...And Cheney wept. Ah well, them's the breaks, Dick: every once in a while in this crazy culture of ours, justice is indeed done. Sometimes you get the quail, sometimes...you blast your friend's face off. Umm, never mind. Anyway, your boy Scooter now faces 25 years of relatively soft time, and if he actually does any more than 5, I'll be shocked. Scooter will have plenty of time while he's in stir to work on his book and go over the six or seven figure offers from the various publishing giants that he's likely to receive (depending on how much he's ready to tell). All the rest of us, however, who are honest citizens and dream of becoming published authors, will have to try other means, to which end we here offer...
Before we get to our feature piece on web-based book publishing, some followup to our previous posts is in order.
Word imPerfect: I looked into the WordPerfect Lightning beta that I mentioned last week. This is the new arrival in online document processing and office productivity, along the lines of GoogleDocs. Unfortunately, it doesn't really measure up to the Google product.
OS X vs. Vista: I found this article from InfoWeek, by a geek who has plenty of background with Vista, comparing Mac OS X with the shiny new MS offering. He points out much of what we've talked about here re. the usability and interface designs of OS X and Windows:
For Mac OS X, it's the classic English butler. This OS is designed to make the times you have to interact with it as quick and efficient as possible. It expects that things will work correctly and therefore sees no reason to bother you with correct operation confirmations. If you plug in a mouse, there aren't going to be any messages to tell you "that mouse you plugged in is now working." It's assumed you'll know that because you'll be able to instantly use the mouse. Plug in a USB or FireWire hard drive and the disk showing up on your desktop is all the information you need to see that the drive has correctly mounted. It is normally only when things are not working right that you see messages from Mac OS X.
Windows is ... well, Windows is very eager to tell you what's going on. Constantly. Plug something in and you get a message. Unplug something and you get a message. If you're on a network that's having problems staying up, you'll get tons of messages telling you this. It's rather like dealing with an overexcited Boy Scout ... who has a lifetime supply of chocolate-covered espresso beans. This gets particularly bad when you factor in things like the user-level implementation of Microsoft's new security features.
We've noticed this too: Windows makes noises and signals at you when you least need noises and signals. Take the OS audio greeting itself: you turn on a Mac and you instantly hear a chime. That chime tells you something: the machine has powered on, connected to the processor, BIOS, and firmware. The chime means, "OK so far, I'm loading the OS now—if you get a problem from here, check your hard disk." Windows gives you nothing until everything is already up and running, the kernel to the OS has long since been found and loaded, and even the GUI is there: then you finally get that annoying shave-and-a-haircut greeting sound.
Meanwhile, MS is just plain lying about what their operating systems can and can't do. Last week, we saw that the XP-64 download "complete with Service Pack 2" wasn't. I've also got it in writing from the Vista Upgrade Advisor that my old Gateway 1.3GHz P4 with 640MB of RAM is "Vista-ready." Yeah, right: kind of the way Bush was "President-ready."
Hard Disk Failures: Finally a followup to our mention of the Google study on hard disk failures. Slashdot reports on a Carnegie Mellon analysis of the Google data which appear to indicate that hard drives fail a lot more often (and sooner) than the industry would like us to believe. Granted, as the CMU experts add, these data need to be repeated and verified through further study—it is somewhat possible that people are replacing hard drives before they are truly corrupt or ruined, just as folks have been throwing out perfectly good PCs after getting a malware infection in Windows. But let's face it: what's the one hardware component of a computer—any computer, PC or Mac—that you tend to worry about the most? Is there an entire industry devoted to backup processors, backup video cards, or backup displays? Nope, just backup hard drives (both external and web-based) and backup software. Someday in the 80-core future, you may be able to keep essential data right on your processors, so that your processing hub becomes a storage facility. Until then, we all have to wring our hands and gnash our teeth over those hard drives.
Go beyond Vista. Skip the hassles and choose the ultimate PC ugrade
at the Apple Store.
Creating a "Lulu"
Since the arrival of iUniverse.com, the arena of on-demand publishing has been taking off, and has now developed into a Web 2.0 niche all its own, with Wikis, discussion forums, blogs, and a dedicated online following.
The core concept is, like many ingenious ideas, simple: I write a book on my word processor; upload the document to a web server, where it is converted to a pdf document. In another part of the website where this happens, there's an applet for designing and uploading the cover. The service then takes all that, prints cover and content, applies glue and binding, and voila—you have a trade paperback publication ready to be sold to the public eager to read your wit and wisdom. For the service provider, there's little overhead: no need to store books, because the publishing only happens when people order the book. Otherwise, everything is kept on servers.
There is a growing crowd of players in this field: I recently found out about a new one, Blurb.com, which has a downloadable application with an amazing array of design options for authors, in either a PC or Mac interface. I've got their app on the MacBook here, so perhaps I'll try doing my next book there, so we can feature this approach on GW sometime in the future.
The original player in the field, of course, is iUniverse, which charges fees for printing and distribution. These guys are more like a traditional publisher, because they combine print-on-demand with standard publishing and marketing practices. If you have hundreds of dollars to spend, then this option is definitely worth looking closely at.
But the product I've used for my four books to date is Lulu.com, which is a free service that lets you upload your content and publish—technically without shelling out a dime. There are costs down the line, of course, after you've published: you pay for copies of your own book, and Lulu also offers a marketing service that gets your book an ISBN number (the bar code thing on the back of any book you see at the bookstore, without which you cannot sell on amazon, B&N, or practically anywhere else), lists it with BOCA (the standard trade organization whose listings are used by most booksellers), amazon.com, and B&N. That costs you $100, and is probably worth it if you've got a truly marketable product.
Lulu comes complete with publishing wizards, FAQs, a user forum, author storefronts and blogs, and online documentation to help you through the process of getting from manuscript to print. They now feature a very cool, amazon-style content preview that I really like. The quality of their end product, the published book, can be very impressive, depending on what the author puts into it.
So there is vast potential for writers at Lulu; it's a beautifully designed site that does a lot of things very well. It's also a lot to wade through for someone new to this experience, so what follows is a quick guide for writers who have something to publish but are unclear about where to start with the geek side of things. As you will see, most of the work of publishing a book this way is in getting it ready at your end.
Step One: Prepare Thy Manuscript: This is the most important part of it all. Let's say you have a Word document (they also take WordPerfect .wpd, Rich Text .rtf, and pdf file types), and you've edited it as much as you can. Perhaps you've even published it online or gotten feedback from friends who have read it, and you're encouraged enough by the response that you're now ready to publish. You've decided on self-publishing because you know you don't stand a chance in a monopolistic publishing industry that is basically the property of Rupert Murdoch and Friends. So you need to get your ms. ready to print. Here are some considerations to take into account re. document prep:
So let's say you've written a fair-sized book in MS Word—around 200 ms. pages—that calls for perfect binding on a trade paperback. This is the kind of book we see and use practically every day. It's held together with glue and stitching, with a soft, glossy paper cover. Here are some essentials about getting such a book ready to become a Lulu, based on my experience with my previous four:
Step Two: Now comes the hard part. You have to slog through that document, page by page, resetting margins (they should be set at .6" to 1" all around, or else you'll have a cramped-looking text layout in your book); rearranging text, tables, text boxes, graphics, and anything else you have in there; and refining your styles to accommodate the new paper size. You'll also want to change fonts, font sizes, and line spacing to give the look-and-feel of a professional-quality book. Here are some setting changes I made to my books toward this goal:
Step Three: Upload, Design, Publish. Once you're comfortable with the styling, look-and-feel, and formatting of your ms., it's time to go to Lulu and do the relatively easy part. You just log in (or register for an ID), click Publish, select your book type and size, enter all the details into their form, and upload your Word document. Once Lulu has converted it to a pdf, use the "View print-ready pdf" feature before proceeding, and go over that pdf in detail. It's best to save the pdf page that opens in your browser as a pdf and then open it on your machine locally in Adobe Reader, where you can full-screen it and adjust the view options to your liking (you can view one, two, or four pages at a time, depending on your display real estate). Once you're through with that and satisfied, go ahead and approve the conversion. Then you'll be taken to a cover design applet, which is nicely designed with separate sections for front, back, and spine. You can use Lulu's library of designs and background colors, or upload your own graphic files. Preview everything you do there before proceeding, and get others to look at it if possible before you go ahead and publish. They also have an option for uploading your own one-piece cover design, but this takes more graphical design skill and patience than I have. If you have a knack for that, though, it's a great option to look into.
Step Four: Pricing and Marketing. After that, you're taken to a pricing page, where you'll select how you want your book to be available (public or private; pdf download and/or printed form only), and how much you want to charge for it. Lulu will take a slice off the top and pay you a royalty on each copy sold. For example, my Life Lessons in a Time of War carries a price of $9.00, and I get a royalty of about three bucks for each copy sold. But believe me, you're not going to make a killing on this publishing route, take my word for it. I've sold about two dozen books since I've been doing this, and I market them here and at my other website, which together get about thirty or forty thousand page views a month. But then again, I may simply lack the talent or the message to be popular; your book might take off like gangbusters. But it's been my experience that success is less a matter of expecting a particular outcome than of welcoming whatever human benefit is generated by your work.
Once you're through, you'll want to start letting the world know you've got a book out there. And, of course, you shouldn't. Order an author's copy (make sure you're getting the reduced price) and wait the week or two that it takes Lulu to format the electronic copy at their end, print a copy, and send it off to you. Then, read it carefully, cover to cover, scribbling notes in it as you go. Make whatever changes you feel are necessary (there will be some, at least), and go back to Lulu with a revised Word document and click the "Revise" button next to your book's title at your author page; and then go back through all the steps above until you have a new edition that can be in turn reviewed and hopefully approved for sale.
From that point, you're on your own. You can spend the $100 it takes to have Lulu get you an ISBN number for your book, a listing in BOCA, amazon, and B&N; but the marketing of your product is, in the end, up to you. I've concentrated on web-based advertising, mostly at my own sites, for my books; and I've also posted them to Google Books. Beyond that, I'm eager to hear from anyone who has good marketing ideas for this kind of material—post your thoughts to the comments.