Archive for November 23, 2011

Blue Meanies

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Digital Publishing 2: The Self-Publishing Stigma?

I want to clarify what this, this, book thing is, and also elucidate the tiny amount of knowledge I have about electronic book publishing. And I purposely wrote out the word, “electronic” so that it wouldn’t read as ebook or epub. Those terms have specific meanings. An ebook is a document made up of text, sometimes with pictures, intended to be read on a handheld device like a Kindle or Nook, or a computer reading application. What I hope to achieve with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite is an application itself. It is a dynamic document, part web page, part movie, part game, wrapped up in a custom viewer and posted to the Apple Appstore or Amazon Market.

That having been said, the rest of today’s post deals with how I got to the decision to try and publish this new project in this format.

Self-publishing has a stigma. That you couldn’t sell your manuscript.

When I was sixteen I sent a short story to The New Yorker for consideration. It was called, “The Emblem,” and had no action, really, just a conversation between a young married couple while sitting in a broken down Mercedes. I had been reading Salinger and Updike and Vonnegut, and figured that I would start collecting rejection letters; The New Yorker obliged me. It was strangely validating, even for a moody sixteen year old. Flash forward almost thirty years and I have a few more, somewhat more sophisticated, short stories. One of them, Their Constant Breathing, is about two college friends who come from the Midwest to Silicon Valley in the late nineties to join the dot com gold rush. At some point recently, because I have no editor, I declared it “finished,” And tried to get it accepted for publication. I was naiively haphazard about this. I tried the thing at 52 Stories, Cal Morgan’s extension of Random House, because some friends had published short stories there, and because the site beckons:

“What would you pay for the perfect short story? To read it? To write it? Don’t post your answer. Instead write the story.”

I was Cal Morgan’s 1,000th twitter follower. And I brought to his attention, which got me enough notice that he said he’d read my story. But I didn’t hear from him again. I tried McSweeney’s because I’ve been a subscriber since the beginning, and because, at least originally, McSweeney’s published only writers who weren’t published elsewhere. And I’ve always thought they were cool. I’ve run into Dave Eggers a few times, which illogically made it feel possible that I’d have a chance. I actually mailed them a paper manuscript with a SASE. But I haven’t heard back from them.  then my college lit magazine, The Santa Clara Review, but the piece was too long for them – which is also a form of rejection.

Three writers, one dreamer.

Dan Chaon, Dan McSweeney, Dave Eggers, Tom Barbash, three authors, one dreamer.

the length of the thing was kind of a problem. At close to 10,000 words it was pushing the limits of a short story. My friend, the author Dan Chaon, told me it was a novel, “It has to be,” he told me over the phone from Ohio, “look at all the things you have going on.” That was both an exciting and daunting proclamation. That I could write a novel, and that I wasn’t finished with my story.

And then Amazon hit me with a clever one-two punch. The jab was Kindle Singles, and the roundhouse was Kindle Direct Publishing. When I read about Kindle Singles on twitter, I was excited.

Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length. 
Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format.

Amen, Brother! I was home. I decided to pull the trigger, if for no other reason than to hear the sound of the gun. I sent a short query letter and the first thousand words of my story for consideration in Kindle Singles. The website promised a response in ten days. On or about day three I got an E-Mail from Kindle giving me instructions on how to prepare a story for the Kindle reader. Great, well, this is certainly just a formality, I thought. They’re desperate for content and they want me to have this thing ready to go for when they accept it. But on closer inspection, the message was from Kindle Direct Publishing. Translation: Self publish on Kindle. And a few days later I got a rejection from Kindle Singles. But I still wanted to hear the sound of the gun going off, and so, defeated, I (self) published on Kindle Direct Publishing.

When you publish for Kindle, you are publishing an a text document and converting it to their proprietary format. (the discussion of Kindle so far is pre-Kindle Fire) You can break it into chapters, and pictures and diagrams of limited resolution and size. Nothing too fancy, like drop caps. But it’s simple. In fact there is a plug-in for Adobe InDesign that spits out your finished product. And there is a preview application so you can see what it will look like. You can make it available for free, or charge from ninety-nine cents up to whatever you want. I went for ninety-nine cents: I wanted to feel like an author, but still make it cheap – it was, after all my first manuscript.

I’m not an economist, but let me speculate on what looks to me like free money here for Amazon. The revenue share between you, the author, and Amazon, the publisher, is some percentage based on whether it is in the public domain or you own the copyright. In my case 35%. So far, ten people have bought my story ( I think I know them all, thank you – my sales rank is #356,616.) So my take three-fifty. But Amazon doesn’t send checks less than ten dollars. See? Free money. How many dreamers out there, like me, are earning Amazon <ten dollars each?

But I’m not complaining. I got the full treatment. I have an author’s page on Amazon. Just type in Dan McSweeney at Amazon and see it. And hey, buy my story for ninety-nice cents – if you don’t like it, I’ll send you a dollar, you’ll make a 1% profit.

My Author's Page at Amazon



Digital Publishing: Dan writes a book. See Dan Write. Write, Dan, write.

I was reading the liner notes to an LP of the Byrds Greatest Hits. And like the lyrics of most of the songs, things made little sense. But I associated the opening line of the review to what’s changing in the publishing world right now. Plus, I dig the music.


The Byrds Greatest Hits

"Crimson flames tied through my years ... etc"



Things are happening so incredibly fast.

Which is so very true – about The Byrds in the 60’s and about digital publishing now. Dave Swaney, presumably a copywriter for Columbia Records, wrote:

Whatever, their thing was beautiful and heavy and will be as it is. Lasting. 

“Heavy” shouldn’t be taken too literally, digital books don’t weigh anything (don’t get technical about that, please. My dad is a nuclear chemist, he could probably weigh a digital book.) But they are beautiful. Many are richly designed with interactive features. On Martha Stewart Living, a rose blooms in time-lapse on your tablet device while you read. You can scroll a panorama of the Stewart ranch, horses, lavender, good things. It’s amazing stuff, and I want in.

The “lasting” part above makes many of us pen and ink people nervous. We like books, and we like independant bookstores. Conveniently, the Bryds liner notes also cover this handily:

But it is good to be nostalgic, and necessary to find one’s rung and so much good was the start of so many better things happening and about to happen. So why not?

“Things happening, and about to happen.” Which is a really groovy way for me to introduce my new publishing project. I’m going to write, design, and publish a single edition for Android and iPad using Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite, or DPS. And as a sideline, I’m going to write about the experience here on my blog complete with caveats, lessons learned, frustrations, and variorum (Thanks, Michael Chabon, for that word). It’s my first time. And while I have published for Kindle and for Nook, this is a completely different and far more intricate endeavor. It’ll get messy.

This project is going to go on for awhile. Like any good song or book, it’s a hero’s journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. It will be fraught. Additionally, I have a family which includes two young children, and a full-time job in Information Technology, so be patient. And speaking of that job in IT – it’s at Adobe Systems in San Jose, the makers of InDesign and the Digital Publishing Suite. I mention that both as an attempt at full disclosure, but also to indicate that I intend to call the phones and knock on the doors when I can’t figure things out. I will bribe my colleagues to help me succeed. Nobody put me up to this, by the way. It’s all me.

While I gather my moxie, do some background reading on what the DPS is by following this link.

Leave a comment or ask questions if you like. And check back every few days.