Title: Pod for Profit
Narrator: Aaron Shepard
Price: $ 16.00
Publisher: Shepard Publications
Point of Sale: Amazon
Reviewed By: Cheryl Anne Gardner
Aaron Shepard's book is a decent read for every Independent self-publisher, even if you don't use Lightning Source. If you are planning to publish under your own imprint/colophon, Mr. Shepard outlines each step of the process very briefly and simply in his new book Pod for Profit.
In the first Chapter: Learning about Lightning, Shepard gives an overview of Lightning Source -- the facts and the advantages -- but he does warn that the demands to working with Lightning Source are high, so if you need help forums and interactive guides, this is not the path for you.
In Chapter Two, Shepard discusses the steps necessary to becoming a publisher. In order to work with Lightning Source, you must be an official publisher, with your own ISBNs. Many authors new to the Indie publishing arena are not aware that there is more to it than buying a single ISBN and making up a name for your publishing company. I have seen many a self-published book listed on Amazon where the publisher of record was simply the author's name, and that smacks of novice self-publisher. Here Shepard deftly addresses the details of how to "become a publisher" including each and every fiddly bit of bureaucracy you will ever need to deal with from setting yourself up as a publisher with Bowkers, to filing your DBA or incorporation paperwork, to setting up with Lightning source, to the CCC, Google Books, and beyond.
In Chapters Three, Four, and Five, Shepard very briefly walks you through working with the Lightning Source Model from setting up your account and dealing with the reps, to setting up your book data. From there in Chapters Six and Seven, we move into how to prepare your files and how to launch your book. These chapters discuss how your book data is transmitted to the various retailers such as Amazon, B&N, and others. There are a lot of useful links in this section on how to correct issues at the various venues. There is also a chapter on how to move your titles to Lightning from another vendor such as Createspace. These chapters of the book get into some of the technical specs for preparing and uploading your files to Lightening Source. These sections are only for the tech savvy, so if you are not, you might want to consider having a professional design and spec out your files. Using cheap or free PDF creation programs will not work well with lightning Source. You have been warned. This book does not include step by step instructions or screen shots to help you distill your PDF files; again, you have been warned. For me, it was information I already understood since I’ve been in desktop publishing since the 90s. I use Adobe 7 Pro to distill my PDFs from postscript files I create using a variety of postscript drivers. As for my covers, I use Microsoft’s version of Photoshop, and I use Word 2007 not Indesign or Quark or any of the other more expensive layout programs.
The remaining Chapters deal briefly with Marketing, specifically online networking and getting reviews as well as social networking pages for your book and actual author websites. Shepard delves into some basic HTML coding here, which all self-publishers should know even if they have professional design their site for them. Shepard is on the fence about author websites, though he does tout the advantages of blogs. IMO, I think every author should have some sort of website, even if it’s just a static site that new readers can hit upon for basic information, and most Internet service providers offer free domain space. It won’t be a dot com, but many authors don’t really need a domain name or hosting. As for blogs and social networking, I agree that it can become a time suck, but in reality, connecting with readers is the only way to get sales, especially for fiction authors.
There is also a short chapter on Copyright, and then the book moves of into Sales Stats, Revisions, and Publishing more books.
The book gives a very unbiased account of what it's like working with Lightning Source, because frankly, for some Indie Authors, the hassle will just not be worth the time and effort, but I'll get more into that later. I found the book very comprehensive. Everything is explained in easy to understand terms so even a newbie self-publisher can at least grasp the concepts, including the myths and misconceptions of setting a discount, i.e. what is the difference between a standard and a short discount and why it matters to bookstores and online retailers. Shepard is not a huge fan of the bookstore model, and I can agree. It’s not really necessary that a book be physically available in bookstores anymore.
All in all, the book is extremely well balanced. Shepard does not try to "sell" you on things that may or may not be cost effective in the long run. He understands that every self-published author/small press is different, and he understands that what methods work for one might not work for another. The main thrust of the book is that Lightning Source has its advantages, but it is not for everyone. That said, the book still has information every self-published author should get acquainted with. For me, Lightning is just not the right option. The set-up costs are too high for my small press. At $117.00 per book to start with and an annual catalogue fee of $12.00 per year after that not to mention the administrivia, well, Lightning is too much of a burden on my time and my wallet. And with Createspace’s new distribution model with Lightening US, we now have a cheaper easier route to take. I have a full time career and need the process to be as simple and cost effective as I can get it. Working with Lightning is more for those Indies who are serious about being a small press and plan to publish a lot more than say 10 books in their lifetime.
I have few complaints about this book. Knowledge is power, and this book definitely has a lot of power behind it. As for the issues, I really had only three:
The fact that the book states that eBook ISBNs are not required is a minor semantics error. Apple requires eBook ISBNs and so does Sony in order to sell in their respective stores. Google Editions will also require its own unique ISBN separate from the eBook ISBN you might have assigned to your epub or your PDF. So be warned: Bowkers is on a campaign to make certain that each edition of a book must have its own unique ISBN, which is excellent for them profit wise, excellent for data collection, but not so excellent for a really small self-publishing operation. Right now Bowkers does not make you define the type of eBook when you assign an ISBN to a digital file. You can select just eBook, but that might change. Amazon does not require an ISBN to use their DTP platform, although if you have an eBook ISBN, it's best to list it on the copyright page, anyway.
My second beef is with the Copyright section, and while I agree that in most cases paying for a Copyright registration is an expense one can live without, it's a bit short sighted. That Copyright registration comes in handy if you ever need to prove that you are in fact the owner of the content in question. Amazon has recently begun asking for proof of copyright when loading content to Kindle in some instances. I was asked personally last year when I loaded one of my Createspace books into Kindle. So my advice to self-published authors is to send off your deposit copy and get registered. The digital publishing and the digital piracy industries are changing so fast that reputable content companies are beginning to rethink the term "validation" as it applies to rights ownership in their Terms of Service contracts.
Lastly, the book's brevity was a sticking point for me. It felt rushed and lacked the comprehensiveness I would normally look for in this type of book. I was hoping for more of a guidebook than a book of guidelines. I wanted a proper textbook with screen shots and some step by step how to sections. In depth explanations and tutorials would have made this book so much more useful. Of course textbooks of this nature have to constantly be revised. Bowkerlink is actually being phased out, but there is no mention of that in the book. However, for a $16.00 price tag, all you're going to get is an overview here and a lot of good advice. Is it enough to make up your mind if you are on the fence about going with Lightning Source directly? Sure. In my opinion, most self-published authors just want to write and get their book out with as little cost and as little administrative grief as possible, and there are plenty of other ways to do that besides Lightning Source, especially now that publishing to eBook is all the rage. Forgoing the dead-tree format is an option worth considering in today's publishing climate, and it’s something every Indie author should think about while they are thinking about their bottom line. This book makes no mention of Lightning’s eBook distribution service. Now, for those Indie authors who are strictly in it for the art of writing and are not at all concerned about the business aspects of self-publishing, you can pass on this book because it just won’t be relevant. However, if you are serious about becoming a bona fide small press and you are dead set on working with Lightning Source, then this book is nice start but by no means is it the definitive work on the subject.
This book was reviewed from a promotional PDF supplied by the author.