Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some More Details About the Self-Publishing Project

In the previous post, which was the first for this blog, I tried to bring the story fairly well up to date without going into a fine level of detail. This time I will again start out with a "snapshot" of the current situation, and then go back to fill in some of the gaps in the history of my venture.

As a general reminder, what I'm working on is a relatively single-handed publishing venture. I've written a book about how to use the Leica D-Lux 4 compact digital camera, and am planning to print copies of the pages, design and print paper book covers, bind the covers to the pages, then sell the books however I can, either online, through physical stores, or other ways.

What I think makes this venture different from traditional self-publishing is the self-printing and binding aspect of it. As I said in the previous post, many of the experts on self-publishing either assume that the self-publisher will hire a commercial printer to print and bind the books, or will advise the self-publisher not to try to do the printing and binding, because it's too difficult or too fraught with pitfalls.

For the snapshot of what's going on right now, I'm still waiting for the copy editor to send me back the edited copy of the book. In the meantime, several volunteers who I met online through a photography forum are reading the book and begininng to offer comments (some very useful, others not) about the photographic topics. I'm continuing to work with and adjust the software and hardware I will be using for the various aspects of the project. Also, I'm watching with some nervousness various posts on the photography forum saying that some people think the D-Lux 4 camera is going to be discontinued in the near future. That would not be good; there would still be plenty of the cameras in circulation, but I believe people are more likely to buy a book explaining the use of their camera if they have just bought a new camera.

Now I will go back and fill in some more of the details leading up to the current snapshot.

As I said last time, I had some trouble finding a topic for a book; my only other book, a World War II biography, was published in 1996. In the interim, I toyed with the thought of writing a novel. I made many notes on possible plots, characters, and scenes to include, but none of them ever really got me excited enough to start writing. I took some fiction writing courses by correspondence, online, and through local adult education offerings, but none of them really inpsired me.

Over the years, I spent a good deal of time selling things on eBay and Amazon, through Amazon Marketplace. I enjoyed that sort of activity. On eBay in particular, I enjoyed taking good-quality digital photographs of the items I was selling, and quite a few of those items were digital cameras. I have always been somewhat of a gadget lover and early adopter, and I would get the latest model of camera and sell the old one.

Eventually it dawned on me that I could combine several of my interests -- writing, selling, and digital photography, by writing a book about a camera. I don't remember exactly when and how I heard about the D-Lux 4, but I must have been browsing in the Digital Photography Review, www.dpreview.com, which I often do. I have to admit I was impressed by the Leica name, even though the camera is essentially a re-branded version of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. The camera got very positive reviews, and the users on dpreview.com had many positive comments and stories about using it. Among those comments, people occasionally asked if there was a book available to supplement the user's manual, as there are for other cameras, primarily the more popular DSLR cameras such as the Canon EOS series and the Nikons, etc. It turned out that there isn't any such book (at least none listed on Amazon.com). I thought for a while, and then decided that would be a good project for me.

I had to be realistic, though -- obviously, a book of this sort has a limited shelf-life. Digital camera models come and go like autumn leaves. On the other hand, Leica models might have a little bit more staying power; that company doesn't come out with new models as often as a company like Canon or Sony. But the book probably wouldn't be current for more than about a year, if I'm lucky. The camera has been out for a little over a year as of now, and it may be discontinued at any time.

So it didn't seem practical to submit a proposal to a commercial publisher, because the camera has been out for a while, and it would take months for that process, from queries to possible acceptance to editing and publication. Also, as I've been reading in various books and articles, as the author of a book like that, I would not get a very big share of the sales proceeds -- the money would go to the publisher, distributors, retailers, etc., with not much left over for me.

The solution was to self-publish. But, as I said last time, my first book was very expensive to self-publish with the aid of a commercial publishing company. I wanted to minimize the up-front costs. I've read a good deal about "print on demand," the process by which an author contracts with a company that will print the author's book, and then produce as many copies as are needed, but only when they are really needed for sales, so you don't end up with an inventory of unsold boxes in cartons. (I still have hundreds of copies of my first book in cartons.)

Print-on-demand sounded fairly attractive, but the costs still seemed high. I haven't looked at any figures lately, but I believe it would be somewhere around $5.00 to $10.00 per copy to produce the book I was planning. And that wouldn't include full-color photographs, which I believe are needed for a book about how to use a camera.

The result of this thought process was the conclusion that I need to not only self-publish, but also self-print and bind. I have to admit that part of the attraction of that approach is that I enjoy learning new things and overcoming technical challenges like this. The idea of figuring out how to print and bind books that would have an acceptable appearance for selling commercially appeals to me.

That was the plan, then, and it still is. Next time, I'll discuss more details about what software and equipment I'm using, and how the whole self-publishing project has unfolded so far.

If you have any comments or questions about the project, or about the general process of self-publishing, printing, binding, etc., please leave a comment. Thanks.

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