Monthly Archives: December 2009

Big Snow Coming

It’s Friday evening. This morning I took about 15 books to the downtown post office and mailed them out. This afternoon I sent out another five. I wanted to ship as many as possible before the huge snowstorm hit. It’s snowing heavily now, and there could be one or two feet of snow on the ground before it ends sometime tomorrow or Sunday. I’ve paused my Google AdWords campaign to try to cut down on orders somewhat. I’m reluctant to cancel the listings on Amazon Marketplace or on the whiteknightpress.com web site, because potential buyers could be discouraged if the book appears to be unavailable; they might conclude that it went out of print.

I’ve already had three new orders that haven’t shipped yet, including one for Norway, for which I have to get to a post office, as opposed to just mailing the book from home or in a collection box. I probably won’t be able to ship it before Monday at the soonest; I’ll e-mail the buyer that there may be a shipping delay.

Still no more news from Lightning Source. When I log into my account, it shows that my proof order is “printing.” I guess that means that it was approved to be printed, or maybe has entered a work flow to be printed, then inspected, bound, etc., before it gets shipped. So it will be next week before I get the proof copy of the book to approve, and then a few more days before the books can be distributed widely.

We have a good number of books printed out, waiting to be bound. No hurry to bind them, because we won’t be able to get them shipped for a few days. Both printers are working well now, thanks to Clenise’s steady work at maintaining them.

Stress Level Through the Roof — And Back Down Again

Today I had what was one of the most stressful periods of the entire book project. A couple of days ago I re-submitted the cover file for the Leica D-Lux 4 book to Lightning Source, the print-on-demand company that will start printing the books. The first cover file had been rejected for technical reasons, but I believed I had fixed those problems with the revised file. I was waiting somewhat apprehensively for some word from LSI as to whether the new file passed muster.

Early this afternoon I received an e-mail from the customer rep at LSI saying they had encountered problems with my file — the exact same problems that they had with the original file! This was not good news. I had imagined maybe there would be some other problem, or maybe they would say there was still a slight issue but the file could be processed anyway, but not that all of the same problems were still there!

So I first called a person who is providing consulting services for the project. She looked at the file on her computer and could not immediately see a problem. I then called my customer service rep, who had sent me the unwelcome e-mail. I left a message for her to call me back. I didn’t hear from her for about an hour, so I called a different rep, whose name had also been sent to me. She answered her phone, thank goodness. I explained the situation, and fortunately she soon reached the conclusion that I needed to speak to the technical person who had handled the file and found the problems. He came on the line and was very pleasant and helpful. After I explained my concerns, he realized that he had been looking at the original file again! He quickly checked the revised file, and found that it was fine and ready to go. He was quite apologetic, and promised to get the file processed as soon as possible. So, all’s well that ends well, though I had some bad moments thinking I was at a dead end and could not get that file approved. Maybe it was worth going through this to get to the feeling of relief at the end.

So, in the fairly near future I should be receiving a proof copy of the book from LSI, and then, assuming it looks okay, I can order copies of the book to distribute myself, and I can let the books be distributed automatically to Amazon and other online retailers as orders are placed. I’m looking forward to letting LSI handle a lot of the work that Clenise and I have been doing ourselves for the past six or eight weeks.

The orders, meanwhile, have slowed down dramatically. Only two orders as of late afternoon today — one from the U.S. and one from Singapore. I reactivated the Google AdWords campaign last night, so hopefully some more orders will come in, though people may be focusing on the holidays and may not think the book will arrive in time to be useful to them. I can still ship them out to arrive by Christmas in the U.S., though probably not outside of the U.S.

Still a Lot Going On

Well, yesterday I missed out and never got around to posting a new entry here. It just got too late with everything going on. I won’t try to mention all that’s happening, but I’ll just give a brief update.

Leica posted the firmware update to the D-Lux 4 camera on the U.S. web site on December 11, but a day or two later it disappeared. The only explanation I have seen was a brief message by a member of the dpreview.com Leica discussion forum saying that there were technical concerns with bracketing and the French language. That’s too bad; I updated my camera and it was working fine as far as I could tell. The update provides some excellent enhancements to the camera, but we’ll have to wait a while for it to be fixed and released again.

We’re printing books again now, though I had to make a quick trip to OfficeMax this evening for more Brother toner cartridges. Yesterday I started to order some on Amazon.com, but I left them in my virtual shopping cart, and never finished the order. Oh, well. Things were busy yesterday.

Orders have slowed down a bit. Yesterday I took 18 books to the post office, representing the orders from Saturday and Sunday. Today I took 8. As of now, at 10:50 Tuesday night, we have 9 books to ship tomorrow, all to buyers in the U.S., which is unusual. I had stopped the Google AdWords campaign for several days, and that may have had the effect of slowing down international orders. Anyway, this evening I started it back up again, and we’ll see if orders pick up.

I guess some people are ordering for the holidays, and they may think it’s too late to get books shipped in time. Actually, I ship the next business day if I receive the order by about 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, so there is still time if anyone wants a book before Christmas.

The last two black-and-white copies of the book that were available from me on Amazon Marketplace just sold, and I’m not going to put any more of them on sale there, at least not right away, because we’re only printing color books right now, and with only one printer operating, we can’t print both kinds at the same time.

Yesterday I submitted a revised cover file to Lightning Source after they e-mailed me to say the first file had technical problems. I’m hoping I got it right the second time.

Trying to Keep Up with Orders

As we continue down the home stretch, it never seems to get much easier to keep up with orders. The one printer that is now functioning was printing quite nicely last night and then again this morning — until it “paused.” I tried to un-pause it from the computer, but that had no effect. For the last two hours, Clenise has been working to get the toner cartridges refilled with toner from the bottles we bought over the internet. This toner seems to be good, but it is a very tedious task to refill the cartridges properly, so toner doesn’t leak out, and the printer recognizes the cartridge as full. A few minutes ago she replaced the refilled cartridges in the printer, and then the printer’s display turned the dreaded red color, with a message about a Drum Error. Now Clenise is using the vacuum cleaner to try to clean off the drum unit of any excess toner.

With any luck, we will have the printer up and running again before too long, but nothing is certain in this venture.

Right now, we have seven unfilled orders, all for the version of the book with color photographs. A few people have ordered the black-and-white version, but I believe the ratio is at least ten color books to one B&W book.

Today we officially reached the mark of 400 books sold. We have produced considerably more than that, because of books sent out as promotional copies or replacements for books that got lost in shipment or had other issues.

We have now sold books to buyers in 22 countries other than the U.S.

A Quieter Day

Today is Saturday, and for once I’m finding time to write a post during daylight hours, just after 2:00 p.m. Things have settled down for the moment, which is a rare situation lately. I’ve received orders for only two books so far today. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because the holiday season is in full swing and people have things to do other than order camera guides. At any rate, I’m glad it’s peaceful here now. Clenise is really worn to a frazzle, though she managed to bind nine more color-interior books a little while ago. I needed two of them to fill today’s two orders.

I also had a chance earlier today to download and install the new version 2.1 firmware update to the Leica D-Lux 4 camera. It does seem to be a very useful update; it helps with white balance accuracy, provides a 1:1 aspect ratio so you can take perfectly square images; and gives a broader range of adjustments for exposure compensation, among other items. It will take a while to test all of the new functions and figure them out. I have posted links to the update on my whiteknightpress.com web site. Eventually I may revise the book to include references to the new features, but I won’t do that until the update has been around for a while.

Now I’m waiting for Lightning Source to finish processing my text and cover files and send me a proof copy of the book to approve. Then it will be interesting to see how quickly and how widely the book gets distributed. I was reading today on Aaron Shepard’s blog that books such as this one (printed by Lightning Source and distributed with a “short discount” and non-returnable) will not be carried by Borders.com. It still should be available through Amazon.com and BN.com, among other places. I’ll be watching to see where the book turns up. I’m hoping this type of distribution will work out well. Of course, it would be nice to see it on bookstore shelves, but that is not likely to happen when I’m not making it available at the higher discount that the major distributors require. I will have to decide whether to order some books myself that I can sell through Amazon Marketplace and elsewhere. Actually, I wouldn’t mind getting out of the business of selling individual copies of the books, because it takes so much time to process orders and pack and ship books, including daily trips to the post office.

Down the Home Stretch

Clenise and I are both getting worn out from producing books ourselves. Her case of tennis elbow is getting worse, from operating the lever of the binding machine and the blade of the cutter, along with constantly maintaining the printers and tweaking the toner cartridges to keep the pages flowing out. But I think we’re approaching the end of this phase of the project. Today I received a message from Lightning Source saying they have started processing the files I uploaded yesterday, and with good luck it sounds as if they may be ready to start printing the books within a week or so. We’re both looking forward to sitting back for a while and letting someone else do the printing, binding, and shipping.

Today Leica announced the update of the firmware of the D-Lux 4 camera to version 2.1, a long-awaited event. I’m glad I didn’t wait for that update before publishing the book. I have put a link on my web site at whiteknightpress.com for people to get access to the new update. I haven’t had a chance to download it yet myself, because I’ve been busy filling orders. The Google AdWords campaign is still paused, but today so far we have had eight orders through Amazon Marketplace (one of them for 2 books) and one order through the White Knight Press web site. We are just barely producing enough books to fill these orders.

Start of Transition Time

Today marks the beginning of a transition period in the life of our project to publish the Leica D-Lux 4 book. I took the final steps to carry out the plan to have Lightning Source, the print-on-demand company, print copies of the book as needed and distribute them to the major online sellers, such as Amazon.com. The books and other writings about using this company (often referred to as LSI) warn that the process can be difficult for a neophyte like me, but it wasn’t really too bad, maybe because I was expecting worse. I didn’t have to ask anyone from the company for help, though I had received e-mails from several people with LSI giving their phone numbers in case I needed assistance.

After double-checking my Adobe InDesign file with the book’s layout for formatting and any problems, I used InDesign’s built-in Export function to export a pdf file, using the standard of PDF/X-1a:2001, which is what LSI requires. I also used LSI’s cover template generator to request a cover template. That process was a little trickier; after I gave the the number of pages and other specifications (color cover and interior; trim size of 5.5 by 8.5 inches, etc.), LSI e-mailed me an InDesign cover template with a bar code containing the ISBN and price of the book. I then had to insert the graphic elements of my cover design onto that template. That was a bit tricky for me, but Clenise helped me, and eventually we got the cover looking just like it looks now, with everything in its place.

Now, unless LSI finds any problems with the cover or text files I uploaded, we will receive a proof copy of the book within a week or two. Once the proof is approved, the book should start being distributed to any online seller that requests copies. Also, I can order copies myself, so I can keep selling the book on Amazon Marketplace and on my whiteknightpress.com web site if I’m so inclined.

The book won’t be in bookstores, because I selected to have a “short discount” of 20%. Bookstores require a discount of something like 40% or more, so you probably won’t find this book in Borders or Barnes & Noble stores, at least in the near future. Who knows what could happen later on.

Orders through Amazon Marketplace and my own site have continued to flow in at a fairly steady pace of roughly six or eight per day, though I have put my Google AdWords campaign on pause. It gets tiring to keep filling individual orders, and I will be glad in a way when LSI starts to handle printing and distribution.

Today we had two more orders from Sweden, after one other recently, and one from Finland the other day, so I guess there may be some sort of announcement about the book on a Swedish web site that I’m not aware of.

I’m still offering the color and black-and-white versions of the book; I haven’t made an official count, but I would estimate that sales of the color version are about ten times the sales of the black-and-white version. I’m sending LSI only the color version, and once LSI starts printing the books, I will have to decide what to do about the black-and-white one. One possibility would be for Clenise and me to keep producing that version on our printers, because the cost of black toner would be manageable, and the volume of sales probably would be low enough to be manageable also.

Presses Are Still Rolling

This will have to be short because time is short, but I don’t like to miss posting for a day if I can help it. I’m in the process of getting the book set to be printed by Lightning Source in color. The good news on that front is it looks like they can print it for a reasonable amount, unless I’ve read their pricing schedule wrong. The bad news is it looks as if it may take a couple of weeks to get that process finished, but I hope to get the files uploaded to them within a day or two.

The orders keep rolling in, though I’ve paused the Google AdWords campaign in an effort to slow the orders down; we’ve run out of cover stock, and a new supply won’t arrive for another day or two. We also need more toner. Clenise has had success in refilling cartridges from bottles of toner, so we’ll try that method at least twice more.

Orders have come in from several new countries over the last few days — Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Also other orders from France, Spain, the Netherlands, and others. Quite a few from the UK and Canada. I wish I knew how people are finding out about the book; I wonder if some announcement reached Scandinavia recently.

Well, that’s it for now; have to reload paper in the printer.

Color versus Black-and-White

Yesterday I set up the two official versions of the book about the D-Lux 4 camera — the original version, with color photographs in the interior of the book, and a newly fine-tuned version with all the same content as the original book, except that the photographs have been converted to black-and-white. I didn’t just print the same book without color; I took each photograph individually and adjusted it so it would look as good as possible in black-and-white, by adjusting the contrast, brightness, sharpness, etc.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, the driving force here was to try to make enough money from selling the books to cover our expenses for printing them; we had been losing money on each book because we were not able to find a reliable source of color toner for the laser printers at a price that would let us break even or make a profit at the original price of $19.95 for the full-color version of the book.

So yesterday the book went on sale on Amazon Marketplace and on my whiteknightpress.com web site in two versions — the original color one for $26.95 and the black-and-white one for $19.95. Since that time, we have had 12 orders — 10 for the color book and 2 for the black-and-white version.

That result surprised me somewhat. I thought some more people might balk at the higher price and prefer to pay $19.95 for the less-expensive version, which has all the same text and is basically just as useful as the color book for learning how to use the D-Lux 4 camera. But I can understand someone wanting the “best” version available.

Today I received my e-mails saying my account with Lightning Source has been approved. I will soon look into pricing to have that print-on-demand company print the books. I was going to have them printed in black-and-white, but now, after today’s sales results, I’m rethinking that decision, and may get the books printed in color, if it can be done at a price that leaves some margin for profit.

Clenise has done a great job of keeping the printers running despite many mechanical failures, defective toner cartridges, and other obstacles, so we’re still able to keep up with orders for the book. Now, of course, we have to gauge demand for the two different versions and keep enough of both versions printed and ready to ship. That does complicate things a bit, but so far, so good, and hopefully Lightning Source (or possibly another company) will soon take over the printing and shipping chores.

Printer Woes; Testing the Waters with New Price

Last night Clenise was up until about 2:30 in the morning trying to get the toner cartridges working properly. Yesterday we received our first shipment of bottles of toner to refill the cartridges with — our latest attempt to address the problem of the excessive cost of color toner for the Brother printers. She has figured out various techniques and tricks for how to empty out the old toner and add the new toner, and reset the cartridges. All seemed to be working earlier in the evening, but then a clicking sound started up in one of the cartridges. Right now she’s still trying to diagnose that problem, so we haven’t been able to print anything all day today.

On the sales front, yesterday I finished the procedures for re-listing the books with the new prices. The color version of the D-Lux 4 book is now listed at $26.95 on Amazon Marketplace and on my web site, whiteknightpress.com. The black-and-white version is listed on Amazon and my web site also, at $19.95. For some reason, I haven’t been able to find the black-and-white version through a search on Amazon, although it is listed in my inventory on Amazon Marketplace. If it doesn’t show up within about another day, I’ll have to contact Amazon to see if they can fix this issue. Ideally, the two versions of the book should be linked, so potential buyers browsing on Amazon can see both and decide which they want.

I have been somewhat surprised that no one has yet bought the black-and-white version of the book. I have sold several — maybe about 4 or 5 so far, of the color copies at the new price of $26.95. I have heard quite different opinions from various people about color versus black-and-white. Some say it should not make a big difference, but others, including one commenter on this blog, said it would be a shame to do away with the color edition. So this will be an experiment. My plan was to start selling the book through Lightning Source for $19.95 in a black-and-white edition, having the books printed on demand by that company. But if it turns out that none of the black-and-white versions sell, I may rethink that strategy and sign up with another company to print the books in color to be sold at a higher price — at least $26.95, and possibly $27.9 — to leave a margin for some profit and start to recover the expenses of this project.