How I Self-Published My Book
It all started with a few months ago with a week-long miniseries on Shawn Today. The topic was “the importance of delight in design.”
The feedback from that miniseries was quite positive, and I really enjoyed the subject matter. So I had this idea of re-record the miniseries, polish it up a bit more, and selling it for a few bucks as a for-pay podcast of sorts.
Well, as you already may have guessed, the project spiraled into what became Delight is in the Details.
As I was re-writing the outline for the updated miniseries, I began adding more and more episodes. It turned into 7 parts and then 9.
Also, my plan was to write out a script to read from so I could be sure to say exactly what I wanted to say in each episode, without rambling on and on.
So I thought why not pair the written version with the audio version? And, gosh. If I was going to do that, why not just make it into a book? And then I thought it would be fun to include some additional audio by doing interviews with some of my friends in the industry that know about this stuff.
It started as something I probably could have built and shipped in a few days, and turned into something that took me over 100 hours to complete. But I’m extremely proud of the end result.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the tools and services I used to write, edit, design, and ship Delight is in the Details.
Landing Page Design
I debated how I wanted to announce the book. There was either: (a) keep it secret until the day it came out; or (b) begin talking about it ahead of time.
I opted for the latter. So, obviously, I needed a landing page for the book — a place where I could tease what the book was about and encourage people follow to follow me on Twitter or enter their email to be notified when the book comes out.
My first version of the landing page was little more than a blog-post type page on this site. Over the course of a couple weeks I occasionally tweeted some links to the landing page, letting people know I was working on a book. I also wrote a few articles related to the content of my book, and linked to the landing page from within those articles.
Over those first three weeks, 173 people entered their email address to be notified.
Then, about two weeks ago, I designed a somewhat better landing page (which looked almost exactly like the page that’s there now, except instead of the buy buttons I had a big, “web 2.0” email sign up form).
I tweeted a link to that landing page at 5:30pm on a Thursday evening. And within 24 hours I had 300 new email signups (in addition to the 173 that had already signed up). The excitement around the book seemed to skyrocket once I had that better looking landing page.
Even for the hype-averse, smart and considered audience that follows me on twitter and reads this site, a good-looking landing clearly made a lot of difference. The design of the page with the graphics showing the book’s cover and interior layout, with the different reading devices, a cleaner look, a more prominent and inviting email form, resulted in tripling my email signups in one day.
TinyLetter and MailChimp
TinyLetter was my email newsletter service of choice. It’s very easy to use and I like their clean design.
Alas, when I announced my new landing page, the influx of new email signups triggered an auto-defense mechanism with TinyLetter and a reCAPTCHA was put up to make sure those joining the mailing list weren’t spam robots.
The reCAPTCHA was annoyingly difficult to answer, and it added an extra hurdle. After contacting the TinyLetter support team, I was told there was no way for them to remove the reCAPTCHA. So, after that first day, I took the list off of TinyLetter and set up a MailChimp signup form instead.
When it came time to do the mailing, I had 635 people who had signed up to get an email announcement about the book. This was very encouraging.
At this point I had segments of the list: one in TinyLetter and one in MailChimp. I exported the names out of MailChimp and dropped them into TinyLetter to create the final master list.
Monday afternoon, the day before launch, I sent an email letting people know the book would be out on Tuesday. I then sent another email at 10:00 am EST, on Tuesday morning announcing the book was out.
I used Photoshop CS3 to design the hero image for the website, size the book cover for Kindle, and create the individual MP3 artwork “covers” for each chapter of the book and each audio interview.
All the rest of the design (the actual book cover typesetting, the book layout, and the interview show notes) was done in Pages.
I wrote the whole book in Pages, and even designed the cover in pages. I used Warnock Pro and Avenir Next as the typefaces.
(Side note: Jeff Abbott edited the book for me (he edits all the major articles I publish here). I’ve been working with Jeff since I took the site full time and highly recommend him if you are in need of an editor.)
For the PDF version of the book I simply printed from Pages and saved as a PDF — easy as pie.
The ePub, however, was not so easy. I exported from Pages to ePub, but the auto-generated xhtml and css turned out horrible. There were massive line breaks between paragraphs, the default font size was too small, and the chapter formatting was all a mess. I had to dig into the ePub source files and edit all the xhtml files, the manifest, and the css.
An ePub file is not unlike a zipped up website. Each chapter and section has its own html file. My crude explanation of what’s inside is this:
- There is a CSS file where you define line height and margins and padding.
- There is a table of contents file that tells the reading device which order the chapters go in and what their titles are.
- And there is a manifest file that gives an account of all the files in the zip, and which lists the “spine order” so if you wish to read from “cover to cover” the device knows which section and chapter to display first, second, third, etc.
My small experience working with ePubs has taught me one thing: they are a world of hurt.
Though the components are basic enough, I haven’t yet used an app that could generate a clean, basic ePub file. I’ve made two eBooks so far and molding each one to meet my standard of quality was a tedious and painful process.
The first ePub I did was for a book my wife wrote. We had the layout done in InDesign (CS3). I knew InDesign could export to ePub, but the whole process turned out to be quite a bit of work. I first had to rebuild the document as a new book file and apply new paragraph styles to all the text (even italics and bold). And, after export, I then had to dig into the source files and update the manifest to properly link and name the chapters, and fine tune the CSS a bit.
I thought that certainly Pages would be better when it came to ePub export but I was wrong. It turned out to be worse. Though, in part, it could have been due to operator error. I had section breaks, but not a proper Table of Contents set up and linked within my original Pages document.
If I write another book, I might build the ePub version from scratch.
Editing and Validating ePubs
A few months ago, this forum thread proved to be immensely valuable when I was making the ePub for my wife’s book. Not only did it help walk me through the process of building the document in InDesign, it also gave some helpful information about the ePub’s source files as well.
On a Mac, there is no easy way to just get in to an ePub file’s source documents. Through the aforementioned thread, I found this ePub zip/unzip app. It’s basically just an Applescript that takes an ePub file and unzips it so you have access to the source files. Then, when you’re done, you use it to turn the files back into an ePub document.
And so, after I had exported my book to an ePub file from Pages, I then unzipped it using the above Applescript, and then went to work cleaning up the source code using Coda. After I had changed some of the metadata, taken out the superfluous paragraph breaks, changed some of the CSS, and adjusted the TOC and Spine order, I zipped the folder to ePub so I could validate and test it.
I used the IDPF’s ePub validator tool to make sure I hadn’t broken anything after I had been fiddling with my document source files. If there are errors the validator tells you what’s wrong and in which document and line the error is occurring. It’s quite helpful.
Once I had a valid ePub (it took a few tries) I then “tested” it on my iPad. I did this by simply opening the file in Dropbox and sending it to iBooks. Once I was happy with the formatting, and table of contents, etc., I then made a Kindle version.
Making a MOBI file (what the Kindle uses) from ePub is a piece of cake. Using Calibre, you import the ePub file, then chose to convert it. And boom, you’re done.
I made a different cover source file for the Kindle, so it would fit on the screen of my Kindle touch. There are a lot of suggestions and opinions from Amazon and the rest of the internet about what the dimensions of a Kindle cover should be. Mine ended up being 1500×2030.
Recording and Editing Audio
Then I split the MOV track created by Skype Call Recorder, and dropped the two sides of the conversation into Garage Band.
I used Garage Band for everything audio related except recording the interviews.
Editing the interviews The finished interviews are, on average, 30 minutes each. After splitting the conversation sides and dropping the recording into Garage Band, it took me about 2.5 hours to edit each conversation. I would adjust the individual track volumes so that our voices were about equal, and then I would crop the front and end of the call, and then listen through to edit out as much of the dead space and as many of the “Umms” as I could. I wanted these interviews to sound like something you’d hear on NPR — a well-paced conversation that sounded natural, and was free from awkward silence, talking over one another, and the like. It took me an additional 20 hours to edit the interviews, but it was worth it.
Recording and editing the audio book Using my trusty Blue Yeti microphone, I recorded the shows directly into Garage Band in my home office.
I placed towels all on my desk and around where I was to help muffle the audio a bit. As I was recording, if I messed up a word or phrase, I’d just take a pause, say “again” into the mic, take another pause, and then start that paragraph over.
The finished audio book is 77 minutes, and it took me about 4 hours to record all the chapters. It then took me another 8 hours to edit out all of my misspoken words, etc.
For adding and editing the metadata and artwork of each audio file.
AudioBook Binder is a free app in the Mac App Store. You just drop in your MP3 files, and then it will bind them together into a single M4P file with chapters.
You can make an audio book Garage Band by lining up your files end-to-end and setting your own chapter markers and then exporting. However, since I already had the individual MP3 tracks, I preferred the easier, more automated approach of just dragging and dropping into AudioBooksBinder.
I am using Gumroad to handle payments and delivery of the book.
Spacebox or Gumroad were the ones that made the most sense.
Compared to Spacebox, Gumroad is a bit more expensive. To sell my $29 book through Spacebox would cost $1.431 (that is Spacebox’s 1% transaction fee and Stripe’s 2.9% + 30 cents fee). Spacebox also charges $12/month to sell digital goods.
To sell my $29 book on Gumroad costs me $1.70 per book. That’s 5% + $0.25 per transaction. There are no monthly fees, no limits on product sales, no extra costs whatsoever.
Obviously the more books I sell the more money I lose to Gumroad that I could have saved had I used Spacebox. But I went with Gumroad primarily because of its the way it integrates on my site and how it handles digital delivery.
The design of the product and payment pages in Gumroad are very clean and classy. I like how when someone clicks the buy button on my book’s site, the payment form shows up right within the page. On Mobile, you’re redirected to their site where you get a mobile friendly checkout page. The experience is pretty much exactly what I wanted, and works how I would have it work had I built the service myself.
I also like how they handle the digital delivery. When you buy the product you instantly get a link to download. Also, an email is sent to you with a download link in there as well. This is great because it means folks who buy the product on their computer can download it immediately. Folks who buy it on their iPhone, iPad, or work computer can download it later via the email link if they like.
For one, the checkout process simple and clean (they ask only for an email address and the bare essentials of credit card info). Equally simple is the seller’s dashboard. For me to sell Delight is in the Details I just made an account, uploaded my ZIP file, set a price, and was done.
And, as the seller, I see real-time sales results On launch day I was checking the Gumroad stats page about once every 10 minutes.
Launch Day Fears
On today’s episode of Shawn Today, I talked about this in great detail, and perhaps sometime I’ll write about it more here as well. But in short, the launch day was incredibly emotional for me. I was nervous, of course. But I also woke up feeling like a fraud, before I had even shipped the book. I felt fearful that people would consider the content of my book and the interviews to be not worth paying for, and yet here I was charging $29.
While waiting for my coffee, I decided I would continue as planned and not make any emotional decisions (or listen to the “lizard brain”) on launch day.
I wasn’t afraid that nobody would buy it, rather I was afraid people would buy it and be upset. But after a few days, the opposite has proven to be true. So far the feedback has been nothing but overwhelmingly positive.
A huge thanks to Marco, Cameron, Michael, Paul, Jory, Federico, Dan, and Chase who so generously gave of their time to contribute to the project. And a huge thanks to everyone who has bought the book. Your support and kind words mean the world to me. Thank you.