In the early days of flight, airmail pilots conducted dry runs or “pathfinder” flights to test the flying schedule, survey landing strips and facilities at intermediate airfields, and acquaint themselves with the full length of the route. Flying new airmail routes without the pressure of delivering actual mail enabled the postal service to work out the kinks before the stakes were raised.
While not as critical as challenging the bonds of gravity and delivering the mail on time, conducting a dry run in your digital content development process helps you “get it right” before publishing and marketing front line titles or content.
As one of the co-founders of a small publishing startup, 1x1 Media, I look for opportunities that help us build our processes and release better products. Our startup provides how-to content for startup founders and entrepreneurs. We’ve launched the first title in our Startup Crash Course ebook series, Startup Crash Course: Angel Funding. We are on track to publish our next Startup Crash Course ebook within the month, with our next series also in development.
Rather than learning the ropes of delivering ebook content to the various digital platforms while publishing our new series, we first conducted two dry runs using content we already had available. My co-founder, Lisa, rescued the rights for one title back from a large publishing house, and for the other, we enhanced a public domain title first published in 1914. We converted these pieces of content into two ebooks published on four platforms—Amazon’s Kindle, B&N’s NOOK Press, Apple’s iBooks, and Google Play.
Publishing a few “dry run” titles enabled us to address many decision points, including:
Software tools. Choosing which software to use for writing and editing, formatting, image creation, cover creation, and final ebook formatting and layout can be daunting. But a little trial and error with free or low-cost solutions and help from power tools such as InDesign can speed the process along.
Production processes. Our dry run titles enabled us to establish file naming conventions, experiment with image dimensions and resolutions, and learn how text formatting and styles flow through to the finished ebook file on each platform.
Platform specs and requirements. Each ebook distribution platform follows a variety of technical specs and requirements. We ironed out details such as file formats, file size limitations, ISBN usage, screen shot formats, and sample chapter formats while creating our dry run titles.
Financial calculations. Test titles gave us a chance to calculate the financial impact of content length and pricing decisions. For example, Amazon (US) charges a delivery fee of $0.15 per megabyte for titles enrolled in its 70% royalty option. With pricing, royalties, and costs understood, we can build a simple P&L and make decisions about marketing budgets and promotion activities.
Timelines. While our schedule for editing and proofreading the dry run titles fell within a typical timeline, the time it took to tweak the formatting for each ebook platform was an unexpected hurdle. The time it took for a new title to get approved and go live in each particular store also cropped up as an issue. For example, we learned that Apple’s iBooks approval timeline is rather lengthy, taking several weeks for a title to get approved and go live. After our dry runs, we can plan around these schedule issues for future titles.
Build or buy. While we decided to slog it out, learning the details of formatting our titles for several ebook platforms, the toughest moments of preparing our dry run content caused us to consider using one of the numerous services available to help prepare content for online publishing. Depending on the scope of content in your online publishing or archiving plans, consider evaluating and partnering with an experienced digital content service provider to help maximize your content.
Like the early airmail pilots making pathfinder flights to ferret out swampy landing strips and calculate flight times, our dry run ebook titles gave us the opportunity to make mistakes, build internal processes, and learn to use design and production software tools before we launched the first series titles.
If you are new to digital content publishing, consider conducting a dry run or two. The lessons learned by running the full cycle will pay off big when you’re ready for the real deal. And, yes, even low profile dry run titles can make you a little money while you sleep—ours do.
This article was written by Steve Poland. Steve is an advisor to startups and the co-founder of 1x1 Media, a publisher of how-to content for startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs. Steve and his co-founder, Lisa Bucki, are the developers of the Startup Crash Course series. This summer, look for their new Founder’s Pocket Guide series. Steve and Lisa live in Western North Carolina, where Steve flies a 1946 Aeronca Champ over the Blue Ridge mountains, occasionally landing on grass strips and often tormenting Lisa with his obsessive use of checklists.