Roll the Bones: Casino Edition launches: How and why

I have some news to share on the book front: it’s been a long time coming, and there’s more work to be done, but you can get a copy of Roll the Bones: Casino Edition through lulu.com before the official launch.

rollthebones-thumb150So far, lulu.com is the only place you can buy the book, and it’s only available in paperback. That’s going to change soon–possibly as soon as today, if converting the book to epub format isn’t too difficult. Once I do that, I’ll have an ebook version readily available just about everywhere ebooks are sold, including iBooks and Amazon.

This is a really big step for me as an author. Let me tell you why. The story of Roll the Bones goes back to January 2004, when an editor at Gotham Books persuaded me to put together a proposal for a global history of gambling. It was around this time that books like Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World were popular, and this was pitched as the same sort of thing, but for gambling. There had never been a full-scale history of gambling from the beginning of time to the present attempted, so there was a definite niche.

Between the time I delivered the manuscript and the publication date, there were some personnel changes at Gotham, and the editor who had brought me on board and believed strongly in the book left the press. Fast forward to a few year later, and Gotham chose to let the book go out of print. My agent suggested that I get the rights reverted to me, which I did, and I decided to publish a new edition myself through the Winchester Books imprint that I’ve started for this and other projects.

This wasn’t an easy decision. As someone who had three books published by academic and trade presses, I was used to taking a very passive role to most aspects of the book business. I’d basically provide the text, give proof pages a cursory review (usually thinking, “well it looks like a book to me”) and that was about it. Cover art–such a big part of a book’s identity, for better or worse–was totally off limits. I got lucky–one of my books has a cover I can live with, though I’m still mystified as to the color choice, and one is a classic. The other….well, like I said, these things were totally off limits.

I found that publishing the Casino Edition myself didn’t necessarily mean doing everything myself. The best analogy I can offer is for working on a major home improvement project. You can hire a contractor, who deals with all of the sub-contractors and gives you one big bill, or you can be the contractor yourself, hiring the subs as you need them to help you finish the job. If you hire the right subs, you can get excellent quality and value–if you know what you’re doing.

Except imagine that it’s not a home improvement contract, but a business, and that it’s a choice between you working for the contractor, who will bear most of the costs of construction and give you a small portion of any revenues, or putting your own money into the business and getting a much larger share of the revenues. And having complete creative control and responsibility. Typo? Your fault. Distribution problems? Your fault. No marketing? Your fault. That’s the price of really owning your own book.

To me, that’s what it came down to: have both control and responsibility over the finished book that readers can enjoy. With my experiences, I can’t say it’s that bad a trade-off, since my previous books didn’t exactly get an avalanche of marketing support. It’s not that I’m going to be able to retire on my earnings from this book; I might not even break even. But I feel good knowing that you can buy a book that’s 100% my vision of what I wanted you to read.

That’s not saying that I did it all myself. I got some great help from many people, which is why the acknowledgements are 3 pages long, and probably could have been double. If you want to know about quality control, here’s my process: I hired a copy editor to work on the original manuscript; got help with learning InDesign to format the manuscript; used a team of volunteer beta testers to catch errors introduced during the processing of the manuscript; hired a professional proof reader and indexer to do a final read-through and provide a well-done index; and relied on a friend for some fantastic cover design.

Doing much of the layout work myself gave me a much closer feel to this book than anything I’ve written before. Like I said above, before I just emailed a Word file, then mostly let other people do everything. I found that fretting over photo layouts gave me a much greater appreciation of how I should place photos in the text, and, indeed, why I should have photos at all. And doing a ton of menial, repetitive tasks made me feel like I’d invested much more in the book than my time in writing it.

Of course, I did invest more, this time around. Let me paraphrase Steve Wynn for a moment here: “Of all the books I’ve written, this is the first one I’ve put my own money into.”

As a reader, that should tell you something: I believe enough in this book that I’m willing to pay to get it into production and into your hands. Again, this isn’t an easy decision to make, but I’m glad I made it. After all, it’s a book about gambling, and most of the people who buy it will probably be gamblers. What right do I have to ask them to spend their money on it if I’m not willing to put my own money on the line?

On that note, here’s something to keep in mind: if you’re a table player, for less than one green chip, you can own this book forever if you take advantage of the current 20% lulu-only discount. If you’re a slot player, that’s potentially 30 seconds of coin-in on a penny slot ($4 max bet, 1 spin each 6 seconds). That’s gotta be a positive expectation wager, or pretty close.

Thanks to everyone who has gotten me here, and who is going to roll the dice with me and read the book.