By Michael Hartl, author of the Rails tutorial.
Lulu: https://www.lulu.com/ is still around too, originally by the creator of Red Hat.
O'Reilly Atlas: https://atlas.oreilly.com/ - new; may be only for books you write with them as publisher, not sure.
There must be some others too.
When writers write about why they need publishers, they usually mention editing, marketing & advances. I imagine for many people marketing is not very relevant. Either the publishers will not do much of it anyway or the author has access to an audience himself. Advances are also (I imagine) not that important to many authors. Maybe some need the commitment as part of their process but purely as a way of financing, I don't see an insurmountable requirement that this be bundled with the other things they do. Most authors are not going to make money anyway so a small chunk now or a slightly larger trickle later doesn't matter much either way.
Is there a thriving industry of editors for hire? People who will take raw text and turn it into books?
What's the state of this ecosystem today?
The marketing you largely have to do yourself, and there are a few different approaches. For business books, the main one is to treat the book as a regular old problem-solving-product and do content/permission marketing with a focus on building the mailing list.
For fiction, it seems that the most successful authors are serialising their full-length books into a number of chapters that they release monthly on Kindle Direct for $1-3 each. They focus on building their catalog of titles over time to slowly build and retain fans who then [hopefully] keep buying new titles or binge-read the whole back catalog.
There are also some premium consultancies that help self-publishing authors have a publisher-quality process through and through, for a price more like $10,000-30,000. And finally, you've got the parasites who will "offer" to "publish" your book for a small fee, which basically means the author is the customer.
Joe Smith is a working fiction writer. He has a fan base that he knows how to reach. His books usually sell 25-35,000 copies
(A) Can he make a living? (B) Is he better off with an old fashioned publisher (C) If he goes "indie," what services does he need? Are good ones available at a doable price?
Self-publishing is more profitable per copy. With a publisher you'll make ~10% of cover sales (so $1-1.50 per copy) versus the above.
Publishers offer [small] advances and cover some of the costs like editing. If you can pay the $1250-3500 for a cover design and editor, and can do the marketing, then you don't need a publisher for anything else.
The resources you're going to want are:
* KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing for main distribution)
* CreateSpace (turn PDFs into physical print-on-demand and list them on Amazon)
* Scrivener or softcover.io (writing apps that easily export to ebook formats)
* Wordpress + Themeforest (or softcover) for a book page
I know I sure as hell didn't, but in my case and my market at the time there just wasn't any other choice.
As long as he prices his books over $2.99, Amazon will give him 70% of the price, so if he sells 30,000 books at $4.99 (approximately what novel length fiction sells for if it's not from a major publisher) he would make about 100k.
Let me just say, I think there are very few authors who can expect sales anywhere near those numbers. NYTimes bestsellers do a fraction of that.
Still, a busy author can easily write 2 to 3 books a year, more if the are organized, determined, and disciplined. Some authors that I know of are putting out a novel a month.
So, he can make a living. And he is MUCH better off without an old fashioned publisher.
As far as services needed, there is a burgeoning industry of freelance editors, cover designers, book designers, etc., that will provide everything a traditional publisher used to provide. OK, yes, except for a marketing budget, but talk to mid-list authors and see what publishers provided to them for marketing. HINT: nada.
How do I know? Without giving away all my secrets, I'm making way more money than I ever thought possible publishing fiction on Amazon KDP. I'm about to jump into non-fiction, which I'm guessing could be even bigger...
That's not a coincidence. This is a contrived example after all. What I'm trying to get at is that assuming the perfect scenario, is the ecosystem of services there to cater to these guys. Is it feasible that such an author would be able to handle online marketing (getting them into online stores, not getting interviews on morning radio) of physical and ebooks. Would he be able to handle the production of actual printed books?
Also, on the "art" side. Are editor-for-hire types doing the same thing as editors working for publishing houses? Is the relationship the same?I love books. I had a lot of hopes for ebooks in terms of what they'll do for authors. Apart from a pleasant enough reader experience, I haven't felt any earth shattering changes from ebooks.
Reasonable recommendations for ancillary publishing services can be found on any of the popular writer's forums like absolute write or the author's cafe on kboards. Several relevant subreddits also exist.
Like everything, there are scammers and people looking to make a quick buck for shoddy work, but there are also a LOT of frustrated former English and Art majors who have hung out a shingle.
As far as editing goes, you can pay for pretty much anything the publishing houses provided, from a proofreading to copyediting, even a developmental edit (recommendations on story structure, what works, what doesn't work, etc.).
In my experience, book design and editing are easily handled by most authors with even an iota of motivation. It's the marketing that baffles most people. Congratulations, you wrote a book, now what? etc.
It's worth keeping in mind that non-fiction and fiction are very different ballgames. (And, I believe, erotica is fairly different from fiction too.)
With technical books, the potential audience size is much smaller, but it's way easier to reach a larger fraction of them. When you do, they are more willing to pay a decent price for a copy. The average quality is also, I believe, much higher.
Fiction has a huge glut of authors. It's more difficult for readers to find an author whose quality and writing they like. If you need to learn SQL, it's easy to search for "SQL". It's a lot harder to search for a certain prose style or "voice". Also, frankly, there's a lot of really bad self-published fiction to wade through.
Because of this, I think self-publishing is a better fit for non-fiction than fiction right now.
And, with the advent of Kindle Unlimited (if Amazon's payments hold at the current level per borrow) sales plus borrows is proving to be even more lucrative than sales alone.
I've had both experiences, one book published by a mid-sized publisher, and self-publishing another. When publishing the book myself, I found myself immersed in the world of typography, paper weights, ISBNs, and designs. It was really, really fun. I'm thinking through a new book project now and am starting that process again. I'm looking forward to seeing what new tools are out there.
A bit off topic, but what I really liked was that little pumpkin pie that you baked. How small it was! Why was it pink? Even the consistency of the pie looks perfect. I can't figure out how you got those small wisps of whipped cream into such tiny loops?
I was stretching the truth a bit by "baked". It was baked in an oven, but that's because it's made out of Sculpey. :)
My wife checked out a book  about making food from polymer clay from the library and we spent an afternoon playing with it with the kids. I was pretty pleased with how mine came out.
We have a one source format based on markdown which is open source (https://github.com/GitbookIO/gitbook) ! And from this we build a nice web book, ebook (EPUB, MOBI) and PDFs.
I don't want this to be a shameless plug, it just seems oddly relevant. Hope it helps !
Disclaimer: I am the founder of GitBook
You might take a look at a project by Matthew Butterick: he made a very nice publishing solution with Pollen - http://pollenpub.com/
He also has an interesting take on eBooks in general: http://practicaltypography.com/economics-year-one.html
First time around is always a learning experience. What's funny is I measured the inner margin distance on a couple of books and also followed CreateSpace's guidelines but I guess I tried to push the limit a bit too much.
This is an old self publishing trick to make the kindle version seem like a bargain, and can drive sales.
> you can have the kindle and print versions 'linked' so they appear on the same Amazon page.
Yes, from the docs I read, Amazon does that automatically, but it can take a few days. I couldn't find any UI to do the association myself.
Once linked, you can also do cool things like offer the ebook at a discount (or for free) if they buy the print version.
Having both versions on the same page really makes the whole thing look more 'professional'.
> Once linked, you can also do cool things like offer the ebook at a discount (or for free) if they buy the print version.
Swell! That's exactly what I want to do, and people have already asked for that.
See Leanpub's FAQ question "Can I sell my book on Leanpub and other sites at the same time?" -- https://leanpub.com/help/author_faq
All that being wonderful, I found attempting to do any customizations (font, font size, line height) impossible - both in attempting to figure out markdown -> pdf tools (or md -> html -> pdf) and within services such as Leanpub.
There's definitely a market out there for creating eBooks with customizations for those who care about the look and feel of their publications! And if not a "paying market", at least an interested on for either a service or good tutorials!
For the curious, I wrote "servers for hackers": https://book.serversforhackers.com
Also, your newsletter looks interesting. Signed up for it.
And to be honest, although we do provide ePub/mobi versions, we've decided from the start to put our efforts into the online version and PDF. It's just so much easier to produce something that looks good for a lot less effort.
(am seriously considering buying the book weren't it that I still got a stack of reading of both new and borrowed books that I prefer to make smaller before I make it bigger. Maybe instead I'll get it as a present for someone)
I feel your pain. I still have a copy of SICP staring at me, making me feel guilty for ignoring it. Maybe now I'll have the time to actually work through it.
We'd love to have your eBook available on Scribd, an unlimited book subscription service. We receive files from Smashwords, so just opt-in to the Scribd distribution channel. Shoot me a note if you do and we can give you some promotion in our tech category.
I thought about waiting until this was done before I made the announcement but what I've read is that they can get backlogged a couple of weeks, and I wasn't patient enough to wait that long. :)
Thank you for taking an interest in my book!
Would it be too much to ask you to share a single page in PDF (of the final copy) so that I too can
> zoom into 1000% and drool over Sina Nova. :D
2. Your typesetting saga is a good argument for using LaTex over InDesign. Why not stand on the shoulders of giants? If you like the Tufte design format, just use the Tufte LaTex package. No need to reinvent the wheel.
3. The PDF format is page-size agnostic. If people would create them in a friendlier format, say 6x9in or so instead of lettersize or A4; they would be easy to read on tablets.
Thanks for the insight!
Nicely written article, by the way. Genever Benning's board meetings elicited a chuckle!
If the book has a lot of graphics or other content that doesn't translate well to a smaller device (I read the vast majority of books on my kindle, a few on my Galaxy S3) then I prefer pdf. A book I bought on using Gimp falls well into that category. I don't even bother trying to read it on anything less than a 19 inch monitor. There are too many large images and layout is too important.
Comics I prefer in PDF or CBR - either way. Though it still falls into the same issue that I haven't found a good experience with comics on my Nexus 7 or anything smaller. They are the only thing that has made me feel the desire to purchase a larger tablet.
A bunch do. When I read eBooks, I prefer them because I want the text to be reflowed on my device. PDFs only look good if your screen is about the dimensions that the PDF was authored for.
> Personally, I've always preferred PDFs.
Hmm, I didn't make that format available but I certainly could once I figure out how. I'm not familiar with people buying PDFs. Is what you expect basically just a digital version of the print layout?
But to answer your question, yes I prefer reading the digital versions of print layouts as they are. Quite possibly because I feel the EPUB/MOBI ebooks I have are not laid out so well.
I may be biased because of my particular collection, but what I've felt is the PDFs in my collection "look" attractive and compel me to keep reading. I can see the creative effort that has gone into them by their authors and editors. Different colors for different kinds of text, syntax highlighted code, good fonts, diagrams fit correctly, proper indentation, proper word wrapping, chapter headers, footnotes at bottom of page, image wrapping and alignment in a way that improves readability - etc. They justify the word "e-books", in the sense that they feel like paper books.
EPUB/MOBI on the other hand I guess are subject to layout rules of the particular reader and screen size, and for me, they don't look so attractive. In most of my ebooks in these formats, code snippets for example are not syntax highlighted and so don't make easy reading. Image wrapping is all out of whack - an image is on one page, but its explanation which kind of assumes the image is visible right there by its side, is actually on the next page. Little details like that.
I agree with you about having to zoom and scroll a lot. But the readability of PDF makes zooming and scrolling worth the effort for me. I guess ebook UX too is just as subjective as website UX.
Additionally, ebook readers are much better for the eyes.
Creating the ebook was fairly easy. It ended up being a case of writing a bunch of scripts to fix and tweak various things about the HTML website. Constructing the print book was a lot harder work.
I explored rendering a PDF from the ebook but the font rendering was ulitmately too poor and the configuration of the ebook tools was getting really difficult. Additionally the text layout was not great with lots of code blocks getting split over pages and images in wrong places.
I knew I needed to use a program more suitable for publishing so I tried doing a manual conversion to Latex, but after the first couple of chapters I realized it was going to take too long. Instead I begun on some scripts converting my HTML into Latex automatically. Most of this work was done by `pandoc` and a list of regexes that redefines "unholy". God only knows how it all worked in the end. I found various Latex solutions for the pullouts, and syntax highlighting, that I liked ang which gave me as much control as I required, and in the end it was actually looking pretty nice.
Then came the copy editing, and like in this article it was long, tedious, difficult, and I'm still not completely 100% happy with the final result. It took the form of a bunch of scripts inserting pagebreaks before or after paragraphs and moving text, images and pullouts to balance the pages. Essentially it is very difficult to copy-edit a book with so many code blocks, even with the help of Latex. This is the only part of the process where I felt down on my skills, and that someone who does it for a living would not face the same problems (probably they wouldn't be using Latex in the first place). But in the end I was happy with the interiour - which still looked awesome printed in color - and I think I by far did the best I could.
I designed and made the cover in Photoshop to the vision of it I had always had. I think I did a fairly decently job but certainly it would have been better looked at by a professional. Unfortunately createspace doesn't seem to do a good job of printing the cover, so it didn't look precisely like the supplied image I made. Perhaps this is different when ordering non-proof copies.
The nice thing about my approach was that when people send pull requests and corrections to the website I can automatically integrate them across the ebook and print versions, and if I ever do want to make updates in future the process is relatively painless. I think I'd be happy to self publish again. Createspace was great and I felt good not having to rely on others for the process. The main thing I didn't like about it was the marketing - that is something that does not come naturally to me. I think it is unlikely I will write a programming book again. It was fun, but I felt like finishing it more of an obligation once the ball was rolling. Ultimately I think I made a "good" thing which lots of people read, enjoyed and appreciated, and I know it wasn't just an additional item of waste in the universe due to all the people who have reached out to me personally (thank you so much). But at the end of the day unfortunately it hasn't derived me satisfaction worth the effect it took to produce - which was a lot - and I think that is just due to the nature of the thing, not it's success or position in the world.
Oh, I just saw your post about this a couple of days ago. Your book looks beautiful! I was so tempted to do full color, but didn't think the finances made sense for my book. I'm totally jealous you went that route. :)
How did it end up working out? I assume it's process, not spot color. Is the colored text still sharp enough to be read easily?
> Instead I begun on some scripts converting my HTML into Latex automatically. Most of this work was done by `pandoc` and a list of regexes that redefines "unholy". God only knows how it all worked in the end. I found various Latex solutions for the pullouts, and syntax highlighting.
Smart! I considered this route a little bit, but I spent some of my formative years doing "desktop publishing" back when Aldus PageMaker was still a thing, so I looked forward to doing it a more hands-on, designery way. It worked out well for me -- the time I spent in InDesign was really enjoyable -- but I can definitely see how it wouldn't be the right choice for others.
> Essentially it is very difficult to copy-edit a book with so many code blocks, even with the help of Latex. This is the only part of the process where I felt down on my skills, and that someone who does it for a living would not face the same problems (probably they wouldn't be using Latex in the first place).
It's a relief to hear someone else say this. Trying to keep the code blocks from being split was really really hard. Halfway through the process, I started flipping through my copy of SICP to see how they did it. As far as I can tell, though guys are just absolute wizards. Every page is completely full and yet code blocks are almost never split across pages. Granted, Scheme snippets tend to be fewer lines of code, but they still did an amazing job.
> Unfortunately createspace doesn't seem to do a good job of printing the cover, so it didn't look precisely like the supplied image I made.
I've done some print work before, so I was fully expecting some variance here. Unless you have a carefully calibrated display and keep track of color profiles through the whole pipeline (and they do too), there's always some difference.
In my case, it came out surprisingly close to the image I sent, but I tried to keep the design pretty simple and not use too much detail or color.
> The nice thing about my approach was that when people send pull requests and corrections to the website I can automatically integrate them across the ebook and print versions, and if I ever do want to make updates in future the process is relatively painless.
Yeah, this part will be rough for me. The print version is basically a fork at this point. Any changes I make, I have to manually make in both the markdown (eBook + web) and InDesign (print).
> But at the end of the day unfortunately it hasn't derived me satisfaction worth the effect it took to produce - which was a lot - and I think that is just due to the nature of the thing, not it's success or position in the world.
For what it's worth, I'm really glad you made it, and I'll be buying a copy.
> How did it end up working out? I assume it's process, not spot color. Is the colored text still sharp enough to be read easily?
Yeah it isn't spot color and the text looks really great and easy to read. The print quality of the interiour seems very high quality and it really makes it seem alive with the images and colored sections. I think it keeps it fun to read, which was always one of my intentions. I was totally over the moon with the interiour when the first proof copy arrived.
But as you mention financially it isn't going to make much sense. I don't make much more off the print book than the ebook sale, and yet it costs the consumer ten times as much! So in some sense it was kind of vanity project - but I still enjoyed it a lot, and wanted to prove I could do it additionally.
> It worked out well for me -- the time I spent in InDesign was really enjoyable -- but I can definitely see how it wouldn't be the right choice for others.
Actually if someone had mentioned InDesign to me I might have given it a try. I mainly picked Latex because I knew the font rendering and formatting would be awesome and it was something I knew already so I could get started. As you say, InDesign is fun, while working on a complex project in Latex isn't exactly a joy. But I think the end product was still sufficiently professional :)
> I've done some print work before, so I was fully expecting some variance here. Unless you have a carefully calibrated display and keep track of color profiles through the whole pipeline (and they do too), there's always some difference.
Yeah I probably should have been prepared for this. And additionally there was some error in how they were cutting the bleed which looked poor with my cover design. If I did it again I would definintely try to find a professional to consult before tacking the cover for any friendly advice he/she had to offer.
> For what it's worth, I'm really glad you made it, and I'll be buying a copy.
Thanks! I feel bad ending on a downer because I really have gotten a lot of pleasure out of it, so I don't want to paint the process in a negative light. As a learning experience it was really unique and great. There are just too many fun, great and unique areas of computer science to play around with as well!