Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Participatory Museum Process Part 4: Adventures in Self-Publishing

This is the final segment in a four-part series about writing The Participatory Museum. Check out the other parts here.

This posts explains why and how I self-published The Participatory Museum. While some aspects are quite technical and specific, it should be useful for anyone considering writing a book for a niche audience.

Why Self-Publish?

I decided to self-publish The Participatory Museum for four reasons:
  • OPENNESS: I wanted the flexibility to license and distribute the book using an open structure to promote sharing. Few publishers was open to Creative Commons licensing and to giving away the content for free online.
  • SPEED: I wanted to get the book out as quickly as possible. I didn't want to write a manuscript and then wait several months for it to be released.
  • COST: Museum books tend to be expensive - because they are printed in small runs, the price for a 400-page paperback can be as high as $40. I figured I could give readers a more reasonable price ($25) if there wasn't a publisher to take a cut.
  • VALUE: There are just a few small publishers who serve museum professionals. Because of the blog and the speaking I do, I felt I had the ability on my own to get the word out within the museum community about the book. For that reason, I was only really interested in a publisher who could expose the book to broader audiences beyond museums, and or a publisher with a significant marketing presence. I pursued one (O'Reilly) somewhat aggressively, but I was not a good fit for their market (technologists). I didn't feel that a small museum publisher could provide much for me that I wasn't willing to do myself.

Why Make it Open?

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to license The Participatory Museum using Creative Commons and give away the content for free online. My primary goal is to get the ideas out there, not to make money, so if someone wants to read the book online for free, that's great.

Also, my whole career is predicated on a structure where I give away ideas on the blog and then people hire me for money. I figured the same system would work for the book, and so far, it seems to be bearing fruit. Few people want to read a 388-page book online, and I've received several notes from people who checked out the online version and then decided to buy a physical or ebook copy. People are also more likely to promote the book to their friends and colleagues when they can point to the content online. Several people referenced in the book saw their name mentioned in a Google Alert and then tweeted or shared the link with their colleagues and friends. I'm looking forward to examining the economics of this choice more in the future, but for now, I'm just thrilled that people are reading the book--at any cost.

The second part of the open structure is the Creative Commons license. There are four tiers of restriction possible with Creative Commons licenses: attribution (must credit author), noncommercial (can't make $$ off of reuse), no derivatives (can't cut, remix, adapt), and share alike (must redistribute with same license). I chose the Attribution Noncommercial license. I want everyone to be able to use the content and make derivative works. I didn't choose Share Alike because I know that many museums, universities, and organizations are not able to use CC licenses (and thus would not be able to redistribute the content). But I did choose Noncommercial because I don't want a publisher to snap up the book or a chapter, credit me as author, and sell the content.

The CC license is for the book text, not the images. Many of the images were provided under more restrictive licenses (and are marked as such in both the printed book and the online version). This means, however, that I couldn't release the book on Google Books with a CC license unless I stripped out most of the images. I also had to explain the license to the image contributors so they could decide whether to request a more restrictive credit for their work.


How Did I Do It?

Once I decided to self-publish, I set out to find the best option to do so. I needed two things:
  1. software to help me produce a beautiful set of files for printing
  2. a print-on-demand service that would make the books real and sell them
Software for Book-Making

I used the following tools to write and produce the book:
  • Scrivener, a Mac-based software that makes it easy to organize and write long manuscripts
  • the book wiki, where I posted drafts for review and comment by others
  • Adobe InDesign, to format the manuscript as a book and ebook
  • Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, to format the images and diagrams in the book
I used all the Adobe products on free trials, and Scrivener cost me $39. I also paid a fabulous illustrator, Jennifer Rae Atkins, to design the covers and a few of the interior images. In other words, this was a cheap project.

But it was also incredibly exhausting. I've never used Adobe products seriously, and I had to learn a lot about how to format text and images as well as how to design a book overall. I would take good books off my shelf and measure their margins, scrutinize the heading fonts, and generally muddle my way through. Did you know that most non-fiction books have the page numbers at the top? Do you know what the numbers on the copyright page mean? I felt like I was preparing for a wedding, learning arcane information I would only use for a brief, intense window of time.

The good news is that the final book really looks like a book. I always suspected that a self-published book would give itself away, and I was ready for the result to look somewhat amateurish. But I think (and you're the real judge here) that it holds up. And that shocked me.

Two pieces of advice if you are thinking about making a book on your own:
  1. There are lots of tutorials--books, videos, etc.--available for free at your library and on the web. By the end of the process, I was ready to send flowers to the guy who made these videocasts about InDesign--they were a lifesaver.
  2. Writing an index is one of the most painful experiences I've ever had. I'm sure I did a lousy job. Be forewarned, and consider hiring someone else to do it.
Self-Publishing with Print-On-Demand

"Print on demand" systems allow you to upload book files (usually PDFs), which are then used to print books to order. I don't have a huge basement full of books to sell; the print-on-demand system sells all the books automatically as they are purchased online. I wanted a print-on-demand system that would allow me to:
  • sell books online, both on my own site and via major booksellers like Amazon (without me having to send anything out in the mail or manage transactions)
  • buy large quantities in bulk to sell at events
  • not in any way restrict my ability to use other printers or services to sell this book in both paperback and electronic versions
  • make a reasonable return on books sold through all venues
After a lot of research, I settled on a service called CreateSpace. If you are serious about selling books through channels beyond your own website, there are really only two options--CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) and Lightening Source (owned by Ingram). Because I expected to sell more books through Amazon than through Ingram's traditional publishing channels, I chose CreateSpace. I also didn't need anything fancy in terms of formatting, size, or color, so CreateSpace's focus on trade paperbacks worked for me.

Why does it matter that CreateSpace is owned by Amazon? This relationship translates to two benefits: faster availability on Amazon and a better cut on each sale. If I were to publish this book on Lulu.com (a popular print-on-demand service), it would have taken 6-8 weeks for the book to hit Amazon, instead of three days for CreateSpace. But this relationship is even more important in the long term when it comes to dollars and cents. Here's the cost comparison for my book (388-page black and white trade paperback, $25 retail) on CreateSpace vs. Lulu:

These numbers got even better when I purchased a "Pro Plan" from CreateSpace for $39 per year, which increased my cut of CreateSpace and Amazon sales to $14.50 and $9.50 respectively.

In hindsight this choice was obvious, but it took awhile to figure out. Every print-on-demand services uses a different pricing structure and it isn't easy to root out all the numbers... be prepared to unleash your sixth grade math skills regarding percentages as well as your deep internet search capabilities if you embark on such a comparison.

Beyond selecting CreateSpace, I did the following:
  • bought my own ISBN number ($125), so that "Museum 2.0" could be listed as the publisher of the book instead of CreateSpace. I paid for the ISBN but made my own barcode for free.
  • designed epub and Kindle versions of the book on my own (using Adobe InDesign) so I could sell ebooks directly instead of going through CreateSpace's costly digital books portal.
  • set up the website for the book and uploaded all the content for people to read in HTML format (translating the formatting was a slog).
  • bought a Wordpress estore plugin ($35) so I could sell the ebook directly through my website using PayPal. Interestingly, I've had several digital sales on my site, but no Kindle sales via Amazon so far.
  • established a relationship with a local printer who I use to do bulk orders so I don't have to pay for shipping when buying books to sell at conferences and events.
My experience with all of this was generally good. I had some challenges with CreateSpace near the end of the file review process, but after a week of frustrating phone calls with customer service we smoothed things out. In the end, my book went on sale just a few hours after I hit "approve the proof." The feeling was indescribable. I ate a whole angel food cake to celebrate.


What's Next?

Getting the book out the door was just the start of the publishing process. I was cheerfully negligent about marketing, tours, etc. before the release. I was completely overwhelmed by the experience of just completing the book and getting everything ready for sale.

Now, I'm just starting to think seriously about how to market and distribute the book, and I'd love your thoughts and help. It's selling well so far, but I'd like to find ways to do three things:
  • open up dialogue and new relationships with readers
  • help non-museum folks in related fields find and use the book
  • support creative reuse of the content
I've started doing a little of this--by making the online version of the book open to comment, giving talks in new venues, and generally being open and enthusiastic about sharing the content. But I'd love to hear what you think I can and should do to make this book as useful and accessible to as many people as possible.

I'm also hoping to find good ways to really hear from readers. I spent a year living with this book and a tight community of collaborators. It's a little surreal to imagine that there are hundreds (and soon hopefully thousands) of people purchasing and reading it. I'd like to know who you are, what you think, what you disagree with, what you're trying. Even just a simple "this made me think about X" helps me feel like all those thousands of hours at my kitchen table were worth it. You can write a review, comment on a chapter, or send me a note anytime with your thoughts.

Publishing The Participatory Museum is an ongoing process that will continue as long as the book is sold. I'd love your ideas on how to make that process as interesting and useful as possible--for everyone.

6 comments, add yours!:

Christophe said...

Thanks for sharing your publishing experience, it is very useful for me because I'm also writing a book (but in a completely different field, philosophy). I follow your blog regularly and I will surely buy your book (once I'm back from Hong Kong). I don't have any specific advice to give for the promotion of your book except maybe that:
- You didn't mention papers. A lot of authors promote their books by writing papers for magazines and newspapers. It might be a good way to touch readers that are not in the museums business...
- One way to promote your book to a larger audience is maybe to use an example of exhibition having a very popular theme but still specific and quirky, like, I don't know, fashion, and to show everything that could be done for it. It might be an engaging, entertaining story telling for non-museum people. A success story might work even better and will reassure people that they spend their time reading views from an expert in her field. It is also a remark for your blog which I think doesn't show off enough experiences you might have had with big household museum brands. It is a very sad reality that when people hear a brand name they know, they pay 10 times more attention...
- I have always perceived your posts as being in between museums, social media and online communities researches. I'm sure it would interest many people in these fields (big market for a book by the way). Have you explored opportunities to present your work to social media people, events, publications?

All the best,
Christophe

Nina Simon said...

Christophe,
Thanks for your incredibly helpful thoughts. Your final point about social media/online communities has been a particular nut I'm trying to crack. I gave a talk for the Bay Area Computer Human Interaction group which was well-received, and I'd like to do more with technologists. The trick is finding the right places/opportunities. Somehow I can't bring myself to go to SXSW--too much hype for me. But you're right - there are plenty of other venues.

Jeff Guin said...

Congratulations on the book, Nina. You inspire a lot of non-museum folks as well with your insight into the true spirit of social media.

Thanks for the info about the tools you used. I've been crazy about Scrivener for a couple of years now, and use the Adobe products everyday. There are plugins for InDesign that do a fairly thorough job of auto-indexing. Don't know if they work on a trial version.

I went to SXSW for the first time this year, and was astonished at the number of social media pros I randomly met who are strongly passionate about preserving some aspect of cultural heritage ... and are developing creative technologies to make it happen. Intriguing that these very public folks seem to keep this part of their lives private, generally non-profit, and separate from traditional heritage preservation institutions. Maybe they feel too constricted by all the "rules" associated with them. I think hearing you speak and reading the Participatory Museum would help bridge that intellectual gap and be a huge hit.

True, lots of hype at SXSW, but it's spread out over several blocks of downtown Austin as well, so many sessions are actually kind of intimate. I'd think a session at one of the nearby museums might be possible as well.

Thrilled about your book and looking forward to what you come up with next!

Jeff

Xianhang Zhang said...

As someone who bought a paper copy of your book, I was completely unaware that it was available for free online (not so I didn't have to buy it, so I could reference it when I told other people about it). I would have loved there to be a front section of the book that was "Congratulations, you've bought this book, now here's how to tell your friends!".

Since it's print on demand, would that be a difficult change to make?

Nina Simon said...

Hang - You're absolutely right. I tried to make it obvious in the paper version that there IS an online version, but I should have thought more about readers as redistributors and using the different platforms for different modes of use.

I'm planning to do an update this summer once I've aggregated a bunch of ideas - I have to stop sales for two weeks whenever I want to change the files - and will include this idea.

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