. And we’ve all been saying goodbye for a while now, but it’s so hard to do.

When, all of a sudden, he’ll fix you with a knowing stare and say, “hello mate”, instead of saying goodbye, you want to reach into that mind of his and say hello back, start a conversation, ask him what he’s been up to and share a joke or two. It would be wonderful to be able to claw back the man who wrote such incredible books, and to ask him the many questions I have about them.

Instead, the moment passes all too quickly and the understanding is gone again.

A few questions about CreateSpace

This is a technical post, so look away now if you’re not interested in the ins and outs of distributing your books on Amazon!
As I posted over the weekend, we’ve set the ball rolling to make Pegasus Falling available using CreateSpace, and therefore always “in stock” on Amazon in the US, UKand Europe.
Before the off, I had a few questions, so I emailed the CreateSpace team with them. To their credit, the customer service team replied within 24 hours with a fairly comprehensive answer. As I’m sure the replies will be useful for other self-pubbers who are considering using CreateSpace, I thought I’d share them here.
Question 1: I understand that I can upload my own files to CreateSpace, therefore being able to create a virtually identical book to the ones I have printed elsewhere. As the books/content would be identical, would I be able to use the existing ISBN number?
To be honest, this question wasn’t answered directly. What was included in their reply was this nugget: “If you use a new ISBN for the title, a new Amazon detail page will be built in stages over five to seven business days, which will be separate from the detail page created for your Amazon Advantage account.”
My main concern was that because there would be a few minor changes to the look of the book (it will still look pretty much the same, but I’m making some improvements to the cover artwork and minor layout changes to conform with CreateSpace’s requirements), would I need a new ISBN or be able to use the existing one already used and registered in the UK?
Bowker, the US ISBN agency has this to say about ISBNs and the difference between reprints and new editions: “A reprint means more copies are being printed with no substantial changes. Perhaps a few typos are being fixed. A new edition means that there has been substantial change: content has been altered in a way that might make a customer complain that this was not the product that was expected. Or, text has been changed to add a new feature, such as a preface or appendix or additional content. Or, content has been revised. Or, the book has been redesigned.” Source: http://www.isbn.org/standards/home/about/faqs6.html

They key word here is “substantial”, so, it seems that because there would only be minor changes to the book’s artwork, we will not need to use a different ISBN. All that’s changing is that we’re using a different distribution method. I doubt customers would be too disgruntled by the fact that the barcode on the back cover has moved from the lower left- to the lower right-hand side!
One point I should note here for anyone else considering using their own ISBN for a CreateSpace book is that if you do so, it does restrict the distribution opportunities you can access via the premium Expanded Distribution option, namely US libraries and academic institutions. The expanded distribution option also allows distribution to other retailers and via CreateSpace’s wholesale website.
Obviously, using a new ISBN provided by CreateSpace would negate this issue and allow access to all distribution opportunities, but this would cause problems elsewhere – the CreateSpace book would be considered a different product and therefore listed separately on Amazon’s sites. The existing book with the existing ISBN would still be listed as “Out of Print – Limited Availability” which would be a disaster. Although it would be nice to make Pegasus Falling available to libraries in the US, it’s not a priority, so I’m willing to forego that opportunity to avoid potentially more serious problems.
Question 2. By changing from using Advantage to CreateSpace, will this affect the book’s listing on the Amazon Europe channels? As I plan to use the existing ISBN number, will the system recognise the new distribution channel, or do I need to take any further action to ensure this?
According to the reply, there would be a problem as long as our Advantage account remained active because Amazon’s system would always order inventory there rather than use CreateSpace.
Their reply went on to explain exactly what needs to be done to transfer the title to CreateSpace, which I repeat here verbatim:
1. Set up your title in your CreateSpace Member Account. Complete all steps for your title’s information and upload your files.
2. We will then review your files to determine if they meet our submission requirements. If your files meet our requirements, you will be able to order a proof copy through your Member Account.
3. Once you receive your proof and are satisfied with the results, approve your proof through your Member Account. Immediately after your proof is approved, customers can start ordering your title from your CreateSpace eStore.
4.When your new title page is live on
Amazon.com, discontinue your Advantage Membership or close out individual titles by contacting the Advantage Vendor Services Team through your Advantage Account: http://www.amazon.com/advantage
In short, set up the title in CreateSpace first, then make sure the title is closed out in your Advantage account soon after. When any inventory left in stock is sold out, Amazon will then start ordering books through CreateSpace.
It all sounds relatively straight forward but my concern with their answer is that they refer to amazon.com. We’re signed up with amazon.co.uk, so I’m not entirely sure whether the process will be as smooth as they make out. I’ll report back if there are any problems.
Question 3: Can I continue to print copies of the book via my usual printers for distribution to other outlets?
Their simple reply was, “To confirm, the Member Agreement is non-exclusive, meaning you may pursue various distribution channels if you wish.”
This is fantastic news because, although you can order bulk copies from CreateSpace to distribute yourself (either to friends or other retailers), and at fairly reasonable prices, I’m very keen to carry on supporting the UK printers we’ve been using so far. We still intend to print more copies for distribution away from Amazon (we’re hoping to be stocked in more shops as time goes on) and we can continue to support the British printing industry. What’s more, when you order copies of your own books, these orders are printed in the US, despite the fact that customer orders which originate in the UK and EU are now being printed this side of the pond.
I hope these pointers have been helpful for anyone considering a similar move. Whether all this means that the transfer from Advantage to CreateSpace will be successful or fraught with problems remains to be seen. I do wonder just how much Amazon’s US, UK and European arms communicate with each other. Fingers crossed all goes smoothly, but if we do encounter problems, I’ll be sure to blog about them and try and help others to avoid any unforeseen pitfalls.

we’re currently waiting for the proof to arrive from the US. When it does arrive (hopefully within the next week), I’ll be comparing the CreateSpace book with one printed in the UK. It’ll be interesting to see how they differ and I’m really hoping the quality will be similar. Watch this space!

Happy reading and self-pubbing!
Mike

Are Kobo finally taking on Amazon at their own game?

Much has been said about Amazon and how their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform has allowed so many more authors to publish their works with ease, and the positives and negatives that have ensued.

I myself, having used KDP to publish Pegasus Falling, have been very happy with the results. I didn’t use KDP select at the time of launch because I didn’t want to restrict sales to just Amazon (although I’m not ruling it out for the launch of part 2 of the trilogy).  My philosophy has always been to get William’s books in front of as wide an audience as possible, so instead I launched it on as many platforms as possible, mostly through the Smashwords premium catalogue, and also via Kobo.
I set up an account with Kobo books to distribute the ebook to them directly (you can also go via Smashwords). At the time, the sign up process wasn’t exactly arduous, but it was much more long-winded than Amazon and KDP. Instead of a few web pages in which to add all the metadata and upload the files, there were application forms, spreadsheets and FTP servers to contend with. Like I said, not arduous, but it all felt a bit steam-powered compared with Amazon’s whiz-bang offering. Nevertheless, I got through the process and Pegasus Falling is now available to buy on kobobooks.com, as well as whsmith.co.uk. But I couldn’t help but think that the journey could have been made a bit easier, and I’m not surprised that so many writers just use KDP and don’t bother with other platforms. It’s just so ridiculously easy!
And that’s a shame, because I’m all for choice – not everyone has a Kindle, so why should I just release the books for one platform? Sales are much lower than on Amazon, but they’re sales none the less.
This is why I was very excited to receive an email from Kobo yesterday announcing the imminent launch of their new Kobo Writing Life publishing platform. Currently in Beta testing, it’s due for release at the end of June and I’ll be very interested to try it out when the time comes.
You can read more about plans for the platform in this article from publishersweekly.combut here are the highlights which interest me the most:
1. An easy to use self-service portal which will provide writers with, “a variety of marketing and sales tools and help connect them to readers”. If it’s as easy to use as KDP, then hurrah! The extra bits on the side will only be a bonus.
2. Use of the open-platform epub standard. This is already the case with Kobo, but I welcome the commitment to keep things open and allow the use of books on multiple devices.
3. Automatic conversion from Word, Text or Mobi files. Although personally I prefer to do the conversions myself (you have a lot more control over the finished product), this will be a welcome benefit for a lot of authors who are not so tech-savvy.
4. Sales tracking dashboard. At the moment, Kobo provides authors with an Excel spreadsheet every month, which can be a bit of a handful to navigate. This sounds a lot more user-friendly, and possibly more in depth than Amazon’s offering, although theirs isn’t exactly bad.
5. Non-binding agreement. Now this sounds like the most refreshing aspect of Kobo’s proposal – you can publish your book at Kobo, then sell it anywhere you like without any ties, even taking the epub file with you!
6. Free pricing option. Authors will be allowed to set their own price, with no restrictions, and can even price their work for free.
This all sounds extremely promising and I can see the bods at Amazon may have some head scratching to do. The truth is, though, that Kobo are still a very small fish compared to the great white shark that is Amazon, and they have a lot of catching up to do to keep up with their competitors, but I wish them all the luck with it. I really do hope that Writing Life is a success. After all, choice is good, and some serious competition in the market may just make the self-publishing world that little bit more interesting. 

The Createspace Conundrum

This week I’ve had my head down concentrating on something I would have liked to have done months ago, but until now realistic opportunities just haven’t been there.  We’re about to launch Pegasus Falling in the USA using CreateSpace, a print on demand service from Amazon. If all goes well, by the end of this month, it should be listed as In Stock rather than “Out of Print – Limited Availability” as it is currently on amazon.com, which is all very exciting. What’s more, signing up to CreateSpace has some other very important benefits which will help things on this side of the Atlantic too.

Amazon represents a bit of a conundrum for the small publisher. You can’t sell large amounts of books without being available on the Amazon websites, but their terms and conditions make for eye-watering reading when it actually comes to having your book in stock.
Now, this post is far from an Amazon bash. Far from it, I think they are providing some very important services which are invaluable to self-publishers. In fact, they’re offering services and products which no-one else has had the gumption to offer so far, and they do make selling ebooks very easy indeed (some might say too easy) and have pretty much revolutionised the industry. There is a great deal we self-pubbers have to be grateful for on the whole. However, until now I’ve felt that it is a very different story when it comes to selling physical copies with them.
I’ve been struggling to work out what the best course of action is for the paperback version of Pegasus Falling for months. Initially, I decided to take the same direction I did with the hardback of The Cypress Branches– print a short run for distribution to different outlets and print more runs as and when necessary. When we printed the hardback in 2009, I’d researched the options on the market – everything from Print on Demand to the various complete self-publishing printing and marketing products available. I decided to take the middle-road option and print a short run myself. I found a great partner in Biddles – they’re UK based and offered a very competitive price for an excellent product. They were also rather nice to work with. It made perfect sense to use them again for Pegasus Falling.
To make this whole venture work, we had to make sure we could set a reasonable retail price and thankfully, the printing and other costs involved meant that we could do just that. We could supply books to retailers for the going rate of 40-50% discount and still manage to scrape in a small profit to plough into the next book. The problem comes when you consider Amazon who insist that you sign up to their Advantage programme in order to ensure that your book retains an “In Stock” status on their websites. Basically, you sign up and their system orders books from you as and when needed. It all sounds great until you consider the fact that they insist on a 60% trade rate and that vendors must swallow shipping costs as well. That must be fine for vendors dealing in the hundreds or thousands of copies at a time, but so far Amazon have ordered only a handful of books from us, one copy at a time. This has meant that with every copy we have supplied Amazon, we have lost in the region of £2-2.50. Coupled with the fact that Pegasus Falling is currently listed as out of stock (something the Advantage programme is supposed to avoid), clearly, there is no advantage for us as a small publisher. 
Just as I was about to pull my hair out, along came CreateSpace. I’d already heard about the Print On Demand service from Amazon, and had had a look into it several months ago, but I’d had to dismiss it because it didn’t offer a solution for the UK market – and as we’re based in the UK, and the books are based around British characters, the UK will be our biggest market, certainly to begin with.
However, late last month, Amazon announced that CreateSpace was going to be available for distribution to Amazon’s UK & European markets. I found this out quite by chance from Catherine Ryan Howard’s rather useful (and entertaining) blog, so thank you Catherine.
So, a second look at CreateSpace revealed that it might actually fulfil many desires which had so far remained unfulfilled, and hopefully without too many problems. Not only does it offer the opportunity to actually make rather than lose money by selling print books in the UK, but also makes the book available in the potentially lucrative markets in Europe and the US. And without the need to price the book ridiculously high in order to not lose out.
After I had emailed CreateSpace and received a reply (within 24 hours – something to be congratulated) which assuaged a couple of concerns (I’ll blog more about the nitty gritty at a later date), I spent the week tweaking the print-ready files in order to make them compatible with their systems (something else I’ll go into more detail with later), and today I ordered the proof copy which is about to be printed and shipped over for approval. It’s due with us on the 14th and all being well, we’ll have it up and available to buy in print in the US and (when the copies Amazon hold in stock at the moment are sold) in the UK and Europe shortly after. At least that’s the plan…we’ll see how things go!
As a lover of books in all shapes and sizes, it has always been a high priority for me to have the book available in print as well as e-ink, but somehow it always felt a bit like a novelty aside rather than a serious side to the project, the print books being subsidised by the ebook sales. Now, all being well, it feels much more like an integral part of the business and a wider audience will be able to enjoy the book, which has always been the ultimate goal. With many US based bloggers lined up to review Pegasus Falling in the coming weeks and months, it’s fantastic that it will be easily available in whatever format readers prefer when the reviews come out.
I’ll blog again when the proof arrives and when the book goes live. It’ll be interesting to see how smoothly the transition from Advantage to CreateSpace goes. 
Happy reading!
Mike