Friday, April 21, 2017

"Dingbat" is not always an insult. Build your publishing vocabulary, and smile a bit

Blad:  (Book Layout and Design) A blad is a small sample of a book used by salespeople to sell the book.  It probably will have the near-final cover design and some typical interior pages, perhaps even complete chapters with images.

Dingbat: Printers’ slang for small, icon-like drawings of hearts, snowflakes, and other shapes and items that can be used to dress up a document. Also, what Archie Bunker frequently called wife Edith on All in the Family.

Fleuron: A flower-like decoration used to enhance a book or to divide sections.

Flong: One of my favorite words! A flong was originally a dry, papier-mâché mold made from type text which could be curved to fit the cylinder of a rotary press. Later flongs were wet, and made of plastic or rubber.

Gerund: A part of speech frequently used, but seldom thought about after third grade. It’s a noun made from a verb, like “thinking,” “eating,” and “writing.”

Kern: That’s the way some people born in Brooklyn pronounce “coin.” In typography, “to kern” means to adjust the spacing between two adjacent letters. It can also mean to squish two letters together so they overlap to avoid awkward white spaces. WA is one common use of kerning, and the two letters fit together unusually well. A kern is also a part of one letter that reaches into another letter’s personal space.

Lede: The first sentence or two in a news story, with the most important information. It’s pronounced “leed”, but spelled “lede” to avoid confusion with another typographic term, “lead,” which rhymes with “bread.”

PITA: Pain In the Ass (not limited to publishing). An ISPITA in an Industrial Strength PITA.

Slush pile: Unsolicited manuscripts received by an agent or a publisher and often piled up on a desk, a shelf, or the floor, awaiting evaluation. These are also described as “over the transom” manuscripts. The phrase refers to the horizontal bar above a door and below a hinged window provided for ventilation in an office without air conditioning. Writers allegedly tossed their manuscripts over the transom of a publisher’s office and hoped for the best.

Swash: An extra bit of decoration added to a printed letter, often an extended or exaggerated serif on the first letter in a paragraph. It's not the same as Nike's swoosh.

TK: In the graphic arts, it’s shorthand for “To Come,” a notation made on a layout to indicate that an element (such as a photograph or chart) will be provided later and space should be provided for it.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Other people may see the world, and your books, differently than you do

I had a cataract removed from my left eye about seven years ago, and an artificial lens implanted. I was terrified about the surgery, but it was no big deal. The improvement in my vision was amazing. Not only was the world sharper, but colors were truer. I could now see white walls that had seemed off-white or almost beige. I could appreciate the Hi-Def TVs in my home, and movies looked much better.

I was told that I would need similar surgery in my right eyeprobably in two or three years.

But my right eye suddenly got much worseand I had the second surgery and implant just one year later.

During the time between the surgeries, my two eyes saw very differently when used individually, and when used together they distorted reality, which is BAD for designing books.

My "improved" left eye (which no longer needed a corrective eyeglass lens) was optimized for distance vision, like TV and driving. My right eye (with a corrective lens) was optimized for things like books and computer screens.
  • My ophthalmologist explained that I would develop monocular vision. Each eye had a specialty, and the brain selects the input from the proper source.
Most of the time I was not conscious of this weirdness, and I seemed to see pretty well. But my distorted view of the world presented a problem with publishingand that's why I am writing this blog post to warn others.

After my first eye repair I revised one of my books to use Adobe Garamond Pro ("AGP") type instead of my former Constantia. I think that AGP is prettier, with thinner, more delicate strokeswhich I could not appreciate with my 'old' vision.

It took me a while to get used to it on my computer screen, and even longer to get used to it in print. Eventually, I started using AGP in most of my print books.

As is common for fiction and memoirs and other non-techie book, the Stories I'd Tell My Children book was printed on cream (or "crème") paper, instead of pure white. Cream is said to be easier on the eyes.

Unfortunately, with my messed-up eyesight, the cream seemed too dark, as if the pages had yellowed with age. And the thin strokes of the Garamond seemed to have inadequate contrast to show up against the dark paper.

I was all set to arrange to switch the book to use white paper, when I decided to ask for opinions from people whom I knew to have excellent eyes. The verdict: "It's fine. Leave it alone."

So, I stuck with cream and I thought I had done the right thing.

The next year, after my second eye was repaired and my vision now "normal", I decided that I still didn't like cream, and I switched the pages to white.

There's an important lesson here for book design and life in general: don't assume that others see things the same way you do.

And another lesson, it's important that you like your books.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Beginning authors should fix errors—not display them

I am often exposed to promotional efforts for new books. Sadly, many of them are absolutely dreadful. They show so little care that I have to assume that the books are equally awful—and I stay away.

A book is new just once, and it's a shame if its debut is cursed by easily avoided unprofessionalism. 
Don't let readers think you're an idiot. Every word you write is an audition.

The book has generally good reviews on Amazon but one review mentions "poor editing."

The author and publisher are both identified as "
D. J. Jouett." That's very amateurish. It's not hard to come up with a name for a publishing venture.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Your author portrait is important. Don't look ugly

Every author needs a portrait—for books, websites, blogs, Twitter, press kits, posters, etc. and to go on their books.

Famous authors like Suze Orman have their faces on the front covers of their books. Pretentious but not-famous authors like Eliyzabeth Yanne Strong-Anderson also display themselves on the front. Not-famous and not-pretentious authors usually show their faces on the backs of their booksI'm only slightly famous and slightly pretentious.

The book at the left shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.

Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds. The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, which is too steep for many writers who don’t have a big publisher to pick up the check.

Fortunately, there are good, low-cost alternatives which few authors think of—the photo studios inside retail stores such as JCPenney and Target (not Sears or Walmart anymore). While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, those studios will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices (typically $7.99-$65).

The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who doesn’t vomit or require funny faces to elicit a smile.

If you’re getting one picture, choose a plain white background which can later be altered using Photoshop. Get a CD-ROM, not a bunch of wallet-sized prints.

(below) An author photo should be of the author -- only.

(below) An author photo should not have any distracting elements.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Writers: tax day is coming. Take advantage of your special advantages.

It's now April 5th. This year Tax Day in the USA will be 'celebrated' on April 18th.  It's getting closer every second. 

What you do today—and every day—will affect what you pay and what you keep in the spring.

There's a lot to misunderstand about income taxes. However, my birthday is April 15th, so I am particularly qualified to give tax advice. I don't know everything, however. If you need help in setting up bank accounts in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands, ask Mitt Romney.

Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I had a simple formula that worked very well (i.e., no audits ever, and refunds every year):
  1. No more than 10% for the feds.
  2. No more than 5% for the state.
  3. No more than 1% for the city.
For 16 years I've been in Connecticut. There are no city taxes, but life is more complicated. I pay my accountant about $700 for a few hours work necessary to produce my annual business and personal federal and state returns. After much scientific number crunching, he still comes up approximately with the same percentages I established 40 years ago.

I'll pass on a tip for a deduction I developed while working as an advertising copywriter and have continued to use as a webmaster, writer and publisher.

EVERY piece of media you consume, and equipment and services used with the media, should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%.

Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, little TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, smart phone, computers, tablets, ebook readers, software, Internet service, museum visits... all that stuff that helps you stay aware of trends in culture.

Years ago my father owned a chain of clothing stores. He once considered deducting his subscription to Playboy (which did provide news and advice about men's fashions among the airbrushed large-breasted babes). Alas, he was afraid to list a skin mag on his tax return, so he sent too much money to the IRS.  I have no such reluctance -- and may have bigger cojones.

With proper classifications, you can probably get Uncle Sam to subsidize porn, booze and hallucinogens.

Here's some more advice of uncertain value:
  1. A successful small business is one that breaks even each year, with a slightly higher gross income.
  2. Big profits are nice if you're trying to sell the business, but not when you're filing your income tax return.
  3. Write about stuff you like, whether it's wine, sports cars, clothes, travel, cameras, horse racing or sex. Then you can deduct everything you spend on fun -- if you classify it as "research."
  4. There's almost nothing that's too crappy to donate to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army and claim an appropriate deduction for. Bill Clinton was criticized for claiming a deduction for donating used underwear. I'm not the president and don't care what Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh will say about me. I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, and I donated lots of oversized underwear. Washed, of course.
  5. If you are bad about saving money for a rainy day, it’s tempting to let Uncle Sam save money for you. I did that for years, and even earned interest on the money that was due me. Now there is a limit to how long you can let your money sit in Fort Knox (or wherever they keep the surplus) and the IRS may assess a penalty just for filing late, even if you don't owe anything, so check with a pro. Also: your state tax people may be tougher than the IRS.
I am not a professional tax adviser  I'm more of a professional wiseass (who usually gets away with his wiseassing).

I put a lot of what I've learned into an ebook. It can save you many times its low cost. 

Writers Can Get Away With Apparently Absurd Tax Deductions That Ordinary People Can't

Monday, April 3, 2017

I was very impressed with ebook publisher PRONOUN—until I tried it


Pronoun is a strangely named company that formats and distributes ebooks. Its technology is very impressive and so is its price: ZERO.

The company is a few years old and now belongs to giant publisher Macmillan. It's based in Manhattan—home to many publishers.

Pronoun tells prospective customers: "Pronoun is a free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books. Our mission: to build a new model for publishing that puts authors first. We are passionate about author success, which is why many of our tools are completely free to use by authors publishing with other services or traditionally published authors."

I previously had used eBookit for my important and/or complex ebooks, and Amazon's own KDP for less important/simpler ebooks. I like both businesses.

As I was nearing the time to produce the ebook version of my new bestseller Love For & From My 4-Legged Son, I considered using KDP to save money and eBookit to save work and achieve broad distribution, beyond Amazon. Then I heard about Pronoun. I was curious to try it (for myself and also so I could report to you in a blog post), and liked the idea of broad distribution and zero cost.

It was very simple to get registered as a new customer and within a few minutes I uploaded my cover and interior files. The user-friendly process was much simpler than the KDP system.

I was very impressed with Pronoun's technology and looked forward to seeing my digital proof, making a few adjustments and watching the money roll in.

Alas, it was not to be.

The superb Pronoun software could not compensate for some substantial shortcomings.

[below] The first deal-breaker was ironically the first page—the title page. Instead of allowing me to use my own design, that properly identifies my own Silver Sands Books as the publisher, Pronoun insisted on providing an absolutely ugh-lee page that showed Pronoun as the publisher, even though the ISBN is tied to my company. I have not had this problem with other companies that produce and distribute my ebooks.

Pronoun's all-text title page is reflowable to be readable on multiple devices, but it's simply too disgusting for me to be associated with. "4-Legged" should not be allowed to appear on two lines. My graphic image of the title prevents this problem. Sometimes text should be a picture, not text.

[below] Pronoun is a strange censor. It insists on removing links to booksellers or mentions of booksellers because "We can't accept retailer links because Apple and other stores reject books that 'promote' their competitors. Your book can contain Amazon links if you only use Pronoun to publish on Amazon, otherwise, this issue (and the 'Amazon bestseller' reference on the cover) will prevent other stores from accepting your book," according to Author Happiness Advocate Kate Murtaugh.

She's wrong. Barnes & Noble has no objection to displaying my book covers that mention Amazon.

[below] Pronoun is inconsistent. Chapter beginnings vary in style (even when apparently formatted the same way), and they don't follow my desire. I had accepted one of Pronoun's style options for the book, but the automated system inserted unwanted horizontal rules and eliminated a space below a photo caption [Chapter 3, below]. The right-hand images below show three very different ways to start a chapter. That's ridiculous. (I saw no differences in my formatting for those pages.)

[below] Pronoun misplaces images and text.

[below] Not only does Pronoun want me to remove links to booksellers, its robo-formatter eliminated a link to my own publishing company—and inserted links without asking me. Strangely, most of the links that the robot inserted for the books shown below go to Amazon—in violation of Pronoun's policy!

[below] Pronoun sometimes makes inexplicable formatting changes.

Pronoun was slow to respond.
When I was gobsmacked (one of my favorite Britishisms) by the appearance of the title page, I sent an email to Pronoun support. The company says, "Authors, we’re here to help! Please send us a message and we’ll get back to you shortly."

Despite several follow-up emails I heard nothing for three days until I resorted to public embarrassment on Pronoun's Facebook and Twitter pages. I ultimately received a nice email from Kate, apologizing for the delayed response, explaining what caused the inconsistent formatting and offering suggestions.

I might have spent a few days trying Pronoun's suggestions but the title page disaster ended our relationship before a second date.

Pronoun could be a good choice if you have a simple book, don't care about Pronoun being identified as your publisher, and are willing and able to do lots of tweaking.
I am now eagerly awaiting my proof from eBookit. Unlike Pronoun, it has talented, knowledgeable human beings who can direct the company's software to make my books look the way I want them to look.

Just as Domino's pizza delivery robots are currently accompanied by human escorts, book-formatting software needs a human touch. In five years, the situation could be very different.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Author-publishers can save money with coupons, and not just on groceries

My late father and my brother have been addicted to finding deals and clipping coupons. So is my wife. I like deals, but I've been largely indifferent to finding coupons. Every week, however, I spend some time searching online for coupons before my wife heads to the supermarket. I've generally felt that saving a buck on Berio olive oil or 25 cents on Brillo is just not worth my precious time.
  • This week I saved $75 on two publishing purchases. $75 is real money, and definitely worth the short time it took to find the deals.
My supply of ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) had run out and I'm preparing the ebook version of my new paperback bestseller, Love For & From My 4-Legged Son—how an ordinary golden retriever became an extraordinary dog.

In some countries ISBNs are FREE, but not here in the USA. If you want your books to be sold through booksellers, you need ISBNs for each format (such as ebook, paperback, hardcover, audiobook). Bowker is the ISBN source in the USA. You can buy one for $125, 10 for $295 or 100 for $575.

The quantity discounts are impressive and if you think you'll publish at least two books, you may as well buy a "block" of 10. If you are unsure of your publishing future, you can hold your nose and pay the $125, or pay about $35 from a reseller who buys ISBNs in bulk, or get a free ISBN from a publishing services provider.

The problem with these strategies is that a company such as Charlie's ISBN Emporium or CreateSpace—not your own publishing company—will be identified as the "publisher of record." That's not a good way to build your empire.

On a silly whim I Googled "Bowker coupon" and I quickly found a coupon code that cut $50 off the $295 price! Bowker's robot did not complain that I saved money.

I had initially planned to use a new FREE publishing service, Pronoun, for this new ebook. My early enthusiasm quickly waned (I'll tell you why next week) and I decided to use eBookit, the company that had previously done a great job on some of my ebooks.

The normal price is a very reasonable $150. I found a coupon code to save $25 and I used that money to subsidize the cost of an upgraded PR release campaign.

In a few hours my wife will send me on our weekly coupon hunt. I doubt that I'll save $75.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I wouldn't trust Apollo Publications to publish toilet paper

Apollo Publications is an apparently new publishing-services provider—and apparently the most inept. It tries to function as both a traditional publisher and a self-publishing company. (This blog post deals with the Apollo Publications based in Illinois, USA, not similarly named businesses in Canada, India or elsewhere.) 

Below: An Apollo online ad has no identification.

Incompetent Apollo makes the dismal dingbats at Outskirts Press, Xlibris and PubishAmerica seem like polished professionals.

The Apollo website—which should be the medium for the company to demonstrate its capabilities—is pathetic. It's hard to find one proper paragraph. The site is filled with bad grammar, wrong words, inconsistent uppercasing, sentences without periods, sentences without initial uppercase letters, misspellings, missing letters, missing words, and design errors. It seems like the total IQ of the Apollo team is around 50, and its professional experience is zero.
  • The company says it is a "full service publisher"—but it is not.
  • Apollo emphasizes the importance of book covers. Strangely (and perhaps uniquely) the Apollo website shows no examples of its covers.
  • The website has no way for potential readers to learn about or order books. I wonder if it has actually published anything.
  • The company touts its "marketplace" (and "marker place")—but I could not find it within the Apollo site or with a Google search.
  • The company says its "review process is focused on quality and not content." Sadly, its website staff focuses on neither. Besides errors in language and design, there are errors that show a lack of understanding of basic book publishing (e.g., barcodes and the timing of copyrights and marketing).
If the company's self-promotion work is this bad, I have to assume that the books it produces for others are both laughable and tragic. I feel sorry for the company's customers and urge you to not become one.
  1. The top of the home page is a large animated "slide show." The slides whizz by so quickly that it's not possible for me to read the text—and I am a very fast reader.
  2. Apollo says, "a top selling book, requires a best-selling author." What the hell does that mean?
  3. "We make money off everyone that we sell" [Should be every one.]
  4. "Once you have submitted your manuscript it be evaluated by our team of editors." [Sadly, no editor noticed that a word is missing from that sentence.]
  5. "Rejected manuscripts will be returned with a letter explaining why it was rejected." [Should be letters and they were.]
  6. "he cover design" [Should be The.] 
  7. "The only piece we don’t do is the copyedit." [That sentence needs copyediting. ALSO: the ad shown up above includes copyediting and real publishers do provide copyediting.]
  8. "there is no cost or no obligation." [Do we get to choose one?] 
  9. "distributer's" [Misspelling, and the plural does not use an apostrophe!!]
  10. "This price covers getting your account setup," [Should be set up.]
  11. "we can copywrite" [copyright; the ad at the top has the same error] 
  12. "We have both Print On Demand, and eBook distributors." [Unnecessary comma] 
  13. "Published Authors tend to sell more books than Self-Published Authors" [Self-published authors are published authors.]
  14. "Formating" [Should be Formatting
  15. "Apollo’s strong relationship with a low volume printer means we can offer extremely competitive pricing for printed copies of your book." [Wouldn't a high-volume printer have better prices?]
  16. "both the content and the artwork is protected." [Should be are.] 
  17. "format compatible for" [Should be with.] 
  18. The website says, "Your ISBN barcode is required for most book stores and contains information about your book’s selling price." [Many book barcodes do not include book prices.]
  19. At least one web page is missing and one has an improper link.
  20. The company's prices are typical (or high) for the industry. Print packages start at $899 and ebook packages start at $549.95. Options can add to the cost.
  21.  The company charges $125 for copyright registration. You can easily register for a copyright yourself for $35.

Above: one sentence with lots of errors. Apollo boasts about its "team of talented writers." Clearly the team lacks both talent and supervision. Stay away.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Author-Publishers Beware! One book page can cost about a penny—or two bucks!

(left-click on charts below to enlarge them for easier reading)

Despite the amazing recent growth in ebook sales, most books sold are still pbooks. Each piece of paper in a pbook costs money, and if you use a self-publishing company (as opposed to a printer), you can get really ripped off on paper charges.

Lightning Source is the dominant Print-On-Demand company, producing books for publishers of all types and sizes, including my own Silver Sands Books. I sometimes use CreateSpace (part of Amazon) and its prices are similar.

At Lightning Source one copy of a 300-page paperback will cost $5.35. If you add two pages (one piece of paper) the price goes up by three cents. Pricing-per-page seems very logical to me, but that's not the way some self-publishing companies work.

Here's the wacky price chart from E-BookTime.com: (Despite the company's name, it also produces pbooks.)

Prices are based on page ranges, not the actual number of pages, When you exceed a range by just one page, the minimum retail price goes up two bucks, and the author's wholesale price goes up $1.40.

The company says it provides "
Book publishing that is . . . affordable." A 351-page paperback selling for $20.95 is waaaaay overpriced for most genres. High pricing can make your book noncompetitive.

(above) Infinity Publishing's book pricing is strange. Its suggested cover price for a book with 129 pages is a buck more than the price for a book with 128 pages. The author pays 54 cents per book for the additional page. Page number 129 is printed on a very expensive piece of paper. Independent self-publishers who have Lightning Source print their books pay .013 for an additional page. Ironically, Infinity's $149 Extended Distribution Package uses Lightning Source to print the books. Infinity pays Lightning .013 cents (or maybe less) for page number 129, but charges authors 54 cents! That's a nice markup. Infinity also says that its own printing and fulfillment are better than Lightningbut they are willing to use Lightning anyway.

(above) Xlibris also has an inflated and weird "delta" between page ranges. As shown above, a 107-page paperback book will sell for $15.99 and the hardcover will sell for $24.99. If you add just one page more, the price goes up $4 or $5. The difference in the manufacturing cost is tiny, and can't possibly justify the difference in cover price.

The price for a paperback with 398 pages is $19.99 (just like the 108-page book), but, at 400 pages the retail price jumps four bucks to $23.99, and that price holds all the way to 800 pages. Xlibris gives away 400 pages for "free," but charges four or five bucks for one page! Xlibris books are printed by Lightning Source, so the price per additional page is insignificant.

You want to sell pbooks. If you want people to buy them, the price is important. Choose your printing partner carefully. If you must use a self-pubco, pay attention to the page count, including the pages added by the company. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I haven't criticized a book about publishing in a long time. Now it's time.

Many of the books I've complained about in this blog deal with self-publishing because so many of those books were terrible and warranted complaints, and I know a bit about the subject.

At some point I stopped doing it. One reason was that I published many books in the field and didn't want to be seen as slamming competitors. Another reason is that I didn't like reading lots of shitty books.

The book shown above is not shitty. (How's that for a compliment?) It's not awful or even bad. It's better than many, worse than some and it rates a solid "OK." There are a number of errors that keep it from being "good." An examination of the book leads to important lessons for self-publishing authors. 

Mike Kowis follows the pattern of endless other authors (including me). He self-published a book and decided that his experience qualifies him to teach others to do the same. He still has much to learn.

Let's start with the cover.
  • The illustration is a dull piece of stock art by Tiero, presumably purchased at Fotolia for a few bucks. There's nothing wrong with using a stock photo or illustration but it's not yours alone, so it's good to customize it.
  • The title starts with "14 steps." It's only natural to count the steps shown on the cover, and find that there are more than 20. That's silly.
  • The number 14 dominates the cover but it's arbitrary and uninteresting. Heinz is known for its 57 varieties and Baskin-Robbins for its 31 flavors, but 14 has no special significance that I know of. A word such as "vital" or "critical" would have been stronger than a number. (I've used 99, 100 and 1001 in my own titles. Those numbers are more interesting than 14.)
  • Most nonfiction books have cover art that is a too-literal interpretation of the title. Maybe someone thought that a staircase made out of books is cute. I don't. A book about infant care doesn't need a baby bottle or diaper on the cover. A book about publishing steps doesn't need steps and books on the cover. I wonder if the illustration led to the title. An all-text cover could have been more of an eye-grabber.
  • The author identifies himself as "Mike Kowis, Esq." I assume his real first name—like mine—is "Michael." If he's a well-known jock like Mike Ditka or in show biz or politics like Mike Todd or Mike Pence, the nickname would be OK on a book. On a serious book where the name is paired with "Esq." which identifies an attorney, the informality seems out-of-place and lessens the author's authority. (I am never Mike or Mickey.)
Mike dedicated the book to his "beautiful wife." I assume she likes the honor, but all wives are beautiful and the dedication seems silly—unless her beauty somehow enabled or affected the book.

Here are Mike's 14 steps:
STEP 1: Finalize your manuscript.
STEP 2: Create a new business to self-publish and market your book. 
STEP 3: Buy a domain name for your book’s website and build the webpages. 
STEP 4: Buy ISBN numbers from Bowker. 
STEP 5: Apply for an LCCN number [sic, redundant] from the U.S. Library of Congress (for print books only). 
STEP 6: Apply for a merchant account at your preferred shipping company. 
STEP 7: Create a social media platform to promote your book. 
STEP 8: Decide where you want to sell your book and in what formats. 
STEP 9: Hire a professional cover designer to make your book cover. 
STEP 10: Hire a professional graphic designer to format the interior pages of your print book and/or convert your manuscript to an eBook. 
STEP 11: Purchase an editorial book review well before the book launch date. 
STEP 12: Upload your book files onto the distributor’s website. 
STEP 13: Register your book with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months after the publication date. 
STEP 14: Market your book.

The proper first step in publishing a nonfiction book has nothing to do with either starting or completing a manuscript. The first step actually includes marketing, which Mike leaves for last. 

The first part of marketing is to identify your potential customers and potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the easier it will be to reach them and the more efficient your marketing can probably be. Before you start writing a book you need to know if anyone will need it or want it. It would be horrible to invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to produce a book that nobody buys.
  • If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience could be many millions, and your potential competitors may number in the hundreds.
  • If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people. Or two.
  • Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, mechanics and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, and dozens of competitors. Mike has hundreds of competitors—including me.
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are "in the pipeline." Try to write something that is better than the competition—or at least make it seem that way. Powerful marketing can make even ludicrous ideas seem legitimate.

Mike's STEP 6 is very strange—and very wrong—and an 
attorney/college instructor should have known better. A "merchant account" has absolutely nothing to do with shipping. A merchant account is an arrangement with a credit-card-processing company that enables a business to accept credit cards for purchases.

Most books are sold by booksellers, not authors, so the authors have no need to process credit-card orders. Mike recommends "finding at least three experts" to review your book. One of his experts should've caught this blooper. (For occasional sales you can be paid through Paypal with no merchant account.)

Similarly, unless you maintain inventory (unnecessary for ebooks and print on demand) and expect to ship out lots of books, there is absolutely no reason to have an account with a shipping company (but it's not difficult to get one). Many authors keep a few books on hand to send as gifts or for reviews, or to sell with autographs. You can easily send them by going to the Post Office (or FedEx or UPS). No account is necessary. You can even give books to the mail carrier who comes to your place or call for a free pickup.

I disagree with STEP 11. I am absolutely opposed to paid reviews. For a positive review to be meaningful it should be written by someone who likes your book—not by someone who's paid to read and review it. If you pay a prostitute $1,000 to go to bed with you and she or he proclaims love, would you believe it? Of course not.

Mike minimized a vital step: securing blurbs. A blurb is a brief chunk of text written by someone who knows something about you and/or your subject and can help you to sell the book. It means much more than a purchased review. You should start seeking blurbs as soon as your text is good enough to be read by others. Mike says blurbs go on the back cover. They can also go on the front cover, in the front matter and in promotional material, including online book listings.

There are many varieties of self-publishing and Mike's title doesn't make it clear that he is writing for authors like himself and me who want to establish their own little publishing companies.

However, if you are like most authors who think they're involved in self-publishing you will probably be the customer of an inept company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press that will do most of the work discussed in Mike's book. Mike's first chapter clearly explains some of the possible publishing paths, but I hope that readers don't encounter those words only after buying a book they don't need.

Mike kindly reveals the costs for the various aspects of producing his first book and this one. He spent so much on the first that I doubt that the book made any money. That first book, properly, was a learning experience and his costs were less for the second book.

In the discussion of business names, Mike advises us that "It might be wise to select a name that reflects the value or benefits of your book. For my business, I chose the name Lecture PRO Publishing because it reminds readers of the benefits that you can expect from reading my first book (i.e., you can learn to lecture college students like a “pro” if you read my book)."

I disagree strongly. It's much better to have a neutral name (such as my own Silver Sands Books) that can work with any book genre. "Lecture PRO Publishing" does not relate to Mike's second book. CLICK HERE for advice on naming your publishing company.

Mike asks, "Do you want to sell an eBook? If so, do you prefer Kindle, non-Kindle (e.g., Nook, Apple iBook, Kobo, etc.), or both?"

That's silly. The author/publisher's preference for ebook format is irrelevant. An author/publisher should focus on the preferences and needs of the likely readers, and the more formats the better.

Mike Kowis has provided a lot of useful information for beginning publishers. With a little bit of additional work the book could have been "good," not merely "OK." That's an important lesson.

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's easy to become a bestselling author. If you think it's important, read this

I'm not sure if it's important to be a "bestselling author" or to write a "bestselling book." The label may impress friends, neighbors and relatives; and I assume that a prospective reader who is considering a book purchase will be encouraged to become a buyer.

Lots of writers you’ve probably never heard of are described as “bestselling authors.” Unlike lists of the winners of Oscars, Emmys, Pulitzers and Nobels, there may be no official registry where you can check the validity of the claims.

Also, there’s an almost endless list of bestseller lists. Unless an author, publisher or promoter provides a detail like “103 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List,” it’s hard to document or disprove bestseller status.

The Times, of course, is the biggie. Other important lists are provided by USA Today, Amazon.com, IndieBound, Publishers Weekly and Barnes & Noble.

There is often disagreement among the bestseller lists and it may not be obvious how the lists are calculated. For example, online booksellers and “big box” stores may be excluded.
  • A book about flea removal from pregnant three-legged albino Weimaraners could sell exactly one copy and still be the BESTSELLER IN ITS FIELD. There is no law that requires an explanation on the cover or a footnote inside the book.
  • Anyone can call any book a bestseller (or “best-seller” or “best seller”) and the label may help it to achieve more sales—deserved or not deserved.
  • Keep in mind that even if a book is on a legitimate list, the fact that many were sold does not necessarily mean that it’s a good book, or even that buyers have read what they've bought. Used bookstores are filled with "used" books that have obviously not even been opened. From Wikipedia: Bestsellers have gained such great popularity that it has sometimes become fashionable to purchase them. . . . The rising length of bestsellers may mean that more of them are simply becoming bookshelf decor. In 1985 members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 cash inside 70 books that were selling well, and none of them were sent in.
  • There are even fudged bestseller labels that are more the result of marketing than of statistics, such as “summertime bestseller,” international bestseller” or “underground bestseller.” A widely advertised book on real estate investment is touted as "smash hit selling" (whatever that means). 

[above] This may be the worst book ever published. Its Amazon Bestsellers rank has been nearly 10 million, but it is on the BS list. There is no rule that says how high a book has to be on a BS list to be promoted as a bestseller, but I wouldn't brag about a book unless it was in the top 50 or so. Some people might assume that any book promoted as a "bestseller" achieved number-one status. You don't have to tell them otherwise.

If you care about bestseller status, you can enhance the chance of a book achieving that status by choosing one or more "BISAC" categories where it won't have much competition. Obscurity can lead to great visibility.

[above] If you do achieve bestseller status, don't be bashful about it. Proudly put the "BS" term on book covers, websites, blogs, business cards, press releases, social media, everywhere.

Amazon’s bestseller list has been manipulated by elaborate online campaigns to maximize purchases during a brief time period to temporarily elevate a book to bestseller status.

One day, with no manipulation, my STINKERS! America's worst self-published books was ranked NUMBER EIGHT on one of Amazon's bestseller lists. The next day, it was up to NUMBER TWO. That's pretty amazing, especially since I was still tinkering with the book and had not made an official announcement that it was available. It's on a very specific list (maybe a very obscure list), but now I can legitimately call the book a “bestseller.” My wife is not impressed. If you are impressed, please buy the book. It's important, useful and funny.

(pooch pic from http://arizonaweimaranerrescue.com)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book covers are imperfect at birth. They need time, thought and effort to mature.

I'm Michael—not Michelangelo. I won't call myself an artist.

I went to art school on Saturday mornings for two years when I was in grade school. I was good with still lifes, vehicles and architecture, but lousy with people pictures. Our teacher told us that an adult human male should be 6.5 heads tall. No one in my family looked like that.

Over the years I won prizes in art classes in school, and enjoyed working with actual art directors when I was an "award-winning Madison Avenue advertising copywriter." Later, without any art directors to partner with, I designed packaging, posters, brochures, websites, ads, logos and book covers.

When I started Silver Sands Books back in 2008 I initially planned to publish one book and I found a convenient, talented and reasonably priced artist to work with.

Later on I started doing most of the cover designs myself. I won't say that they're better than what Carina Ruotolo produced previously, but they're good enough—and I get what I want with unlimited variations and there's no charge for revisions.

My newest book is now on sale. I won't claim that the cover is perfect or prize-worthy, but I like it a lot and so do some people who are not my relatives. I think the book will attract readers because of the photo, title and subject. You can read more about it here.

It has had three major design variations and about a hundred minor tweaks. Below are a few of the variations I experimented with and rejected.

It's possible that a professional artist could have produced a perfect cover without all of the intermediate experimentation I went through. It might have been finished faster (or maybe not), but would be more costly and not much fun. I'd rather do than watch. 

[above] If you want to try designing a book cover, this ebook will help.