Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ebooks: How the #*%& do they work?!

I was going through some files the other day, and I came across a flyer that got dropped off at our table at last fall’s Word On The Street, where Greg Beettam and I were (in our inimitable fashion), working to get copies of the Xeno’s Arrow and Cold Iron Badge books into the hands of passers-by. In exchange for, you know, money.


This happens from time to time, especially at free shows like Word On The Street, which by design is a big public event that anyone and everyone can attend; people come by the table where we’re trying to sell things, and try to sell US something. It’s sometimes distracting, and sometimes annoying – we, after all, paid for our table, unlike random passer-by-guy with a flyer – but sometimes it leads to interesting and potentially valuable connections and leads.


I’m still not sure what category this guy with this flyer fall into, and so I’m taking my question to you.


This flyer was for a company that offers services in creating ebooks for clients. The actual work, that is, of creating files and setting up accounts with the various providers of ebooks to sell them. I’m not entirely clear whether this outfit was also offering to manage said accounts – I don’t have the flyer in front of me. They were, I remember, also offering to set up and manage social media accounts for clients, which set off some of my alarm bells, because while a large company might need to contract with someone else to manage their social media profile due to their size and the volume of work involved, the sort of small entrepreneurial business this guy and this flyer were obviously targeting didn’t really need someone else to set up their Facebook page, or to be them on Twitter.


But here’s the thing: When it comes to ebooks, Greg and I don’t know what we don’t know. We’ve tried many different ways to get our work out and into the hands of readers over the years, with what to spare my own ego I’m going to call mixed degrees of success. We haven’t tried ebooks yet; for some time, there didn’t seem to be much of a need. But over the past year or so, everything has changed. Self-publishing via ebooks is now more than a sideline for many creators. Ebooks of one sort or another are very clearly now a huge and growing part of the market, and for independent creators like us, they represent a potentially huge pool of readers who’ve never been exposed to our work before. And we don’t need to put a whole lot of labour into making the work ready for that audience – that part is done, we did it years ago. So we have years-old sweat equity (and financial equity) invested. Nothing is going to bring back that sweat or money, but we have the work. Now, it can either do nothing, or make us back some money.


As I implied at the top of this post, neither Greg nor I has any objections to money, and this seems like it might be a great way to get some, and finally reach the audience we always wanted too.


The problem – well, the major problem – is that neither of us knows much about ebooks, and we especially don’t know about creating them or getting them onto the various online sellers (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.)


So we don’t know how much work is involved, or how much technical acumen is required to do the job right. We don’t know about the added complications that might result from the fact that our work is comics, which involves graphics that take up more memory and require higher resolutions. We don’t know if the company this flyer advertised is providing a service we as neophytes will absolutely need, or if they’re just taking advantage of people who don’t know how easily they could make ebooks themselves.


That’s my question for you: Do we need to contract a service provider to take our work, and turn it into ebooks? Or can we do it ourselves? How much knowledge, time and expense are involved? And is it different for graphic novels and prose?


Enlighten me, please!

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