Saturday, January 1, 2011

Walking a Thin Line . . .

between sanity and insanity, and it hasn't been helped by a very intermittent internet this weekend. Let's put it this way, I was on the phone and then on chat and then back on the phone with my provider before 0630 this morning. Not exactly the way I want to start any day, so forgive the rambling post this morning.

After reading Kate's post this past Thursday and the comments that followed, I debated whether to answer in the comments section or not. After talking with Kate, I decided to address some of the comments here, from an editorial point of view.

Most of you know that I'm one of the editors at Naked Reader Press. NRP, for those who don't know, is a small -- think micro -- e-publisher. We went live in August and offered our first titles for sale in September. In the few months since then, we've started building not only our stable of authors but also the number of sales. To say I've been pleasantly surprised is putting it mildly.

But it has been a lot of work. Not just for me but for everyone involved in the venture. There is a great deal that goes into not only starting up an e-press but in keeping it running. A big part of that is preparing the books and short stories for publication.

The quick version is a manuscript is submitted by an author and accepted or rejected by our editorial board. If it is accepted, it is assigned to an editor and that's when the process really begins. The editor will make suggestions and comments in Word -- yes, I know. I can hear the groans. It's not my favorite program, but it works and most folks have it -- and then they send the manuscript back to the author. The author then reviews the comments and suggestions and either accepts or rejects them. Then it's back to the editor. Sometimes, that is the end of this phase. But quite often, this process is repeated at least once more.

Once everyone is as satisfied as possible with the story or novel, it is sent to our tech guru to be translated into the different formats we sell. The first step is to translate the manuscript into HTML. Now, the easy way is to use the "save as" function in Word. The problem is that this leaves a lot of junk code, code that can cause problems later as the file is converted into the different e-reader formats. So the techies use a text editor and, thankfully, they are much quicker at it than am I. From there, the manuscript is checked in a web browser to make sure the formatting looks right.

While all this is going on, our art director is working to get the best cover possible for not only our novels but the short stories as well. Even with e-books, covers matter. Once the cover has been decided on, the ISBN registered and the files ready for conversion into the proper format, then we're ready to make the e-book.

From there, it's an upload to the NRP site store where the e-book is immediately available for purchase and download. The lag time for Amazon and Barnes & Noble runs anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Smashwords can be up to a week or more -- and that is if there is no problem with formatting. They have their own rules and require different fly page text from every other outlet we use. Google books can be even slower. To upload directly to the iBookstore, you have to have a Mac with very specific specifications.

It is important to note that all of the outlets listed above require specific formats to be uploaded for their own "conversion" process prior to sale. None, require a PDF file.

This is important, and goes to the heart of the POD question raised in response to Kate's post Thursday, because most -- if not all -- POD outlets require you to submit your book as a PDF. What that means is that you have to upload your "book" in ready to print format.

That's a very different format than what is put together for e-books. Because of the differences in e-readers and programs, you don't put in headers or page numbers. You don't use fancy fonts and you keep the formatting to a minimum. You don't have to worry about page bleed or margins. Basically, if it looks good in html, it will look good as an e-book -- at least in theory.

To set up a book for hard copy publication, you have to worry about all of that. Layout is very important. Sure, you can set it up in Word or Open Office and save as a PDF. But there are problems in that. There are some wonderful programs that allow you to make "proper" PDF files for publication. Some even allow for easy -- again, in theory -- translation to e-books. These are not cheap, however. And, as anyone knows who has tried to translate a PDF file to MOBI or EPUB, there isn't a seamless translation.

Now, what that means for NRP is that we will do print editions of our books one day. But not in the immediate future. We'd rather put out the best e-books we can, both in the quality of writing but also in the quality of presentation, than to water down our efforts right now by expanding into print too quickly. However, that isn't to say we won't do print. If we see a big enough demand for a book, we will consider putting it out in hard copy. But that will be driven by demand.

As a lover of "real" books, I look forward to the day when NRP is in the position to start putting out hard copies of some of our titles. As a reader of e-books, I love the fact we can bring out books that have been out of print (we'll be bringing out two of Tom Easton's books -- Firefight and The Great Flying Saucer Conspiracy -- this year) as well as introducing new authors to our readers.

So here's a question for you. What format do you prefer, paper or digital, and why?

18 comments:

Jason Cordova said...

I don't have a preference, really. The nice thing about ebooks is that I have space on my shelves for my nonfiction books now. OTOH, I like to hold a book in my hands.

I'm torn.

MataPam said...

Paper.

I'll read digital, ditto my techie sons.

But my husband works on a computer all day, and he simply refuses to come home and read on one. I think the e-readers are fast approaching the ease of use and quality of display that he'd change his mind, should he ever _want_ to change.

Then there are my parents. Avid readers, but, well, my mother stills phones me to find books on Amazon.com for her. I just don't think regular downloading of books is ever going to happen.

The rest of the family is a mixed bag, none of them have a reader. One can't function without her Balckberry, so she could, if she wanted to.

So, I tend to buy eARCs for my favorite authors, then buy hardback for my husband and parents. For non-favorite authors, I wait and get the hardback.

As time and tech pass, I think this gulf between tech user and old fogey will close. But I think there will always be a market for the paper versions. But I can see in the future, that being the smaller market.

C Kelsey said...

I just read a book on my dad's Kindle. The first time I've ever used an actual ereader. I did like it, but I managed to do it in the middle of vacation. The one time in the year where I'm not staring at a computer screen constantly. I don't know how my eyes would respond during the regular work-a-day year. However, that said, I'm considering getting a kindle for myself. I still overall prefer the feel of the real dead-tree book though.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Amanda,

A lot of work for you with Naked Reader Press. The team should all be commended for their effort.

People tend not to think about what goes on behind the scenes and just accept that 'someone' does the work because it gets done. Or they don't even realise how much work goes into running an award, or small press publishing.

So, as someone who has done both (and the small press was back in the days of typesetting and cut and paste)I'm sending you and the team Cyber Champers.

Wishing you the best of luck with NRP.

MataPam said...

Another problem with POD is that it doesn't get the books into the book stores. Even if you could negotiate with a few big chains, funding the printing so far in advance of sales is beyond most micro presses.

Getting the books in front of the casual browsers is going to continue to be a problem.

Kate said...

Given that I'd read a book printed on toilet paper, I'm not the one to be asking. If it's in a readable format, paper or otherwise, I'll read it.

I'd like to move more towards electronic for space reasons (for some reason every bookshelf we own is overflowing), but somehow it never seems to happen.

Synova said...

I bought my husband the color Nook for Christmas and he bought me one today so he could have his back.

I want to say that I still like paper best, but many of my favorite re-reads are books I only own as e-books and I found myself passing over paper books in the book store because I could buy an e-book copy online when I got home. I think that what I'd like best, in an ideal world, is to buy the book once and get both a paper and e-book copy.

Electronic storage of any sort seems so transitory. Maybe there aren't that many people who have lost files because they're on floppies, but certainly everyone has lost files because programs are obsolete or they forgot to back-up before a power failure or else simply because they've lost them. A paper book is far from indestructible, but the transmission of the information contained in one isn't subject to technological failure or obsolescence.

OTOH, it seems natural to me that an e-reader opens up opportunities to return to illustrations for novels or even including optional soundtracks or other author extras.

My husband has gotten good use from the word-look-up function on his Nook.

Jim McCoy said...

I do DTF exclusively for basically three reasons.

One is that I don't really like to read things on a screen. I can't even really get through the free shorts on Tor.com and they're GOOD stories. I just don't like the format. That being said, I don't have a reader, so who knows.

The second is that I just love books. I have them all over my basement and the collection keeps growing. I even like the smell of a bookstore. My wife used to laugh at me when I said I wouldn't shop at a bookstore that had a smaller SF section than I do...

Until I walked out of an indie bookstore because their SF section was too small.

The third thing is that I also kind of look at this from an economic perspective...

Printing books on dead trees means that someone has to get paid to kill the trees (loggers). Someone else has to be paid to transport the trees (truckers). Others are employed making paper, making glue, making ink, setting type/printing, transporting again, warehousing, transporting again, stocking and selling.

In a primarily e-book world (and granted, we're not there yet) a lot of those people are going to end up unemployed. I'm convinced that e-books or shorts have the potential to be cheaper and help more authors get published, but I'm less convinced that employing more authors is worth taking jobs away from all of those other people.

Amanda Green said...

Jason, from a reader's standpoint, I'm much the same. I still like holding a book, but space on the shelves, on the floor, in the closet, etc., is a long forgotten thing. So e-books keep me from being buried under dead tree versions. Plus, I tend to buy only fiction e-books, leaving more room for my non-fiction books.

But I do love the convenience of e-books and the ability to carry hundreds of books around with me on my kindle or iPod touch if I want. I also love the ability to buy and download immediately if the mood hits.

Kate said...

Jim,

Some people do prefer the physical nature of books and all that goes with it. I don't have any objection to that.

However... From the economic perspective, you're sounding kind of like the buggy whip makers bemoaning the death of their industry because of the popularity of those new-fangled automobile thingies. That's a good way to get dismissed as a pig-headed luddite.

It's quite possible that a lot of those jobs - the ones that haven't already been automated out of existence, at any rate - will cease to exist. But there's no way anyone can begin to guess what kind of new jobs and new businesses are going to emerge in the wake of it.

At a guess, based on the way things have worked with every major technological change so far, there'll be a whole lot of them, and they'll employ as many if not more people than the old jobs - but they'll need a completely different skill set. What you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabout. That's life.

And usually, the technological changes bring a better life for a lot of people, one way or another.

Oh, yes... I'm sure if you looked hard enough you'd find skilled copyists lamenting the printing press and how those cheap pamphlets were putting them out of work.

Swings and roundabouts, Jim, swings and roundabouts. You can't freeze anything in place, no matter how good it is or it seems to be.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I was one of those who thought I'd never be a big reader of e-books. I spend too much time on the computer during the day. The last thing I wanted was to spend time reading on my laptop or computer. That seemed too much like work.

Then I was given a kindle. It took exactly one day to convince me e-books are viable for me with the right e-reader. The e-ink display doesn't give me headaches if I read for a long time and the lack of backlighting isn't a big deal to me.

Still, I understand. My mother is a firm believer in books, real books and nothing but "real" books. There is always going to be a market for dead tree books. But that market is decreasing in size, and a lot of the reason is cost. Somehow a happy balance needs to be found.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Jim,

Falacious economics. By that principle, we'd still be driving around in horse buggies. Yes, yes, automobiles are faster and ultimately (no, trust me on this) cleaner. yeah, we could get medicines to people on time. Yeah, cities could be bigger and the country side bigger. BUT what about carriage makers? And the buggy whip makers?
What you're failing to do is crediting your fellow human beings with the ability to change and adapt.
Yeah, rapid tech change sucks. I feel like I'm roiled and bruised by what's going on in publishing. I started climbing that ladder and the wrungs started melting under my feet, while periodically everything became upended.
BUT at the same time, the status quo is no paradise. Change is coming because it is needed. There is no tech able to completely upend a field that is serving its consumer base. This one isn't -- the readership keeps shrinking and no, don't even try to tell me it's because people don't read anymore. It's because the current system is really bad at meeting readers' needs. I know. I'm a reader.
Meanwhile, the truckers will find something else to transport. E-readers. Or perhaps stuff we can't even imagine yet. There won't even be a diminution in traffic. As for printers... well... the older ones might retire. The others will learn new jobs.
I mean, look at the plight of oil lamp sellers; buggy whip makers; horse breeders; carriage outfitters. What? They're not suffering? Right...

Amanda Green said...

Chris K, I had worried about the same thing before getting my kindle. But I quickly realized that the screens and imaging are so different between a kindle and a laptop that I didn't make that kind of mental connection you're afraid of. In fact, the kindle itself disappears when I'm reading, much like the spine and covers of a book do. I really think you'll find much the same if you get a kindle or something similar.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, thanks. I didn't come into this job with my eyes closed or without having done a lot of the duties at other jobs. And I did a heck of a lot of research. But it seems like every day I find something new that needs to be done or tried out or whatever. You get what I mean.

Even so, I've had a blast and look forward to what this year holds in store for us.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, it really doesn't matter if a book is POD or comes from a well-known publishing house. It is getting harder and harder to get titles into brick and mortar stores. But, yes, that is one of the big concerns about going POD. Any author or small press considering it has to ask if it is worth the investment -- in time and money -- especially if you don't get numbers reported because the books aren't making it into the stores.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, admit it, you've read books that might have been improved if they'd been printed on toilet paper. At least the fanciful factor would make the book more interesting ;-p

Frankly, the need for physical space for things other than books is one of the big reasons why I like e-books.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, your desire to pay one price to get both the physical and digital copies of a book is something that comes up quite often on the Amazon boards. Usually, the person asking for it is wondering why Amazon doesn't do it. The problem is that most publishers aren't going to do it because they see something like that as a lost sale.

As for enjoying the ability to buy and download a book, that is the real joy of e-readers. Here's hoping you and your husband continue to enjoy your nooks.

Amanda Green said...

Jim, like you, I don't like reading on the screen. That's too much like work. But I've found reading on the kindle to be a very different experience from reading on the computer screen. As I said in an earlier comment, I forget I'm reading on a "device" pretty quickly. If you know anyone with a kindle or similar device, you might try it and see what you think.

I also happen to love books. Ask anyone who's ever been in my house. There are books all over. However, like so many others, I have a lack of storage space and, to be honest, the cost of physical books is becoming prohibitive And, to be honest, I don't buy many used books because I want at least some of my money to go to the author who wrote the book. That doesn't happen with a used book.

As for your third reason, I applaud you for not wanting to take away jobs but, I hate to say it, most of those "jobs" are either outsourced out of the country or are automated. And, to be honest, unless the big publishers get their houses in order, most of those people are going to be out of jobs anyway. E-books aren't going to be what drives the nail in the economic coffin. The lack of understanding the new technology and new demands from the reading public will.

I'll also throw out another economic truth you haven't mentioned -- the author. Fewer and fewer authors are being signed to contracts these days. I don't mean new authors. I mean authors who have been solid sellers for years. These mid-list authors have been the backbone of publishing but they are being cut loose by publishers who are trying instead to save their "best sellers" and a few favorites.

The only way some of these mid-listers are being published is electronically. E-books also happens to be the only way a number of books that are now out of print are finding their way back onto the market. That's an economic reality that has to be considered as well.

But books will continue to exist. People will continue debating the issue of whether or not e-books are "real" books or if they will be the demise of dead tree editions.