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Monday, March 14, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Last week, I announced to the world that I was going to be electronically publishing one of my children's stories through Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobel, and any other electronic book sales outlets I could find. I had hoped this column of the Old Goat would be filled with details about setting the story up in the epub and Kindle formats. About that...

Looking through the reader reviews of some of the children's ebooks on Amazon, I ran across several for books which had no interior pictures. Inevitably, this would end up being mentioned by at least one, usually most, of the reviewers. It's a simple fact of publishing life that readers expect to find illustrations in books written for young children. I already knew that and had intended to get some illustrations done for my story, but my small sampling of reviews reinforced that idea.

Before I even wrote last week's column, I sent an email to my friend and former comic book collaborator, Mark Propst. I've worked with Mark more than any other two artists I've had the opportunity to work with. I know his style and trust him to produce good-looking artwork from my words. I asked Mark to produce five illustrations for my story. Why five illustrations instead of 10 or more? I picked that number for several reasons.

The single most important reason is five is as many illustrations as I can afford right now. Yes, despite my previous claim that a writer can publish his or her book at essentially no cost, I'm already proving that is not necessarily true. Before contacting Mark, I considered if there were other, low-to-no cost available to me. I thought about searching the internet for free clip art and trying to use them to put together illustrations for the story. That might even have worked, if I had been willing to have different artistic styles mixed in the same illustration and also willing to have the characters look different from illustration to illustration. Somehow, I think that approach would end up costing me more in sales than I would have saved in out-of-pocket expenses. I even considered using Legos to create scenes, then photographing them. Besides the possible legal considerations in that plan, I would like my characters to have some expression other than the standard Lego smile. Given I don't have the artistic ability nor software necessary to change those expressions, I'd have to hire an artist. And that brings me back to simple getting an artist I trust to produce illustrations for me.

Five illustrations will give me one illustration for every 400 words in the story. That's not a perfect breakdown, but it seems reasonable to me. Plus, I can also use one of the illustrations for the cover, saving a few more bucks. Also, I read a few books with illustrations on my Kindle. In every case, the illustration displayed on the Kindle screen by itself, with no text. I don't know if that's an actual limitation to the less expensive ereaders, but I don't think any illustration small enough to appear with text on a screen resolution of 600 by 800 will be large enough for for anyone to really appreciate, anyway. Even taking up a full page, the illustrations will still be smaller than most illustrations in children's books. I don't want to make them nearly impossible to see on top of that.

As you might guess, Mark is still working on the illustrations. I hope to get a first look at them sometime today, but I don't mind waiting. This story has been around for nearly 10 years, another few days probably won't hurt sales. The illustrations are specifically being created in black and white, as there are very few worthwhile color ereaders on the market right now. Having Mark produce black and white illustrations ensures they will look good on all of the non-color ereaders. I'm sure the software for the ereaders are designed to convert color illustrations to black and white, but that's no guarantee they'll end up looking good on a black and white screen. Plus, why would I want to pay extra for colors very few readers will see?

Please excuse a brief bit of solicitation, but if any of you decide to join in the fun of my epublishing experiment, Mark is quite willing to do commission work for any of you. His rates are quite reasonable, he works quickly, and you receive full rights to the artwork (not a minor consideration). You can get a look at some of his work on his Facebook page here. The samples on his site are primarily comic book style artwork, but Mark can change styles to match what you need. He's making a fairly radical change in styles for my story. I'll post a sample once he finishes. If you want to get in touch with Mark, just send an email to me (tabby dot wrangler at gmail dot com) and I'll be happy to put you in touch with him.

While waiting for artwork from Mark, I've been looking for book review web sites; preferably ones which specialize in children's books. So far, I haven't found many sites dedicated to reviewing ebooks. Most review sites want to receive physical books, though I've stumbled across a few which will review PDFs or other ebook formats. This was a point brought up in an interview with Amazon's top-selling ebook author, the one ~brb posted a link to last week. In the interview, the woman said she used Amazon's CreateSpace to order physical copies of her books, sending those to reviewers. I've looked at CreateSpace and it's entirely possible to list a book there without any extra charges, though Amazon certainly does place a lot of professional services in front of you when you visit the site. I'll admit I didn't look for long, but one thing I could not find was a general price list to order your own books. Every other print-on-demand service I've seen had some pretty hefty prices for books, so this may be yet another place to spend money in your quest to have your book published for free.

While we're discussing potential costs to publish your book for free, my search for ebook review sites led me to the web site for Kirkus Indie. I expect most of you are familiar with Kirkus Reviews as many books have quotes from favorable reviews from Kirkus. Well, Kirkus Reviews does not review self-published books, so don't bother sending them your book. On the other hand, Kirkus Indie does review self-publish books. The good news is that you are guaranteed to have your book reviewed by an experienced, professional book reviewer who is familiar with the market for which your book is intended. Even better, your are entirely free to use the review in any way you wish, including quoting it on your book and the listings you create for it with online retailers. Kirkus will also highlight the review on through Facebook and Twitter and may select the review to appear in their monthly newsletter. The bad news is that Kirkus Indie is a paid service which will cost you $425. With a promised review length of 200 to 300 words, you'll end up paying anywhere from $1.50 to $2.12 per word for the review. If that translates into big sales, great, but with my expected 35 cents per copy royalty, it would take sales of 1215 copies of the ebook before I just broke even. Chances are, I won't be using Kirkus Indie, but if your book is going be selling for $2.99 to $9.99 -- the 70% royalty zone -- the service may very well be worth considering.

So, that's the current state of my journey toward epublishing one of my stories. With the artwork likely to arrive this coming week, I hope to have more solid, nuts-and-bolts details next week.
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