After Hours

Publishing on a tight budget

The ebook industry is continuing to grow and if recent trends are a marker, that growth will be exponential. Get you and your business in on this as soon as possible.

Although this topic might only appeal to a small faction of readers in the IT industry, the lesson is farther reaching. This topic is also a very personal topic of mine as I recently started my own digital press called Autumnal Press.

As you may know, the publishing industry is undergoing some serious changes. The old model is being usurped by a new, more agile model - ebooks. The problem is, as with any new technology that changes the way we think and do things, the standard publishers have no idea how to deal with this new model. I will pause to say that this new publishing paradigm would not exist had it not been for the maturation of the hardware necessary for end-users to enjoy the product. The Kindle, the NOOK, the iPad...they've all made leaps and bounds since they were first introduced. Because of that, the demand placed on publishers has switched from traditional books to ebooks. So, to that end, how does that affect the process of publishing? Go digital or go out of business.

So, how did I manage to tackle the overwhelming task of taking the novels I had written and:

  • Format them for ereader devices.
  • Distribute them to various sellers.
  • Sell them on my own site.
  • Market them.

And, more importantly, how do I do this on a budget that was next to nothing? Believe it or not, it's very much do-able (and do-able on a very tight budget.) We're going to look at the entire process of e-publishing one step at a time.

Conversion process

There are two ways you can do this. The first method is for those who are planning on hosting and selling the downloads on their own ecommerce site. The second method is for those who want to use a service such as Smashwords.

Self-service

For this process I want to introduce you to a free, open-source tool called Calibre. On the surface, Calibre looks like it's nothing more than a personal ebook manager. If you look closely, you can actually (and easily) convert from one format to another. In fact, Calibre can convert the following formats:

Input Formats: CBZ, CBR, CBC, CHM, EPUB, FB2, HTML, LIT, LRF, MOBI, ODT, PDF, PRC, PDB, PML, RB, RTF, SNB, TCR, TXT

Output Formats: EPUB, FB2, OEB, LIT, LRF, MOBI, PDB, PML, RB, PDF, SNB, TCR, TXT

I have found the three formats you really want to format to are PDF, MOBI, and EPUB. You need MOBI for the Kindle, EPUB for most all other devices, and PDF for those without an ereader. It should be noted that the best input format to use is RTF. The DOC format is NOT supported at all.

Cost of self-service conversion: $0.00

Conversion service

If you plan on using a service for the distribution of your ebooks (I highly recommend Smashwords), you can have that service do the conversion for you. Smashwords automatically converts your DOC document into:

  • HTML
  • JavaScript (for online viewing)
  • MOBI
  • EPUB
  • PDF
  • RTF
  • LRF
  • PDB
  • TXT

This is a great service for a couple of reasons:

  1. It does not directly charge you for the conversion or the distribution.
  2. It's one of the few services that will distribute your ebook for the iPad.

A word of warning: When using Smashwords you must follow their style guide to the letter or your documents will be rejected. I highly recommend reading the Smashwords Style Guide before you attempt to have Smashwords convert your documents.

Distribution

As I mentioned earlier, as with Smashwords, the distribution of your ebooks does not have to cost you much (if anything) up front. Nearly every one of the distribution channels (Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble) only charge you a percentage of the selling price. That's chump change considering how much more exposure you get when using those channels.

Now, here's where you can save a good deal of time. You can format and convert for each of the different distributors or you can just use Smashwords and then opt into the distribution for the various channels. That does not mean you should ignore Amazon and B&N (should you distribute through Smashwords).

Distribution cost: $0.00 up front, percentage of each sale (generally 30%).

Selling your books directly

This is where it can get a bit tricky and more costly. Unless you are planning on hosting your own ecommerce site yourself, you will need to pay a host. I use Verve Hosting's $9.95 per month plan which includes an outstanding CPANEL tool that allows you to create a site using such tools as:

  • Word Press
  • Drupal
  • Joomla!

And much more. The sites are set up with a tool called Fantastico and are done with a push of a button. It's so simple that anyone can do it. Once you get the site up and running (a site you will use to promote your books) you will need your ecommerce site up. The same host, Verve Hosting, offers up a couple of different ecommerce solutions. One of those solutions, CubeCart, offers a free solution that works perfectly for selling digital goods. You pay nothing for the use of this tool, and if you only use Paypal for your payment gateway, there is no cost associated with collecting payment. Of course, if you choose to go the route of accepting credit cards, your cost will increase. But if you are already running a business that accepts credit cards, you are already incurring that cost anyway.

From my perspective, it makes sense to sell books directly on top of selling them through a distribution solution. After all, the more links you have to your books, the better chance people will have in finding your books.

Cost of selling your books directly: Cost of hosting for web site. In my case $9.95/month.

Marketing

Now we've reached the biggest burden of the process. You can go a couple of routes for the marketing of your books. You can hire a service and let them take care of the process. One service (Synapse Interactive) will market your ebook using the following cost structure (for more information visit their SMM website:

  • $500.00 per month
  • $650.00 per month
  • $1100.00 per month
  • $1500.00 per month

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Those numbers are pretty high. So what can you do when you're on a budget? Here's what I (and countless other self-publishers) do:

  • Twitter: Build a following, constantly post about your book or developments on upcoming books.
  • Facebook: Post about your books, create fan pages for your books. Most self-publishing authors will happily agree that Facebook is one of the best tools for driving traffic to your books.
  • Kindle Boards and other ebook forums: Make yourself (and your work known).
  • Promo Videos: Get creative (I'll cover the creation of these videos in another post) and develop promotional videos for your books and distribute them on Youtube and every other site that will accept them.
  • Create postcards: Get even more creative and create postcards that you can distribute to coffee shops and other locations where readers hang out.
  • Get reviewed: This one is tough, but can be done. Many fellow authors will do review trades on various writers' forums. You can also search for ebook bloggers who do reviews in your genre.

Cost for in-house marketing: The only cost associated with this type of marketing is if you create postcards. I used VistaPrint and designed a postcard for my book "I Zombie I" which was printed and shipped for under $40.00.

Add it up

Since I do all of the market of my ebooks myself, the yearly cost of distributing, selling, and marketing my ebooks (including the creation of postcards) is

$119.40

How's that for DIY IT? You can take your companies books, get them processed, distributed, and (with a bit of leg/fingerwork) marketed on a shoestring budget.

Final thoughts

You may be wondering what this has to do with IT? Indrectly...not enough to satisfy the hard-core administrators. However, what this illustrates is that, with a bit of creativity, just about anything can be done on a tight budget. It also illustrates how things like social networking (such as Twitter and Facebook) can be effectively used as marketing and promotional tools for just about any kind of business.

Remember, the ebook industry is only going to continue to grow and if recent trends are a marker, that growth will be exponential. Get you and your business in on this as soon as possible.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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