Background: I have, for the past few years, written Christmas stories for my students, my teaching colleagues, or just for myself. On November 1, I thought – hey, maybe I can self-publish a small collection of them and get them out in e-book format just in time for the holidays. Here are my experiences. (Please note that for all requests, I was able to respond the same day – just so you don’t think it was this writer holding things up!)
Click here for Part I: Kindle Direct Publishing.
Click here for a reminder about what I faced when I looked into Kobo. Stark.
However, I am not deterred. I tell myself, I can do this – it’s early, I’m tech-savvy, and I have time to work almost every day on this if I need to, right? Right?!
Enter a very different model of e-publishing. Kobo is obviously in favour of the gatekeeper approach to deter wannabe publishers from using/abusing their service – this means my stories will be surrounded by excellence. My stories are good. They’ll be worthy. Hopefully.
- I email the address on the page, explain my project, and attach my .epub file. A Kobo rep – who I’ve decided to call Buddy Awesome (BA) – replies within a few hours, thanks me for my interest, tells me the .epub files look good, and sends me a 10-page information pack and a one-page questionnaire. BA seems nice. That’s pretty fast, I think – then I think about how much faster (easier) mailing a link to the info and questionnaire would have been. I read and fill everything out and send it back to BA.
- BA emails me to say that because my .epub files look so good, he will request an FTP folder (a place on some server where I can store my files) on my behalf. That’s nice. He attaches a document that outlines the different kinds of contract I can have – it’s similar to Amazon’s, so I can breeze through it. He also attached an Excel document and says I need to fill it out with the bibliographical data/metadata. Excel documents scare me, btw, and these words (metadata?!) sound scary, but I do my best and send it back.
- BA replies and cheerfully (he’s always cheerful) notes that I have left the eISBN field blank. Oh, I think. He says that as a Canadian, I can get a free ISBN from CISS, the Canadian ISBN System Service, and sends me the link to the CISS site, which is part of the government system. Oh no, I think. Government means slow. I go to the CISS site, fill in the application – I am downhearted, and ready myself for the bureaucracy-crawl.
- CISS replies that they’ve received my application but that I’d left a field blank (I hadn’t). Could I reply with the ISBN of Make Fire in the Desert? I do.
- Not having heard boo about my application, I email CISS and follow up. Them: oh, yes, we did receive it, but it can take up to 10 days for the application to be processed.
- CISS emails me with an account access code, and I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes that only one day after my follow-up it gets processed. I access and apply for my ISBN. A few minutes later, an automated “application successful” email arrives, along with another email explaining how I assign an ISBN. I do just that, and ponder the power I have: I could make up a dozen books and have a dozen shiny new ISBN’s if I wanted!
- I email BA with my new ISBN. He says how great that is and that he will add it to my metadata, and can I confirm what contract I will be using (I’d already provided it)? Then he sends me an 8-page monster contract for me to read and sign, but says I can just sign, scan, and return the last page. I picture him winking as he says it. BA’s so nice.
- BA thanks me for the signed page and says he’ll put it in the queue for some other dude to cosign. I’ll call that dude Unknown Soldier (US), because I’ll never actually speak to him. US has a nice, scrawly signature, though, which means he’s efficient and successful. Then BA says that next I should hear from someone who I’ll christen Mystery Jane (MJ), because I’m scared of the word “should” in something that needs to happen.
- MJ emails me! I receive a signed copy of the contract (which is how I know that US has the kick-butt signature) and the promise of an SFTP account where I can upload my files. (I thought I had already given the files to BA, but, like, whatever.) And, on top of it all, SFTP sounds scary, like something I’ll have to tech-learn on my own. MJ says it’s all right to email Distant Lady (DL) if I don’t get full details for the SFTP within a week.
- I email DL. Full disclosure: I didn’t wait a full week.
- DL replies! She says she’s sorry for the delay, something about upgrades impeding the configuration of accounts (uh-huh), but provides all the instructions on how to SFTP my files to the Kobo servers. True to my prediction, it involves tech-learning a new process. I’m fairly tech-savvy, so I figure it out, thanks to a combination of .pdf help files that link to someone else’s site, metadata (still scary-sounding) instructions, and a blank Excel metadata spreadsheet. If you recall, I had already gone through the metadata thing and completed most of it with BA’s help, so I’m thinking that Kobo’s communications/procedural structures aren’t very effective.
- I follow the instructions and upload the files (the .epub and Excel metadata sheet) to the Kobo servers through a program called Filezilla. (Yeah, I know – that’s not scary at all, right?!)
- I receive confirmation emails from the Kobo servers that the files have been received. And also a reminder that it could take up to five working days for my E-book to appear in the Kobo catalogue.
- No listing on the Kobo page. Could five days actually mean five days?!
Well, in truth, I’m still assuming that the e-book will appear, but enough has transpired for me to make an honest comparison of KDP versus Kobo publishing. Even when (if) Finding December: Christmas Tales makes its way onto the Kobo site, it will have taken over a month to process what is, in effect, two things: my contract and uploading the files.
KDP: I was very impressed with them – everything was ridiculously easy, accessible, and efficient. Someone’s on the ball over there, and their commitment to simplifying the self- and e-publishing process shows. The downside, of course, is that anyone can do it – there is a lot of crap available for the Kindle. But I think a quality product will usually do well and rise above the sludge, so I’m hoping the same is true for my efforts. Grade: A (I withheld the + because Amazon is a multinational corporation and must be, therefore, evil.)
Kobo: Not so impressive. Aside from the CISS stage, which unlike the American rules for KDP is a Canadian requirement for selling any books, and totally out of Kobo’s hands, everything else was clunky and repetitive. Their representatives seemed very nice, but were at times unaware of what should happen when in which stage of the process. There is no reason, in a Web 3.0 2011, that everything could not be placed online to make the user experience much more efficient. They want to control the quality, I get that, but even with their cumbersome approvals, they should look at putting the execution of the various parts online. The combination of emails from different people, the attached files, the clunky spreadsheets, the SFTP uploading, and over five weeks in process will hurt their ability to get quality work out there and make money. Kobo doesn’t get a fail, because I think my book will look better surrounded by other quality publications, but there is much work to be done. Grade: D-