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Making Book

Some thoughts on the mechanics self-publishing

Old School by Aaron Jasinski

Why record? You don't like the sound of your voice anyway.

Typically the afterlife of a published tale—we are talking literary ephemera here, the books, the magazines, the websites and e-zines over which you, the author, have no control—consists of gathering dust until the writer’s heirs and assigns shred it for packing nick-knacks and other writerly impedimenta. Not quite the half-life of linoleum. And what of the loves, lives, hopes and aspirations of its citizens? Must they float forever in a shimmering noösphere playing whist and watching the flights of eidolons? Boring.

Self-publishing takes either a lot of money or a lot of work. You’re a writer, right? You are in this for love. If it was the money you’d be an investment banker or a plumber. You daydream of that big Hollywood agent calling you up and asking if you’d like to option off your book for a film. How does he know there is a book? Oops. Barring the cash to hire someone else to format your book, record your readings, convert your words into acceptable audio files, this means it’s time to roll up the sleeves.

Formatting a book. This is one of those things that you thought happened Someplace Out There where the Keebler elves cluster about a polished tree stump as they gaze awestruck at your manuscript. Your book. Book—ahh, the sound of it. You’ve taken your book through many drafts, re-edited, reworked, recast, shortened, lengthened, and found that by the time you were halfway through your book—in my case a 480 page opus—that you had forgotten where you were at. At which time you hit Enter and leave the friendly elves to enter the Forest of Frustration. Here we ask ourselves, Why am I doing this? Hopefully to get your work into as many hands as possible. Writers want readers. Lulu.com offers free templates. Get one. There will be a learning curve, but you can format it yourself.

There is so much (free) help on the Internet, and free applications as well, that what you will get from virtual self-publishing can become an excuse for putting off your writing. Remember—anything you do is writing, particularly re-writing and editing. That said, let’s get under the hood.

1. the first step—The Website

You can, with a semester at your local Community College and a stack of books, build your own website—a piece of virtual real estate where folks can find you—with only a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++) as I was taught at the University of Maine at Machias. I eventually chickened out and sprung for Expression Web, a Windows application. If you are a Mac person, there is a plethora of excellent WYSIWYG media out there for both PCs and Macs.

2.the second step—Podcasting.

Why record? You don’t like the sound of your voice anyway, and studio time is prohibitively expensive. You can do it at home with a mid-line desktop (dual Pentium 4 plus and a USB sound card with a couple of gigs memory and Audacity, a free program). I regularly record stories (first at the local radio station, later at home as I saved up the $800.00 for a condenser microphone and an external USB sound card) as my published stories become available and copyright reverts back to me. The stories and MP3 downloads are distributed for free (at www.onetinleg.com), under a Creative Commons license. I started my uploading career with a trip to Feedburner, now owned by Google. Feedburner is free and will do your conversions into the conflicting technologies that clog the Internet.

3. THE THIRD STEP—eBOOKS

One of the most time-honored practices of the author promoting his or her work is the public reading. This is fine if you have a publisher with an ever-eager crew of public-relations folk out there beating the trees and coercing a few church groups, literary reading circles, and independent booksellers to free up a Wednesday evening for you. This is necessarily local; there is no drawing account, but you may want to save your expense vouchers. (And going local is a warm, wonderful human experience—see Big Hollywood Agent above) Going national? Go virtual (see Big Hollywood Agent again).

Here are some free or cheap names to remember—Calibre, Mobipocket Creator, Reader Works Publisher (for Microsoft Reader, of the 3500 eBook downloads from my website only 0.9%, but it sure makes a pretty file), and if you don’t have Adobe, Open Office makes a dandy .pdf for free. For wrangling those finished audio files, check Chapter and Verse.

Something to look up—just write it down and Google it sometime: M4b. That’s M4b. Don’t worry, be happy. This is the same audio format albeit with some DRM exclusionary bells and whistles that Amazon uses at audible.com. Just don’t worry about it; it’s something you will want to look into later. iTunes can convert your files for you too—and right on your desktop computer.

4.the fourth step—Unscrewing the unscrewtable

How will people know how to find me? I don’t even know how to find them. Good question and, once again, if you were to Google “Podcast Directory” you should get hundreds if not thousands of listings. Many “podcast directories” act as link farms and they all point to you. How do they get your address? Well, use your imagination. Yep, cannibalism from other directories, and with it inordinate exposure for you and your offerings.

To test the proof of my next statement you will have to look at the statistics for your own website. My website, http://www.onetinleg.com, is unimaginatively hosted by GoDaddy.com and cost me about $42 a year in 2010. This had doubled by 2015. There are extras with that—that is “extras” for a smalltime operator, not recommended for the United States Government, General Motors or Amazon.com—like a stats engine that lists MP3 files. [Note: a/o December 2014 GoDaddy, my budget carrier, stopped supplying stats. They recommend Google Analytics. There will be beaucoups coding involved as you will have to drop a Google tracking snippet on every page you want to cover. I have. I did. It works, but not very well. Then I bit the bullet and in 2016 moved to responsive design and a Linux-hosted cPanel hosting plan to track MP3 requests. I host my audio downloads at Amazon Web Services with GoDaddy as a mirror option.]

5.the fifth step—Running the numbers

What will you see in those statistics and why look? Glad you asked. Here are mine as of August 2011; they display like a funnel drilling straight into your brainstem:

MP3 downloads 326,547
HTML (the actual web pages) 221,077
XML (extensible markup language) 170,712
PDF (or Adobe/Mobipocket-friendly portable document format) 2,168
PRC
files (the Kindle-friendly versions of my three books) 1,547
And LIT (Microsoft Reader) 328

The first list item is MP3 downloads and let’s note, over 100,000 more than the next lowest which is HTML, the actual webpages. Conclusion: people are not reading as much as they’re listening. Maybe.

About that 100,000 number. Baidu, the Chinese mega-browser and search complex, during this period (this update was added in 2014) considered .m3u pointer files and mp3s as clickable as HTML for populating their database. I followed Google on this until I grew weary with the math (about 10 minutes) and figured that even discounting a majority of the hits, I was a happy camper for an off-list writer. In web terms a download is a download, but a hit is not always what it appears to be.

How did this disparity happen since the links to the audio files are embedded in the HTML pages? Referrals from podcast directories.

At this point I should remind you to put a wee advertisement at the end and beginning of each story or each chapter that you upload to tell people how to find the print version on your website. Without this the link may put you at number one with a bullet in the Billboard top 100 but will not send many people to your books. My first uploads were to Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory, iTunes and DMOZ and an audio file collection to the Internet Archive. And, of course, FeedBurner as recommended by James Patrick Kelly. If this Sci-Fi writer is using any promotional tool, it’s worth investigating. Jim Kelly’s website has been formatted with a content management software bundle called Joomla. I built my own; it’s pretty and it’s a pain in the ass to update. If you want to look different from the rest, it comes with a price. And, no, I can’t pin down any advantages for DIY websites. I did it in the days before content management was mainstream and now I’m stuck with it, like getting married right out of high school.

Next XML. XML is for “extensible markup language.” Think of it as a map for a browser window to display your content. More about this? Google for this one—it’s tricky. In my case the XML file told iTunes how (and what) to display of my stuff. iTunes recently dumped me for an unacceptably low turnover. Sigh! I moved the audio files to Amazon Web Services and as of October 2015 they are thriving. Damn! but that was one sour grape. Like they say at the workshopping sessions: Handle rejection, don’t get in bed with it.

The PDFs are the most popular of my downloads. I’ve got three books formatted for PDFs. I recently sent up the Kindle-friendly PRC links and am watching these play catch-up. There is one additional format—ePub, the dream of an (almost) universally readable eBook that I haven’t mentioned. I’m still learning; check back.

6.Update

Trying to wrangle a readable ePub I used the software listed in this article, shuffling between XML and HTML. Just do it? who are you going to believe, a company that’s trying to sell you sneakers and running gear or the kitchen clock? Try an application called Jutoh. If you value your time at least at half the minimum wage (as I sadly do—albeit not too shabby in tough times), in my case the day I wasted in DIY-land more than paid the reasonable $30.00 US fee. Google Anthemion (Jutoh is the application as HTML. Don’t ask; if you do websites or compile books in competing formats, this alone is worth the price. Julian Smart speaks English like a native—small joke there; he’s a Brit. And a Brit with much savvy. Caution—Jutoh may export your compiled files on versions from Open Office, messing with my (Microsoft, proprietors of Word) WYSIWYG editor (Expression Web). I then caved in and explored play-for-pay software vendors, meaning Amazon and its clones with no better and more (much more) expensive results. [NOTE: As of 2013 Expression Web became a free download with Microsoft Web Expression 4. I tried both and stayed with Expression 3.] Here’s a download link to what I built editing inside Julian’s app. By the way, Adobe Digital Editions is a decent ePub reader that is freeware.

The PRC files. Not to be afraid. These will be the Kindle/Mobi friendly eBooks. NOTE: If you Kindle-friendly format at home as I do, the Amazon Store will not display your book and the end user has some not too difficult finagling to do on their desktop computer, i.e. drag-and-drop.

Lastly LIT, the Microsoft Reader route. This made a pretty product and, as I said earlier, I love the look and accessibility features. One problem: In August 2011, Microsoft announced they were discontinuing both Microsoft Reader and the use of the .lit format for ebooks at the end of August 2012, and ending sales of the format on November 8, 2011. Bye.

You—we—want readers (see paragraph 3). Barring money by the wheelbarrow load (see Big Hollywood Agent again), this will have to suffice. Or is this all just an ego trip, maybe a few copies to send out to friends at Christmas? Answer—yes, it is an ego trip. Get real. And don’t forget to call Mom, she’ll want one, too.

This article was first published online by the Portland Scribists blog, September 1st 2011.

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