Ebook Presentation by Brian Felsen of Book Baby

Saturday I drove to San Rafael for an afternoon lecture on ebooks by Brain Felsen of Book Baby, hosted by BAIPA (Bay Area Independent Publisher’s Association). It was well worth the two hour drive. I was hesitant about going because I didn’t know if this would be just a sales pitch about how wonderful Book Baby is. But I decided to give it a chance, and I’m really glad I did.

Book Baby is an ebook distributor that formats your manuscript to all of the ebook reader specifications (Kindle, iBook, Nook, etc…) and distributes them to every outlet, including Amazon and your own personal website. The basic package is $99 and a $19 yearly fee, and the author gets 100% of all sales. If you need more help than formatting and distribution, you can pay a little more for cover design and other other extras. Overall, seems like a nice deal, and Book Baby has a great reputation for fairness. 

Why bother paying someone to format your ebook when you can do it yourself? 

That’s exactly why I went to the workshop. I’m a big believer in DIY; starting a small press is testament to my belief that if you want it, do your homework, and work your ass off, you can make it happen. 

Brian Felsen is energetic, friendly, and very supportive of indy publishers. Even though he was severely jet-lagged from a cross country flight, he took his time answering questions and never once indicated he thought someone had asked something stupid (although I admit I rolled my eyes a couple of times). He began with a brief explanation of what Book Baby is and how it works, but made it clear he was not there to sell his company. The focus was on what it takes to turn a book into an ebook.

What I began to understand midway through his talk was that ebooks are an entirely different art-form from traditional, paper books. Even the cover has to be designed differently from physical book covers. An ebook cover has to look good as a small icon on virtual shelf full of icons and catch someone’s eye. Simple and uncluttered is better than an image with a lot of design elements. That doesn’t mean it has to be so simple it’s boring look amateurish; take some time to look at ebook covers on a website, or even better an iPad. Which covers stand out and beautifully express the book? Which ones get lost, or are incomprehensible as a 1″ square? 

There are other companies distributing ebooks, such as SmashWords and Ingram, which I currently useI for Medusa’s Muse books. SmashWords is free, but they don’t work with Amazon, so that means you have to do a separate deal with Amazon. If you want to sell lots of ebooks, you have to work with Amazon. Ingram will transform my print books into ebooks, but they set all the rules and only give back 40%. 

Brain also explained the difference between Dynamic and Fixed layout ebooks. Dynamic is compatible with every device and is cheap to create. Fixed is just that: fixed. The layout can’t change, so the book isn’t compatible with every device. But if you want to include multimedia you need to create Fixed layout ebooks. Then he discussed the pros and cons of DRM (digital rights management) and cautioned writers not to worry against locking down their books, because that can limit the number of sales. 

Pricing is challenging. How do you know how much to charge for an ebook? One author Brain told us about charges $2.99 for a 40K word book, and $4.99 for a 65K word book. Seems like a good strategy to get started thinking about pricing your own books. Mostly, you need to know your genre and understand how much your market will pay. 

in closing, Brian shared his thoughts about the contribution writes make to the world. Yes, there are thousands of people writing books, but each person has a unique view of the world. They are contributing to the story of us all, sharing ideas, and sparking imagination. That is important. However, writers shouldn’t think they’re owed something just because they write. “Society doesn’t owe you a living making art,” he said. He reminded us there are farmworkers picking strawberries in the hot sun right now earning their living. Why should we believe just because we’re artists we should be handed prestige and cash? And then he said, “Choose life; be weird, be amazing, be alive.”

Bravo Mr. Felsen.

For more info about Book Baby, go to their website, and be sure to check out the blog. It’s full of interesting and fun information about books, writing, and publishing. 

My Muse on Perspective

My muse has been very quiet lately. No waking me up at 4 AM with another brilliant idea. No poetry interruptions at work or demands that I skip eating to start yet another book. Instead, she’s been watching my daughter.

“Is she feeling better?” she asks.

“Yes. She can go back to school now.”

“Did the doctor uncover the cause?”

“No, not really. Just a progression in her condition.”

My muse nods. “It is very difficult to sit and be unable to help.”

“Tell me about it.”

Reaching out to me, she pulls me closer, careful not to turn me to stone but still offering comfort, something my muse rarely does. “You’re a good mother. Remember that. You were born with a gift for knowing what to do and how to do it. I see it in your work with others, and in your own writing. And I see it now as you care for your daughter. You must not forget that.”

“Thank you,” I whisper.

My daughter has been very ill since March, but is thankfully improved and back in school. She has a mitochondrial disorder which can be scary and the future is unknown. Two months ago she had a serious set-back and had to be hospitalized. That stopped the presses around here; I just can’t get excited about publishing when my child is sick.

“It reminds you of what matters most in life,” my muse says. “I’ve seen great artists come and go over the centuries, but nothing is more beautiful than the love between a parent and child. And nothing is more sacred.”

Then she smiles. “Now that your daughter is well again, shouldn’t you be getting back to work on your new play, and start marketing the hell out of Medusa’s books? And weren’t you going to create ebook versions?”

I laugh. Yes mistress muse.

Shannon Drury, the newest Medusa’s Muse author.

Right now I am preparing to edit a brand new manuscript from a brand new Medusa’s Muse author. This is why I created a book publishing company: discovering new authors and fresh voices with a passionate story to tell. I’ve got my reading glasses on, my lap-top battery fully charged, a fresh cup of coffee, the manuscript opened in Word and “track changes” turned to “on.” My muse is eagerly peering over my shoulder watching as I type notes inside the pages on my screen. Eventually she’ll get a little bored; she finds editing tedious. But for now, she’s just as fixated on this brand new Medusa’s Muse book as I am.

The writer is Shannon Drury, author of The Radical Housewife. Click the link to explore her blog and get a taste of her writing. She’s fabulous. A feminist housewife and mother living in Minnesota, and president of the Minnesota chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Her story is exactly the type I look for. It’s honest, funny, passionate, and the author doesn’t quiet fit within any category. If she’s a housewife, how can she call herself a feminist? She gets criticism from both conservatives and liberals, which means she’s perfect for my Muse.

Of course, I’ll get a lot more editing done if my daughter would leave me alone for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is. | Video on TED.com

Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is. | Video on TED.com.

This is an excellent presentation on book design. I love how Mr. Kidd explains himself and the process of his designs. A must see.

via Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is. | Video on TED.com.