Neil N. Chopra

Self-Publishing: Imprint

This is an entry in a series of articles describing the process I went through to self-publish my first book: Perpetual Patterns. Instead of providing generic tutorials, these articles focus on describing exactly what I did in detail.

This article will describe the simple steps I took to setup my own publishing imprint (Shadow Script) for Perpetual Patterns. Please note that this is completely optional when getting your work out there. Most services provide a free alternative where you don’t need to provide your own ISBN or publishing imprint, and you can avoid the costs described below. I wanted to fully go through the experience and see what it would take to establish one, so I decided to go down that route.

I was really at a loss trying to initially figure out the legal requirements, and ad-hoc searching wasn’t providing me with the answers I needed. I then stumbled upon a wonderful article on Lighthouse24 which gives a great introduction to what an imprint is, and breaks down the different requirements of getting one setup. I should also mention these folks are very active on the CreateSpace forums, and seem to give great, honest advice. I followed their steps as described below.

Imprint Name

I had a name in mind going into this project: “Shadow Script”. My gaming alias (and now Twitter account) as far back as I can remember has always been “ShadowNNC”: I like the sound of the word, and I use it everywhere. I also like the word “Script” because it implies a style of writing, as opposed to “Press” or “Books” or other more specific mediums of printing. Anyway, it fit for what I wanted.

Address

When registering the imprint in my state (described below), an address is required, and I didn’t want my home address used. I also wanted an official spot where mail could be sent, so I rented out a post office box. This address is actually listed in the book itself, and I utilized it when registering the business name.

Registering

Each state has different requirements for using a trade name, and the Lighthouse24 article provides a fantastic breakdown for each one. For example, there isn’t a legal requirement to register a trade name in Arizona, but it must be done at the county level in California (where I live). In addition, I needed to list the new business name in a local newspaper for four weeks so there could be an opportunity for someone to object if necessary. The county filing ended up being $30, the newspaper listing was $50 total.

There are a few other steps lined out in the Lighthouse24 article for setting up the business, but I stopped here to keep it as simple as possible. I do not sell the book on my own, it is all done through other retailers (i.e. Amazon, Barnes & Noble). As such, I didn’t need to go through the process of getting a business license, Employer Identification Number, or separate checking account. All the royalties go straight to me (and are taxed as income), the imprint is simply a fictitious business name I can use.

ISBNs

At this point, having the imprint setup, I was ready to create a publisher account with Bowker and purchase ISBNs for my own use. They cost either $125 for one, or $250 for ten. I chose to buy the bulk amount because I wanted a separate ISBN for each version of the book. At the point of publishing for each of the services I have used (CreateSpace, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, iBook) I was able to list “Shadow Script” as the publisher and provided a unique ISBN.

It is a pretty straightforward process once you figure out the requirements of your local area. I don’t have any official website setup, or press releases for the imprint, or anything like that. I wanted the simplest solution to brand Perpetual Patterns with my own stamp. The name “Shadow Script” is just an alias for me to use when publishing my work; I’m not interested in hiding the fact that it is just me behind it!

If you’re thinking of establishing your own imprint, I hope this article points you in the right direction. Feel free to comment or send me an email if you have any questions!

Self-Publishing: eBook

This is an entry in a series of articles describing the process I went through to self-publish my first book: Perpetual Patterns. Instead of providing generic tutorials, these articles focus on describing exactly what I did in detail.

This article will go over all the details of my process for publishing the eBook of Perpetual Patterns. This includes initial HTML setup and eBook creation, testing, and publishing. Regardless of whether you have a print version or not, I highly recommend creating a print layout, so you get the best understanding of how you want it to look. It provides a great reference, and the eBook should just be a simplified version of it. I was surprised to find out that eBooks are nothing more than rudimentary HTML pages packaged together. If you have a basic understanding of HTML (or are willing to learn it), you will have full control of the quality of the end product. Here is a very simple primer of HTML tags that will dominate an eBook:

  • Chapter headings wrapped with <h2></h2> (or any other of the “h” tags)
  • Paragraphs wrapped with <p></p>
  • Bold phrases wrapped with <strong></strong>
  • Italicized phrases wrapped with <em></em>
  • Links wrapped with <a href=”chapter01.html”></a>

I highly recommend getting an understanding of how it all fits together. I didn’t trust any of the automated conversion processes, and Perpetual Patterns is quite short, so I manually put the HTML together myself.

Setting up the HTML

It so happens that I made a decision to post all the chapter content of the book on the website, so I already had a good base of HTML to work with. For content that was not already on the website, I actually preferred copying from Microsoft Word into the editor in WordPress, and taking the resulting HTML. The output from that is much cleaner. I made separate, simple HTML pages for each chapter and tossed them all into a folder. In addition, the chapters in my book contain references to other chapters, and I wanted to create hyperlinks for them. As long as your HTML files are in the same folder, simply creating links to other files does the trick, and will properly work in the published version. My editor of choice is Notepad++ and I did all the preliminary work in there. At this point, I was ready to start constructing the eBook and needed to decide what way to go about it.

Creating the eBook

The widely used EPUB format (Nook, iBook) is much easier to work with than the MOBI format (Kindle). MOBI ends up being one enormous HTML page and is difficult to tweak. I decided to create the eBook as an EPUB, and then find a tool to convert it to MOBI for the Kindle version. Below is the free software I considered to help me out:

Software Pros Cons
eCub Lightweight; Extremely fast Output to MOBI doesn’t work; Inability to edit EPUB
Sigil Directly edit and validate EPUB; WSYIWYG editor
Online-Convert Web based; Fast and simple No advanced options
Calibre Advanced options for conversion Big installation; Lots of unneeded features

I ended up using a combination of Sigil and Calibre to get the job done. Sigil is a great piece of software and has a singular focus: EPUB creation and modification. It organizes your files nicely and you can immediately see HTML changes in its editor. It allows you to cleanly edit the meta data of the project. Simply saving your project gives you a ready-to-publish EPUB book (no exporting or building necessary). It also has built in validation, which helped me weed out problem links. Calibre, on the other hand, is an enormous all-in-one tool that I only ended up using for its EPUB to MOBI conversion capabilities. If there was a smaller installation with just that feature, that would’ve been preferable.

There’s a subtle difference in the Table of Contents for EPUB and MOBI. The EPUB format has a Table of Contents stored separately from the rest of the book, so you can bring it up without losing your position. MOBI on the other hand requires it to be embedded in the book itself, though it can be accessed through a menu. When creating the Kindle version, I included a manually written contents page to be designated as the Table of Contents. In order to avoid doubling up during the EPUB to MOBI conversion, I needed to select an option in Calibre which allowed me to exclude the automatically generated Table of Contents (screenshot to the right). This is the only reason I used Calibre over the much easier to use Online-Convert website.

There was another manual addition necessary to the base EPUB for correct conversion to MOBI. If you’ve used a Kindle, you know that when you start a book, it immediately sends you to the first page of readable text. To get this to work, I added the following line to the <guide> section of the content.opf file in Sigil:

<reference href=“Text/00_Introduction.html” title=“Introduction” type=“start” />

Interestingly, the validator doesn’t actually recognize start as a valid type, but it did produce the desired behavior when converted to MOBI. With my base EPUB ready to go, I made tweaks for each of the three versions I published (Kindle, Nook, iBook):

  • Adding or removing the manually created Table of Contents.
  • Changing the ISBN in the copyright page and meta data.
  • Changing the cover image to be the correct dimensions for the device.

The first item we covered above. The second item is technically only necessary for paid iBooks as described in Apple’s Book Publisher FAQ. If you enter into a paid contract with Apple directly, they require that you provide a unique ISBN for the book. If you don’t want to spend the money on this ($125 for one, $250 for ten), I would suggest you go through an aggregator that handles it for you. Amazon and Barnes & Noble do not require an ISBN for eBooks, they will generate their own unique identifier (whether you provide an ISBN or not). In my case, I wanted to setup my own publishing imprint, so I went ahead a bought a block of ten ISBNs and provided unique ones for each eBook version.

The third item was a final bit of polish to make sure the cover looked the best for each device. I found a wonderful article which explained optimum sizes for both the embedded cover image and online catalog image. My free image editor of choice is Paint.NET, and I did all prep work for this in there. The exact the dimensions I used are below:

Device Embedded Catalog
Kindle 600×800 (PNG) 600×800 (JPG)
Nook 600×1024 (PNG) 398×600 (JPG)
iBook 600×860 (JPG) N/A

Testing the eBook

Amazon has a great Kindle Previewer which allows you to preview MOBI files. It also lets you flip between several devices and see how each one feels. I own a Kindle, so I ended up emailing my MOBI files as a personal document when I was satisfied so I could do a final check.

Barnes & Noble only has a stripped down online previewer, but I downloaded their Nook for PC application. Under My Library -> My Stuff you can click Add New Item to add an EPUB, and read it straight on there. Be sure to vertically expand the window, I couldn’t see My Stuff until I did that. I do not own a Nook, so I wasn’t able to test on the device itself.

iTunes allows you to import EPUB files into your Books library (simply click and drag) and sync it with your device. I own an iPhone 4, so I was able to see the end result on that.

The Kindle version was the first one I finalized and published, so the majority of tweaking was done there. Once I tackled the Nook and iBook versions, not a lot of testing was necessary.

Publishing the eBook

Alright! So now I had two sexy EPUB files and one less sexy MOBI file ready to publish. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have wonderful websites that really empower people to self-publish their work. Apple does not.

Though Apple suggests you go through one of their approved aggregators, I was determined to do this on my own. I applied for an iTunes Connect account specifically dealing with books (separate applications are required for each media type). Once my application was approved, I was reminded that I simply needed to use iTunes Producer (Mac OS X only) to deliver my content. Of course, I don’t own a Mac.

There was a solution, though! MacInCloud provides a service for people like me who only have a PC but still want to publish content on Apple mobile devices. They provide a remote desktop connection to a machine for your use that includes all the software necessary for this work. They have a nice pay-as-you-go plan which allows you to pay $1 per hour of usage. Unfortunately, you have to buy credits to get started, and the smallest initial amount is $30. Still, not bad in the grand scheme of things if you don’t have access to a Mac. It is a fairly slow connection, but was enough for me get the job done.

iTunes Producer is not nearly as easy to use as the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. A couple details that hung me up:

  • You have to provide at least one Target Audience. The general choice for this is Apple -> General.
  • When adding a territory under Rights & Pricing, you must provide a Publication Type. I selected Other as the alternate options require some special setup with Apple.

The application will validate that you’ve entered the minimum information required before it allows you to submit it for approval. Apple allows adding territory rights for up 32 countries, and each one has to be individually setup (Amazon at least gives some nice shortcuts to set pricing for the European countries it sells to). The good news is once you have initially submitted the content through iTunes Producer, you can then fiddle with the rights and pricing through the iTunes Connect website. In addition, be aware that you are only allowed to select from Apple’s ten predefined pricing tiers (free, $0.99, $1.99, all the way to $9.99). I only set it up in the United States at $4.99. As of this publishing, it has been over three weeks since I first submitted the content, and it hasn’t yet been approved (or rejected) by Apple. I’ll post an update when I get more information.

UPDATE 3/24/2012: After contacting Apple multiple times, they flagged the iBook for expedited review. I checked the status today and it looks like the book is finally up there. So it took over one month to see it show up and I didn’t get any notification that it happened. Definitely the least impressive of the three services.

I hope this article helps you with whatever project you’re working on, feel free to comment or send me an email if you have any questions!

 

Self-Publishing: Paperback

This is an entry in a series of articles describing the process I went through to self-publish my first book: Perpetual Patterns. Instead of providing generic tutorials, these articles focus on describing exactly what I did in detail.

This article will go over the process I went through to get a paperback version of Perpetual Patterns published through CreateSpace. The website itself is very easy to navigate, so I will focus more on the document setup necessary outside of CreateSpace. I should also mention that the CreateSpace forums are a treasure trove of information driven by the community. If you run into a problem, most likely someone else has run into something similar.

Interior Design

Once the text of my book was finalized, I had to choose a trim size for the paperback before moving forward. I settled on 5.25”x8”, and downloaded the corresponding interior template from CreateSpace. I happened to already have Microsoft Word, so I utilized that for all the formatting work (a free alternative to this is Open Office). The formatted template (as opposed to the basic one) was a better starting point for me as it included headers and footers that I could fiddle with.

I started with one chapter and modified the four different styles I needed (chapter heading, poetry, normal paragraph, bullet points) before tossing in the rest of the text. A couple things to point out about the template:

  • It already has mirrored margins setup, this automatically shifts odd pages to the right and even pages to the left.
  • It already has clean section breaks setup that properly hide the header on new chapters. I ended up needing to manually mess with this later on, but it looks like out of the box it is correct.
  • It starts out with a normal font of Garamond 11pt. Once I got my first proof, that font was a bit small, so I bumped it up to 12pt in the final version.

There were a lot of small details I tried to pay attention to when formatting the book, your eye is the best judge of whether something looks correct. It took me a good amount of time, but I was happy with the result. Once I had the document finalized, I wanted to convert it to PDF for uploading to CreateSpace. You have the option to upload Word documents, but I prefer getting the final PDF ready myself. I’ve been using PrimoPDF for a long time which allows you to simply print to it as if it was a printer. Note that by default it will print a normal 8.5”x11” page. To change this, I had to go to Printer Properties -> Advanced -> Paper/Output -> Paper Size and change the PostScript Custom Page Size to my desired 5.25”x8” (screenshot to the right). When the PrimoPDF dialog came up, I made sure to use the Prepress setting to get the highest quality (especially if images are included).

At this point, I had a proper interior that could be uploaded. CreateSpace has a spectacular Interior Reviewer that shows you exactly how it will look when printed. You can go through each page and make sure everything is to your liking (and they will require you to approve what you see).

Cover Design

I lucked out with the cover for the book because a good friend (who is a crazy talented designer) agreed to help me with it. He uses Adobe Photoshop for all his work. As we were playing around with ideas, I was able to open his PSD files in the free Paint.NET application using the PSD Plugin. This proved to be really useful so I could fiddle with low quality layers and he could translate a screenshot into a high quality version. Once the design idea got finalized, we downloaded a cover template from CreateSpace that had nice guidelines on what needed to fit where (scaled down version of the one we used shown on the right). A few things to note about it:

  • It provides you a spine width based on the number of pages in the book.
  • It gives you a bleed area where artwork should extend through and essential text should avoid.
  • It shows you exactly where the barcode is going to go if you choose to let CreateSpace add it (you can do this even if you have a custom ISBN, which I did in this case). Otherwise, you will need to make the barcode part of your cover design.

A scaled down version of the final cover design can be seen here (the barcode was added after the fact to fill in the screenshot). My friend sent me a high resolution PDF of the cover to upload, and I was on my way to getting the package approved.

Approval

Once I uploaded both the interior and cover to CreateSpace (and filled out the required meta information), I had to wait for CreateSpace to approve it. There were no problems with the interior, but they had a problem with the spine of the cover. The book at that point was only 100 pages (ended up being 108 pages with the font size change), and they suggested getting rid of the spine text altogether. We were able to shrink the text down some and resubmit it, at which point CreateSpace approved it with a warning that they suggested against it.

After CreateSpace approves it, you must order at least one proof copy. If you make subsequent changes, CreateSpace has to approve the content again, and you are allowed to skip the proof if you like. I went through three revisions:

  • First revision (ordered proof): Cover had a white texture that wasn’t printing well, interior font was too small.
  • Second revision (ordered proof): New cover and font looked great.
  • Third revision (skipped proof): Small text fix in interior for finalized version.

CreateSpace was pretty good with the turnaround on approval on their end, normally within half a day. The cost of a proof copy is very small, but the shipping is quite expensive if you want to get it as soon as possible (roughly $15) for a quicker turnaround.

Distribution

You have a couple distribution options for your paperback. For free, the title will appear on the CreateSpace eStore and Amazon. The eStore seems pretty worthless since the only way to get to it is if you have a direct link to your title. Amazon was what I was shooting for anyway.

For an additional $25, all of your paperback titles become available to be sold through expanded distribution channels. This means online retailers and bookstores can choose to stock up on your book. Note that this simply makes it available for other retailers to list and sell if they want to, this doesn’t actually cause them to do so. I decided to enable this option, and found that the minimum list price I could set was increased due to the decreased royalty through the expanded channels.

Once published through CreateSpace, it took 3-4 days for it to show up on Amazon. I never got any notice for this, I just kept looking up the ISBN on Amazon until it magically popped up! Even then, it still took a couple more days for it to actually become available to order (again, no notice, just continually checking).

Amazon Extras

Once the book became available on Amazon, there were a few extra things to setup. I needed to sign up with Author Central, claim my book (can only happen when it’s available), and get my author page setup. I also published the Kindle version at the same time, but unfortunately it didn’t get automatically linked up with the paperback version. Author Central seems to be the place to go for any of these inquiries, and once they linked them up, it took about two days for it to filter through their system. In this case, I did get notified by a customer service rep exactly when they were linked and ready on the website, that was pleasant surprise!

In addition, I wanted to get the paperback version hooked up with the Search Inside the Book program. As described in their FAQ, I needed to have them create a Seller Central upload account for me by sending an email request. Once that was setup (happened pretty fast), I worked on getting a PDF ready to upload.

For the fastest processing, Amazon suggests you provide them with a single bookmarked PDF with everything they need, and name the file with just the ISBN number. Sounds good, I already had a CreateSpace interior PDF. I just needed to tack on the front and back cover. I started by trying to insert them into the Word document itself, but that completely screwed up the page numbering. Then I remembered there’s a neat feature in PrimoPDF where you have the option to either overwrite or append when replacing an existing PDF file. So I created a separate document with the front and back cover, and printed into the same PDF file in the order of: front cover, full interior, back cover. Boom!

No bookmarks though! Adobe Reader (nor the free version of PrimoPDF) allow you to add bookmarks, so I found a nice free piece of software called Foxit Reader. With the PDF open, I was able to add bookmarks for the things I felt needed it: front cover, copyright, table of contents, and back cover. This was ready to go, so I renamed it to 9780985086008.pdf, logged into Seller Central, and uploaded it. In about a week, it was hooked up to the website! Again, didn’t get a notification, I had to send them an inquiry about it myself.

If you end up using CreateSpace for your work, I hope this article helps! Feel free to comment or send me an email if you have any questions.

Tweeting

I can’t say that I’ve fully wrapped my head around the beast that is Twitter, but I would like to start trying it out in two flavors: personally and for my book.

My plan for my personal tweets is to keep updates of blog posts for now, and any conversations people would like to have on there. Whatever naturally grows from this is fine by me.

My plan for the book tweets is a little more fun and interesting. This twitter account will exclusively contain short poetry that provides commentary on some story that connects back to the patterns laid out in the book. For example, the first tweet I started out with concerns the publishing of all the content on the book website:

When thoughts are laid bare/ And can’t be recanted/ You hope others share/ Just like you had planned it #Doubt #Panic http://ow.ly/8aWpn

I’ve been practicing these for a while (most of them are terrible), but I want to keep this up and fill it with tweets that are clever, pertinent, and well thought out.  There are three ways I see this working:

  1. (Less awesome) I keep reading articles, watching videos, or any other form of consumption and write the poetry myself.
  2. (More awesome) You tweet @perpatterns with something you come across that you think has a manifestation of one or more of the patterns, and I’ll write something up on it (giving you credit of course!).  For example, if I notified my book twitter from my personal twitter, the exchange would look like this (first is by @shadownnc, second is by @perpatterns):
@perpatterns http://ow.ly/8aWpn #Doubt #Panic
@shadownnc When thoughts are laid bare/ And can’t be recanted/ You hope others share/ Just like you had planned it #Doubt #Panic http://ow.ly/8aWpn
  1. (Most awesome) You tweet @perpatterns with a full poem that you want to be straight retweeted.  Example of what would be sent from @shadownnc:
@perpatterns When thoughts are laid bare/ And can’t be recanted/ You hope others share/ Just like you had planned it #Doubt #Panic http://ow.ly/8aWpn

Now, 140 characters is not a lot, and I’m actually cheating a little bit when I don’t have the @perpatterns prefix to deal with in a tweet. I have found it challenging to cut it down to the most pertinent rhyming words to get the point across. In addition, I do reserve the right to not retweet something if I don’t think it positively adds to the twitter feed, I doubt we’ll have a problem with that though. I personally have thrown out lots of the ones I have tried, so take your time, let it simmer, and make sure it means something to you!

Feel free to send me any content to look at even if it’s not through Twitter (email or even the comments on this post), though I’ll need a twitter handle to give credit to if you want your name on it. This may end up being really cool, or fail miserably, but happy tweeting!

Reformat

This week will be my last week at the juggernaut that is Blizzard Entertainment, a place I’ve come to love, and I’ll be moving back up to the Bay Area. I have spent five and a half wonderful years at this company (it is the only full time job I’ve yet had), and consider many of my colleagues lifelong friends. In the end though, I’ve decided that programming is not what I want to be doing forever. Since my introduction to it in high school, to a freak chance to be part of the .NET Launch, to an awesome internship at Vertigo, to studying computer science at Berkeley, and culminating with a career at an amazing gaming company, programming has dominated my life for that past decade. But I’ve now come to terms with the fact that I’m yearning for new experiences outside technology.

One of those experiences is writing. During my last few months at Blizzard, I’ve had a chance to finish up a draft of a book based on my own thoughts and philosophies. If programming is what overtly took up my time in the past ten years, then silent thought, observation,  and reflection has prevailed in my private life. This book, entitled Perpetual Patterns, is the result of attempting to document that side of me. The content is complete, barring last minute tweaks I want to do, and I plan on self-publishing it as an eBook, paperback, and audiobook (work is in progress on all three). I consider it a do-it-yourself project from start to finish and want to see it through to completion so I can have something to legitimately call my own. I’ve had a chance to share it with friends, family, and co-workers and they seem to be enjoying it :).  I also now have a website up for the book so anyone can explore the content as they please, any feedback is appreciated!

Aside from this, I’m giving myself six months to let my mind wander where it may before I worry about finding that steady job. Just as I believe in reformatting a computer when it’s become too cluttered, I’m taking this as an opportunity to reformat my life and specifically do the things I haven’t done before.

I find myself really enjoying writing, especially poetry, and would like this blog to serve as a home for random pieces that I work on.  Once I’ve gone through the self-publishing process, I also want to document everything I did so anyone with an interest can possibly use it as a starting point.  If you have a chance to check out the book and like it, check back on this blog, hopefully there will be something else that resonates with you as well!