Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Watch out for hyphens.

Microsoft Word makes lots of mistakes, particularly with hyphens.

Sometimes it seems to take a guess, or follow a rule based on recognizable patterns rather than consult an internal dictionary. It sometimes makes bad guesses, such as “li-mited” instead of “lim-ited,” “identic-al” instead of identi-cal,” “firs-thand” instead of “first-hand” and “bet-ween” instead of “be-tween.” Be prepared to do outside research and overrule Microsoft’s judgement.

Word often assumes that the letter “e” indicates the end of a syllable as in “be-come” and “cre-ate” and this results in errors like “se-ize” and “cre-dit.”

Word recognizes that “par” is a common syllable, which causes it to make bizarre errors like “par-chment.”

Words that can have two meanings and can be pronounced in two ways cause problems. Word can’t distinguish between “minute” (the noun) and “minute” (the adjective). It assumes you mean the noun, and will give you “min-ute” even when you want “mi-nute.”

You can also get strange results if you rely on automatic hyphenation and have proper names. Word broke up “Panasonic” as “Pa-nasonic” instead of “pan-asonic” or “Pana-sonic.”

So now you have another reason to proofread very carefully, and never have complete faith in robots.

Perhaps because of Word’s hyphenation shortcomings, or a desire to be different, or maybe because they don’t know any better, some people shun hyphens completely.

Belinda Kroll writes as “Worderella” and packaged a collection of her blog advice to writers as a mini-book called Worderella on Writing. I could not find any hyphens at the end of any lines. I don’t know if this was the author’s decision or the publisher’s error. It was published by Lulu, which has a history of typographic disasters. Whoever is responsible, it was a bad decision. The effect is not artistic, it’s just plain silly, and often ugly and unnecessarily difficult to read. It also wastes paper and toner.

The pages are set flush-left/ragged right, but the right side is not just ragged, it’s jagged, with huge unattractive gaps that could have been easily avoided. A book that tries to advise writers should have been done better.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Building your self-publishing team

Although it doesn’t “take a village” to publish a book, you will probably need more than just yourself to be a self-publisher. Here’s the cast of characters:

The writer is probably you, but not necessarily so. It’s possible that you have a great story to tell, or important information or a valuable new insight to deliver to the world, but you’re just not a good writer. Maybe you just don’t have the time to write. In these cases you need a ghostwriter, or maybe a co-author. The cost of hiring a ghostwriter will depend on the length of the book, the complexity of your topic, research and other preparation, and the ability and experience of the ghost. You could pay $5,000 or $50,000, or even more. You’ll probably have to pay this even if you sell just a few copies of your book, so consider hiring a ghostwriter very carefully. One source of ghostwriters is ArborBooks.com.

The editor could be you, but shouldn’t be. Obviously it’s important that you read, re-read, and re-read some more to polish your text to near perfection. However, it’s a fundamental fact of writing that the creator of the words will never catch all of the errors. You will think you are reading words that are really in your mind and not on the screen or on the paper. You will fall in love with certain words or phrases that are really unlovable. Maybe some words, sentences, paragraphs or whole chapters should be shifted, chopped or even eliminated completely. These are choices best left to someone other than the creator.

There are several kinds of editing, that can be done by one or more people.

Copyediting (or “copy editing” or “copy-editing”) is looking for and fixing all of the tiny errors that infect every written work. A skilled copyeditor has good vision to spot typographical errors, is an excellent speller and a perfect grammarian. She should have an excellent memory to notice inconsistencies, such as “3 a.m.” on one page and “5PM” on the next.

Copyeditors generally follow specific semi-official “styles” for writing, promulgated in such books as the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, The Associated Press Stylebook, and The Chicago Manual of Style. The books dictate such things as capitalization, abbreviations and hyphens. Sometimes they agree with each other. Sometimes they don’t. And you may not agree with any of them.

As editor and publisher, you can set up your own style, and perhaps modify it with the help of your copyeditor who may have more sense than you do.

Don’t even dream on relying on your spell checker to do the work of a copyeditor.

Copyediting fees can be based on the size of the work, the time involved, or just a negotiated flat fee. If your book is technical and requires specialized knowledge or familiarity with the subject, expect to pay more.

A typical range is $250 to $1,000. This is not a job for a neighbor or a relative. If you need to save money, see if you can hire an editor from a local newspaper, including a good college paper, rather than a full-time professional copyeditor. Check references, and read some examples of her or his work.

Copy editors don’t need to be familiar with your subject and may not even need to understand what you are writing about. They work on the micro level, not macro.

A word of warning: no copyeditor is perfect. None will catch every error, and some may actually insert errors where there were none before. Read. Read. Read.

Hard editing is an effort to actually improve what you’ve written, not just correct little errors.

After working as a writer and editor for over 40 years, I don’t bother paying someone to hard edit my work. However, I do admit that after seeing my finished books I sometimes wish that I had someone looking over my shoulder to ask, “Are you sure you want to include that?” or “Is that what you really mean to say?”

A copyeditor can work on just a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, but a hard editor should get to know the entire book before actually editing.

While the hard editor probably won’t contribute more than a few words, and is not a co-author, she or he may suggest major changes in structure, particularly rearranging sequences, changing viewpoints (from first-person to third, for example), emphasizing or playing down characters or events, killing or adding material, etc.

A hard editor may be paid by the word, page, hour or project. Typical fees are $25 to $50 per hour, $1,000 per book, and two cents per word.

You may save money if your hard editor is also your copy editor, but be careful. The hard editing process may cause errors that copy editing should remove.

Technical editing is essentially fact checking, and is not necessary for all books. If your book deals with Renaissance art or the Cold War, you better hire someone who is intimately familiar with Michelangelo or the Warsaw Pact, and is familiar with reliable reference works.

Technical editors don’t work only on technical books. They might get involved in cookbooks or historical novels — any book that could be tainted by incorrect information. You can pay a few bucks per page, or hundreds or even thousands per book.

Proofreading is not the same as editing, but is related. At one time, a proofreader would simultaneously view the author’s original manuscript and a near final “proof” provided by the printer. He or she would constantly look from the original to the copy to try to spot and mark errors.

Today when there is little chance of a printer inducing an error, especially with independent self-publishing where the author produces a PDF file that is the source of the printed page. Therefore, modern proofreading is usually just a “final inspection” before the printer starts turning out books to be sold to readers.

The author should certainly proofread, but it’s a good idea to have at least one additional set of eyes to look over your proofs. Do your best, but don’t expect to catch every error. It’s extremely unusual for a published book to be error-free. If you strive for absolute perfection, your books will never reach the market. It took me a long time to accept this, and I’ll pass along some hard-learned and valuable advice: Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. At some point you have to let go.

Another tip: proofread in multiple formats: on screen in word-processing, on screen in PDF, in a printout from your PC, and in a bound book from your book printer. Different errors will show up in each format.

Good inexpensive proofreading can be had for $10 per hour if you get English majors or journalism majors from a local college.

The interior designer could be you, or a professional. Someone has to devise (or copy) a standard for the way your pages will look. This includes typefaces, type sizes, margins, indents, subheads, decorations, etc. — all of the little touches that makes a book look unique, or like another book.

Before you commit to a designer (or to your own design) look through a lot of books and try to understand what makes them appealing or unappealing.

Sometimes a stupid mistake can kill the reading experience. I own a book called Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning. I love reading about words and thought I would get a lot of pleasure out of it. Unfortunately my prime emotions are frustration and outrage.

Some unnamed book designer chose to use a smaller-than-normal page size, and in order to squeeze in all of author Sol Steinmetz’s text into a reasonable number of small pages, she or he chose a tiny type face that looks like what gets printed on the back of a credit card. When I was in advertising, this mini-printing was scorned as “FLY SHIT.” It has no place in a mass-market book.

Consider your market when your book is designed. There are special editions of large-type books for people with visual impairments, but the simple act of aging can make bigger letters more appealing. My first self-published book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, was aimed at my fellow baby-boomers. The oldest of us were born in 1946. I chose to use 13-point type instead of the smaller and more common 12-point size.

The cover designer determines what the exterior package of your books will look like. Book cover design is a very specific endeavor best left to those who have done it, and done it well, in the past. Expect to pay from $250 to $2,000, or even more. IMPORTANT WARNING: Don’t forget to have the copyeditor and proofreader closely examine the cover. Errors can hide anywhere. My website address was misspelled on an early proof of my first book.

A photographer could be you or another amateur, or a professional. She or he will provide any specific photos you need for the interior or front or rear cover. A pro will probably want from $250 to several thousand bucks. For the cover, it’s really important that photos are first-class.

An illustrator will provide any drawings, graphs, etc. needed to help you explain concepts in your text, or perhaps to provide the main graphic image for your front cover. You could pay anywhere from $50 to several thousand dollars for original artwork.

Stock photos, sometimes called clip art, may be a good alternative to just-for-you photos and illustrations, and will cost much less. Be aware that they are not exclusively yours, so try to choose something that won’t likely appear on a competing book cover. BE AWARE that some clip art, particularly in big inexpensive collections online or on disk, is not supposed to be used for commercial purposes, like books. I’ve been very pleased with the stock photos I’ve obtained from Fotolia.com. I paid about $60 for one used for a book cover, but just four bucks for another cover shot. If I didn’t find it, I would have probably had to pay $1000 for a photographer and model.

The team up at the top was sponsored by the Bellingham Bay Brewery in the early 20th century. They have nothing to do with publishing, but I like the photo.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Should you use a pen name?

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). “Mark Twain” is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used the alias "Sieur Louis de Conte."

There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an expose.
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different literary genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or romance and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• If your name is hard to spell, remember or pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.”
• If you’re afraid that the book could somehow jeopardize your success in another field

Scott Lorenz, who does marketing and PR, suggests some reasons for using your own name on your books:

• If you are not trying to hide from anyone
• To brand your name for speaking gigs or consulting
• So people you know can find your books
• To build trust and confidence with readers
• To use your real-life expertise to validate the contents of your books

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Market research trick

If you know what you want to write about, the Internet will make it much easier to do market research than before the world was online.

With a little bit of typing, clicking and reading you can find out what potential readers are interested in, and where you can reach them when it's time to sell books.

Use search engines to find terms like I’ve listed below. Simply replace “golden retriever” with “super hero” or “Argentina” or "beer" "or horseback riding" or whatever you want to write about.

“golden retriever forum”
“golden retriever message board”
“golden retriever bulletin board”
“golden retriever club”
“golden retriever association”
“golden retriever community”
“golden retriever organization”
“golden retriever news”
“golden retriever newsgroup”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

David Rising

One of the worst-looking books I’ve ever seen also has the worst title: How to Get Published Free: Best in Publishing & Print on Demand: Plus Marketing Your Book on The Internet by David Rising.

It may also be the worst-written book I’ve ever read.

Rising tries to advise authors about self-publishing, but his own book is a great example of what not to do. I read the third edition, published in 2006. This is such garbage that it’s tough to imagine how bad the earlier editions were.

It’s like a MAD magazine parody — a catalog of the worst mistakes a publisher and author could make.

Books like this are a perfect example of why self-publishing is regarded with suspicion by some pros in the book industry. Even if the author was too ignorant or too stupid to notice the errors, the publisher, Lulu, should never have let it out the door. Lulu's requirements for publication are apparently (1) blood pressure above zero, and (2) a credit card with a sufficient line of credit.

Chutzpah is a great Yiddish word that means having BIG BALLS, unmitigated gall, unlimited arrogance, and brazen egomania.

The classic example of the highest level of chutzpah is a boy, convicted of murdering his parents, who begs the judge for leniency because he is an orphan.

Another great example is the $19.95 price that David Rising put on this book.

There is some confusion about the title of this nearly worthless volume. Amazon, the unwitting co-conspirator who sold me a copy, thinks the title is Best in Publishing & Print on Demand: Plus Marketing Your Book on The Internet. Rising says all of that gibberish is actually the subtitle, and the book's real title is the deceptive How to Get Published Free.

So why is $19.95 an example of chutzpah?

(1) The book is puny, just 136 pages. Pages 135 and 136 have numbers on them, but nothing else. The next page is completely blank, without a number. Maybe Rising expects his readers to finish writing the book themselves.

(2) Of course, someone might argue that $19.95 is a fair price based on the value of what's inside -- but only an idiot would make that argument. 37 pages (TWENTY-SEVEN PERCENT) are instructions on using Lulu to publish your book. Lulu published this book, and I'm not impressed. The same information is available from Lulu, for free.

(3) There's more un-original book padding including eight pages from Dan Poynter that are available for free on Dan's website and six pages from Audrey Owen that are also available online for free. There's also an interview with Richard Paul Evans by Carolyn Campbell that takes up 10 pages. It too, is available as an online freebie. Rising even reprints unedited advertising for publishing services, such as five self-serving pages from Lotus Books.

(4) There's more padding that doesn't use words. Spacing between paragraphs is consistently inconsistent, with large blocks of white space and some silly pictures showing up for no particular reason. I don't know if Rising or someone else did the layout -- but it sucks.

(5) Rising's writing style is amateurish and definitely not ready for print. His up-front disclaimer speaks to "you, the reader." Who could "you" be other than the reader? On the same page, Rising says, "...could result with..." It should be "could result in." Apparently Rising believes that an automated spellchecker is a substitute for a copy editor. It isn't. The very first sentence of his introduction has a stupid error: "level playing field for all participates." That's not a spelling error; it's the wrong damn word! Rising also has bad grammar: "There isn't going to be thousands of unsold books..." and "there is always one or two...” and "Don't be afraid you'll not lose anything..." He also says, "your writing should at least see the light as for getting published..." and "whether you see sells of any significance." I have no idea what the hell he is talking about. Another gem is "Unlike a traditional publishing house that can spend huge amounts of money advertising a book they think could be a best seller." Rising thinks that any chain of words is a sentence. That was not a sentence. He also leaves out the second "a" in "manage." There are many more examples, but I'll spare you the agony. If I typed more, I'd puke on my keyboard.

(6) Rising does give some good advice, such as hiring experts when necessary. Unfortunately he was too blind, stupid or broke to heed his own advice. One of the funniest examples is, "you'll soon see how easy it is to over look mistakes" Hey genius, it should be overlook (one word). On the other hand, he spells "subtitle" as "sub title" (two words).

(7) The typography is atrocious. Some pages are set justified, some are flush left and ragged right — depending on where Rising copied the text from. Some paragraphs start with an indent, some start with a skipped line, and some have neither an indent nor a skipped line. The type justification is even worse than I find in newspapers, and Rising did not have a daily deadline as an excuse for ugliness. Some of the word spacing is absolutely grotesque, and is inexcusable.

(8) Rising doesn’t understand arithmetic, or at least he doesn't explain it well. He says, "Lulu only charges you 20% commission on your profits. So, for any product you sell on the site you get 80% profit." In the real world, an 80% profit means that something costs you 20 cents and you sell it for a buck, so your (gross) profit is 80 cents, and 80% of the sale. Rising should have said "80% OF THE profit," not "80% profit." There can be a huge difference.

(9) Even the index is stupid, apparently assembled by a robot with no common sense and never checked or modified by a homo sapiens, or even by a lesser primate. Before the "A" topics we have lists of topics beginning with the dollar sign, and with the numbers three and seven. If you want to find the page where Rising discussed "$34.95" or "72DPI" you'll love his index. The index's typography includes a strange mix of standard, boldface and underlined text, has no standardized system for capitalization and uses different fonts. Even email addresses appear in the index, and there are terms that no one would ever look for, like "Noah."

(10) The UGH-LEE front cover screams, "How to Get Published Free." The apparently important word "free" is not indexed, and I couldn't find anything about free book publishing in this book. I didn't actually expect to learn how to publish for free — certainly not on paper — but I was cynically curious to find out what Rising had to say about it. Maybe he’ll remember to include it in the next edition.

(11) The poorly written back cover says, "This book will explain to you how to use database logic…" and I was pleasantly surprised to find "database logic" in Rising’s index. Unfortunately, and more characteristically, when I got to the proper section I couldn’t find any explanation of the term. Rising apparently thinks it’s important because he says, "Understanding database logic will be a key ingredient to having any success marketing…" The section discusses book titles, Internet key words (and "keywords" — Rising spells it both ways in the same paragraph), has some incomprehensible drivel about Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but NOWHERE DOES HE EXPLAIN what database logic is.

(12) Rising recommends investing in inventory so you can sell books through Amazon’s "Marketplace" in competition with Amazon itself. He justifies this strange advice by claiming that "when a book first goes on sale they will have a very limited supply of books" and it can take up to 13 days before a book is shipped. That’s just not true. If a book is PODed by Lightning Source, Lightning will ship directly to Amazon’s customer within 24 hours. Amazon does not have to own any copies itself for quick shipping.

This is the only book I can recall that says nothing about its author. Maybe that's because there is nothing in the author’s education or experience that he can claim qualifies him to write about the topic. Rising’s own website says nothing about his writing experience, but merely tries to sell PDF file conversions and submissions to Amazon. He even got the copyright notice wrong. I’m not surprised.

I’m a strong supporter of freedom of the press. Until now, I've firmly believed that any writer should be able to publish anything. However, after buying this slim and nearly worthless volume, I might be willing to consider a licensing requirement for writers. I have no doubt that David Rising would fail the test.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

À la carte overcharging

Since the author-services companies (vanity presses) make most of their money not by selling books to readers, but by selling services to writers, they like to sell lots of high-profit add-ons at much higher prices than writers would pay if they dealt directly with the sources. Some things they charge you for, you can even get for FREE. Some low-cost publishing packages have low prices because they leave out a lot. Many options are really necessities. It’s like ads for inexpensive computers that don’t include a monitor. Be careful. Watch out for hidden costs, and for overcharges.

The companies want you to think copyright registration is difficult. Wheatmark will do it for you for $199. Author-House charges $170. Xlibris charges $249. Outskirts Press charges $99. You can do it yourself for $45. It’s not difficult. Vantage Press says, “We make all arrangements to take out the copyright in your name, and at our expense.” That’s misleading. The service is not really free. They may be writing a $45 check to the Feds, but that comes after they’ve received a much bigger payment from you.

I like to use color business cards that show the front cover of my books to promote the books. If you’re a customer of Outskirts Press, they’ll gladly sell you 500 cards to promote your book for $199. Wheatmark will be pleased to provide 1,000 for $249. AuthorHouse charges $250 for 1,000 cards. However, you can get 50% more cards (1,500) for about $73 if you go direct to VistaPrint. I’ve used them. The quality and speed are as impressive as the price. For $79 — a few bucks more than I pay for 1,500 cards — Xlibris will sell you 150 cards. It’s a very good deal — for them, not you.

Promotional postcards can be useful if you have a good mailing list. Wheatmark will provide 1,000 4x6-inch or $349. AuthorHouse will do 1000 4x6-inch cards for $500. Xlibris wants you to pay $199 for 100 cards, NEARLY TWO BUCKS FOR A FRIGGIN’ POST CARD. VistaPrint can provide 1,000 bigger 5.5 x 8.5-inch cards for less than $100.

AuthorHouse will set up a website for $399 and host it for $29 per month. Lulu charges a whopping $600 to design a tiny three-page site and does not offer hosting. Outskirts Press charges $299 for design and $29 per month for hosting. iUniverse charges $399 for setup and $29 per month for hosting. I design my own websites for FREE with easy-to-use templates, and pay $9.96 per month for hosting by Network Solutions. Other hosting companies charge even less — even under $5 per month. $9.96 is low enough for me and I’m happy with Network Solutions so I’m not shopping around for a new host.

Wheatmark will provide an online press kit for $449, plus $50 annual maintenance after the first year. It’s really no different than an author’s website. The sample is well done, and probably worth the money — but you could design your own for free if you have the time, ability and desire. $50 per year is a fair price, too. And the service lets you make modifications at no cost whenever you want to.

Like most of the publishing services companies, Wheatmark will try to sell your book from its own website. They’ll arrange for a web address (such as MySuperBook.com) to “point to” your page on their site for $99 per year. You can get similar services for less than half that price from Network Solutions and other companies.

If you can research and write a book, you can write your own press release to promote it. Lulu charges $100 to write a release. Their alleged professionals are noted for dull headlines that will probably never get noticed by the media ("Author Depicts American Journalism In The 20th Century" and "Lulu Press Announces the release of How To Keep Your Man: And Keep Him For Good"), small size (five paragraphs), dull writing and bad grammar.

Lulu says, "After purchasing the service, Lulu will send you instructions on how to submit your press release." If you want Lulu to do the work for you, they will, presumably for an extra fee. Lulu distributes their releases through free services such as PRLog and PressReleasePoint, and each release includes a big plug for Lulu -- sometimes more extensive than the information about the author.

Xlibris will write and distribute a press release to announce your book for up to $1799 -- but at least one of the distribution services they use (Newswire Today) doesn't charge anything. AuthorHouse will distribute your press release through PR Newswire for $750. You can pay $680 if you go direct to PR Newswire. I’ve found PR Web to be as effective as PR Newswire, and their top package costs just $360. Their least expensive deal costs just $80. The free services don’t seem to do as well.

Outskirts Press will submit your book to the Independent Book Publishers of America’s Benjamin Franklin Awards for $299. You can do it yourself for $180, plus the cost of a few books.

You can get a Complete Internet Marketing package from iUniverse for $9,999. It includes Author Website Set-Up, Social Media Set-Up, Google and Amazon Search Program, Barnes & Noble “See Inside the Book,” and an Email campaign to 10 million recipients. iUniverse says that you’ll save thousands of dollars with this package. If you don’t buy the package, you can avoid pissing-off millions of people who receive the spam email. If you do the important parts yourself, you can probably save $9,000 or more of the $9,999.

iUniverse will also gladly accept your payment of $799 for their “Social Media Marketing Setup Service” which sets you up for a blog, and in FaceBook, MySpace, Fickr, Feed-burner and some other online communities that I’ve never heard of. The ones that I have heard of are FREE.

If you want to use a stock image in your book, a generic drawing or photograph, AuthorHouse will charge you $12 per image. I use Fotolia.com, and generally pay between $2 and $4 each, and can choose from over five million illustrations at prices as low as 14 cents each. Other companies such as Photos.com and iStockphoto.com provide similar selections and prices. BE AWARE that many “free clip art” collections do not allow their pictures to be used for commercial purposes, like your book. If you can buy a good picture for four bucks, don’t risk getting sued.

Some of the companies offer “expedited services” to get your book on the market extra-fast. For example, the normal time to publication for Xlibris is three to four months. If you’ll pay $349, they’ll get your book out in under two months. AuthorHouse will speed things up and get a book out in 30 days or less for an extra $500. Outskirts Press normally takes about three months to produce a book, but they’ll grease the wheels for 99 bucks. If you really self-publish and have Lightning Source do the printing, your book can be on sale ONE WEEK after you submit your materials.

Lulu will sell you a package of search engine clicks on Google, Yahoo! or MSN for $89, $199 or $369. Lulu says its program has “pricing that’s as much as 75% cheaper than other services” and will “generate a guaranteed number of clicks to your content.” For this system to work, someone must actually search for specific key words that are related to your ad and your book, and they must be motivated by your little ad. The Click Through Ratio (CTR) is usually below 5%, but could be lower than 1%, or higher than 25%. Some keywords may be so obscure, such as your name, that NO ONE will search for them. On the other hand, some key words are so popular, such as “sex” or “investment” that your tiny ad may be competing with dozens or hundreds of other ads. If the people paying for those ads are willing to pay more than you are, their ads will be put higher up than yours, and may be clicked on before or instead of yours. Lulu’s prices may not be the bargains they want you to think they are. For my own websites, I usually pay between 50 cents and $2 per click, but other online businesses pay just a nickel or a dime. On one of my popular websites, my average cost per click (CPC) is 55 cents. With Lulu’s top plan, I’d pay $369 for 500 clicks, or 74 cents each.

I could go on and give you even more examples, but if you have not yet figured out the point of this blog posting, you deserve to be taken advantage of. Depending on which source you choose to believe, either P. T. Barnum, David Hannum, Michael Cassius McDonald or Mark Twain said that “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Don’t be one of them. Spend your money wisely.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A reference book you can read for fun

When Cynical Cousin Dave unpacked a carton from Amazon and saw that it contained two books on “style,” he immediately expressed doubt about my heterosexuality. I had to explain to the Gen-Xer that I was not researching the proper length for cargo shorts or the merits of various grooming products.

The stylebooks I received were about writing -- specifically the rules to achieve consistency and accuracy in spelling, punctuation, abbreviation, sports scores and more of the nitty-gritty that writers have to deal with any time they tap the keyboard.

The Associated Press Stylebook was first published as a stapled 60-page booklet in 1953 and it became an important reference for the media members of the Associated Press, as well as many writers and even students.

Over the years the "Bible of the Newspaper Industry" grew considerably in both size and scope. The 2007 version that I bought is still a rulebook, but it’s also a dictionary, encyclopedia and textbook.

There are other stylebooks, most notably from The University of Chicago and the New York Times. Sometimes the three agree. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they disagree with popular dictionaries. You can pick which book you want to follow, or pick and choose bits and pieces from each. You can even disagree with all three and make up your own rules — if you have a good reason and don’t do anything too stupid.

Besides accuracy, the main reason to use this book or your own homemade cheat sheet is to achieve consistency in your writing. Some rules are arbitrary, so if you follow the rules you won’t have to make a decision on the spot, and end up with “homemade” on one page and “home-made” on another.

Don’t just consider this a book to be kept on a shelf until you need to check on a specific word. Spend a day or a week or a weekend with it. Read it cover-to-cover, flip through, or just stick your finger between two random pages. I promise you’ll be enlightened and maybe even be entertained.

Cynical Cousin Dave and I have endured and enjoyed a long-term battle about his sloppy generation saying “jive” instead of “jibe.” I checked the entry for “jibe,” expecting to find a warning about “jive.” There was no warning, but Dave and I did learn a new word, “gibe,” to add to the confusion. I won't explain it here. I want you to buy the book and look it up.

I also learned the difference between “flyer” and “flier,” “flak” and “flack.”

One big surprise is that “B.C.” goes after the year number, but “A.D.” goes before. Yeah, right.

The Stylebook also has extensive sections on writing about sports and business writing. I was surprised to learn that "firm" is not a synonym for “business.” It specifically means a partnership, like a law firm -- but not a corporation.

There’s also a lot of info on media law, to help you get vital information and avoid being sued; and some specific references for handling photo captions and submitting news stories that probably won’t be useful in writing a book.

List price is just $18.95, making it a very good value for a well-packed 419-page book. I paid just $12.89 at Amazon.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reasons to NOT be an independent self-publisher

I love being a self-publisher, but it's not the right solution for all books, all writers, or all of the time.

 It costs more money than using a traditional publisher who pays the costs of publishing and pays you royalties when books are sold. HOWEVER, it costs less than vanity publishing.
 You’ll need to have, to develop, or hire people with additional skills such as book design, business management and book publicity.
 You’ll have to make lots of decisions, and may have to do research before you can decide what to do. Very basic choices such as book title, length and price can have a major impact on sales, and you may not be qualified to decide.
 If you have one of those elusive special, spectacular books and can get an contract from a traditional publisher, you’ll probably make more money and do less work than if you are an independent self publisher — but you’ll wait longer for the money.
 Even though you will have a lot of control, you can’t control everything, and this may be very frustrating. You can’t control the state of the economy, you can’t force people to be interested in your topic, you can’t control which booksellers are willing to sell or promote your book.
 You have to spend more money and time than if you were published by a traditional publishing company that does all of the work after you submit your manuscript.
 If the book fails, by whatever measure you choose to apply, most or all of the blame is on you.
 Some people will not be impressed.
 Your books are unlikely to be stocked by “bricks-and-mortar” book sellers.
 It will be harder to get book reviews.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A bit about marketing books

Years ago, if my mother said she was “going marketing” I knew that she was going to the supermarket, and maybe also to the butcher, the fruit and veggie market, the appetizing store and hopefully even to Carvel. She’d load the trunk of her car with the food and supplies the family would need for a few days.

To Mom, marketing was buying.

For a self-publisher, marketing is selling.

It’s not the specific transaction of handing or sending someone a book after they hand you cash or a credit card or place an order online. It’s really all of the steps that lead up to the transaction when a book is exchanged for money.

Every activity and occupation seems to have an organization. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In plainer English, marketing is the process of making people aware of what you want to sell them, and convincing them to buy it.

Each product area — including fresh-caught fish, screwdrivers, nuclear reactors, driveway resurfacing, hair dying and books — has a traditional system for marketing. Alternative channels may sometimes evolve or be discovered, devised or imposed. It’s best to at least understand the system that’s in place before inventing a new one.

The first step in marketing, or in a marketing plan, is to identify your customers and your potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the more efficient your marketing can probably be.

If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience is many millions, and your potential competitors probably number in the hundreds.

If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people.

Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, amateur mechanics, guitar repairmen and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands — and dozens of competitors.

Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are in the pipeline.

It’s important to understand the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.”

Books of fiction use push marketing. You must “push” your books on readers who really don’t need to read what you wrote.

A non-fiction book about an important subject can be sold with much easier pull marketing. If there is an existing need for the information or advice you are offering, readers will search for it and “pull” the books from the printing presses, warehouses and stores.

In book publishing, your customers are not just the potential readers. You have to court, impress, seduce and convince other potential “partners.” Your partners include booksellers, as well as a wide range of influencers. Traditionally the primary influencers were book reviewers in printed newspapers and magazines. Today many newspapers no longer review books, and magazines are disappearing. In their place is a constantly growing group of online influencers on blogs, websites and social media such as Facebook. You have thousands of potential allies who can recommend your book — or condemn it. This blog both praises and slams books about writing and publishing.


Book marketing has a lot in common with the marketing of other products, but it’s also very different.

Unlike food, books are not consumed and then replaced with identical items throughout the life of a customer. Unlike clothing, books are not outgrown and replaced with a larger size. Unlike tires or tools, books are not replaced because they’ve worn out. Unlike handkerchiefs, people don’t buy a pack of a dozen identical books to save money. Unlike cars, you probably won’t sell a book to each adult in the family. Unlike cars or videogames, people seldom trade-in older books for the latest model. Unlike televisions, people generally don’t return a book after trying it and finding they don’t like it. Unlike frying pans or screwdrivers, people don’t buy the same type of book in different sizes.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Websites for writers

A lot of 21st century book buyers seldom or never enter a traditional bricks-and-mortar book store. As with sneakers and iPods and vacations, a growing portion of books are sold online.

This means that your book must be available at the big Internet booksellers, especially Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. Fortunately your book will be there and on dozens of other bookselling websites merely by having your books printed by Lightning Source. If you use BookSurge or CreateSpace your books have easy entry to their parent, Amazon.com, but may not be sold by Amazon’s competitors. If you use other printers or author services companies, you may have to do a little or a lot of work to get your books sold online.

The online booksellers will only give you a limited amount of space to tout your books, and a lot of people who might be potential customers but are not actually shopping for books won't see what you have to say.

It’s extremely important to have a website to provide more information about you and your book(s). It is neither difficult nor expensive, and if you don’t do it, you are missing a major opportunity to present information to potential readers and to interact with them.

I can remember when Fortune magazine told corporate America to assume that a website would cost half a million dollars to develop and take half a year. In Red Hot Internet Publicity, Peggy Sansevieri says that a typical website should cost between $2,000 and $6,000 to build. That number is ridiculous and may unnecessarily scare off a lot of writers who could benefit from having a website.

Today you can develop a website for nothing in less than an hour, and spend less than $10 per month with a “hosting” company to make the site available.

Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) also host websites, often for free. Free hosting is also available from dozens of companies that are not ISPs. Be aware that some once-major free services such as AOL’s Hometown and Yahoo’s GeoCities have been shut down or soon will be. If you've been using them, it's time to find a new host.

Free websites are generally not a good idea because you’ll get a long, clumsy, amateur sounding URL (“uniform resource locator” or web address) like http://billsbook.743.akp.freehosting.com instead of www.billsbook.com.

You may want to do a website for a specific book title, or one that covers several books, or one for you as an author, or several websites. My sites include www.SilverSandsBooks.com and www.MichaelsWriting.com.

The more sites you have, the more likely it is that people will find you and the more opportunity you have to sell books. Your site or sites should have information that will be useful and interesting to potential readers, as well as to members of the media.

Many book websites include an “online press kit” that replaces the once common cardboard portfolio. At a minimum the kit (which is really a page or a section of a website) should include a news release (which used to be called a press release) about the book, plus photos of the cover and the author, and a brief author’s biography.

Some book websites actually sell books. Mine don’t. They have links to Amazon.com and BN.com for ordering my books. I want to write and promote books, not operate a warehouse and shipping department.

Obviously your website should inform the public what your book is about and try to convince people why it is vital that they buy it. The site is a good place to post reviews and comments from readers, reviewers and previewers, and to note any awards the book has won. You can also show your table of contents, and some sample chapters or excerpts to get people interested.

You don’t need any special talent, experience or training to put a website together. Most hosting companies offer adequate and attractive templates that you can use as-is or modify if you want to. They are WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) and allow you to get online in a few minutes — but you may spend the rest of your life updating, tweaking and fine-tuning.

If you have stronger creative impulses you can design a website from scratch using such software as Microsoft FrontPage (recently discontinued, but still useful), Adobe’s DreamWeaver, and Microsoft’s Expression Web 2.

Many companies offer inexpensive hosting. 1&1 Prices start at just $3.99 per month. GoDaddy will let you pay just $1.99 per month for the first three months, and then $4.99 per month (or less if you sign up for a year or more. I use NetworkSolutions, which has plans starting at $4.95 per month, and Yahoo ($6.47 per month for the first three months, and then $9.95.) Prices change frequently, so check.

There are books and businesses that specialize in SEO (search engine optimization), the process of getting a website into a high-up position in Google, Bing, Excite, Yahoo and lesser search engines. I won’t try to duplicate what the SEO experts want to charge you for, but I’ll gladly give you some tips based on personal experience.

People search for “key words” and it’s important that your book website include LOTS of relevant key words, used as often as possible, without seeming stupid. Keep in mind that many potential readers don’t know your book exists, but may simply be searching for information about buying or using a product. If you have a book about bicycles or amateur beer making, you want to attract people who are shopping for bikes or hops or need advice about fixing a flat or deciding on dry vs. liquid yeast. A key word may actually be a phrase, not just a single word. If you think that people with be searching for “dirt bike” or “comfort bike,” and those phrases are appropriate for your book, they belong in your website, too.

Google’s legendary algorithm that determines a website’s position has been subject to much speculation, and it’s as well protected as the formula for making Coca-Cola. One key ingredient in Google ranking is the number of “inbound links” to a website. Google assumes that the more sites that link to a particular site, the better that site is, and the higher it deserves to be in the Google list. Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. There are lots of schemes for getting other sites to link to you, but the best way is to simply have a good site with useful information presented in a pleasant way.

You should also create website awareness in any way you can. If you post a comment in an online forum, put your website address in it. If you’re listed in Linkdin or active in FaceBook and other social networks, promote your website there, too. Every email your send can list your site, and of course it belongs on you business cards and letterheads.

If you have multiple websites and blogs, each one should promote the others. You can also ask the operators of other compatible but not competitive websites to exchange links with you. To judge your progress, you can use websites such as www.WhoLinksToMe.com. These are the results for one of my better websites: Google PageRank: 4. Google Links: 54. Yahoo Links: 2,940. MSN Related: 309

Time online also affects your position in search engine results. Older sites tend to rank higher than newer ones. Even if your book won’t be out for a year, get a preview online right away. Encourage comments from site visitors. Their advice and questions may help you better target your book to the needs of potential customers. Track your website traffic (“hits”). If few people visit your site from the search engines, maybe you chose the wrong subject to write about. A lot of data is available to help you produce your book. Use it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A lesson for publishers: Why I'm not buying a book I might need and might like

As a self-publisher who uses Print On Demand, and a media glutton, my appetite for books about publishing may have no limit.

I've recently been bombarded with almost daily email links that promote POD Publicity -- How to Take a Print on Demand Book from Obscurity to Profitability.

My appetite was stimulated.

Since this book seems to be having great exposure itself, I thought its author Heather Wallace might be able to teach me a few things. If I liked the book, I would even have given it a good review on this blog.

Strangely this book about POD publicity, that has good publicity, is not a POD book.

In fact it's not even a physical book unless I'm willing to expend time, toner and paper to print my own copy. The normal-looking perfect-bound book shown on the publisher's website won't exist unless a reader decides to have it POD-ed. The picture of the book is just a picture, an optical illusion, not reality.

Heather may have written a useful and interesting book. Here are two reasons I won’t buy it and won't find out:

(1) $29 ("Value Priced at Only") is more than I pay for most books, but I'd pay $29 for an important book. People pay $29.95 for a book I wrote. HOWEVER, for $29 I expect a real bound book that I can read anywhere, not a file downloaded to my PC. For $29 I want to be just a reader, not an unpaid employee who's the last part of Heather's book publishing process. I want pages glued into a cover, not just a data stream.

(2) When I buy books, I expect to either order online at Amazon for next-day or two-day delivery, or to drive five minutes to B&N. Sometimes I make an accidental discovery at Costco or Sam's Club or an airport book shop and buy then and there.

A five-minute download may be the right delivery for some people in some situations, but it's not what I want in this situation. I want a physical book, about the same size as the other books on the shelf behind me. I don't want to have to use this PC to read a book, or have to punch holes in 8.5 x 11-inch pages and flip through a looseleaf notebook to read them.

Publishers should make books available through the sales channels and in the formats that readers want to use.

Heather's website points out "two special bonuses" book buyers receive for the $29 payment.

The first bonus is a 15-minute coaching session conducted via either email or chat. Heather says, "Those fifteen minutes themselves are worth more than the price of this book, but they are being offered to you absolutely free for a limited time." Since a customer would be paying $29 for a book that exists only in cyberspace and costs Heather nothing to produce, store or ship, it might be more accurate for her to state that she charges $116 for an hour of coaching, but if you pay for 15 minutes, she'll give you a free download.

The second bonus is "Example Messages Guaranteed to Get Results" when "writing to ask for publicity." Since "these messages have been peppered throughout the pages" of the book, I don't see how they can be considered a bonus any more than any other words you are paying for. I also doubt that they can be guaranteed to work.

There's nothing wrong with ebooks, but they should not be the only format offered to a reader. I already own books, music and movies in multiple formats. I would have paid $29 for a physical book plus a download, but I won't pay $29 for a mere stream of bytes from Heather's hard drive to mine unless my life depends on it.

Publishers who want to have more sales, should offer more choices. It seems both ironic -- and stupid -- that a book about PRINT on demand, is not sold as a printed book, even if readers "demand" it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Advice for authors: don't get too specific

You're inviting trouble if you have "internal referrals" in a book.

You may think you're helping your readers by saying that there's more information about a topic "on page 213" or "in chapter 14."

Pages and chapters often migrate as a book evolves, and it's easy to lose track of your referrals. If you send a reader on a wild goose chase to the wrong page or chapter, she'll waste time, get pissed-off, and you'll look stupid.

It's much safer to say something like "later on in the book."

Similarly, it's dangerous to refer to a photo or illustration "above," "below" or "on this page." Re-write the referral so it's vague but truthful.

I doubt that anyone will refuse to buy a book because of the lack of page-specific referrals.

Tom Lehrer Award for today goes to Beckham Publications Group

Tom Lehrer is one of my literary gods.

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s. His musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See www.tomlehrer.org.

In 1960 Tom wrote and sang, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell." That warning also applies to non-naughty words, and books, and signs, and websites.

It particularly applies to companies trying to sell publishing and editing services.

Today's Lehrer Award winner is Beckham Publications Group, which says it's a "joint venture publisher." Costs and profits are shared by the publisher and its author-customers.

Company boss Barry Beckham taught English at Brown University and Hampton University and has written several books published by other companies, and magazine articles. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, is on the board of the Author’s League Fund and has served on the boards of PEN American Center and the Author’s Guild.

It sounds like he should know a bit about writing, editing and publishing. Right?

The Beckham website says: "When you enter a joint venture arrangement with Beckham Publications, you'll get...professional editorial support." and “Our editors are prepared to correct textual matters like grammar, punctuation and spelling,”

They may not be prepared quite enough. The website misidentifies Virginia Woolf as “Wolf” and Stephen Crane as “Stephan.” The Virginia with the extra “o” was a writer. The Virginia with just one “o” is a sculptor.

If you decide to do business with Beckham, I hope you don’t get assigned the editor who worked on their website.

No one is immune from stupid little errors, but companies that promote their publishing expertise and try to sell editorial services, should be close to perfect.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tom Lehrer award for today
goes to Aachanon Publishing

Tom Lehrer is one of my literary gods.

Tom claims he “went from adolescence to senility, trying to bypass maturity.” He graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude at age 18 and made Phi Beta Kappa. He taught at MIT, Harvard, Wellesley and the University of California, but is best known for hilarious songwriting, much of it political satire in the 1950s and 60s. His musical career was powerful but brief. He said he performed a mere 109 shows and wrote only 37 songs over 20 years. Britain’s Princess Margaret was a fan, and so am I. I can still sing Tom Lehrer lyrics I first heard in seventh grade. See www.tomlehrer.org.

In 1960 Tom wrote and sang, "Don't write naughty words on walls if you can't spell." That warning also applies to non-naughty words, and books, and signs, and websites.

It particularly applies to companies trying to sell publishing and editing services.

Today's Lehrer Award winner Aachanon Publishing says it is a self-publishing service provider that "provides all the necessary services for authors to make their book."

In a discussion of its editorial services, Aachanon says: "The copy-editors role is to help the reader grasp the author’s ideas, to prevent embarrassing errors and to ensure that the typesetter can do a good job."

If a real copy-editor checked that sentence, Aachanon might have avoided the embarrassing error of missing an apostrophe in "editor's."

Aachanon also says: "If you choose one of Aachanon’s professional editor to do your proofreading the proofreader will..."

Apparently the Aachanon editor was not professional enough to realize that "editor" should be "editors" and that a comma should have been inserted after "proofreading."

And Aachanon says: "we wiil send you a listing of self-publishing promotional professionals who will work with you."

If all of Aachanon's human editors were busy, a computer's spell-checker would have noticed "wiil."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another way to take money from bad writers might actually be a good deal for good writers.

At the recent BookExpo in New York, Publishers Weekly distributed a special report on Print On Demand.

In it was an ad with this headline: "SHOULD YOU REALLY PUBLISH EVERYONE?"

The rest of the ad says:

"Every author who submits a book to you for publication or author representation can be a source of revenue.

So, why turn anyone away?

There is no need to risk your capital or your agency's reputation.

With Unibook, you can help all authors publish their books. Risk-FREE!"


Unibook, formed just last year as WWAOW (pronounced "wow" and standing for Worldwide Association of Writers) is part of Peleman Industries, a 70-year-old book binder and printing products maker. The company is based in Belgium and has a US operation in Georgia.

WWAOW was touted as "a revolutionary online service that opens the market to everyone to publish their own high-quality books on demand for only $79 for five books."

WWAOW functioned like a typical POD vanity press, paying a "royalty percentage of up to 20 percent of the book’s retail value."

This year WWAOW was renamed Unibook, offering “on demand book printing, binding and fulfillment service for the broad business and consumer market. Through a network of printing partners in Europe, the US, and Japan, books and publications become available online around the world."

Along with the new name, the operation has a new source of customers. The ad and the website encourage literary agents and publishers to steer authors of normally unpublishable crap to Unibook. Unibook will presumably publish anything that doesn't advocate child rape or the violent overthrow of the government, and they'll send back some of the revenue to agents and publishers who refer business to them.

Although the literary quality may be dubious, I have no reason to doubt the physical quality of the printing and binding. The $79 charge for five books is attractive, especially since there is no setup fee, and (at least for a while) no charge for a proof. This service may be a good deal for a writer who needs a quick small batch of books, perhaps as "advance reader copies" for book reviewers, or to circulate to editors, proofreaders and friends to comment on.

The UniBook system doesn't make sense if you hope to achieve mass sales online or through stores. There is no distribution other than from the UniBook website, or whatever channel an author can establish.

Royalties are paid through PayPal, not by check or bank deposit.

I'm going to try them out and I'll let you know how the books turn out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Free publishing" is only free if you don't want any books to be printed.

In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

Some publishing companies tout free publishing programs that are not really free.

The Amazon subsidiary CreateSpace has run a Google ad with the headline, “Self Publish for Free.” The only free things I could find on its website are “free tools to prepare your content for publication” and an ISBN number that identifies CreateSpace as the publisher. The company apparently has two publishing programs. The standard program is sort-of free. The $39 “Pro” program can provide so much more profit per book that you’d have to be an idiot or a pessimist not to go for the Pro.

Now about the “free” standard plan: apparently you don’t have to pay a penny to upload your book’s files into the CreateSpace computer and make it available for printing when orders are received. HOWEVER, each time a book is printed, you do pay a fee, and you have to order at least one book.

It seems to me that until mental telepathy becomes widespread, the actually printing of books will be an intrinsic part of publishing books. Therefore, I have to conclude that the claim, “Self Publish for Free” is bullshit.

It reminds me of radio commercials that AT&T ran back in the 20th century promising FREE INSTALLATION for their Merlin phone systems. The fine print of the deal revealed that they had a unique definition of “installation,” because it did not include installing any wire — which could cost thousands of dollars.

Lulu has run online ads with the headlines “Publish Your Book – Free” and “Free Self Publishing.” Their website promises “free book publishing,” but their publishing is only free if you don’t want any books to be published!

A 250-pager with decent paper will cost $9.50 in quantities from one to 24, and shipping is additional. That doesn’t seem like free to me.

Lulu offers three publishing services. The default free service does not provide an ISBN for your work (which is necessary for most book selling) but you can use Lulu.com as the sole retail site. “Published by You” is a distribution option where you are the publisher of your work and sell it both on Lulu.com and other retail sites. “Published by Lulu” is a distribution option in which Lulu handles publishing and distribution outside of Lulu.com on online retail sites.

The price of a Lulu book is often higher than from other services, so to make an adequate profit you’ll probably set a higher retail price than you would otherwise, and this may cost you some sales, unless your book is unique and important. Keep in mind that unless you choose one of the more expensive plans, your book will be sold only on Lulu’s website. People can buy the book if you send them there, but it’s less likely that people will find the book through normal online searches. It ain’t Amazon.

Wordclay says, “You can sign up and start publishing your book for free. There is no cost to register with our Web site and create your account. There is no cost to use our publishing wizard to turn your work into a published book. Once your book is published, you can purchase it if you wish, but there is no obligation. We have additional goods and services that you can also purchase through our Services Store, but again, there is no obligation. The basic publishing experience of getting your manuscript into a finished book is entirely free.” Here too, the “free” publishing doesn’t actually include publishing any books.

Every package deal that I’ve seen from vanity publishers, regardless of what they may call themselves, includes some number of allegedly free or complimentary books.

Here’s what Vantage Press says: “You do get a certain number of books, free of charge, on publication.”

With Outskirts Press, the initial charge for a publishing package can range from $199 to $1099. You’ll get as many as 10 “free” books that you actually paid for as part of the package.

Wasteland Press calls itself a self publishing company. It doesn’t promise free books, but it does promise “FREE shipping” of from 5 to 500 books, and FREE ISBNs and FREE booksellers return plan.

However, since you’ll have to pay the company from $195 to $3,100 to publish a 250-page book, the alleged freebies are being paid for with YOUR money.

Lulu says, “After publishing and once you approve the work, we will send you a complimentary copy of your finished book for you to review and enjoy.”

That “complimentary” copy may have cost you hundreds of dollars.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Try writing two books at one time

Many writers think they have several books "in them." Usually they are written in sequence, and trouble with one book can delay starting the next one.

As an alternative, consider working on two or more books at the same time. Lots of people read several books during the same week, changing books whenever they feel like it. There's no reason not to switch the books you're writing, too.

This way, if you hit a writer's block and stall on one book, or simply get out of the mood, you can switch books and keep being productive.

This doesn't work all the time, but if the books are very different the change can be both relaxing and stimulating. I'm now writing a humor book and a how-to book.

Also, you may find that a concept or actual words in Book A can be used in Book B. Or maybe even give you an idea to write Book C.

What was going to be my Book C became my Book B, but parts of B are in C, and A gave me the ideas for D and E. I've now pushed back book E and am working simultaneously on D and F.

And, even if you're working on just one book, you can skip around within the book. If you're having trouble with Chapter 3, work on a chapter that happens later, or go back and edit chapter 1.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why is self-publishing so popular now?

Various words and phrases have sometimes become “buzzwords” -- terms that ignite passions and pull dollars out of wallets, even if they are misused, mispronounced or misunderstood.

Some of the more successful buzzwords in the past 50 years include instant, solid-state, digital, organic, natural, Ms, Dot-com, e-something, cyber-something, green, indie, online, i-something, e-something, astro-something, personal-something, micro-something, mini-something, hyper-something, Afro-something, something-nik, groupie, synergy, affinity, paradigm, virtual, integrated and broadband.

"Self-publishing" has become a powerful, popular and often misleading buzzword.

In the early 21st century self-publishing is buzzing and booming for several reasons:

It’s part of a general cultural trend, aided by advances in technology and falling costs, to remove middlemen between creative people and their audiences and to equalize distribution. Tiny companies — even one-person companies — can have the image and impact of giant corporations.

 Musicians and singers bypass record companies and make CDs to sell at concerts, and put recordings on-line for downloading by fans.
 Bloggers reach readers without needing newspapers or magazines to publish their words.
 Videographers can reach a worldwide audience on YouTube.
 Thousands of people, businesses and organizations publish e-zines, websites, catalogs and newsletters with little or no professional assistance.
 Politicians and business leaders can reach voters and customers with email, blogs and websites, and not depend on reporters to interpret and distribute their news.

For several decades, there’s been a trend to “micro-ization” in many areas of commerce.
 Giant movie theaters have been divided into multi-plexes that show many movies at one time to smaller audiences.
 Department stores are disappearing as boutiques and specialty shops are opening.
 Major beer brands face increasing competition from micro-breweries.
 Giant radio broadcast stations are losing listeners to tiny Internet radio stations and satellite radio channels that “narrowcast” to a fragmented audience.
 The traditional big-three TV networks are losing viewers to cable channels and webcasts.
 There is an increasing desire to buy food that is grown or produced nearby, rather than by a distant corporate giant.
 Through “micro-finance,” tiny banks loan small amounts to many people, and can change the world.

As demonstrated by “the Long Tail,” technology makes it possible to make big money selling small quantities of many products with limited appeal.

In a 2004 issue of Wired magazine and in a book that followed, Chris Anderson used the phrase “the Long Tail” to describe businesses such as Amazon.com that make a lot of money by selling a huge number of items, mostly in small quantities, instead of selling just a few items in huge quantities as in traditional retailing.

Josh Petersen, who worked for Amazon, described the Long Tail this way: “We sold more books today that didn't sell at all yesterday than we sold today of all the books that did sell yesterday.”

In the graph above, Amazon’s book or movie sales could be represented along the vertical “X” axis, while the book or movie ranks are shown along the horizontal “Y” axis.

Sales of the large number of “unpopular” products are called the Long Tail and are represented by the gray area on the right in the graph. A more accurate representation of the Long Tail would require a much wider monitor screen, stretching almost to infinity to include many items that may sell as few as one copy. The purchases of more popular products are represented by the black area on the left in the graph.

Obviously, the most popular items sell in the greatest quantities, but the total volume of low popularity items exceeds the total volume of high popularity items.
The aggregate profits of the items that have low demand and low sales volume can exceed the relative bestsellers, if the distribution channel is capable of moving enough inventory and can do it efficiently and inexpensively.
Where storage and distribution costs are insignificant — as with self-published and other Print On Demand books — it can be profitable to sell unpopular products.
Shopping for unpopular, hard-to-find items is made much easier by the Internet, with search engines and user recommendations that provide access to both products and opinions from far beyond a normal shop-ping area.
Traditional book publishers concentrate on the left side of the graph, aiming to print and sell large numbers of a few titles that will appeal to tens of thousands of people. They ignore the right side of the graph — where small niche publishers including self-publishers — may actually sell more books in total, even one-at-a-time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Naming your self-publishing company

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

Fortune 500 companies often spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and many months to develop product 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 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 at the top is not the same as the name on the bottom. Let people at least think that there might be more than one person on your staff.

(2) Don't use a name that's too limiting. You may think you'll only publish books 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.

(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.

(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) Try for a short name. It will be tough to fit "Xylophone Publications" 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.

(7) Register the name in the local municipal office that registers names, often a town clerk. 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.

(8) 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.

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

(10) 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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

$30,000 book royalties in one month?
It's time to pick on Outskirts Press again.

Outskirts Press and its often-clueless boss Brent Sampson have been frequent targets of this blog.

I don't hate them. I'm glad they exist because they give me something to write about. They are easy and amusing targets because they combine ignorance, incompetence and sleaziness, with great visibility.

Outskirts Press is basically a dressed-up vanity publisher, a company that makes most of its money by selling services to writers, not by selling books to readers.

Outskirts has previously called its business "custom book publishing" and "on-demand publishing," but has recently adopted a new label: "Independent Self-Printing." They're trying to capture some glamor and credibility from "indy" musicians and film makers.

The company uses scare tactics in an effort to capture business from would-be real indy publishers. Outskirts lies about the alleged difficulties of getting an ISBN bar code and selling books online. It warns of the “hassles of independent self-publishing, like guessing print-runs, managing inventory, and the responsibility of order fulfillment.” I’m an independent self-publisher, and I never ever think about print runs, inventory or order fulfillment.

One recent publicity outburst from Outskirts has highlighted their customer/author Gang Chen, who "has earned over $100,000 in author royalties in six short months."

On May 31 Chen wrote on a blog that "In one month (January 2009), I earned over $30,000 in Royalties ($31,207.68, to be precise). I earned even more in February."

Outskirts says Chen "will receive a first-quarter royalty check in the amount of $77,611.88 for books sold between January-March 2009. This follows a previous royalty check of $33,679.56 that Chen recently received from Outskirts Press for books sold between October-December 2008."

Chen's blog offers some useful advice, but don't be fooled by the headline, "How You Can Earn $30,000 a Month through POD Publishing."

Chen's experience is extremely atypical and no one should spill saliva while dreaming of emulating him. Be aware of three things:

(1) Chen's book is highly specialized. It's a study guide needed for professional advancement. It's a very important book aimed at a very small audience for whom the book price is not significant. It's like a college textbook that students must buy for $100 or they can't take a course.

(2) Because of the small audience, it's highly unlikely that the sales volume (about 1,000 copies per month) and royalty payments will stay at the recent high level month-after-month, year-after-year.

(3) Despite its small page size and mere 243 pages, it has a huge cover price of $69.95. Amazon discounts it by just 10% to $62.95.

I compliment Chen for filling a need and getting paid well for it. HOWEVER, if he became a real independent self-publisher instead of using Outskirts, he probably could have made even more money.

According to the chart on the Outskirts website, if Chen paid $999 or more for an Outskirts "Diamond" package, he earns $28.18 per book.

If on the other hand, Chen decided to do a little bit more work himself, or hired a freelance designer and editor for probably less than what he paid to Outskirts, he could have had the books produced directly by Lightning Source (the same printer that Outskirts often uses) for just $4.54 per book (plus a small set-up fee).

If Chen kept the $69.95 list price and allowed Amazon.com and other online booksellers the normal 20% discount, he could have made $51.42 per book -- nearly twice the $28.18 that Outskirts pays him!

Alternatively, if Chen is satisfied with $28.18 per book, by being a real self-publisher, he could have reduced the list price of the book to just $40.95, instead of $69.95.

By using Outskirts Press, Gang Chen is making less money than he could be making, or his readers are paying more for his books than they could be paying, or both.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A trick for beating writer's block

Sometimes it can be very tough to type the first word. Sooner or later "writer's block" affects most people who have to write -- professionals as well as school kids.

It can be caused by a complete lack of creative inspiration, or by fear of writing the wrong thing, by hatred of the subject matter, by depression, or even by an uncomfortable chair or a keyboard or monitor at the wrong height. The blockage can last for minutes, hours, days or even longer.

Perhaps the worst case of writer's block involved Henry Roth (photo). His Call It Sleep was published in 1934. After its publication his writing was blocked and he worked as a firefighter, metal grinder, mental nurse, poultry farmer and teacher. His next book was published in 1979 -- 45 years alter.

With a lapse of 44 years, J. D. Salinger is almost tied with Roth and may beat him. He apparently hasn't published anything new since 1965.

For a school kid, writer's block might mean an "F" on a term paper.

For a professional writer, the effects can be much worse. I was fired from my first job as assistant editor of a magazine when I had a two-week dry spell.

Since I don't want that to happen to anyone else, I'm glad to offer a simple and proven trick that should avoid the failure or the firing.

The opening word or phrase is undeniably important, but the importance can cause impotence. Fear of writing the wrong words can be like male sexual performance anxiety, or stage fright. The longer you stare at a blank sheet of paper or PC monitor, the more frightening and anxiety-inducing writing will become.

The need (real or imagined) to create something monumental like "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or "In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth," or even "It was a dark and stormy night" can immobilize a writer.

HERE'S A SIMPLE CURE: if you can't write the first word or first sentence, JUST SKIP IT.

Start with the second word, second phrase, second sentence or second paragraph, and just keep on writing.

Often the beginning of what you have to write is an introduction. So once you've finished writing everything else, it will be much easier to go back and write the introduction because now you'll know what you're introducing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Last Friday I saw the future of the book business

Last Wednesday I wrote that Lightning Source, the dominant Print-On-Demand printer, is launching an Espresso Book Machine (EBM) pilot program. Books will be printed at the point of sale -- primarily bookstores and libraries -- not at Lightning's own facilities.

The EBM was developed by On Demand Books and was named to Time Magazine's "Best Inventions of 2007" list. It provides revolutionary direct-to-consumer distribution and printing. The EBM is like a vending machine for books, but contains only raw materials (paper and ink), not completed products. It automatically prints, binds, and trims, on demand at point of sale, perfect-bound, standard-quality paperback books at about 14 EBM locations in the USA now. More locations will be added gradually.

Participating publishers in the experiment include John Wiley, Hachette, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster, Clements, Cosimo, E-Reads, Bibliolife, Information Age, Macmillan, University of California Press and W.W. Norton.

A few hours after I uploaded that blog post, Lightning Source announced that they would open the Espresso printing program to all of the publishers that use Lightning.

On Friday I was BookExpo in Manhattan, primarily to see the Espresso Book Machine in action. It was pumping out books every few minutes. The photo above shows one of my books in the output slot of the machine. (CONFESSION: I took the book to the show -- it wasn't printed there.)

One title printed there was, ironically, Morris Rosenthal's "Print-On-Demand Book Publishing." I took home a copy and compared it to a copy that was printed normally by LSI. It appears identical to the regular LSI version, except that the cover was not laminated and appears a bit lighter in color (perhaps because it wasn't laminated). I'm not sure if the Espresso can laminate.

The book store business has been in the dumper, but Espresso can make huge changes to help B&N and mom & pops compete against Amazon. It also helps people who want near-instant gratification but prefer to read on paper instead of e-book readers like Kindle.

Instead of waiting one to three days to receive a book from an online bookseller, people wait just three or four minutes, and can buy snacks while they wait. No shipping. No warehousing. No remainders. No markdowns. No returns. No shredding and pulping. No copies becoming obsolete on the shelf. No waiting for special orders. No shipping errors. No shipping delays.

The Espresso could be a Godsend to self-publishers who have been kept out of, or avoided, brick-and-mortar bookstores. Presumably B&N will accept the same 20% discount on books that are printed in a store, as with books ordered online or as a in-store special order.

While there is no reason to assume that a store-printed book will be much less expensive than a conventional book on the store shelf or shipped by Amazon, the efficiencies should have some effect. Perhaps college texts could come down to $70 or $50 or $30 from $100.

It should become as easy to order an instant book, as to use a B&N kiosk to special order a non-stocked book. I think the only limitation will be the ability to produce the machines fast enough.

The next few years will be an exciting time to be a self-publisher, and now there is another good reason to use Lightning to "print" your books -- even if they actually get printed in a Barnes & Noble store or a college library. Or maybe even in a shopping mall between the kiosks for sunglasses and ear piercing.