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A quest towards self-publication: entry 9

Frank Ryan 4 March 2007

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Frank Ryan

That’s the slightly crazy but also fantastic thing about doing it yourself. Things move fast.

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.

A frenetically busy week! This close to publication I must go through a points check, which is little different for an e-book than it would be for a print version.

Stages in the publication process:

1. Novel written and submitted to commissioning editor – in this case complex, since it was read by a dozen UK editors, and sent to some 14 expert readers, and none in the US, the readership for which it was intended…Done.

2. Novel accepted by commissioning editor (in this case my decision to self-publish, based on the responses of all of the above)…Done.

3. Commissioning editor makes suggestions for revision or editing (me acting on the comments of 14 separate expert readers, whom I thank most sincerely for their encouraging support)…Done.

4. Revised novel now sent to copy-editor (Jenny)…Done.

5. Jenny returns edited typescript to me (absolutely superb job – thanks, Jenny)...Done.

6. I rework novel with the comments and suggestions for revision provided by copy-editor…Done.

7. Normally edited version would now be returned to publisher for typesetting. In this case it means setting to pdf format suitable for e-book. Behind the scenes I have read up on e-books and pdf files and acquired the software to convert Word to pdf. But there is more to it than that. The finished e-book must be page edited if it is to appeal to readers. I refuse to adopt the usual e-book convention of line breaks to denote paragraphs – I think they are ugly and detract from the flow. So I will retain the conventional paragraph indent system. I have discovered four helpful e-publications, as follows:

E-Books: the Options. A Manual for Publishers – by Linda Bennet, published by the Publishers Association. A general handbook essential to any would-be e-book self-publisher.

How to Create Adobe pdf e-Books – free online issue from Adobe. Basic and essential.

e-Books Basics 1.0: Or How To Boil e-Egg – by Ram Devineni, also to be Googled online. Also basic and essential.

Supercharge your eBook Profits – by Michael A. Williams. Good on marketing strategies.

At this stage, since I am also reserving the right to publish a print version, I should therefore add a wonderful title by Peter Finch that my fellow dragon liberators might find generally useful:

How To Publish Yourself – by Peter Finch, Allison & Busby Ltd, London

In particular I absorb the lesson that the page layout should not merely be adapted from a typescript page. The overall dimensions, especially the print dimensions, should follow those of a printed book and avoid enormously big and wide pages that seem to take forever to read. I will adopt these from a paperback size page. This means getting out a ruler and measuring the damn things, counting the lines per page and the number of characters per line. This needs to be done at the Word stage since it can’t be adjusted once converted to pdf. The good news is that, once set out, it is formatted throughout the text and carries through to the pdf version. A certain amount of practice is advised…

8. I move on to cover design. I have the final ideas for the cover from Mark – after some early experimentation and exchange of views. Verdict – brilliant! I can anticipate something close to the final version in a day or two.

9. In normal circumstances, the commissioning editor would have linked to sales and marketing at least six months, more likely nine months, prior to publication date. Self-published e-books are simpler, but they still require sales and marketing.

Sales: This week I reaped the first reward of the Google partner Program when my non-fiction title Tuberculosis: The Greatest Story Never Told appeared online as a Google e-book.

But the Google online sales mechanism will not be available in time for my new venture. I am obliged to find an alternative. I have opted for direct sales from my own website through PayPal. Although I have a Swift Publishers ISBN, I am obliged to work alone on this, like any other self-publishing author. Another key decision was to move from my present service provider to http://www.mrsite.co.uk because they specialise in helping busy guys and gals to set up websites – and they make it very easy to sell through PayPal. I have also made approaches to one or two warehouse sellers, in particular Lightning Source. It is possible, though still undecided, that I shall also sell the e-book through such outlets in much the same way print publishers sell through internet, such as Amazon and conventional distributors such as Gardners and Bertrams.

As to marketing, I can recommend the following:

Marketing for Small Publishers – by Bill Godber, Robert Webb and Keith Smith, Journeyman, London and Boulder, Colorado

How to Market Books – by Alison Baverstock, Kogan Page

Supercharge Your eBook Profits – by Michael A. Williams, purchasable online at www.mindlikewater.com

10. What about pricing? I am profoundly impressed by the exercise carried out by Charlie Stross, who freely gave away the e-book version of his sci-fi novel, Accelerando, even going so far as to encourage his readers to pass it round to as many people as possible. I made contact with Charlie, who was very helpful in giving me some advice based on his experiences. The calculation behind this, if I understand him correctly, is that readers who enjoy the e-book will either read it all or get fed up with it part way through and opt for the print version.

Did it work? It worked brilliantly for Charlie – but he had the print version up and ready in the US and UK. I don’t – at least not at present. But in another sense my position is different. Charlie can’t sell his own book as an e-book, because his publishers have bought that right from him. I do retain the right to sell The Doomsday Genie as an e-book. Hmm!

After much deliberation – and a glass or two of the peaty elixir – I have decided on a compromise. I will offer roughly a third of my book to readers in e-format as a free download. In return I will ask them what they think – would they prefer to read a conventional print version, priced at £6.99 (post free) or a downloadable e-book at half this price.

In other words, I will let my prospective readers decide. To do this I shall set up an interactive window on www.fprbooks.com which should be up and running within a week or two at most. Here’s to it!

Glug…

N.B. It’s all incredibly close to happening. That’s the slightly crazy but also fantastic thing about doing it yourself. Things move fast. For the non-fiction, and a few of the fiction, writers among us, note that this speed of production could be a key factor in the success of a book that happened to be topical. I know because I have done exactly that in the past with enormous success.

**********

Glug…

I play the game, for a game it has certainly become. I gather two glasses and a silver thimble on the time-worn leather surface of my desk. I pour the Jamesons into one of the glasses and drink a toast to the dark beauty of the falling night. I don’t have long to wait.

‘Psst!’

‘Ah – company!’ I add a drop or two to the silver thimble and hold it up to the pink sliver of tongue between the silvery lips.

‘Sire – to your health and success!’

‘Thanks!’ I brush the glass against the thimble and drink to that. ‘Let me add that I’ve been putting two and two together, and I have rumbled your little conspiracy. What alerted me were the many coincidences.’

Book ignores me, making those whimpering noises as it laps the whiskey.

‘You see, I choose a muse renowned for wisdom and whose brow is ignited with fire at sunrise. She affects outrage and dumps me on the beach of bones, which leads me to the titan, Prometheus, whose gift to humanity was – lo and behold – fire. And subsequently, with a little research, I discover that Prometheus was also revered by some for his wisdom – his very name means “forethought”. I find he also acquainted humanity with architecture, astronomy, mathematics, writing – yes writing – the domestication of animals, medicine, and the art of prophecy.’

I am not altogether surprised when Brigid’s brogue enters the discussion: ‘Ah, Book – sure didn’t I warn ye that old Smarty-pants here would spot the deception.’

‘Majesty – if ever there was a time for transparency!’

‘Majesty!’ I scoff. Meanwhile I make sure to grab the bottle before she does, yet, somewhat generously in my estimation, pour a measure into the second glass.

‘Sire – we did but what was necessary to protect you, and your enterprise, in anticipation of a situation of the gravest danger.’

I hear the draught of her measure downed in one gulp. I glimpse her disembodied arm reaching past me to grab the bottle and shift it out of her reach. ‘But now didn’t ye leave out the most important art of them all, granted to me boy by his mother. Inform the ignoramus, Book!’

‘The art of weaponry, Sire.’

‘Indeed!’ She materialises in full and I can’t but be astonished at how much younger she appears this time, sporting a full set of gleaming teeth and a full head of flaming red locks. ‘Clever as ye think ye are, ye did not realise even a thousandth part of the truth of it. Prometheus is my son.’

‘But I thought Clymene was his mother.’

‘Ye’re as naïve as a gosling fattening for the pot!’

‘Majesty – is it not time for diplomacy?’

‘Diplomacy me wrinkled arse!’

I protest: ‘But your metal-working son is called Ruandon!’

‘Ah, merciful Jaysus! How d’ye suffer such mortals! Sure he doesn’t know that the same goddess has to work her backside off in Greece under one name and in Rome under another! Brigid for the Celts was Clymene in Greece. D’ye want me to give ye the entire litany?’

I down my own glass in a gulp. All of a sudden I am filled with a new anxiety as Book’s words, of a few minutes earlier, return to haunt me. ‘Book – what did you mean, a situation of the gravest danger? Are you referring to Bottomy Baggem and Strewth Blastem?’

‘Omadawn!’ She cackles. ‘Even if, by some miracle, yeer dragon survives their fusillade, it will face an enemy more dreadful than a thousand such mortals. There is precious little hope yeer dragon will survive the immortal Daemos, and its raptor, Thanatos.’

‘For pity’s sake – does every little dragon have to face all that?’

‘Indeed it does – and precious little pity will ye discover on the beach of bones.’

‘Then arm me! Give me my Fir Bolg blade!’

‘Did ye ever give a moment’s thought, beyond yeer whiskey-stoked fantasy, as to who might forge such a blade?’

‘Well, to tell you the truth…’

‘Ye thought I would? Ye moon-crazed fidget!’

‘Prometheus, Sire,’ Book nudges his thimble towards me, with a casual flick of the front cover, ‘is the greatest forger of weapons there ever was.’

‘But he’s chained to a rock.’

‘Indeed he is, Sire.’

‘By Zeus – who eats warriors' balls for breakfast!’

‘You are agreeably well informed, Sire.’

I grab the bottle and take an almighty swig.

‘I presume, Sire, that a warrior of your doughty courage and experience will come up with a winning plan.’

In the next episode, Prometheus is freed, with predictable chaos...