Bundles and Series

Bundles and series are two publishing devices for eBooks that seem to work well for both readers and authors. I’m just starting to branch out in both directions.

A bundle (also called a box set or omnibus) is a collection of short related works. These are usually priced more economically than the individual volumes making them a good buy for someone who likes a particular author and the subject they are writing on.

goat_bundle1When I published the first volumes of my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, it was fellow homestead author and blogger Anna Hess who suggested that I bundle them when I’d written enough. The other day I realized I’d done just that. I have five goat related how-tos on offer, enough to bundle and offer at a 4-for-3 price.

There is only one set of front and back matter, with the individual eBooks treated as sections. I combined the photos from the four eBook covers to create a new cover, but I still kept my overall series look.

One question authors ask is whether to include their bundle as another volume in the series. I decided against that because it isn’t a separate volume, but a combination of volumes. My solution was to call it a new series, “The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos Bundled Editions.” Not particularly clever, but a search engine will bring up both options so I think it’s a good one!

My other project is to create a series of eBooks from Critter Tales. A series is just that, a long work broken down into shorter segments. Oftentimes the first eBook of the series is sharply discounted or even free. This gives readers a chance to sample a new author. If they like what they read, they are likely to be willing to buy the rest of the series. Or in my case, they can simply buy the tales for the critters they are interested in. I’m tentatively calling my series “Critter Tales Series.”

concerning_critters_cover350x233Critter Tales lends itself well to this idea, because the sets of tales focus on one type of critter each and can make stand-alone reading. Pictured on the right is the cover idea I have.

I think cover design is important, and this is similar enough to the paperback so as to offer instant recognition. eBook covers are a different ratio than paperback covers, so that allowed me to adapt the cover images and highlight the one pertaining to the subject.

“Concerning Critters” is the title of the paperback’s introduction, so it will be my free offering to the reading community. The various sets of tales will be priced according to length.

This project is rather slow going at the moment, because eBooks require a different setup than print. This means I need to create a fluid file for uploading, and photos make this more challenging than text-only documents. My goal is to have it all done and released well before Christmas.

In Which I Break Down & Buy A Kindle

I did it. I finally did it. I finally broke down and bought a Kindle. I looked at other eReaders but finally decided on the Kindle, which is unarguably the most popular eReader out there.

Why did I do it? I have nothing against eBooks, mind you. I think they are great and folks who have eReaders love them for their portability plus ability to carry around so many books at once. Also, eBooks are much more economical to buy than print books. I can relate to that. What I don’t care for, are the proclamations of the young whippersnappers who declare that print publishing is dead. Nothing is a good substitute for a real, live, hold in your hand, page turning book.

When I prepared 5 Acres & A Dream The Book for publication, I researched doing it in a mobi format as well as print. I learned that for as many photos and diagrams as I have, mobi was not a good option. Still, for personal use, what argument could I find for not having a Kindle? I was running into too many good free and discount offers for books I’d like to read. I started to consider it.

Also I was curious as to how 5 Acres & A Dream The Book would actually look on an eReader. How bad could it be? I have a pdf copy (downloaded from CreateSpace in an effort to convince me to make an eBook edition available too). I can convert this to mobi with Calibre.

Now my mind is wondering about ePublishing, even though 5 Acres The Book is not an option. I doubt that Critter Tales, my work in progress, would be a good candidate either, for the same reason. But, another book on my list of possibilities is a how-to type book, maybe, The Little Book of Homestead How-Tos. Possibly I could write these as stand-alone pieces, each as an eBook, although many of my how-tos rely heavily on photos. The collection could be published in paperback. Something to think about perhaps?

Of the Kindle itself, yes, I do like it. But you know what? I still like hard copy paper books better.

A Chapter A Day

Not too long ago I blogged about a writing schedule for the book I’m working on. I was careful not to be overly ambitious at the time, and only made a schedule for what I as working on: gathering possible homestead blog posts for Critter Tales. Even though I successfully met that schedule, I confess that’s as far as I got concerning scheduling.

Something else writers do is set a goal of writing so many words per day. This is similar to how NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) works, challenging participants to write 50,000 words during the month of November.  That seems like a lot but I’ve read blog posts by participants who divide it into a daily goal. Spreading that 50,000 words out over 30 days means only 1666.66 words per day, which doesn’t seem so bad, does it? If one takes the weekends off, it would be more, but hopefully still a manageable goal.

For me, I’ve thought it might make sense to aim for a chapter a day, rather than a word amount. My chapters aren’t terribly long anyway, and keeping focused until the chapter is done really helps with my flow of thought and various ideas that pop into my head. So that’s my goal, a chapter a day.

At this point I don’t know how many chapters there will be, so I don’t know how long it will take me to get them all done. The chicken chapters are finished (I think) and almost all edited. The next step has been to compile them into a “Chicken Tales” section, after which I’ll recruit beta readers for feedback. I’ll do the same with the other sections as I get their various chapters done.

I have to say it helps having a goal. Summertime on the homestead is so busy that it’s far too easy to run out of day before running out of projects. But, as a wise man once said, by the inch it’s a cinch, by the yard it’s hard. I just have to make sure those inches keep adding up.

[UPDATE: July 26, 2014] Perhaps a whole chapter per day was a bit ambitious. Given the time I have available for writing each day, I’m finding it realistically takes more like 3 days. One to gather the blog posts, one to rewrite them, and one to do another go-over before sending it off to be proofread. Still, it’s a good goal and that’s good progress for me!]

Blog Writing vs Book Writing -Or- Why My Book Is Different From My Blog

I’ve heard from a few folks who have read both my blog and my book, and have remarked that they expected the book to be a paperback version of my blog. They were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. While it is possible to have one’s blog made into a paperback book, that wasn’t something I wanted to do. Even though both the blog and the book are geared toward a similar audience, blogs and books read differently from one another.

Blogs (weblogs) are like journals. They are a log (daily or as often as one wishes) of activities, thoughts, photos, events, etc. Various entries (posts) may cover a gamut of topics. A blog is primarily ordered chronologically, although some blogging software allows ordering by category. Even so, the daily topics are a hit and miss hodge-podge of the author’s activities and interests.

Even though I’ve had some readers read my blog from beginning to current posts, that isn’t usually the case. A few read regularly, but that also isn’t usually the case. I find that blog readers are more hit and miss in their reading. I know I am, because I don’t have the time to keep up with all the blogs I enjoy. Even regular followers and readers will often miss a number of posts. And if they miss a post that provides background information for the current one, then they may not get the whole picture of what I’m talking about.

Because of all this, I tend to write my blog posts as units unto themselves. Regular readers probably see it as repetitive, but I want to give the one-time or occasional reader all the information they need to follow my train of thought.

Books are different. A reader will pick up a book with the intent to read it all the way through, unless they lose interest and set it aside. They are able to follow the authro’s train of thought. Because of that, the material must be ordered logically. With my book, I definitely wanted to do that. My categories (chapters) include our dream of homesteading, defining our homesteading goals, setting our priorities, developing a master plan for the property, the establishment phase of our homestead, obstacles, difficult things, learning how to work smarter not harder, a look into our future plans, and also the various areas of self-sufficiency we are working toward: food (for both us and our animals), energy, and water.

In addition, I wanted to write the kind of homesteading book I enjoy reading. What I enjoy, is not a book of how to do things, I can find all that on the internet. What I enjoy is reading someone’s story. I enjoy reading how they got started, the ups and downs they experienced, their failures and successes, and what they learned in the process. I learn and remember more from those kinds of books than I do from someone’s road map to homesteading. So that’s how I wrote mine. It’s our story, and a way to share what we’ve learned. Consequently it’s full of practical advice that I hope will help anyone interested in homesteading.

As such, my blog was an excellent resource for my book. I gathered posts in various categories to rewrite into chapters. Yes, quite a bit of the book is excerpted from the blog, but the information is organized, often rewritten, and put together for the book reader. My current blog posts make good drafts for the rest of the story. You’ll be hearing about that one of these days.

Expanded Distribution: The Ins and Outs

With a few exceptions, people who write books want to sell their books. Making a fortune may not be a primary motive, but it’s a delight and encouragement to see those sales. Options for the self-publisher include selling from a website, via shows or other public gatherings, or even door to door. To reach the widest audience, however, one needs to sell through distributors. These include book selling though online book stores as well as traditional book stores (referred to as “brick and mortar”).

POD (print on demand) printers offer different ways to do this. Usually they will have a package deal of some sort. The only two I’ve looked into are CreateSpace (the publishing arm of Amazon.com), and Lightning Source Ingram. I started with CS because, as a beginner, I understood their process to be more user friendly and proofs less expensive. CS is geared toward new, independent authors. LSI, on the other hand, is geared toward professional publishers although many independent authors use their services as well. More recently, they have opened Ingram Spark as a resource for self-publishing authors. Here’s what I’ve learned about all these.

CreateSpace has no set-up fees and offers a standard distribution package for free as well. This standard package includes Amazon US and Amazon Europe (with listings on their UK, German, Italian, Spanish, and French sites), plus a CS eStore. Their extended distribution used to cost $25. Since LSI started offering Ingram Spark, the extended distribution package is now free. This puts one’s book listing in catalogues available to other online book sellers (such as Barnes & Noble), also those brick and mortar stores, big box stores, etc., plus a venue called CreateSpace Direct, for registered resellers. For those using one of CS’s own ISBNs (also free, but lists CS as the exclusive publisher) there are listings for libraries and educational institutions as well.

LSI (and Ingram Spark) has a $49 set-up fee per title. Their distribution channels (markets) include all of the above for an annual $12 per title. One advantage to these, is that the publisher can choose whether or not book stores can return unpurchased copies of their books. Of course you pay them a refund, but it does make the books available in those stores. Unfortunately, traditional book stores are not interested in self-published books, which means they probably won’t order them anyway.

The other thing retailers expect, is a wholesale discount. Obviously they cannot pay full price for a title and make a profit at that same list price. To truly entice them, this discount apparently must be at least 50%. The author’s royalties are what’s leftover after printing costs and whole sale discount have been subtracted. With LSI, the publisher sets the discount. It can be as low as 20% on up. With Ingram Spark, the wholesale discount is a mandatory 55%. With CreateSpace/Amazon, it depends upon the distribution channel.

  • Standard distribution through Amazon US or Amazon Europe – 40%
  • Standard distribution through the book’s CreateSpace eStore – 20%
  • Extended distribution – 60%

So let’s crunch some numbers. What does all these mean to me, as an independent author selling her book for a list price of $12.95? The forumla is:

list price
– printing costs
– wholesale discount
author’s royalty

Printing costs depend on several factors: size and page count, color or B&W, hard cover or soft. These vary depending upon the printer.

With CS, the printing cost for a 262, 6 x 9, black and white interior paperback book is $0.85 per book plus $0.012 per page. For my book, that comes to $3.99 printing cost per book. Plugging all that into the formula to sell on Amazon US or Europe (40% discount) …

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 5.18 (40% wholesale discount)
$3.78 author’s royalty

If I sell through my own CreateSpace eStore

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 2.59 (20% wholesale discount)
$6.37 author’s royalty

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Even so, most CS authors opt to direct traffic to Amazon rather than their CS eStore. Why? For several reasons: to build reviews (available only on Amazon), consumer trust in name recognition (CreateSpace who?), free shipping for orders over $35, plus folks often already have an Amazon account.

For their extended distribution

$12.95 (list price)
– 3.99 (printing cost)
– 7.77 (60% wholesale discount)
$1.19 author’s royalty

So for every book sold through someone else rather than Amazon, I’d only make $1.19 per copy.

Now let’s take a look at Ingram Spark. They calculate their printing costs for the same book accordingly – $0.90 per book plus $0.013 per page, which would be $4.31 per book. Plugging that in with the 55% discount…

$12.95 (list price)
– 4.31 (printing cost)
– 7.12 (55% wholesale discount)
$1.52 author’s royalty

Well, that still seems like peanuts, but it’s a little better than the $1.19 from CS’s extended distribution. Or is it? CS offers extended distribution for free. With Ingram Spark, I’d have the $49 title set-up plus $12 per year listing fee. That means if I make $1.52 per book,  I’d have to sell 41 copies my first year to break even (with a profit of $1.32!). Those same 41 copies through CS would have netted me $48.79. Then I’d have to sell 8 copies each year to pay for keeping my book in Ingram’s catalog listings. The only advantage might be the possibility that a couple of libraries might pick up copies for their patrons.

Is it worth it? Well, how many books do I think I can sell? I’m fortunate that I have a niche audience via my blog, because with independent self-publishing, promotion and marketing fall entirely on the author. Figures vary quite a bit, but most self-published books are said to sell less than 200 copies in their lifetime, with most of those purchased by the author her or himself, family and friends. Since my niche is not a huge market,  what can I realistically expect?

Dear Reader, what would you do if you were me?

Contemplating A Kindle Edition

Even though I’m primarily interested in publishing a paperback version of my book, I recently looked into the possibility of a Kindle version. What I’ve learned is that books on Kindle are best if they have no, or few illustrations. I have something like 130 photographs, plus nearly a dozen diagrams, so a Kindle edition wouldn’t work well, I don’t think.

Why A Print Book?

There seems to be quite a bit of encouragement these days, for self-publishers to produce their books as e-books or in a Kindle edition. Perhaps it’s my age, but I do not find these recommendations the least bit enticing.

Perhaps it has to do with not particularly liking to read off of a screen for hours on end. Or the fact that I can’t flip back and forth easily to things I want to reference. Perhaps it’s fond childhood memories of riding my bike once a week to the public library, of pouring over titles in the stacks, of carefully choosing what I wanted to read. I was an avid reader as a child, usually reading three or four books at a time, depending on my mood at the moment.

Perhaps, though, it’s how I view the written word. A good book, a good story, good information, is a work of art. It deserves a place in permanence. The computer world is not permanent. A glitch, a hijack, a virus, a wrong key hit, a power outage at the wrong time, can wipe it all out.

There is something sensually delightful about a print book: the feel of it in one’s hands, the smell of it, the interaction with it as one turns the pages. It makes a book a real thing, a tangible thing. Shelves filled with books create a pleasing ambience, a calming atmosphere in a room. None of this exists with a screen and a keyboard.

Saving trees? There are some things I accept this argument for, for packaging only destined to be thrown away for example. But books? No. A book is a worthy destiny for a tree.

Those are the reasons I want my book to be a print book. I want it to be a part of that legacy, even if only a few people ever read it.

Building A Book

I have learned that there are many steps involved in preparing a print-ready book for the printer. Writing is one thing, but it’s only the beginning. Editing, formatting according to printer specifications, photos, cover design, pdf preparation, marketing; all of these are necessary to produce a print-ready book.

All of these steps can be obtained as paid-for services, either from one’s online printer, or by hiring professionals. I understand these can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars for the author, one estimate being in the neighbourhood of $25,000. This is fine, I suppose, for those who can afford it, or for those who do not feel knowledgeable enough in these areas and want a professional quality book.  I’m game, however, so I’m going to tackle all this myself with one exception, proofreading.

I am very, very fortunate that Benita has experience as an editor and volunteered to proofread for me. I always thought I had a fairly good grasp on grammar, but have been amazed at how many errors she has caught. Also I have my husband, son, and daughter-in-law proofreading for me, so I am getting feedback from several points of view. This has helped me not only correct problem areas, but clarify terminology and concepts.

Benita and her husband Scott are both familiar with self-publishing, another tremendous help. It means I have the benefit of someone else’s experience as I begin this daunting journey for myself.

All the chapters have been written, being based on my 5 Acres & A Dream blog. I did find, however, that writing a book is different from writing a blog. Blog posts are chronological, so reading through a blog is like jumping back and forth between topics. Consequently, I want my blog posts to be concise and pretty much complete within themselves, because not even regular readers read every post. Plus there are many one time readers who find me via a search engine or by following someone else’s link. Chapters in a book, on the other hand, don’t have to be that way because a book is reading differently than a blog. One usually expects to read a book from beginning to end. Putting related blog posts together required quite a bit of work to make the chapter flow logically.

The next step was to email them off for proofing. As they come back, I make the corrections and then start on the formatting: chapter number, title, page size, margins, etc. This has meant I’ve had to learn to use my word processor as I never have before. It’s been a lot of frustrating trial and error, but definitely worth the effort.

Next I add photographs. It’s true a picture is worth a thousand words, so I add the photos to clarify the text. Photos must be rendered grayscale and at a specified resolution (dots per inch). I’m hoping my photos will add interest and personalize for the reader, what I write. They not only give a visual aid to what I am describing, but I can give additional information about the topic as well.

After the photos, the formatting has to be corrected. This sometimes mean adding or deleting text to give a proper visual perception of the page. I actually feel fairly comfortable doing all this, because of my art background. I think I have a grasp on composition and balance. In addition, I’ve found online articles with tips and pointers, plus I have scoured many books produced by professionals with an eye to formatting details. I’ve noted little things that I have tried to incorporate myself. One suggestion that has helped, is to print out copies of my pages to see how they look. This has helped me with photos, and especially with diagrams. I learned that what is legible on a computer screen, is not necessarily legible printed out.

Once all the individual chapters are done I’ll put the chapters together to number the pages. Then I can begin writing an index. Also I have a few appendices in mind for related material. Another biggie will be cover design. Since I’m the publisher as well as the writer, I have the option of developing an identity as a publisher. To me, that means name, logo, etc.

Some of my chapters are tentatively done, some need specific details attended to, and a few are written only. Progress is steady, albeit slow. But that’s okay as long as I’m diligent, building my book one step at a time.

My Introduction to Self-Publishing

A number of years ago, my husband and I wrote a children’s inductive Bible study on the Book of Mark. I don’t recall what inspired us to do it, but we had a lot of fun: the lessons, the questions, and the illustrations. We did not really have an audience for it, other than our own kids, but the idea of having it published became foremost in our minds.

Submitting it to a publisher didn’t seem realistic, but when I found an ad in a magazine for a printing/publishing company, I wrote for information. I believe it was a standard deal for the time; the writer paid to have it printed and for a minimum number of copies. I don’t remember what that minimum was, but I remember that it would have cost us $6000. We didn’t have $6000 so that was the end of that.

Since I have started blogging, I have learned about online print-on-demand publishing. There is nominal upfront cost and no minimum books to order. The books are printed “on demand,” i.e. as they are ordered. The publisher retains the printing cost and has either a precentage they keep on each book, or an annual fee to keep the book listed in their catalogues.

On the plus side of self-publishing is being able to retain the rights to one’s own work including content and format, higher royalties, and no middle man (agent). On the negative side, the self-published author is responsible for delivering a print ready product, which, I am discovering, is a lot of work. Advertising and promotion fall to the self-published author as well.

In spite of all the work involved, I find that I love the process. It is a creative process every step of the way. I don’t feel like I’m writing a book, I feel like I’m building a book. Step by step it is beginning to take shape.

The Seed Is Planted

I admit that I’ve always loved writing and have, at times, entertained the idea of becoming a published author. Blogging, however, helped fulfil that desire. It wasn’t until fellow blogger Benita (BasicallyBenita.com) suggested that I use my blog as the basis for a book that I considered taking my writing a step further.

My husband was instantly supportive of the idea, as was anyone else I mentioned it too. That’s about as far as it got for a long while. But Benita kept nudging me, until at last I gave it a serious start. Even then it was very hit and miss in terms of writing. Gradually though, a purpose began to take shape. After letting it lie for almost a year I picked it up again, finally seeing how the whole thing should fit together. My motivation has kept me diligent ever since.