.

.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Barnes & Noble sales are up, especially online, but the company still lost money

Yesterday, Barnes & Noble reported sales and earnings for its fiscal 2012 first quarter ended July 30, 2011.


Total sales for the first quarter were $1.4 billion, a 2% increase compared to the prior year. Sales through BN.com increased 37% as compared to the prior year to $198 million, with comparable sales increasing 65%. This increase was driven by strong demand for the NOOK product line, including the continued success of the NOOK Color, the mid-quarter launch of the NOOK Simple Touch Reader and a quadrupling of digital content sales over last year's first quarter.


Barnes & Noble store sales decreased 3% to $1 billion, with comparable store sales decreasing 1.6% for the quarter. While traditional physical book sales declined during the quarter, the stores posted large increases in sales of the NOOK product line and Toys & Games. In a non-back-to-school period, Barnes & Noble College Bookstore ("College") sales declined 2% to $220 million, with comparable store sales decreasing 1.8%.


The consolidated NOOK business across all of the company's segments, including sales of digital content, device hardware and related accessories, increased 140% in the first quarter to $277 million, on a comparable sales basis.
The company's earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) improved 23% this quarter from a loss of $30.7 million to $23.6 million. For the first quarter, the company reported a consolidated net loss of $57 million, or $0.99 per share. The company's effective tax rate is 36.2%, lower than its previous rate of 39.7%. The change in the effective tax rate had a $0.05 per share impact on the quarter. Excluding the impact of the tax rate change, the company's net loss per share was $0.94.

"Our strategy of growing market share in the exploding digital content business while maximizing cash flow and EBITDA from our retail operations is paying off," said William Lynch, chief executive officer. "We plan to continue investing in the significant growth areas of our business, and in fiscal 2012, we expect to see leverage as our digital sales growth is projected to exceed the growth of investment spend. Additionally, the return on investment is expected to increase in future years, as readers purchase increasing amounts of digital content on the platform we have built."


"Our NOOK eReaders and applications continue to be cited as the finest digital reading products on the market, with the new NOOK Simple Touch Reader recently rated as the best eReader," Lynch added. "The company is encouraged by the progress achieved against our strategy and believes in our plan to continue to appropriately invest in the massive digital opportunity, while delivering strong EBITDA growth this year."


For the full fiscal year 2012 consolidated sales are forecasted to be $7.4 billion. Comparable sales at BN.com are expected to increase 60% to 70%. Barnes & Noble comparable store sales are expected to increase 2% to 3% and College's comparable store sales are expected to be flat. The company expects a $150 million to $200 million sales lift in this fiscal year following the complete liquidation of Borders stores. The consolidated NOOK business across all of the company's segments, including sales of digital content, device hardware and related accessories, is expected to double this year to $1.8 billion from $880 million last year and $123 million in fiscal 2010, on a comparable sales basis.


The company expects full year earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to be in a range of $210 million to $250 million, representing a 30% to 50% increase as compared to the prior year. This year's EBITDA forecast includes transaction, advisory and legal costs of approximately $15 million related to the strategic alternatives process and the recently completed $204 million investment made by Liberty Media in the company. The company expects full year losses per share to be in a range of $0.10 to $0.50.


...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More bad advice from an ignorant advisor

While doctors need education and licenses before they can prescribe drugs, and professional organizations have standards for people who want to call themselves Realtors or Chartered Life Underwriters, anyone with a mouth or a keyboard can offer bad advice, biased opinions and inaccurate information.

I've just published STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books, and was both amused and disturbed when I realized that the majority of the books I included are from ignorant authors who try to advise other ignorant authors. Some of these self-styled experts don't know their asses from their elbows, recto from verso, or a recto from a rectum.

However, there may be even more bad advice on the web than in books.

Yesterday I had the misfortune to discover an online article titled "SELF PUBLISH/PRINT-ON-DEMAND: What They Don’t Tell You" by Alana Cash (apparently the mother of actor Cameron and a distant relative of Johhny). Alana is said to be "an award-winning filmmaker and author. She taught writing at the Univ. of Texas and Jung Institute in Austin, Texas."

While Alana may be qualified to teach writing, she is NOT qualified to teach about self-publishing. Here's some of what she got wrong:

(1) "I’ve spent time researching two other publish-on-demand (POD) companies." There is no such thing as "publish-on-demand." Publishing is a complex process which can take months or years, and can't start anew every time someone clicks a mouse to order a book. Printing can be done on demand, but publishing can't. Printing is part of publishing. They are not the same thing.

(2) "Because the copyright office is backed up for about a year or so, I wasn’t able to provide an actual copyright number." Books generally display an ISBN and an LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number) but not a copyright number. While a book is copyrighted at the moment of creation, the Library of Congress normally issues a formal copyright after publication.

(3) "The colophon is not included on the copyright page of a POD book. A colophon is a 10-digit line of numbers of [sic] letters that indicates the 'print run' of a book." A colophon is often a page in the backmatter with details about the production of the book, such as typefaces used, the paper, the designer, printer, etc.

(4) "Kern the wording – meaning balance the spaces between caps and small letters." Kerning is the adjustment of spaces (regardless of uppercase or lowercase) so letters fit together attractively, without large gaps between them. HERE'S something I wrote about kerning.

(5) "Lightning (Barnes & Noble’s POD division) has a written agreement." Lightning Source is part of Ingram Industries. LS supplies books to B&N, but is not part of B&N. (In one book cited in my STINKERS! book, we are told that LS is owned by Amazon.com. Another "expert" got it wrong.)

(6) "The POD company states a minimum price that an author must charge for the book to make sure to cover their overhead." While self-publishing companies usually suggest cover prices, Lightning Source is a printer and does not care how much a book sells for, or even if it is given away, as long as the printing and shipping is paid for. Also, if a self-publishing company did specify a minimum price, it would be calculated to provide profit, not just overhead.

(7) With POD, the author provides [the title page and copyright page]. Some POD companies may tell you this, some do not. I learned the hard way by getting a proof copy of TOM’S WIFE [printed by CreateSpace] with the title and copyright pages missing. Not a pleasant surprise. This should not have been a surprise, and the mistake should have been avoided.

(8) "POD companies are not really publishers, only printers." Some are publishers only, some are printers only, some are both. The term "POD company" is ambiguous and should not be used.

(9) I tried to arrange book-signings at Barnes & Noble and found it was impossible because in order for B&N to purchase my book for their stores, TOM’S WIFE has to be in inventory with a wholesale distributor and has to be returnable. Maybe the local B&N store simply did not want to get involved with the book. Maybe the book was not properly offered to B&N. Maybe it does not have the proper discount. The returnability requirement should not be a surprise.

(10) POD companies do not stock inventory and they do not allow returns. Some do.

I don't know everything, but I know more about publishing than some other people who want to give you advice or sell you advice.


...

Monday, August 29, 2011

What's good about the damn hurricane?

Power at home has been out for nearly 27 hours so far, and there is no indication of when it will be back. No damage to house or wife or dog. Dog refused to go out to pee yesterday morning. Finally, three hours after his normal time, I put him on the leash and took him for a peepee walk. Mission accomplished. We had plenty of batteries and flashlights and fully charged iPad (but I had not thought to preload some movies). AT&T cell service was out for about 12 hours. My major difficulty was passing the time. Late last night I was too awake to sleep and too sleepy to read. It was horrible having to listen to crappy local radio stations instead of satellite radio. Could not watch cable TV, and TiVos couldn't record anything. I had planned to use battery-powered TV, and was shocked to find that the TV was too old to receive digital signals. This morning I brought a bunch of food from home to put in freezer here in my office.

So, here's the good news.

(1) I did not have to use paid-for water to fill up the pool.
(2) We got the rain gutters cleaned out on Saturday morning before Irene arrived, for the first time in about five years.
(3) I took an inventory of our immense collection of flashlights, batteries and radios.
(4) I will not have to water the lawn for a few days.
(5) While removing food from two freezers to move to office freezer, we discovered lots of "obsolete" food that could be thrown out instead of moved. Why do we PAY to refrigerate garbage?
(6) Since I could not use PC to write, I read most of a really good book. Save the Deli. Highly recommended.




...

Friday, August 26, 2011

More ineptitude from Outskirts Press

From the Outskirts Press selfpublishingadvisor.com blog: "Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production."


Based on the following blog post, Cheri has never worked as an editor. If her writing was checked by an Outskirts Press editor, this is yet one more reason to avoid the inept company.


In traditional publishing, there is a process to ensure that manuscripts are flawless, or at least near flawless; [New sentence should start here!]we all know that mistakes occasionally make it in to [INTO!] print. After submitting your manuscript to a publisher, it is reviewed by an editor and returned to you, the author [Redundant and amateurish], for review. After you have reviewed the manuscript and addressed any issues, the editor reviews the manuscript again, but it doesn’t end there. The manuscript is then proofread, either by the author or a professional proofreader [Or both]. If everyone does their job  [JOBS!] correctly, you should publish a flawless book.  [Not with Outskirts Press]


In self-publishing, however, it is up to you to edit your work.  [Dangerous, or maybe fatal] You can use spelling and grammar tools, but these programs are not flawless. They are not capable of recognizing typos  [They should.] or misused words, and believe it or not, sometimes the grammar suggestions are incorrect. The biggest problem with these tools is inconsistencies [Inconsistency] . Word processing programs are not designed to recognize style inconsistencies or factual inconsistencies. Only human eyes are capable of identifying these issues.  [Probably brains, not eyes]
So how do you make sure your manuscript is flawless? One possibility is hiring a professional editor.  [What are the other possibilities?] This individual will be able to edit your manuscript with a fresh set of unbiased eyes. [Some editors are biased. They're human.] In addition to correcting spelling, grammar, and style errors, an editor can point out areas in the manuscript that are unclear or contradictory. Best of all, an editor will make your manuscript more professional. One of the biggest misconceptions [Often not a misconception] about self-publishing is that the books are poorly written and filled with errors.  The easiest way to dispel that myth is to treat your manuscript as a professional book and take charge of the editing process.




...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What makes a book a stinker?


  • Most stinkers are ugly.
  • Most stinkers are poorly written.
  • Most stinkers violate the rules and customs of book design.
  • Many stinkers are inaccurate.
  • Many stinkers are too short or too long.
  • Some stinkers make promises they do not — or cannot — deliver.
  • Some stinkers are padded — including unnecessary information, information that is readily available elsewhere for free, or too much empty space.
  • Some stinkers are really advertisements — even bad advertisements — masquerading as books.
  • Some stinkers are absurdly overpriced.
  • Some stinker authors either got help from the wrong people or got no help at all.
  • Some stinker authors are extremely careless — or just don’t care about producing good books.
  • Some stinker authors don’t accept the advice they give to others.
  • Some stinker authors know less than they think they know.


From my new book:

STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books. Learn what not to do. Volume I  It's an anthology from this blog's Bad Book Week, plus added material, and should be available next week. Price is just $9.99. It's important, educational and entertaining.




...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

But, how can you avoid mista-kes like this one?


(This screen shot is from the Kindle edition of The 53 Biggest Self-Publishing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them by Andrew Chapman, as viewed on a PC monitor. The page looks fine on my iPad and is probably OK on a Kindle. E-books can be perverse.)

OOPS: On my iPad, section 13 is:
Not putting your manus-
cript in the best format for its
purpose and audience

However, it looks fine on my PC. As I said, e-books can be perverse.


I sure hope the Misteaks book that Sheila M. Clark and I are writing won't have any mista-kes like the ones above. 



...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sum werdz too wotch owte four


Accommodate has a double “c” AND a double “m.”
A lot is two words, not one.
Argument does not have an “e” like “argue.”
Awhile or A while can both be legitimate. The noun is spelled as two words: “I napped for a while.” The adverb is spelled as a single word: “I napped awhile.”
Believe follows the old “i-before-e except after c” rule. However, foreign, forfeit, sovereign, surfeit, caffeine, casein, codeine, either, geisha, inveigle, keister, leisure, neither, protein, seize, sheik, and Sheila do not.
Bellwether has nothing to do with the weather. A “wether” is a castrated sheep or goat that wears a bell and leads a herd. The lack of cojones made it less likely that the leader of the pack would stray.
Cannot v. can not: “Cannot” is a word, one word. Some word mavens insist that it is not supposed to be split into two words. This is weird, because "can" and "not" are legitimate words. I won't be pissed off if you can not go along with "cannot."
Carburetor has just one “a,” like “car.”
Cemetery does not end in “ary” or begin with “s.”
Changeable, unlike argument, retains its “e” so you know the “g” is soft, pronounced like “j.”
Collectible is not “able.” No rule applies here, just memory.
Coolly has a double “l” when it’s not a noun. When it is a noun, it’s spelled “coolie.”
Criteria v. criterion: Confusing these two nouns is a common error, even among highly educated people. “Criteria” is the plural of “criterion,” but many people aren’t even aware of the word “criterion.” If you’re discussing various requirements that must be met, use “criteria” but if you are writing about one major requirement to be met, use “criterion.” (During Sheila’s many years as a technical writer, one of her colleagues — an English major who graduated from  a top college — was working on a software users’ manual that dealt with various criteria. But, when this writer referred to one criterion, she continued to use “criteria.” How did she graduate, especially as an English major?)
Deceive does obey the “i before e except after c” rule. So does receive, but not frequencies or science or species.
Drunkenness should have a double “n” when spelled by so­ber people.
Dumbbell has a double “b,” you dummy (not “dumby”).
Embarrass (ment) has a double “r” and a double “s.”
Epic is a big important book, poem, or movie. Epoch is an im­portant era. You can write an epic about an epoch.
Exceed does not end with “cede.” Nothing exceeds like excess.
Existence does not have an “a.”
Flier is someone who flies (not “flys”). It’s also a leaflet, or a golf ball that goes too far. Airlines frequently say “frequent flyer.” They’re frequently wrong.
Flyer can be part of a proper name for transportation (“Radio Flyer,” “Flexible Flyer,” “Rocky Mount­ain Flyer”) or a sports team (“Philadelphia Fly­ers” and “Dayton Flyers”), or even sneak­­ers (“PF Flyers”).
Gauge is a verb or a noun with a silent “u.” For the thickness of wire or metal, or the space between train rails, or the size of a shotgun, you can ditch the “u.” Gouge means to scoop, dig, swindle, or extort; or a tool for gouging.
Grateful has just one “e.” It’s not so great. It has the same root as “gratitude.”
Guarantee does not end like “warranty” except in a proper name like Morgan Guaranty Trust.
Harass has just one set of double letters.
Inoculate has no double letters.
Jibe (NOT Jive) means to agree. Jibe and gibe mean to taunt. Jibe also means to move a sail to change direction.
Layout is a noun. Lay out is a verb. A designer will lay out a layout.
Lightning is the spark in the sky, or part of the name of Lightning Source, the printer of this book. Lightening removes weight.
Maintenance has just one “ain,” unlike “maintain.”
Maneuver is a French-ish word, that’s easier to spell than the British version: “manoeuvre.”
Medieval refers to the MIDdle Ages, but is spelled more like “medium.” Some of those wacky Brits use “mediaeval.”
Memento reminds you of a moment, but the first vowel is an “e” not an “o.” Don’t ask why; just remember it.
Millennium was spelled wrong millions of times back in 1999 and 2000. It still is. It gets a double “l” and a double “n.”
Minuscule means mini, but it’s spelled more like “minus” (except when it’s being spelled by people who prefer “miniscule.”) Pick one version, and be consistent.
Misspell is frequently misspelled. It needs a double “s” but no hyphen.
Noticeable gets a silent “e” to keep the “c” from being pronounced like a “k.”
Occasionally has a double set of double consonants
Occurrence has two traps: the occurrence of double double consonants, and “ence” not “ance” at the end.
Pharaoh uses the “a” twice.
Plenitude is right. Plentitude is wrong, but is used a lot.
Possession possesses two double letters.
Principal is a school’s boss or the most important element of something. A principle is a rule or an important point.
Privilege is not edgy. It has no “d.”
Reevaluate does not have a hyphen.
Relevant is not “revelant,” “revelent” or “relevent.”
Separate has an “a” as the second vowel.
Sergeant, unlike the affectionate “Sarge,” has no “a” up front, but it does have a silent “a” later on.
Sleight of hand is a group of techniques magicians use to secretly manipulate objects. It’s not “slight of hand” or “slide of hand, “Sleight” comes from an Old Norse word for clev­erness, cunning, and slyness
Supersede is not spelled like “succeed” or “precede” and may be the only “sede” word we have.
Threshold does not have a double “h.”
Until gets just one “l” even though it’s often a perfect substitute for “till.” Wilson Pickett sang, Wait Till the Midnight Hour or Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour, depending on who transcribed the lyrics.
Weird is weird because it breaks the “i before e except after c.” rule. Seize is weird, too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How ironic!

Below are some comments from an online discussion about the need for editing and whether book reviewers should mention grammar and spelling errors. The comments are ironic because they contain errors. Sadly, sometimes ironic approaches moronic.
  • If my book had mis-spellings, I would surely welcome someone telling me. However, before I self-published my book, I paid to have a proofreader go through it so that I would have a professional book and no mis-spelled or mis-placed words. ["Misspellings," "misspelled" and "misplaced" should not be hyphenated.]
  • Another problem with the Wash n' Wear places like Smashwords is the lack of the 'authors' ability. Many writers put their works up and those works are sometimes grammatical nightmares of horrendous proportions. [This comment includes a word commonly misused, especially by politicians trying to be dramatic. "Proportion" refers to a relationship or ratio, such as the ratio of length to width, chest size to waist size or the number of students to teachers. "Proportion" is not a synonym for "size."]
  • I agree, very distracting! There is no reason for misspellings or even poor grammar anymore. It shows characteristics unbecoming in a writer - laziness, sloppiness, unwillingness to learn technique and form like other creative professionals, or pompousness - this last one is where people think they're such perfect writers or so creatively inclined that they don't have to reread or self-edit. Whatever the case, if you don't want me to point them out, then don't leave them in there. [Some authorities consider "anymore" to be a non-word, or non-standard, or a regionalism. I think the proper term in this usage is "any more."]
  • We have still been dinged in reviews by readers, but they have never bothered to let us know where the mistake where. [Probably should be "is."]
  • I don't think books written to help authors editor their work intend to discourage authors from hiring editors [Should be "edit."]
  • . . . we used a copy editor who professed to be well verses in doing that kind of editing. [Should be "versed."]
  • . . . often you can swap manuscripts with a colleague you've met in a writer's group or the like. [Should be "writers'"]
  • . . . new authors need that positive re-enforcement of a review that centers on the positive aspects of their work. [The correct word is "reinforcement."]
Obviously, online comments should not be held to as high a standard as a published book, but they should receive a careful reading before the final mouse click that sends the words to the world.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cover consideration, evolution and solutions

Although I got A's in art in grade school and junior high, I am definitely not an artist.

My parents recognized my talent and sent me to an art school on Saturday mornings when I was around ten years old. I took a community college course in "advertising art production" because I had the hots for a girl who was taking the course and I wanted to sit next to her.

Most of my book covers are produced by Carina Ruotolo. Carina is a real artist (and art teacher) with much more talent than I have. She is also a whiz with Photoshop. I often come up with the concept for a cover, and it's Carina's job to turn my idea into reality. I am a nitpicker and our covers frequently go through a dozen stages of evolution before we are both satisfied.

Despite my amateur standing, I can't resist the urge to design. I format the interiors of all of my books, and lately I've done some covers for books that I consider to be "less important" or for which I anticipate limited sales that can't produce the revenue needed to hire a pro.

Below are some of the evolutionary variations in the cover of my newest book. STINKERS! America's Worst Self-Published Books is a $9.99 "quickie," composed mostly of reviews that were previously published in Bad Book Week on this blog.

You can order the book now, but I am making some revisions inside and out, so it would be best to wait about a week. I'll make an announcement here when I consider the book to be "ready for prime time."

I am not presenting this blog post to display beauty, but just to show what may happen as a cover concept evolves, and to bring up a few of the design options that should be considered.

  • A beautiful illustration that would be a powerful eye-grabber under the spotlight in a Barnes & Noble store may become a tiny incomprehensible blob when displayed on a website. Subtle color combinations that win awards in art school may not have adequate contrast to allow potential customers to separate the text from the background on computer monitors.
  • Make sure your book looks good in the size in which Amazon and other online booksellers will show it. It’s possible for people to click on the “thumbnail” image and see almost a full-size cover, but try for a design that works well in postage-stamp size. Excellent artists have designed very attractive stamps.
  • Also consider how your book will look when converted to grayscale (black and white). It may show up in a book, catalog or newspaper that doesn’t have color pages.
  • If you have a photo or illustration on the cover, make sure it does not overpower or conflict with the title. It should reinforce the title. Don’t use a photo so big that it necessitates a small title which will be hard to read.
  • If the photo or illustration is important, make sure the title or subtitle doesn’t mask it.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between your type and the background. Red-on-orange may work for a day-glow concert poster, but it makes a book cover hard to read.
  • Make sure the mood of the artwork complements the title and the purpose of the book. A pastoral scene with cows grazing near a brook is probably not right for a “get up and take charge” business book -- even if those cows are really bulls.
  • A simple design is better than a complex design. You have only a second or two to capture a shopper’s attention.
(above) This is one of the first versions of "STINKERS!" The white cover blends into a white web page. This is not a good idea for online selling. I also don't like the "Learn what..." and "Volume I" text placement or style. Like most of the books in my "Silver Sands Publishing Series," this book has the characteristic purple band at the bottom.



(above) The next version got a purple border to keep the cover image from getting lost on a white web page, but I still did not like the text to the left of the model. Also, borders often don't get positioned properly with print on demand technology, so they probably should not be used.



(above) Next, I switched to a blue background to eliminate the lost-white problem and the potential misaligned border problem. I reduced the size of the subtitle and also centered the model. She is more prominent than when her side was cropped in the previous two covers, but I was still not happy with her appearance. I also was not happy with the text flanking her.


(above) In stage four I cropped and enlarged the model and put her up above all of the text. This way the word "stinkers" is closer to the hand holding her nose to reinforce the message. I think this cover is much better than the earlier versions. I know it won't win any awards, but I am satisfied with it -- at least for now.




...

Friday, August 19, 2011

Here's a compliment for Outskirts Press. Am I losing my mind?

I often write about inept and dishonest pay-to-publish company Outskirts Press. The company does so many things so badly that it is fun to write about. I even wrote a book about Outskirts, and will be updating it soon.


Outskirts publishes a blog called Self Publishing Advisor. Sometimes it provides useful information. Sometimes it merely hypes the company. Sometimes it publishes material that is so stupid that it stimulates me to post something here.


The Outskirts blog allegedly allows comments from readers, but not from me. I have become an official Persona Non-Grata because I ask embarrassing questions and question the accuracy of the Outskirts employees who write for the blog.


A recent post was about copyediting, from an Outskirts "professional copyeditor," Joan Rogers. Readers are told that Joan "has provided services as an Author Representative and Editor for Outskirts Press since 2008. She studied at Oberlin College Conservatory [which teaches MUSIC -- not writing or editing]. She also edits for several academic and scientific researchers at UC Berkeley and most recently -- a nationally-known journalist. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably."


I've previously assumed that no respectable or skilled editor would work for sleazy Outskirts Press. One Outskirts author-customer said the company's shitty editing is "like no editing at all."


Based on previous Outskirts output and Joan's apparently limited formal education in English or editing, I was prepared for the worst.

  • Joan wrote, "Authors who see my copyediting samples are often amazed that a small, randomly selected portion of text – a thousand words or fewer – will have dozens of style errors."

That's right. An Outskirts employee actually knew enough to write "fewer" instead of "less." I am impressed. I am impressed when anyone at Outskirts does something properly, and the occasion merits noting on this blog. 


HOWEVER, someone named Joan Rogers has posted reviews on Amazon.com for several books published by Outskirts Press. Is that a coincidence -- or corruption? 


How low will Outskirts go?


Stay tuned.




...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clipart and stock photos for your book: use them carefully and creatively

While it's possible to design an attractive and powerful  book cover with nothing but words -- or mostly words -- most covers have pictures, either photographs or illustrations. An illustrator will provide paintings, drawings, graphs, etc. and you can pay anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars for original artwork. photographer could be you or another amateur, or a professional. A pro will probably want from $250 to $3,000. Renting props and hiring models will add to your cost. For the front cover, it’s really important that a photo be first-class. This is an area where an author with a contract from a traditional publishing company has a big advantage over a self-publishing author.


Stock photos and clip art are alternatives to just-for-you photos and illustrations. They cost much less -- maybe even nothing -- but are not exclusively yours One instant indication of a self-published book is obvious clip art on a book’s cover. (It's more likely to be obvious to people in the book business than to readers.) The term “clip art” (or “clipart”) goes back to the time when illustrations -- often for use in newspaper ads -- were printed on glossy sheets of paper and could be “clipped out” by the person designing an ad.


Today, most clip art is digital, and is purchased in large collections on CDs or DVDs or downloaded from the Internet. Clip art photos, illustrations and cartoons are ubiquitous, but be aware that some clip art is NOT supposed to be used for commercial purposes -- like books. There’s no need to risk an embarrassing and expensive lawsuit when high-quality art is available for very low prices, or even for free.


Free photos are available at various state and federal government websites ranging from New Jersey to NASA. Military services, the Library of Congress and the White House have plenty of pix, too. Many corporate websites have excellent free photos, but be sure to follow the rules for using and crediting photos. The Microsoft and Apple websites have fine free portraits of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs -- but don't put either photo on the cover of a book attacking Bill or Steve.


While most self-publishing authors do not have the budget to hire a photographer to provide custom artwork, you are more likely to get high quality pix from stock photo suppliers like Fotolia or iStockPhoto than from the mammoth clip art collections. Do your best to not choose a photo or illustration that resembles a widely known logo or one that has already been used on a competing book.


The cartoon on the cover of this book was purchased from Fotolia, but it’s so perfect that a custom-made cartoon would not be any better. If you want to write a book criticizing this book, go ahead. Co-author Sheila M. Clark and I can stand it. We’re tough.

Books about the same subject tend to use similar cover illus­trations. In the case of publishing, it's usually a photo of someone writing, someone reading, or one or more books. All four book covers shown below use similar photos of books with their pages fanned out. The illustrations are very large and the pages open upward.



When using a stock photo, particularly for a book in a field where similar or identical stock photos may be used, have it modified so it looks a bit different. For this cover, the fanned book is inverted and tilted along with the text to suggest action, motion or flight. The illustration is much less important than the title. It is reduced to become a decoration and does not dominate the cover. Carina Ruotolo, my cover artist, even changed the color of the fanned book's cover to match the purple of the text.



The amazing Carina is a magician with Photoshop and changed a white-haired grandfather into a black-haired father for this book cover.

If you have an unlimited budget, you can hire a famous photographer or artist to enhance your book cover. The cover of the upcoming book shown below has art by Leonardo da Vinci, but I didn't pay anything to Leo or his estate. Carina cropped and flipped the Mona Lisa -- one of the most famous pieces of art -- to give it a new look. We may have violated "The Da Vinci Code," but so far, da Vinci has not complained.





...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

This may be the world's worst book promotion video

There is only one good thing I can say about this video: it's short, so the pain is over quickly (except for the lingering nausea). The script, the photography, the typography and the "slow dancing" music are all AWFUL. It's for an Outskirts Press book -- of course.


Outskirts charges an outrageous $799 for a pile of shit like this and claims it's "A $1,800 value!" (Actually, the proper word is "an," not "a," but I don't expect good grammar from Outskirts.)


The company says, "Are you ready to take your book marketing efforts into the 21st Century? Be among the first authors anywhere to use online video marketing. The Book Video Trailer is like a movie trailer for your book. It's cool, it's hip, it's NOW!"


This video is NOT cool, NOT hip, and NOT NOW.


Outskirts also brags that "Our book videos are unlike any other book videos available, featuring Hollywood-style production values and a cutting-edge look and feel."


It's comforting to know that there are no other book videos like Outskirts Press's book videos.


Better videos are made in nursery schools and old-age homes. As with its books, website and press releases, this video demonstrates that Outskirts Press throws feces in the face of humanity, and expects to be paid for it.


How low can Outskirts Press go? We'll see.


...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Horrible Book Promos: Number Eight

A preview for a book I'll NEVER read -- even if it was not absurdly overpriced and did not have a dreadful video.


In his latest book, self-publishing Outskirts Press [Oops. That kills the sale, right in the first sentence] author, Charles Hall, perches [Hmm. I didn't know that "perch" could be a transitive verb.] readers on the pinnacles [Is that more fun than being on "tenterhooks?"] of suspense as the retired mercenary, Gylfalin, [Isn't he the guy who discovered the Hidden Kingdom of Haagen-Dazs?] and his cousin, Pendaran the Archer [Named after a mythical island in a role-playing game, or an employee-training company], try to rescue captives and mount a defense against the Khan, an Eastern despot [Played by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan -- not to be confused with Kublai Khan, Agha Khan, Aly Khan, Alyy Khann or any of the Bollywood Khans, or Herman Kahn.]

intent on gaining control of all the magic objects in the world. [Ooh. What will David Copperfield and David Blaine do?]

A magical falcon, a magical owl and crystal orbs [I dated a girl with crystal orbs, or maybe they were alabaster.] -- each with the power to allow their owners to pierce the veils [I wonder if the author paid extra for this fine chunk of creativity. WAITAMINUTE! "Pierce the Veil" is the name of a band.]  of space and time ["Two to beam up, Scotty."] -- are the long sought after treasures now pursued by the greedy Khan. These ancient magical devices have over time been scattered across the globe [Needs to be rewritten. "Orbs scattered across the globe" is overly spherical.] , some in the hands of a primitive pastoral people, some in the possession of the community of Endylmyr [A rival of Haagen-Dasz!], and some under the control of the Khan himself.

After several misguided attempts to retrieve and save the magic objects, Gylfalin and Pendaran discover through Angmere the Historian [Didn't he tutor Ming the Merciless?] that the key to their success lies in the words of an ancient rhyme ["Salagadoola means mechicka booleroo. But the thingmabob that does the job is bippity-boppity-boo"] that leads them to the three witches of Endylmyr -- Gwynyr, Hellwydd and Hilst [Outrageous. This is another creative ripoff! Those are the names of shelf brackets sold by Ikea.] -- who magically harness the spectacular powers of a lightning storm [Good choice. It powered a DeLorean in Back to the Future.] to destroy the Khan’s armies.

The struggle of the two magic-empowered warriors to free the peoples of the woods, steppes and plains from the clutches of the Khan climaxes in intense single combat [One guy fighting hiimself?] between Gylfalin and the Khan’s eastern commander, Tzantzin [Isn't that a breath mint, or a Russian dance?] providing a satisfying end to this adventuresome tale. [People can be adventuresome, but probably not tales.]

I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone would pay $27.95 for a paperback fantasy novel by an unknown author, when a real J. K. Rowling hardcover Potter is available for less than half the price.

Also, the ineffective promotional video has the MOST INAPPROPRIATE SOUNDTRACK musical soundtrack possible. It apparently was produced by inept Outskirts Press -- of course.


...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Price and pride. How much is your book worth to readers?

I've previously written about the low profit for an author caused when a self-publishing company dictates a book's retail price based on the number of pages in a book without considering prices of competing books or the perceived value of the new book.

  • Unfortunately, authors who have the freedom to set book prices can cause even worse trouble for themselves: very low sales.

It's important that authors write books they can be proud of, and that authors be proud of their books. Unfortunately, some authors seem to have too much pride. They have an unjustifiably high opinion of their work and their position in the marketplace. The authors set prices that are so absurdly high that sales will be hurt.

For a mere $7.95, readers seeking WW2 love stories can purchase the hardcover Love Stories of World War II, compiled by Larry King. Or, for $37.95, they can buy the hardcover Every Thought of You, compiled by Paula Berryann.

Readers who like epic fantasy tales can purchase the hardcover Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling for just $13.67. Or, they can buy the hardcover A Chronicle of Endylmyr by Charles Hill for $27.95


Study your competition before you decide to put a high price on your book. Will your book be perceived as several times as good as a book from an established pro like Rowling or King?

Probably not.

Hmmm. Is it a coincidence that both of the overpriced books were published by inept Outskirts Press?


...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some of the worst publishing advice, ever

Theresa M. Moore’s Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Publish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget is one of an increasing number of books about self-publishing written by people who are poorly equipped to teach the subject.

Her problems are that she is extremely careless, knows less than she thinks she knows, has an unjustifiably high opinion of her own editing ability and frequently ignores her own advice.

Theresa has apparently had some success writing books in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. She says that she has 30 years of experience as a writer, illustrator and publisher. She’s a member of the Count Dracula Society and has an AA degree with a major in accounting and a minor in advertising design. Sadly, her experience with vampire fangs, debits and paste-ups does not qualify her to instruct others in book publishing.

• Our ignorant expert says that the county where your business is located “will require you to post the registration [of your business] on your own in your local newspaper.” That’s not true in the counties where I've started businesses.

• In her inappropriate role of legal advisor, Theresa advises us that the abbreviation for Limited Partnership is “Ltd.” Actually, the correct abbreviation is “LP.” “Ltd.” is the abbreviation for “Limited”—the U.K. equivalent of an American corporation where shareholders have limited liability.

• She says that self-publishers “must obtain a tax permit or resale certificate.” If you are not actually selling books, you don’t need to get involved with sales tax. If you ship books only out of your home state to a state where you have no physical presence (“nexus”), you don’t need to collect or remit sales tax, although this policy may change in the future.

• The math non-whiz tells us that “As the price of your book goes up, the demand for it will go down.” That’s OK, in theory. And then she adds, “Your costs will go up as the demand for it goes up.” HUH? With print on demand, the cost of printing each book may go down a bit if you order 50 or more at once, but does not go up. With offset printing, quantity discounts can be substantial.

• Theresa says that a back cover’s margins “are the mirror image of the front.” There is no reason for them to be mirror images of each other, as long as they meet the printer’s requirements.

• She also says that the back cover can be “completely blank.” That’s true if you are going to give books away or sell them yourself. If you want booksellers to sell them for you, the back cover needs an ISBN and bar code.

• Theresa tells us that Lightning Source “will insert a generic barcode to your cover if you do not have one, but prefers you already have one.” That’s not true. Lightning is perfectly happy to provide a cover template with a custom barcode to correspond to your ISBN, and it’s FREE. A generic barcode would be useless. A book’s barcode must correspond to its ISBN.

• The non-expert tells us that type size is “presented in points per inch.” That’s wrong. Type size is expressed in points, but not per inch. Maybe she was thinking of dots per inch. In modern typography, one point is 1/72nd of an inch, so there are 72 points per inch. If Theresa was right, we could not have 80-pt type. Someone with 30 years’ experience in publishing and advertising should know this.

• In a discussion of page margins, Theresa suggests “usually 1/2 or .5 inch all around.” Grade school was long ago, but I am pretty sure that 1/2 inch and .5 inch are THE SAME . . . and that either one is too small for a book margin. The basic rule of thumb is that you should be able to hold the book in your hands without your thumbs covering any text. Adult human thumbs are usually wider than half an inch.

• Theresa offers this silly rule: “Never use a TIF file when a JPG will do.” That’s bad advice. Each time a JPG file is saved, it loses some detail. A TIF file is “lossless.” She says that most publishers prefer JPGs. Don’t believe her. Besides, her book is written for self-publishers who will be dealing with printers—not with other publishers.

• She says that the number of pages in a book must be even or divisible by four. If a number is divisible by four, it is an even number. Actually, the proper number depends on the printing equipment, varies from company to company and may change over time.

• According to Theresa, the title page should be the first page in a book. In many books, the first page—or pages—have comments (“blurbs”) from reviewers or casual readers. Many books use a “half title” (or “bastard title”) page ahead of the title page.

• Theresa is concerned about the cost of paper. She tells us, “As the price of printing goes up due to market and paper supply issues, the greatest amount of information must fit the smallest space.” Actually, POD prices have been stable for at least three years, and Theresa’s effort to save paper results in really ugly pages. This is the only book I’ve ever seen that has chapters ending and beginning on the same page. The back of the book has five blank pages. If Theresa did some simple arithmetic, those pages could have carried information and/or allowed more attractive pages, adding just a few cents to the cost of printing the book.

• In one of Theresa’s worst errors, she says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher.

• Theresa wants us to know that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong. Actually $30 is not bad for printing the proof and providing next-day shipping.

• In discussing Lulu, Theresa says, “. . . you will have to purchase their free distribution package.” How does someone purchase something that’s free?

• She tells us that “CreateSpace also does absolutely nothing to help you promote your book, to Amazon or anywhere else. They have a shopping cart and that is all, and they are the publisher of record on Amazon.” This is all wrong. If you publish through CreateSpace, your book is automatically available on Amazon, with “look inside the book” included. CreateSpace (“CS”) is not the publisher of record unless you want it to be. CS is perfectly willing to print a publisher’s name, logo and ISBN on books.

• Theresa faults CreateSpace for not accepting PayPal payments and lauds Lulu for accepting PayPal. It’s hard to believe that anyone without at least one credit card would go into the publishing business.

• Here’s some of the absolute worst publishing advice I’ve encountered anywhere: “Concentrate on selling your books from your own web site and you will do better than if you rely on others for your sales.” That’s irresponsible and untrue. Booksellers’ websites like Amazon.com get thousands of times the traffic of any self-pubber’s website, and it’s silly for an author to get involved with running a warehouse and shipping department and handling credit cards. I bought Theresa’s book from Amazon, not from Theresa’s site.

• Theresa wrote, “. . . write to engage the reader’s interest and entertainment.” How does a writer engage a reader’s entertainment?

• She advises authors to “. . . go over the whole thing and weed out the mistakes.” In the very next sentence she typed “everytime” instead of “every time.” “Everytime” is a song sung by Britney Spears, but is not standard English. Maybe Theresa was thinking of “everyone,” which is one word.

• Theresa wants self-publishers to sell books, but warns against having phone numbers on sales sites. That’s stupid. Lots of shoppers need information or prefer to order by phone. She warns that telemarketers may call in the middle of the night. If you work from home, you should have different phone numbers for business and personal use. There is no need to have the business line ring after hours—and certainly no need to answer late-night calls. That’s what voicemail is for.

She thinks that PDF stands for “portable document file.” The real meaning is portable document FORMAT. It’s possible to have a PDF file, but not a PD file file.

• In addition to being wrong about “PDF,” Theresa is also wrong about “LCCN.” It stands for Library of Congress Control Number—not Certification Number. She says there is a “small fee” for an LCCN. There is no fee. She says you need to send at least two copies of your book to get an LCCN. One copy is enough.

• She talks about preparing a query letter and submitting a manuscript to a publisher. Those topics don’t belong in a book for self-publishers.

• Theresa cautions authors not to blog “too much” because it takes time away from book writing. Actually, blogging can promote book sales, and material written for a blog can be used for books.

• The ignorant author tells us, “Some online booksellers, like Amazon, take 60 to 65% [of the cover price]. I kid you not.” Theresa may not be kidding, but she’s way off base. Amazon is willing to collect 20%—or even just 10% when it discounts a book.

• Theresa is very wrong when she tells us, “In the book world, you must always round UP to the nearest dollar less five cents or a penny, so your book’s list price can be $17.95 or $17.99.” While most cover prices end in 95 cents, that’s a custom—not a requirement.

• Theresa says, “The suggested retail or list price . . . is the maximum a seller may charge for the book new.” Actually, many booksellers offer books for substantially more than the cover prices.

• She also tells us that “The list price is often set as the perceived value of the book on the marketplace.” It’s up to a buyer—not the publisher or bookseller—to perceive a value. Theresa perceives the value of her book to be $15.95. I paid $15.95, but, after reading it, I perceived the value to be about two bucks.

• Theresa is a big believer in promotional videos, but they’re useless unless you can find a way to make people watch them. Her own video is awful, and I don’t mean awe-inspiring.

• The book includes instructions for making a rudimentary “slide show” video for YouTube. She says, “If you are a complete novice at this here is where I can help you make a simple video that will do more to help you market your book than anything else you might do. The press release is effective but the video has more reach. You can make it as exciting and attention grabbing as the best movie trailer on the planet. The better you make it, the more people who will be inclined to watch it . . . .”  Theresa’s video is as ugly as her book is. It is NOT exciting. It is NOT attention-grabbing. It is NOT entertaining or informative. It is simply an uninteresting and unattractive commercial for an uninteresting and unattractive book, and it is extremely unlikely to go viral.

OK, it’s time for a compliment: Theresa provides some good instruction for writing fiction.

Another compliment: Theresa provides some wise advice: “. . . pay close attention to every part of the publishing process, including the preparation and presentation of the manuscript.”

Theresa knows a lot—but not nearly enough to teach about publishing. Even sadder, she does not follow the little bit of valid advice she provides for others. That is inexcusable. Stay away from this dreadful book—except to learn what not to do.


...