Why (and how) I just used BookBaby for digital publishing

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A couple of blogs back I shared the key points of a very informative presentation I had just heard by Brian Felsen, honcho of BookBaby, where he discussed the virtues of letting others (like BookBaby) do the grunt work when you are sending your book to Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, and others.

So I tried it yesterday—I submitted an older, steady-selling book now used by many college classes as a textbook. We sell a lot of the paperback What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know, a $24.95 K-12 educational niche book that my firm publishes under the Education Communication Unlimited imprint. (It was written by Rosborg, McGee, and my brother, Jim Burgett). What prompted me to use BookBaby was the recent increase in sales of our .pdf digital version of the same book, at $20.

My thought: since mostly students will buy the .pdf version, why not modify that to mobi for Kindle and ePub for Nook and Smashwords (and iPad, etc.) for those wanting to have the text in and on their readers? At $19.99, the 35% (mostly) that we would earn in royalties is less income than our own versions—particularly our .pdf edition, which is kind of a goldmine. But will we sell twice as many new books, plus 28 books more to pay back (from the royalties) the BookBaby cost of $186 (the $149 package plus 74 pages over 250 at 50 cents a page)?

BookBaby doesn’t do any of the prep and promo, but here we had the book written, proofed, formatted in .doc or .pdf, and we had its original front cover all ready to go. (Alas, I had to stretch that .jpg cover to 550 pixels to meet their size requirements. I’ll discuss the quick way to get all this prep stuff together for ancillary publishers in my next newsletter, 7/10.) I also had to dig around and marry some text, but I found that pesky stuff already available too, like the author bios, a fetching description of the book, the original ISBNs, and the keywords.

So Brian’s claim that BookBaby is fast is sort of true. It took about 30 minutes to gather the info, set up an account (the usual stuff), and finish the submission form. (It’s a bit deceptive because to get this gem together took the authors, three of the top educators in Illinois, about four months to write, and a couple more months for us to get the cover and editing done, plus final formatting and proofing. At that point we had the paperback ready to print—and its digital derivative ready to sell in .pdf. So it was about six months and 30 minutes.)

But the 30 minutes for $186 to do a process we have done about 20 times for similar items sent to each of these three ebook houses, plus LSI and sometimes Lulu. Not a whit of difference once we caught on to the internal changes needed to make mobi and ePub look civilized (but never as attractive as the paperback). You can see our process at the prep and submission stages in How to Get Your Book Published Free in Minutes and Marketed Worldwide in Days.

My reaction to BookBaby? It’s easy to figure out and complete. They ask for the very same things you must provide if you go directly to Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords—logically, since they’re filling in the same boxes. The difference is that, submitted by them, the converted text and cover have to look good when they emerge from Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords, hands-free by you. And that may be worth the $149 because getting the text properly formatted is time consuming and sometimes vexing. (My full response is still incomplete, of course, because I have no idea yet how long it will take for BookBaby to get the product to the publishers and what it will look like. If there are problems there I will let you know in a follow-up blog.)

But there was another, disappointing surprise. Originally it was to cost $99 to get the book converted, submitted, and so on… But now for $99 you must have it in final ebook format (mobi- and ePub-acceptable) and they will just do the submission. That’s not much of a bargain. The price is up to $149 to get what I first read for $99. (I don’t quite see the value of going to the $249 premium version.) I hate pocket-emptying surprises even though I heard Felsen say this was likely to happen. I guess I was thinking, or hoping, it would happen in 2025.)

And an irksome procedural problem. I had to leave the computer for a few minutes in the middle of filling in the submission form, and when I returned the page had closed without a word saved. Nor was there a save box to keep what you had completed on the screen, or somewhere accessible. That should be corrected.

That’s it. A review without many teeth. Some annoyance, but overall it wasn’t much different than filling in, say, the Nook submission page (which is the easiest and fastest) except that I expect BookBaby will make my copy clean and pretty in print. I’m not sure if it’s worth $149 (or $186), but to get the money back is mostly my responsibility to let my K-12 crowd know of the new reader wonder when it’s available so my sales push past recompense into high and long profit. However, if I had no idea how to submit my own books this would be a huge bargain. As it is, it’s a bit like betting on the race favorite to place.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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2 Comments to “Why (and how) I just used BookBaby for digital publishing”

  1. By Erin, December 11, 2012 @ 6:27 pm

    How fast did Bookbaby get your book on ITunes?

    • By Admin, January 24, 2013 @ 7:27 am

      I didn’t time it but they are fast: usually a week or two.