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Topsight > The publishing process

Posted by: on Jan 14, 2013 | No Comments
It seems like forever since I first announced that I was planning to publish Topsight. But I get my final proof from Amazon CreateSpace in the mail tomorrow, and I've viewed a draft of the Kindle Direct Publishing version already. So I'm hoping that I can pull the trigger midweek—and I'll announce it here when I do.

While we wait, here's some observations about the self-publishing process. I've already talked about why I decided to self-publish this book; here, I'll talk about what the process looks like.

The printed book: Amazon CreateSpace
I chose to use Amazon CreateSpace (ACS) because Amazon has a great distribution network, because I already have an author page, and because self-publishing is simple there. ACS is a print-on-demand platform, which means that each book is individually printed. That means higher per-book printing costs, but I don't have to worry about volume; extra copies won't be sitting in warehouses waiting to be pulped.

ACS prints the book, but technically, I'm the publisher. That means that Amazon takes a percentage of each sale for printing and distribution, and I get the rest. In practical terms, I can set my own royalties. (But I'm setting the price fairly low so that everyone can enjoy Topsight.)

In practical terms, I supply ACS with two files:

  • A cover PDF
  • An interior PDF
ACS supplies Word templates for the interior, and also supplies design services for an extra fee. However, I opted to hire a graphic designer, copyeditor, and production person out of my own pocket to produce the print-ready PDF. I also rented Adobe InDesign (about $99 a month) to implement final changes by hand. These costs added up.

The designer and production person also developed the cover. ACS provides a specific formula for calculating the width of the spine, based on the paper you choose. 

The range of choices and services is impressive here. You can choose book formats as small as 5"x4" (the size I chose) or select a custom size; you can hire Amazon to design the cover and interior or do it yourself; you can use their Word templates. You can even hire them to do copyediting.

Once the PDFs were ready, I uploaded them and ACS automagically identified potential PDF errors. The cover went though fine, but I had to correct several errors involving headers and text that ran slightly into the margins. Each error was highlighted in the online view—I was impressed with how thoroughly error checking was handled and how easy it was to understand the errors.

After a few tries, I generated an error-free PDF and proceeded to the next step: a human being checked the document. It took less than 24 hours. 

At that point, I had the option to order a proof or just launch the thing. Although I was impatient, I ordered the proof (about $5) and paid a premium (about $25) to deliver it as soon as possible (5 days).

While awaiting the proof, I was guided through the pricing process. ACS gives several options here too, each of which might involve extra fees or affect royalties. Despite the extra cost, I opted for expanded distribution channels so that libraries and bookstores could order it ($25) and also opted to allow printing in different countries (a royalty fee). 

Once that was done, I was guided to Kindle Direct Publishing for the option of creating a Kindle book.

The Kindle book: Kindle Direct Publishing
Clicking a button transfers the cover and interior PDFs and metadata to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP is a different animal. For one thing, you have different, more simplified formatting options. For another, you can't use the same ISBN (and you don't need an ISBN at all.) Third, distribution channels are more flexible because you're not moving paper around, just bits.

Two of these are headaches.

First, the formatting. Kindle books are modified, simplified HTML. That means that an InDesign file doesn't translate directly to Kindle. The easiest thing is to build a Word file, then convert it. In fact, if you read Kindle publishing guides, they claim that you have to convert the final version to HTML; fortunately this is no longer the case.

To handle the conversion, I did the following:
  1. Went into InDesign's Story Editor, copied the body, and pasted it into a Word file.
  2. Went into the Story Editor again to copy the front matter, then pasted it into the same Word file.
  3. Went through the entire InDesign document, identified all materials outside the main story (tables and figures), copied them into Preview, saved them as JPEGs (per the Kindle publishing guide), then placed them each into the Word file.
  4. Reformatted as appropriate, including deleting page numbers from the Table of Contents, List of Tables, and List of Figures.
  5. Discovered that the procedure for autogenerating TOC hyperlinks doesn't work on Word for Macintosh.
  6. Deleted all but the first level of the TOC, then hyperlinked these by hand.
I then uploaded the Word file to KDP. Within minutes, it gave me a preview on a simulated Kindle Fire screen. (You can switch orientation or simulate a Kindle HD, second-generation Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, iPad, or iPhone screen.) I also downloaded a Kindle version to view on my Kindle and my Nexus 10. 

I'm glad I did, since I found some conversion errors. For instance, I discovered that I had to save the graphics at a higher resolution and set them to the proper size. On the whole, though, the process was tedious rather than challenging; I probably spent about six hours on the conversion.

It's worth noting that if I had used the ACS Word template, the conversion would have probably been even less painful. If I do this again, I'll probably go that route.

Once I was satisfied with the Kindle version, I was given the option to take 35% royalties (which would allow me to set any price) or 70% royalties (which limited me to charging $9.99 and was available only in some countries.) I tried various configurations, then set a price.

I'm also not entirely happy with how graphics render in the Kindle version, so I've made some of the graphics available from the book's website; I'll likely add more as I go.

Lessons learned
I'm really impressed with how easy it is to publish in both ACS and KDP. It's not for the faint of heart, and it involves more detail work than I like to do, but it has allowed me to turn out a book at relatively low cost, quickly, while retaining creative control. And that's been tremendously exciting.

What would I do differently next time? I would consider developing the PDF using one of the existing Word templates rather than InDesign. That's not because the product would look better—I think it wouldn't—but it would be quicker, easier, and cheaper to produce, as well as being easier to convert.

Overall, though, I'm very happy with the experience. Looking forward to seeing the proof.