Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Self Publishing Changes Everything, or Better than a warm bath

I had a marginally "paradigm changing" experience this week with the flexibility that self-publishing/digital-publishing provides. I had to give up some of my settled assumptions on how publishing works and wake up to the "new reality."

I wrote Learning Tree International's Technical Writing course and one of my goals with the book is to capitalize on that by having "rtfm*" listed on the course's site for bonus material (several hundred people take the course every year and--who knows?--someone might actually be buying the books listed on the site). I fully expected that, when I asked Learning Tree to list the book, they might regard that having me recommend my own book would count as a conflict of interest and reject the request.

However, (and fortunately for me) Learning Tree was willing to list the book, except for one problem: The title. Learning Tree had a concern that customers might find the title offensive. Initially, I was disappointed and withdrew my request.

Then I realized that (a) I was the publisher, and (b) I could do anything I wanted. I got back in touch with Learning Tree and offered to produce a customized version of the book called "Read The Manual!". Learning Tree agreed.

It took about an hour to modify the content of the book to use the new title and upload the revised content to CreateSpace (Learning Tree likes to have a link to Amazon for each book on the bonus page). Getting an new ISBN number took about 15 minutes of elapsed time but took another 2 days because the Library of Canada had changed the process from when I got the ISBN for "rtfm*" four years ago. A very nice woman at the Library of Canada helped me through the process (not that it's complicated).

The people managing the CreateSpace content review process spotted that the ISBN printed on the inside pages didn't match the ISBN for the book and, with one more revision, the book's content was on the site. I then uploaded the content to my lulu.com site to support e-book sales.

What took the time was the cover. While I was at my town's folk festival, I got an idea for the cover and, back at home, spent about four hours playing with the design....only to have it rejected by CreateSpace when I uploaded it. I had taken my cover image right to the edge of the book and this violated CreateSpace's requirement for a half-inch margin around the cover image to support trimming. lulu's more automated process recognized the problem but let me go ahead with my design. I tried requesting an exemption from CreateSpace but there was no flexibility and I spent another hour or so redesigning the cover to fit their specifications.

Nonetheless, in one week elapsed time and about a day and a half of work on my part, I had a customized book that was acceptable for Learning Tree. I ordered the required proof copy from CreateSpace last Friday (I had it sent to my contact person at Learning Tree) and am now waiting for "Read The Manual!" to turn up on Amazon. Total cost: $8.00CDN for the proof copy from CreateSpace.

I'm sure that this is just one example of the flexibility that self-publishing/digital publishing provides. And the potential is lots better than a warm bath.

For instance, I had considered giving copies of "rtfm*" away to my clients--this flexibility may open up an opportunity to sell customized versions. I'm doing a technical writing seminar for a forensic accounting firm in Markham in September. I could see that, after developing the course material, I could spend a day revising "rtfm*" into a version aimed specifically at them that I could either sell them or, the next time that I do a seminar, offer as part of the package.

Much better than a warm bath.

Reading or Read

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