Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ebooks: How the #*%& do they work?!

I was going through some files the other day, and I came across a flyer that got dropped off at our table at last fall’s Word On The Street, where Greg Beettam and I were (in our inimitable fashion), working to get copies of the Xeno’s Arrow and Cold Iron Badge books into the hands of passers-by. In exchange for, you know, money.


This happens from time to time, especially at free shows like Word On The Street, which by design is a big public event that anyone and everyone can attend; people come by the table where we’re trying to sell things, and try to sell US something. It’s sometimes distracting, and sometimes annoying – we, after all, paid for our table, unlike random passer-by-guy with a flyer – but sometimes it leads to interesting and potentially valuable connections and leads.


I’m still not sure what category this guy with this flyer fall into, and so I’m taking my question to you.


This flyer was for a company that offers services in creating ebooks for clients. The actual work, that is, of creating files and setting up accounts with the various providers of ebooks to sell them. I’m not entirely clear whether this outfit was also offering to manage said accounts – I don’t have the flyer in front of me. They were, I remember, also offering to set up and manage social media accounts for clients, which set off some of my alarm bells, because while a large company might need to contract with someone else to manage their social media profile due to their size and the volume of work involved, the sort of small entrepreneurial business this guy and this flyer were obviously targeting didn’t really need someone else to set up their Facebook page, or to be them on Twitter.


But here’s the thing: When it comes to ebooks, Greg and I don’t know what we don’t know. We’ve tried many different ways to get our work out and into the hands of readers over the years, with what to spare my own ego I’m going to call mixed degrees of success. We haven’t tried ebooks yet; for some time, there didn’t seem to be much of a need. But over the past year or so, everything has changed. Self-publishing via ebooks is now more than a sideline for many creators. Ebooks of one sort or another are very clearly now a huge and growing part of the market, and for independent creators like us, they represent a potentially huge pool of readers who’ve never been exposed to our work before. And we don’t need to put a whole lot of labour into making the work ready for that audience – that part is done, we did it years ago. So we have years-old sweat equity (and financial equity) invested. Nothing is going to bring back that sweat or money, but we have the work. Now, it can either do nothing, or make us back some money.


As I implied at the top of this post, neither Greg nor I has any objections to money, and this seems like it might be a great way to get some, and finally reach the audience we always wanted too.


The problem – well, the major problem – is that neither of us knows much about ebooks, and we especially don’t know about creating them or getting them onto the various online sellers (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.)


So we don’t know how much work is involved, or how much technical acumen is required to do the job right. We don’t know about the added complications that might result from the fact that our work is comics, which involves graphics that take up more memory and require higher resolutions. We don’t know if the company this flyer advertised is providing a service we as neophytes will absolutely need, or if they’re just taking advantage of people who don’t know how easily they could make ebooks themselves.


That’s my question for you: Do we need to contract a service provider to take our work, and turn it into ebooks? Or can we do it ourselves? How much knowledge, time and expense are involved? And is it different for graphic novels and prose?


Enlighten me, please!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In which I Emerge from an Overused Metaphor into the Light of Some Other Cliche

Sweet FSM, have I really not updated this since last April? Over eight months of silent running? Seriously?

Yeah, that’s about the size of it. I kind of had a rough second half of 2011 from a creative standpoint. When I last wrote here, my plan was to let the novel rest for a month or so, then do a quick polish and get the resulting draft out to my alpha readers. I figured that I’d get their feedback over the summer, have the rewrite finished by the end of October, send it out to my beta readers, get their feedback, and have a finished draft ready to release into the wild by the end of the year. I figured I’d provide updates on all the steps here, as they happened.

But they didn’t happen. They really, really didn’t happen.

What was supposed to be a quick polish, fixing formatting and typos and patching plot holes and obvious mistakes, turned into a slog and a half. I ran into technical problems in trying to fix those formatting errors than made the whole job seem futile – namely, trying to carry on the project moving between our desktop at home and my netbook, which have different operating systems and word processing software, which meant that the same formatting errors kept re-appearing when I went from system to system. Mostly, it was the indentation of paragraphs disappearing and needing to be re-done, which sounds trivial, but have you ever tried indenting every single paragraph in a 95,000-word document? Yeah, okay, First World Problem for sure, but unquestionably time-consuming.

But it was the creative side that was the real bugbear. All I could see were problems, and the problems seemed insurmountably large. When all you can see are the holes, you can lose sight of the road ahead, and that’s what happened to me.

But finally – finally, in late December – I’d had enough. I buckled down, filled in the holes that were blocking my progress, and decided to worry about the formatting later. More importantly, I realized that I couldn’t fix everything at once. What I needed was the draft to be in good enough shape for other people to look at, so they can help me prioritize what to fix. Maybe some of the things I think are problems aren’t. Maybe I’m not seeing other problems that are much more important. Maybe fixing one will obviate the need to fix another, for whatever reason.

It was the perfect being the enemy of the good again. I recognized that I was not going to be perfect, and I forgave myself for it, and I moved the heck on.

I’m going to move the heck on from not having posted here in so long too. I was embarrassed at not having any progress to report. That was probably silly, but it’s part of the larger issue I was grappling with, of not being able to be okay with imperfection.

So, here’s where things are at: The draft of the novel, which is now called Cold Iron Summer, by the way, went out to my alpha readers just before Christmas. It’s with most of them now. I’m going to take advantage of the break and try to cleanse my creative palate – I’m working on a short story that I want to finish by the end of January, something with a very different feel and flavour.

After that, I’ll check in with my beloved and, by that point, long-suffering alpha readers, and see when they expect to be ready to provide feedback.

Then I’ll do a lot of listening.

Then comes the rewrite.

Oh, depending on the turnaround time for feedback from the alphas, I may try to fit in another project in February, but that’s very up in the air.

As for what’s next for this blog? Hmm. I feel unstuck at last, and I think it will do me good (and you no harm) for me to keep writing here about my process as I keep working on this project. I’m going to try not to fall into the same trap again, try not to get stuck. And I’m going to try not to let the internet equivalent of a geological age pass before my next update.

It’ll be hard; the post-holiday doldrums really hit me over January and while I’m feeling unstuck creatively, I’m feeling sick, tired and up to my knees in the mire in a few other key respects. But those times are going to happen, in life. I have to remind myself that nothing is ever going to be perfect, and that waiting for things to be perfect is just a recipe for inaction.  

I take a deep breath. I forgive myself and resolve to do better. I survey the road ahead. I can see a path, despite obstacles, roadblocks, pothole and plotholes. I take a step, and then another.

And I move ahead. Onward.