Posts tagged ‘publishing’

Addressing mistakes I made in releasing Hacking Happy

When I released Hacking Happy two weeks ago, I made a rather serious mistake. It’s the first time I’ve self-published in eBook format. I put a lot of effort into thinking through the release and marketing of the book, but one problem slipped through.

I believe that when you purchase a digital product, you are purchasing the content, not the format. I released Hacking Happy as an eBook in four different formats, each available for download at a minimum purchase price of $5. This was the easiest way to make the book available on Gumroad, and I didn’t think about it much. I thought it would look good on the home page to have links to several different formats! However, I didn’t consider that someone may want copies of the book in two different formats. There are various reasons they may want to do this, and I do not believe they should have to pay full price for each of the different formats when they are essentially getting the same content.

Therefore, I have now made Hacking Happy available as a zip file of all four formats, in addition to the other download links. It is the same minimum price as the other links. However, this didn’t help anyone who had already supported me in buying the book in a single format. Luckily, Gumroad allows me to e-mail my buyers and I was able to supply them with a private link to the zipfile if they wish to access other formats.

Of course, since you own the content you purchased, you are welcome to convert it to other formats as you see fit!

The other issue people raised had more to do with marketing than the book itself. Part of the discussion on Hacker News pointed out that the excerpt didn’t really say much about what was in the book. I have alleviated this by adding a table of contents to the excerpt link on the home page and by choosing an excerpt from a chapter other than the introduction. I believe the chosen excerpt is representative of the contents of the book, and also highlights my writing style.

The response to this book has been very humbling. Other than complaints from people who chose not to purchase it, the feedback has been entirely positive. It has received one five star review on Amazon and I have received e-mails of support, congratulations, and gratitude. I knew when I wrote the book that it was necessary and would fill a niche, and I knew when I published it that I had done a good job. But the feedback reinforcing that knowledge has brought me as much happiness as the process of writing the book did!

Privacy vs Freedom of Speech: Wikileaks

The Pirate Party of Canada has asked it’s members to vote on its stance towards the Wikileaks discussion. In most cases, the PPoC requests its members to have their own opinion, and, if ever elected, to represent their constituents before representing the party. The PPoC only has a unified stance on matters of copyright law, privacy, and free speech. The Wikileaks issue definitely falls under this category, and the party therefore needs to make a collective decision. Here, I am publishing my personal stance on the issue, regardless of the decision they make.

Every human being should have a right to privacy. If we wish to keep any detail about ourselves secret, we should have the right to do so. Legal or illegal, moral or immoral, if we don’t want some piece of data to be public knowledge, the right to privacy is paramount.

We wave this right as soon as we tell anyone our secret. Whether it is a family member, a close friend, a stranger, or everyone on Facebook, the secret is no longer ours to keep. By telling the person that secret, we have given them the right to maintain the secret, or to pass it on or publish it however they deem fit. We can request that they keep the secret, but we cannot demand it. However, that person still has the same right to privacy that we originally had. If only two of us know the secret, we both have the right to protect that secret. No-one should be able to forcibly take that secret from us without our consent.

Once a sufficient number of people knows the secret, the probability that their collective privacy will be greater than the right to gossip approaches zero. “Private knowledge” vs “public knowledge” is not a binary distinction. One person knowing our secret does not make the secret “public.” However, it means that we no longer have the soul ability to keep it private.

The other side of the coin is the responsibility to protect individual privacy. Many professional and government organizations have access to individual data about us that we may want to keep secret. Our doctors, nurses, and medical staff, our accountants and lawyers, our banks, tax agencies, and passport authorities, our driver’s license, health care, and motor vehicle registries all have access to data that they require, but we have the right to protect. They are responsible for protecting that individual data on our behalf. If they fail, data becomes public that should not be public.

So far, I’ve been talking about individual privacy. Privacy does not apply to corporations or governments. They should be held accountable to the individuals in the world, they should be required to operate transparently and openly. They are responsible to maintain the privacy of their employees, members, clients, and customers, but have no right to privacy as a single corporate entity.

Once data is made public, the right to publish that data trumps the right to privacy. This is freedom of speech. Any individual or organization who has access to data has the right to publish the data. The right to free speech does not trump the right to privacy, however, once privacy has been given up, the right to free speech is stronger.

The Wikileaks fiasco violates all of these principles. The private data of individuals was compromised. Government organizations were not operating transparently. Government organizations failed in their responsibility to protect the private data of individuals in their care. Freedom of speech was violated when both governments and corporate entities that should have been completely disinterested oppressed the publisher of the data.

I’d like to emphasize this point: Government organizations failed in their responsibility to protect the private data of individuals in their care. The failure rests squarely on the shoulders of the governments in question. Rather than attacking one (of many) publisher of the information, the governing body is obligated to fix their internal processes. Further, the corporate entities that are attacking Wikileaks should be focusing on this real culprit, not the publisher.

One less relevant note: it is true that the right to freedom of speech can be applied immorally. Consider the celebrity publications of today: the paparazzi are, by most accounts, disgustingly immoral. They violate the right to individual privacy (such violation should be illegal), but have the right to publish information once obtained. Wikileaks may (arguably) be immoral, but they are not so immoral as the paparrazzi that killed and photographed Princess Diana. Why is Wikileaks being persecuted while celebrity gossip rags are running free?

Intellectually Dispossessed

Ursula K. Le Guin is, or had been, one of my favourite authors. In 1974, she published an excellent thought experiment, set in a science fiction setting, titled, “The Dispossessed.” The book discusses a group of people who built a culture and society around the idea of non-possession; nothing belonged to anyone. People lived in whichever house was vacant, people worked together to feed and shelter themselves. Their language did not include concepts of “my” or “mine,” and their children were raised by the community at large.

In some ways, “The Dispossessed” picks up where Richard Stallman’s Short Story, The Right To Read, published 23 years later, left off. The similarity is striking, yet the current stance of the two authors is startlingly different.

“The Dispossessed,” was a masterpiece, yet it is only one of several books Le Guin has written that seem to support cultures of freedom and creativity. I always believed this author was one who supported freedom and creativity.

Apparently, her works are fiction after all.

In December, 2009 Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Author’s Guild due to their settlement with Google on their book scanning policies.

I question how a woman who so clearly understood and documented the benefits of “dispossession” could now be in favour of intellectual property and copyrights. How could she write such an innovative novel, one that she apparently believed in, and yet, now that the world she describes is within reach, she fights it?

Yes, the culture described in Le Guin’s 1970s-era book is similar to a culture the open source and creative commons movements are now so effectively living. Her dream, nearly forty years later, is now becoming a reality.

I’m not sure what has changed in the decades since The Dispossessed was originally written and published, but I would like Ms. Le Guin to reconsider her stance, to study these new movements. Please, ask Lawrence Lessig to explain his views. Most importantly, I sincerely encourage her to publish her next work under a creative commons license. I think she’ll find that she will profit, rather than lose, from such a venture.

Another Published Book

After much success with the Arch Linux Handbook, I have helped successfully self-publish another book. This one is a work of fiction, written by my dad, and I’m proud to announce it to anyone interested in the Western genre. In fact, I’m proud to present it to anyone interested in books at all; it’s a terrific read with some innovative topics and presentation. And trainloads of action!

The summary for Preston Diamond in Way-cross is copied below. Buy a copy and enjoy your read! In addition, visit C. C. Phillips’s website for free online ebooks. Check back for his newest book, Watershed, in a few months, as well as audiobooks in the author’s voice.

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Death doesn’t wait for Preston Diamond in Way-cross, it rides out to meet him. And when the “Presidents’ man” arrives in town, Death is not long in catching up.

Way-cross is the hub of an illicit finance and real estate game that has turned sour. High stakes and rampant lawlessness have attracted the attention of the Whitehouse; Diamond has been sent to investigate. Staying alive is a full time job for the emissary though he occasionally allows romantic diversions. Will the most beautiful lady Preston has ever seen be the one to capture his heart? Or will she put a bullet through it?

All that self-publishing stuff I've looked into

A while back, my sister asked me for some information on the self-publishing options I’ve been investigating. My response went into more detail than I expected, and seemed beneficial to more people than her, so I finally took some time to edit it for my blog.

I have found three ‘legitimate’ services that handle the print on demand process for you:

CreateSpace
LuLu
Unibook

Createspace is run by Amazon; a known company. They are by far the cheapest, but the drawback is they only do paperback books, and the smallest book is 8×5, which is larger than your average
pocketbook. I used them for the Arch Linux Handbook. Lulu is the oldest company, they do LOTS of different book styles including hard cover, but they are expensive. I didn’t look at unibook too much, they are quite new to the self-publishing business, but I think they’ve been around
for a long time in the standard printing business. I will probably use them for hardcover books.

All three are ‘free’ in that there are no up-front costs, but Lulu and unibook are ‘expensive’ in that you have to sell the book for much more than a bookstore typically charges to cover their costs. Createspace has a thing where if you pay them $40, it costs about half price per book, which means you can earn that $40 back in a few sales. Apparently Lulu, and probably Unibook, will do a bit of “massaging” to get your book into the proper format; In contrast, Createspace expects it to be copy-ready and it will be printed exactly how you send it.

All three services allow colour pages, but those are more expensive.

Createspace lists your book on amazon.com for free (I don’t think it lists on amazon.ca or similar international sites though) I think Lulu also has an option to list your book on Amazon.com, but you may have to pay extra.

Every book published has an ISBN associated with it. That’s a number to uniquely identify the book. All three of those services will give you an ISBN, but that means they “own” the ISBN. That doesn’t matter too much, but it has one drawback. There is a “catalogue” of books that bookstore owners across North America consult when they want to custom-order a book. If your book isn’t in that catalogue, your book can’t typically be ordered from bookstores. The catch is that only the owner of the book’s ISBN can put a book in the catalogue. Createspace will not do this with ISBNs they own; I’m not sure about the other companies. So if you are writing a book that you want in bookstores (instead of distributing it yourself or selling only online through Amazon) you may want to get your own ISBN.

In the US, it costs $150 to get an ISBN, but I read that it is free in Canada if you go through Library and Archives Canada. I’ve chosen to just use the free CreateSpace ISBN for now. If a book becomes popular enough to warrant marketing it to bookstores, I can always print a second edition of the title.

As far as actually writing the book goes, I recommend using OpenOffice. Its smart about formatting pages and layout, once you learn how to use it. That’s a big “once”, but its worth it. There are some terrific, “how to write a book in OpenOffice,” tutorials on Google. In addition, OpenOffice natively exports to PDF in a way that CreateSpace, and likely the other companies, will find acceptable.

Some things to keep in mind when formatting a book that aren’t immediately obvious:
* left and right pages need to have different margins because the “inside” margin needs to be bigger to accommodate the spine.
* typically, page numbers go on the ‘outside’ of the header or footer — ie: left side on left pages, right side on right pages
* New chapters always start on a right-hand page; sometimes a blank page on the left needs to be inserted.

I’m not sure how Lulu and Unibook do covers, but I would guess its similar to Createspace. You tell Createspace how many pages the book will have and they send you a template for Photoshop (Gimp will open it) that has the entire cover: back, spine, and front in one file, such that it will “wrap around” the book. You put the graphics and words on there in the right place (there are guidelines) and then send it to them. I suggest putting all the texts and images on different layers so they
are easy to move around, hide, and remove.

You also have the option of publishing ebooks. Createspace has a feature that allows you to publish a book to the Amazon Kindle, an ebook reader. There are also free programs that allow you to publish a book in a wide variety of popular ebook formats. I used one for Linux
called Calibre. There’s a lot of leeway in ebooks; there’s nothing wrong with publishing it as a pdf, web page, or word document if you so wish, but most ebook reading software expect them in one of a few specific formats.

At this time, I can’t provide much information on the marketing side of things. Marketing is definitely the hard part, but its all about knowing your audience and targetting them.

Releasing your book under a Creative Commons license will make it more appealing to a wider target audience. You lose some control over how it is distributed, but that means other people may distribute and market it for you.

Finally, some advertising: I offer proofreading, editing, formatting, and cover layout services if you aren’t comfortable doing any part of the formatting or layout. It really depends how well you know writing and image processing programs; I find it quite simple, but its taken me years of fighting with Open Office and its alternatives until I can finally managed to force it to cooperate.

Arch Linux Handbook

There have been a few calls for print versions of the Arch Linux Beginner’s guide. If all goes well, there should be one available in October.

I’m exploring various self-publishing options, and have been working with Amazon CreateSpace to publish a couple of my father’s novels. Its easy to work with, so I converted the guide to book form, renamed it as the “Arch Linux Handbook”, created a cover, and submitted it to CreateSpace. They’ve authorized it for printing, so now I’m waiting for a proof to arrive. Once I’ve verified the look of it, it’ll be available on its own CreateSpace website or directly through Amazon.com. I’ll link to it on Arch Schwag when its available.

I have to confess that I didn’t put a lot off effort into this project, its basically the most direct translation of web-to-print that I can manage. I’m sure it won’t make complete sense (eg: links that say “click here”), but it’ll be a handy thing to have on your desk… or give to all your friends that think Arch Linux is Too Hard. There may be a typo on the cover (I recently discovered that CreateSpace won’t let me edit the “A Simple Lightweight Linuk Handbook tagline I wrote on the amazon page… oops), or pagination errors. Oh well, there’s always the option of doing a second edition!Arch Linux Handbook Cover

Distributors Don't Die

Abstract

The Internet makes it easy for artist and audience to connect directly, but it does not eliminate a market for distribution companies, as distribution costs are nonzero. However, these costs do not justify a royalty from every sale.

I have implied, or even explied* that distributors (record labels, publishers, movie producers) are not necessary in the Internet era because artists have direct and immediate access to consumers. We don’t need the middle man, and should not be creating laws to protect their business model when said model has no benefit to society.

In the past few months, I have been acting as a distributor. The author is my father, and the consumers are anyone interested in reading his writing. I’ve published two of his books online in html and epub formats and intend to add more works and formats in the future. I encourage anyone reading this to check out this new author, because as his publisher, one of my duties is marketing.

As a distributor for this author, I have spent many many hours proofreading and editing his work. I have spent many more hours designing his site and will be spending several weeks getting the books laid out for hard-cover and paper-back binding.

I am doing this for free as a personal favour to the author and because I believe in him and his work. In a normal business transaction, this is a service that somebody somewhere must pay for. Thus, there is still a market for distribution companies. There are two ways that they can expect remuneration.

1) The artist sells their work to the distributor and the distributor gambles that the work will sell. The publisher covers the cost of distribution and receives a royalty on each sale of the work. The royalty is very high to cover substantial losses should the gamble fail.

2) The artist pays an up-front one-time payment to the distributor for their services. An analogy is hiring a plumber to do the pipe-fitting for a public toilet. He doesn’t get paid for every flush.

Current recording, publishing, and movie networks use the former model. This model is failing. Next-generation artists are realizing that the second option means much greater income per sale. A surge of independent editing, remastering, printing, and marketing businesses will start to eat a larger and larger share of the distribution market as artists realize the greater return on investment. More competition means lower costs for artists seeking an audience, which in turn implies lower ultimate costs for audiences purchasing a work.

I offer independent book-publishing services including editing, proofreading, printing and online distribution. I’m learning as I go, so my fees are low. If you want to gamble that I can learn faster and cheaper than you can get a large publishing house to accept your work, get in touch.

The current record labels, movie producers, and book publishers are losing the oligarchical control they are used to. They don’t like this. They want to invent artificial laws that make it harder for artists to be published without their blessing. Please support your local Pirate Party.


*Explied is not a word, but if it was a word it would mean “explicitly stated”. I think it should be a word, therefore I encourage you to use it at your earliest opportunity. I made up this word, but google insists that I was not the first to invent it.