Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Should you self-publish?

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, or know more than everybody else does, to give advice and get paid for it.

You can make a pretty good living if you know more than 90%, 80% or even 20% of the people in the world — if you can reach them.

Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

I sincerely believe that every human being is born with a unique set of talents, and it is our obligation to identify our talents and find a market for them. This applies whether we are trying to be admitted to a college, get hired for a job, win an election, start a revolution, or write a book.

Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

Communication is one of the most fundamental human urges. Until recently, there were significant barriers that kept most people from distributing their thoughts to others.

Independent self-publishing makes it much easier.

When I was in my early 20s, I discussed a business idea with my father. I asked him if he thought I should try it. He said he didn’t know if I’d succeed, but he did know that if I didn’t try it, for the rest of my life I’d wonder what would have happened if I did try it.

If you wonder what will happen, try it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Prices, discounts, markups

Every book, like every other item that is sold, needs a price.

Unlike clothing and cars however, the price a book is sold for -- like the price of other artistic expressions like paintings and neckties -- does not have to be related to its cost of production.

When I was in high school I had a part-time job in a men’s clothing store. Periodically, we’d receive a shipment of ties from a manufacturer in India. The wholesale cost to the store was $36 per dozen, $3 per tie.

At that time the normal markup (gross profit) in menswear and in much of retailing was 40%, meaning that 40% of the retail price was markup. If something cost the store $6, it was sold for $10. The $4 markup paid for the costs of operating the business, and taxes. Hopefully there would be something left over to be kept as “net profit” for the owners of the business.

Theoretically the retail price for those ties that cost us $3 would be $5 each. But that’s not the way it worked.

The menswear buyer — sometimes with assistance from his boss, the merchandise manager — would spread out the shipment on a counter. Typically 12 dozen ties came in at one time. He’d then sort them into stacks to be sold for $5 each, $10 each, $15 each and various prices up to $30 or even beyond, solely on the basis of perceived beauty. Some of the “uglies” were ticketed at $2.99 or even 99 cents to get rid of them quickly.

There was absolutely no difference in the value of the raw material or the labor of the silk worms or the tie-makers that resulted in a 99-cent tie or a $35 tie. The only difference was perceived value. Ties that looked nicer could be sold for a higher price. One of the requirements of a menswear buyer was the ability to pick the right products and — in cases of non-branded “blind items” like ties — to judge how much to charge for them.

Sometimes a buyer could earn a bonus based on his department’s profitability. Sometimes a buyer would get fired if he made too many mistakes, buying products that had to be marked down rather than be sold at full price.

Traditional publishing has a traditional formula for calculating the retail list price, the price printed on the book. That list price is typically about eight times the cost of manufacturing. In clothing retail terms, that translates into a markup of about 88% between publisher and reader.

There are several reasons for the big percentage. Not only does the actual bookseller require a markup, but there can be one or two “middlemen” between the publisher and the bookstore: a wholesaler and perhaps a distributor who must each get a piece of the action. And of course the publisher wants to make a profit and can't sell merely for the cost of manufacturing.

In the book business, the "trade discount" is the percentage off the retail price that a bookseller, wholesaler or distributor pays for a book. Because the bookseller's retail markup is a part of the trade discount percentage, the trade discount has to be more than the retail markup. A wholesaler will probably want about 55% to cover its cost and profit, and still give the bookseller the profit margin it needs or wants.

Some booksellers, such as Barnes & Noble, are also the publishers of some books they sell. Amazon.com has subsidiaries that publish books for authors, so there is no intermediary involved when Amazon sells the books.

The entire bookselling sales channel is complex and costly and filled with waste. Publishers -- and therefore writers and readers -- must somehow pay for the cost of warehousing, handling, transporting books through the pipeline, and even sending them back if they are unsold.

With Print On Demand, in contrast, the sales channel is much simpler. In many cases a book is sent right from the POD printer to the reader. Amazon may get a piece of the action but it only has to cover administrative expenses, taxes and profit, not warehousing, order-picking or returns. There are no middlemen to keep their pieces of the selling price.

The obvious conclusion is that an independent self-publisher can work on a smaller markup and/or price a book lower than a big traditional publisher.

Obvious is not necessarily accurate.

One big difference between POD publishing and offset printing is cost. A 300-page book sold by a mainstream publisher may cost $2 to print, so it can support a $15.95 list price. The same size book produced with POD could cost $4 to print. Using the “8X” formula, it would be priced at $31.95 — and might be so expensive that no one would buy it.

But there’s another way to market books.

If you choose to ignore the physical bookstores (except for special orders) you can be much more flexible in your pricing.

Amazon.com will work on a trade discount of as little as 20% (or even less when they sell below list price). The book that costs $4 to print, can have a $19.95 list price, and be sold to Amazon for about $16, and the self-publishing author gets to keep the difference between $4 and $16 — a juicy markup of 75%.

But here’s where you have to work like the menswear buyer.

You have to figure out the perceived value of your book. If most of the competitive titles are selling for $12.95-$14.95, you better be very sure you can justify a $19.95 price and that potential shoppers will understand the difference and can afford the extra dollars. If not, keep your price in line, or even go low if you are trying to establish your “brand” and think you can attract buyers with a low price.

On the other hand, some books can demand higher markup.

If your book is vitally necessary for business, and doesn’t just provide entertainment or casual reading, a book that costs $4 to print could bring $29.95 or even $75. If businesspeople can be convinced that your reference work or new theory will save them or make them many times the investment, there is really no limit to the price it will bring.

Just keep in mind that at a certain price point, the book has to look better physically, and probably should be hardcover not a paperback, and have multiple strong endorsements (”blurbs”) from experts in the field.

With e-books, there is no printing cost, so price should reflect value and competition,

Friday, March 27, 2009

Check, please

No matter how many times you read and re- read, you're bound to find mistakes in anything you've written. It's best to find them before the book is printed.

A while ago, just minutes before I had planned to send a book to the printer, I decided to check my table of contents.

I had a feeling that as I changed the length of some chapters, a page number might have changed.

I actually found three wrong pages, and two chapters were missing from the table.

Don't let it happen to you.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Find and Replace warning

I recently decided to change a real name to a fake name in a book I was writing, to avoid embarrassing someone who might not want to be written about.

I used Microsoft Word's Find and Replace feature, which quickly made about a dozen substitutions in a chapter.

But when I read through the chapter I was surprised to find a few instances of the old name, which had escaped the Find function.

It's important to do a manual verification, because Word might not notice hyphenated words, or words with apostrophes or in their plural form, as targets for replacement.

Don't risk a lawsuit by leaving in a wrong name or word.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A rule I sometimes need to break

Books on bookmaking will tell you to avoid underlining words.

In his excellent Book Design and Production, Pete Masterson says: "The typewriter had no way to emphasize type except to underline it. Properly typeset work uses bold and italic for emphasis. Underlines are avoided as they will strike through the descenders of the lower case letters g, j, p, q, and y, making an ugly display."

I use underlines in my books in two cases:

(1) When I want to call particular attention to the actual ("physical") word above the line, not just a meaning or a concept.

In an essay I wrote, "In You’re So Vain, Carly Simon wrote and sang: “You had me several years ago when I was still quite na├»ve.” I wanted to emphasize the word "had" and its implication of possession of a woman by a man, which was an important part of the essay.

(2) When I want to print a URL (Uniform Resource Locator, more commonly known as a web address).

I also switch from the normal serifed body text to a sans-serif font, and put the URL in boldface.

As Pete points out, when an underline intersects with a descender, the result can be ugly. Sometimes you can avoid the problem by choosing another word that has no descenders (not often an option, especially with a URL). Sometimes I've only underlined part of a word. It doesn't work with ugly but it's OK with beauty and even better with Jeep. The effect can be dramatic or confusing and it works better with some fonts than others. Use this technique sparingly.

With some software it's possible to insert a horizontal rule below the word without crashing into the descenders, but this may create extra spacing between lines.

If you are publishing your own book, you can ignore the rules you don't like, but be careful. Just because you have the right to publish an ugly book, it doesn't mean you should.

A self-publisher has an extra burden to produce a quality product, because a bad self-pubbed book reflects badly on other self-publishers. Ironically, the ugliest and worst-written book I've ever seen was self-published, and gives advice to other self-publishers.

The limitations of PCs and the Internet create the need for typographic compromises. Web pages show lots of underlines smashing through descenders and as people get used to the typographic abomination online, it may become more acceptable in print. HOWEVER, just because you can get away with it, it doesn't mean you should.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why do books fail?

What is failure, anyway? And what is success? The definitions depend on your goals. Are you looking to enhance your image, spread a message, change the world, make some money, or all of the above?

Here are some causes of failure:

(1) Your book stinks.

(2) You have too many competitors and probably should not have published the book.

(3) Your market is too narrow -- not enough people care about the subject.

(4) You didn't work hard enough at promoting it. Not enough potential purchasers know it exists.

(5) Your book is hard to find. It’s not available where people expect to buy it.

(6) You're not an independent self-publisher, but used a publishing services company and they made the money that you should have.

(7) Your price is wrong. If it’s too low, there's not enough money left for you and the low price hurts your book's credibility. If it's too high, you may scare off readers or lose sales to competitors

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't trust your eyes, or your monitor

While fixing up a scan of an old photograph for use in a book, I used a graphics program to simply paint some black over various white spots and streaks in the otherwise solid black background.

Later on, I printed a couple of pages on a color laser printer simply to compare a few different type sizes and fonts.

I was horrified to see that the photo that had looked perfect on my LCD monitor, had dark black blotches against a grayer backround.

It was a scary and valuable lesson, and I'm glad I learned it before the book went to press. Apparently most LCD monitors just don't have the ability to display the full range of colors that can be printed -- or even the colors that can be displayed by a clunky old CRT monitor.

I re-did my retouching.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More B. S. from Brent Sampson

Brent Sampson is the founder and boss of the pay-to-publish company Outskirts Press. His official bio says, "As an award-winning author, poet, speaker, and artist, Brent Sampson understands the mania of the muse and how to infuse success into every creative endeavor. Brent’s proficiencies with selling, marketing, publishing, and coaching inspired him to to launch Outskirts Press in 2002, one of the fastest growing on-demand publishing companies in America."

In the past I've poked fun at some of the stupid mistakes in his books and on his company's website.

Brent has recently issued the second edition of Self-Publishing Simplified. He apparently realized that I was right and he was wrong about "offset" vs. "off-set" printing. He even followed my advice and changed his foreword into an introduction. In the introduction, he fixed one really stupid error that I pointed out, where he had the wrong name for the author of Roget's Thesaurus.

However, he did not fix the BS about the "headaches" from getting an ISBN and bar code, and "paying thousands of dollars to print thousands of books."

In 2007 Brent distributed a list of "Top 5 Shenanigans of 5 Print-on-Demand Publishers" to point out the failings of his competitors. He mentions such things as phony offers to publish for free, and loss of author's rights. Since Brent does not list his own company's BS-ing, I'm glad to do it for him.

Perhaps his most outrageous fiction is this statement: "The majority of independently self-published authors find it nearly impossible to secure distribution through book wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor."

First of all, unless Brent is capable of large-scale mind-reading, he has no way of knowing the experiences of the majority of any kind of people.

Second -- and more important -- it just isn't true.

If a self-publishing author has books printed on demand by Lightning Source (the leading POD printer for both independents like me and companies like Brent's), there are NO unsold copies for the author to deal with, and it is far from impossible to secure distribution through Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

In fact, it's almost impossible NOT to do it, because it happens automatically. All an author has to do is approve a proof for printing, and the rest just happens.

Below you'll see a long list of some of the booksellers offering one of my independently self-pubbed books, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life.

I was amazed at the number of sellers. It was, of course, important and nice to be offered by Amazon and B&N. I didn't even know that Target sold books but they're trying to sell three of mine now. Target will even accept book returns, but I never have to issue a refund.

I never heard of some of the booksellers.

Some of them -- like FarsiDictionary.com -- seem ridiculous.

My book cover proclaims "Dirty Parts Easy To Find," but it has been offered on a children's book website! I was amazed to find three companies that want to RENT my book.

But the most amazing thing is that I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to get any of these 30-plus companies to offer my book.

Brent Sampson has the perfect initials.

As the head of a publishing company, and someone who brags about his proficiency in publishing, Brent has a lot to learn about the publishing business. Of course, maybe he really does know the truth, but doesn't want others to know it. People who do know the truth, may not want to business with him.

Brent's website warns of the “hassles of independent self-publishing, like guessing print-runs, managing inventory, and the responsibility of order fulfillment.”

Well, I’m an independent self-publisher, and the truth is I never ever think about print runs, inventory or order fulfillment. Actually, the biggest hassles I deal with are typos.

Some companies selling my book -- with no effort by me:

Barnes & Noble
Page 1 Book
Better World
A1Books Marketplace
Books A Million
Discount Book Sale
Amazon Canada
Papa Media
Amazon United Kingdom
Buch.de (Germany)
Alibris (UK)
Abebooks (UK)
Amazon (Germany)
Webster (Italy)
Alpha Music (Germany)
Booklooker (German)
Bol.ch (Switzerland)
Libri.de (Germany)
Amazon (Japan)
Chegg Rentals
Campus Book Rentals

Brent says independent self-publishers "are left with thousands of unsold copies and without an effective way of getting their books into the hands of readers" and "The independently self published authors I know all have boxes of books in their garage and park their cars on the street."

Apparently Brent knows the wrong people. He certainly doesn't know me.

If for some strange reason you actually trust Brent's knowledge and opinions, he'll be glad to give you personal advice on the phone -- for $250 per hour.

He's also available for hire as a public speaker. He lists "Independent self-publishing vs. print-on-demand. What's the difference?" as one of his topics. I'd love to hear him explain that (but I wouldn't pay to hear it).

I'm an independent self-publisher and I use print-on-demand. They're not incompatible or opposites. Brent's topic is not like asking, "what's the difference between a car and a tomato?" It's more like asking, "what's the difference between a car and an engine?" -- a question that does not have to be asked or answered.

And a personal memo to Brent: Not only were you wrong about "off-set" vs. "offset." You're also wrong about "to whit." The correct phrase is "to wit." And in your bio, the final phrase "one of the fastest growing on-demand publishing companies in America" should come after "Outskirts Press," not after "2002." Also, you should kill the commas between "speaker" and "artist" and between "publishing" and "and coaching." Aren't you supposed to be a wrting coach? And while you're at it, fix the misspelled "imporantly" on your website.

Even publishers need editors. If Brent used one of the Outskirts editors, either the editor is unsuited to the job, or is afraid to correct the boss. Maybe both.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What the heck should we call self-publishing?

I began my professional writing career with a job on a magazine in 1970. In 1976, when Doubleday published my first book, I made the transition from "writer" to "author."

Last fall, seeking more control, more speed and more money than traditional publishers provide, I formed my own publishing company, Silver Sands Books, and then started considering myself a "self-publisher."

I think the term is just fine.

HOWEVER, others who do the same thing, or sort-of the same thing, prefer "Indie publishing," "DIY publishing," "POD publishing," "Micro publishing," "Supported self-publishing" or "Alternative publishing." Those who disapprove of the concept label all of the varieties, "vanity publishing."

Some companies that I consider "author services companies," can't decide what to call themselves.

Some years ago, 1st Books president Robert McCormack said that “Alternative publishing levels the playing field and democratizes the publishing process." In the spring of 2004, 1st Books became AuthorHouse. In the fall of that year, McCormack was replaced by a new CEO, Bryan Smith. In 2007, Smith was replaced by Kevin Weiss. AuthorHouse is now part of Author Solutions, along with iUniverse, Xlibris and other former competitors.

Instead of an "alternative publishing company," AuthorHouse now calls itself a “self publishing company” on its website, but today its parent company Author Solutions issued a press release claiming to be “the world leader in indie book publishing -- the fastest-growing segment of book publishing,”

Author Solutions has issued a powerful promotional piece titled, “The Next Indie Revolution.” They try to portray indie book publishing as the artistic heir to indie movies like Easy Rider and indie music makers like REM.

Actually, indie publishing existed before movies or compact discs existed. It just wasn’t called indie publishing.

In the four-page brochure, Author Solutions introduces YET ANOTHER NAME for what it is doing, “supported self publishing,” and tries to distinguish itself from vanity publishing.

They say, “authors have two options when choosing indie book publishing,” vanity publishing and supported self-publishing.

The paper makes some not-quite-accurate criticism about vanity press, and of course extols the virtues of its own processes.

HOWEVER, it conveniently ignores a third option for self-publishers, what I call REAL self-publishing, where the author becomes the publisher.

Author Solutions says, “for many writers, indie book publishing provides significant benefits.” While that’s certainly true, you probably won’t get those benefits if you deal with Author Solutions.

They tout CONTROL, but if you use them to prepare your books you won’t have free choice of your collaborators in design, editing and printing.

They say they have an advantage in SPEED TO MARKET. But they only compare their system to the years it may take with a traditional publisher. They can get a book out in several months, or 30 days for an extra $500. A REAL self-publisher can go from manuscript submission to book selling in a week. I’ve done it. And I didn’t pay $500 extra.

Author Solutions wants you to know that indie publishing can provide INCREASED REVENUE for the author. While this is true, they compare themselves to traditional publishers, not REAL self-publishing. The company says it pays “from 5 to 20 percent on retail sales.” A REAL self publisher can retain 50% or more of the cover price of each book sold, and can buy books for less than Author Solutions charges..

Interestingly, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal called Author House a “self publisher.” But Publishers Weekly, which probably knows more about the publishing business than the Times or the Journal, called Author House a “print-on-demand subsidy publisher.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vanity and vanity publishing

There’s a lot of confusion between self-publishing and “vanity” publishing.

For many years, there have been ads in magazines aimed at writers, with headlines like, “For the writer in search of a publisher," “We want to read your book,” “Manuscripts wanted” and “Authors wanted.” The ads and affiliated websites promise to enable you to become a “published author.”

The ads are not from traditional publishers or from literary agents, but from “vanity” publishers — companies that use the author’s money to produce, promote and distribute the books.

There is only one customer a vanity publisher is interested in selling to — the author/customer. A non-vanity publisher, whether a one-person self-publisher or a giant like Random House, hopes to sell books to thousands or millions of readers. Companies like Random House don’t have to advertise to attract writers and receive manuscripts.

The word “vanity” implies excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements and appeal.

Vanity has been considered a sin. It can lead to wasted resources and wasted lives. It can also lead to useful activities and important accomplishments.

Most or all artistic people have some degree of vanity, or they would not produce or perform.

Most people seem to like themselves. There are gradations in vanity, ranging from justified confidence to outrageous, obnoxious egomania.

In You’re So Vain, Carly Simon wrote and sang (possibly about Warren Beatty, Mick Jagger or both of them): “You walked into the party… You had one eye on the mirror… And all the girls dreamed that they'd be your partner… You're so vain you probably think this song is about you.”

Vanity publishers stay in business because vain people are willing to spend money to flatter themselves. A vanity publisher depends on the vanity of writers who strive to become “published authors.” They make most of their money from writers, not readers. If you work with a vanity publisher, you pay all of the expenses of publishing, and have all of the risks and all of the loss.

Although not always true, a book published by a vanity press is often assumed to have been rejected as unworthy of publication by traditional publishers.

Here’s another way of looking at vanity and publishing: Maybe the most vain writers are those who will delay publication for years or decades in hope of getting accepted by a traditional publisher instead of quickly self-publishing, reaching the public, and making some money.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Already have a book? Now consider a spin-off.

In February I launched a self-pubbed book called Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home. It's a big book, with tons of information on nearly 400 pages, and a 29.95 price tag.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble discount it to about $27. I think the information in the book is worth a lot, but I recognize that in a recession even $27 is a lot for a book.

A week ago I launched an abridged version called The AbleComm Guide to Phone Systems. (AbleComm is the name of my primary business. It sells phone systems.)

The smaller book has 216 pages and a $19.95 cover price. Basically, it offers about half as much content for two thirds the price of the bigger book. I wanted the numbers to favor the bigger book, but still offer a good book for under twenty bucks.

Am I afraid that the $19.95 book will cannibalize business from the $29.95 book?

No. There is so much more information in the big book that I expect it to appeal to a different audience and probably outsell the little book. I did a major PR campaign for the big book but am not paying to promote the little book. There's even a page in the little book that tells about the additional material in the big book.

My original plan was to produce the little book as a "self-liquidator" promotional device for my phone equipment business. I offer it on my company's websites, and to callers who are interested in a phone system but are not quite ready to buy.

Since it's printed by Lightning Source, it's listed on Amazon, B&N and other bookseller websites. B&N is discounting it to $17.95. Amazon still has it at full price.

I'll sell it for just $10 including shipping. I'm not losing money at half of Amazon's price. I actually make about as much as I'd get as a royalty from a traditional publisher on a $30 book -- and the money comes in immediately.

I also offer a complete refund to anyone who buys a book and then buys a phone system. I'll gladly give away a book that costs me a few bucks to print to someone who'll spend a few thousand. And even after the sale, the book may get passed around as a powerful advertising piece for my company.

I realize that I'm in a somewhat unusual position as both a writer and a business owner who has an additional sales channel for my books.

But even if you don't have a business that can sell and benefit from your books, if you think about it, you'll probably realize that there are several likely businesses that could distribute a different version of a book you've already written.

If you've written about home decor or cosmetics, a private-label customized version of your book might be a good give-away for a furniture store, or maybe it could be sold in beauty salons. Using Print-On-Demand, the risk is small.

Invest some brain time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What should a self-publisher publish?

Obviously, if you are the publisher and the writer, you can publish anything you want to.

HOWEVER, if you want to make money rather than just fulfill a dream or impress your parents or children or inflate your ego, it’s better to think carefully about what you decide to publish.

It’s very difficult to sell lots of copies of a self-published novel or poetry book.

These books depend on push marketing — you have to “push” your books on the public that has no real need for what’s between the covers of your work.

In order to sell thousands of copies of a fiction or poetry book, you will have to be either extremely lucky (not likely) or generate a huge amount of “buzz” through viral marketing and public relations (time-consuming and often expensive) or impress one or more reviewers enough to praise you in the media (not likely).

On the other hand, if you write nonfiction about an interesting and important subject — or even better — a how-to book, you can use much simpler pull marketing and have a much greater chance of success.

With pull marketing, you take advantage of an existing desire by the public to know more about a subject. Readers will "pull" the books from you.

People who want to know more about growing strawberries, raising an autistic child, getting a college scholarship, building a log cabin or traveling with a dog, will search for that information on Google, Amazon.com or elsewhere and hopefully will find your book.

Pick something you know about, that you can contribute something new about, that lots of people care about, and that lots of people have not already written about.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world, or know more than everybody else does, to give advice and get paid for it.

You can make a pretty good living if you know more than 90%, 80% or even 20% of the people in the world — if they can find you.

Quality is vital, but not enough. Even timing is important. The world’s best book about Sarah Palin will probably sell a lot worse in 2009 or 2010, than before she lost the election in 2008.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Know when to stop writing

When I was a writer on my college newspaper, I became the copy editor and got a job as a proofreader at the printer, so I could have complete control of my words, and no one else could mess them up. This also meant that no one else could correct the mistakes I missed -- not a good way to work.

When I was freelancing for Rolling Stone, I was always re-writing 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, Lego or Erector Set.

Rewriting and editing -- especially now with a computer -- is fun. I love to play with words, to rearrange them and try alternatives.

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 a self-pubber who has 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 never stop editing. I even re-do old blog entries.

With Print-On-Demand I can make improvements to my books whenever I want to. While this means that a person who buys version 2.13 gets a better book than the person who bought 1.28, at least I know that each version was "good enough."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's confusing to be a writer in Canada
(unless you write in French)

The dual influence of British and American spelling on Canadian English can make life difficult for Canadian writers.

Canadians use standard British spelling for certain words (axe, cheque), and use American spelling for others (connection, tire), and will use either version for other words (programme and program, labour and labor, neighbour and neighbor).

It's important to be consistent so you don't look silly and confuse your readers.

Set up your own "style manual" (just a list, really), and stick to it. Don't mix neighbour with labor, for example. Choose one pattern or the other and don't vary.

A Canadian dictionary might help, too (is there such a thing?). Word processor spell-checkers (chequers?) seem to accept both Brit and American versions of words.

(based on info from Dorothy Turner published by the University of Ottawa)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not all readers are speed readers

While writing a book, it's nice to get feedback from experts in the field, or even just from friends and relatives.

Sometimes you want them to catch errors, or just to point out things that didn't make sense, or to make some constructive criticism. Perhaps you hope they'll say some nice words that can be used as a promotional blurb on or in the book.

After publication, it's good to distribute freebies to generate word-of-mouth buzz and get some reviews on Amazon.

But even though you are giving people free books and the opportunity to achieve immortality on your book cover, you are still asking for a favor. You want people to invest maybe five hours of their precious time, when they might prefer to be doing something else.

Nagging probably won't help and you can't set a deadline for receiving a favor. People have different priorities and read at various speeds, but I think you're pretty safe asking after three weeks.

You might think writing a really good book will help you to get results sooner, but a good book can backfire.

I've been waiting about a month for a friend to post a review on Amazon. She's told me she loves the book. I'm sure she'll write a good review and write it well. She's retired and has plenty of time.

However, she says she likes the book so much that she's stretching out the reading process, only reading a few pages each night to prolong the pleasure.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is this something to brag about?

Infinity Publishing provides services to authors who can't or don't want to use traditional publishers.

The company brags about its innovation and technology. They distribute a useful promotional and instructional book aimed at prospective customers.

It includes this pathetic picture. The caption says "Michelle Shane, sales administrator, is seen here receiving an order for a book. She will then oversee the invoicing and sale of the book as it makes its way through our system. It will be shipped in less than 48 hours!"

The ancient CRT monitor on the desk is not the worst lapse of technology.

Poor Michelle's left arm is twisted like a pretzel to hold her telephone handset against her right ear to free her right hand for writing.

She's not even taking advantage of the high-tech shoulder rest that someone stuck onto the handset.

Michelle should be using a HEADSET, not a handset, so both of her hands will be free to conduct business.

And why is she writing on a piece of paper instead of typing on a keyboard?

I suppose her method is better than using a quill on a sheet of parchment -- but just barely. I wonder if Infinity's books are printed on demand, as scrolls, by monks working by candlelight.

Also, the company can't accept uploaded manuscripts, but they will let authors send in a stack of floppy disks. Some computer users have never used a floppy disk, and floppy drives are seldom installed in modern PCs.

It's certainly possible that Infinity produces excellent products at a fair price, but the primitive photo is a poor choice to show off in the 21st century. Examine your own promotional photos carefully.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cleanse your copy with Notepad

One of the simplest word processors can be one of the most useful.

Notepad, which has been part of Windows for many years, is so bereft of features that people often ignore it. They use the more sophisticated -- but still free -- Wordpad or a full-featured and more expensive word processor, especially MS Word.

Notepad's dumbness, however, can be an asset.

Notepad ignores formatting.

There's a problem when you need to copy and paste from one document into another, particularly from the Web into Word or a website program. If you do a direct paste, your new document will likely be filled with extraneous links, tables, fonts, pictures and colors that you don't want and will have to eliminate one at a time.

If, however, you first paste into Notepad, and then copy from Notepad into your ultimate destination, the document will be pure, and you'll save lots of time and aggravation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Write books, not just words

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

Also traditionally, most authors have a specific word-count in mind, such as 70,000 words, as they write their books.

But when I'm working on a book, I usually have a specific page-count and price in mind, such as 300 pages/$19.95 or 400 pages/$29.95.

And 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 or stretched or shifted, and when illustrations should be enlarged, reduced or moved around.

And I alway 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, 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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Robot reporters may put your news
in strange places

In the past few weeks I sent out news releases on two of my books. I periodically do Google searches for unique phrases in my releases to see how the news is circulating. I don't merely search for the book titles because I don't want to see links from booksellers or my own sites.

I was greatly surprised to see some of the sites that are giving me free publicity. I don't know if this exposure will bring sales, but it's funny and free.

The release on I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life was published on a website dealing with "Japan diaper news." I had no idea that there was a media specialty called Japan diaper news, and was mystified about my connection.

I studied my release and found the answer. I had quoted a reader who said that my book is so funny that readers should wear diapers and rubber pants because they'll pee in their pants.

Apparently the robot reporter employed by the Japanese diaper fanatics does a search to harvest every online reference to diapers, even if the overall news item is absolutely irrelevant.

News about my book Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home was published on the USA Today website. But it was classified as "news from Cuba." Another website put it in "Cuban military news."

I've never met Fidel or Raoul, but the news release mentioned technology that was used by the US Navy during the blockade of Cuba during the 1960s. That was sufficient reason for the robots to report the news.

Is any of this useful for book marketing?


You can construct a news release with lots of well chosen "key words" just as you would "optimize" a website to get noticed by the search engines.

If you implant the word "sex" 40 or 50 times into your book about aspirin alternatives, the Staten Island independence movement or Millard Filmore's mother, your news is sure to get noticed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just what is self-publishing?

I've been getting really pissed-off lately.

I can't stand when I read that companies like Lulu and iUniverse and Outskirts Press are "self-publishing companies," or that writers who use them are "self-publishers."

Those companies may be publishing services companies, or author services companies, or even publishers. They are NOT self-publishing companies or self-publishers, and their customers are NOT self-publishers.

A REAL self-publisher is a writer who either does all of the work needed to publish a book, or hires others (such as designers, illustrators and editors) as needed.

A REAL self-publisher makes all of the important decisions.

A REAL self-publisher can get a book to market faster, and probably get a better book, pay less and make more money faster than a writer who uses one of those other companies.

A REAL self-publisher will do more work than a writer who uses one of those other companies, but probably will have more fun and more pride in the finished product.

Those companies provide legitimate services for those who need them, but it's not difficult to become a REAL self-publisher, and the potential rewards are enormous.

I'm now a REAL self-publisher. It's a reaction to my experience with three "traditional" book publishers in the past.

♦ One cheated me.

♦ One tried to cheat me.

♦ One didn't cheat me, but the book that finally came out was so unlike what I had expected it to be, that I was sorry I got involved. I also didn't make much money, and had to wait a long time for the little money that I did get.

♦ The one that did cheat me did such a bad job on the book that I refused to let him put my name on it.

Last fall I established my own publishing company, Silver Sands Books. Three books are selling already.

I'm now working on book #4 and book #5.

Book #4 is about REAL self-publishing

It should be out this Spring.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Finding a freelance editor

While writers' magazines and directories have lists and ads for professional editors, there is another potential source of high-quality editing that may be available for less money, and the editors may be available to do your work much sooner.

Check with some journalism departments and college newspapers -- perhaps where you went to school -- and chances are you'll be able to find several bright and eager candidates. Read some samples of their work. Maybe submit a sample chapter for editing. Ask a faculty member for opinions. Then make the deal.

Skill levels will vary, of course, and so will needs and costs. You can pay per hour or per project. Expect to pay more if you need major rewriting than just copy editing. A student who has a part-time job making minimum wage flipping burgers will probably be thrilled to earn $20 per hour, or $300 - $500 for a project. As a comparison, one publishing company that caters to self-publishing authors recently charged $50 per hour or 1.4 cents per word.

If the job goes well, be sure to put your editor's name in the book, and send a note to his or her faculty advisor.

As long as you're investigating colleges, consider hiring a professor, not just a student. If you're writing in a specialized field, it could be worthwhile to hire a faculty member to check your facts, and pay someone else to polish your prose.