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Month: October 2018

Making barcodes

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

Image of a barcode
For more information: http://www.mobiliodevelopment.com/ean-13-global-trade-standard/#gref

What are barcodes and how are they used?

All manufacturers and merchants assign tracking numbers to their products. The generic term for this is SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). Each firm has its own SKU codes and conventions, private to the firm or perhaps shared among a few partners. For the book trade, the ISBN is their SKU and, unlike almost every other industry, that SKU is used throughout the trade, from the manufacture of the physical edition all the way through to the retailers.

The ISBN is a set of numbers that uniquely identify an individual book product (title, format, size, edition, etc.). The old ISBN was 10 digits long, but that was replaced by a 13-digit standard in 2007. Technically, the 10-digit version is called “ISBN” and the 13-digit version is called “EAN”, but colloquially they're both referred to as “ISBN”. The name for the new standard is “EAN-13”.

Barcodes are for machines to read, using scanners. They were introduced in the 1970s and are now ubiquitous. When you look at the bars, each cluster of lines (bars) above a number represents that digit to a scanner, The contrast and exact widths matter.

Different international standards for different uses have different barcode layouts. (Look at your groceries or other purchases for examples.) In the book trade, only the layout for EAN-13 is relevant.

The big cluster on the left is for the SKU (the ISBN, for the EAN-13 standard), and the small cluster on the right is for PRICE, mostly. The value “90000” for the price means “no price”, that is, the retailer's own system will be used to lookup the price when the barcode is scanned in at the register. This allows a retailer to set whatever price they want, sometimes by slapping their own barcode sticker over the book's barcode, or sometimes by just reading the price printed elsewhere on the cover, or a discount applied to it. Most indies use “90000” as the price, for the convenience of the retailers.

Every human-readable bit of text in a barcode is just for humans — the scanners pay no attention to those letters/numbers.

How do you get a barcode?

Many companies want to sell you a barcode, and some try to get as much as $25 for the service. Don't fall for this, as an indie author — it is never necessary to pay for a barcode.

To begin with, both Amazon KDP and Ingram will supply a barcode for your book for free. When you use their templates to design your cover, you will see a space marked out for the barcode, and you can shift that to wherever you want it to appear (along the bottom of the back cover).

But what if you want to print your book via some other POD supplier, or do a short-run print locally? You will need to give them a barcode to use. There is nothing proprietary about the barcode that Amazon or Ingram have added to the back of your book, but just copying that won't deliver a very clean image. Instead, you want to use a fresh image generated by a barcode service, and there are many free ones out there.

I use a UK company for this: https://www.free-barcode-generator.net/ean-13/.

Image of a barcodeOne of the things I like about it is that they look up my ISBN and accurately decompose it (I have a range of 1000).

I also like that the height and layout is identical to that used by Amazon. The only thing Amazon does differently is to add the text “ISBN 9781629620633” above the left block, and we can do that, too, if we want to. Remember, that's only for humans to read, not machines.

I can output the barcode into any number of formats and give it to any other printer to use, or stick it on the back of my cover image myself.

There's no reason to ever buy these from someone else, not for our simple needs.

 

Updating covers for The Chained Adept series

Posted in Artwork, and The Chained Adept

For quite some time I've been thinking the covers for The Chained Adept series could be improved. To my eye, they signal more of a juvenile flavor than I had intended.

Michal Wojtasik, my new cover artist, agreed to do a new version. All but the first book are treatments of the same scenes as before.

What do you think?

It's a lot of work, changing the covers of 4 books and all the sets and bundles they participate in. I still have to generate the 3D and bookstack images, and then replace them on all the retailers for both paperback and ebook, not to mention my three websites. I want to get that done in time to announce it for my next newsletter, on the first Monday of the month.

Cover for The Chained Adept

Cover for Mistress of Animals

Cover for Broken Devices

Cover for On a Crooked Track

More on eBook Bundles

Posted in The Chained Adept Bundle (1-2), The Chained Adept Bundle (1-4), The Chained Adept Bundle (3-4), The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (1-2), The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (1-5), and The Hounds of Annwn Bundle (3-5)

Image of Hounds of Annwn Bundle 3-5 - BOX SET - Ebook CoverSome belated news about ebook bundles…

In 2016, I created and released ebook bundles for The Hounds of Annwn series:

  • Books 1 & 2
  • Books 3 & 4 & the story collection
  • Books 1-5

They're great deals for my readers, especially the last one, which is a savings of more than 50% over buying the ebooks separately. I recently broke down and included that last one on Amazon, despite the disadvantage of how Amazon penalizes royalties for books priced higher than $9.99.

But I realize I haven't made the equivalent announcement for ebook bundles for The Chained Adept series:

  • Books 1 & 2
  • Books 3 & 4
  • Books 1-4

Image of box set of ebooksThose are now all available everywhere, and with the same great savings.

They haven't been out for long, but I find that a significant percentage of my readers are taking advantage of the savings. Better for them, and better for me, too.

I'll be doing the same for The Affinities of Magic series, lagging a bit behind the publication of the individual books, so that by, say, book 4 there may be a bundle for books 1-2, etc.

 

Integrating technical systems

Posted in Just for Writers, and Marketing

Image of puzzle piecesLast year I spent many months upping my game with regard to building technical engines around marketing. I tackled a lot of new tools and systems, but I ran out of steam before I got to Facebook Ads, the most complex system of them all, and one that's critical to international and target marketing.

Well, I'm paying for it now. I got revved up, re-listened to my Mark Dawson “Ads for Authors” course for Facebook (highly recommended) and started putting mailing list (subscriber) ads together.

I have a new series coming out circa year-end and a German translation in the works, and I've been unserious about my mailing list (200 people), so I'm way overdue for winding this all up again and getting back on the newsletter horse.

I'm not going to complain about the general complexity of the Facebook ads system (and it's equally impressive power as a platform for ad management). No, today I'm going to rant about the integration of technical systems that's required to actually make all of this happen.

Last year, before I wound down, I made some tool choices which I didn't put into use, but I did the research well and now I'm, as it were, unwrapping the packages and digging into them. I feel fortunate, a year later, that I'm still happy with my choices.

But look at what it takes to run a simple mailing list ad for Facebook, from the perspective of all the pieces required, esp. if you're as obsessive as I am about tracking as much data as possible.