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Essay

Meet my dragon!

A quest towards self-publication: entry 6

Frank Ryan 21 January 2007

www.lablit.com/article/201

Frank Ryan

Print-on-demand is the safest way for new authors to test the market before ordering a quantity from a conventional printer...

Editor's note: LabLit.com is pleased to continue our weekly blog from Frank Ryan, a scientist, doctor and best-selling author who is currently attempting to publish and promote his latest novel (written in the lab lit genre) via an untraditional route.

There is an air of excitement about “B”, who is planning an escape to the sun, far away from the cold and the storms that darken the skies around the stone ruin that is my abode. Meanwhile I sit in front of my desk and brood. Since waking with the first crepuscular light of dawn, I have felt devastated by my muse’s betrayal. The blessed one – she who heralds the dawn with her head on fire – she whom I had considered my benefactor! I gaze at the lower half of the Roman bee-hive quern that adorns the stony hearth of my fireplace, worn by human hands that tilled these same fields more than half a millennium before Ecgbert became the first overlord of England. A Roman relic I dug up in my garden. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d find comfort in such associations.

But not today. Today darkness cloaks me, like the vilest web spun by Arachne after her downfall. I gaze out through a stone-mullioned window, with its glassy cells enclosed in trapeziums of lead, from the fabric of a ruin cast entirely from stone. Everything here is made of out stone, the walls, the window, the entrance porch, the many chimneys protruding from a hundred tons of roof itself. And as I sit, and brood, the sheer stoniness of it all takes possession of my heart.

“B” arrives wordlessly to stand by my desk, slamming down a pot of coffee on the typescript before departing. The inference is clear: ‘You are the bread-winner. Go win some bread.’ I should get up off by butt and do so – figuratively speaking of course, since my work is invariably done sitting on my butt.

With a sigh reminiscent of another I have knowingly tormented, I flick through the pages, working backwards towards the beginning. I mouth the opening lines:

The three AH-64 Apaches stole in from the dawn horizon, like squat gray sharks invading a sleeping coastline. Emerging from the sea mists over a large desalination complex, they adopting a ground-hugging V-formation, the engines masked until they crossed over the security fence. The agricultural station was three miles ahead…

I grab the Creative Zen. I stuff the earphones into my lug holes. I hit the library, trawl through artists. It’s a toss-up between the Bootylicious Destiny’s Child’s Survivor compilation and Paganini’s Violin Concerto No 2 in B minor, Op 7, Rondo – rumoured in the composer’s own lifetime to have been written under the inspiration of the devil.

Damnation – I will have them both! I uncork the bottle with my teeth – not easy since it is a screw-cap. I take a slug, cough, spit the metal-tasting and now crumpled cork at the study door. Haul up the latest spate of communications…

**********

Dear Google,

I’m looking at the possibility of selling my book through you. At present this is difficult for a publisher, or website, based in the UK.

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your e-mail. In order to sell your book through Google, I suggest you take advantage of our on-line access program. Please note that this feature is still in development.

Dear Google,

I intend to take advantage of the online access program. At present, unless I misinterpret this, the program only applies to publishers who have American banking.

Dear Frank,

The feature is currently available to all Google Book Search Partner Program participants in the US and UK. There is no need for you to be registered with an American bank. We are now in the preliminary phase of this program. Once we’ve completed this process, we will begin to allow users to purchase online access for books.

Dear Google,

I plan to publish in late March. Is it likely that online access and e-book sales will be available through Google by then?

Dear Frank,

I can’t guarantee that our online access program will be launched by the time your novel is ready to be published. However we recognize that this is an important feature for many of our partners and we are working to make sure it will be ready as quickly as possible. I certainly hope that we’ll be able to extend this feature to you in time. Unfortunately, I’m not able to give you an exact timeline for when our online access program will be launched.

Glug (coffee – honestly!).

POD Estimates: Anthony Rowe Limited:Hardcover, 100 copies (we do not produce dust jackets and only print on one side of the cover – delivery extra)… £1,436.00.

B Format Paperback: Setup… £116.00. 100 copies (delivery extra)… £496.00.

A Format Paperback. Setup the same. 100 copies (delivery extra)… £496.00

No need to wake Oracle from his slumbers here. These prices confirm my earlier conclusion.

Hi Tanya,

The POD estimates would make a trade paperback very difficult. But I can see that POD might be a useful option in other circumstances, for example books set at higher prices, particularly back list-titles, non-fiction and text books, and so on.

Dear Frank,

You are quite right. POD is ideal for high value non fiction (mainly academic) books and facsimile copies of out of print and antique books. It is also the safest way for new authors to test the market before ordering a quantity from a conventional printer that won’t sell for many years. Another advantage is that the file can be amended at any time. For example, if somebody noticed an error in the text, the publisher could correct it and all consequent copies would be printed without the mistake. I hope this is useful.

This is useful. I know that Little Brown, in New York, is currently selling a backlist of one of my own titles, The Forgotten Plague, as a POD. And I can see that others of my own books, all non-fiction and higher priced, might benefit when current stocks run out. But, alas, it is not what I am looking for to liberate my dragon. Forward – to the print book estimates…

From Anthony Rowe Limited,

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your enquiry. We are pleased to provide our estimates subject to sight of copy:

B Format Paperback, 198 x 129 mm, 416pp, black only from PDF files supplied. Cover 4/0 from disc supplied, gloss laminated, etc…2,000 (delivery to one UK address included)… £3249.001,000 run on… £1040.00

A Format Paperback, 178 x 111mm, etc3,000 (delivery to one UK address included)… £4116.001,000 run on… £1030.00

Hardcover, 234 x 156 mm, with 4 colour jacket,1000 (including delivery to one UK address)… £3277.00100 run on… £212.00

Interesting…These prices would permit profitability as trade publications. But there would still be problems for a self-publishing author. Distribution is not a worry – anybody could distribute a single title. But a self-publishing author will not have access to a sales force, key to selling a new title to booksellers.

Glug (ibid).

I was once taught by a world-famous neurosurgeon who insisted that sooner rather than later a surgeon is obliged to make up his mind. Dilly-dally and the patient is dead. So no dilly-dallying!

It boils down to two options:

Plan A: I shall publish TDG as an e-book in the first instance. Fingers crossed that Google will come up with the goods in time. If not I may have to delay publication. I acknowledge that I have a lot to learn about e-books – and I’ll have to give time and effort to achieve this. Plan A does not include any intention to produce a print version. I must hope that success in this venture will encourage major publishers in the US and UK to take the title on.

Plan B: If the e-book venture fails, I may have to fall back on my own resources: consider funding my own print version, with the headache of marketing and distributing the same.

Glug.

**********

I download the BookData Title Information Form from Nielsen’s website. I start filling it in online. I gaze thoughtfully at all those empty oblongs. The first specific detail required is the new 13 digit ISBN. This just came in on January 1st. There is a nanomachine on a website that will convert the old 10 digit ISBN to the new. I prompt with my new book a 10-digit ISBN from the Swift allocation. I run the nano-machine – then send the answer to Emily at Nielsen for confirmation.

Dear Frank,

Thank you for your enquiry. The ISBN is not a valid number. As well as adding 978 to the beginning of the ISBN, you also have to recalculate the check digit at the end of the number.

In other words, I have made a pig’s ear of it.

Glug.

I hit the nano-machine again. I manage to get it right this time. This is it – the exclusive identifier of my dragon.

ISBN 978-1-874082-40-8

I move on, leave blank “binding/format”, as to whether hardcover or paperback. Under the specification “Other” I write “e-book” – for the first time in my life.

Then we get to it, “Title”. I hammer the keys with what feels like a peculiar sense of pride:

The Doomsday Genie

This is the business. Combat engaged!

Glug (definitely not coffee).

**********

‘Pssst!’

I hear the whisper, soft but audible, invade the air of my study. I spin round on my chair – but there is nobody there.

In the next episodes, after a few weeks in sunnier climes, we'll meet Mary Shelley – and her strange and, indeed, rather terrifying muse.