Lessons learned from publishing Reborn

So if you missed the news the other day, I clicked the big gold button and published Reborn. (Shh, the big gold button is supposed to be a secret.) If I had thought that I learned everything I could learn after publishing Omni, then I was seriously wrong. Luckily, I knew I still had a lot to learn, and even now, know that is still the case.

Despite that, the entire process of developing Reborn—writing, revising, editing, and ultimately, publishing—turned out to be more instructive than I would have guessed. While I certainly learned much in my first go-round, here’s a few things I picked up from this most recent experience.

1. Every bookstore publishes at a different rate

This may seem obvious, but despite thinking that I understood what to expect from each bookstore, I’ve been astounded to discover that not only did I guess wrong on when the book would be available, I really didn’t learn anything from my first experience. For example, when I published Omni, Barnes & Noble took roughly three days to make the book available. As of the time I’m writing this, Reborn is now finally available on Barnes & Noble after spending… approximately three days in their system getting processed. So much for learning the first time around.

Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly Apple made the book available in iTunes. With Omni, it took weeks because I had to wait for my account to be approved, but now that I’m in? I’m not sure, but Apple may have even beaten Amazon to making Reborn available to the public the same day it was uploaded. It’s nice to see some competition! However, that leads to…

2. Apple’s iTunes Producer is simultaneously cool and terrible

If you don’t publish directly with Apple (perhaps you use Smashwords (another point I’ll get to shortly)), then you may not be familiar with iTunes Producer. Where most every other bookstore uses some sort of web interface that works on damn near any system you can think of that’s capable of file transfers (one of these days I may try to see if an iPad or Android device is capable of pushing the files out), Apple requires you to use a Mac-only program if you want to publish directly with them.

Luckily for me, I’m an Apple guy when it comes to computers (though I use Windows in my “normal life”) so I’m able to publish directly with Apple and don’t have to go through a middleman (I’m looking at you, Smashwords). Apple has whipped up their own program that packages everything together and sends them a file with all of the details they need to sell your book/app/etc. While it, for the most part, has the usual Apple look, it’s very un-Applelike in that it’s a bit of a bear to use.

Admittedly, selling a product requires a lot of information so there’s only so much one can do when a service needs to gather a ton of information, but there is one area where Apple could easily improve upon their software. In this case, it’s a simple thing that most of the other vendors are able to automatically do for you with a single click (or maybe a half-dozen). What is this simple task? Choosing territories and prices for said territories.

Imagine that you have six territories available to you to sell in. Each territory must be individually selected, a price set, and another little thing or two set for it. That may not seem too bad, and it wasn’t a year ago when it was only six. Apple is now selling in 32 territories and constantly adding more, all of which require you to individually select each one, establish a price, and answer a couple of other questions they ask you. While Apple’s system is great once you get past this point and have your product available for sale (seriously, their data is awesome and updated in a timely fashion), you have to deal with the torture of setting your product pricing as many times as they have territories. There’s no way to automate this task, unlike Amazon where you can check a couple of boxes and have prices automatically set according to your native territory.

Speaking of Amazon, here’s a super important thing I learned:

3. When you upload your new book to Amazon, “claim” it on Author Central

I knew my book was available on Amazon, but whenever I searched for “KR Jacobsen” I only saw Omni. While I’m glad I saw Omni, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t seeing Reborn. I could follow a direct link to the book just fine, but searching? No luck. So I did what anyone would do: I double-checked that I spelled my name correctly, both in searching and in the author field for Reborn, and tried again.

As you might expect, I saw the same result. As the hours wore on and I still didn’t see my book appearing in the search results, I eventually decided I should look beyond the first page of results, and even the second, and see if my book was anywhere in the list of 159 matches to my name (never mind that they don’t really match). To my surprise, I found my book a few pages in.

Why wasn’t it sitting next to my other book? I had done everything correctly. Same publisher, same author, so why is it sitting in with a bunch of things that don’t really match a search for my name? Simple answer: Author Central.

How often do you check Author Central? If you’re like me, a few times initially, and then not so much. For me, Author Central doesn’t hold much value (yet?), but in this case, it’s extremely important. As soon as I logged into Author Central and claimed my book, it showed up as the second match in a search for my name.

I confirmed this change by using multiple browsers coming from multiple IP addresses—the same thing I did when I was trying to find Reborn by searching for it. Whenever I next get around to uploading the sequel to Omni, you can bet one of the first things I’ll do is check Author Central to update my list of books. You’re darn tootin’ I want all of my books to show up if you search for my name.

As a side note, a search for “KR Jacobsen Reborn” showed no results until I updated Author Central. Now? One result: my book. As it should be.

4. I’ve ignored Smashwords and don’t feel the slightest bit bad about it

Something I learned with Omni is that Smashwords has perhaps the worst system in place for uploading a book. Seriously—the Meatgrinder (yes, they call it that) is this ridiculous program that requires the document be in Word format. Just shoot me.

While I won’t start a rant about proprietary formats, I do hate Word. We’ve had a longstanding love-hate relationship, but these days? It’s almost entirely hate. I use it in my “normal life” (as alluded to above), but when I have the choice I use anything but Word. I do all of writing in Scrivener and do revision in Pages. It’s only when I need something specific, or have to in the case of Smashwords, that I use Word.

So yes, Reborn isn’t available in the Sony store right now because I didn’t go through Smashwords. It’s also not on Kobo and likely a couple of other sites that are small but have a niche following. You know what? I’ll live with it.

In the long run, yes, I’ll crack open Word and go through the nightmare that is formatting in Word (never mind that the book inevitably looks far worse than when I’m able to do it with a standard like, say, epub), but for now? The mere thought of trying to put together a Word formatted document that’ll make my book look ugly is a pain I don’t want to put myself through. (Have I mentioned their archaic requirements to have certain things (i.e. copyright pages) in specific locations? It’s an ebook! The old rules don’t apply—or at least, shouldn’t apply.)

Of course, Smashwords being a minor source of sales might have something to do with this decision, but I stand by my hatred of the Meatgrinder and Word.

5. Time is your friend

Lastly, this is something that I already knew, but it’s a variation that I hadn’t yet experienced in this way—namely, time away for your book is a good thing. How so? If you’ve ever written anything—manuscript, resume, letter—then you likely know that you need some space before you’re able to critique it properly. Even if you’re just shooting off an email, you may need to reread it several times before you’re able to send to it because you keep catching typos.

This isn’t as applicable in the case of emails since they’re usually quick and not much time is dedicated to them, but for anything else it pays to take time away from it. It’s amazing what a little time can do for your brain to forget everything you wrote. This is important because your brain has an annoying tendency to fill in blanks, automatically understand things that would confuse other people, and ignore duplicate words or obvious misspellings among other possibilities.

As soon as you get time away from your own writing, however, your brain does something unexpected and cool: it becomes super critical. This is a Good Thing ™ when you’re revising your own work and in some ways more important than just getting that first draft down. A mediocre first draft can turn into an excellent story with proper revision. The best way to revise? Take a break from your story.

In my case, I normally take anywhere from at least two weeks to a month or more between finishing a first draft and making my first revisions. Some people may be lucky enough to not have to do that, while others may need a bigger break. To each their own. However, in this specific case, I took a month between first draft and revision.

Revision took several months on its own, and by the time I was finished I knew everything about it. The next phase was editing, and after some time spent on going back and forth on things, discussing questions/ideas/etc. with the editor, I finally had what looked like a book that was ready to go.

Beta readers received the book after proofreading and proceeded to point out all of the problems that both I and my editor missed. Oops. No matter how many eyes you get on the project, you’re bound to miss something. (This is a lesson in its own right.)

However, here’s where I learned something new: taking another big chunk of time away from the book following your final edits and before giving it one more pass is a Really Good Thing ™.

Having fixed all of the typos and little things the beta readers found, I myself found yet more errors to correct and also had a fresh perspective on the story. Of course, while I was taking a break from this book I was working on another one (the sequel to Omni, if you’re curious), so I was in a different mindset that made Reborn seem even more “new” and “different” than it otherwise would have been.

However, I’m convinced that if I didn’t take that time between my final edits and making one more proofing pass, I don’t think I would have found anywhere near the same number of mistakes, nor would I have been able to make as any many minor changes and clarifications as I did.

While time may bend us all to its will, it can be your friend if you let it.

Finals words

I learned other things of course, some small and significant to only myself, others perhaps not, but these are what I find myself thinking of now that Reborn is out and I’m shifting gears back to a writing, not revising, mood. I know this has been a long post, and some may find these to be obvious tips, but I hope  someone gets something out of it. I know that when I get around to finishing up the second Debate Team book I’ll be thinking of these lessons… then again, I may just forget them only to relearn them. I seem to be good at that.

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