Pulling the Publish Trigger — Adventures in Indie Land

The battles in the Indie Wars just keep on a’comin’.

I wrote this post on Wednesday evening, November 16th, intending to publish it on Thursday:

The time has come to announce the official publication date of Pilot Error, and I have just completed the final steps to offer the novel for sale on multiple outlets.

Here’s the summary scoop:

  1. eBook (ePub) on BooksOnBoard
  2. eBook (ePub) on Barnes & Noble
  3. eBook (MOBI) on Amazon
  4. eBook (ePub) on iTunes/iBookstore (pending review)
  5. Paperback on Amazon (appears on the same page with the eBook)
  6. Signed copies of the paperback direct from the author (coming soon)
  7. Ten different formats on Smashwords

Now comes the really hard part: implementing a plan to enhance discoverability, gain exposure, and develop traction in the marketplace.

I’ve got lots of work ahead of me to get my two blogs set up to integrate with all the available social networking opportunities and include links to the sales outlets. In the meantime, my part-time association with BooksOnBoard has put me in a position to take advantage of their pre-Thanksgiving media effort.

On Friday, I’ll be one of ten authors featured on a mailer campaign to about 250,000 potential readers and one of five in an “authors’ suite” presentation with each of the book covers stacked vertically along the side. Click on a cover and the book and author information window opens. I saw the draft of it today and it’s really nice.

In this blog and its companion, toshmcintosh.com/piloterror, sales links take you directly to the novel’s book page.

It is now Thursday evening, after a morning filled with the frantic scrambling of a frustrated indie author trying to recover from a shock not unlike that of realizing that you have just sent an email with confidential, restricted, proprietary information to your entire address book.

Okay, I confess. That’s a little overstated. A little.

So here’s the deal, with a bit of preface to lead off:

The problem for the moment is that my novel is in the bookstore cellar, and believe it or not, there are about 20+ others that show up with a search for Pilot Error. More novels with that title than I ever imagined, and a bunch of non-fiction about aviation safety. This puts me on one of the last pages, which is tantamount to being not only in a dark, dank and musty place, but hidden behind the coal bin.

Cindy Stone, a good friend and fellow writer, informed me this morning that Amazon has me listed in Aviation Thrillers, but that it’s not for sale yet. I have no idea what that means, because I’ve always found it for sale when searching for the title.

I’m just getting my feet wet in the marketing side of this saga, and at first blush it’s looking as if the issue is essentially no different than SEO for a website. Knowing how to optimize your marketing to be on the first page of a relevant search is no less crucial than when Googling for anything. How many people ever get past the first page of results?

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a caution, the result of a lesson learned through hard experience, for those visitors who might someday arrive at the point of indie-publishing a print-on-demand paperback. I’m using CreateSpace, Amazon’s POD branch, but it probably works much the same for other service providers.

The process basically involves submitting two files, one for the interior and one for the cover, and requesting a review. In a day or so, you receive the results, which note anything that must be changed to comply with requirements, and anything that is recommended to be changed, but which can be ignored at the author’s discretion. Assuming there are no must‘s in the report, you have the option of ordering a proof or electing to approve publication without examining a proof copy.

I’ve submitted four different sets of files during the struggle to get this book ready, and I wasn’t about to send it to publication without taking a close look at each one of them. The last proof had only one objective: evaluate the appearance of a new format for the main body text with a different font, font size, and leading (line spacing). With the time constraints of trying to be ready for the BooksOnBoard media day, I was in a rush to get this latest proof in my hands so I could pull the publish trigger and get the print version out there to coincide with publication of the eBooks. That self-imposed time crunch led to a mistake.

The covers on all of the first three proofs exceeded every standard that this amateur designer had set for himself. So when the final proof arrived late Tuesday afternoon, and with the media blitz scheduled to begin the next day, I immediately opened the book and carefully examined every page. Satisfied with the result, I approved the novel for sale and ordered 30 books for offering autographed copies.

This morning I had three of the four proof versions on my desk and just happened to notice that the cover for the brand-new hot-off-the-press Pilot Error had a problem. The airplane, which I had extracted from a high-resolution image by meticulously outlining it with a special tool in Photoshop, had suddenly developed ragged (pixelated) edges.

Stunned is way too soft a word to describe my reaction. When placed side-by-side with each of the other proof versions, it was noticeable enough that I wondered how I had missed it. The reason is, of course, that I never really looked at it. I had assumed that since I hadn’t changed the cover file, and every other cover had been more than acceptable (at least to the author), I didn’t need to. Wrong.

I’m no expert, but my guess is that whenever one of the files is new and requires a review, CS reviews both the new and the old and converts them together to print the next proof. As I’ve learned all too well over the past seven months, digital transformations are not totally reliable, and this is very likely a case of something gone wrong that’s out of my hands.

That’s why the call it a proof, Tosh.

I haven’t done all this work to accept something less at the endgame, so frantic actions ensued. And let me tell you right now that CreateSpace Customer Service has a contact function that is absolutely fantastic: 24/7/365, you enter your phone number, click CALL ME, and I’m not kidding, the phone rings within about a second. You’re greeted with a recorded message, of course, but after being told to wait for the next available representative, a real, honest-to-goodness live person has come on the line and taken care of whatever my issues have been.

In this case, the rep found that the order for 30 copies had not yet been filled. She put a hold on it, apologized for needing to terminate the call, and explained that she would personally contact the production floor immediately to follow up. A few hours later, I received notice that the order has been canceled, the problem forwarded to Technical Services, and I would be contacted within the next two business days regarding a solution.

For those of you who have requested information about when and where you can buy a paperback for the best effect upon sales and marketing, the when is easy: rat now, as we say in Texas. But I have to add the caveat that for the moment, the wings of the airplane on this current version are slightly jagged on the edges. It’s something you might notice at first glance (or not) and care about (or not), but I’ll make a deal with you.

Early sales are important, so if you buy one now and later find that you feel cheated by the quality of the cover image, I’ll replace the book at no cost to you. If that’s a deal, please go buy one. =;-)

As for the where, please use the BooksOnBoard link in the Where to Buy sidebar on this blog, which will take you to my book page at BooksOnBoard. There you will find the Buy for Kindle link, which takes you to the Amazon page with both the eBook and the paparback.

And if you really want to help out, write a review (a positive one, I hope) on both sites as well. This is very important for gaining initial momentum.

Why can’t it just look like this . . .?

. . . and that’s a bogus question, by the way.

Caution: tech dump: The image above is a JPEG file converted from the original InDesign source used to build the cover, the same file I converted to PDF and uploaded to CreateSpace for printing. The maximum resolution viewable for images on computer screens is 72 dpi, so this can hardly be used to evaluate what the real cover looks like, especially since the image that ends up on the cover is never converted to jpeg on the road to getting there.

If I zoom in on the image, I can begin to see the pixelation, especially around the airplane’s wings. This allows me to compare the image with earlier versions of the cover to determine if the pixelation has been there all along. If so, it’s obvious that Createspace did something different during this latest printing job.

Another consideration: Take a look at the header image at the top of this post. Then click on the cover image in the sidebar. The airplane layer is the same one used on all the covers. It’s also a JPEG, but the source file is from a version of the cover designed with Photoshop rather than InDesign. From what I’ve been told and read, InDesign is more than capable of creating high-quality images in print. Which leads me right back to where I started from.

What’s going on with my cover? Stay tuned for the answer.

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