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Category: Publishing

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.

 

A quick look at the news — writing and publishing

Posted in Artwork, and Publishing

Cartoon of a busy writerI haven't been able to produce much in the way of blogging for the last couple of months because I've been buried in writing and publishing work (and that's the way it should be).

Writing

On the writing front, I'm just about done with the Fragments of Lightning, the second book of The Affinities of Magic. The webpages will be updated when the final scene is written and I have time to do the book description, images, and so forth. I plan on writing the third book, and starting the fourth before I begin releasing them in quick succession, starting circa December/January.

Publishing

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm also beginning to publish the works of some colleagues of mine and tooling up as a small publisher. This means, in several cases, the creation of new imprints, since the works aren't necessarily appropriate for Perkunas Press, not being fantasy or science fiction. Last fall saw the first release for Bent Twig Books, a memoir My Bipolar Life.

Right now, I'm working simultaneously on publishing two works. One is a bit of Christian visionary fiction for Sound the Trumpet Press, called Comes a Redeemer, by Tolkien scholar Jared Lobdell. And the other is a work by the great naturalist writer, Steve Bodio for Behind the Ranges Press — his first novel, Tiger Country.

In each case, these three works are the first for their imprints, so there's very little information for the imprints and, in the latter two cases, the book pages are under construction pending release. But you can take a look at the draft covers (mockups), and there will be more to tell you as each book is published this year.
Image of 2 draft book covers

What is Self-Publishing?

Posted in Just for Writers, and Publishing

Image of logo for Pennwriters.orgA presentation for The Inkwell,
a gathering of writers from Pennwriters.org.

Introduction

I’m a writer of fantasy and science fiction stories. I wrote and published my first novel in 2012, and I currently have 9 novels in 3 series, short stories, and book bundles – 23 titles now, with 3 more novels expected for 2018.

I have always been a self-publisher – what is known as an “independent author” (indie) – and wouldn’t dream of mortgaging my ordinary rights to an agent or traditional publisher. I publish in ebook, print, and audiobook, and I’ve just commissioned my first translation. My books are published worldwide through dozens of retailers and a handful of distributors. You can find my books online anywhere.

I’m just an ordinary author with an ordinary following in my genre, making ordinary proceeds – not any sort of superstar or major bestseller. I started this business while I was employed full-time, and now I’m retired and able to devote more time to it.

Books as manufactured goods

You can take 200 of your family’s recipes, do them up in a word processor, and take the file to your local book-printer and have them run up 100 bound copies for you to sell or give away to friends and family.

Church groups do something like this all the time, to raise money. Corporations publish their annual reports in glossy hardbound editions for handouts at meetings.

Your collection of recipes — that’s a book. But it’s not part of the book trade. No one can order it online. It’s not in any bookstore (unless your local shop decides to take a few on consignment and add them to the “local region” section, because you asked them to.) It doesn’t have an ISBN number, that fundamental identifier that distinguishes one book from every other book in the world and lets it be ordered from anywhere.

This is not what we mean by “self-publishing.”

Vanity Presses

Vanity publishers, like the notorious Author Solutions, are predatory organizations that take advantage of would-be authors. They make their money by selling services, including unnecessary ones, at tremendous markups, upselling as many of their service offerings as possible, and then producing some form of book product, often badly-edited, poorly formatted, and ill-covered, distributed somewhere obscure.

Returning to my writing (yay!)

Posted in A Writer's Desk, Goals, Publishing, and Structures of Earth

After my long prior post about all the learning curves for reaching my next marketing plateau, I'm finally (almost) done and have picked up my latest book (Structures of Earth) and poured another 55000 words into it, just in the last month, and finished it. I've missed it badly!

I'm just starting book 2, Fragments of Lightning. I plan to complete the first three books before releasing any of them, and have the fourth one almost done. The first book, Structures of Earth, is a prequel that takes place five years before Fragments of Lightning, while the hero is still a teenager. I expect to write quite a few books in this series, each of them complete, like a detective series. The release(s) of the first few books should happen in the Spring of 2018, one right after another.

The remnants of my 2017 plans

 

Republishing all titles

I've finished cutting over to ActiveCampaign from MailChimp, and created suitable landing pages on my websites for newsletter signups from various locations.

Image of a stack of booksThat was the last thing I needed before updating all my titles (20 of them) with:

  • Misc. accumulated typo corrections
  • Longer next-book sample excerpts
  • Updated contact info
  • Updated newsletter info
  • UTM-wrapped links to other books & my websites for Google Analytics
  • Better TOC & metadata info inside the books
  • Larger cover images
  • Improved copyright pages

No one item is important enough, but with all of that I felt it was time to finally refresh all 20 titles, ebooks & print. I even moved from Ingram LSI to Spark for various discount coupon situations in the future as part of it. With any luck, I won't need to revise these particular titles ever again.

Associated with that was getting a copy of ONIXEDIT so that I could use the same distribution tools (ONIX) used by traditional publishers with their channel partners. It is of limited immediate use (only for my PublishDrive and StreetLib partners) but just going through the process was immensely educational about the metadata and channel communications issues that go on behind the scenes in the industry. I'm ready to start transmitting using ONIX to these partners very soon.

The newly branded website just for readers

Image of a fantasy landscapeKarenMyersAuthor is up, and so are its related Facebook & Twitter pages, but I haven't produced content yet, and so I haven't announced it. I need to start getting active there.

Release Announcement – SciFi story bundles from There’s a Sword for That

Posted in Adaptability, Monsters, Monsters, And More, Release, Science Fiction - Short Stories, The Visitor, The Visitor, And More, There's a Sword for That, and Your Every Wish

I'm working on a scifi story collection called There's a Sword for That (using a fantasy motif in a scifi context — just for the fun of it). The tales come out of a weapons shop on a space station, which you can see on the cover.

The collection won't be ready for a while, so I've released a couple of two-story bundles in the meantime, for your amusement.


Monsters, And More — A Science Fiction Story Bundle

Monsters – Xenoarchaeologist Vartan has promised his young daughter Liza one of the many enigmatic lamedh objects that litter the site of a vanished alien civilization.

No one can figure out what they're good for, but Liza finds a use for one.

Adaptability – The Webster Marble Deluxe Woodsman, Model 820-E, has been offline for quite some time. Quite some time indeed.

Good thing Webster has a manual to consult, and a great many special functions.


The Visitor, And More — A Science Fiction Story Bundle

The Visitor – Felockati is anchored to his permanent location underwater and misses the days of roaming his ocean world freely.

But something new drops out of the sky and widens his horizons — all the way to the stars.

Your Every Wish – Stealing the alien ambassador's dagger is a sure thing for Pete — just what he needs to pay off his debts.

Until he starts talking to it. There has to be a way to get something for himself out of the deal. Has to be.

The Visitor was previous published in Strange Horizons.

Book Metadata, ONIX, and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

Book Metadata

Maintaining the metadata for your books can be quite a chore. Joel Friedlander's overview covers some of the basics.

It takes me two pages of my multi-page management spreadsheet to hold the simple columnar data (ISBNs, Library of Congress (LoC) numbers, publication dates, page counts, etc.) and textual data (blurbs in various lengths, keywords, BISAC codes, etc.). Some of that data is static, but parts of it are changeable based on marketing experiments, temporary sales, and so forth.

When we go to a distributor site that caters to indies, we are usually presented with a form to fill out for each book. Since I strive for consistency, I always have to open up the form for a book I've already posted to that distributor, to make sure I fill out all the questions the same way across all my titles.

How do the big boys handle this?

Well, that's a question, isn't it? It's hard to get the details. The big traditional publishers have complex internal needs (moving a title from acquisition through edit, formatting, marketing, publication) involving different departments and requirements, and their management systems are crafted with that in mind to give them a shareable single complex record for the title that holds both in-house private data and public data intended for use with their trading partners (distributors, retailers, etc.)

The output of their systems these days tends to be in the form of ONIX records (see below) — this much I know. But exactly how they share those records with their partners is obscure to me. (Alas, trad-published authors who've added indie-publishing share insights with us, but we don't meet a lot of back-office technical types from the traditional publishing firms.) You can see how vague the specific details are for an overview on metadata maintenance that's meant to be helpful, or for a discussion about refreshing metadata as things change.

The big traditional publishers have much more complicated problems. As indies or micro-publishers, we get to choose what we want to deal with, and some of the industry tools are available for us to use, if we think it's important enough.

Release Announcement — Second Sight, a science fiction short story

Posted in Release, Science Fiction, and Second Sight

I have a few scifi short stories lined up for release, and here's the first one — Second Sight, a story about unintended consequences.

BORROWING SOMEONE ELSE’S PERCEPTIONS FOR A POPULAR DEVICE CAN ONLY MEAN COMMERCIAL SUCCESS. RIGHT?

Samar Dix, the inventor of the popular DixOcular replacement eyes with their numerous enhancements, has run out of ideas and needs another hit. Engaging a visionary painter to create the first in a series of Artist models promises to yield an entirely new way of looking at his world.

But looking through another’s eyes isn’t quite as simple as he thinks, and no amount of tweaking will yield entirely predictable, or safe, results.

 


More information, including links to retailers.

Checking up on book distributors

Posted in Distribution, and Just for Writers

So, you've gone wide and international with your ebook distribution, and your print edition is in Ingram's database, making it available to a fair chunk of the world's bookstores, both physical and online. Your dashboards that list your titles with your various distributors all look fine and dandy. You've given them your books, and they're making sure they're getting into the world's bookstores.

Time to sit back, proud of your books' availability in online stores all over the world, right?

If only it were that simple.

How are my distributors doing?

It’s not easy to figure that out.

I've been trying to sort out my various distribution options recently as I retire a couple of distributors and take on new ones. It's a confusing area, and the lists you can get of their channel partners are not always current or complete. I was focused on who had the best reach, or reached unique retailers, with reasonable returns and the ability to turn channels on and off to avoid duplication.

I get to retailers in a variety of ways.

Ebooks

  • Direct from my website (ecommerce). Gumroad (in several formats).
  • Direct upload. Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble. If I could (no Mac), this would include Apple iBooks.
  • Hybrid (storefront & distribution). Smashwords.
  • Distributor. PublishDrive, Streetlib (coming soon).

Of these, I use PublishDrive to reach every channel (including Apple iBooks and Google Play) that I don't go to directly. I restrict Smashwords to its storefront and its unique partners only. PublishDrive, Streetlib, and Smashwords all let you select or disable individual partner channels to avoid overlap.

Already there are complications — Kobo is also a distributor, so though I go there directly, it distributes my titles to its own partners. There is no ability to pick and choose among Kobo's partners, so it's up to me to avoid enabling one of Kobo's partners at one of my other distributors. (Perhaps that can be controlled at the manual level, via email requests to Kobo, but I prefer something more automated and reliable.)

Other complications — I have to manually request special retail pricing for Google Play, to keep its automated discounting from creating a problem with Amazon. Hard to find distributors that will let you set per-channel pricing, but I think that must be essential to adjust pricing in different parts of the world (like India).

Audio

  • Distributor. AuthorsRepublic.
  • Direct upload. CD Baby (coming soon).

Print

  • Hybrid (storefront & limited distribution). Createspace. (Not expanded distribution.)
  • Distributor. Ingram LSI.

Createspace only distributes to Amazon so there are no channels to disable to avoid duplication. Ingram can't provide a list of print partners — much too broad, and much of its reach is through intermediate distributors or aggregators. No telling where your books will end up at online retailers.

Where are your books, really?

I began by taking the lists of known channel partners from PublishDrive, Smashwords, Kobo, and AuthorsRepublic. I then went to each of those sites and tried to find my books there. That alone was an eye-opener.