How I published a book, thanks to The Open Laboratory

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GIREP 2009 Proceedings cover
Available at Scribd & Lulu

I’ve been busy in August, and one of the things I’ve been work­ing on has been out for a couple of weeks and I for­got to blog it. I’ve pub­lished a book.

I haven’t writ­ten a book, or edited it or any­thing requir­ing any aca­demic input. I just worked on the pub­lish­ing. The book is the first volume of the Proceedings from the GIREP-EPEC and PHEC 2009 con­fer­ence. In English, it was a Physics Education con­fer­ence. I had noth­ing to do with the con­fer­ence, but my Head of Department men­tioned to a col­league at McMaster University that he was going to pub­lish a pro­ceed­ings volume and she remembered I’d worked on the cover for the first Open Laboratory book, and so must be an expert in publishing.

I’m not, but as Shawn Graham has shown, the actual pro­cess of pub­lish­ing a book via Lulu is easy and pain-free if you’re will­ing to make some com­prom­ises. The draw­backs are things like a lack of pro­fes­sional type­set­ting, but these days pub­lish­ers often insist on camera-ready copy any­way. There’s also no mar­ket­ing. For some con­fer­ence volumes this will be a line in a cata­logue and an email and, pos­sibly a dis­play at the next con­fer­ence meet­ing of the pre­vi­ous pro­ceed­ings. You do lose some help by bypassing a pub­lisher, but you can poten­tially gain a lot more too.

Firstly we set the price. We went quite high. The print ver­sion of the book is £20. That’s about 6p a page so it’s a sim­ilar cost to pho­to­copy­ing the book. It’s not extra­vag­antly high, but it’s higher than it strictly needs to be as we’ll also be mak­ing it avail­able via Amazon. We decided to do that because people are famil­iar with buy­ing a book from Amazon, they’re not so famil­iar with Lulu, even though it’s the same product. To release a book on Amazon we have to double the retail price, to allow their mar­gin. Despite this a 365 page aca­demic book could often be more than £50 so it’s a saving.

But we can do better.

The book is released with a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence and we’ve put the PDF up on Scribd. You can read and down­load it for free as a PDF. Print out the chapters you’re inter­ested in and leave the rest.

After two weeks we have 900 views and a few sales. It’s likely that it’s not 900 unique views, but it’s still not a bad res­ult for two weeks. In the Humanities print runs of 250 volumes are com­mon. I don’t know about the Sciences, where the pub­lic­a­tion cul­ture is dif­fer­ent any­way, but we have some­thing that I think will com­pete well in terms of read­er­ship in com­par­ison to a sim­ilar volume released via a tra­di­tional pub­lisher. It won’t be any­thing like as prof­it­able as a book pro­duced by a tra­di­tional pub­lisher, but none of the aca­dem­ics would see that profit any­way so for us that’s not an issue.

It’s also a lot faster to get to pub­lic­a­tion. Cheryl Hurkett did all the LaTeX work on the file and when she was ready she called me in. I registered her with Lulu and we set up a new pro­ject. We tried upload­ing a PDF out­put Lulu, but that didn’t work. So we sent the out­put to a .ps file instead. That con­ver­ted pain­lessly. The cover took a bit more muck­ing about as we went with a vari­ation on the stand­ard tem­plates, but the whole thing went from LaTeX to book on one Thursday. The only gripe we had was that you have to choose to get the free ISBN num­ber right at the start of the pro­ject, and once you have that num­ber your title is set. The book on the Lulu page is lis­ted with the work­ing title, which is pass­able for a first attempt but not good enough for volume 2.

There will be a volume 2, as we could show how simple the pub­lic­a­tion pro­cess was.

It’s not a pan­acea for all aca­demic pub­lish­ing. There are plenty of pub­lish­ers who do add value to a book. However, for con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings the only reas­ons for choos­ing to pub­lish via a spe­cial­ist pub­lisher rather than Lulu are social. The aca­demic out­put is the same, it’s just that one is slower and more expens­ive and that’s the sys­tem we’re used to. The out­put can be traced dir­ectly back to Bora Zivkovic’s innov­a­tion with The Open Laboratory so his blog­ging is con­trib­ut­ing to an observ­able dif­fer­ence in the sci­entific process.

5 thoughts on “How I published a book, thanks to The Open Laboratory

  1. As I’m cur­rently work­ing on my thesis using LaTeX, this has got­ten my interest. Lulu looks great! Such a simple but revolu­tion­ary idea… Thanks for the tip…

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