What $310 buys you in the ‘dream-on’ market

Local Life February 8, 2012 0 Comments

by Hugh Gilmore

Well-meaning people have begun asking me lately, “How’s your book doing?” I’d like to say, “Swell!” But that’s not quite right. Or, “Lousy!”  But that’s not accurate either. “Okay” sounds like I don’t care.
I do care, enough to tell you what it’s like to “independently publish” a book nowadays. “Independently publish” is a relatively new way of saying “self-publish,” an old term usually said disrespectfully. Implying: “Loser-who-couldn’t-get-a-real-publisher because his book stinks.” And that every well-written book will get noticed by Publishers Row.
That’s not true and never was. But so what? Today, for relatively little money, new printing technology makes it possible for anyone with a script, long essay, novel, memoir, short story collection, book of recipes, or collection of graffiti photos – in short, anything to say  – to be published.
If you know how to format a document you can turn it into a Kindle e-book and have it available for sale two days later (an hour to register and upload, then a 24-hour waiting period). If you get the Local on Wednesday, read this article, and decide to try it, you can have a Kindle e-book on line, for sale, by Friday. If you do not know how to format a document, you can easily find a company that will for about $60.
But suppose you want a “real” book. If a paperback original will satisfy you, you can sign up with a P.O.D.( Print On Demand) publisher. Such companies retain a master digital file of your work, and do not print any copies until they are sold. Not warehousing saves money, overruns, etc.
I chose CreateSpace, a printing arm of Amazon.com. Each layer of help I needed cost me more money, but I did indeed get what I paid for.
I paid $310 altogether. For that I received an ISBN number for my book under my own imprint (an “imprint” is the name of your press – I chose “StarSounds Press/Chestnut Hill” in memory of my son, Colin, and because the default imprint is “Amazon” – which sounds generic and tips people off that the book is “self-published”). I also received the right to design my own cover, using their user-friendly templates. I wrote my own jacket copy. I was allowed to chose the layout of my text.
You can tinker with your cover design for quite a while during the process of getting the rest of the book shaped up. Once you submit your text, however, the process begins to tighten up. Within a few days after submission, your book will come back to you as an electronic proof. That is, for the non-techie: you’ll be emailed a digital copy of your book.
You’ll then download a form on which you’ll note all corrections you want – typos, repeated words, stupid phrases, etc., plus any mistakes the publisher made – dropped titles, failing to start a new chapter on a new page, and so on.
Just as you start this task, you are at a very interesting point in the process, indeed, at a very interesting point in time, in fact, at a very interesting point in the history of the expanding universe, and, of course, at a fascinating point in human history … because The Question now arises: When does it have to be done? For the answer, lift your head up and look around you.
Aha! You shouldn’t have done that. You should have kept your nose down and kept grinding away. Because the answer to the question, When does it have to be done? Is: Never!
Never, never, never. The universe is not waiting. Human history marches on.   You’ve already paid for the full monty. But if you walk away, nothing will happen. Only one living person cares if you go on. You.
Don’t feel bad. Put your head back down. Finish the form. Why waste the money you spent? This will be fun. Go on. Finish the form and send it back to them. Then in about five to seven days the seemingly impossible will happen: the physical proof of your book will arrive. Oh, what a sight! A minor miracle. How satisfying. After all those lonely hours.
You then are supposed to read the physical proof and make sure it looks the way you designed it. Again, get out the stickys and start catching all the mistakes you can’t believe you didn’t see before. Again, download the Edits form. You are allowed 80 edits. They must be small. You can no longer do big cut-and-pastes (unless you pay more – the original contract called for 80 line edits).
Keep the book. Send the form. About a week later, you’ll receive another physical proof. Check that they made your requested corrections. Then read again to see if you need any other edits. You’re allowed another 80. You’ll need some, believe me. Then send back the form again. (This makes Three Rounds of self-editing you’ve been entitled to with this contract!).
In about a week they’ll tell you you’re ready to order. You’ll have already set the price after considering sample projections of how much you’d make in royalties at various price points. I chose $14.95, a much higher price than I wanted. I make a $3.40 cent profit on copies sold through Amazon, but only about $1 for copies sold through Barnes & Noble or independent bookstores.
Time from idea to reality: from first phone call to CreateSpace, to purchasing the first copy of my paperback book from Amazon.com 53 days.
In review, here’s what I got for $310. Designed my book and my cover, received three proofs for editing, created my own imprint with ISBN, set my price and royalty structure, became listed by Amazon, got picked up by a book distributor who will supply independent bookstores with my book.
And on top of that, most wondrously, they provided 24/7 phone contact to answer any and all questions. The “team” members are all young, knowledgeable, encouraging, anxious to be helpful, and seem devoted to the idea of helping you get your book finished.
At times, in a world indifferent to whether I finished my book or not, I’d get off the phone with them and – because this is a long, slow solitary process – feel quite touched. Really touched, in a way that made me have to stop and take a breath before I could go on. The kindness of strangers.
So, it was a good deal all around. But, what happens next? What happens once your book goes up on the Big Amazon Board? Part 2 to follow.
Hugh’s new book, “Malcolm’s Wine,” continues to do well on Amazon.com, in both Kindle and paperback formats. Also available through Barnes & Noble and leading independent bookstores everywhere. See Reviews on Amazon.com.

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