Friday, March 16, 2018

How quickly can you write a book?

You’ll probably encounter books, courses and seminars that allegedly teach you to write a book in an absurdly short length of time. Since a book could have just three words in it, it is actually possible to write a book in less than ten seconds!

However, most writers of “real” books take from three months to a year or more to write. And then the book requires more time for revising, editing, designing and marketing.

Very few self-published books come out “on time.” Everything takes longer than you think it will. If you rush, you will make mistakes that will take additional time to correct. It’s much more important to be good than to be fast or first.

The book below was supposed to go on sale on March 1, 2018. I'm now aiming at April 15.

The book below was supposed to go on sale in July of 2010. It should be ready in a year or two. Or, maybe not.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A simple and important thing that many authors, publishers and booksellers get wrong

(above) While analysts' percentages vary, Amazon clearly has a huge share of the ebook market--but it could sell even more ebooks

I talk to lots of readers online and in the real world. All of them are aware of ebooks. Almost all are aware of Kindles. Some have Kindles. Many who don't have Kindles think they can't read an ebook formatted for Kindles if they don't have a Kindle. 

They seem to think that the ebook business is like the old videotape situation where a VHS player could not play Betamax movies.

While there is still some incompatibility with less important readers (and the availability of adaptive apps and hacks grows constantly), the simple fact is that books formatted for Kindle reading can be read on many kinds of devices. It's time for authors and publishers to make that important fact known!

Starting about five years ago, I've promoted the concept that my Kindle ebooks can be read on a PC, an iPad or other tablet, a Nook, a smart phone or other device.

Sure, it's probably good to publish in multiple ebook formats. But, just as many people think that the World Wide Web is the Internet and that Earth is the center of the Universe, there are people who think that "Kindle" is synonymous with "ebook."

Authors: if you can make potential readers know that they can read your books without investing in additional hardware, you may sell many more books.


Monday, March 12, 2018

In the ebook era, authors shouldn't neglect hardcover books

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2013, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookshelf. As a child with an early bedtime, I read books by flashlight under the blanket. Even now, I share my bed with my wife, our dog, and usually a book or my iPad or Kindle Fire.

Before TiVo gave me the ability to fast-forward, I always read during TV commercials. I read at most meals—even at restaurants. Some people think it's rude. I think it's efficient.

I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." When I was in college, I sometimes spent food money on books (and on records, too, I admit). I was still building bookshelves two weeks before I was due to move out of my college apartment.

When I see books in the trash, I rescue them. When a friend's older brother and his buddies gathered around a barbecue grill at the end of the school year to burn their school books, I tried to rescue the books, but was blocked by superior force. Assholes!

I seldom think of sin, but if sins do exist, book burning is certainly high on the list.

After writing paperbacks since 1977 and ebooks since 2009, in 2011 I received a proof of my first hardcover, a new format for my "stories" book. The book feels very good. It looks beautiful, with a glossy dust jacket and the title and my name stamped in bright golden ink on the cloth covering the binding.

A hardcover book provides a special experience. Perhaps ebooks will replace paperbacks, but I don't think anything can replace hardcovers.

Torah scrolls are still handwritten, after thousands of years. Grave stones are still chiseled. Initials are still carved on trees. They should still be readable long after the last Kindle and Nook are recycled.

Even though I am the sole employee of my publishing company, this book seems about 96% as "professional" as a similar Tina Fey book from publishing giant Hachette. Even though I've seen my cover design and read the title hundreds of times, I can't resist holding it, feeling it and studying it. Even though I've read my own words hundreds of times, I can't resist reading again.

I got the idea to write this book way back when I was 11 or 12. I'm supposed to become 72 next month. I'm not sure if this book represents my life's work, but if it does, that's OK with me. I'm very proud of the book (I've never thought that pride is sinful.)  I honestly think it's a very good book and fortunately, so do the readers.

The hardcover book seems so much more "real" than other formats. I'm almost in awe of it and don’t want to mark it up with a red pen as I do with my paperback proofs. It would seem like defacing a library book—and that's a sin.

I had no plan to publish this hardcover. I published it because of requests from people who had bought the paperback or ebook and wanted a hardcover to give as gifts. It's important to give readers what they want. I like giving it as a gift, too.

It doesn't cost much to produce a hardcover using print on demand from LightningSource. It gives me another format that some readers prefer, and it might impress book reviewers more than a paperback or ebook would.

Friday, March 9, 2018

How big should your book be?

I started writing a book about Donald Trump in early January. I initially thought it would be a short book, with about 150 pages. I figured that the paperback would sell for $9.95 and the ebook for $4.99.

My tentative "pub date" was March 1 (eight days ago). I am now figuring on publishing around April 10. It's not unusual for books to be published later than originally planned. The book has grown, too. It looks like the paperback will have about 220 pages, and will probably sell for $15.95. I think I'll raise the ebook price to $5.99.

Every day I find more material that can go into the book, but at some point I have to stop writing. The book must end, and can't be ridiculously large.

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 $12 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 discussed his debut novel -- which was planned to 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, and the printing on the book’s spine will be tiny.

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 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, March 7, 2018

Tweaking your work can be terrible -- or wonderful

When I was writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, I was always rewriting until the last possible minute. This was in the pre-fax, pre-email era, and I'd drive to the airport and pay to have my column air-freighted from NY to CA. There wasn't much profit left.

Words are almost toys for me, like a child's building blocks, Lincoln Logs (above), Lego or an Erector Set. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives. Rewriting sentences and changing page formatting -- especially now with a computer -- is fun

The danger is that a perfectionist never finishes anything.

When I was working as an advertising copywriter, I was notorious for not "releasing" an ad until the last possible moment. Fortunately, someone older and wiser taught me a valuable lesson: sometimes "good enough" really is good enough, and I learned to let go.

Now, as the owner of a small publishing company, I have to be a businessman as well as an artist. I realize that no money will come in if I don't approve a proof and let a book start selling.

However, I seldom stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries (including this one).

The New Yorker magazine has an excellent article about Steve Jobs, which says that his real genius was tweaking -- not inventing. You can read it for free online.

I'm a tweaker, too, but being a tweaker can be dangerous because nothing is ever really finished. (When I was in college, I was still building bookshelves a week before I was due to move out of my apartment.)

Printing on demand and ebooks make it easy to keep tweaking. Maybe too easy.

With POD and e I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to.

Unfortunately, sometimes when I should be working on new books, I instead work on old ones.

Most of my books go through hundreds of revisions but the first one to be published is good enough to not embarrass me. A person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, but I know that each version was "good enough" as of a particular moment. 

One time I decided to delay a book by a week so I could change a comma to a period and uppercase the next letter. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed the perceived imperfection -- but I could not let it be.

Steve Jobs may have been more of a perfectionist than I am, the ultimate tweaker; and my iPad is better because of his obsession. I hope my books are perceived as better because of my obsession. One of my books is now nearly two years behind schedule. It's getting better and better.

(Illustration from The New Yorker)