Thursday, September 1, 2011

Letting Rob Hunter do the Talking

On Self-publishing

Typically the afterlife of a published tale—we are talking literary ephemera here, the books, the magazines, the websites and e-zines over which you, the author, have no control—consists of gathering dust until the writer’s heirs and assigns shred it for packing nick-knacks and other writerly impedimenta. Not quite the half-life of linoleum. And what of the loves, lives, hopes and aspirations of its citizens? Must they float forever in a shimmering noƶsphere playing whist and watching the flights of eidolons? Boring.

Self-publishing takes either a lot of money or a lot of work. You’re a writer, right? You are in this for love. If it was the money you’d be an investment banker or a plumber. You daydream of that big Hollywood agent calling you up and asking if you’d like to option off your book for a film. How does he know there is a book? Oops. Barring the cash to hire someone else to format your book, record your readings, convert your words into acceptable audio files, this means it’s time to roll up the sleeves.

Formatting a book. This is one of those things that you thought happened Someplace Out There where the Keebler elves cluster about a polished tree stump as they gaze awestruck at your manuscript. Your book. Book, ahh, the sound of it. You've taken your book through many drafts, re-edited, reworked, recast, shortened, lengthened, and found that by the time you were halfway through your book—in my case a 480 page opus—that you had forgotten where you were at. At which time you hit Enter and leave the friendly elves to enter the Forest of Frustration. Here we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” Hopefully to get your work into as many hands as possible. Writers want readers. Lulu.com offers free templates. There will be a learning curve, but you can format it yourself.

There is so much (free) help on the Internet, and free applications as well, that what you will get from virtual self-publishing can become an excuse for putting off your writing. Remember—anything you do is writing, particularly re-writing and editing. That said, let’s get under the hood.

1.) Self-publishing, the first step-The Website.
You can, with a semester at your local Community College and a stack of books, build your own website—a piece of virtual real estate where folks can find you—with only a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++) as I was taught at the University of Maine at Machias. I eventually chickened out and sprung for Expressions Web, a Windows application. If you are a Mac person, there is a plethora of excellent WYSIWYG media out there for both PCs and Macs.

2.) Self-publishing the second step—Podcasting.
Why record? You don’t like the sound of your voice anyway, and studio time is prohibitively expensive. You can do it at home with a mid-line desktop (dual Pentium 4 plus and a USB sound card with a couple of gigs memory and Audacity, a free program). I regularly record stories (at the local radio station, later at home as I saved up the $800.00 for a condenser microphone and an external USB sound card.) as they became available and copyright reverted back to me. The stories and MP3 downloads are distributed for free here, under a Creative Commons license. I started my uploading career with a trip to Feedburner, now owned by Google. Feedburner is free and will do your conversions into the conflicting technologies that clog the Internet.

3.) Self-publishing the third step—e-Books.
One of the most time-honored practices of the author promoting his or her work is the public reading. This is fine if you have a publisher with an ever-eager crew of public-relations folk out there beating the trees and coercing a few church groups, literary reading circles, and independent booksellers to free up a Wednesday evening for you. This is necessarily local; there is no drawing account, but you may want to save your expense vouchers. (And going local is a warm, wonderful human experience—see Big Hollywood Agent above) Going national? Go virtual (see Big Hollywood Agent again).

Here are some free or cheap names to remember—Calibre, Mobipocket Creator, Reader Works Publisher (for Microsoft Reader, of the 3500 eBook downloads from my website only 0.9%, but it sure makes a pretty file), and if you don’t have Adobe, Open Office makes a dandy .pdf for free. For wrangling those finished audio files, check Chapter and Verse.

Here's something to look up—just write it down and Google it sometime: M4b. That’s M4b. Don’t worry, be happy. This is the same audio format albeit with some DRM exclusionary bells and whistles that Amazon uses at audible.com. Just don't worry about it; it's something you will want to look into later. iTunes can convert your files for you too—and right on your desktop computer.

4.) Self-publishing the fourth step—Unscrewing the unscrewtable.
How will people know how to find me? I don't even know how to find them. Good question and, once again, if you were to Google “Podcast Directory” you should get hundreds if not thousands of listings. Many “podcast directories” act as link farms and they all point to you. How do they get your address? Well, use your imagination. Yep, cannibalism from other directories, and with it inordinate exposure for you and your offerings.

To test the proof of my next statement you will have to look at the statistics for your own website. My website is unimaginatively hosted by GoDaddy.com and cost me about $42 a year the last time I looked in 2010. And I get a lot of extras with it—that is “extras” for a smalltime operator, not recommended for the United States Government, General Motors or Amazon.com—like a stats engine that lists MP3 files.

5.) Self-publishing the fifth step—Running the numbers.
What will you see in those statistics and why look? Glad you asked. Here are mine as of August 2011:
MP3 downloads 326,547
HTML (the actual web pages) 221,077
XML (extensible markup language) 170,712
PDF (or Adobe/Mobipocket-friendly portable document format) 2,168
PRC files (the Kindle-friendly versions of my three books) 1,547
And LIT (Microsoft Reader) 328

The first list item is MP3 downloads and let’s note, over 100,000 more than the next lowest which is HTML, the actual webpages. Conclusion: people are not reading as much as they're listening.

How did this happen since the links of the audio files are embedded in the HTML pages? Referrals from podcast directories.

At this point I should remind you to put a wee advertisement at the end and beginning of each story or each chapter that you upload to tell people how to find the print version on your website. Without this the link may put you at number one with a bullet in the Billboard top 100 but will not send many people to your books. My first uploads were to Podcast Alley, Podcast Directory, iTunes and DMOZ and an audio file collection to the Internet Archive. And, of course FeedBurner as recommended by Jim Kelly. If this Sci-Fi writer is using any promotional tool, it’s worth investigating.

Next XML. XML is extensible markup language and the table of contents pages for your upload and/or content sites more about this? Google for this one—it’s tricky. In my case the XML file tells iTunes how (and what) to display of my stuff.

Here we’ll skip a line and go to the PRC files. Not to be afraid. These will be the Kindle/Mobi friendly eBooks.

The PDFs are the most popular of my downloads. I’ve got three books formatted for PDFs. I recently sent up the Kindle-friendly PRC links and am watching these play catch-up. There is one additional format—ePub, the dream of an (almost) universally readable eBook that I haven’t mentioned. I’m still learning; check back.

NOTE: If you Kindle-friendly format at home as I do, the Amazon Store will not display your book and the end user has some finagling to do on their desktop computer, i.e. drag-and-drop. Not to difficult.


You—we—want readers (see paragraph 3). Barring money by the wheelbarrow load (see Big Hollywood Agent again), this will have to suffice. Or is this all just an ego trip, maybe a few copies to send out to friends at Christmas? Answer—yes, it is an ego trip; what’s wrong with that? Get real. And don’t forget to call Mom, she’ll want one, too.



Find Rob's books here. (The covers are fun to click on!)


With the onset of late middle age Rob Hunter is the sole support of a 1999 Ford Escort and the despair of his young wife. He does dishes, mows the lawn and keeps their Downeast Maine cottage spotless by moving as little as possible. In a former life, he was a newspaper copy boy, railroad telegraph operator, recording engineer and film editor. He spent the 70s and 80s as a Top-40 disc jockey.

Rob's wife, Bonnie, is the secretary at a nearby rural elementary school. She is a gifted quilter who beguiled her new husband with the kaleidoscope of patchwork geometry.

The nearest town to the Hunters that anybody is likely to have ever heard of--because of Stephen King’s The Langoliers--is Bangor, Maine where there are real parking meters and a traffic light. They drive down every six months or so to watch the light change and see the trains come in.