Gas station without pumps

2018 December 19

Textbook on sale

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:48
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My textbook is part of LeanPub’s special holiday sale.  For the rest of 2018, you can get it for only $4.99 (instead of the usual $5.99) with the coupon

Note: students in BME 51A should have gotten a coupon to get the textbook for free.

2018 December 16

I may be self-publishing forever

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:25
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Sigh, just as I’m finishing my textbook, I find out that publishers don’t want new textbooks. I did have one feeler from Springer, whose book prices are high and royalties low, and they wanted me to provide camera-ready copy. What were they going to do as publishers, other than keep almost all the money?

I have been self-publishing drafts of the text book in PDF format through LeanPub. I can sell the text for about $10 and make more money per book than if a publisher sold it for $80.  I have a new version that I tried to put up on LeanPub last Thursday, but I ran into a problem on their web site in changing the URL, and I’m waiting for them to fix it.  They were able to reproduce the problem and have told me that fixing it is a high priority, so I’ll probably be able to release the new version early this week (maybe 2018 Dec 17 or 18).

My big problem for the textbook is marketing (whether self-publishing or through traditional publishers)—how do textbook authors get other instructors aware of their book and willing to try it in a course?  Because my book takes a somewhat different approach to teaching electronics than the standard university course (which does about a year of applied math and circuits before doing any design), it isn’t a direct replacement for existing texts, but requires some redesign of curriculum.  That makes it an even harder sell, though I think that my design-early approach to teaching engineering is more in line with pedagogical research.

2018 October 23

Book progress

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:15
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I’m on sabbatical this fall, working on my textbook.  I hope to have the next edition out on LeanPub in early December, at which time I will raise the price by 20% (from $10 suggested, $5 minimum to $12 suggested, $6 minimum).

At the beginning of the summer I had something like 100–120 to-do notes scattered through the book.  Some of them were small wording changes, some new sections or new chapters, some new figures, some additional examples or exercises.  I’ve been slogging through them, but I realized a couple of weeks ago that I needed to up my pace, as I still had 80 to-do notes left.  I’d cleared more than 40, but new to-do notes crept in.

I have now set myself the goal of reducing the number of to-do notes by two a day, seven days a week. My goal is a net change, so if a new to-do note is added, I have to remove three old ones.  After I’ve gotten my net two for the day done, I might work some more to get ahead, but I can stop and do other things if I don’t feel like more writing.  Getting ahead does not buy me time off (except at the end of the process), but if I fall behind I have to make it up the next day, not pushing off the deadline.

Earlier in the summer I was being systematic about which to-do notes I worked on, doing the major rearrangements, new chapters, and new sections, then starting from the beginning of the book.  Now I’m being more arbitrary—I pick a chapter, look to see whether any of the to-do notes in it seem doable now, and tackle the first ones that seem feasible.  On different days my energy for different sorts of work varies, so some days I end up doing figures, some days adding exercises, and some days writing/rewriting explanations.

The new approach seems to be working—I’ve been running slightly ahead of schedule and now have only 50 to-do notes left, 16 of which are not in the book but in the solutions manual.  Of course, I may end up slowing down as I get closer to the end and there are no “easy” things left to do.

Other than clearing the to-do notes, there are few other things I need to do:

  • Decide whether to submit the book to a conventional publisher.  A textbook publisher would charge about $80 for the book (rather than the $6–12 I’m charging), and I’d get 12% of net (which comes to about the same as I make on a $6 sale).  The big question is whether they would do enough marketing to justify their taking the lion’s share of the proceeds.
    I did get a request from a Springer editor to submit the book to them (he’d seen the title on LeanPub), but I’m not very happy with Springer as an academic publisher, so their offer would have to be really good for me to go with them.  I’ve got a copy of their submission form, but I’ve not decided whether to fill it out and send it.
  • Decide whether to self-publish through IngramSpark.  Selling paperback color editions through them would require a price of about $35 a copy, in order for me to make $6 a copy.  That price point includes only a small 20% wholesale discount—enough for on-line sales, but not enough for bookstores to stock it.  I don’t know whether I could still sell the PDF through LeanPub—LeanPub certainly permits it, but I don’t know IngramSpark’s rules.
  • Look for other self-publishing companies.  I doubt that there are any that provide as wide a possible distribution as Ingram, except Amazon, and they won’t do a color paperback this long (and if they did their minimum price would be $64—almost as bad as a conventional textbook publisher).
  • Decide whether to change the title and open up the book to a bigger market.  I’ve been calling the book Applied Electronics for Bioengineers, because that is the focus of my course.  But there aren’t very many bioengineering majors in the country, and most bioengineering curricula don’t require analog electronics, so the market is rather small. I’ve been considering something more like Applied Analog Electronics: a first course in electronics, which captures the focus of the book fairly well and should have a wider appeal.  There is some introductory material in the book that would have to be updated for the change of title, but the amount of rewrite is pretty small.
  • Figure out how to make my book visible to professors who might be willing to teach the course.
  • Figure out how  to make my book visible to individuals (probably makers) who would be willing to buy it for themselves.

So, dedicated readers, should I change the book title?  Should I go for a print edition this year?  How should I gain visibility for the book?

2018 April 22

Leanpub changing their pricing model again

Filed under: Circuits course,Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:50
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I’ve been publishing drafts of my book with Leanpub since August 2015, shortly after I first heard about them from Katrin Becker.  I took the chance with an unknown publisher largely because it cost me nothing, they took no rights to the book, and their e-book store had very generous royalties.

About  a year ago, they changed their pricing model for authors, so that there was a flat $99 fee for starting each new book, though existing books like mine were grandfathered in with no fee.

They just announced to authors another change in their pricing plan (though again, existing books are grandfathered in).  Now authors have a choice between a $99 flat fee per book or subscription plans of $8, $19, $29, or $59 a month, depending on how many books they have—the $8/month plan is for up to 3 books.  For the 32 months I’ve been with LeanPub, the new subscription pricing scheme would have cost me $256—much more than the $99 flat fee, which would have already been high enough for me to look elsewhere when I was starting.

The new subscription pricing scheme strikes me as a sucker’s deal, if you are really going to stick with a book long enough to complete the book and sell it. Unless you remove a book from Leanpub quickly (taking it to a traditional publisher, for example), the subscription fees add up fast.  Unless you are churning out books and moving them off Leanpub within 2–3 years, the $99 flat fee per book remains a better deal.

number of books months until flat fee cheaper
1 13
2 25
3 38
4 21
5 27
6 32
7 37
8 42
9 47
10 53
11 38
12 41
13 45
14 48
15 52
16 55

They do have some deals where earning sufficient royalties will provide the subscription for free, but I’m still a long way from the first breakpoint ($1000 in royalties), because I give away the book to students in my classes (235 free copies of the book vs. only 133 paid-for copies) and because I charge so little (the price is now $9.99 recommended, $4.99 minimum).  At that low price, my royalties are minimal.  I suppose that in another couple of years I’ll be up to the level that would unlock their standard plan, allowing me to do up to 3 more books without a subscription fee (unless they’ve raised their thresholds by then).

Of course, if I could get some other teacher to adopt my book for a course, my sales would go up substantially, but self-promotion has never been one of strong skills, and Leanpub provides no marketing.  Other than the authors of books on Leanpub and their students, no one knows about the website or looks for books there.

Leanpub has also changed the royalties they give, from 90%–50¢ to 80%.  For the lowest price they allow ($4.99), the royalties are the same either way, but for higher prices, they now take more (again, existing books are grandfathered in under the old agreement, though they are trying to induce authors to switch to the new royalty scheme with a not-very-exciting promotion scheme).  The new royalties are still much better than Amazon’s 35% for ebooks, but Amazon provides much more visibility for books.  Amazon does have a 70% royalty deal for ebooks in a very narrow price range.

I understand why Leanpub has been making changes to their business model—their initial pricing was a loss leader, to build up a sufficient clientele while they were developing their software for book publishing.  The main value they add (in their view) is their mark-up language for producing EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats from the same source, and most of their development costs have been for improving their mark-up language (first Leanpub-flavored Markdown and now Markua).

But I’m not using their mark-up language, because it is not really suited for the graph-heavy, math-heavy textbook I’m writing. I’m using LaTeX to produce PDF files directly.  I gave up on EPUB and MOBI, as they are not suitable formats for graph-heavy books, even though that locks me out of many of the e-book markets. I’m using Leanpub only for their storefront, for which their 10%+50¢ charge was quite reasonable, but increasing the charges to 20% and adding a $8/month subscription fee to that would make me think twice about staying with Leanpub, if they hadn’t grandfathered in the existing books.

2018 June 4: LeanPub has updated their pricing model again.  They now do 80% royalties (no grandfathering), but they have a free plan for people doing limited numbers of book updates per month.  Overall, it doesn’t affect me much (at the minimum price, the royalties were the same either way).  They’ll probably change the pricing again before anyone reads this note.

2017 August 19

Progress on my book

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:05
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I have been slogging through the book, updating it to include feedback I got on it from students and notes I had made on grading assignments, and revising the labs to use the Analog Discovery 2 rather than conventional bench equipment.

I was a little disheartened when I noticed that I’ve just finished updating through Lab 3, out of the 12 labs. That looks like I’m only a quarter of the way through the rewrite, when I had hoped to be almost halfway by now. When I look at it in terms of pages, though, I’m much further along—I’ve revised through page 142, and there are 360 numbered pages before the references (not counting the 37 Roman-numeral pages), so I’m about 40% of the way through the rewrite. That’s a little behind schedule, but not terrifyingly so, especially since it is the beginning labs that needed the most changes to convert to using the Analog Discovery 2.

There are still 132 to-do notes scattered through the book, some of which are in sections I’ve counted as “done” for the summer, so I’m not going to run out of work on the book any time soon.

The PDF file is currently at 411 total pages, with 179 figures (203 distinct images, as there are some figures with subfigures) and 13 tables. It is up to 22.8Mbytes, which I could probably reduce by a few MBytes by better compression of some of the JPEG figures.

I’ve previously thought that it would be good to be able to make paper copies of the book available to students (see Textbook should be on paper), but the print-on-demand services seemed too expensive.  I was apparently not looking at reasonable services, as IngramSpark’s “print-and-ship” calculator says I can now get a single copy (perfectbound paperback, standard color, simplex cover) for about $24 (including shipping and sales tax).  Ordering 50–100 copies doesn’t reduce the price much (still $20 a copy—all the reduction is in shipping).  Unfortunately, their “weight and spine width” calculator says that my page length is out of range for an 8.5″×11″ book, but if I reduce my trim size slightly (t0 8.25″×10.75″), I can print with them and the cost is about a dollar more.  (There may also be an initial setup charge to create the book the first time, including things like getting an ISBN.)

If the book gets much fatter, I’d have to switch to a smaller trim size, which would make the book fatter still, and the increase in the number of pages would increase the cost.  I think that a 7″×10″ trim (which would allow up to 1140 pages) would cost about $3.50 more than an 8.5″×11″ book for the same content, assuming that I reduced the margins and the text block, but didn’t change font sizes.

Paper books through distribution channels are expensive: to get $4 a book (about what I get from the $5 e-book sales through Leanpub), I’d have to have a list price of about $42 a book based on IngramSpark’s publisher’s compensation calculator.

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