Self-publishing with Google Docs and Booktango, a first-hand Experience

Self-publishing with Google Docs and Booktango, a First-hand Experiences

This in-depth blog post about a Booktango author’s first-hand experience was originally posted on William L. Weaver’s blog, Choice Management.

The Booktango Service

In March of 2012, I came across Booktango, a service of Author Solutions in Bloomington, Indiana which is now owned by Penguin Books, that in turn is owned by Pearson, PLC. The cool thing about Booktango is that it is a freemium service that provides individuals an online website to assemble their eBook, scan it for formatting errors, register and assign an ISBN, produce PDF, MOBI, and EPUB files, and have them listed for sale at Booktango, Amazon, Google Play, Apple iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, and Sony.

All of the above services are 100% free, and there is an additional menu of packages you can purchase that currently range from $49 – $359. The add-on services for a fee include things that employ creative humans who assist in your project including editing, interior images, U.S. Copyright filing, consultation on social media promotion, custom cover design, and marketing assistance.

Once your eBook is complete, you set the list price of your title between $0.99 – $9.99 and Booktango takes care of the rest. The Booktango online bookstore lists your eBook at your suggested retail price, and you earn 100% royalty for each sale [from the Booktango bookstore]. Sales from outside retailers [such as Amazon.com and the iBookstore] are listed at a price set by their discretion and subject to a retailer/transaction fee that ranges from 25 percent – 65 percent. Booktango returns the net sales to you, the author, at the same 100% royalty rate. Booktango manages all of the transactions with its retail partners, tracks all sales, provides online sales reports, and pays the royalties to you on a quarterly basis once the amount of royalties has exceeded a threshold of $50.00.

Creating Content

So what about the fun part? Now that Booktango takes care of all of the publishing stuff that they are good at, you can do the things that you are good at — writing about your passion. After creating a free account on Booktango, you can read their best practices guide and learn about other concerns that they discuss on their blog. When you press the “Start a New eBook” button, you are taken to the project editor that contains three tabs

1) a word processing editor,
2) a cover designer, and
3) an eBook details editor.

Working backwards, the eBook details editor allow you to edit the book information that describes your book, including title, subtitle and author name or pen name. You set the list price between $0.99 and $9.99 and indicate the genre, copyright year, and audience level. You are also required to provide keywords, “About the Book”, and “About the Author” information which are used by the various sales partners that list your book for sale. You have the option to include a free preview and acknowledgements.

The cover designer gives you the following options:

  1. Upload your own image into their cover editor that allows you to place text over the image.
  2. Find a copyright-free image from the Booktango image library.
  3. Choose to pay Booktango to design a cover for you at the current price of $159.00.
  4. You can also create your complete cover using your own graphics software and upload your completed image. The cover image that you upload can be in *.jpg, *.gif, or *.tiff format and must have the dimensions of 2100 x 1400 pixels. Because this image will serve as the cover to a collection of words that you own, you must also own the rights to the cover image or have permission to use it for commercial purposes.

I chose to create my own, original, image using Inkscape v. 0.48 vector graphics creator, freely available from http://www.inkscape.org/ that I exported to gimp v. 2.6, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, freely available from http://www.gimp.org/ that I used to scale, crop, and save the image into the correct format and size.

Of course the words are the most important ingredient to your successful book. The online editor allows you to upload a completed manuscript that is less than 5 MB in size in *.doc, *.docx, ePub, *.rtf, and *.txt format. I attempted to use this feature, but kept receiving an error message of a failed import with no indication of what was wrong with the file. After trying different formats, I decided to use the copy and paste method. I could have created the text directly using the Booktango editor, but I love to use Google Docs as my universal editor and copy and pasted in one chapter at a time.

Google Docs

There are several awesome things about using Google Docs as a universal editor. First off, it is in the cloud and I can get to my documents whenever I have a spare moment to write. I can pull up my manuscript during lunch at work, from my chromebook, on my tablet, or if I really need to get something out of my head, using the computers at my local Burger King. Each keystroke is saved and the changes of each editing session are versioned and available if a few pages of the storyline end up going the wrong way and I need to backtrack. These reasons alone blow Microsoft Word out of the water.

But the Number One, super-awesome reason I use Google Docs is the contextual “spell” checker. Not only does Google Docs alert me to misspelled words, it also lets me know when I use the incorrect homophone out of context. For example, I can say that I am getting board with writing at the moment and after right clicking on the red-underlined “board” in this sentence, the pop-up menu asks me “Did you mean: bored”. That saves me from wrong-word homophones all the time.

But even more awesome, the same contextual checker has the power of all of the web documents that Google’s spiders have crawled and memorized. So when I type that for all indents and porpoises, Google Docs is one of the best proofreading editor I’ve had, the “Did you mean: intents and purposes” lets me know I’ve turned the wrong phrase. It is still a great idea to have a human editor give your writing a once over, but Google Docs catches most of the obvious stuff first and the human editor can then be free to give you feedback on the quality of your message.

Paragraph Format

The various eBook formats flow your book’s text onto the screen of an eBook reader using the user’s custom font size and typeface settings. To ensure that the text appears properly, paragraphs must not have an extra carriage return between them. One paragraph must end and the next paragraph must begin immediately after you have pressed the return key. This can be difficult to read while you are editing your text, so you can use the line spacing selection on the Format menu of Google Docs to “Add space before paragraph”. The Booktango editor automatically scans your text in their editor for extra paragraph returns between paragraphs and lets you know how many total errors your document contains and where they are located. You can delete the offending content and have it scan for errors again until they are all caught. Other prohibited formats are indents or large caps at the start of paragraphs. Different eReader formats automatically generate these features and must be removed. The editor also has toolbar buttons for bold, italics, underline, strikeout, super- and subscript, paragraph formats of numbered and bulleted lists, whole paragraph indentation, and left, center, right, and full justification.

Your book must also contain a Table of Contents (TOC). The TOC is generated in the Booktango editor by selecting the text of your chapter titles and pressing the “Add/Remove Chapter” icon on the editor’s toolbar. This tool changes the format of your chapter text to “Heading 1”. Chapter subtitles can be selected and formatted as “Heading 2”, and these show up as indented entries in the generated TOC. You can view the current version of the generated TOC by pressing the “Preview TOC” button in the editor.

You can save your project and return to it at any time after logging back into the Booktango site. If you create a new book just to try out the service and then do not edit the project for 180 consecutive days, Booktango deletes your project to free up space on their servers. Don’t worry, you are reminded of this 180 inactivity policy often.

Submitting for Publication

After you have entered all of the text for your eBook, corrected any errors, and have a minimum of 2500 words, you are ready to submit your book for publication. The automated system will check that your text has no errors, contains a TOC, has a designated cover image, and that you have filled out all of the required details. If all is good to go, you then get to progress through additional screens that present the user agreements, get an opportunity to select which online publishers you would like booktango to send your completed eBook, get a final chance to make sure things are correct, and then press the publish button — and Booktango takes over. Soon after you submit your eBook for publication and distribution, Booktango asks you to provide your US Federal Tax Identification number and your account number for direct deposit of your royalties.

My Experience

This is my first experience publishing an eBook, and I can say it was awesome. There was a bit of a learning curve in using the online editor and figuring out what I could and couldn’t do to avoid document errors. I really wanted to do this 100% DIY so I did not purchase any services, nor did I press the “Live Chat” button on the site that connects you with the Booktango helpdesk. Your Booktango dashboard alerts you to any messages and next steps that need to be completed and updates information on your published eBooks. Booktango provides a sales report detailing the number of eBooks you have sold at each retailer over the user-selected date range, the price each customer paid, and the amount of your royalties. Royalties reports are generated and paid quarterly.

You can choose to purchase BookStubs which are credit-card sized plastic cards that display a full-color image of your eBook on the front and a QR and promotional code on the back that users can scan or enter into the Booktango website to download your eBook. You can choose to distribute the BookStubs as free promotion of your book or you can sell them. The codes on the BookStubs can only be used to download your eBook once.

My Book

So what about my eBook, A Decade of Innovation? Well, from the overview of my book appearing on the Booktango website:

Between 2000 and 2009, I had the privilege of writing a monthly column for Scientific Computing & Instrumentation magazine. I was able to provide additional detail about the latest innovations appearing in the trade news, connect these developments with historical inventions, and generally geek out by using vocabulary and terms from physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering. Throughout the decade I was developing and teaching new courses for our nascent B.S. degree in Integrated Science, Business, and Technology. I was able to incorporate information and trends from these columns into the classroom and simultaneously feedback our classroom discussions into the column. As a collection, these expositions track the discovery and development of technology throughout the decade. It is my hope that fellow scientists and engineers would enjoy reading this collection for its familiar jargon and wide range of topics and that fans of technology would find the articles approachable and written as an extended conversation with a practicing scientist.

The book contains 78,228 words and 497,579 characters including spaces. The version I have on my Nexus 7 that I purchased from Google Play has 472 pages and the Product Details on Amazon list the Print Length at 296 pages.

I write a lot of words as a university professor, in course materials, reports, article publications, and tons of email. I’m not sure why, but seeing some of my words formatted as an eBook on my tablet is pretty cool. I can’t wait to start work on my next eBook project.

5 thoughts on “Self-publishing with Google Docs and Booktango, a first-hand Experience

  1. Would a Nexus 7 and a keyboard be acceptable for writing a book? What mobile device would you recommend for writing? Thanks.

  2. Hi Richard,

    The editor seems to work well for typing directly into it on a tablet or mobile device, but we would recommend using a PC or laptop to upload the manuscript itself. Once uploaded you can type directly in the editor on-the-go without issue.

    We have not specifically tested a Nexus 7 but have tested similar tablets and mobile devices.

  3. I would only like this service if I could retain full control over my own Amazon account, especially since that’s where I earn the bulk of my sales. Why would I forfeit that control?

  4. Pingback: 7 Ways to Promote Your Book with Booktango | Booktango Blog

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