All along in the back of my mind I think I figured out that I was going to have to go my own way publishing. The first most important step I took beyond an editor was to ask my friend Mark to design the cover. Mark has been my friend now for more than 20 years, and in my private adaptation of Scientology level classification that I secretly apply to all my friends he is ranked at L18 (Non-Thetan Positive Trans-Thetan Tom Cruise Crazy negative).
That being said however, he is far more artistic than I could ever hope to be. And quickly he came up with an idea I liked a lot for the cover, something whereby many images from the individual stories was represented on the cover, over or behind some type of image of me. He chose as the image of me a pointillism style drawing of a picture he took of me. The best part was that the day he took the picture I was wearing a fairly geometric and ornate flannel shirt. Half way through his representation he began to bemoan his choice. I pointed out that, he could use the picture for reference and didn’t have to actually replicate the pattern of the shirt I wore.
But quickly it became a point of pride to him, and the final design to this day I am really really pleased with:
We had to do some tweaking over various iterations to be mindful of copyright and trademarks, but in the end, I could not be happier with the front face of my first book. I can imagine someone seeing this cover and saying “why is there a pig there? And a dog? And a tornado? I MUST KNOW”. But seriously that drawing of me? Point by laborious point people.
So I had a cover, I had a plan. Lulu.com was always the backup to me, because I had purchased products from them and enjoyed the result. Their softbacks were well produced, the paper was good quality, and I felt that above all, the books they made were worthy of keeping. Not to mention the offered many options for e-publication or audio books and I would fully retain all rights.
So I dove in. I purchased a formatting and publishing package that would master my document in .PDF, then make sure it reached all retail outlets. The cost of the package was somewhere around $350 or so. After some painful wrangling over formatting I ended up with a perfect .PDF master and softback edition, which was then propagated out to Amazon.com and Barnesandnobles.com and other retail outlets in addition to being available on Lulu.com. My cover was easy to implement and looked great on the master proof copy I got via mail.
Suddenly, I had published a book. There it was. After all that work and time, I held in my hands my proof copy. I gave it to Rochelle, since the Outtro is dedicated to her plus you know, she’s my wife and all. Then I set about mastering a hardback copy from the same files.
I had a vague sense of how I wanted to market the book, but it mostly relied on Twitter and my blog to get the word out. To be honest, my sole gauge for success for the entire effort was simple: Could I recoup the costs of editing and publishing packages, and the fee I promised Mark for the cover. All told, that meant the book had to clear $1200 in revenue. I also knew I wanted to make the book available in DRM free PDF, DRM Kindle, and DRM Nook (since with the latter two you really cant get a good royalty mix unless you DRM) I felt that was a good balance because it gave people freedom. If they hate DRM, there’s the free PDF, which is viewable among a bazillion devices that have a PDF reader and adheres to a relative standard. For those who want the convenience of Kindle or Nook and don’t mind DRM, there’s that option. And even for those platforms I would enable DRM friendly options like text to speech and loaning so that people could feel free to get the text to people that had not bought it.
Lastly, I wanted something special at the high end for those who would be willing to pay more: Hardbacks only available through me that contained a personalized message. The idea was that people would paypal me the cost, tell me their favorite thing and the name they wanted it personalized to, and I would email them a free PDF, and personalize a hardback and send it to them.
Two things I drastically underestimated: demand for the personalized hardbacks and demand for a Kindle version. By far those two have outsold any other avenue to get the book. Formatting to get into Kindle and Nook was a bitch, for although Lulu had mastered to PDF, that didn’t translate to e-format basically at all. So After some work on my part I paid an additional $99 to Lulu to remaster into .epub format. Once that was done, suddenly import into Kindle and Nook was perfect (with the exception I had to do some manual HTML editing to turn footnotes into endnotes. I thought for a moment about adding ‘Epub formatting done using NOTEPAD.EXE’ to the copyright page, but then again, why brag.)
By week one however, with just the PDF and softback, I ended up recouping my costs just entering the project. By the end of the hardback experiment I had sold 343 signed personalized hardbacks. Kindle? Off the charts. Nook? probably on par with the softbacks.
The hardbacks were tough on me personally. I actually ship, receive, personalize, then ship out 343 books from 12.15 to 2.6. It was actually far more of a drain than I intended. But I loved every second of creating personalized messages for fans. So many of them were fun and creative. Some standouts were the person who ordered from Tucson when the Gabriel Giffords shooting happened so I scrawled all over the shipping package that we were stronger together. Or the marine’s wife who wanted to get her husband his copy before he shipped out and I could thank him for his service. Or the guy who said he liked dinosaurs and I wrote an entire mini story in his book about how my pet Deinonychus had gotten loose and I even drew bloodstains all over the interior of the book.
You can’t connect with people so directly any other way than the way I chose, because somewhere just behind you off to the side is someone tapping their fiscal watch or their editorial calendar or their list of things you owe them just for being their product. With this method it was just me, and people who wanted to read what I had written.
At the end of the day, I’ve not sold near as many books as I wanted, but I have sold so many more than I was afraid of. And at the end of this process, I’m happy with my work, my control, and the product that people are buying.
The highest compliment a writer can receive is for someone to say “I liked your book so much I was sad when it was over. I didn’t want it to end.” I’ve gotten that a couple of times lately, and every time I read it I get something in my eyes.
I’ll do some things differently for my next book, which is in progress for release later this year in the winter. But if you’re reading this, and you have a copy of my book, thanks for supporting a model that lets a person like me reach so far.
My next post will detail some FAQ’s, like how the hardback process works in addition to announcing some new offerings and finally providing a centralized link for all options (Lulu, Retail, Kindle, Nook, etc)