Saturday, September 24, 2016

"Publishing: Traditional, Subsidy, Indie"



Traditional publishing is done through a publishing house that will pay you an advance against the royalties that your book will earn. Because they are taking much of the financial risk, they are cautious about what writers they will publish. They will exert considerable authority over your manuscript’s contents. It may be a year or two from submittal to printing. If they accept your book, they will print thousands, lowering their cost per page. They once did much book promotion, now less. Generally you will need an agent who will approach them and vouch for you and handle the subsequent negotiations. Getting an agent is usually hard, as they do not want to waste their time on someone whose book is not likely to sell well. They get a percentage of the royalties/advance. If you are a celebrity, they will even pursue you. If not, you take your chances with query letters and sample chapters. Many books are available on these topics.

Subsidy publishers, like Outskirts Press that I have used, will publish your book because you pay them to set it up, and they get some money from every copy sold. Although they want to keep their reputations intact, and thus won’t publish just anything, they are much more likely to publish an unknown or a newcomer than are traditional publishers. They use Print on Demand technology and will print as few as five books at a time. You won’t be stuck with a closet-full or a garage-full, but the cost will be around three cents per page. They will set up an author page for you, and they will offer a variety of editorial and promotional materials and activities for additional fees, but they will do minimal promotion for almost all their books.

Indie (independent) publishers will charge less than subsidy publishers and accept a wider range of materials, doing near-zero promotion. Depending on additional services, the costs are likely to be lower still than the other two options. Be sure to check, however.


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Excerpted from my Write Your Book with Me,  published by Outskirts Press in paperback and ebook formats, and available from OP and online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com: Write Your Book with Me

My writing-editing-coaching site is http://WriteYourBookwithMe.com.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

"Produce, Publish, Publicize," from WYBWM




PRODUCE, PUBLISH, PUBLICIZE (SUMSION, 2010)

In her Produce, Publish, Publicize, author Sabrina Sumsion crisply covers these three aspects of becoming a successful author for three different groups: the would-be bestsellers; the “make-a-buck” middle; and those who write for family, friends, and “posterity.” Available through amazon.com, her book looked good on my Kindle, and sold for a bargain price. This brief summary cannot do it justice. Buy it:

        “Know thyself,” Socrates reportedly said. If you think you can produce a best-selling novel or non-fiction book, then you are going to invest more effort in it than those who are writing it to send a message to the world or as an adjunct to their other activities or primarily to tell their story to their relatives.

        Produce: Write the best book you can. Revise it repeatedly. Get help with editing for content and for copy correctness (grammar, spelling, punctuation). If you hope for a bestseller, you will have to pay for editing help, unless you land an agent and a contract with a traditional commercial publisher (those whose names you see on the spines of the best-selling books in your genre). Even then, you will likely need an editor to get your manuscript into tip-top shape for trying to snare an agent.

        Publish: To get an agent, you will need to have high-class material and perhaps already be well known. Without an agent, forget about getting a traditional commercial publishing company to pay attention to what you submit. (Of course, rules have their exceptions, but although the race is not always to the swift, it pays to bet that way.) An agent will connect you with suitable publishing houses and should take your book on a commission basis only, typically 15%. (Avoid agents requiring up-front fees.) The publisher should give you a non-trivial advance and will supply editorial and art-work support and later will help with publicity. The middle category of authors will likely pay a few thousand dollars to get the book published by a subsidy press and will then hope to sell enough copies or give them away productively so as to offset the cost. If you are writing for posterity, you may be paying a subsidy press to publish your book and will probably be giving away almost all of your copies. Alternatively, you may use a service like Create Space to help you print and self-publish your book.

        Publicize: There used to be hundreds of thousands of new titles sent forth in America each year. The advent of easy self-publishing means a million or more new titles are newly minted yearly. How to get the public to buy yours? The expensive way is to buy advertising. Harder, much less expensive, is to generate publicity. In bestsellerdom, the publishing house will do some advertising, will send you on some promotional trips, and will expect you to do what you can to get yourself and your book noticed.

Sumsion (2010) writes, “Publicity is to books as wings are to birds.” About half of her book is devoted to publicizing. “Best-selling authors do not sit back and expect sales to come pouring in.” They work very hard at promoting themselves and their work. Publishers now expect this. A publicist herself, she recommends you hire one, but recognizes that this can be expensive and not truly necessary…if you have the skill and exert the effort to do what a publicist would do for you. She says you must not be discouraged by rejection: in a good week about 5 of 200 media contacts will result in a worthwhile interview, appearance, etc. She gives advice on finding a capable publicist. They will typically charge $1000 or more per month, and there are no guarantees, so don’t mortgage the house to pay for one.

Getting noticed usually requires finding “the hook” for your book, something to catch and hold the media’s attention. Sabrina Sumsion lists twenty, including:  current events; how to; top 10 (or any number); holiday (even create one); play on words; challenge; put the expert (me) to the test; connect to a celebrity; publicity stunt; involve the audience; involve the host; beware; discuss a problem; trends; make-over; controversy; success after failure; give yourself a special name ( e.g., “the great____” or my sometimes title “the book obstetrician”).

A professional publicity campaign starts with pre-publication publicity, where advance review copies of the book are sent to those who might be interested enough to read and comment on it, producing, hopefully, “blurbs“ that can adorn the book‘s cover. You need press materials: “we consider a press release, a sell sheet, a Q&A, and two cover letters essential for a publicity campaign.” See her book for details.

You’ll want to send out free copies for reviewing once the book is published. Book signings where your book is on sale are good, but you can hold them at libraries, too. Book signings at book stores are becoming rarer.


The remainder of her book contains much valuable information on the details of getting favorable publicity. 

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Excerpted from my Write Your Book with Me, published by Outskirts Press and available in paperback and ebook formats from OP, amazon.com, bn.com, and other online booksellers. 


My writing-editing-coaching site is http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

DECISIONS: Is the Best the Enemy of the Good?

You are often faced with deciding whether what you’ve got is good enough.
How does the French maxim, “the best is the enemy of the good” relate to our choices…in business, romance, shopping, home selection, education?
This boils down to: should you be an optimizer or a “satisficer”? Demand perfection or settle for something less? Does close count only in pitching horseshoes…and hand grenades?

Too Many Choices?
Having more options seems better than having fewer, until you go to the grocery store and find a dizzying array of similar products.
It’s not just at the grocery store that we have a glut of choices. Prosperity and technological progress have opened myriad doors, once closed, among which we must choose.
Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz ascribes the explosive increase in depression in the U.S. partly to the tyranny of too many choices. Freedom with responsibility means we feel failure, making the wrong choice, more sharply.
Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ironically wrote, “Man is condemned to be free.” Woman, too.
The recently published book Supersurvivors describes research that showed that the more investment options offered to employees, the smaller percentage of them end up investing in their company-subsidized 401(k) plans. This is called “analysis paralysis.” Too many choices.

Finding Mr. Right
  One high-stakes decision is whom to marry. Dating gives you a set of options. You can stop dating and marry one of them. It may be easy to compare the one you married with the others, but what about those you might have met if you kept dating?  
Wait for Mr. Right or settle for Mr. Almost-Right? How good is the current set of candidates? How many more opportunities are you likely to have?
If you must have the best, you’ll never know whether you have met him. You are doomed to be dissatisfied.

Getting the Best Job
As with finding Mr. Right, finding the best job/career is a challenge, with limited options and limited information. Employer and employee have only partial information. Once you take the job, the employer will be somewhat surprised and so will you. Hopefully, the surprises will be mostly pleasant.

Analysis Paralysis
Pursuing the best option is made difficult by the number of options, which can be too few or too many, and by a lack of knowledge about the present and future, with a large number of aspects to be considered.
Yes, we are told that for real estate it’s simply “location, location, location.” But even here, “location” can mean distance from work, distance from school, neighborhood amenities, sources of noise, transportation facilities, and elements of natural beauty….
Finding the best requires comparing them on the many characteristics that count to you and then finding a way to make trade-offs between being somewhat better in one aspect and a lot worse in another. If you are lucky, one choice will be as good as or better than all the others in the characteristics that count; that option will dominate, and you will rightly choose it. Otherwise, the choice remains difficult.

And Yet, Perfect is Beautiful
When creating something or seeking something, we know that perfect is to be preferred to imperfect…if available and affordable. Artists and businesses that create more nearly perfect artifacts or services can demand top dollar among those who can afford to pay. For such buyers, the best is better than the good.

What to Do?
When you must choose, recognize that perfection is nearly impossible to obtain, especially within your limits of options, information, time, and money. Then…try to be satisfied with your choice.
If the decision was hard, there was probably little difference among the finalists.

Have you been too choosy and lost a good opportunity? Have you settled when you should have held out longer? Do you find it hard to complete projects because nothing less than perfect will satisfy you?
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Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D., is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes, and he helps others write and publish their books via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. Douglas’s life's central theme has been his half-century romance with Tina Su Cooper, quadriplegic for over a decade due to multiple sclerosis, receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, care discussed at their website here.

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Published in a somewhat edited form at

Review: How to Start a Business That Doesn't Suck



Clarke Hits the Mark, Business-wise
This highly informative and entertaining book reached me just when I was wondering whether my own little business was going to survive, going into its fifth year. Clarke cites the Small Business Association as indicating only 20% of start-ups make it five years. If I’d read this book sooner, my chances would be brighter.

Clarke starts tongue in cheek (one hopes) with a prologue, “Why You Should Definitely NOT (Under Any Circumstances) Start a Business.” You’ll work harder than ever, have less family time and more expenses, create products or offer services few people want, waste money, hire dolts, and probably fail. “I won’t sugar-coat things for ya. Starting a business is as difficult as sitting through a Justin Bieber concert with your niece.”

Still want to start one? OK, on to the rest of the book! After all, Clarke went from being broke to owning five profitable businesses and having the freedom “to work where and when I want….”

Chapter 1 explores whether you really should start a business. Clarke quotes Churchill (yes, Winston Churchill, that notable Brit), “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Hard to know when courageous persistence devolves into stupid stubbornness, though. Clarke advises that we “emphasize learning over results” at our beginning, as the results will often be ugly, or at least money-losing. “You’re going to fail when starting a business. A lot.” You see, it’s not about how hard you work, it’s how much value you create for others, a trickier deal. Since you will likely fail, try to do so quickly to learn rapidly what doesn’t work. Try to produce the Minimum Viable Product (or service) and learn from your customers’ comments. To succeed despite your setbacks, you will do better if you find a good reason besides money for having this business.

Chapter 2 deals with coming up with a good idea for a business. Clarke closes with some action steps: list three things you know a lot about, three you are passionate about, three audiences you’d like to serve, three “glitches” you notice that deserve fixing. Some overlap among these could be the sweet spot.

Chapter 3 directs you to stress-test your proposed business idea. Who is your ideal customer? Does your customer have an “urgent, painful or obsessive motivation to reach a result or find a solution…”? You should be selling results, not products or services. Is your fix unique? Is it hard for others to offer what you do? Do you really care about your customer?

Chapter 4 advises you to spy on your competition, to know what the others are offering and how. “Read everything you can in your industry.” List your competitors. Pretend to be a customer of theirs. Spend 10 minutes brainstorming about what you can adapt from what they are doing.  

Chapter 5 tells how to create products or services others will buy, except Clarke warns, “here’s the harsh truth: nobody cares about your products or services.” They only care about what’s in it for them. This means you have to get to know your customers really well. Even talk to them! Many of them! Imagine the ideal product or service for them, then create a so-so prototype. Improve it to “good enough.” Make it pretty. Sell and improve.

Chapter 6 shows how to create a business plan, if you must, and you will need it if you are to get others to invest. It even helps keep you on track. Start with your 30-second”elevator pitch” that tells who the customer is, what problem you solve, what they will achieve, and how you will help them achieve it. Only then mention your business’s name. Read Clarke’s chapter to get more details. Check everything with a lawyer and an accountant.

Chapter 7 tells about branding yourself…no, not with a branding iron. This includes business name, logo, slogan, and mission statement. Emphasize, surprisingly, what your business is NOT, to help find your niche. Get good advice from others on cool name, logo, and slogan, such as “don’t leave home without it.”

Chapter 8 tells how to get funded but advises not to, if you can possibly avoid it. Calculate your needs. Foresee your problems. Create a prototype, at least. Tell a compelling story. Ask for money…if you must.

Chapter 9 is devoted to taking care of “all that legal crap.” Again, get a lawyer and an accountant to help. “Protect your business name.” Don’t let others copy it. Decide what legal structure you’ll have (mine is an LLC, for example). “Get all relevant state licenses and insurance set up beforehand.” If you have partners or investors, get all the ground rules clearly stated and agreed to.

Chapter 10 is “How to Avoid All the Stupid Business-Launch Mistakes I made.” That’s “business-launch mistakes,” not “business-lunch mistakes.” Clarke starts with a fine quote from Drew Houston, founder of Dropbox, “Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once.” Really quite inspiring! I mean it. Here’s Clarke’s advice I have been reluctant to take: “Set up your email opt-in system.” He means services such as Aweber or Constant Comment or MailChimp, which keep track of your contacts and help produce automated responses for those who accept your premium to be put on your mailing list. Set up a “spiffy” and “professional” website. Plan to handle customer service issues right from the start. Track business revenues and expenses carefully and separately from personal finances. When you hire, hire those who are NOT like you, but rather, like Adrian and Rocky (my analogy), are people who “fill gaps.” Finally, have clear goals, measurable, with deadlines, and rewards for achieving them.

In his epilogue, Clarke encourages us to take the big step and start the business we dream of, offers to help with his Drive Thru MBA program, and gives us his email address, Michael@DriveThruMBA.com.

I plan to see his site, maybe get some help. He has written a hell of a fine book.














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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Publishing's Long Tail

CHAPTER 3:      PUBLISH
Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle
and hurling it into the sea.
Margaret Atwood, novelist, essayist, poet

The publishing industry has changed radically in the past few decades, due to the Internet and Print-on-Demand technology. Lower costs allow many more titles to be put up for sale, though they are then easily lost from view.

PUBLISHING’S LONG TAIL

“More nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

That simile need not describe the modern would-be book author. The publishing world has been changing, giving newcomers greater opportunities for being published, but making it less likely that their books will have large audiences. Let me explain:

Imagine creating the following graph: list the books published in the preceding year from 1 to whatever, in the order of their sales for that year, and plot the sales against that rank ordering. The best-selling book’s sales would be plotted high, at position 1, the second-best-selling book’s sales, somewhat less, at the number 2 and so on. The curve would fall continuously, but would go on and on, reaching values just somewhat larger than or equal to one book that year.

This kind of curve is said to have a “long tail,” staying above zero much farther than most common mathematical curves would.  There were several hundred thousand new titles published 2010, I have read, and the expectation for 2012 was a million or so, with the advent of electronic book publishing (“ebooks”) and publishing on demand (“POD“) printing technology. A decade ago, far fewer new titles were published.

Economics and technology enable this explosion in the number of titles “in print,” where we consider those that are available as ebooks as being “in print,” whether or not anyone prints them on paper.

My magnificent 2011 opus, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage, and Devotion, recently ranked about one-millionth on the Amazon list of printed published books sold by them and about 250,000th among their Kindle ebook offerings. Imagine if a book store was to try to keep the top million sellers, so you could be sure to find mine there: at a half-inch (1/24th of a foot) thickness average per book, and only one book on the shelf per title, the shelf space needed would be (1/24th) x (one million)x(feet) = 42,000 feet, almost eight miles of shelf space. [Mine would be way down at the far end.] I have read that a typical book store carries only about 25,000 titles.

No sensible book store would try to carry the top 1 million best sellers, and my Ting and I would be doomed. With the Internet and Amazon and my publisher’s [Outskirts Press‘s] Print on Demand technology, my book has a chance to be seen on the Internet at amazon.com and bn.com etc. by people who would never have had that opportunity years ago.

This “long tail” situation allows economical production and electronic “storage” of far more books than ever before, giving the writer for a niche market a chance of being published and being read by his proper audience. The bestseller lists will rarely have such a title on them, but the book will be published, and its author will have a shot at reaching his intended readers. The costs for printing and storage will be relatively small, the profits per book possibly large, especially for ebooks, and the number of buyers largely dependent on the author’s ability to promote himself and his work, as well as on the quality of the book itself.


Thus, this long tail can be to our advantage. We will be published. Next, we have to promote ourselves and publicize our book.


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Excerpted from my magnum opus, Write Your Book with Me, recently pubished by Outskirts Press and available from OP as well as from online booksellers like amazon.com and bn.com in paperback and ebook formats.

See also my writing-editing-coaching website, not surprisingly named http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Writing Fiction: Historical, SciFi, Romantic



HISTORICAL FICTION: BLASTS FROM THE PAST – ACCURATE SETTING, FICTIONAL PEOPLE AND DIALOGUE

Historical fiction takes place in the past, which changes the setting for the characters and their interactions. You still need a strong story, but some of your readers will be reading partly for the information about the times and the places in which your characters are immersed. They want to feel they are being educated while they are being entertained. So, bone up on the period and places in which your story unfolds.

The tricky part is not getting things wrong. The dialogue cannot contain modern slang and other anachronisms, items from another period rather than the one you are dealing with. The battles must be in the right places with the right winners. The “news” of the time must be correct. Did they have indoor plumbing? Radio? Electricity? Trains? You get the idea.

Historical fiction seems to require less imagination and definitely more research than other genres, but you cannot get so bogged down in research that you stop writing the story. Readers don’t need all the historical details. Strike a balance. 

As with other forms of fiction and for memoirs, the writer needs to make sure the reader knows the answers to the questions journalists pose for themselves: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Similarly, the stories need to start with something like headlines to alert the reader to what is coming: “The girls never forgot that day….”



SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY: WHAT COULD BE, MAY BE – MAKE US CARE, MAKE US SCARED?

Googling “how to write science fiction and fantasy” produced 8 million hits. The winner: novelist Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, the second print edition of which was published in 1991 and the Kindle ebook edition, which I bought for $5.75, published in 2015. It contains sound advice on his genres, followed by more about writing fiction in general. Here’s material from Card’s summary of the contents of his five chapters:

1.   The Infinite Boundary What is, and isn’t, science fiction and fantasy….and how SF and fantasy differ from one another.

2.   World Creation How to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world that readers will want to share with you….

3.   Story Construction Finding a character for an idea or developing ideas for a character to enact…. Should the viewpoint character be the main character? ….The MICE quotient: milieu, idea, character, event….
 
4.   Writing Well Keeping exposition in its place. Leading your reader into the strangeness, step by step. Piquing the reader’s interest….

5.   The Life and Business of Writing.
Card (2001) tells would-be authors, “…in many ways this is the best audience in the world to write for. They’re open-minded and intelligent. They want to think as well as dream. Above all, they want to be led into places that no one has ever visited before….”

So, get Orson Scott Card’s ebook…it’s a bargain.


ROMANTIC FICTION: LOVE LOST AND FOUND

On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells, by best-selling novelist Leigh Michaels (2007), is highly favorably reviewed on the amazon.com site, so who am I to disagree?

It will show you (the description says) how to:
·      Steer clear of clich├ęs
·      Craft engaging and realistic heroes and heroines the readers will adore
·      Convincingly develop the central couple’s blossoming relationship
·      Add conflict by utilizing essential secondary characters like “the other woman”
·      Use tension and timing to make your love scenes sizzle with sensuality
·      Get your characters to happily-ever-after with an ending your readers will remember forever.



     This is not a genre with which I have much familiarity, despite being a romantic myself.

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     Excerpted from my own magnum opus, Write Your Book with Me, published by Outskirts Press recently and available from OP and amazon.com, bn.com, and other online booksellers.

     My writing-coaching-editing website is http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com.