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Everything I know about self-publishing (part 3)

Tuesday, 03 July, 2012

(Read part 1, which deals with the process of creation for Kinds of Blue, and part 2, which deals with pitching, budgeting and crowdfunding.)

Production

Obviously when our crowdfunding campaign reached 100 per cent, I knew that the project was going to go ahead. However, it still took a while for us to prepare everything for print. If this had been our main job, it probably wouldn't have taken as long. But both Bec and Guan were studying and in the midst of exams, and I was looking after an active baby pretty much full-time. So everything had to be fitted into the corners of our time.

The process looked a bit like this:

  1. Remember Bec had already laid out the entire book. (I think she used Adobe InDesign.) So I then gave her the pre-proofreading changes—stuff I had noticed when she had prepared the draft layout the previous year. Included in this were some other changes that had to be made—for example, additions to my introduction (which hadn't mentioned anything about the crowdfunding campaign and thanking our donors), updated bios for the contributors and the “Where to get help” section.
  2. When she sent the thing back, I double checked that they had all been done. (This is not a reflection on Bec; it's just standard procedure. Two eyes are always better than one.)
  3. When I was happy with it, I passed it onto Guan for proofreading. (Three eyes are better than two!)
  4. During this time, I started the process for getting an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). Obviously for a self-published book, an ISBN wasn't essential. But I wanted our book to have one. (Maybe it was my editorial stubbornness …)
  5. Somewhere around here I also sent the manuscript in its most up-to-date form to Professor Gordon Parker, who, at the time, was the Executive Director of the Black Dog Institute. He had given us some good feedback on the manuscript during the pitching period, and he had very generously agreed to our request for an endorsement for our back cover (should we find a way to publish Kinds of Blue). However, in order to write that, he needed to see the most up-to-date version that incorporated our changes.
  6. When the proofreading changes came back from Guan, I sent them to Bec, along with further changes that had come up in the interim, Gordon Parker's endorsement and the ISBN number. (Bec produced the barcode herself though because she had a program that could do it.) Again, I double checked everything when she sent it back. We went through this process a couple of times just to make sure everything was perfect.
  7. Then when I signed off on it, Bec produced print-ready files according to Whirlwind's specifications.
  8. I booked the job in with Whirlwind, confirming that the quote I had received was still good. (Actually, it was the revised quote for the larger quantity.) I specified my preferred delivery date, which Whirlwind were able to meet, and then they told me where to upload the files.
  9. Once they had received the files, their designer went through and checked everything, making a few changes that suited their processes. I don't quite understand this bit, but I do know that he made some of the blacks blacker and he identified one or two problems that we hadn't picked up (e.g. missing captions), which meant that poor Bec had to generate new files.
  10. Once both Bec and I were happy with the online art proof that Whirlwind sent us, we told them to proceed with the printing. I then went back and amended the website with the changes we had made to the book. Bec also sent me a revised PDF that we used for the e-book.
  11. Then the books arrived!
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Here's the three of us celebrating (pic taken on Bec's phone):

The Hive Mind and Kinds of Blue

Marketing and distribution

Of course, having a physical book in our hands wasn't the end of the story; we still had to get it into other people's hands.

I should note that at this point that marketing and distribution are not my strengths. I do my best, but I'm aware of how unsuited I am to the task. Furthermore, I'm sure there's a lot more we could have done to reach new audiences with Kinds of Blue, but we all have limitations on our time and energy, and sometimes it can feel like the task of marketing could easily balloon to fill whatever space you gave over to it. Because I want to get other creative projects done, I haven't devoted as much time to marketing and distribution as I probably could. That's my choice though; I acknowledge I can't do everything!

Anyways, onto talking about what I wanted to talk about in this section.

Mailout

The first thing we did was a giant mailout to all the donors of the crowdfunding campaign. This involved:

Then on mailout day, Bec and I wrapped all the books in their various quantities in bubble wrap (we also threw in a bookmark or two), generated mailing labels in batches (domestic for single books and domestic for multiple books, which you could do by weight on Click and Send. However, parcels to be shipped internationally had to be taken to the post office as they were going to multiple locations all over the world), applied the mailing labels and wrote the return PO Box address on the back. Part-way through the day, things looked like this:

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Fortunately we finished sooner than I expected. And Bec very kindly took all the parcels away for mailing. This is what the back of her car looked like by the end:

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Launch

Then there was the launch. I won't spend too long talking about that, but basically the following had to be organised for that:

The launch went wonderfully well. I felt really out of it the entire evening, so I was so grateful for Bec and Guan who handled event management on the night and liaised with the staff, as well as to all the people who helped with catering and all the people who came to support us. All I had to do was turn up (bringing a few things) and do my speech. It meant that I could really enjoy the night—talk to people, meet new people and so on.

Oh, and we got a group photo of all the collaborators who were able to make it, which was hugely cool as we had never been in the same room before and most of them had never met each other:

Most of the Kinds of Blue crew

In addition, as a surprise gift, Bec bought this framed print for me and got as many contributors as she could to write messages on the back. She said that when she saw it, she felt like it was very very “me” (because it says “Invite everyone who cares to work on what's possible”). She and Guan presented it to me after my speech and I was very touched. It's now the first thing you see when you walk into our place:

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Website

I can't remember if I did this before the launch; I think I did. I converted the website into a selling point instead of a fundraising thing. This meant:

Other

Other things we did to market and distribute the book included:

It's also worth noting that sometimes things happened that did not originate from us that still generated sales (for example, RUOK? linked to us on their Facebook page, which brought us a lot of traffic and some interesting feedback). This was wonderful as it brought in readers we would not have normally reached through the channels we had access to.

The future

As I said earlier, there are a lot of other things we could have done. But there are only so many hours in the day and only so much energy I can devote to doing this. And as I said before, I have other creative projects I want to work on, and in my mind, those take priority.

At this point, of the 600 copies we printed, we only have about 100 left, which is pretty good, in my humble opinion. (Please note that not all of those were sales: some were complimentary copies to contributors and various friends of the project.) If and when we manage to move those last copies, we will not reprint as that's an expensive process that doesn't really have a waiting market. Instead, Kinds of Blue will live on digitally. We have started the process of investigating e-book conversion through Graphicly, who say on their website they can do the panel-to-panel transitions that make the Comixology app such a pleasure to use. I'm not sure how things will go with Graphicly, but if things work out, it will be interesting to see how Kinds of Blue fares in e-book markets, and whether we will see any revenue from that stream.

Speaking of revenue, I mentioned in part 1 that I asked all the collaborators to work for free and that they were quite willing to do so. But since we were able to raise our print and launch costs through crowdfunding and generate sales as a result, I've actually been able to pay all the collaborators something for their work. The amount is not as much as professional rates (from what I can gather about professional rates—see for example what the Australian Society of Authors says on the subject), but it's at least something. And I know that some of the collaborators have picked up further work through exposure in Kinds of Blue.

Overall, I'm really thankful for my experience on Kinds of Blue. It's taught me heaps—heaps about collaboration, editing, the process of making a book, crowdfunding, budgeting, and so on. It's made me appreciate the work of those in the publishing industry so much more. It's also helped me to understand how the publishing landscape is changing. I understand some of the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing, and how they correlate with the advantages and disadvantages of working with an established publisher. I may self-publish again one day (and it could be that if I do, the terrain will look completely different). I may not. But at least I'll be going into the venture with my eyes wide open.

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