CHANGE means...going all in

Paul in Baghdad, 2007.

Paul in Baghdad, 2007.

Paul Salvette is the Managing Director of BB eBooks in Bangkok, Thailand, a company that focuses on providing eBook conversion and design services for independent authors and small presses. In his free time he enjoys technical writing, and his latest book is The eBook Design and Development Guide, which he hopes will help authors and publishers learn more about eBook production and improve the overall quality of eBooks on the market. He spent some time in the US Navy from 2002-2009, but he now calls Thailand home. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Boonyalisa, and his 14-month old daughter, Monica. This is his rite-of-passage story:

I always thought I would be working for the proverbial Man. My father worked for the same company throughout most of my childhood, and he provided a solid middle-class upbringing for our family. I was a pretty lousy and rebellious teenager who was always getting into trouble, but when I first started college I made a conscious decision to at least try and get my act together. Engineering seemed like an okay place to get started: $60K/year out of school and almost guaranteed job placement. I spent a lot of time doing homework and projects in college so that I could count on this hypothetical “job” that would permit a middle-class lifestyle, even though I had no idea what this “job” really was.

Then, 9/11 happened right when I was about to start my last year of college, so I decided to join the Navy for a while and figure out the rest of my life when I was through with that. The recruiter told me I should go submarines since I had an engineering background, which seemed fine to me. Being in the Navy was tough, but I never had to worry about things like money, healthcare, and taking care of a family. I made some great friends in the Navy and had some great times (plus a lot of really bad ones), and I was comforted by the fact that as long as I did what I was told, life would more or less be okay.

When I was sent to Iraq in 2007, I was assigned to the Green Zone (aka the International Zone) in Baghdad as a staff officer, so the daily routine was almost mind-numbing. We were more or less out of harm’s way with the exception of the occasional rocket attack from Mr. Sadr’s people. I was very fortunate to never have been injured, and some of my friends were not so lucky. War is absolute hell, and anyone who says otherwise has probably never been. They didn’t let American service members drink alcohol, so I had a lot of time to sober up and evaluate my situation.

After some deep thinking on those lonely nights in Baghdad surrounded by concrete blast walls, I decided to get out of the service in early 2009. Unfortunately, it was a time when the economy was in the toilet and there weren’t too many opportunities for young people looking to start out. Some of my Navy buddies who had already gotten out were collecting unemployment and having trouble finding work. Even my old man faced the specter of getting laid off, and he had busted his hump for years. I decided to try something new.

Thailand seemed like a good place to start a new life and pulling up the stakes and moving to some strange new place was a process I had done nearly a dozen times in the Navy. I met my soon-to-be wife the first week I was in Bangkok.  My job involved working for a prominent Thai gentleman as his personal assistant. It was different not being military, but I, once again, felt comforted that as long as I was making my boss happy I would have steady employment.

Once my wife got pregnant, I started to freak out a bit. What if I lose my job for some reason and what if my salary isn’t enough for us to get by? What if The Man decides to cut me loose due to unforeseen circumstances? It’s one thing when you’re out on your own, but I had a family to worry about now. To ensure we had some extra cash, I decided to give self-publishing a shot in 2011. If I failed, it was only my own damn fault.

Boonyalisa (aka “BB”) with daughter, Monica, in Bangkok, 2012

Boonyalisa (aka “BB”) with daughter, Monica, in Bangkok, 2012

While my fiction probably has a ways to go in terms of being good writing, I did learn a lot about the eBook publishing process. Particularly, I managed to figure out the technical requirements to creating a quality eBook. Many authors try to turn their manuscripts into eBooks directly from Word, Scrivener, or some other program and are perpetually unsatisfied with the results. Most of the big publishing houses have horrendous standards when it comes to eBook design, including the most recent J.K. Rowling novel. This is because they don’t understand the importance of digging into the technical specifications and working with the source HTML, CSS, and XML. I try to lay out this complex, technical process in my latest book The eBook Design and Development Guide for authors who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.

I started writing here and there about how to format eBooks, and I got wonderful responses from the indie community. Pretty soon, people were offering me cash to design their eBooks for them, and I wasn’t even advertising any services. The pain problem of making a professional eBook is something that a small business could solve and be profitable--this was the epiphany that I was counting on at least. It was then that my wife and I decided to launch BB eBooks in June 2012.

If you have ever been to Bangkok, you probably know that it is not the smiling Thai ladies with gleaming white teeth the Tourism Authority promotes it as. Rather, it is much more like a scene from Blade Runner. Bangkok is a rough, chaotic, and crowded city where you need to be on your toes 24/7 or you will get burned. The energy of the place can be seen in the street vendors trying to hawk wares at 6 a.m. during the morning commute. Like most mega cities in Asia, it is a very entrepreneurial place that requires a good hustle to be successful. Therefore, Bangkok is an ideal place to start a small business.

There are a lot of preconceptions out there about what a tech company is: 20-year old geniuses suffering from Asperger Syndrome wearing hoodies and coding the next rival to Facebook. That is not what BB eBooks is at all, and we are definitely not geniuses. Working with our clients on a daily basis and doing whatever it takes to make them happy is the only way we are going to be successful. Their feedback steers our small business to what we should be providing. We are a small business focused on customer services first, and then a tech startup second.

I love working with indie authors, because they are very serious about their work and they tend to pay their invoices on time. They come to us with so many different problems to solve to make their eBooks great, so the job never gets boring. We had a client who needed 750 images in his eBook, and another who needed her eBook converted for a promotion in 10 minutes. It’s a new challenge every day, and it’s a real pleasure to use technology to help authors and small presses solve the problem of getting their manuscript formatted. The kind words of encouragement from our clients make the hard work very much worthwhile.

Being a small businessman means thinking for yourself and making decisions where you will be solely held responsible. It’s longer hours and harder work, but at least you are trying to achieve success rather than keeping your boss happy. Starting this venture was a bit of a gamble for me and my wife, but it’s definitely a risk worth taking. Thanks, Belinda, for the opportunity to share my story.

You can visit BB eBooks if you would like a no-obligation quote for your next eBook. They are happy to take projects, both big and small. Please learn more about Paul on his blog, or you can connect with him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. His latest book, The eBook Design and Development Guide is available on Amazon for only $6.99.

As an author of a memoir - Out of Sync - about personal transformation and global change, I believe the dynamics of change affect characters in storytelling as much as they do individuals in real life. If you’d like to share a story about what change means to you (or to one of your story characters), contact me to make a guest contribution to this insightful story series.