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An e-Book Odyssey:
What I Learned When I Published My Own First Novel

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As a computer industry professional for more than 20 years, I’ve helped a wide range of industries struggle through the computer software adoption process. During these years, I have been able to maintain a professional distance from the glares of those who were about to become automated. They would stare at me as though I were a dentist, looming over them with a consoling smile while thrusting a monstrous syringe towards them.

It wasn’t until I joined the ranks of publishing companies and authors who must struggle with the adoption of POD and e-book technologies that I found myself on the receiving end of that automation syringe.

 

Evaluating for Others

My first experience with e-books came shortly after Microsoft released the very first version of its Microsoft eBook Reader. A Silicon Valley consulting group asked me to help with a Request for Proposal issued by the University of Phoenix for a courseware content distribution system based on the Reader.

Naturally, the first step was to evaluate the Reader software, which turned into the Bataan Death March of software installations. After rebuilding my system following the first installation attempt, I finally got the Reader to work and then submitted my findings.

No doubt, the consulting group told the client something upbeat like–”The Reader is promising, but not quite ready for prime time with this present release.” Between us geeks, we employed a more pithy summation–”The Reader is crap. Pull the plug.”

That being said, the Microsoft eBook Reader is now one of my favorite proprietary e-book formats.

 

When the Book Belongs to Me

Last year, I achieved my cherished dream with the POD publication of my first science fiction novel, the 683-page

Godschild Covenant: Return of Nibiru. It was then I learned the gut-wrenching difference between being a big fish in a small technical pond and being a baitfish struggling to survive in an ocean of fiction titles.

Perhaps because nonfiction is easier to sell, pricey advice books on fiction are scarce. Ergo, I quickly learned that I needed to invent a low-cost fiction title marketing plan of my own.

After assessing the realities of my situation, I decided upon a low-budget strategy that initially centers on top-down radio and TV promotion plus bottom-up e-book viral marketing (or what is commonly known outside the Internet as “word-of-mouth” marketing).

I first became fascinated with the concept of viral marketing after reading “The Six Simple Principles of Viral Marketing” by Ralph F. Wilson in Web Marketing Today.“Viral marketing,” he explained, “describes any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence.”

 

The best tool in my viral marketing program right now is a small PDF file that can be quickly downloaded or sent as an e-mail attachment at 56K access speeds. To make one like it:

  • Format the file for the Adobe Acrobat Reader–the most widely used reader in the world.
  • Keep the file size under 128 KB. (My current file is 106 KB.)
  • Offer three excerpts. (Full chapters push the file size over the 128 KB limit.)
  • Provide hyperlinks to your product website and resellers. (Do not mention book attributes such as price, size, etc.; let the product page do that.)
  • Integrate your excerpts with author readings. (I provide my readings in real time streams for Windows Media and RealOne players, and MP3 download.)

My bottom-up viral marketing effort got a considerable boost from my top-down radio promotion efforts, which not only boosted sales on the short term but also drove potential consumers to my site. So far, I’ve had two interviews on the nationwide syndicated show Coast To Coast with George Noory, and I’ve been invited back for a third. But because you can’t count on getting interviews on nationally syndicated radio shows early in the game, the next part of my fiction e-publishing strategy is something that any fiction publisher can use.

 

Multi-Format Madness

To generate awareness and sales through from the ground up through word of mouth, I quickly realized that I needed to build my title using multiple e-book formats. This is because the more e-book formats you publish in, the more platforms you can sell into with your product.

After that, I had to harvest e-mail addresses for sci-fi fan clubs, websites, and publications from the Internet. To my amazement, getting the e-mail addresses was the easy part. Publishing in multiple e-book formats would be the nightmare.

I put my consulting hat back on and investigated the various e-book readers and publishing tools that had become available on the market since my initial experience with the first release of the Microsoft eBook Reader.

In time, I came to the following conclusions:

  • Platforms (PC, Mac, PDA, etc.) drive the e-book market.
  • In the short run, e-book software companies are still squabbling for market dominance, with tons of “all it needs is a little tune-up” proprietary gizmos.
  • In the long term, a lot of publishers are going to be supporting dying proprietary formats that lost the King of the Hill tussle.
  • The publishing industry is pushing hard for the “honest” adoption of evolving open standards by e-book distributors and software developers. (Open standards are typically driven by nonprofit, subject matter expert committees in response to new developments. They may produce a level playing field for everyone through the offer of a future-proof defense against technological isolation and premature obsolescence.)
  • There is no proprietary e-book software company that offers a PC-based book-building tool that supports a wide range of popular, proprietary e-book formats.
  • Anyone who wants to use a PC-based tool path to build multi-format e-books will need several tools–each with its own complex set of idiosyncrasies and defects.

While reeling from this digital epiphany, I also started thinking about selling my e-book after viral (word of mouth) marketing. This was equally disheartening.

Let’s be honest. People are not buying e-books in droves, and they probably won’t until the day comes when the books look and feel just like real paper. (Yes, this is possible! To visualize what eBook paper display will look like, go rent the movie Minority Report starring Tom Cruise. Look for the scene where Cruise steps into the subway and sits in front of a man holding a copy of USA Today. The man’s newspaper front page literally reprint itself before your eyes–a classic convergence of today’s high-speed wireless Internet connectivity and the intelligent paper displays of the future.) As a computer specialist, I can tell you with certainty that this technology will come, and sooner than you may think, as it is already working in R&D labs in Silicon Valley today!

In the meantime, multi-format e-book fiction publishing for small publishers is cursed with a toxic combination of spotty demand and excessive front-loaded costs. One such front-loaded cost is the ISBN required for each e-book format by R.R. Bowker, plus the unnecessary peoplepower cost of making separate data entries for each variant. In essence, Bowker has become the OPEC of multi-format e-book publishing.

With all this in mind, I began looking for a single-source solution provider.

 

Saved by a Single Source Solution

I started by running exhaustive search strings through Google for e-book production services and came upon a raft of small providers doing business on the Web. In general, they seemed somewhat disorganized and their prices for multi-format publishing stretched from unbelievable lows to unrealistic highs. Strangely, not one of these sites provided free samples. This was a bad sign.

At that point, I was ready to throw in the solution-provider towel, buy a tool chest full of proprietary PC-based e-book publishing tools, and do it all myself. But before swallowing that bitter pill, I made one last search on Google, and luckily turned up the very solution I’d been seeking all along.

I happened upon the Seattle Book Company website (www.seattlebook.com) and was immediately captivated by their new RosettaMachine, a Web-based multi-format e-book publishing tool. (If you are wondering why I didn’t find it until my last desperate search, the answer is that the service is new and that it takes months for search engines to index a new website–unless you show them the long green up front, and then all things become possible.)

As I saw it, the RosettaMachine gave me the ability to use a single body content file to build e-books in six different formats! This is user friendly! What I like most about RosettaMachine is that it manages all that proprietary nonsense in the background. All I see and use is a simple, Web-based tool for building and distributing multi-format e-books.

After you build your multi-format e-books from a few simple source files, RosettaMachine creates a turnkey BookGalley download Web page for you. To make it work, you assign Start and Stop download dates for your BookGalley. (Note: The e-books you offer through the BookGalley features are not protected with a Digital Rights Management [DRM] schema.)

After that, you plug in e-mail addresses for people who should receive your BookGalley invitations. RosettaMachine mails the brief invitation messages to them with a link to your BookGalley Web page.

On an initial mailing to 250 addresses for the Godschild Covenant: Return of Nibiru BookGalley, we received 27 visitors. It generated approximately half as much new business as my radio appearances, and it was so much easier on me!

 

Success!

As a born-again-geek from the computer business, I love single source solutions! This could be it. Time will tell.

In any event, my next steps are to integrate the PMA bookstore and library mailing services with my current efforts and then to grow my e-publishing business, specializing in fiction. I know the big bucks are in nonfiction but my hope is to find a way to flip the 30/70 ratios of the publishing industry around, so that 70% of all the fiction titles I publish will show a profit. In this regard, my plan stems from an ancient wisdom: “Uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.” The heart of so great a mystery can never be reached by following one road only.

 

Marshall Masters is a former CNN Science Features news producer, freelance writer, television analyst, publisher of the YOWUSA.com news site, and owner of Your Own World Books. Since 1989, he has been a full-time freelance technical writer/analyst in Silicon Valley, specializing in networking white papers. For more info, visit yowbooks.com.

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