How Should I Publish My Books?

For some years now I have put most of my literary efforts into this website. I have pretty much abandoned any effort at getting books published the traditional way; that process suffers from too many problems. First you have to sell the book to a publisher; then you have to write it; then you have to format it the way they want it formatted, using Microsoft Word (which I detest and don’t know well). Then you have to go through endless rounds of editing — which, I confess, always improve the book, but I’m not sure that the result is worth the effort. Then you have to go through proofreading and endure the layout preferences of the publisher; I recall one case where the layout they used made my equations undecipherable. Then you have to wait for six months for them to publish it. And the whole effort is worthwhile only if the book becomes a good seller. Most of my books have earned between $10K and $20K — and consumed perhaps 6 months of full-time effort.

But we’re not done yet. Books lose popularity and fade away. The books I write tend to show some stamina — one book I wrote twelve years ago is still selling copies every year. But eventually the book goes out of print and people can’t get it anymore. The other day a fellow contacted me about one of my books and he could find only a few used copies.

I have long felt that the ideal solution is this website. It is permanent; I intend to insure that it outlasts me. Moreover, HTML is in many ways superior to text on paper. I have no problem getting the page to look the way I want it to look. Moreover, web pages have links, a feature that greatly boosts the utility of writing. 

This is why I have concentrated all my efforts on the website, eschewing other media. I am, however, having some misgivings about this. The fact is, reading a web page is just not as comfortable as reading a PDF or an eBook. It’s funny, I have lots of links to web pages that provide me with useful information, yet I prefer to purchase paper books for extensive reading. I perceive web pages to be useful only in short pages. A few thousand words on a web page make my eyes glaze over. I am definitely one of the more assiduous readers; I must assume that most readers are even less patient with long web pages. 

Then there’s a nasty problem with page sizes. I recently tried shifting my website to pages with 1280 pixels width. I did so because some of my images are cramped in the old 1020 pixel width. But now I realize that this was a bad mistake; the text lines are just too long to read comfortably. The eye gets lost in its long trek across the endless pixels of the page. 

I did a little research on the web, looking at many pages that provide lots of text. First, just about everybody in the universe provides multiple columns. The main column provides the text and the side column(s) provide ads, links to other places, and other crap. This site is not meant to sell anything, and I don’t have anything cute to offer. I suppose that I could add a side column with useless pretty pictures. Perhaps I could add some pretty side columns; the original Erasmatazz website had neat Celtic knotwork columns on either side of the text. Or perhaps I could add some fake adds as a satirical comment on overly commercial websites. 

Most web pages with lots of text are arranged in one of two styles: a fixed central column with width ~650 pixels, with narrower columns on either side. The other arrangement offers a variable-size central column, that expands and contracts with the containing window. 

Another possibility is to publish my stuff as eBooks. I have gone to a lot of trouble reworking my old book on Balance of Power to fit into an eBook format. The advantage of this is two-fold: first, I might make a few hundred bucks from sales of such eBooks. Second, eBooks would have a little more permanence in that they would be stored on other people’s websites. 

However, after screwing around with the eBook format, I have come to the conclusion that the format is still too constrained to permit a proper job. The damn thing gets reformatted for different arrangements, in ways that can be confusing. I must sadly set aside this format.

This format offers some promise. I can format the thing precisely as I intend, and insure that it is presented in the manner I prefer. 

Nevertheless, after all this hand-wringing, I feel that the most important feature is the linking that is so easy with HTML. Yes, you can have links in eBooks and in PDF files, but those links are not very useful when read offline. The whole idea of links is that they should be instant links to other pages. That requires HTML. So my future work will continue to be presented in HTML.