Some nuts and bolts
Before you guys worry that some pod has taken over and I no longer have any thoughts about what’s going on in the publishing world, fear not. The pods came and tried but my black thumb killed them before they could take hold (I never could grow any sort of plant that required any sort of care). It’s just been awhile since I’ve done a nuts and bolts sort of post and some questions have been raised in the comments recently — as well as on one of the pages I follow — so I thought I’d take today to answer some of the questions.
Let’s start with Laura’s question last week about ISBN’s. If you are e-publishing your work through Amazon or Barnes & Noble you don’t need an ISBN. Both will assign a unique identifier even if you have an ISBN. However, some digital retailers such is iTunes and, iirc, Sony, require an ISBN to be listed in their category. Apple even requires that the ISBN for your EPUB edition to be different from the MOBI edition (I’ll admit here that there is a split in opinion as to whether you need a different ISBN on each different digital format). The benefit of having an ISBN is that it gets your title listed in Books in Print.
So, where do you get your ISBNs? The safest albeit more expensive way is to go through MyIdentfiers.com. This is the Bowker site that sells ISBNs direct to authors and small presses. You can buy them individually or in bulk. Like almost anything else, the more you buy, the bigger the discount.
You can also get your ISBNs through services like Smashwords. These third party sites will place your work with other retailers. Since I’m more familiar with Smashwords and the question was aimed specifically at them, I’ll address their ISBN program.
If you check the ISBN manager page from your Smashwords dashboard, you’ll see that there are three ways to do ISBNs with them. The first is to provide your own ISBN. The second, and what they call the “best” option, is to have Smashwords provide the ISBN for free. To do this, your work must be entered and accepted into their premium catalog. But, before you run off and use this option, note one important factor: it will list Smashwords as the publisher and you as the author. In other words, if you have set up a DBA that DBA won’t be listed.
Now, Smashwords says this is the best way to get an ISBN but it has a very big downside for you as an author: it immediately identifies your work as self-published. Now, before you start saying that I’m being hypocritical here because I have said the onus against self-publishing isn’t as bad as it once way, I’ll remind you there are still a number of readers who will not buy something if they think it is a self-pubbed e-book. It doesn’t matter that Smashwords might not think of themselves as the “publisher”. What matters is that the reader will see Smashwords as the publisher and know this means the book is self-published.
Since I’m for doing whatever it takes to make money, I’m against going the free ISBN route because of the potential for lost sales.
There used to be another method to get an ISBN through Smashwords, their “premium ISBN”, but it appears that this option is no longer available.
So, the question comes down to what venues do you want to sell your e-books through? If you are mainly interested in Amazon and BN, you don’t need an ISBN. If you want to go into iTunes, use Smashwords and get their free ISBN, just remember that for that “edition”, S/W will be listed as the publisher. Or you can go through any of the other repackagers that offer ISBNs as part of their packages. Just read the fine print very carefully and make sure you aren’t going to wind up paying more for the “package” than you would if you were to buy the ISBN on your own.
Another question that’s come up recently — and it’s not a new question, but one that’s been around since Amazon opened the KDP program — is about editing a work after it has already been published. This is sort of a sore point with me for several reasons. The first is that no author, at least none I know and respect, is ever completely satisfied with their work. There is always that little detail that could be tweaked or the comma fault that could be fixed. Then there are the comments from fans — you know the ones I mean. Those “oh so helpful” comments about spelling or grammar or punctuation that aren’t always right. With e-books it is so easy simply edit the digital file and upload the new version.
If, and this is a big IF, there is a major problem with the book or you are getting more than one or two comments about spelling or formatting, etc., then you do need to at least consider what the complaint is. However, if you are getting it only from one person, unless there is a ring of truth in the comment/concern, don’t go rushing out to see if there’s an issue with the e-book. For one thing, you’ll drive yourself crazy doing it and, for another, that is time best spent writing your next book or short story.
Now, I’m not saying to completely ignore input from others. But remember this: every time you update your e-book, an email is sent out to those who have already bought it saying a new version is available for download. Personally, it gets annoying when I get those notices, especially when I get more than one for something I’ve already purchased. It is a clear indicator that the person doing it is an amateur. Sure, the occasional issue arises that means a new version needs to be updated. But that should be the exception and not the rule and no writer — NO writer — should allow themselves to rely on the fact that they can always go and change something because it’s easy.
Folks, this is what beta readers are for. Make sure you have at least one beta reader who reads for content and one who is a grammar/spelling/punctuation Nazi. As for formatting, check every page of the file once converted before accepting it. Every page. Don’t rely on the emulators. Accept the actual MOBI or ADZ file that Amazon allows you to download and then check it on your kindle/tablet/smartphone or desktop app. See how it looks in a native program. If there is a problem, fix it then. Believe me, you will save yourself a lot of time and headaches if you do.
Finally, read your contracts before you sign them. Never, ever give up rights forever. There should be a set period, clearly defined with a renewal provision — if all parties agree. If you write in a shared universe, there had better be a pretty damned good reason for your editor/publisher grabbing all rights to your story. But if they are trying to grab rights to the setting — unless it is so unique that it could never be used in another story without it being clear you’d just ripped it from that shared universe — or characters/character names, run from that contract as quickly as possible. You shouldn’t be forbidden from naming a character “Seth the Farmer” just because you had a farmer named Seth in some other work at some point in the past, nor should you be forbidden from writing a story set in Cleveland — or anywhere else — just because you set a story there for some anthology. If your publisher says their contracts are based on the contracts from another industry — run. You aren’t working for another industry. You are a writer. Your contracts deal with publishing, nothing else.
Any questions, comments or requests for other topics?