Monday, January 28, 2019

Should an author also be a bookseller? Maybe

Credit card reader for smartphones, from Square.
You can get one for FREE. Paypal has a similar gadget.
I've written that writers can't be too timid to sell their own books. I was using "sell" as an informal and perhaps more forceful synonym for "market" or "promote."

However, sometimes a writer should be involved in the actual selling transaction and exchange physical books for money.

On a 300-page, $18 book sold from a self-publishing company’s website, you’ll probably make 50% ($9).

Expect few sales, because of limited site traffic. When your publisher sells through Amazon.com and other booksellers, you’ll probably collect a measly 10% ($1.80).

But if you are an independent self-publisher selling that $18 book through an online bookseller, you can make about $10. While this is better than what you could get by using a traditional publisher or a self-publishing company, there are ways to make more money.

You can probably buy books for $9 each from your self-publishing company. If you sell directly to readers, you keep what would normally go to the booksellers. You end up with $9 of the $18—if you can get your customers to pay for shipping, as they often do with Amazon or B&N.

HOWEVER, if you buy books right from Lightning Source, you’ll pay $4.80 plus shipping, and keep about $12 from the $18. The cost from Amazon's KDP (formerly CreateSpace) is $4.45, so you can keep a bit more.

Even if you discount the price by a few dollars or pay for shipping to customers, you could still make more than you normally would, and you’ll get paid immediately.


I don't want to compete with Amazon and other booksellers, but I do sell a few books each month to readers who want personalized inscriptions. I accept credit cards and Paypal, and ship via Priority Mail. Boxes are free.

There are several ways to reach customers directly. They don’t apply to every book and they probably should not replace Amazon and B&N, but they could be a supplement.
  • Sell from your websites and blogs.
  • Sell during or after speeches.
  • Sell at flea markets.
  • Sell to friends, neighbors and business associates.
  • Sell at trade shows and conventions.
  • Sell at book fairs, craft fairs, festivals or events that tie in with your subject, such as boat shows or auto races.
  • Ring doorbells (just kidding).
Writer/blogger Sonia Marsh said, “Known experts should self-publish. Generally, they get $20,000 per speaking gig and sell 700 copies of a book after the gig.” I have no idea where she got her data. But even if her numbers are inflated ten times, the money is still impressive for an hour’s work. 

If you are going to sell, you’d better be prepared to accept credit cards. Some in-person purchasers may pay cash, and you may gamble by accepting checks or a promise for future payment, but most book sales are done with credit cards.

You need a merchant account. You can get one from a bank, warehouse club or merchant service provider. You will probably pay the company between 2% and 5% of each transaction. “Non-swiped” transactions, where you don’t actually see the card, cost extra; and there may be other fees.

For advice on accepting cards and evaluations of service companies, see http://www.100best-merchant-accounts.com/.

It’s also possible to process online sales by accepting payments through PayPal. It may be less expensive than credit cards, but some people don’t like PayPal.

You will need a terminal or PC software. You can get a wireless terminal for use where there is no phone connection from http://www.merchantexpress.com/. The company can even enable you to use a laptop for wireless authorizations.

Square offers a particularly innovative system for processing credit card sales. It’s a small FREE card reader for smartphones (shown up above) combined with credit card processing with fast funds availability and low fees. See http:///www.square.com. Paypal offers a similar gadget.

BAD NEWS: If you sell in-person, you’ll probably have to collect and remit sales tax. It’s an ISPITA (industrial-strength pain in the ass) if you sell in several states.

GOOD NEWS: Many thousands of books reach readers without booksellers. They are distributed—sometimes for free—by entities that want information or opinions circulated. These “special sales” can generate high profits, with no risk of returns.

A book you’ve already written may be perfect for use by an association, corporation, government, charity, foundation, university or a political party. Perhaps a book you’ve written needs just slight changes and perhaps a new title and cover to become perfect. Maybe the information in your book is fine, but the book needs a new point of view or emphasis to let you make a deal.

If you want to pursue the special sales market, get a copy of Brian Jud’s How to Make Real Money Selling Books. It includes a huge number of possible purchasers, pus step-by-step instructions for making a sale.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Market research trick is also a bookselling tip

If you plan to write a nonfiction book and 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”

When your book is nearly finished, return to the same websites and mention to appropriately articulate participants that you are writing a book on the subject, and would like to send them a preview copy for their opinion. You can mention that you may want to quote them on the book cover.

After publication, go back again and answer some questions, and point out that your new book provides additional valuable information.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An author's dilemma: should we hide the truth to avoid embarrassing relatives of evil people?


If you think of New Haven and education, there's a good chance you'll think of Yale University, a superb educational institution and part of the Ivy League. New Haven's public schools, however, frequently did a terrible job educating students.

I was the victim of some terrible teachers in New Haven's schools. Some were merely ignorant or incompetent. Others were absolutely nuts, evil, even sadistic and physically abusive. (Some, however, were OK or even superb).

Back in sixth grade, way back in 1958, I suffered from Julia Quinn, a particularly horrid teacher. I complained to my parents but they insisted that I must respect her because of her position—no matter how evil, incompetent, lazy or deranged she was.



I promised myself that someday I would tell the world what my parents refused to listen to. It took me over 50 years, but I kept the promise with my bestselling memoir, Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults).

I can still visualize exactly where I was standing when I made the decision to write about Quinn. If I go to hell I’m going find Quinn and beat the crap out of her. But I may have to wait in line for my turn because so many others suffered because of her. If you think I didn’t like her, you’re underestimating my passion. I hated her fucking guts. And I still do.

Some people, including my ultra-cautious wife, warned me to not use real names in the memoir. I saw no need to disguise or minimize evil. Here's some text from the book:




When I was in high school, another teacher, with the silly rhyming name of Herman Cherman, repeated a silly rumor to the school's disciplinarian—our assistant principal George Kennedy. Herman said that I had traveled to school on a winter day, sitting on the convertible top of my best friend Howie's Triumph.


Not only would it have been very cold up there and hard to keep my balance, but I would probably have broken the top and fallen in on Howie and caused us to crash.


The assistant principal believed Herman, and made a school-wide amplified announcement summoning Howie and me to the detention room.

Fortunately the school cop, Joe Manna, came to our defense. He told Kennedy, “These are good boys; they would never do anything like that.” In the one time he was ever nice to me in three years, Kennedy said, “I wish Cherman would mind his own damn business. I have enough real problems to deal with without him making up fake problems.”

Recently in a Facebook group that deals with New Haven, one of Cherman's kids asked if anyone remembered her father. I responded with the story of my unnecessary embarrassment caused by his lying. The daughter then attacked me, calling me disgusting, evil and a liar. She pointed out that Herman won awards for his teaching.

Her father may indeed have been a wonderful teacher and father—but he was not my teacher or father—and in his only dealing with me, was an evil, lying busybody who caused unnecessary pain to my best friend and me.

I will never know the motivation for his lie. I assume he was trying to win points from Kennedy.

The daughter, in a second generation of embarrassment, publicly called me a liar. But her father was the liar; and she, unlike me, did not witness the incident.

I responded that I had no reason to make up the story and that as Shakespeare and others have pointed out, "
the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children."

She has good memories of her father. I have a bad memory of the same person. That's life. I have no reason to hide the truth to shield anyone.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

I just bought a printed book. After years of ebooks, it's weird to read it.


Above: my first and most-recent hardcover books, separated by about 70 years

Books have always been extremely important to me. As the photo shows, even as a little kid, I used the bathroom as a library so not a moment of potential reading time was wasted. In 2019, the only piece of furniture I can visualize from the Bronx apartment my parents brought me home to in 1946 is a mahogany bookcase. I share my bed with my wife and usually my iPad or Kindle Fire.

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

I've been accused of being addicted to reading. Like other kinds of addicts, I've resorted to sneaking and cheating to satisfy my addiction.
  • When I was in first grade, I had a ridiculous 7:30 PM bed time. I got into bed, pulled the blanket over my head, and read with a flashlight.
  • Later, maybe in third grade, when my technical skills improved, I came up with a better solution. I put a bright light bulb in my bedroom closet and it was bright enough to illuminate a book when I was in bed. I attached a long string to the pull-chain that controlled the light, and put a tennis ball at the end of the string. When I heard my parents approach, I yanked the string to shut off the light, and tossed the tennis ball and string into the closet to hide the evidence, and made believe I was asleep.
  • The ultimate evolution of my scam occurred around sixth grade. I installed a photoelectric cell in the garage, aimed outward. If my parents were out for the evening, and then came home when I was supposed to be asleep, the car's headlights would trigger the photocell which then rang a bell in my bedroom—so I could shut off my light and shut my eyes.
  • Later on, my parents didn't care how late I stayed up, and I often read until midnight, and started again around 4 AM. 
  • In my senior year in high school, my English teacher required us to read and report on one book each month, with a bonus if we could read one book each week. I half-jokingly asked her what would happen if I did one a day. She half-jokingly said she'd give me an "A." I read the books, wrote the (short) reports, and got my "A."
  • When I was in college, I was still building book shelves a week before I was going to move out of my apartment and go to New York to be a magazine editor. (Assistant editor, actually.)
I've always had a strong reverence for books. Maybe it comes from my parents, who were avid readers. As a Jew, I am part of "the people of the book." 

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

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

A few years ago I figured out that my house has nearly 400 linear feet of book shelves, which means I must have (GASP!) nearly 4,000 books. There are also books in cartons, and in drawers and in my car, and on my phone, computers, Kindle Fire and iPad. In the old days there would be books on UPS and USPS trucks heading to me.

I order books from Amazon at least once a week.

I'm a fast reader, but I can't possibly read fast enough to keep up with the inflow. The only obvious solutions were to become a faster reader (unlikely at my age) or buy fewer books.

Instead, I started giving away books, and began buying ebooks only. I save space, and can resume reading anywhere.

A few days ago I was in a dollar store. I couldn't resist looking at the one-buck books. The store had about a dozen titles. Four seemed interesting. One was purchased. I started reading it as soon as I got out to my car, to wait for my wife to finish shopping.

I was able to prop up the book on my steering wheel as in the old days—but I tried "swiping" pages with my fingers to flip the pages. It did not work. I was also unable to highlight text or look-up words, and I had to remember to take the book from the car into my house.

I suppose I have become an e-guy.  

Friday, January 4, 2019

My nominations for the most disgusting bits of literature



Would you want to read any more of Rainbow Gliding Hawk and the Last Stand of the Patriarch by Doug Lambeth after encountering the first page of the first chapter?

The vomit warmth reaches through the shiny leather and as my toes begin to sweat, I pray that rental tuxedo shoes are water/puke proof. I wonder if they’re Gore-tex lined? “It’s just puke,” I say, and to punctuate the point Dirk retches his remaining stomach contents onto my feet.



The next gem is from The Wayward Comrade and the Com­missars, by Yurii Karlovich Olesha.

How pleasant my life is. Ta-ra. Ta-ra. My bowels are elastic. Ra-ta-ta. Ta-ra-ree. My juices flow within me. Ra-tee-ta. Doo-da-da. Con­tract, guts, contract. Tram-ba-ba-boom! (I wrote a book report on this one when I was in junior high school.)

It's probably best to minimize the disgusting stuff unless you're writing for doctors or children.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Authors: consider an "out-of-town" tryout for your book. Don't let it flop on Broadway.



Traditionally, theatrical productions that were headed to New York's Broadway "tried out" out-of-town, often in Boston and New Haven. In those cities the writer, director, composer and producers could observe audience reactions and make changes before the show was presented for the New York audience and critics.

When I was in junior high school in New Haven in the early 1960s, I saw many tryouts at the Shubert Theatre. My friends and I paid $1.20 to sit in the second balcony, and sometimes sneaked down to better seats—even box seats—if no one else claimed them.
  • Self-publishing authors have an advantage over authors who work with traditional publishing houses because they can have an "off-Broadway" tryout, just like a drama or a musical.
With minimal expense, you can get a few dozen copies of your pbook or ebook, and distribute them to friends, relatives, librarians, booksellers, consultants, agents, other writers, teachers, experts—anyone whose opinions you respect.

You'll probably get lots of good advice that will influence your final text and covers, and you might even get compliments that can be used as "blurbs" to help promote the final version of the book.

One of my books had a limited release in late 2008. While I was pleased with it, and it got consistently good reviews, I realized that the title confused some readers (it's a quote from one of my crazy teachers). I also realized that one chapter should be replaced with other material and I should shift some of the front matter to the back so people would reach the "meat" of the book sooner.

I also decided to add some material and I lowered the price. The new book has gotten great reviews and thousands of copies have been sold worldwide as a paperback, hardcover and ebook.

If my "out-of-town" version became my "Broadway" version, the book would likely have been a flop.



(Top illustration from old Shubert program at the University of South Carolina)