Lessons Learned with Amazon, iBooks and Lulu

Good news! Exodus is finally available in print on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as electronically via the iTunes store. If you want, read Ralph Rivera’s review here.

It took much more than expected to distribute Exodus via these distribution channels. Jess Ostroff (her business Don’t Panic Management serves as a virtual project manager for my company) and I cowrote thispost detailing our lessons learned.

We both recommend APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, but there were several proverbial “devils in the details” missing from the text. In publishing this post we hope to help folks avoid these same issues.

CreateSpace versus Lulu

The current version of the book is published on CreateSpace, Amazon’s independent publishing service. Originally, I published it on Lulu, and that was the primary reason why the book took almost two months to become available on Amazon.

First, let me explain my original logic. APE reviewed the two services; CreateSpace was considered very good, and Lulu was good. I took the lesser of the recommendations because I didn’t want to support the Amazon empire. From a book publishing standpoint, they are the alpha and the omega of the business, and pretty much dominate everything. So whenever possible, I try to support competitors.

In this case, that was a bad decision.

Lulu does not distribute books immediately on Amazon and Ingram, which distributes to B&N and other bookstores. Instead, it takes six to eight weeks. Thus the problem.

I decided to live with it in spite of smaller margins and what I perceive to be a slightly lesser quality product. But then I had a significant layout error in the book, which I decided to address, both in the electronic Kindle and print editions. I updated Lulu, and guess what? Another six to eight weeks, further delaying the print release.

That’s when I asked Jess to format the novel for CreateSpace. The ringer? Lulu’s version on Amazon became available late last week. However, it takes one to three weeks to receive a Lulu print on demand book. Amazon’s CreateSpace ships in one day. It was too little too late for Lulu.

One issue we experienced was linking the Kindle edition to the print one. However, I filed a ticket in Author Central, and the matter was resolved promptly. I wish I could say the same thing about the iBooks customer service team, but that is Jess’s story… You can avoid this issue altogether by publishing to Kindle from your CreateSpace account.

AuthorCentral

All in all, the lesser capabilities of Lulu demonstrate another example of Amazon’s monopoly strength, and clearly they are using it to their advantage. In the end, I abandoned Lulu so I can get the book out there as quickly as possible.

Jess’s Experience with iBooks

It started in June, when Geoff asked for help distributing his new book, Exodus. Geoff sent me a copy of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (which is the first technical book I’ve read since college) and I followed the instructions closely for Nook, Kindle, and iBook, which are the “big 3” when it comes to online publishing.

Because I don’t own Illustrator or Publisher, as APE recommended, I decided to try a free software called Calibre that was recommended by other book publishers as an easy tool to convert .doc or .pdf files into the appropriate files for distributors like Amazon and iTunes. Perhaps that was my first mistake.

Screenshot 2013-10-18 16.33.43

It’s not surprising that Apple wants users to use their own software for creating ebooks, iBooks Author. It’s free and elegant, and can probably help non-designer types create really good looking books.

In the case of Exodus, we were hoping to simply distribute the novel across multiple platforms, not start from scratch with each platform. The latter was essentially what iBooks Author wanted us to do.

We couldn’t import the Kindle or Nook editions of the book; instead we started from scratch. It’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, not a coloring book. So, I decided to use the .epub output from Calibre in the iTunes delivery tool, iTunes Producer, another free download that promised iTunes distribution once the file had been approved. Or so I thought.

The set up of a new iTunes account was required because Geoff’s current account (that he uses daily) was attached to another e-commerce setup on iTunes. We had to create a “publisher” account, including his company bank account information, tax ID number, address, and other sensitive information. Every other platform had us enter this information, but iTunes was the only one that made us set up a brand new account.

After reading this giant iTunes FAQ, I thought I had my ducks in a perfect row. The .epub file I had created for iBooks passed the test on the EPUB Validator. I had the cover image all set, the tags and categories sorted out, and the author and publisher information entered correctly.

But my file would not be accepted by iTunes. Why? Well, at first we got some error messages. For example, what do you think this means?

ERROR ITMS-4062: “Vendor identifier ‘Exodus_The_Fundamentalists_-_Geoff_Livingston_-_Geoff_Livingston’ is invalid according to the configured pattern ‘[a-zA-Z0-9]\w+’ for provider LadySoleilInc” at Book (MZItmspBookPackage)

Imagine things like that times 600. That’s how many error messages spewed out when we first tried to upload the file. The iTunes Producer output a series of numbers and letters that were completely useless. Not only were they gibberish, but they also repeated several times, mentioning that the same error was found, but not showing what or where exactly the error could be found. At first, it was something to do with the metadata, the margins, and the table of contents, but would you be able to glean that from a message like this? Me neither.

I’m used to saying “yes” to projects I have never done before. With the speed at which technology changes, I understand that the nature of my job requires me to be on top of everything, including learning how to do tasks on the fly (or finding workarounds if what we originally wanted to do doesn’t work).

I’ve never been so stumped during a project as I was with trying to get Exodus onto iTunes. Application  approval took weeks, and the support team was completely worthless. Their canned “we’re working it” messages never felt genuine, although I would expect nothing less at this point. We even got a message in French one time! The fun never ended!

Screenshot 2013-10-18 17.25.33

I still don’t know how we actually got the thing to be accepted by iTunes. It was a series of different export files and different upload methods, each containing one minor adjustment that I thought might make iTunes happy. I spent nearly six hours one night attempting to correct any issues, and I’m not exaggerating on that one. This comedy of errors left me exhausted, but man, did I sleep well once we got the glorious confirmation of a job well done!

Screenshot 2013-10-18 16.37.03

What do you think of these issues? What are your best practices?

Join the Exodus!

Today is the day! Exodus is formally released.

I am giving away a complimentary PDF copy of the book to my blog readers. Simply click this password protected link to download. The password is “freechoice”. The download will be available until September 13.

The first chapter is published below if you want a sneak peak. Early feedback has been great, so I hope you decide to check it out.

In addition to the PDF, I will publish the novel one chapter at a time on this site using a second RSS feed. Subscribe if you get a chance.

Exodus is now listed on Amazon’s Kindle Store at $0.99, and it will stay at that price until after Labor Day when it will be raised to $2.99. The book is also up on GoodReads in case you wanted to leave a review. A $2.99 electronic edition is published on B&N and the iBook store, too.

Finally, print editions are currently available on Lulu and directly on my web site. Amazon and B&N will start distributing hard copies by the end of September. If you prefer print, and want to enter the GoodReads contest to win one of 10 free copies, enter here.

Want more? The hero of the story Jason is on Twitter. Check it out! The @JasonExodus Twitter experiment has been fun so far, though a little crazy at times. I hope to launch additional media elements over the ensuing months to build a stronger transmedia experience for those who want deeper engagement.

This is a great opportunity to thank everyone who has encouraged me since I first announce my intent to publish the book, particularly those who signed up for advance copies and chatted with me on back channels. Having a core group of folks interested in the novel made a big difference. As you know this is not just any book, rather a 19 year journey that has come to fruition.

In addition, I’d like to give another shout out to Patrick Ashamalla for this website, which enables the distribution of the book via RSS feed. Thank you, sir, and congrats on your recent acquisition by White & Partners!

Below find Chapter 1!

Cheers,

Geoff

Chapter 1: A Dark Messenger

Jason looked down the path, through the farthest rays of torchlight into the eerie blue of evening and saw something crawling toward them in the distance.

“George, get Hector.” Hector was the Harpers Ferry watch commander. He was responsible for this evening’s patrol, as well as all of the watch’s activities. Usually, there were not many causes for concern. Indeed, some said the watch wasn’t needed at all. So the disturbance scratching its way toward them was reason enough to alert Hector.

“Why in the world would we do that?” asked George. He was lazy and slow, disturbed at the prospect of having to move. Neither did he want to wake Hector, who was a gruff man.

A wild dog paid homage to the full moon, splitting the silence; Jason worried it was an omen. Didn’t full moons affect all of nature’s creatures strangely?

“Look at that shape moving slowly toward us,” Jason said. “It looks like a man. Have you ever seen anything like this? Ever? Hector would want to know about this stranger now, rather than find out about it tomorrow at the tavern.”

Begrudgingly, George rose from his chair to look down the path. The black shape was close enough now for the watchmen to see its arms clawing at the dirt, dragging itself forward.

“Oh, no,” George said under his breath, and he turned to get Hector. Jason watched the shape’s tortured struggle through the flickering torchlight along the dirt path. His painful progress was mesmerizing, and soon Jason could hear the man’s labored grunts and groans.

In a few minutes, George returned with Hector. “What do we have here, Jason?” the leader asked. Why couldn’t his watchmen make these decisions on their own?

Irked by Hector’s judgmental tone, Jason bit his tongue, and he pointed silently down the path.
The watch commander saw the man, shrouded in a tattered black robe and wracked with pain by every move. “Please get him, boys,” he directed, without a second thought.

The watchmen left the fireside comfort of their post and made their way toward the man, who didn’t seem to hear or see them coming. Sweating and likely consumed with fever, he muttered and moaned. Jason and George, standing on either side, could make out only a word here and there. The words they did understand were chilling: Run. They’re coming.

The man never looked at them and instead continued to clutch at new patches of dirt, obliviously crawling toward their post, perhaps seeking the fire and the town’s comforts. He wore coarse pants under his robe, whose many tears, pieces of foreign bramble, and strange stains bespoke an arduous journey through the backcountry. The robe’s hood covered the visitor’s head, robbing the watchmen of the chance to see his face.

“Old man, can you hear us?” Jason asked.

“Please stand up, if you can,” George added.

The traveler’s muttering continued unchecked: “They’re coming.” And “Help.”

The watchmen looked at each other and stooped to raise the delusional traveler to his feet to get a better look at him. He was surprisingly light, perhaps 140 pounds, and he didn’t struggle. They gasped at what they saw.

A fever, now apparent in the man’s pale, sweat-streaked face, had wasted his long frame. On his right temple was an angry purple-and-yellow lump—the result of a fall? Or remnants of a mighty blow at the hands of an enemy? A broken arrow shaft protruded from his shoulder, and the dried bloodstains and gangrenous stench of his tunic spoke of an old wound that had festered without treatment. His brown eyes seemed to look at them without focusing. “Is someone there? Help me. Please, help me. The Christians, they’ll kill us all, just like they did my family. Don’t wait! Why are you waiting?”

Jason looked at George, and they both looked back at Hector. He trotted toward the two watchmen, concerned more by the shocked look on their faces than by the visitor’s condition. He took charge.

“George, get the elders and a surgeon,” Hector barked. “Hurry, this man may die soon.”

The wounded man laughed deliriously. “Don’t you understand? You fools, worry about your friends in the village! You’re next. The black shirts will swarm this place, swords and crosses in hand.” Tears began streaming from his eyes. “Run! Run before it is too late!”

Buy the book today!