Friday, January 19, 2018

Bad news may be good news for your book sales


You've probably heard that "It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." It's an ancient proverb that has come to mean that a wind that is bad for many people, can be good for others.
  • The same windstorm that drives a boat off its course and onto the rocks might also help a becalmed sailing ship to reach home swiftly and safely -- and can power the windmills on the land.
  • A wind that is no good for someone is unusual and ill indeed. 
  • Probably nothing is bad for everyone.
When I was in college in the 60s, I operated a slightly profitable business distributing anti-war pins. One said, "War is Good Business. Invest Your Son." Apparently 58,212 Americans were killed and 153,452 were wounded in the War in Vietnam -- plus about 2 million Vietnamese. Nevertheless, the war was good for arms makers, and for college kids who sold anti-war pins and bumper stickers.
 
When Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died in 2011, The Associated Press said, "As macabre as it might seem, Jobs' death Wednesday will only add to the Apple mystique - and profit." The iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac likely got short-term sales boosts as consumers paid the ultimate tribute to Jobs. It's a commercial phenomenon that also occurred when Michael Jackson's album and song sales rocketed after he died in 2009.
Simon & Schuster moved up the publication date of its biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson from November 21 to October 24. Even before publication, the book was ranked #1 on Amazon's overall bestseller list and #1 on three other Amazon bestseller lists, because of pre-orders (including my order).


In my Independent Self-Publishing: The Complete Guide, I wrote, "Remember that the mere publication of your book is not usually sufficiently newsworthy to impress editors and writers. Only the most desperate small-town weekly would publish an article with the headline: 'Local Woman Writes Book.' Your news release needs a news hook. The hook is the main point of your release. It can be a theme, state­ment, trend or event on which you “hang” your news release.  If an important person just got married, promoted, fired, elected or killed, a book about that person should be newsworthy . . . ."

I certainly don't recommend that you murder someone you wrote about. But, if that person should die without your intervention, be prepared to take advantage of the promotional possibilities, like Simon & Schuster. Biographer Walter Isaacson was interviewed a great many times, and Simon & Schuster sold a great many books.

(top photo from "Gilligan's Island" TV show.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Will your book be better if it's bigger? Probably not.

The bigger the book, the longer it takes to finish writing, editing and formatting it, the more it costs to produce and purchase, the more errors it will have, and maybe the fewer people who will buy it.


I almost never go to movies that are longer than two hours, because I know the movie will become a $14 nap. I am similarly reluctant to buy books with more than about 350 pages, because I doubt they will keep me interested.

In an online forum for authors, a newbie recently discussed his debut novel—which will have more than 800 pages.
  • It will be extremely difficult to persuade people to buy a huge and expensive book written by someone they've never heard of.
Maybe that book should become three books, or should be drastically cut. Almost any page can sacrifice a sentence or two without suffering. Most sentences can shed a word or two, and no reader will miss them. The maximum number of pages for a book is determined by printing and binding equipment (if the book is printed) and what people are willing to pay, carry and read.


One the other hand, the United Nations’  Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organ­iz­a­tion declared 49 pages to be the minimum length for a book. A publication with fewer pages can be a leaflet, pamphlet, booklet or brochure. Call it a book, and you risk offending nearly 200 nations.

Despite the UNESCO decree, no printed book has 49 pages. Pbooks have an even number of pages even if some pages don’t have numbers on them. An individual piece of paper in a book is called a leaf. Each leaf has two sides, called pages. A 100-page book contains 50 leaves. Or leafs.

Publishers don’t have to obey the United Nations. Outskirts Press can make “books” with as few as 18 pages, the minimum from Create­Space is 24 pages, and Lulu can do 32 pages. 

Most printers can produce books with as many as 800 to 1,000 pages, but books with more than 500 pages are unusual. With nonfiction, you need to have enough pages to cover your topic adequately. Don’t skimp, or pad.
  • The book should not be so big that it will be priced a lot higher than its competitors or seem like “too much to read.”
  • It should not be so short that it seems incomplete, or doesn’t offer value for its cost.

The form of a book affects the acceptability of its size. A printed book with 600 pages could be heavy to carry and difficult to lay flat (and expensive to print and ship). 

The cost of each additional page printed is insignificant. The cost of each e-page is zero. There is a prejudice against very thin books, so try for a minimum of about 120 pages. Thin books just don’t seem like real books.

Novels can be much longer than nonfiction. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is about 1,300 pages long, and some of Rowling’s Harry Potter books have over 700 pages.

A book’s page count is not final until it is ready to be printed. Many factors determine how many words fit on a page, including page size, type size, line spacing, margins, headers, number and size of illustrations, front and back matter, etc.

An 8.5-by-11-inch manuscript page holds about twice as many words as a common 6-by-9-inch book page. A 200-page manuscript can yield a 400-page book (with no graphics), and have about 100,000 words.


Most ebooks don’t have real pages. I know of one ebook with just nine “pages” and one with 1,594—unless the person reading makes an adjustment which changes the total.

With most ebooks, the readers can adjust typeface, type size and vertical/horizontal orientation. That changes the number of apparent pages. A hundred people could read a particular ebook, but they’re not necessarily reading the same book. 

Publishers Weekly analyzed data from Amazon.com and declared that the median average "word count" for books is 64,531 words, which translates to about 290 paper pages. While a mean average might be more useful than the median (half of the books have more words, half have fewer), the number from PW is still useful. It’s probably best for new writers not to stray too far from the average.

It’s normal for writers to love their words -- but readers may not share the love. Some writers who love their words recognize that there are just too many words. I voluntarily cut a book I wrote from 518 pages to 432 pages, and it’s better because of the cuts. It may have been even better at 396.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book titles can't be copyrighted, but try to be original

This week there has been a strange sales increase for a 2009 book about Allied bombing of Germany during World War II—not exactly big news in 2018.

Author Randall Hansen was pleasantly surprised. Then he realized that the new Trump book by Michael Wolff used the same title Hansen used. People were ordering the wrong damn book, and some even complained when they started reading it.

According to the Washington Post, "Although Hansen isn’t a fan of the U.S. president, whom he described as “impulsive” and “childish,” he is grateful for the association with the book about Trump’s administration. "If a few more people read my book now and reflect on the horrific consequences of war to civilian populations,” he said, “I think that would be a very good outcome.”
...

Last summer I read one of the three similarly titled books shown above. In the fall I read another one. I'm so confused that I can't tell you which ones I read. If someone asks me to recommend a book about this subject I'd have to do some research before replying.
 
[below]
I recently noticed some online promotion for a 2015 ebook short story called "Internet Hell" by Trisha M. Wilson. I was surprised to see it because Internet Hell is the name of a book I published in late 2012.



While book titles can't be copyrighted, it's both unprofessional and confusing to copy the title of another recent book. 
When I challenged Trisha, she blocked me from viewing her Tweets.    
To hell with her.
Since it's so easy to determine if a book title is already in use, the only reasons for copycatting a recent book title are ignorance, stupidity, laziness or evil. Maybe Trisha is guilty of all four.

Trisha's story is interesting, but poorly edited by the two named editors: Colby Trax and A. J. Wallace. The
third paragraph says "regiment" instead of "regimen." Many paragraphs are choppy, with too many unnecessary pauses. The stop-start-stop-start rhythm made reading it tiring. I also think her cover is amateurish, made with cliché clip art and just one dull typeface. I previously complained that some letters were lost against the background but the cover was modified.

A while ago I noticed a nice review posted online for The Chosen by John G. Hartness. It seems like a good title. Apparently others think so, too, because the title has been used for about six books.

At least one, Chaim Potok's The Chosen, is quite famous. It was nominated for the National Book Award and was on the NY Times bestseller list for six months. More than a million copies were sold, and the novel was made into a movie and a Broadway musical. Hartness could have found it with a few seconds of research.







It's understandable that a new book may duplicate the title of an older, obscure book, but it's just plain unforgivable, and pathetic, and maybe a bit dishonest to copy the title of a well-known bestseller.

Every book needs a title. Many book titles are cliché phrases which seem to be absolutely perfect for a particular book. Unfortunately, many cliché phrases are absolutely perfect for lots of books, and, again, the title of a book can’t be copyrighted. Any writer considering possible titles should check for previous uses.
  • Both Danielle Steel and Queen Noor of Jordan wrote books called Leap of Faith.
  • At least five books are titled Fatal Voyage.
  • At least four books, two songs and a movie are named Continental Drift.
  • At least 24 books are titled Unfinished Business. You can write books with that title, too. 
  • I recently published Do As I Say, Not As I Did. I knew that the title had been used by another book, but the books are very different and the other one was published nearly ten years before mine.
  • More than a dozen different books are titled Caught in the Middle. If you like the title, you can use it, too. You can even use it for several different books.


An identifying term in a book series can be trademarked. If you publish The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Harry Potter, you’ll probably be sued by two publishing companies, and lose twice.

If your name is Harold Gordon, you could write and publish The Autobiography of Harold Gordon. There is nothing to stop an unknown author—or Danielle Steel—from writing a book with the same title. Danielle could also write The Autobiography of Barack Obama.

If you want to call your next masterpiece Holy Bible, Hamlet, War and Peace, From Russia with Love or The Da Vinci Code, you can. You might get sued. You might win, but it won’t be a pleasant experience. You’ll probably also confuse and annoy a lot of people—so try to come up with something original.

And, as long as I'm preaching about originality, don't be an obvious thief of another book's design.

It’s smart to study other books and to seek inspiration from successful authors and designers—but it's stupid to be a copycat. It's embarrassing when you get caught.

The book on the left has sold millions of copies since 2004. It provides guidance for solving personal and professional problems.

The book on the right, which copied the cover design, typefaces and title style of the bestseller, is a promotional piece from evil/inept Outskirts Press.

I saw four five-star reviews for the Outskirts book on Amazon.com. Two were written by Outskirts authors featured in the book, and one was written by an Outskirts employee. That seems a bit sleazy—just like the cover, and just like Outskirts Press.