Posted tagged ‘publishing’

Udemy for you and me

13 August 2013

It seems like every time you blink, another free tool becomes available to help you create online learning resources.

One of them is Udemy – a web-based platform that enables anyone to create and deliver online courses for free. Simply open an account and you are provided with the tools you need to structure your curriculum, upload your content, and publish your course to the world.

Udemy has actually been around since 2010, but I only recently decided to dabble in it. In so doing, I created Audacity Crash Course and The Wide World of MOOCs.

Audacity Crash Course landing page The Wide World of MOOCs landing page

I thoroughly enjoyed using Udemy. I found it to be a simple yet powerful tool.

Having said that, everything has its pro’s and cons, and this was no exception. In case you are considering using Udemy for your own purposes, I will share some of my experience with you now…

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Pro’s

  • Udemy is incredibly easy to use. Creating lectures, rearranging them and uploading the content is a dream. I jumped straight into it without referring to the instructions, and while I’m familiar with authorware, I expect it’s intuitive enough for Average Joe to work out too. If not, it’s carefully scaffolded each step of the way.

  • The help resources are helpful. When I couldn’t figure out how to delete a lecture, for example, I found the solution via someone else who had raised a similar problem.

  • Every course undergoes a quality review process by the Udemy team. If and when it meets their standards they will add it to the marketplace, which means it will be discoverable by the public. The turnaround time for this process is 3-4 business days, which I consider reasonable.

  • When you publish your course, it is immediately live on the interwebs. That means prior to (and even regardless of) it being accepted into the marketplace, it will have a URL which you can promote to your target audience.

  • The business model enables you to monetise your course by assigning a price to it, of which Udemy claims a 30% cut. This seems reasonable to me, as it is the same cut that Amazon takes via its Kindle Direct Publishing service.

  • A coupon generator allows you create discount coupons at your discretion, empowering you to set the discounted price, the number of coupons, and the deadline. Of course, your cut will then come out of the discounted price rather than the full price. (The algorithm is slightly different for coupon-derived sales.)

  • You can also add your course to the Udemy affiliate program, which makes it available for others to promote for a share of the spoils. Conversely, you can earn a cut by promoting other people’s courses too.

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Cons

  • Udemy assumes that the bulk of your course will be lectures. In fact, one of their standards is that the course contains a minimum of 30 minutes of video content. While I understand why they do this, I also suspect it encourages “padding” and might make the course longer than it ought to be.

  • Another standard maintains that the lectures be 2-15 minutes in length on average “or appropriately long based on the instructional content”. I ran afoul of this one when I published The Wide World of MOOCs because – as you can see on the landing page – most of my lectures are less than 2 minutes each, which I argued was instructionally sound in light of the nature of the content.

    If Udemy had rejected my argument, I would have had no choice but to consolidate my Q&A videos into one long clip – which not only would have compromised the integrity of the instruction IMHO, but also would have affected the marketing as prospective students would not be able to see the full outline of the contents.

    Luckily though, the Udemy folk were true to their word and honoured the “or appropriately long based on the instructional content” aspect of the standard.

  • Udemy’s predilection for video presents another unexpected quibble. Leaving aside academic arguments about the pedagogy of lectures – which I think, for the record, depends on the circumstances – the curriculum builder labels every stage of your course a “lecture”. This makes it awkward when, for example, you want to upload a reading list, or web links, or a template. None of these things is a lecture, but they’re called one nonetheless.

  • While Udemy allows you to pick the thumbnail of each video lecture, it offers you only a limited selection. Typically you would want to pick the first frame; otherwise the video appears jumpy as it briefly shows the thumbnail drawn from somewhere midway before autoplaying from the beginning. Unfortunately, though, this first frame is often left out of the selection.

  • The method for deleting a lecture isn’t obvious. Having to click the little pencil first as if you were changing its title doesn’t make sense.

  • While rearranging the lectures is beautifully afforded via dragging and dropping, the same can’t be said of the downloadable materials. Murphy’s Law dictates that you need to make an edit or an update to the file at the top of the list, which means you must delete them all and then re-upload them.

  • You have to send an email to the affiliate team to request them to add your course to the affiliate program. This is a bit clunky, and naturally you want to fire off the request straight away. The problem is, your course can be added to the affiliate program only when it is live in the marketplace – which it won’t be for another 3-4 business days!

Open palm

Suggestions for improvement

In case anyone from the Udemy team is reading this, I respectfully suggest the following improvements…

  • Relax the enforcement of the standards. If a particular course doesn’t technically meet a requirement, the review team should be authorised to make a judgement call on whether to let it slide.

  • Consider labelling each stage of the course a “topic” rather than a “lecture”.

  • Allow the course owner to upload a customised thumbnail like YouTube does. That way, if the system doesn’t automatically pick up the first frame as a thumbnail, the owner can plug it in manually.

  • Place the trash can icon on each lecture’s banner so that it’s obvious how to delete it. A warning message should be sufficient to prevent accidental deletions.

  • Enable the dragging and dropping of the downloadable materials in the curriculum builder for resequencing purposes.

  • Incorporate an option during the publishing process to add the course to the affiliate program. Then, as soon as it is live in the marketplace, it is automatically added to the program.

UFO

All in all, though, I must re-emphasise that I thoroughly enjoyed using Udemy. I think it’s an excellent tool.

Not only can you use it to distribute your own expertise, but it’s so easy to use that the SME’s in your organisation can use it to distribute their expertise too.

Anyone interested in leveraging Udemy for workplace training should look into Udemy for Organizations which provides a private, branded portal with exclusive access only for your employees.

UFO might be a viable option for companies that don’t have an LMS, or for others that are seeking an alternative delivery platform.

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Tips & tricks for self-publishers – Part 4

12 March 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3 I explained how to self publish a paperback.

Now that your book is available, you will need to inform your customers that it exists. If you’re relying on their extraordinary Google and Amazon search skills to be “discovered”, you’re dreaming. You need to do much more than that to get noticed!

So please find below Part 4 of my series which provides tips on how to ramp up your sales…

Flying money

There are literally hundreds of ways to promote a product. I’m no marketing expert, but here are several tactics that I have found fruitful:

• Tell all your followers on Facebook, Twitter and other forums.
• Create a Facebook page.
• Ask your friends and allies to publish a review.
• If you write a blog, inform your subscribers.
• Add a profile to Google Books.
• Promote VIP discounts with a coupon code.
• Advertise on social media and in specialist magazines.

Another tactic I think is often overlooked is to take advantage of all the bells and whistles on your book’s profile page on Amazon. For example:

• Solicit “likes” and customer reviews.
• Activate Look Inside the Book.
• Upload customer images.
• Add keyword tags.
• Add book extras via Shelfari.
• Create an author page.

My author page on Amazon

This is the final part of my Tips & tricks for self publishers series. I hope you have found the information useful, and I wish you all the best in your quest to publish your own books.

Keep me posted!

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3

27 February 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2 I explained how to self publish an e‑book.

If you’re like me, you’ll now want to create a hard copy – a “real” book. While I am certainly a fan of e-books, I am also a lover of old fashioned page turners. And so are many of your potential customers!

So please find below Part 3 of my series which explains how to self publish a paperback…

Ryan the Lion and E-Learning Provocateur: Volume 1 in paperback form

I was considering using CreateSpace to create my paperback version of Ryan the Lion because it’s the sister service of Kindle Direct Publishing (the service I used to create the e-book version). I was also thinking about publishing a selection of my blog musings under the title E‑Learning Provocateur: Volume 1.

I was dilly dallying about both when Steven Lewis showed me his newly produced paperback, How to Format Perfect Kindle Books – ironic, eh? I had imagined that books created via CreateSpace would be a bit dinky. In other words, you could just tell that they were home-made. But Steven’s book was nothing like that. It was glossy and colourful and wonderful. I was hooked!

I found CreateSpace really easy to use. All the stages in the process are outlined sequentially, with What’s this? links, how-to guidelines and downloadable templates.

At one stage you will need to choose the size of your book. For Ryan the Lion I picked 6″ x 9″ to mimic my copy of Dr Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go!. For E‑Learning Provocateur I picked 5.5″ x 8.5″ to mimic my copy of Seth Godin’s Tribes.

You will also need to make decisions about your interior. Since Ryan the Lion is an illustrated children’s story, I chose full colour on white paper and a 12-point Bookman Old Style typeface. Since E-Learning Provocateur is a text-heavy business book, I chose black & white on cream paper and a 12.5-point Garamond typeface.

Ryan the Lion in full color

I highly recommend using one of the Word templates that CreateSpace provides for the interior (but check the sizes of the pages are actually what they should be).

You will want to make sure that any illustrations you have are hi-res: at least 300 dpi, but higher if possible. I had problems with PNG files (they outputted fuzzy) so you might consider TIF or JPG instead.

Ryan the Lion in Word

When converting to PDF – which CreateSpace requires – check the page size again in the printer settings. I used BullZip’s free PDF Printer; if you do too, I recommend picking “Flate” for your image compression and “Prepress” for the output quality.

When the PDF is produced, check yet again the size of the pages. It’s important to appreciate that PDF is a WYSIWYG technology: What You See Is What You Get. So check the page breaks, page numbering, illustrations, blank pages, everything. What You See Is What You Get.

For the cover, Steven Lewis recommends engaging a professional designer. That’s a good idea, but because I’m familiar with graphic design, I created my own cover with Corel’s astonishingly cheap PaintShop Pro. CreateSpace has pre-designed templates, but I think they’re a bit naff.

Before submitting your work, always use CreateSpace’s preview facility to check again that all is well. You’re probably over it by now, but this last step is well worth it. You’ll be amazed at what you have missed.

Similarly, always order a proof to check the actual product in real life. Ryan the Lion costed me a bit more to produce because it’s full colour, but it was still crazy cheap. If you don’t believe me, read Lifehacker’s piece about a local competitor’s self-publishing service. And you can get your proof shipped to the other side of the world in less than a week.

So like KDP, CreateSpace is effectively free apart from proofing and shipping (and perhaps designing a cover). Again, Amazon sells your book and provides you with a slice of the pie. Because it’s a physical product, the book is printed on demand.

Ryan the Lion paperback on Amazon

So now you know how to self publish a paperback, you are ready for Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 4, in which I’ll provide advice on how to promote your product…

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2

15 February 2012

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 1 I shared with you my insights into old school publishers and literary agents.

Assuming you have received your rejections – or more likely, no replies at all – you will now be ready to stick it up their proverbials and self publish.

So please find below Part 2 of my series which explains how to get started with an e-book…

Ryan the Lion on the Kindle

If you can use Microsoft Word, you can publish an e-book.

I started my foray by turning Ryan the Lion into an e-book via Kindle Direct Publishing (then called Digital Text Platform). I chose KDP for several reasons:

• I trust Amazon (the owner of KDP)
• Kindle (Amazon’s e-reader) has sold in the millions
• My e-book is automatically stocked in the Kindle Store
• My commission percentage is healthy, and
• I retain control over my work (to update it, set its pricing etc).

Oh, and it’s effectively free. Basically, Amazon sells your e-book and provides you with a slice of the pie.

Ryan the Lion ebook on Amazon

A caveat that you should be aware of sooner rather than later is that KDP is Amazon-only. That means your book won’t be stocked in Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, or anywhere else. It also means your e-book will be in Kindle format (not ePub).

To remedy this situation, I concurrently published my e-book through Smashwords. I originally chose Smashwords because of their distribution deal with Apple, but I have since found them to be a pleasure to work with.

Ryan the Lion ebook on Smashwords

Smashwords can publish your e-book in multiple formats: HTML, PDF, Kindle, ePub, LRF and PDB. More importantly, however, they can ship your book to multiple retailers: Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Sony Reader Store, Diesel, Kobo, and of course, Amazon.

I opted out of the latter because I had already created my e-book through KDP. I still prefer KDP for Amazon because they accept HTML as the content file, which gives me more control over the structure of the final product. If you aren’t familiar with HTML, you may prefer to forgo KDP for Smashwords.

Strangely, Smashwords doesn’t ship to the Google eBookstore. Nevermind, you can upload an ePub file to Google’s catalogue via their partner program.*

* Well, that’s the theory. I uploaded my ePub several weeks ago but it still hasn’t appeared in the Google eBookstore, despite my validating the file and contacting Google Book Support to resolve the issue. I’m starting to get the feeling it will never appear…

So now you know how to self publish an e-book, you are ready for Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 3, in which I’ll explain how to self publish a paperback…

Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 1

31 January 2012

Last year, I self published an e-book and two paperbacks.

Since doing so, I have received loads of questions from people about various aspects of the process.

Of course I’m only too happy to help, so please find below Part 1 in a series of tips & tricks for self publishers…

Lady reading at her desk

Old school publishers

If you can get an old school publisher to publish your book for you, I say go for it. They’ve got the production, distribution and marketing capacity that you and I can only dream of. So by all means, send your manuscript to them.

However, unless your name is James Patterson or Patricia Cornwell, your chances of getting picked up are almost nil.

You see, publishers are taking less risks on new talent and instead are sticking to their tried and true cash cows. I think that’s unsustainable and a sure-fire way to run a business into the ground, but that’s another story.

What I’m saying here is: Brace yourself for rejection.

Literary agents

Unfortunately, my experience with literary agents is poor. I found the several whom I tried to deal with to be unprofessional, ineffectual, and consequently irrelevant.

Of course, not all literary agents are like that. I just couldn’t find a good one, so I cut my losses. I figure if you want to work with clowns, join a circus.

Clown feet on a tightrope

Sometimes the only recourse for mere mortals like you and me is to self publish. Luckily, that’s really easy to do on the interwebs.

In Tips & tricks for self publishers – Part 2, I’ll show you how…

When is an e-book not a book?

16 November 2011

I read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore today and I was gobsmacked. The e-book is filled with glorious pictures, marvellous animations and engaging interactivity.

Screenshot

Of course, this isn’t the only title that takes advantage of its medium. For example, Rob Brydon has added audio and video components to his autobiography Small Man in a Book, while the textbooks on the Inkling app include animations, quizzes and social study tools.

Inkling on iPadThe marketing copy for The Fantastic Flying Books calls it “an interactive narrative experience” that “blurs the line between picture books and animated film”.

Inkling “turns paper-based textbooks into engaging, interactive learning experiences while staying compatible with the print book for classroom use”.

All this got me thinking: where do we draw the line?

When is an e-book not a book…?

The definition of a book

To me, a “book” is a collection of written words that together form a story. The text activates the mind and fires the imagination. The process is often assisted by illustrations.

Of course, the definition of a book can no longer be limited to sheets of paper bound together. The relentless march of technology has ushered the concept into an electronic format. Arguably, the introduction of multimedia elements is a continuation of that evolution.

At what point, however, does the nature of a book transform so much that it becomes something else?

Semantics, semantics

If we replace text with an image, we call it a picture.

If we replace it with illustrated motion, we call it an animation.

If we replace it with a recording, we call it audio or video.

If we combine all of the above, do we not call it an online course…?

When you think about it, a media rich e-book is what a pedagogically-sound online course ought to be:

Rose• engaging
• interactive
• learner centered
• logically structured
• founded on storytelling

Sure, it’s linear, but so are many online courses! In fact, authoring tools like Lectora leverage the metaphor of a book – with terms like “pages” and “chapters” – to arrange the content. (Besides, I don’t think linearity is necessarily a bad thing, so long as the learner is empowered to navigate as they please.)

But it may just be semantics after all. In this digital age, when convergence is inevitable, perhaps labels become inconsequential.

As Shakespeare’s Juliet observed, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.