Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What does an independent author have to do?



I've been writing professionally since 1969. I've had books published by a big-name publisher (Doubleday) and by a small, long-gone publisher -- but most of my 40-plus books have been published by my own Silver Sands Books.

When others published my books all I had to do was write. I much prefer the control, speed and income when I publish my own books, but I have to do much more work.

Here's some of what's involved:


1. Have at least one book idea.



2. Unless you are using a self-publishing company such as Xlibris or Outskirts Press and are willing to have its name on your books, pick a name for your own publishing enterprise. Think of several acceptable names and do some research so you can select one that’s not already being used by another company in publishing or a related field. Even if you now think you will publish in just one genre, pick a name that won't limit the kinds of books you will publish. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.


3. Register the name in the local government office that registers names, often the town clerk. You will get an “assumed name” certificate, “fictitious name” certificate, or a “DBA” (Doing Business As) certificate. You may be required to advertise the business name in a local newspaper.


4. Get whatever licenses or permits that your state or municipality requires.


5. Open a business checking account under the business name.


6. Get business cards.


7. Set up a website.


8. Set up a businesslike email address, not a free Gmail or Yahoo email account.


9. Write the first book.


10. Have the book copyedited and, if necessary, get more extensive editing.


11. Have the book read by several laypeople and, if the subject is in a specialized or technical field, by one or more experts on the subject.


12. Make the suggested changes.


13. Either gather the necessary photos, graphs and illustrations or have custom artwork made.


14. Either design the interior yourself or hire a pro to do it.


15. Either design the covers and spine yourself or hire a pro to do them. (You should probably hire a pro.)


16. Show several cover alternatives to people whose judgment you respect. Strive to stimulate thought and dialog—not merely “I like it,” “I hate it,” “OK,” “wow” or “hmmm.”


17. Put your manuscript into book-like format, using either Microsoft Word or a more sophisticated program.


18. Insert the artwork in the proper positions.


19. Read, read, read, and have others read, read, read—on the screen in multiple formats and on printed papers.


20. Establish an account with Lightning Source or CreateSpace or both so they will print and distribute your book—or use a self-publishing service if you want to do less work and are willing to have less control and make less money. If you plan to publish only ebooks you can do everything yourself with Amazon's KDP system (Kindle only). If you want broad distribution, I recommend eBookIt.


21. Promote, promote, promote. Let lots of potential readers know that your book exists and convince them to buy. Promotion includes news releases, book reviews, comments on blogs and websites, email signatures, your own websites and blogs, social networks including Facebook and LinkedIn, distributing business cards, mailing out letters and post cards, signing autographs at bookstore sessions, and whatever else you can think of. Below I have inserted a picture of one of my new books, Internet Hell. Here's a link. This is a form of promotion. If you're an author who wants to make money, you have to promote your books.







Monday, October 24, 2016

Authors: pick a proper price. 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.
  • Sometimes the high price is not caused by author's pride, but by the need to make a profit. Some pay-to-publish companies charge so much to produce books that an author must choose between noncompetitive retail pricing and losing money. That's not much of a choice.

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?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When you start a publishing company, give it an appropriate name


 Shakespeare's Juliet told Romeo, "That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." Don't give your publishing company a name that stinks.

There are many ways to "self-publish" a book. Most self-publishing authors use the services of a "self-publishing company" (I no longer argue about the inappropriateness of the term). Some self-pub purists glue their books together on their kitchen tables and then sell them to customers, or sell ebooks from their own websites. Others, like me, concentrate on writing and marketing and use other people for editing, cover design and sales.

Despite the growing acceptance of self-publishing, there is still some prejudice among readers and reviewers. If I see that a book carries the logo of PublishAmerica, Xlibris or Outskirts Press, I assume -- rightly or wrongly -- that the book is crap. (Some self-publishing companies allow authors to have their own companies' names and logos on the books they produce.)

You can probably have a better book and get a better reception, and maybe publish faster and maybe make more money if you form your own small publishing company. It's not difficult. I wrote a book to explain the process.

Every business, including every publishing business, needs a name.


Fortune 500 companies often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months to develop names for household products, cars and websites. It's possible to do it in less time and at little or no cost, but be careful.


Here are some tips:

(1) Pick a name that sounds substantial. If your name is Joe Smith, don't use "Joe's Book Company." "Smith Publishing" sounds a little bit better, but I recommend not using you own name in the company name. When you write a letter on your new letterhead, it's better if the name in the logo at the top is not the same as the name in the signature on the bottom. Let people at least think that there might be more than one person on your staff.

Obviously not a big company

Too small to have a name?
(2) Don't use a name that's too limiting. You may think you'll publish books only about car repair, ballet or vegetable-growing, but a too-specific name will hurt your chances to expand if you change your mind later. It may be tough to market a sci-fi book if your company name is "Ballerina Books" and your logo is a tutu or ballet slippers.


(3) Don't pick a name that's already in use. You probably don't have to pay a lawyer to do a trademark search, but at least do a web search with several search engines, and check Writer's Market to make sure that no other publisher is already using your proposed name.

It's not a good idea to grab the name
of another company in a similar field.
(4) Don't pick a name that sounds like another publisher. Calling your new company "Random Home" or "Random Books" will invite a lawsuit from Random House. I don't know if Esquire Publications (above) has been sued by Esquire Magazine. Be cautious about using the name of another company even in an unrelated field. Although Cadillac pet food and Cadillac cars coexisted for years, the Toyota Motor Company sued the company that intended to market Toyota recording tape. You could go broke defending a lawsuit.


(5) Pick a name that works with a logo. It could be an actual photo or drawing, or just interesting typography. It's nice to have more than a name to put on your books, business cards, letterhead and website.


(6) Unless your specialty is grunge or mayhem. Try for a name that sounds pleasant. I named my company "Silver Sands Books," after a local beach.


(7) Try for a short name. It will be tough to fit "Xylophone Publications Internationale of Philadelphia" on the spine of a thin book. Also, the longer a name is, the more likely it is to be spelled wrong in emails and web searches.


(8) Register the name in the local municipal office that registers names, often the town clerk's office. You will get an “assumed name” certificate or a DBA (Doing Business As) certificate. Even if you are not incorporating as "ABC Books, Inc." you should get a legal document to prove that you have the right to use the "ABC Books" name. You'll need that paper to open a bank account in your new business name. You should also consider registering your business name and logo as a trademark with the Feds. Ask an attorney about it.


(9) Start using the name. Even if your first book is six months away, establish a website immediately to announce your planned books and talk about your company. Send out a press release to announce the new business. Order business cards. These simple and inexpensive activities will help establish "prior use" if another company later wants to grab your name. Within a few weeks of registering your name, you'll probably start to receive letters from local insurance companies and accountants and the Chamber of Commerce who pay your local government to receive lists of new businesses. Even if you have no plans to use their services, the letters addressed to your business may help to establish legitimacy later on.


(10) Get a business-like email address. "JohnSmith@ABCbooks.com" is more impressive than "js38647252@aol.com."


(11) For your website and email address, avoid hyphenations and top-level domains other than "dot com." The more unusual your company name is, the more likely you are to get a dot com web address.


(Cadillac photo from http://andreadisaster.com/. Thanks.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How does God publish?



Hmm -- another author with a beard

The God of the Old Testament did some terrible things -- smiting, plaguing, flooding, destroying cities with fire and brimstone, converting a woman into a pillar of salt, and more. 

God also did a lot of good. I'm glad He (or She or It) created sunshine and water and lobsters, clams, tomatoes and friendly, furry animals. I'm not so happy about asparagus, broccoli, rats, mosquitoes and flies.

In Jewish tradition, the book of life is opened on Rosh Hashanah (which started at sundown on October 2), when God begins an annual evaluation of everyone. Those who will be allowed to live stay in the book of life. Others are deleted.

In the time of the Old Testament (many Jewish people prefer to call it The Bible) God presumably wrote on a roll-up scroll, or maybe a stack of stone tablets.


Today the Book of Life might be a PC with a multi-terabyte hard drive and a delete key.

Or, maybe God uses a customized iPad with huge solid-state memory.

It seems like God was the first self-publisher, and is now the oldest. 
I'll accept this as an almighty endorsement of self-publishing.

My name is an old Hebrew name. It means "who is like God." If 
I publish what I write maybe I'm even more like God than I thought. [Yes, I know that my name could be a question, but today's blog post works better if I ignore that possibility.] 

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (ending at sundown todayare known as the Days of Awe and also the Days of Repentance. This is a time to consider the sins of the previous year and to repent. It can't hurt for non-Jews to try it, too. You can also repent in February or August, or on every day. Off-season repentance may not buy you another year, but maybe it will help a bit.

The the operating procedure for the book of life is ambiguous (as are many aspects of religion).

God is sometimes said to have two "books" -- a book of life and a book of death, and He/She/It records who will live and who will die, who will have a good life and who will have a bad life, for the next year. It is said that these books are written in on Rosh Hashanah, but our actions during the Days of Awe can alter God's decree. The actions that change the decree are repentance, prayer and good deeds (usually charity). The two "books" are sealed on Yom Kippur.


A common greeting at this time of year is L'shanah Tovah ("for a good year"). This is a shortening of "L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem" (or to women, "L'shanah tovah tikatevi v'taihatemi"), which means "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year."

At this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the previous year. 

So, if I pissed you off during 5776, I'm sorry. I hope I won't be deleted. 
I'll probably piss others off during 5777. It's my way of life.
 
-


Image at the top is from danielrevelationbiblestudies

Monday, October 10, 2016

Try writing a book, not just a stream of words



For much of the 20th Century, writers composed both flops and masterpieces on 8.5 x 11-inch sheets of paper. Later they used word-processing software that emulated the same size and shape.

  • Most authors have a specific word-count in mind, such as 70,000 words, as they write their books. (Apparently, the average book has 64,500 words.)
  • But, as the owner/operator of my own tiny publishing company, when I'm working on a book, I usually have a specific page-count and price in mind for a pbook (Printed on Paper book), such as 350 pages and $15.95. Each piece of paper costs me money. 
  • Even though ebooks don't require an investment in paper, the production cost increases as the book size increases, and you may have an added selling cost (i.e. lower profit per book) if your book file exceeds a certain size.
Rather than just spray words onto my monitor, I set up MS Word for the actual page size of my book (usually 6 x 9 inches) and correct margins, and start writing a book.


By viewing actual pages, it's much easier to judge my progress, and to know if chapters should be chopped, stretched or shifted, and when illustrations should be enlarged, reduced or moved around. [Pages shown are from my Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults), available as ebook, hardcover and paperback. You'll find lots of funny stories and a few murders.]

With pbooks I always insert a temporary left-hand "page zero" ahead of the real right-hand "page one" so I can view pages as realistic two-page spreads, instead of onesies, or with left-right-reversals.

This is not very important if a book is all-text (or an ebook), but if you have photos or illustrations or tables, it's important to view the spreads as your readers will see them, to avoid graphic disasters.

I was copyeditor on my college newspaper in dreadful Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and often had to trim text to fit the page.

After college I was assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News in Manhattan, and had to do the same thing.

Later I worked for advertising agencies and had to write to fit the available space (or available time for commercials). I couldn't tell an ad client to spend thousands of dollars extra to buy an additional page or 30 more seconds to contain my precious words.

If my background was in writing fiction or web pages or reporting for NPR (with no limits of space or time) my book production style might have evolved differently, but I know how to write to fit.

There are many different types of workflow for writers. Writers whose words will be formatted by others may work very differently than die-hard D-I-Yers like me. But, if your end-product is a book, consider making one from the very beginning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Some non-Trump tax advice for writers


I know it's still early October and April 15th, 2017 is far, far away. 

But what you do today -- and every day -- will affect what you pay and what you keep next 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.


 
You can rely on me. Unlike Donald Trump I have never lost a billion bucks in one year. None of my businesses have gone bankrupt, or been sued by the Feds.

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 15 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 should be deducted in the range of 25% to 100%. Deduct movies, CDs, games, concerts, artwork, vacations, MP3 players, big TVs, books, magazines, newspapers, iPad, smart phone, 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, October 3, 2016

What year is this for Jews, Chinese and Muslims? (Also: the Jewish vuvuzela, Sadie Hawkins Day and Chinese food)


Jewish people are celebrating New Year's Day, "Rosh Hashanah" in Hebrew. (The o is long and the a's are short so its vowel sounds rhyme with "bo hahaha." 

"Rosh Hashanah" is a transliteration of the Hebrew words meaning "Head (of) The Year." "Rosh" means "head," "Ha" means "the" and "Shanah" means "year." "Of" is understood, so it doesn't have to be written.

As with most languages, Hebrew has varying pronunciations. Some pronounce the "Rosh" as "rawsh." A less-formal (and perhaps more Yiddish-like) pronunciation of "Rosh Hashanah" is Rusha (like Limbaugh) shunnah (like shunner).

Hebrew and Arabic are similar Semitic languages. The Hebrew "shalom" (which is used for "hello," "goodbye" and "peace") is "salaam" in Arabic. The Islamic New Year's Day is "Ras as-Sanah" and began in the evening of Saturday, October 1. That's when the year 1438 began.

The picture up above shows a "shofar." It's a ram's horn used to make toots and squeaks to celebrate the Jewish new year. It's kind of a Jewish vuvuzela. Some shofar humor is here and here.

The common New Year's greeting is "Shanah Tovah." (It rhymes with blah-blah nova.) There are longer greetings, too.
  • In Hebrew the word for "she" is pronounced like "he" and the word for "he" is pronounced like "who." The word for "who" is pronounced like "me." The word for "fish" is pronounced kind of like "dog." (And you thought English was confusing?) My first name in Hebrew is "Mee-cha-ail." means "who is like God." I'm not sure if it's a question or a comparison. Maybe my parents chose the name because they thought I was divine prenatally.
Today is the first day of the Jewish year 5777. Like every other day, it's also the first day of the rest of your life, and my life. In the Jewish calendar, "days" (and holidays) start at sundown -- not a microsecond after midnight.

Adapted from jewfaq.org: The Jewish calendar is based on three astronomical phenomena: the rotation of the Earth around its axis (a day); the revolution of the moon around the Earth (a month); and the revolution of the Earth around the sun (a year). These three phenomena are independent of each other, so they have no direct correlation. On average, the moon revolves around the Earth in about 29½ days. The Earth revolves around the sun in about 365¼ days -- about 12.4 lunar months.

In the Jewish calendar, months have either 29 or 30 days, corresponding to the 29½-day lunar cycle. Years have either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle -- which creates a problem.

A 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year and a 13-month lunar year is about 19 days longer than a solar year. The months drift around the seasons on such a calendar. To compensate for this drift, the Jewish calendar uses a 12-month lunar calendar with an extra month occasionally added.

Instead of the February 29th Leap Day (also known as Sadie Hawkins Day, when women are allowed to propose marriage to men) the Jewish calendar can have a leap month.
  • Jewish holidays that have fixed dates in the Jewish calendar have changing dates in the western "Gregorian" calendar. Most western Christian holidays, like Christmas, have fixed Gregorian dates. Easter, on the other hand, moves around. Supposedly Jesus's "last supper" was a Passover seder. Passover and Easter are usually close. Christmas and Chanukah (often inaccurately called the "Jewish Christmas") may be very close together, or weeks apart.
The year number on the Jewish calendar represents the number of years since creation, calculated by adding up the ages of people in the Bible, back to the beginning. This does not necessarily mean that the universe has existed for fewer than 6,000 years of about 365 days each. Even religious people readily acknowledge that the first six "days" of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days. A 24-hour day would be meaningless until the creation of the sun on the fourth "day."






There is no universally agreed upon starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Emperor Huang-di in the 61st year of his reign in what is now known under the Gregorian calendar as 2637 BCE. Many people have used this date as the first year of the first 60-year cycle of the Chinese calendar, but others use the date of the beginning of his reign in 2697 BCE as the start. Chinese Americans use 2698 BCE as the basis for numbering the years. Some Chinese people are 60 years ahead (or behind) others.

Adapted from chinese.new-year.co.uk: The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all of the animals to come to him before he departed from Earth. Only 12 came, and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality.



The Chinese calendar provides leap months, like the Jewish calendar. Jews and Chinese have much in common -- emphasis on family, education, entrepreneurship and love of Chinese food. During World War II, some Jewish refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe found safety in China. Shanghai Ghetto is a great movie about that period.
  • So, if according to the Jewish calendar, the year is 5777, and according to the Chinese calendar, the year is 4713, what did Jewish people eat during the 1064 years (the dark ages) until Chinese restaurants appeared?
Happy New Year!