Recently we did a blog interview with author Mary Mackey talking about how her agent republished all of Mary’s out-of-print novels as e-books. A lot of agencies are doing this now. Some of them manage thousands of titles, and they are bringing them back in print, usually at very attractive prices. That’s good news for readers.
I decided to do the same thing with my clients’ books. I’d like to describe the steps that I took to get an out-of-print book converted and published. It was really quite easy.
The book I worked on was Face-Time by Erik Tarloff. He is a client of mine. I first read Face-Time when it was published in 2000. I loved it then and I still do. The story is about a presidential speech writer in Washington who learns that his girlfriend is having an affair with the President. Erik’s voice comes through loud and clear. It is very funny and very smart. It moves effortlessly between high culture and low farce.
Erik had some pretty good inside knowledge that gave this book a lot of verisimilitude. Erik’s wife is Laura D’Andrea Tyson who was Chair of both The Council of Economic Advisers and later The National Economic Council under Clinton, both cabinet level positions. Erik, himself, wrote speeches for the President. Erik is also quick to point out that this book is in no way a roman a clef.
So let’s talk about how I got this book published.
First, a word about e-book formats. There are two major digital formats for e-books. The first and most popular is the Kindle Format. It is proprietary and controlled by Amazon. com. Books in the Kindle format can only be read on Kindle readers (or a Kindle App from the i-Tunes Store) and only purchased at Amazon. Right now about 65% of all e-book sales are for Kindle Editions. The other major format is Adobe EPUB, an open source format. Most other major e-book retail venues and platforms (i-Pad, Nook, Kobo, Sony, Android) use the EPUB format. This means that if you are going to make your book available, you will need to go through the conversion process twice, once for each format.
Ok. Let’s go through this step-by-step.
1) Create a word file. If Erik already had a .doc file of the text, I could have gotten it up in a few hours. But he didn’t. So the first thing I had to do was to send the physical book to an optical character recognition (OCR) service that scans the book and converts the text to a digital file. I chose Blue Leaf Scanning , a widely used service for this job. The price is based on the number of pages in the book. Face-Time had about 250 pages and the price was $26.95. I sent them a copy of the book. And two weeks later they emailed me back a word file and a .pdf of the text.
2)Review and Re-edit. The good news about optical character recognition scanning is that it is at least 99% accurate. The bad news is that it is only 99% accurate. What that means is that on any page of the scanned book, there are likely to be about 35 incorrect letters and consequently 35 misspelled words. Re-editing is essential and is the most tedious part of the process. So I turned it over to Erik.
3)Designing a cover. This is important for marketing. You really need one of those postage stamp size covers so that the book looks professionally published. I referred Erik to my friend and fellow-agent, Natanya Wheeler. She is an agent at the Nancy Yost Literary Agency and she’s great. She also manages their large list of re-published e-book titles and knows how to create a properly designed and formatted book cover. She agreed to design the cover for us. She charged Erik about $100 and produced a gorgeous cover in the form of a .jpg file.
4) Formatting for Kindle Editions. Amazon has made it pretty easy to get your book into the Kindle Store. Their program is called Kindle Direct. Publishing through Kindle Direct is free. Amazon will take a percentage of all sales. Go to the link and register. Then read the simple step-by-step instructions for formatting and publishing. It will lead you through a few formatting requirements, all of which can be done using Microsoft Word. These include: paragraph formatting, line spacing, preparing a title and copyright page, table of contents, and adding addition materials like author bios and blurbs. Then they show you how to convert your word file to a html file using your own MS Word program.
5) Enter title and product details. After you have formatted the book on your computer, you need to go back to the Kindle Direct Page and enter author and title information along with some descriptive catalogue copy and some other copyright details. You will also have to confirm that you control the rights to the book and are not infringing on anyone else’s copyright. (If you try to publish a digital edition of Twilight to help get you through the economic downturn, you might run into trouble.)
5) Upload and Convert. The next step is to take your html file still on your computer and upload it using Amazon’s simple instructions. You will also upload the jpg of your cover art. Doing this is a lot like uploading photographs on Facebook. You can then preview your book on a viewer on the Kindle Direct page that will make the text look identical to what you will see on the Kindle Reader. If there are formatting problems or other errors, you can correct them at this point.
6) Pricing. Amazon then directs you to a pricing page where you can determine how you want the book priced. It’s your choice. You can give it away for free or price it at $1000 and see if anyone buys it. (They won’t). I priced Face-Time at $2.99. I see a lot of books on sale at that price point. It’s low enough to avoid issues of price resistance. Typically the amount that Erik will receive on each sale is going to be 70% of the price.
7) Publishing. Hit the button and you are now a published author. It will probably take 12 hours before your book will have its own page on Amazon.
9) Formatting and Publishing in the EPUB format using Smashwords.com. A lot of authors and agents are going to Smashwords.com to publish on platforms other than Kindle. The nice thing about Smashwords is that you only have to format and upload once and they will make sure that the book is available for sale at all the other important venues (Apple, Sony, Nook, Kobo, Android). I won’t go into all the details of publishing on Smashwords. The process is very similar to the steps used for Kindle. Like Kindle, you need to set up an account with Smashwords. Then follow the step-by-step instructions for formatting your .doc file. If you have the edited word file that you used for Kindle, you will need to make a few formatting changes. But you should be able to upload it to Smashwords in about an hour. And as with Kindle, publishing on Smashwords is free and the royalties are 70-80%
10) Wait for the big bucks to start rolling in. Both Amazon and Smashwords have very user friendly systems for sales reporting and payment of royalties. You can check these out on their websites.
The hardest part of all of this is the writing. And if you look at most of the self-published books that are available, the quality is (how shall I say this politely?) spotty. But if you have a manuscript, regardless of the quality, it’s easy, cheap and fast to get it published. Of course no one’s going to read it if they don’t know it exists. And you probably aren’t going to get review attention for a self-published book, and you aren’t going to get an e-book into the bookstores. Since you’re the publisher, it’s your job to do the marketing. Good luck.