If self-publishing is a major part of the future of the publishing business, then its most uncharted region, and the frontier of greatest possibility, is digital self-publishing, where authors can make their own names and sell infinite numbers of books with the help of a handful of increasingly well-established platforms and standards—Amazon, Apple, EPub among them.
Of course, it's hardly that simple, and a would-be self-published author is faced with a daunting number of options and tons of information that can be impossible to sort through and goes out-of-date almost as fast as it's published. For this installment of PW Select, we thought we'd talk to somebody who makes a living helping authors sort through those choices and turn their manuscripts into handsomely published e-books. Joshua Tallent is the founder and CEO of eBook Architects, an Austin, Tex., firm that designs and codes e-books for both independent clients and traditional publishers. We asked him to talk straight about the advantages and disadvantages facing authors looking to publish their own e-books. Tallent points out that some of the company's clients, like Mark Coggins, author of The Immortal Game, have achieved national fame, and that the company has turned down projects that weren't of sufficiently high quality.
According to the company's Web site (www.ebookarchitects.com), a prose novel will cost between $100 and $250 to convert to e-book format, and between $1.50 and $2 per page for most nonfiction (with a minimum charge of $200). Tallent points out that many authors don't realize they'll want not only EPub but also .Mobi, the format Amazon accepts for the Kindle store. He shares lots of other tips with us, too.
Can you talk a bit about what eBook Architects does and its history?
The big thing for self-published authors is having people backing you who have the knowledge to navigate the e-book world where the author is the publisher. What we do is interact with self-published authors on that level for the e-book part of the process.
I started out on my own in January of 2009. I hired my first employee in March of last year. I now have nine team members and we're actively hiring more developers. It's been very very fast. The whole industry has been totally blowing up. We have a 70/30 or 60/40 client base split between tradition and self-publishers, weighted toward self-published authors.
Complex projects are our specialty. We're kind of a boutique e-book design firm. We can do things like cookbooks and other heavily designed books. We try to take the quality of the book that we're given and keep as much of that quality as we can. We can do embedded fonts and other stylistic things to try to match the original print.
What are the biggest challenges facing would-be self-published authors who want to do e-books?
Most authors are looking for information. A big part of our job is educating our clients. A lot of people who are self-publishing get a little bit of info from somebody—an author friend, someone they met at an author meetup. They have a little bit of info, but they're still lacking the core process. They may not know the difference between the formats or where to go to get that information or how to find a good editor. Self-publishing is changing so rapidly that guidebooks from a year ago can be out-of-date.
What advice do you have for authors?
The vast majority of people are still doing both print and e-books. Some start with e-books and then jump into print if they have the numbers. I suggest you don't go to print until you're ready—the print process is more expensive. If you are doing both, though, do the print prep first, and then send us the print-ready file, from which we can create the e-book.
You should also hire a real book editor, who's not family or a friend.
So what's the process of working with eBook Architects look like?
It's all project based. We like to give ourselves two to three weeks turnaround time. Potential clients can upload a file into our system. We assess the complexity of the project and send back a quote. At present, we're pretty booked solid until the end of the year, but, for instance, someone will say I'm going to have a book ready to go in February, and they'll reserve a place in the queue now.
How do you feel about the future of the so-called traditional publishing business? Will all books be self-published sooner or later?
I think traditional publishing will always be there because there will always be a need for highly curated content. As an industry, it's changing constantly—most of us are ingesting content through the Internet more than we are through books. The publishing industry has to think of itself more as content suppliers rather than book publishers. That's where self-publishing is so important. Someone who has an idea becomes the publisher of that idea. That's the freedom that self-publishing gives. I don't think print books are going to go away. We engage books in ways I don't think an e-book will be able to take over.
Tallent's 3 Warnings for Self-Published Authors
1 It's not as easy as it sounds. A lot of self-published authors jump into self-publishing thinking it's the easiest thing in the world, but it's not just pushing a button. As a self-publisher, you're doing what the publishing industry has done for hundreds of years and doing it yourself.
2 Watch out for misinformation. Find valid, high-quality sources, people who have been doing it a long time and can share that info. Watch out for companies that just want to sell you something. If they just want to sell, they're not a good source.
3 Don't sidestep the process. Do everything the way it's supposed to be done. Remember that quality is still important. The role of a publisher is to curate content, so your role as a self-publisher is to organize, edit, market, and distribute your own content.