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For the past two years, Ben Macklin’s company, father-and-son venture BWM Books, has been helping published authors give new life to their out-of-print and unpublished works by self-publishing them in ebook and print-on-demand formats. BWM, whose services span all aspects of the publishing process, has used Pressbooks to streamline production and formatting for around 25 titles, from fiction books to children’s books to history and nonfiction books with heavy imagery.
Q. Your father is an accomplished writer. How did he influence your decision to help others self-publish?
A. My dad’s a well-known Australian author, and he’s written 20-odd books and is still writing books to this day. We at one point decided to see if we could do something with his backlist—to resurrect some of his out-of-print books and turn them into ebooks. I have always been interested in ebooks and all things digital, and it was just at the time when ebooks were starting to pick up. I basically learned how to turn a Word document into something to be able to use as an ebook and then started using Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon’s publishing platform, to publish from there. Dad sent a few of his old friends my way, and the business really grew from that. We found that using Word as the starting point for the creation of an ebook wasn’t always all that user-friendly—particularly for nonfiction titles that may have diagrams and footnotes and referencing and other things—you don’t really know what you’re going to get out of the end result when you start out with Word.
Q. So you found Pressbooks. Why did you choose Pressbooks over the other options?
A. I think I used Pressbooks almost from when it started and saw how fantastic it is to format a book once and have three different formats—an ebook, print-ready PDF and have it available on the Web. There was no other tool like it. There are some other tools that do some similar elements, but I still don’t think they’re as useful as Pressbooks. It’s also the fact that it’s on a WordPress platform and I was familiar with that platform. The dashboard and other things weren’t completely unfamiliar. I was after a tool where someone who was reasonably familiar with MS Word and some Web publishing tools like WordPress could do it themselves.
Q. How do you use Pressbooks?
A. It’s really enabled me to say to the authors who come to me I can do it for you if you like, I can even personally help you publish via Pressbooks or I can say look, this is a tool that you can use yourself. And that frees me up to do other strategic projects as well.
Q. What is your favorite feature in Pressbooks?
A. I think probably the Word import—where if you have a reasonably well-formatted Word document that you can import it and it’s pretty much ready to tweak on the Pressbooks platform. It takes another step away. I would say however, to those who are attempting to import Word documents, it does take still a little bit of preparation on the Word document to make sure you don’t have to do extra work once it’s up there. I like the fact that you can have a variety of book-trim sizes. One can also really easily, without any programming skills, change the font size of your book in the print-version PDF, so that allows you to control page count. That can be important in making your books cost-effective in terms of print runs.
I think also the cost structure is extremely reasonable. For $10 you can export EPUB and MOBI formats; for $100, the print-ready PDF. I like the way it’s pay per title. Certainly for me that pay-per-use model is really cost-effective for my business.
I think it’s the benchmark for this type of service in terms of helping people self-publish.
Q. Why is it so important for authors to get their stories out through these new self-publishing vehicles?
A. I think with some of the authors I’ve worked with who’ve resurrected their out-of-print books, it’s been a very nice surprise to find a new market for their work (particularly a U.S. market). Most of the Australian authors I work with get most of their revenues from Amazon.com. Australian-authored books that have some international appeal are the ones that are selling quite well among my authors. To get a few bucks from something that literally seems to be on the shelf not doing anything…with minimal outlay, you can recoup your investment fairly quickly— particularly if you’re doing it yourself. And even if you go through my company or other types of companies or outsource to overseas formatters, it’s a relatively cost-effective process, and I think Pressbooks makes that even more possible for established authors who want to do it themselves.
Q. What advice do you have for new users of Pressbooks?
A. It’s a little bit of a learning curve, but there’s no cost in terms of experimenting. It’s a bit of a trial and error but I know that in other circumstances, if you request changes of other book-process-type organizations, each change costs you money. It’s a very powerful tool that you can use yourself.
I think the only other thing that I would say is that for those reading this article and starting the process, formatting your Word document before importing it into Pressbooks can save you a great deal of time once it is up there. There is a learning curve once you face Pressbooks, but it’s one of those you learn fairly quickly.