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Can you afford to be fashionably late to the digital party?

In general it’s always a good thing to be the “first” at something. Being part of something on the ground floor tends to give you an advantage. This is why Bob and I are always trying new things and open to new innovative technology. But there is an inherent flaw in being “first”.

What was the first eReader? A Sony. They were first, but they aren’t really a big player anymore now are they? What was the first “smartphone?” Most people would probably say the Blackberry. Nope. It was a phone designed in 1992 by IBM called Simon. And well, we all know that IBM used to be synonymous with Personal Computer, except they have made a PC in years.

Anyone ever hear of Kodak? Did you know Kodak actually developed the technology for the digital camera? In 1995 they were pushing the Kodak DC40. They had pulled in Kinko’s and Microsoft to help develop digital making software and put kiosks inside Kinko’s stores. Even IBM collaborated with Kodak to make an internet-based network image exchange. These campaigns helped launch digital cameras to the consumers and now everyone uses them, but what has happened to Kodak?

It’s not that being first is the flaw. The flaw is the inability to adapt to continued change. Kodak made some ground breaking advances, but they never adapted to their own creation. The danger in being first and successful at something is the standard thinking that it can be re-created in identical format. Also, we have to remember that usually being first means it’s only the beginning. Too many people sit back and relax because they feel as though they’ve already achieved it. Whatever it is.

So, what does this brief little history lesson bring us to? Last week I visited the Corporate Offices of Kobo. During a tour of the offices with Mark we discussed various technologies, and how it has impacted the business of publishing, the writers, and the readers. I sort of joked that Kobo was a little late to the digital party and Mark responded with, “perhaps a little late, but with a solid plan.” One of the things that impressed me with Kobo is their ability to see what is going on around them and then act instead of react. They took their time launching the new Writing Life Portal. It’s been in the works for about a year, but they were busy watching, listening and learning. They are very aware of what is going on with other on-line stores and they welcome the competition. Mark constantly repeats how Kobo feels that the author should be able to get their book on as many platforms as possible.

They are also very aware of the problems they face and the changes they need to make with the portal. They have well defined phases and while we’d all like them to increase their category selection as well as create a “preview” for the ePub file conversion, its all part of the next phase. The problem with rolling out too many updates or changes inside a program that big is it can create other problems, making it harder for the end user because more bugs have been created. Always best to work out a few kinks, get it working right, then add to the system, then working out those kinks. Kobo is going to be around for a long time. They are the major player in Canada and have a good solid plan.

While I was there, I got to meet my personal rep for “the old way of doing things” before the Writing Life Portal. She’ll still play an integral part in the team effort to migrate all Cool Gus titles to one account, without losing sales rankings and any other data that is dealt with differently than inside the portal. Their approach to business is two-fold. They need to get quality content to their readers and they need to provide quality service to their content providers.

Kobo is expanding into other markets. Right now, the majority of Cool Gus Sales are in Canada (where Kobo is located) but they are reaching out and partnering with companies in places like Italy to bring their content to readers in those locations. We sell more in the Australian market through Kobo than we do on any other platform. Foreign markets are even more so in the infancy stages of eBooks (except Japan, or so Bob and I have been told).

Kobo is adapting to current changes, but also looking a few years ahead. They have a long-term plan, and they are doing things in phases. One thing I loved about my visit at Kobo was I got to see how they work. They have an open office. There are no offices and no cubicles. So when I email Mark that I have a problem, or that I crashed the portal again, he can roll his chair over to his tech team and say, “what can we do to fix this?” Even more cool is when I’m in Australia visiting my daughter I will hopefully be meeting with the Australian Kobo rep.

So Kobo might be late, but they are growing in leaps in bounds. But does this mean that those first to the party are doomed? No. Only those who don’t continue to adapt and change will be doomed. When we don’t learn from history, we will repeat it. Music business?

Amazon has been a leader in the digital party since the beginning. One could argue they are the ones who sent out the invitation to the rest of us. I’m a little tired of people calling Amazon the evil Empire. They might be an empire, but they are far from evil. The programs they have developed have given authors an opportunity to connect with readers, and that is what it is all about. If you don’t like exclusivity, then don’t do Select or submit to their imprints. The people at Amazon are forward thinkers and we really enjoy working them.

The same with the people at Pubit. I don’t think they will be dying off anytime soon. Perhaps the print business might, but those who have a Nook; well they love their Nook and Pubit is continuing to develop and adapt.

Smashwords, well, I’m not so sure about them. I think they were leaders and offered writers a very valuable distribution service, and they still do for those who can’t get into Apple or other outlets, but please, I beg of you, allow writers to upload their own ePub and Mobi files. As a professional formatter I cringe at what happens to Word documents, even those that have followed the guidelines in Smashwords Style document (which is actually very good, but Word is a horrible source document). I’m really not knocking Smashwords, I think it’s a great idea, but I do think in order for it to thrive, some adjustments need to be made.

At Cool Gus we revisit our Business Plan every couple of months. We rewrite it twice a year. Today Bob just uploaded the new plan, to which I need to add and make adjustments. Then we will hone it down into a plan of action for the next 6 months, but we’re not married to it either. If something doesn’t feel right, we’ll get on the phone (yes, occasionally we do talk on the phone) and hash it out. eBooks are organic and fluid, so we has business professionals have to be fluid as well.

The key to success in the digital party isn’t being first, or being late, or even last. The key is in the ability to adapt, change and think three years ahead.

Apple? Anyone out there? Hello?

Keeping up with eBook technology

There are a lot of conversations regarding how to publish digitally. We’re seeing more and more authors take the plunge, and more and more authors are choosing to go it alone. Completely alone. While we find the team approach to be part of our success, it isn’t impossible to self-publish and do all the work yourself. In earlier posts we’ve discussed the importance of good covers. We’ve also discussed marketing, promotion, pricing and other topics important to all authors, regardless of path of publication. In this post I’d like to discuss the actual making of an eBook. The file that will get uploaded to various platforms. Today we will focus on the 4 main ones. Smashwords, B&N, Kindle and iBooks.

Lets start with Smashwords.

Smashwords uses a Word doc as a source file. As you will find out later, I’m not a fan of Word, but for Smashwords it’s your only choice. The key to using Smashwords effectively is to follow the Style Guide. Any short cuts in formatting will cause either the file format to fail when it tries to convert, or the file will not pass inspection for the Premium Catalog. This is important for two reasons. First, simple things like proper indentation for a paragraph is important to the reading experience. Try reading a document that doesn’t follow standard practice. It’s annoying. Or maybe a diagram that doesn’t convert during the process because you used Word’s Table function. You could lose a reader with something like that. Second, if there are any glitches in formatting you won’t make into the Premium Catalog and depending on where you want your eBook distributed, if your book fails, you won’t be accepted into those stores. So, follow the Style Guide. Mark Coker has done a bang up job making it as simple as possible.

PubIt! (Barnes and Noble)

PubIt! allows you to use Word, HTML or ePub as a source file. I don’t recommend using Word, although I’ve seen decent results. HTML works well, if you have a really clean file (see below in Kindle on why I don’t recommend the .htm in Word). Your best bet here is the ePub file. I don’t recommend using something like Calibre (a free download) to generate an ePub file to upload on PubIt. I’ve used Calibre for a variety of file options and have uploaded files generated from it. Some of our PubIt eBooks currently are created from this program, but I have found a better way of creating this file and am redoing all our books. It will take some time, but well worth it. So what do I use you ask? I started with InDesign (a very expensive program) but have found that Pages (iWorks on Mac) makes a really nice ePub file. I still have to check the code and make sure it’s clean, but I find it easier to work with. I have to say PubIt is probably my favorite uploading experience.


Kindle is a Mobi file and you can upload a Word doc, HTML, mobi file or an ePub file. Again, I don’t recommend Word and frankly, Kindle is the worst place to upload a word doc. I’ve mentioned HTML and a lot of writers will use the “save as .htm” function in word. That is the worse thing you can do if you want to create an HTML file to upload on Kindle. I’m not going to get into the details, but here is a video that explains why and offers a solution if you are bent on using Word and or HTML.

We use the ePub file I created from Pages for the source document for Kindle. Then I run it through Calibre to make the Mobi file. This is the one time I will say use Calibre to upload. Make sure you understand Calibre and use the right settings. This is key in creating a quality eBook.

Finally lets talk iBooks

iBooks is very simple, yet, if you don’t have a Mac, you have to use something like Smashwords. While I can’t say enough good things about Mark Coker and Smashwords in general, we don’t use them. We have a Mac, so we can create the ePub file that passes all the requirements for iBooks. It’s the same process. I use Pages, convert to ePub with a TOC, check the code, and then save the file as an .epub. You have to download iTunes Producer and you upload through that, but the process is much like all the others when it comes to the actual upload.

While technology makes things easier, it also complicates things. A basic understanding of the technology helps us to make educated decisions regarding our careers.

Bob and I will be teaching a 6 week long on-line course on Publishing Options where we will take a much closer look at all these platforms. The course is only $30.00.

Write It Forward!

DFW Conference: A Panel Discussion on ePublishing, Self-Publishing and the Future

I participated on a panel at the DFW Writer’s Conference with Russell C. Connor of Dark Filament Books another self-published author, Mark Hollingsworth, a Pubit Representative and Sharene Martin-Brown of Ampichellis eBooks, a former literary agent turned publisher. This was my very first experience on a panel and could very well one of my best experiences’ at a conference ever. The topic was epublishing, self-publishing and digital publishing.

We began by introducing ourselves, our respective companies and why we chose this particular publishing path. Then we opened it up to floor for questions. It was a lively group and they had a lot of excellent questions.

While we on the panel all came from very different publishing backgrounds, we all agreed on three basic points that authors need to consider and educate themselves on before entering the world of self-publishing.

The first is that every author must have a plan. Russell was the first author to mention this and both myself and Sharene nodded vigorously. Sharene has a unique viewpoint because she helped guide many writers in the world of traditional publishing as an agent and now she is publishing them. Mark from Pubit agreed. Simply putting a book up for sale doesn’t mean it will sell.

This is something Bob has been preaching for years and is one of the reasons he started Warrior Writer. Everyone teaches us how to write, but no one teaches us how to be an author and how to manage our business. When it comes to writing, all authors are asked if they are plotter or pantser. However, does anyone ever ask you if you are a plotter or pantser when it comes to your business? Writing is a business. It’s the author’s business. There is no such thing as flying by the seat of your pants. You must have a plan if you are to succeed. Bob and I are constantly revisiting our plan and making adjustments as we learn what works and what doesn’t. The last post Bob mentioned our promotional price drop for Atlantis and Chasing The Ghost to .99 and the effect it had on sales. We didn’t just one day wake up and say, hey lets drop our prices. We discussed it… at length… for what seems like the entire time we have been in business together. It came down to whether or not we could achieve the desired result of hitting the Amazon best-seller lists, and it worked. We are currently studying buying patterns (as much as we can without going crazy) so that we can modify our business plan accordingly when the time is right to increase the “sale” price back to our retail price.

The second is cover. We have discussed this in great detail here at Write It Forward. The panel agreed it had to pop in thumbnail and had to be done professionally. Mark from Pubit mentioned size requirements before a cover could be uploaded. This is important because if you don’t have the right JPEG size, the cover won’t load, and without a cover, you won’t see the desired results when it comes to sales. Russell also brought up author branding by using the identical font and style for his name every time he publishes a book. This is something we have considered at Who Dares Wins Publishing and just today we did our first mock-ups for the Duty; Honor; Country trilogy we will be releasing on 12 April 2011 to commemorate the start of the Civil War. However, we have more authors to consider along with more genres. When we changed the covers for Bodyguard of Lies and Lost Girls we made sure they were tied closely together by using a base color along with a base font and background photograph. When our Write It Forward line comes out, you will see a base font, a base picture (or logo) but the difference will be in the color so it’s easy to tell the books apart.

Again, it wasn’t something we just decided to do. We looked closely at what we wanted to achieve with our covers and planned accordingly.

Finally, this self-publishing thing isn’t as easy it appears to be. It’s a full time job and learning all the various platforms, conversions, covers, promoting and continuing to produce more product all takes time and skill. A big issue an author faces is there no uniformity in file formats. It is argued that ePub is taking the lead, which is what Pubit and the iBookstore uses, while the mobi file is what Kindle uses. Personally, ePub is probably better, but our Kindle sales are often double what they are on other platforms.

This is why Bob and I created a team, and are currently looking into expanding that team. During the conference, I spoke to potential new authors and  PR person. Meanwhile, back on an island off the coast of Seattle Bob is working hard on the first non-fiction book for the Write It Forward line (How To Get The Most Out of a Writers’ Conference) and finishing up the final touches to his Civil War Trilogy we plan on publishing this April. Self-publishing is both time intensive and requires some overhead.

The bottom line is authors have a choice about how and where they want to publish their work. It’s not NY or bust anymore. However, the key to success as an indie author is four-fold.

  1. Content: You must write the better book.
  2. Have a career plan: Know exactly what it is you want and why.
  3. Education: Lean as much as you can about every facet of publishing. Pay close attention to what you are getting and what is required of you before making any decisions.
  4. Promotion: Without it, you wont’ sell your books, it’s just that simple.

Write It Forward.


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