Friday, 14 August 2009

Into Print

OK, this post is basically a plug. BUY MY BOOK, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall.
The day the Berlin Wall came down, Jennifer returned to England, leaving her week-old daughter, Szandi, to grow up on a Hungarian vineyard with 300 years of history. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found her place in the world. Then a letter arrives that threatens everything, and forces her to choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a coming of age story that inhabits anti-capitalist chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.
There, that's the pluggy bit. Now I'll try and make the rest of the post as helpful as I can for a plug asking you to BUY MY BOOK.

So I’m going to offer a little bit of an insight about what I did to get Songs From the Other Side of the Wall to print (in the widest possible sense. You can also download it to you Kindergarten or Eyeball or any other kind of device you may have). It’s strictly technical stuff as practical advice. I’m always talking about marketing and abstract stuff, so this is a pure hands on of what I did, where I went, and what I thought of it.

First, the electronica. The book has been available as a simple pdf on my website for a little while, and remains so, but this week I made it available for all sorts of e-formats on the Smashwords website . You can download the book as a pdf, as rich text, or in special formats for Kindle, Sony e-reader, and through Stanza, the app used for iPhones. It took me about half an hour to get the Word document ready for this. There’s a Smashwords Style Guide you can download for free that tells you exactly what to do, but it basically involves removing tabs and similar formatting. Then you upload the document, and it takes about an hour for it to become available on the site.
You can set the price at any level. The most commonly downloaded books are, of course, the free ones. I’ve deliberately gone for the “set your own price” option, although I’ll probably experiment with several different variations and see what gets most downloads. The advantage is that if someone wants to pay they can (I want people to read it, and I want price not to be a barrier, but I really WOULD like to be paid :-) so how about downloading it for free, and if you read it and like it, downloading it again and paying?), and you don’t have to give out details of how to get to your Paypal. But no one has to. This disadvantage is that although most people will download your book for free, it doesn’t show up in the free downloads search. Next week I’ll offer it for free for a few days and see how much difference it makes.

The only issue I have with the Smashwords site is the classification of the book. You have to either declare it universally suitable, or over 18 which makes a book like mine (it isn’t young adult, but I imagine a lot of YA books would have the same problem), that deals with adult themes but would suit a teenage readership, awkward to classify.

The paperback is printed through Lulu. If I explained why I chose Lulu I’d be here all day, so I will just outline my experience after I made the choice. Getting your book ready for printing involves two main steps: preparing the inside, and preparing the cover. The inside can be uploaded as a pdf or converted from your own Word document. I could not, whatever I did, get the site to accept my pdf, because of non-embedded fonts (my pdf maker, Primo, doesn’t allow me to embed fonts after production, and seems to unembed those I embed in Word). I had several problems with Word as well, again because of unembedded fonts (the site insisted I’d used Helvetica somewhere, which I know I didn’t – strictly Garamond everywhere except for the name and title headers, which were Verdana. It turned out to be a result of using insert symbol for diacritic marks in Romanian names). But this was eventually remediable by discovering how to embed fonts (through the MS button, and “Word options” at the bottom of the window, clicking “save” and then checking the “embed all fonts” box).

If you do run into problems, there are plenty of onsite forums to help, and Lulu help-bots frequently come along and answer your questions.

The cover was slightly easier because my designer, Sarah E Melville did the hard work. You can either do an all in one cover like mine, or use Lulu’s wizard to do it in three parts, but you need to be very careful that the size of your file (the all-in-one has to be a pdf; the wizard will take jpegs) pic is exactly right (the site does give you very clear instructions on spine size, based on the number of pages in your book). Be warned when using the wizard – the picture you see is NOT what you get – they will crop the file based on its size even though it looks like it’s been shrunk to fit.

Anyway, after one mishap with the cover when I used the wizard, now that I’ve got the all in one, I have to say I’m seriously impressed how accurate the spine printing is, and how good the inside of the book is. I am also very impressed by the speed of service – from uploading the file through two proof copies to being totally happy took two weeks.

You can either leave the book just for sale on Lulu, or buy a package of ISBNs and admin that will get you listed on Amazon et al. I opted for a package called “published by you” which means the book doesn’t come festooned with Lulu logos, which isn’t suitable given that it’s being released through the Year Zero Writers collective. I must say I haven’t been as impressed by this add-on as by the basic service – I was given a maximum time for getting the ISBNs of 14 working days, and it’s now been 16. It will be worth it for the benefits of being on Amazon – the main one of which is getting cross-linked to similar but more famous books.

Finally, the pricing. I was always told self-published books were too expensive for the public. Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is £7.98, a whole penny cheaper than a standard paperback, and I make the same as I would had I been published in the mainstream.

I realise I’ve rambled too much, but I will happily answer any questions in the comments section. Oh, and BUY MY BOOK :-)


  1. Congratulations Dan! You have a real life book for sale :)

  2. I'd like to send you a copy if I may. Do e-mail me if you have an address you're happy to give out. There have been lots of discussions on the web recently about reviews (some people getting very snarky about negative reviews) and I've been reminded a lot how excited I was when you commented about the book on your site, so if you fancy either 1. a bit of nostalgia or 2. a chance to see how many of the issues you raised I've addressed I'd be honoured to send you one.

  3. Mega congrats on getting it out Dan! Year Zero is coming.

    There are lots of hidden pitfalls in using any printers for the first time, which can delay publication for the unwary. I reduced my margins so that I could reduce the page numbers (and therefore the retail price) but I forgot to alter the spine width on the cover, resulting in alignment problems.

    When I adjusted everything, Lulu's wizard wouldn't accept the files, although I knew nothing else had changed. Eventually, after repeated attempts over a 5 hour period, and no response to emails, it went through - the glitch had been on their website. So I'm waiting for a revised proof copy before final agreement - should take about a week. The printers are fairly quick, but FedEx are slow in this part of the world - their express service is slower than second class mail.

    My experience with Lulu has been positive, like yours, but the site is vast and labyrinthine, and a lot of the forum posts give advice that's out-of-date, like saying that the Published By You option isn't available outside the USA. Note that if you go for a wrap around cover on Published By Lulu you do not need to have the Lulu logo - I have the Year Zero legend on my back and inside covers, although I have put Lulu as publisher in the small print, because book sellers will see that anyway from the ISBN.

    The downside of the wrap around cover (as opposed to uploading front, rear and spine) is that you have to generate your own barcode from the ISBN and insert it on the rear cover - but it's worth it for the control it gives over the appearance of the book.


  4. Larry, thank you for pointing that out - you're right, there were some issues with the converter mentioned in the forums on Lulu.

    Yes, the information on Published by You is very misleading - it seems to be available only in the US. But then, when you go through the preparation stages and click "Published by You" the option it gives you is the UK one.

  5. Many congrats, Dan! How exciting, and thanks so much for detailing what you went through to get it out there and available in so many formats. That's very helpful for others who will be self-publishing at least some works (like myself).

    I'll be purchasing a copy soon. :-)

  6. Yes, congratulations! Re the Amazon thing, if you wait Lulu may offer to put it on Amazon for free. I'm not sure what criteria they use but I know a couple of people to whom that happened. Secondly if you stumble into an anti-selfpublishing forum, the quickest way to resolution is to say "I can send the book as a neat manuscript instead of a messy sheaf of papers to agents and publishers. They like it like that." The number of self-publishers getting picked up by publishers grows every year. They like the commitment and dedication it shows. Also I have a very long list of famous writers who began by self-publishing. So once again Congratulations! Let the good times roll...

  7. Thanks, Paul. It's really strange but one of my very best friends in the writing business runs a blog that's known for a sceptical approachto self-publishing. We actually met over a heated debate on a Guardian blog. what we have in common is a passion for ensuring quality books reach readers - we just disagree over how to do it.

    Harper Collins still has the manuscript having asked for it a few months back. You're right - I asked them if self-publishing was a problem and they said not at all.

    Interesting about Amazon. I wonder how many one would have to sell..