Thursday, July 8, 2021

I Fulfill a Request for a Signed Copy of My New Book: RTTC Bears in the Wild

RTTC Bears in the Wild
I can see why authors participate in book signing events. Not only does it promote the book, but such an event also is good for the author's sense of accomplishment. Readers show up and not only buy a book but also want it signed by the author. Of course, this is all true only if readers show up! I've read accounts of the opposite happening; when no one shows up to a book signing, then we must look deep into those waters of personal motivation.

Recently, I was asked through Facebook Messenger for a signed copy of RTTC Bears in the Wild. The reader had given her copy of the book away to a friend and contacted me asking for a signed copy. It had been a long time since I'd done this, and since I knew her from online, I told her I'd mail her a book and then contact her about how much it would cost.

The cost of printing RTTC Bears in the Wild is about two and a half times more than a book of similar pages but without the color photographs. When determining the cost of the little book, I had to factor the increased printing cost, of course. Also POD (Print on Demand) costs are higher than traditional mass printing. I like the POD publishing model, though, for a several reasons. One is that there are no upfront printing costs that the publisher and author must then recoup. Another is that there are no storage issues for the books--500 or 5,000 books take up quite a bit of space, and then there are also the issues of protection of the book, too, to ensure that water, humidity, and insects and rodents don't damage the book. Finally, there is the environmental plus with POD publishing that only those books purchased are printed. Trees are cut down to print books that are never read; energy is needlessly spent for printing that isn't needed. All these issues morph, of course, when discussing ebooks. The environmental discussion still deals with energy consumption, though.

I have a downstairs cupboard full of copies of my books--mostly my first three books. I've learned my lesson, though, and no longer buy a hundred copies of a new book. Ten copies will do, and I can always order more. I don't do promotional book signings, especially in my home town. I guess I feel that I just want to connect to readers online and not have to put my local friends through the decision-making process of "Oh, should we go to Tom's book signing? Do we have to buy a book? I don't want to hurt his feelings by not showing up." I have placed my books in a local book store, though. That was easy and seemed reasonable. I've also considered selling my books at the local Farmers' Market. I could set my table up next to a friend and spend a fun Saturday morning maybe selling a book but certainly chatting with folks. And I could buy a week's worth of zuchini--or maybe manage a swap!

It turns out that it's less expensive to buy a book from me personally than buying it online from Amazon. When a reader buys a copy of one of my books from Amazon, I receive sixty percent of the sale price. The rest goes to Kindle Direct Publishing for printing. KDP describes it as follows: "KDP offers a fixed 60% royalty rate on paperbacks sold on Amazon marketplaces where KDP supports paperback distribution. Your royalty is 60% of your list price. We then subtract printing costs, which depend on page count, ink type, and the Amazon marketplace your paperback was ordered from." This sounds pretty good--six dollars in royalties for a small book using black ink. However, those distribution marketplace costs are taken from the royalties, so in truth a ten-dollar book would maybe get an author two dollars for royalties. Here is a link from Martin Publishing Services (click here) if you're interested in learning more. 

Another reason that it costs less to buy a book from me, rather than from Amazon (for the three books I've published exclusively via KDP) is that I do the packaging and mailing. If I were to charge for the hour it takes me to package the book and then take it to the post office, then . . . well, I really can't even consider that if I want to consider economics. It is fulfilling to mail a book off, though. There's a personal connection established by writing in the book and then mailing it off. If I were doing this all day long in order to make my living money, then I'd have to raise my prices. Occasionally mailing a signed copy to a reader? That's a gesture of respect.

Henry David Thoreau once commented on his publishing of Walden, something along these lines--"I have a library of one thousand books, of which nine hundred are the book I wrote." I've managed to not "save money" by privately printing a large number of books, where each book printed would indeed cost less than POD publishing. However, I have cut my upfront costs to almost nothing and also don't have to stare at a roomful of books and wonder, "What am I going to do with all those darn books?" The good news is that rather than worrying about how I can sell more copies of my recent camping book--I'm just going camping!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Creating and Publishing a Book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Using a Chromebook and Google Drive

A Day Out with Mom
That's a pretty long title for this article, especially since this article isn't going to be a long and detail-filled exposition of step-by-step how to put together a book using the online-centered Chromebook and Google Drive platforms. The truth is that it's not that difficult to independently publish your own book using Kindle Direct Publishing's program. I've used the KDP platform to publish three small books (around one hundred pages) that have been based on blog articles I've written. My last book, recently published, is the first one, though, that I've put together using Google Drive's online word processing rather than Microsoft word processing and a fully independent laptop. The bottom line is that working online with a Chromebook was a bit slower at times, that the Google Doc word processing program was a bit more limited than Word, but that once I realized the differences, I was pretty much able to do whatever I wanted to create the book. 

Here are the three books I've published through Amazon's KDP, available both as paperbacks and as ebooks:
KDP allows an author to sign up and then begin creating a book, walking the author through the steps of "Creating a New Title":
  • Book Content: You can upload a manuscript, or use our free creation tools to create children's books, educational content, comics, and manga. Get started with Kindle content creation tools.
  • Book Cover: You can use our online Cover Creator, or upload a cover of your own. Creating a great cover.
  • Description, Keywords and Categories: Tell readers about your book and help them find it on Amazon.
  • ISBN: Get a free ISBN to publish your paperback. Kindle eBooks don't need one. More about ISBNs.
I Write: Being & Writing
For each step, Amazon KDP provides guidance, and there are also usually online blogs and YouTube videos that provide insights. What I've found about Chromebooks, which don't have the memory capacity of traditional computers because information is saved online, and what I've found out about working on Google Drive's doc platform, is that there are a few speed and capabilities limitations. However, for a traditional book layout, these boundaries are more occasional nuisances than deal breakers. 

I've put together eight books since 2010 (see my Amazon author's page), using Adobe, Microsoft, and Google Doc word processing programs. The first book, a poetry book, was compiled using Microsoft Word, the next two used Adobe's InDesign, and the last have used KDP with Word or Google Doc templates. I had a friend who helped me a lot with the first three books, and we also designed the book covers using Adobe Photo Shop. For the later books, I used KDP's book design templates.

Here are some of the nuisances and limitations I've discovered using KDP and Google Docs on a Chromebook.
  • The KDP downloaded templates have a set number of chapters when downloaded. Because of my limited word processing and designing expertise, I found the process of working with the sections, rows, and columns to be a challenge, especially since I only put together a book every few years. I did manage by fiddling around to learn how to widen certain cells or add more rows in the table of contents section. I learned how to add more chapters to the book and table of contents. If I knew more, I probably could have been more efficient, though.
  • Some of what I learned through my experience with Word had to be massaged to understand for Google Docs. For instance, adding anchors for ebook navigation in Word (moving from the table of contents to the chapter and back to the TOC) was not exactly the same for Google Docs. "Bookmarks" is the Docs designation for anchors, and the possibilities for use seem to be limited in Docs. I say "seem" because it wasn't always clear. I'd read an article online of how to set up an ebook's table of contents for the Amazon Kindle platform using Docs, and then some of the directions from the article met up with the Docs platform just not having the "go to" or "click" steps available. 
  • As my book grew in length--as I inserted chapters and photos--saving the program grew a little longer. I had moments of panic when I received a message from the Kindle draft viewing function saying that there was an error in saving. What! Had I lost the entire manuscript? What I realized after a time of panic was that the movement of the manuscript from Google Drive to Kindle might take a bit and to not jump right from compiling the book on Drive to checking out what the book will look like on the preview section. The process was not instantaneous. That scare did lead me, though, to regularly making copies of the publishing draft and saving them under a new name, such as "Bear March 25," which provided the assurance that if all my compiling work did get lost or corrupted in the ether, that I'd have a copy of what I'd created.
These few insights leads me to the need to reiterate that my last three books have been collections of blog articles that I've compiled into books, listed earlier in this article. Creating the book wasn't just copying and pasting the articles into the book template, though. I mean, well, it was that, but a book is different than a blog; book chapters are different than blog articles. Time flows differently in a book than in a blog. Words like "here," "now," and "today" don't play out the same in books as in blogs. Therefore, the final manuscript for these books was significantly different than all the blog articles put together. The books are unique documents, and losing a manuscript because saving in the cloud didn't work would be a real downer. 

My blog articles were in a very real way just drafts of an upcoming book that I've shared with readers. For my first blog-to-book adventure--I Write: Being and Writing--I didn't even have the idea of putting the articles together into a book until while talking to a friend about a series of articles I was writing he said, "Hey, you know, you could put those together into a book." That may seem pretty obvious, but it was a revelation to me at the time. The concept isn't new, that's for sure. During the 1800s, Dickens and others first serialized their novels for periodicals prior to publishing them as books.

RTTC Bears in the Wild
My final thoughts on using laptops that word process primarily from online platforms--and then coupling that with online independent publishing platforms--is that regular creation of backup files of the manuscript (even if backed up online) is always a good idea. It will provide you with a sense of security. A second point is that there may be time lags sometimes, that you can't just jump from one step to another quickly. Be patient. And finally, the Google Doc word processing program may have some limitations that can probably be worked around but which might cause some frustration or even necessitate some adaptation. 

These are just my experiences, but most folks are like me, not wizards at all the ins and outs of whatever word process and publishing platforms are being utilized. It's like fixing something in our home. You fix or replace something, and then ten years later you have to do it again. "Now how did I do that?" you think, and then you have to go back and learn all over, at the same time realizing that in ten years things have changed. Oh, well! I've managed to produce a nice little book, RTTC Bears in the Wild, which I think provides some good reading and good color photos this last time around. It was a great experience to research this little camping book, to write the blog articles, and then to put everything together and make available both as a paperback and an ebook. Although not the only game in town (KDP only publishes on Amazon), I've found my Chromebook, Google Doc, and KDP combination to work fine for me. If you want to read the book, it's readily available, and I call that a successful venture into independent publishing.

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

A Blended, Extended Family Father's Day


It's funny how things change. When I first moved to Iowa in 1984, it was just my first wife and me. My parents, brother and sister, and all my relatives were in California. Most of my wife's parents were in Washington state. Now, thirty-seven years later, my first wife has passed, her parents, my parents and brother and sister, and all my aunts and uncles except one. 

This is not a Father's Day lament, though, about my isolation and old-age angst. I am very fortunate. I did remarry, which was actually a wonderfully funny surprise to us both . . . but that's another story. Over the last sixteen years, there were many comings and goings of our children, my wife Sandy's son and daughter and my first wife Barbara and my son. At times we were alone with our children scattered across half the continent, but on this Father's Day I can say that happily that is not the case. 

All our children are now here in town with us, having settled here--along with the children of Sandy's daughter and those of my son and his wife. Also with Sandy's son and his girlfriend, that makes us a total of thirteen: Grandpa and Grandma (Sandy and me), three children and their partners, and five grandchildren, including my son's blended family. On this Father's Day, I am definitely not living in isolation, sitting on my porch and watching other people pass by, walking or driving or bicycling, living their lives while I increasingly dwelling in the past.

I am sitting in my living room at dawn right now, the window open for a while before the day heats up, and just from where I'm sitting I can see the dynamism of my family interactions. Over below the TV table is a galvanized tub filled with odds and ends of toys we've brought over from Sandy's daughter's place. Sitting kind of in the middle of the room is a box full of food staples that we had too much of and Sandy's son is coming to pick the food up. Beside the box of food is a burlap carrying bag that my wife uses for swimming necessaries when she heads up to the city's local lake. Along with towels, she'll stuff it with juice boxes and snacks for the grandkids. 

To my right next to the sofa is a stack of books I researched on our local public library's website and then checked out for Sandy. You see, I'm heading out tomorrow to a local campground for a week in our new Airstream Basecamp travel trailer, and I wanted to make sure that Sandy has plenty of reading material on hand. We're planning on Sandy coming to camp with me next weekend, if not sooner, depending on what her business requires. Speaking of reading, I'm on my computer and realize I also have regular communication with my first wife Barbara's family in Washington. It's a big, connected world.

I am surrounded by family, planted deeply in the rich soil of family (even if sometimes we wonder if we're planted a little too deeply), and am as busy and connected as I can possibly be. This evening when it cools, my son and Sandy's daughter's husband are coming to fix a leak on the roof. When I'm gone camping, my son will keep the garden watered. Later this summer I will buy a big load of firewood, and I'm pretty sure and hope to god "the boys" will come over and help me stack it. 

On this Father's Day, I wish to celebrate the idea that "families are made in many ways." My mother was adopted; my son is adopted. Right now Sandy and I are the paterfamilias and materfamilias of our extended, blended family that includes thirteen wonderful souls. We all have many opportunities to create family, and it doesn't even have to be through marriage or partnership. It has to do with reaching out and giving and receiving. It has to do with including, not excluding--reaching out rather than pushing away. I am lucky, I am fortunate. I am so far away from "lonely" that I'm looking forward to a little quiet camping time. It is summer, though, so Sandy and I won't be at all surprised if our little quiet camping getaway is interrupted by the arrival of at least one car full of kids and grandkids. And that will be just fine. Happy Father's Day, Tom.

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Monday, June 14, 2021

Giving Books to My Local Public Library

When our local public library closed because of the pandemic, that didn't stop my wife and me from reading. It did affect how we acquired our books, though. I learned how to browse the public library's book list from the online catalog and, thankfully, was able to check out books via their curbside delivery program. 

I discussed my online browsing and curbside pick-up in an earlier post: "My Local Public Library Has Only Curbside Service--How I Learned to Browse Online." Learning how to browse for library books online has been a fun adventure, especially when browsing for books my wife might like to read. I've discovered some new sub-genres (such as the "cozy" mystery) and some new authors, in addition to forming what really amounts to my wife and my very own husband/wife book club.

Often, though, an author we discover online has only one or two books from a series that our library has on the shelves. We've had to purchase books, used or new, to fill in a series we are reading. As an example, the author Mary Alice Monroe has written a trilogy set in the Carolinas called the "Lowcountry Summer" series. Our library had the first two books in the series but not the third, which we bought. It also had one book from Monroe's "Beach House" series, so we bought the other books in the series, plus some of Monroe's standalone novels. 

Another author whom we've bought quite a few books from is Anna Lee Huber. Huber has written nine books in one series and four in another, and our library had the last book from each series. After researching Huber, my wife and I decided to buy the first book in each series to see how much we liked the writing. We ended up buying all the books in each series--except the last, of course, since our LPL had those two on its shelves. 

The question arises, though, of what to do with all those books we've bought, especially since they are "just one time" reads. And the answer, of course, is to donate them to the library!

When I mentioned to the librarian that I had some books my wife and I had bought that filled in missing books from some series that the library owned, the librarian's response was somewhat unexpected, even though on second thought it made perfect sense. She said that not all donated books make the shelves. I knew this, since the library holds regular book sales and even has a section of the library that holds used books for sale.

The librarian also said that even if a book donated completes a trilogy, as my "Lowcountry Summer" example mentioned earlier, the book still might not make it to the shelves. It seems that it would; after all, why not complete the trilogy? What the librarian explained was that if the two books in the trilogy had only been checked out once--say in the last five years--and that once was by me, then rather than completing the trilogy, the two books on the shelves might be discarded and included, along with my donation, to a regular library book sale.

It doesn't really matter to me, though. Either way I am supporting the library, either by improving the quality of the books to loan or by adding to the library's coffers when they sell a book I donated. That makes me happy. As far as I'm concerned, free public libraries are among the most nurturing, positive institutions that were ever imagined. Read on and prosper!

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

My Canceled WordPress.com Blog Misadventure

It all started when Blogger's Feedburner "Follow by Email" was scheduled to be shut down. I needed a new email subscriber service, so I decided to move to WordPress.com, with their Premium $96 a year plan. Boy, was that a mistake!

I had been at Blogger with my Green Goddess Glamping camping blog for three years. I've had this Tom Kepler Writing blog at Blogger for over ten years. The composing process is pretty easy, what used to be called a WYSIWYG site, a "wizzy-wig" or What You See Is What You Get set-up. Pretty easy to use. The WordPress Premium level platform did have some more options, along with a learning curve--but I felt all was within my capacity.

Then I imported my three years of blog posts from Blogger and discovered that everywhere that I had used an single quote or double quote, the text came out including a backslash, such as can/'t instead of can't, or /"Follow by Email/" instead of "Follow by Email." I like the WordPress online chat service for problems, but didn't like the news I received. When I reported that I had written over 250 articles in three years and all the articles included this problem--and also page titles--I was told the Premium plan could not help me--I could go to the $300 a year plan, though! The "Happiness Engineer" chat comments are below.

By manually removing them, WordPress will display the titles, content, etc without the backslash character. I don't think there is an automatic way of doing this on the Premium plan but let me double-check for a moment.
Another idea that will work is creating a local version of your site, using search/replace plugin on the local site to clean up the unnecessary characters, then import or do a search and replace on that setup, export that site and import it here.

I have to admit that after researching online and finding out that this issue has been around for over ten years and that WordPress.com hasn't found a fix for this for the $96 per year plan (or the free, entry-level plan, for that matter), that pretty much tripped my trigger. 

I researched my original problem of finding a new "follow by email" service and found that Mailchimp has a great platform for free (with under 500 subscribers). I activated that service for this blog and then decided to move back to Blogger with my Green Goddess Glamping blog. 

In all fairness, I imagine the $300 a year option for WordPress.com is wonderful. For my little one-person blogs, though, I don't want to pay that amount for each, not when there is another way to go. WordPress.com is probably a good way to go if you're starting a blog out from scratch. Importing, though? Beware!

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