Budi Kurniawan is the author of the recently released, and self-published title, "How Tomcat Works." During the book promotion this week, Budi is hanging out with us, answering questions in our Apache/Tomcat forum. Participate and you might win a copy of his book!
JavaRanch: Budi, you joined the ranks of self-publishers with your recently released book, "How Tomcat Works." Why did you decide to endeavor to self-publish this time? What drove you away from the established publishers?
Budi: I wrote five computer books for various publishers before this one. I thought I could do better self publishing my books, because of the following reasons.
1. It's a widely known secret that authors get very little from their book sales, a merely 5 to 7% of the retail price. This means, an author only gets $2.50 or so for a $49.99 book. A computer book is considered successful (which means the publisher does not mind a second edition) if it sells at least 10,000 copies, and there are not many books this popular. That's why not many authors are willing to spend a lot of time to get their books to the highest quality possible. I spend a lot of time writing my books, thinking how to make what I write as easy to read and understand as possible. Self publishing should be able to give me more money that is more worth my time. In theory, I can make 5 times as much as going through a publisher. Therefore, my target for this book is only 2,000 copies.
2. Contracts with some publishers often put the authors in very unfavorable position. Have you ever heard that for any overseas sales, the author gets half the normal royalty rate even though the publisher makes more money (they give overseas buyers less discounts)? They claim they have invested a lot of money in the past to establish the overseas distribution channels. In reality, I found out later, trading with overseas bookstores is relatively easy. They even pay for the freight from New York to their home countries.
3. I want more control of what I write.
4. I have heard that most actors, in some stage of their career, want to be directors, that's the natural progression of their careers. I guess, many authors want to self publish too.
5. Many publishers don't spend money on advertising. I thought I could see my books in magazines, but I was wrong.
6. Self publishing is easy and relatively cheap. I mean, you just need $5000 and you can publish your book. It's very tempting to try.
7. Amazon.com accounts for 20% of book sales in the US, and I suspect it's even higher for computer books. Selling through Amazon is very easy too. So how I calculated it was like this. If my target is only 20% of what a publisher's (2,000 copies as opposed to 10,000), then I can just sell through amazon and get the same result, at the same time retaining the rights of the book.
8. I can sell direct. In the past I gave my reader a 45% discount, but then some bookstores were not happy, so now I'm selling at the full price.
9. You get 100% of the translation rights, and not 25% to 50%.
JavaRanch: What surprised you during this experience? What hadn't you expected?
Budi: I didn't know marketing was so difficult. Many bookstores don't even reply to my marketing emails or phone calls. I thought if the books were 100% returnable, they would be happy. No.
JavaRanch: What have you done to market your book? Have any particular approaches or activities been especially successful? What major retailers (on-line and brick-and-mortar) are selling your book?
Budi: To be honest, I'm still trying to find the best strategy. So far, through emails and sending samples to bookstores. I've opened an account with amazon and Baker & Taylor (a wholesaler) and sent sample copies to Barnes & Noble and Borders. Hopefully there will be some response. I also sell direct to SoftPro and other computer books in Australia, Germany, and the UK. The store in Sweden buys my book from Baker & Taylor. Reviews definitely help too. Another thing, I've contacted some other self-publishers, hoping to exchange notes on self publishing or maybe taking on the marketing part together. I don't mind telling other people what I've done. I feel the need for an association of computer book self publishers and small publishers.
JavaRanch: How many copies have you sold? When did the book hit the market?
Budi: It started selling early May this year, and I've sold about 400 copies to bookstores in 7 countries. The book has also been translated into 3 languages. I spent a lot of time making sure this book was easy to read and informative. I got rave reviews from all reviewers who had read this book, including from JavaRanch and Richard Monson-Haefel (the EJB guru and author of Enterprise JavaBeans 4th edition). All the three foreign publishers reviewed this book closely before deciding to pay an advance.
JavaRanch: Have you considered selling the book as an e-book?
Budi: Yes, I am considering ebooks as well. It will be available for sale from my website.
JavaRanch: How many different people with what different sets of skills did you work with to complete your book, "How Tomcat Works?"
Budi: There was a tech editor who later became my co-author, a graphic designer who did the layout and cover design, that's all. This is not too mention hundreds of people who downloaded the first draft and sent their helpful comments.
JavaRanch: What was the editing process that you used when writing your book, "How Tomcat Works?" How many editors did you work with? What types of feedback did they provide?
Budi: Initially Paul Deck was my technical editor. It was taking me so long (I had a day job) that I finally asked if he could contribute a few chapters, which he did. Basically, a technical editor checks the accuracy of the text and tests the applications. I was grateful for Paul's help. Every time I finished a chapter, I emailed it to him. He then added his comments in the text itself, which I then re-reviewed. Occasionally there was code that I had to correct, etc. With the current features of modern word processors, this is an easy process.
JavaRanch: Over how long of a period of time did you and your co-author spend how much time writing "How Tomcat Works" would you estimate?
Budi: This book took an extremely long time to finish because there was practically no documentation that detailed the internal workings of Tomcat. I had to read every single line of code and, at first, did not even know where to start. After spending six months or so, I started to get the big picture and soon I could start thinking about how I could explain the material in plain English. Tomcat is one of the most successful Java projects, and it's a huge and complex system, consisting of hundreds of classes and millions of lines of code. In all, it took me almost 2 years (part time) to finish. Compare this with my other books which take an average of 4 months.
JavaRanch: As a writer, did you find that self-publishing consumed too much of your time - time you'd have rather spent writing?
Budi: The fact that I have a good (Word) template helps a lot. I would say I spent 10% more time than if I had to write for another publisher because there was someone helping me with the layout. In truth, even if you are writing for a publisher, you have to do formatting yourself to some degree (i.e. make sure you use the correct style for text, figure captions, etc).
JavaRanch: Who did the page layout of the book? Did you have to master any new software packages? Did you work with an outside designer when coming up with the design of the book?
Budi: I paid someone to do page layout and cover design. In any publishing business, it goes more or less like this. The author writes in Word or WordPerfect (or Open Office, if you like) format, using the correct styles for each part of the text. After reviews by editors and the whole book is ready, the book is then laid out using PageMaker or QuarkXPress. It is not easy and takes a lot of time. The final result is a PDF file, ready to go to the printer.
JavaRanch: Aside from marketing costs, what expenses have you been faced with as a self-publisher? How much were these expenses?
Budi: First of all, there is the printing and editing cost. Then, there is fulfillment service and warehousing. Other than those, being a self-publisher, I don't incur much overheads, which means I don't have to publish a certain number of titles per year or at all. It does take a lot of my time though, especially for the first title. However, I believe, once I set up business relationships with customers the subsequent titles would be much easier to sell.
I spent $4,700 for printing 1,000 copies of How Tomcat Works. Other costs include paying the graphic designer, editor, for the ISBN registration, etc. The total cost is about $6,500, not counting the hundreds of hours spent on writing the book itself of course.
JavaRanch: Without divulging any secrets, could you describe the agreement you have with your printer? Are you working with a print-on-demand service? When researching printers, how many different outfits did you discuss this project with? Did you find that the costs varied quite a bit, from print shop to print shop?
Budi: There is no secret at all. Anyone can go to a printer's website to get a quote. As I mentioned earlier, it costs me $4,700 to print 1,000 copies. It would be cheaper (probably half the price) to print the next 1,000 though. I contacted four or five printers, and BoydPrinting in NY was the best I could get.
JavaRanch: Have you discovered any bottlenecks in your self-publishing process?
Budi: Yeah, this book needs much more exposure. Also, since I currently only have one title, big chains can simply ignore me. But I believe everything takes time and sales will be much better several months from now.
JavaRanch: Often, I've noticed that publishers offer one or two sample chapters from a book, downloadable from their web site. You're offering a full five chapters, plus the introduction. Why so many? Why did you decide that one or two chapters wouldn't be enough?
Budi: I realize this is a very advanced topics and many people may shy away from it before even giving the book a chance. Therefore, the five chapters are to prove to would-be buyers that the book is easy to follow, despite the heavy-weight discussions.
JavaRanch: Do you have any advice for would-be self publishers, thinking this might be an endeavor they'd like to embark on?
Budi: It's worth trying. I'm not 100% certain if I will be successful, but if you never try you'll never know. I believe I'm on the right track. Also, if you are thinking of self-publishing, do drop me an email. Maybe we can market our books together.
JavaRanch: Lastly, would you do it again?
Budi: I will publish at least 3 titles, and see what happens. The whole journey has been tiring but exciting. I'm currently writing a Struts design and programming title, which is much much easier to read and understand than all the Struts books in the market.
Budi Kurniawan is the author of "How Tomcat Works" (Brainysoftware.com, May 2004) and an IT consultant specializing in J2EE enterprise application development. In addition to a number of computer books, he has published about 100 articles for more than 10 publications--including prestigious Java magazines, such as java.net, JavaPro, JavaWorld, and Onjava.com. Budi is the author of the popular Brainysoftware.com File Upload Bean, which is licensed and purchased by many major corporations worldwide.