Friday, February 20, 2015

Spreading the Nets: Passive Discoverability

And now we sitz and waitz.

Louis Shalako

Here at Shalako Publishing, home of Long Cool One Books and Larga Fresca Uno Libros, our latest project is to get our books and stories uploaded in (or on) a few more online bookstores.

The basic premise is that the whole package has to be free, and the service provider must have their own bookstore. Additional distribution channels are a bonus if we can find ones we don’t have access to already. This all goes to extending the reach and the impact of passive discoverability.

The interface must be easy to use, accept our files, have provision for using our own book covers, and other considerations.

For this experimental addition to our digital publishing machine we will be looking for provision for Canadian and overseas authors to sell ebooks and PODs without withholding tax.

That being said, in some circumstances we may be willing to accept a penalty of thirty percent withholding tax, if we think the website will grow, succeed and eventually be able to provide this service. Any additional sales are significant. We will be looking for maximum flexibility from all platforms, free analytics, site appearance, ease and quickness of problem resolution, questions answered, etc. Assuming we made a hell of a lot of money, which doesn’t seem very likely, at some point in the future it would make sense to do U.S. income tax returns and get a refund.

Hell, if things go really well, I've always wanted to live in the southwestern U.S. anyway. 

I might even immigrate, ladies and gentlemen.

It might take a few days, in terms of the man-hours required to upload a hundred and thirteen titles to some new bookstores and aggregators. This is the sort of work that doesn’t pay off immediately. It pays off in the long run, which is why we say we are playing the long game.

If passive discoverability really does work, then being an early adopter of any platform might pay off at some time down the road. If it doesn’t work, then each and every site will need some degree of promotion.

This is the sort of experiment where a couple of initial sales might impress the author, however it is only over time that we can really get a good idea of which sites work for us and which sites don’t.

So we’ve gotten into Kbuuk, with three titles published so far. Here is Heaven Is Too Far Away, with a cover using a pro marketing image and designed in Microsoft Word.

Each site is of course a bit different in terms of operating details, and each site represents a new learning curve. For example the Kbuuk cover system looks a bit iffy unless I can fiddle around in there a bit and find some adjustment in the cover field. Designing a cover for each site for each book looks like a big job.

In terms of learning curve, Booktango wouldn’t accept Epub at first go, so I simply used a .doc and it went.

However, the Booktango system kept giving me error messages. I find it hard to believe that the original file had many, many hard returns in the middle of the line. The Smashwords system might introduce one hard return as it converts your original .doc file into what is presented as your original file. I say that because I check every book, page by page, using tools like the Amazon Kindle previewer, Nook for PC, Kindle for PC, etc. I also have Adobe Reader, the latest version. When I couldn’t find the original on my PC, I have used the SW original file and that’s when I started finding the odd hard return in the middle of a line.

There is no way that I’m going to spend hours fixing errors introduced by a system that obviously has different requirements. For example in the case of this document, the thing doesn’t seem to like three spaces or even two before the next chapter heading. That’s one reason I think it is an artifact of the systems involved. Also, at this exact moment in time, I’m not prepared to make a table of contents for a dozen novels. All of the short stories and novellas have them, but those books were written and formatted at a later date, when it was a requirement for iTunes distribution through Smashwords. A simple solution is to upload anything that already has a TOC and not worry too much about the novels for now.

Initially, I started off by searching ‘free ebook aggregators’ and similar searches. I began last night. 

What has been accomplished so far?

I’ve taken a few off of the list, including Booktango, Bookbaby, Fastpencil, Blurb, Indiebound, Lightning Source, (ebooks and PODs) as well as taking a look at Lulu, where simple .pdfs in their store might generate a bit of revenue over the course of time. It's either that or learn how to embed fonts! But we don't need their extended distribution anyways.

We couldn’t find a way to get into Versent, for example, so some of the other links we found were quickly written off.

Just one minor point might put us off. If someone charges $49 to set up each title, then that’s quickly going to run into a lot of money, with virtually no idea of the sales potential is.

If it ain't free, I move on rather quickly these days.

Other than that, I’ve got a handful of titles up on two or three platforms, all for free, and all using the simple tools provided.

As for the question of whether it sells books or not, we won’t know that for a year or two!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Skills to Escape.

Morningfrost, (Wiki.)

Louis Shalako

When I went back to school in 1992 to take the second year of the radio, television and Journalism Arts program at Lambton College of Arts and Technology, there were computers in the newsroom.

There were about a dozen computers for up to thirty students, although first year numbers dropped off quickly and there were only about eight or ten students taking the second year. Both classes used the same newsroom.

The journalism instructor and RTJ program head Geoff Lane had what was referred to as a ‘386’ computer on his desk. This was a source of great pride, and obviously the way of the future. Broadcasting instructor John Murray was justifiably proud of his Amiga Commodore, complete with something called the Video Toaster, a dedicated hardware and software program. We had a television studio and a radio booth in the bottom level of the college. This included the studio control room. We had a separate editing suite as well, with a bit of an annex and a bit of storage, stuff jammed under the cupboards and rolling shelf units with more old stuff tucked in here and there. We had professional Panasonic and Sony ENG cameras and battery-belts, lights and microphones and the class could expect to enter into a number of projects over the year. The studio used dolly mounted cameras bought from a defunct television station, or old equipment donated from corporate sources.

When I first attended the program in 1983, there were no computers in the building at all.

In 1992 I was a mature student, and I was the only one in the class who had his own computer. This was a cast-off IBM clone which had belonged to my mother, a financial planner for a few years in the eighties and early nineties.

Geoff brought us up, one at a time, during a work session—very much hands-on, with the occasional short briefing from the instructor, and showed us how it worked. We sat there at his knee.

The program was Aldus Pagemaker. He showed me how to select font, page size, how to lay out the page, insert photos and graphics, etc. He did all that in about twenty minutes. No one I know of got a crack at that computer. Budgets and institutions being what they are, if someone seriously damaged the thing, and that was pretty easy to do, there would have been some kind of hell to pay.

It was easy to see the potential.

The old Compugraphic 880 in the back room and the laying out of the paper on blue-ruled flats, then shooting it with a graphic arts camera onto photosensitive emulsion, was right there in the back rooms of the department. That camera was a big box. Mounted on rails, the camera pointed at the wall, where a perforated plate and a vacuum system held the paper in place while you took the shot.

The comparison was stark enough.

That little box on the teacher’s desk did away with all of that, just as the Video Toaster did away with razor blades and acetate tape and reels and reels and reels of celluloid film and iron oxide impregnated plastic tape.

One day I did a stupid thing, and took a story home on a floppy disk to work on it at home. Imagine my dismay to open up the document, start working on it, only to see a Pong virus, a little dot on the screen, going back and forth and up and down…knocking out pixels on something I had just written.

I wasn’t even on the internet and of course I had no clue whatsoever about viruses.

The point of all of this is fairly simple.

We have come a very long way.

I have all of that right here on my desk. My video camera fits in the palm of my's not pro quality, but you have to admit they are impressive compared to the old brick cameras of twenty years ago, still relying on tape cartridges.

Twenty or thirty years have passed since I entered a newsroom equipped with a couple of dozen ironclads, Olivetti, Underwood and Corona typewriters.

While it is true that everything they knew at the time is obsolete, and all they could do was to give us the basics, the fact is that none of that instruction was wasted.

The question is of course what you end up doing with it.

I saw an old friend downtown the other day. It might be more accurate to say that I avoided seeing an old friend that day.

That guy had spent four years in a good university studying Literature. He could quote Tolkien at length.

He never did a damned thing with it.

As far as I know, he’s still living in the homeless shelter.

He’ll be in an early grave—alcoholism will do that to you, to a point where it’s irreversible even if you quit, and some of them guys do know that.

Whereas I, on the other hand, am just getting started.

Where he was indulging his basest desires, (all of them), I was sublimating all of that dark and sexual energy (or a fair bit of it) into something hopefully a little greater than the sum of its parts.

So let’s say life’s not so good.

If you really want to escape that life, the first thing you have to escape is that environment, and that environment includes your friends.

I have escaped my friends, ladies and gentlemen.

The environment is the next thing to go.

Life is a series of choices, encompassing a million shades of grey, and even a little black and white once in a while.

More than anything, it is what you make of it.

And those losers weren’t going anywhere.