Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

How to become a publisher – part 1

Posted in Articles, My publications, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on May 24, 2003

The beauty of modern publishing is that it allows authors in increasingly specialised fields to share their knowledge with the rest of the world. As readers, doctors, and patients we are all potential beneficiaries. It is comforting to know that a topic we may never give a second thought to has experts to document it in several volumes (for example, in books such as Queueing Systems: Vol 1: Theory).

But the system is not perfect. Although almost anyone can be an expert on something, not everyone can have his or her book published. The costs of paper, printing, distribution, and marketing mean that a minimal number of potential readers must be guaranteed before a publisher invests money in a book. Perhaps this is good—traditional publishers will tell you that the world is spared many unreadable books because of this barrier. Although this is true, many good books take too long to reach readers because of traditional publishers.

This series shows how new technology can overcome this barrier. If you have thought of writing a book, or know someone who should share his or her knowledge by writing a book, then this series is for you. The first part explains how to create a website, a fast and affordable way to start off. The second details the process of writing a complete book, and the third part covers the process of publishing it. The final part shows you how to start your own publishing business and bring your book to the world.

In addition to using the appropriate technology, you also need to have some savings. The box details the approximate costs of publishing your book from start to finish.

Worldwide what?

It is extremely hard to do a search on the internet (www.google.com) and get no results. Whatever topic you can think of, it is likely that lots of people have already had lots of things to say about it. The miracle of the world wide web is that they can say, and you can read, these so easily.

There are several steps to contributing to the web. First, you need to write something by using web authoring software. Next, you must make this available to others using a website. Finally, you must let the rest of the world know about your website. All these steps are easy and affordable.

Step 1: the write software

Creating a web page

If you have word processor, for example Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect, then you are ready to go. Start writing as you would any document. The trick is to save the document as a web page. In Microsoft Word, for example, click on the “File” menu, choose “Save as web page” and click on the “Save” button. That’s it; you have created your first web page.

Creating a web page is easy, but creating a good web page takes a little more thought. This is because people rarely read web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences (www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html). A good web author makes it easy for the reader to scan the text. Use short clear sentences and big clear headings; break up the text into separate pages; and connect them by using hypertext links.

Hypertext links

Hypertext link is the technical term for the line that you see under words on a web page. When you click on such words, your browser takes you to another page. Using such links allows the reader to quickly move between different parts of your text. You can create links using Microsoft Word, but the program was not really designed for this.

Serious web authoring software

Many people find it useful to get serious web authoring software. There are many good examples out there, including Microsoft FrontPage. However if you are just beginning, consider CuteSite Builder (www.globalscape.com/cutesitebuilder originally called Trellix). This program makes it easy for anyone to create a good website. It painlessly takes you through all the steps, and instils good habits. At $115 (£70; €100), it’s worth the investment, just to get the excellent technical support. I used it for most of my websites, including my personal one, www.mo.md.

For advanced users, the gold standard is Macromedia DreamWeaver. It costs far more than CuteSite and so is worth getting only if you will spend a lot of time on an advanced website. It was the natural choice when I designed the Medical Approaches and Handhelds for doctors websites.

Step 2: Share the literature

Internet service providers

Once you have created your web page, you need a website to display it and a way to transfer it to there. Most internet service providers, such as FreeServe, AOL, and Tiscali, already provide you with such a place free of charge. If yours does not do this, companies such as Tripod also offer websites for free (www.tripod.com), and you do not have to change your provider.

File transfer protocol (FTP)

On the internet, the protocol for transferring files is called file transfer protocol (FTP). Programs that use this are called FTP programs (the internet’s creators were a sensible bunch). You will need such a program to transfer your web page from your computer to your website. SmartFTP is free for personal and educational use, and it does the job well.

Most specialised web authoring programs have FTP facilities. This includes CuteSite Builder, which makes the whole transfer process as simple as possible.

Step 3: Spread the word

Having a website is good start, but you also need people to look at it. People usually hear about a website in three ways: through friends’ recommendations, through web searches, and through web links. You must work on all three ways to spread the word.

Personal recommendations

In the beginning, personal recommendations will be your commonest source of traffic. So, tell all family, friends, and colleagues about the website. Include your website address on your business card. A great way to remind people subtly is to include your website address at the bottom of every email that you write. This latter technique is so powerful that it is credited with getting Hotmail (www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/1999/02-08hotmail.asp) its first 30 million customers in just 30 months.

Web searches

Second, you must make sure that search engines (such as, Google, AltaVista, and Inktomi) are aware of your website. Each has their own (slightly different) way of adding your website to its list. Search Engine Watch (www.searchenginewatch.com) provides an excellent guide to the steps involved. However, just being on the list does not mean that you will be high on the list—to get there, you need the web equivalent of the peer review process. If other websites find your website useful, they make links to it. The more links going to your website, the more useful your website to the searcher, and the higher you climb the list.

Getting linked

So your third and final task is to ensure that you get these links. A quick way to get started is to join a web ring. This is a set of sites, covering a single topic, that all provide links to each other. For example, if your website is about cystic fibrosis, do a search on Google for “cystic fibrosis web ring.” This brings up an excellent site that you can join (http://azcowboy88.tripod.com/welcome/). For a more time consuming but longer lasting way, get personal. Again, if your website is about cystic fibrosis, search for “cystic fibrosis” and look at the sites that are at the top of the list. Visit those sites, and try to find the email address of the person running them. Tell them about your site, and ask that they include a link to it.

The web is built on such personal contact, so make sure that your own website also includes an email address. With time you will be get emails from grateful readers, impressed colleagues and of course, new website owners who see you as part of the web establishment. Congratulations—you are now a web publisher.

Box: Costs of publishing your own book

Word processors—one of the following

  • OpenOffice—free from www.openoffice.org
  • Corel WordPerfect Family Pack—approximately £65 ($102; €95)
  • Microsoft Works Suite—approximately £90

Web editor—one of the following

  • CuteSite Builder—$114.95 from www.globalscape.com
  • Microsoft FrontPage—£85
  • Macromedia DreamWeaver—approx £345

Miscellaneous tools

  • The Self-Publishing Manual—£12.75
  • Web hosting—usually free from your internet service provider or www.tripod.com $10 per month from www.bizland.com
  • Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing—£25, but you can find free versions with some computer magazines

Printing costs

  • ISBN—£70.50 for registration and 10 numbers
  • Printing costs—vary depending on how many copies. Expect to invest at least £1000 before any income begins

Marketing and distribution costs

  • Postage will be £2-£5 per copy, depending on destination and returns
  • Marketing will cost at least £100 in phone calls and £100 in printing costs. Email and press releases are free but take up a lot of time

The biggest cost is your time. That’s why 30-70% of a book’s final sale price goes to the retailers, which carry out these activities.

Published in the 24th of May 2003 issue of the British Medical Journal

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