Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Milk an Almond, ... is now available

As I mentioned recently, I've been engaged in several self-publishing projects lately. One of them is now complete. 

How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, and Armor a Turnip: A Thousand Years of Recipes is now available from CreateSpace,'s POD subsidiary; the URL for buying it is:

The book is about 160 pages (8"x10"), costs $9, contains about 330 recipes. Each is given in the original form (or translation if the original is not in English), along with a description of how we do it—quantities and, in most cases, instructions. These are necessary because period recipes tend to leave out irrelevant details such as quantities, temperatures, and times. 

Most of the recipes are from the 13th through 15th centuries. The earliest  are extracted from a letter written in the sixth century by a Byzantine physician to Theoderick, king of the Franks, and the latest  from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, published (posthumously) in 1669. There is also one modern recipe for a medieval middle eastern drink (sekanjabin) accompanied by two somewhat fragmentary 13th c. recipes. In addition to recipes there are articles on what food ingredients were available when, how to do medieval cooking, sources of recipes, and a variety of related matters.

For those who like to see before they buy, the entire book is available as a free pdf.

For readers who might consider their own self-publishing projects, the basics of doing it with CreateSpace are:

You create and send them a pdf of the book cover and a pdf of the book itself; Word is adequate for the latter purpose, although a page layout program might be better. Open Office (free, open source) includes a graphics module that you can do your cover with. CreateSpace prints and sends you a proof copy, charging a few dollars for the copy plus postage. You go through the proof copy, find lots of mistakes that you somehow missed before, fix them, send in a new pdf, get back another proof copy. Repeat until your rate of new errors gets acceptably low—it is amazing how many errors can survive repeated proofing—or you run out of time or patience. You then tell them that the latest version is acceptable, they put it up for sale on their web page and (if you wish) on Amazon, and also (if you wish) make it available for ordinary bookstores to buy and resell.

You set the price; the higher the price you set, the higher your royalty. The royalty also depends on where it is sold—highest via CreateSpace itself, somewhat lower through Amazon, still lower if it goes to a brick and mortar store. 

I set the price for our book to give a royalty of about a dollar a copy at the lowest rate. If I had been willing to sell it only through CreateSpace at a royalty rate just above zero—a sensible policy if the only reason you are self-publishing a book is to get it out there, not as a source of revenue—I could have priced it at $4 and still collected a few cents of revenue for each copy sold. That assumes that I pay (as I did) an extra $39 once plus $5/year to get the Pro plan, which has a more favorable royalty rate than the standard (free) plan.

All of which gets us back to a question I have discussed here before: Whether the current publishing model is going to survive the competition from both online POD and eBooks. I checked the Amazon price for a reasonably successful recent fantasy paperback and used the CreateSpace royalty calculator to find the royalty (via the eStore) at the same price; it looks as though it is comparable to what an author would expect to get from a commercial publisher. The publisher has the advantage of providing an advance and some marketing effort. On the other hand, especially for an author not yet established, getting published is hard—it took me some three years to get an acceptance for my first novel.

Some of you may be curious as to how my second novel, up on Amazon as a Kindle, is doing. So am I. The only feedback I get consists of reviews—three so far, all very favorable—and the Amazon rating, which shows how a given book rates in recent sales relative to all books sold by Amazon (or, in this case, all kindle files); high numbers are bad. One of the perils of publishing, whether self-publishing or commercial publishing, is becoming addicted to frequent checks of one's Amazon rating.

Salamanders was running at well over 100,000 initially, which is not very impressive—or surprising. After I put up a post here, enough copies sold to get it to something like 20-30,000. It then gradually drifted back up. It dropped again, possibly as a result of my son Patri mentioning it on his blog. It again drifted back up. A few days ago it again dropped. I have not figured out why, although my younger son suggests that it may be due to his efforts inserting references to it on TV Tropes, one of his main sources of literary self-education. It is now drifting up again. 

Current promotion plans mostly consist of attending a couple of sf conventions where, with luck, I will be on panels, perhaps be able to do a reading from the book. Ideally, the various sources of attention will eventually get me enough readers and reviews to maintain sales via word of mouth. Maybe.

All of which got me curious as to  how big an audience my blog has. Over a period of about a week—during which I was more active than usual, due to the flap over Palin's comment on Paul Revere—the log showed about a thousand readers a day. For the entire period it has been up, the average is more like five hundred, but my guess is that it has trended up over time. And those figures, as I understand them, don't show people who read a blog indirectly via an RSS reader such as Shrook, the one I use.

Which suggests that a not-terribly well known blog may still provide a signficant platform for pushing self-published books, especially ones likely to be of interest to its readers.

Speaking of which I should probably mention that although neither of my novels is about either economics or libertarianism in any strong sense, both have connections to those as well as to my historical interests. Salamander, in particular, started with the idea of a fantasy equivalent of the central planning fallacy, the persuasive idea that if only some sensible person had control over all the resources out there, wonderful things could be done. In its fictional world magery is weak, which is frustrating to mages—one of whom has worked out a way of solving the problem by funneling the power of a very large number of mages through one mage. He is well intentioned and naive, and the two problems with that project have not yet occurred to him.

And I had a good deal of fun in Harald with the economics of warfare,  including the problem of raising and running an army without either tax revenue or feudal obligations.

Would readers be interested in a more extensive discussion of novel writing, from the standpoint of a relatively new novelist?