Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago · 6 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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How to Self-Publish? Writing is the Easy Part



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About the Author

I'm a ghost but not the kind that's to pottery
wheels I'm the wnting kind

Toften wonder if Im a tech-savvy writer or a
writing-savvy technologist Maybe I'm both. As
one CMO put it, "Paul makes tech my bitch!
That might be going a hittle too far

QbeBee VIP, Ambassador

My apologies. This post will likely raise more questions than it answers. I’m hoping to tap our collective mind for a solution. I don’t mean for the title to be click-bait. Oh, and this is a re-post. I even mention here that I've been thinking about Amazon for only a couple of hours.

That was written a year ago. Many, many more hours than "a couple" have been spent on this subject. I'm not very much closer to a definitive solution.

I do, however, have the beginnings of a plan of action. I will be discussing it as I test it and carry it out. 

Win, lose or draw, we'll do it together. 

Back to the original post. . . 

I recently had a series of meetings with a publisher. I was so flattered I nearly lost my professional outlook.

You want me to do what? Ok, sure. But you will publish it, right? Great! Whatever you say is A-OK with me!

I was proud as punch, but I had nagging doubts. They were strong enough to bring my business head back to the forefront. I didn’t sign. 

When my gut whispers to me there’s something wrong. There usually is.

In this case, it wasn’t whispering. It was screaming.

It had to.

My pride was deafening.

I have a modicum of talent when it comes to writing. I’m also damned prolific. I would love to spend my whole day at the keyboard. Cats, cigars, and single-malt Scotch could surround me, a la Ernie Hemingway. 

Okay, more likely, cats, carrot sticks, and Coke Zero™ would surround me. Whatever. . .  cats make good roommates, and I'm getting used to carrot sticks.

So what stopped me? Where did the nagging doubt in the back of my mind come from? I can thank Jeffrey Strickland and Deb Helfrich for helping explain it.

Jeffrey wrote “Let Lulu Help You Publish” back on March 24, 2015. That was two months before I joined LinkedIn. I missed it, obviously. Later, when I scanned through Jeff’s rather large collection of posts, I missed it again.

Seven months later, Deb shared a bunch of Jeffrey’s older posts. One of them was “Let Lulu Help You Publish.”

This time, I didn’t miss it. I read it. Then it hit me.

Writing is the easy part.

I’m not kidding. Let’s step back a minute. Forget the creative side of writing for now. Let’s treat writing like manufacturing. We aren’t writing a post or book or novella. We are building a product.

Making a product is easy. Making a good product is a lot harder. Selling and distributing either is infinitely harder.

How many companies have failed because they couldn’t get their products to market?

Writing is easy. Writing well is a lot harder. Getting the written work into a reader’s hands is very, very hard.

How many books, papers, and novels are neither in Published Heaven nor in Published Hell? They sit languishing in anguish in Published Purgatory. I would guess that would be most of them.

The publisher I was speaking to did not address distribution issues well enough. Production without distribution is folly. 

That applies to writing as much as it applies to any business.

Does it have to be this way?

Frankly, I hope not.

We are living in the Golden Age of Instant Communication. We are an Always-On society. The era of the Global Tribe is upon us. An individual with a modicum of talent can create a written work. It should be possible to distribute that work to a sizable Tribe.

To paraphrase, the road to Hell is paved with ideas that “should” be possible. Is this one of them?

To be honest, I don’t know – yet. Jeffrey’s article sent my hunter’s instincts into overdrive.

Here’s what I found so far:

  • Since late-2007, Amazon has sold about 30 million Kindle readers. The Kindle Fire alone has about 17.5 million active monthly users. (Forbes)
  • There are over 35 million iPads and a similar number of other tablets. (Forbes) That makes the total for tablets about 70 million. Let’s not even bother with the gazillion laptops and desktops out there.
  • The Kindle app is available for both Android and iPhone. People downloaded it over 21 million times. (Amazon)
  • The Kobo reader (Go, Canada, Go!) has an installed base of about 15 million. (Wikipedia)
  • Barnes & Noble has about 8 million Nook readers in circulation. Nook is also available as a browser plugin and an app for the Windows Phone. (Wikipedia)
  • There are many other reader apps for smartphones. These mostly follow the International Digital Publishing Forum’s EPUB standard. (Ex: “Stanza” and “Shortcovers”)
  • Adobe has their “Adobe Digital Editions” eBook reader app. That covers the desktop and laptop crowds.

Let’s just forget all those numbers for a minute.

We know that total downloads are no proof of regular use.

We also know that buying a gadget is not the same thing as using it. Heck, I bought my Kobo five years ago and never used it until today. It was still shrink-wrapped.

We also know that there is a lot of duplication in these numbers. I have my Kobo, a Kindle app on my Android phone, another on my iPad, one on my laptop, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Forget the numbers for now. Let’s not debate their accuracy. No matter what filter you apply, that’s one helluva lot of potential readers. Conservatively, the potential number of readers is somewhere above 160,000,000!

Does the answer lie with eBooks? If so, how do we get our book(s) into those readers' hands? 

I’m still not clear on the answers.

Give me time. I’ve only been at this for a couple of hours. (giggle) 

Technical points

An eBook is just a computer file. It would be too easy if they used a common standard format. All readers can view PDF files, but the distribution networks don’t like them. For example, the Kobo considers PDF files “Documents.” It places them in a directory separate from books.

That’s not good. Given the nature of the eBook-reader beasts, PDF just doesn’t cut it as a viable option.

Kindle uses their proprietary MOBI format. Everyone else uses the more generic EPUB format. That means you need two versions of your manuscript to cover the market. Kindle also has some newer formats that show promise. 

Most legacy systems do not support them.

This is not a huge problem. At their core, e-books are just plain old HTML. They are just two flavors of the same thing. That does not mean they are interchangeable.

It does mean that the technical side of things should not be a deal-breaker.

Image considerations

My research says that images, charts, and mathematical/scientific formulae are an issue. Frankly, I’m not sure why this would be so. I’m digging into it. The warnings may have something to do with anchoring problems.

Images must be in RGB (Red-Green-Blue) or plain black and white. The formats adjust images to RGB automatically. I wouldn’t trust them. 

Automatic conversion can produce bizarre moiré effects. Better to save your images as RGB in the first place.

This contrasts with the need for CMYK images used in printing. CMYK stands for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black. When a printer talks about 4-color process, he means CMYK color.

An existing manuscript may not be suitable as is. You may actually need four versions of your manuscript. You may need EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and Print-Ready PDF with CMYK images.

The first three are no big deal. The last may prove to be too much trouble. You may already have a Print-Ready manuscript. You may then have a beast of a project converting your images.

Advantages of eBooks

  • They cost close to nada to produce. I mean the actual physical production, not the writing part.
  • They are only “printed” when someone buys them. There is no possibility of having a garage full of unsold books.
  • Ebooks are computer files. They can be stored on servers. You can create links to download them. You can put those links just about anywhere. That should help with distribution.
  • Since they are computer files, you read them on a computer of some sort. That implies immediate access to extra or interactive web content.
  • eBooks are searchable. Indices and tables of content are live links.
  • eBooks are liquid. Any revisions are immediately in distribution. You don’t need to worry about older editions sitting in stock. There is no stock. There may be a way to update distributed copies as well. Whether that’s something an author wants to do is another question.

Disadvantages of eBooks

  • People like hard copy books. There something about holding one, dog-earing the pages and scribbling notes in the margins. This is particularly true for books that people refer to often.
  • A disadvantage particular to Kindle’s MOBI format is that you cannot embed fonts. Exercise great care in the look and feel of your work. Test it on a Kindle emulator or an actual Kindle. Avoid the Franken-book.
  • The main distribution channels insist on an ISBN number for all listings. This will limit you to larger works. You can distribute your blog in eBook form through your website, but not through the big boys. The PITA factor would be prohibitive. FYI: PITA = (P)ain (I)n (T)he (A)ss. For Canadians, ISBN is not an issue at all. I talked it over and suggested I may need 10 ISBNs. They gave me 100, just in case.
  • EBooks have no pre-set pages. Think of them as one, super-long, scrollable page. This fact wreaks havoc with image placement. Images must be well set and anchored. Otherwise, they may all end up bunched together at the beginning or end of the eBook. I can also see where image captions may be tricky.

I must still answer many questions

What’s the best form factor for an eBook? Is a standard 9-inch by 6-inch page a consideration? Is there an optimal width? Does it even matter?

What is the most effective way to use images? What are the sizing and re-sizing considerations? Do pictures auto-scale or do they auto-crop? They should auto-scale, but I need that confirmed.

It seems simple. Usually, when something seems simple, it means I’m missing something.

What other aspects to eBook publishing am I missing?

And, the RBAQ (Really Big-Assed Question) …

How do we best access this huge pool of readers?

I’m open to suggestions and thoughts. Please share yours.

Special Thanks go out to my wife and super-talented graphic designer, Filomena (Fil) Tedone for helping me breeze through the graphics stuff and the possible ramifications of font switching.


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Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #17

Thanks Paul \, will do.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #16

I had somebody working on JavaScript's. Please email me which method you used and I'll check to.orrow

Lisa Gallagher

5 years ago #15

Paul \, I went to the App with no name to add a buzz and under 'text to add' it says -2 and I haven't added anything yet. I thought maybe it would disappear when I added the link, etc.. it increased. I logged out and back in, still showing -2. Not sure if I did something wrong? You can PM me if you want. I haven't tried to link my accounts yet, but did see the instructions, thanks so much! Sorry to put this here, but I miss many PM's, not sure if you do?

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #14

Make a decent living self-publishing eBooks? I'd have to say no. If you're talking non-fiction. The Internet has killed not only print media, but for the most part pay-to-play information and expository publishing. Because there is so much now available "free" online. Admittedly, much if not most is trash, but the market is undiscerning. Look at what flows daily across the feeds on social media. Why should some pay for a book when they can FOR FREE fill their screen with more purported expert information and opinion on just about any given topic than they can read in a month or a tear? Never mind most of it is dreck. To be sure, there are exceptions. But I'd guess they involve first building a rep and profile independently of publishing and selling eBooks. So that readers are willing to pay for something they see as non-comparable to what is available free on the web. It all comes down to three key element: marketing, marketing, and ... marketing. Cheers!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #13

Funny you should say that Jesse. My thoughts: A book cover is the book's salesman just like a display ad, or a yellow pages ad for a retailer. It is not where one should skimp. If you have the skills to do it yourself, fine. But, just a quick thought, a $40 book cover is probably a bad idea. Based on rates from graphic designers of my acquaintance (including my wife), that would mean about a half-hour's work. That's if they were feeling generous. I redid a cover for Gary Sharpe's book. It took me about two-and-a-half hours. I have a modicum of Photoshop/Illustrator skills. It would take my wife about an hour and a half to two hours. The cover needs to pull the buyer's attention to the book. It needs to scream "click here and check me out." I buy a lot of ebooks. How many do you think I just scroll on by?

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #12

LOL, well, yes and no, Robert. I AM a procrastinator. I fight it every day. I do what I need to do as soon as possible. I know that I can't put it off until tomorrow. If I do, it may never get done. That said, this is not the only thing on my plate. Nor is it the most important. This is strictly me satisfying my curiosity. My purpose here is not to pontificate or the like. I am curious as to why such a huge market, with built-in tools to access it, is so tough to crack. If it's so easy, why do most people fail? Is it only shitty product? Is it poor marketing? Is there more to it? When something doesn't make sense to me, I like to look into it. That's what I'm doing here. I just thought I'd share the journey with the community. If they are not interested, Ok. I'll do it anyway. FYI: Off and on, since this post was first published, I wrote two books to use as my test vehicles with two more in the works. Writing is definitely the easy part. Thank you for you offer to meet. I would love to meet you whenever either of us is in the other's neck of the woods.

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #11

Answer to the first question: Did they propose a charge to publish? No. Second question: Yes, I did give Lulu a once over but frankly, I'm more interested in why authors meet so little success with eBooks. If I was a professor or the like, I would definitely use Lulu on all textbooks, or maybe Createspace. I recognize the marketing/vanity aspect of the discussion. This is actually more an academic type of discussion. Is it possible for someone with decent skills to earn a living in self-publishing? If so, how? Too many people fail. It can't be as simple as many make it out to be.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #10

Paul, my compliments for keeping this conversation going. Two questions, if I may. The first is from curiosity. Was the publisher you mention at the start proposing to charge you for publishing your book? The second is have you analyzed the costs of publishing via Lulu in print? They seem to print on demand, with unit cost decreasing as lot size per printing goes up. I personally agree with Jeffrey Strickland that the costs are well within the range that makes self-publishing potentially profitable --- assuming, of course, you can achieve reasonable distribution and are binding material you've already written into a volume, and not spending 6 months writing a book for a retail price of $5.95. I'd also suggest that the hardest part is marketing your book. I have one of my eBooks that is industry-specific on free offer in PDF form, in exchange for only an email address. It's received great reviews from a dozen marine magazines, and total distribution to date is approaching 5,000. Not bad. But if I could have sold it at, say, $5.95 retail, the gross revenues would have been about $30K. Cost to print and deliver, maybe $9K. Leaving $21K before indirect overheads and taxes. Not exactly a way to make a decent living. Which is why most self publishing these days is ether marketing supportive (free eBook) or purely a matter of vanity. IMO. Cheers!

David B. Grinberg

5 years ago #9

Thanks for another interesting and educational read, Paul. You really provide a lot of helpful info on e-books, buttressed by good data points. So does this mean you plan to publish one? Do you have something written and ready to go? I like your vision and would likewise love to "spend my whole day at the keyboard. Cats, cigars, and single-malt Scotch could surround me, a la Ernie Hemingway." Ideally by a beach in a warm climate for breaks to swim in the ocean and enjoy the good weather. See you there!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #8

ahhhh, Deb, you started this whole journey with a post share. Now you give me hope when I started wondering if I bit off more than I can chew. Thanks for both actions

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #7

Forgot something. . . I recently bought an eBook that was so gawd-awful ugly and difficult to read that I nearly returned it. Then I opened it on my phone . . . it was fine. The web reader was horrible. I tried on two kindles, the new Kindle was ugly, the old one was fine. Because of its nature, an eBook must be tested on several platforms

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #6

We'll get into the tech stuff later, Deb. Can't OpenOffice save in word *.doc format? It doesn't need to be docx Amazon actually suggests using .doc, but they don't say much of the other stuff. Word is the most popular package so, i guess they standardized on it. PDF gives very funky results

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #5

oops, then I'm too late. I ran three tests and the conversion process is not all that difficult. It helps that my wife is a talented graphic designer and I have coding knowledge. Not that that stuff is absolutely required. We'll get to it soon

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #4

Actually, Deb, you're two posts ahead in this series. Yes, Amazon has some good converters, particularly from Microsoft Word. My research shows that they can and do fail depending on the reader used. There are tricks to hedge your bets. They aren't complicated and mostly involve how the Word doc is set up. That may be the template Robert Bacal was talking about. I'll look into it. I made my own template, but I may have missed stuff. That's they kind of discussion I was hoping for. WOOHOO beBee!!

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #3

True, but in this case, I think there is more to it than just that. Just consider the vast number of works available compared to the mean income generated. Most authors earn less than $1000 per year. It's not possible that they are all wrong. There must be recognizable, measurable forces at play. Apart from the production-specific aspects, there's the marketplace which is heavily controlled by a single entity. Any market or business opportunity has a range of optimal actions. For now, this one just looks random. My mind tells me that apparent randomness is just that, apparent. ePublishing is coming into its own, and I believe there is an opportunity here to liberate writers. Or, not. . . Who really knows? I plan to find out

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #2

When I first looked into self-publishing, I got excited. As I dug more deeply, I got depressed. Still, the market is huge and receptive with very few barriers to entry. There MUST be an optimum path. (he said hopefully) At least, I hope to find at least one

Paul "Pablo" Croubalian

5 years ago #1

Thanks Robert.This will be a new series where I will document any and all ideas I (or others) come up with and give it a shot. Most indie authors make less than $1000 a year. That's a frigging joke! Any market has its rules, tricks, and traps. I hope we'll find them all together. I'm also counting on you since you are one of the three or four people I know who have a good handle on this. The form-factor thing I had already figured out, although Kindle does have two new formats that are true fixed (unresponsive). I don't see them as being valid formats for anything other than children's books or graphic novels. More later as things pop up. . .

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