Thursday, February 02, 2017

The Four Sides of "Story"

It's complicated: While I was deciding to adopt "Get Your Story Out" as my new tagline, I became aware that story is not always used for benevolent purposes or in a benevolent manner. 

I grew up in the Catholic faith and migrated to Judaism, both of which give serious attention to tale-bearing. The catechism of my childhood spoke of calumny and slander, synonyms for telling lies about a person. Detraction, damaging a person's reputation by revealing some truth about them, is just as bad. If anything, Judaism is even more serious about tale-bearing, called lashon hora (evil tongue) in Hebrew. 

By any name, the use of both factual and fictional story for negative purposes is part of our public culture, painfully obvious during the recent election. 

It's complex though. Here is a simplified but useful way to think about it, especially for authors. 

  • Positive Non-Fiction: If you're doing a memoir and working with me, you'll be somewhere in this quadrant. Even so, it's not a perfect world. When I did my own memoir, I realized that my story was shaped by my memory--or absence thereof.
  • Negative Non-Fiction: If you're doing a tell-all memoir, especially if it involves other people in your life, you may be moving into this quadrant. In any case, how you treat other people in your work is something that comes up. If you're doing muckraking report, you might be in this quadrant. Then again, positive and negative, is in the mind of the beholder.
  • Positive Fiction: If you're writing a novel and have a positive purpose, I'd start you here. Some authors choose fiction because they can get at truth in a novel that they could not get at in a memoir without hurting someone needlessly.
  • Negative Fiction: It's hard to think of my customers here, but the category is real. Fake news, at least the kind that relies on a lie to damage a person's reputation or life. 
Like I said, it's complicated. The Publishing Pro.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Get Your Story Out.

New tagline: For a good three years now, I've been going to HealthSouth Rehab Hospital every Sunday and teaching a weekly class called "What's Your Story?" The experience has had a profound effect on me. It's not so much a class as a chance to talk to people about their personal stories. A few of them have been told "you should write a book." More often, they have an idea that they should write something down for their families, but they don't know where to start. Some of them even insist "I don't have a story." Of course they do, and there's nothing more delightful than helping them find it. 

In any case, it got me to think about defining what I do in a different way. My original tagline, which is twelve years old now, is "Making Professional Publishing Accessible—and Fun—for Everyone." To be honest, this is only a fancy version of what I have tended to tell people who ask me what I do: "I help people self-publish their books."

It's true. It's clear. I do help people self-publish their books. But it's not sufficient by a long shot. The patients at HealthSouth have helped me with that. What I really do is help people get their stories out—in multiple senses of that phrase. I get the story out of your head and heart, I help you refine it, and I help you share it with your intended audience. Getting the Story Out is taking me outside the boundaries of bookmaking into blogging, workshopping, presenting, poetry slamming, Facebooking, and letter writing. It gets me, the professional editor, beyond the planet of editing into the universe of marketing. More later. —The Publishing Pro

Friday, April 15, 2016

Use a Blog to Publish Your Book

Blogs belong: I like blogs. They are cheap (read: free) and, with the addition of "pages," can function as websites. One use for a blogand I've done this twiceis to enable potential customers to preview your book. To be honest, this is a form of publishing, but I don't want to scare you. In any case, previewing with a blog tests your draft and builds an initial audience.

Using a blog to publish your book is easy enough structurally, though you'll have to work around the blog's habit of showing posts in reverse (last shall be first) order.
  • The simplest (seemingly) way is to post the chapters in reverse order, in which case your oldest chapter (e.g.: Chapter One) will appear at the top of the stream and the newest chapter (e.g.: Chapter Ten) will appear at the bottom. This is fine if you have all the chapters in hand and if you don't mind working backwards. A downside is that the neatness of the solution disappears if you decide to start posting comments that are not quotes from the book.
  • A second approach is to direct followers who want to read the chapters in order to use the archive on the main page. Blogger archives default to order of appearance; in other words, your epilogue would appear before your prologue However, you can change the archive so that it lists the most recent post first. This approach has the same downside as the first one. It loses it's tidiness if you decide to add random posts that are not quoted from the book. 
  • A third approach, the best in my opinion, is to create a Table of Contents page, where you list the chapter names in book order and link them to the relevant post/chapter. You just need to know the trick for identifying the URL of each post, which you get by clicking on the time link for a particular post. 
Whatever you decide, it's worth giving your followers some instructions. For example, the header for my murder mystery (Evil Speaking) instructs visitors to use the Table of Contents page to read the chapters in order.The Publishing Pro

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Novelists: Identify Your Core Reader

First things first: It's no secret that it is harder to sell novels than non-fiction self-help books. The author of a non-fiction work is more apt to have specific readers in mind along with a coherent message that will help them. The first-time novelist is more likely to be writing for the fun it, perhaps with the vague hope that readers to be identified later will find the book and send it shooting up the bestseller lists.

Here's the thing: You are more likely to be successful as a novelist if you start with someoneyour core readerin mind. At the very least, identify a genre and stay with it. Rookie authors have an unfortunate tendency to try to hit multiple genres, figuring I suppose that the more potential readers you can identify the more actual readers you will have. This does not worknot if the potential readers are confused about what you're doingand they will be if you are trying to appeal to readers of thriller, romance, western, fantasy, and horror novels. Someday, when you are rich and famous from never-ending book royalties, you can try your hand at crossover fiction.

Two of my literary customers have had success, specifically by keeping their core readers in mind.

Cleon Ochsner, in the course of doing some family history work, obtained official Russian documents relating to the trial and execution of an ethnic German landowner in Ukraine during the Stalinist purges in 1938. His interest was piqued because the man had his own surname—he was probably the brother of one of Cleon's direct descendants. The documents became the basis for a novel called Kulak: Love and Death, a German-Russian Tragedy—Ukraine, 1938. The book has a natural audience: ethnic Germans with Ukrainian roots. It has has done well in English and is now in the process of being published in German.

Colette Holbrook Sheets, a descendant of a Mormon pioneer, had a similar story. She happened onto the detailed journal of Joseph Holbrook, including his trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Mormon Zion in Utah. Sheets, a psychologist, used the medium of the novel to add flesh to the bones of the journal. Sheets died shortly after completing the draft of the manuscript, but her husband Robert saw the book through publication as Intrepid Faith: Joseph Holbrook's Trek to Zion. Robert Sheets is doing well selling the book to Joseph Holbrook's numerous descendants.

Both of these examples were what I would call "non-fiction novels," but the principle of identifying a narrow but coherent readership should work for fictional novels as well.The Publishing Pro.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What's an LCCN, LOC, PCN, and CIP?

And why should you care? I've never gotten too exercised about Library of Congress numbers, but the following post from Indies Unlimited is about as clear as it gets.
"LCCN stands for Library of Congress Control Number. It’s a unique identifier issued by the Library of Congress (LOC) to books that get included in their collection. Some people desire this number because librarians across the nation and the world tend to catalog their books using the LCCN number. There is only one LCCN per book, whereas each edition of a book requires a new ISBN (eBook, paperback, hardback, special editions), and will likely have multiple ISBNs."
Read more ...

Thanks to Anne Flint, author of Fettigrew Hall and a forthcoming prequel, for forwarding the above post.The PublishingPro

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Writing a Memoir?

This book will help:  Have you written a memoir—or thought about writing one? Have you tried to get published—or wondered how hard it would be? Have you thought about publishing your book yourself? Have you not pursued writing or publishing your book because you thought it would be too hard or too expensive?

Writing and Publishing Your Own Memoir ... in 15 easy steps is for you. Publishing your own memoir is a terrific option. Once you know how, it will be easier, cheaper, and much more fun than you ever thought possible.

Have you written a memoir—or thought about writing one? • Have you tried to get published—or wondered how hard it would be? • Have you thought about publishing your book yourself? • Have you not pursued writing or publishing your book because you thought it would be too hard or too expensive?  This book is for you. Publishing your own memoir is a terrific option. Once you know how, it will be easier, cheaper, and much more fun than you ever thought possible.

Think of Yourself as an Artisanal Publisher

A cut above self-publishing? A few weeks ago, I was playing around with alternative names for self-publishers. In some ways, I don't mind the term. I like the emphasis on publishing. I don't mind the emphasis on self, except that it seems to imply that self-publishing is all about doing it yourself, which is a bad way to think. For one thing, it's a misunderstanding of the publishing process. Self-publishing is about the author acting as publisher—and publishers don't do everything themselves. They are CEOs, essentially, who decide on publishing projects and then hire peoplestaff or contractorsto get the job done. While self-publishers may do some of the work themselves, they are publishers and should think of themselves that way. Still, the term self-publishers is a problem.

I began to fish around for alternatives. I noted that there is a whole artisanal movement afoot, which is applied to the creation and distribution of food, beverages, clothing, household products, even shelter. The term implies an emphasis on quality over quantity, artistry over production, local over national, repeat customers over new ones. It seemed to me that self-publishers might benefit from thinking of their work as artisanal.

I tried a couple of word inventionsauthorsan, authisan—but they were a mouthful. Still, I couldn't shake the idea that the authors I work with would benefit from thinking of themselves in alignment with the artisanal movement. 

Quality over quantity: Print-on-demand and eBook technologies have made it possible for authors to make a profit by selling far fewer books than would have been required decades ago. For example, twenty years ago, you might have needed to sell 1,000 books to pay off your offset printing bill. Today with a small printing bill from CreateSpaceor no printing bill from Kindleyou could pay off your printing bill with one book sold. It's still tough to sell books, but it's a whole lot easier to sell 100 than 1,000. 

Artistry over production: Self-publishing has a bad reputation for artistic quality because today's  technology enables authors to do so many things themselves. The result is that there is a lot of ugly work out there, but it doesn't need to be this way. Because you have little to no printing costs, you might be able to hire a copy editor, a designer, book producer, or proofreaders. My suggestion is to start with the copy editor. It's a real skill that takes a long time to learn. Technology doesn't help much with itand yes, I am aware of Microsoft's grammar checker. It's not enough. On the other hand, you can use a free or inexpensive cover creator to do a cover. You can learn how to design your own pages on Microsoft Word. Of course, the technology doesn't guarantee good results. You need to be computer comfortable, you need some know-how, you need the time, and you need to care about the results. But some artisanal publishers are up to the job. 

Local over national: This doesn't apply in the same way to books as it does to food. Books are easier to sell nationally—or even internationally. Still, authors who get out and talk to people in person are going to build more relationships and ultimately sell more books. This work is easier to do locally.

Repeat customers over new ones: Of course, you need new customers. However, artisanal producers don't build their businesses on selling to one-time customers. They are out to build relationships. In other words, they are in it for the long haul. Authors should be the same way. Besides, relationships are fun.The Publishing Pro

How to Improve the Experience of Publishing

Ups and Downs: Publishing has changed enormously in the past couple of decades, but the author's experience remains the same in many ways. These stages are typical:
  • Euphoria: Before self-publishing came around, authors struggled to "get published" and then commonly experienced something like ecstasy when they got the word that a publisher wanted their work. Today, authors experience something similarthough to a lesser degreewhen they learn that self-publishing is a viable option.
  • Struggle: The mechanics of publishingediting, design, page production, printingwere and are hard work. The traditionally published author and the self-published author face the same frustrations. However, this feeling is mixed with a growing excitement as a rough manuscript acquires some polish and the edited manuscript begins to look like a book. Ultimately, the creative process is invigorating, more real because of the struggle. 
  • Euphoria II: When authors receive their first printed books, they experience the joy and satisfaction a mother feels when she holds her new baby in her arms. It doesn't matter whether the authors are traditionally published or self-published. They are filled with the same sense of hope. 
  • Struggle II: Once the book is printed, authors of both varieties wait for the sales to roll in. When those sales don't materialize, at least to the degree the authors expected or hoped for, they begin to feel disappointment. Traditionally published authors have the luxury of blaming their publishers for "not doing any marketing," which they invariably do. And it doesn't seem to matter what the publisher did or didn't do. Self-published authors have only themselves to blame, and it is all the more painful.
The above seems to be a common, almost universal series of experiences. At the same time, parts of itespecially the devastating disappointment of "Struggle II"—can be improved. To have a better experience, I suggest the following:
  • Begin at the End: Smart book development begins at the endwith marketing. Who are your core readers? What do you have to give them? How are you going to change their lives?
  • Focus on Your Work: Book publishing is fun, at least I think so, and I know my customers enjoy the process. However, there is a tendency to think that the book is the baby. It's not. The book is just a way of delivering the baby, which is to say "your work." True, your book is a "work," but ideally it should support your larger work. It is one way of reaching and teaching your customers. It is not the only way. Other ways are presentations, blogs, conversations, youTube, and anything that gets your message across. If you find yourself saying "buy my book" instead of "how can I help you?" you're doing it wrong.The good news is that focusing on your work is what you need to do to sell books.
  • End at the Beginning: When you do your marketing, give it the same attention you gave your book when you were writing, editing, designing, and producing it. When you do your marketing, bring with you the excitement you felt when you were creating your book. Enjoy the process. It's all about building relationships with your customers.—The Publishing Pro

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Do You Treat Others in Your Story?

Facts or Friction: If you are writing a non-fiction book, particularly a memoir, you are likely to worry at some point about how you are treating others in your story. Your concern may be:
  •  Legal (Will I be sued?)
  • Moral (Am I being fair? Am I injuring someone? Am I creating problems for someone?)
  • Emotional (Will this harm my relationship with someone?)
  • Professional (Am I correct? Am I accurate? Is my memory flawed?)
I had to face these questions when I wrote my own memoir (From Rome to Jerusalem: A Non-Jew on the Way). In my case, the questions came up early. Answering them helped me write most of the book.
My first step was to decide on my basic principle. I realized I couldn’t very well avoid involving others in my story. On the other hand, I realized my mission was to tell my story, not someone else’s. My memoir had to be about my side of the street—not that of my family members, friends, or business associates.
From this general principle, I was able decide the specifics—which people, names, and details to include; and which names and details to change or eliminate. Sometimes I referred to a person without naming him or her, sometimes by a first name, sometimes by a pseudonym. I tried to avoid putting others in a bad light. Far from whitewashing my story, it put the onus on me and gave the book a confessional quality. “Wow, you were a bit of a bastard,” my wife said after finishing the book. I may have overreached, but I didn’t mind.
These decisions worked for me, but they may not be appropriate for you. However, my experience leads me to make some procedural suggestions for you.
  • Decide when to decide: I addressed the issue of how to treat others before I began writing the book. This will not work for all authors, maybe not even for most authors. Writing a memoir is a challenge: putting restrictions on your writing from the get-go may prevent you from getting the stories out of your head and into your computer. If writing your story is therapeutic, perhaps because of abuse by others, it might be better to get your stories into draft form—and then worry about how to handle your treatment of others.
  • Decide on the purpose of your memoir: Is it therapeutic for you? Is it therapeutic for others in similar situations? Is it about settling scores? Is it about telling your story—or the story of others?
  • Decide on the importance of the others in your story: In some memoirs, the “others” are a critical element of the story. If the others in your story are well known to your core readers, you may not be able to avoid writing about them. For example, if you are writing a memoir for your family, you can hardly avoid talking about your parents, your spouse, or your children. On the other extreme, if you are well known and the others in your story are well known, it may be hard to avoid talking about them. For example, if you are the president of the United States and you are writing about your term in office, you can hardly avoid talking about world leaders, cabinet officials, members of Congress, and so on. In other cases, your readers may not need to know the exact details about some of the characters in your story or have any interest in identifying them. This can be true even if the characters in your story play major roles, be they heroes or villains.
  • Get trusted feedback: Once you have written a draft that has all the content you want, ask someone you trust to read your manuscript specifically looking at your treatment of others. Where is there unnecessary detail? Where are you telling too much? Where do you need to show less emotion? Or more emotions? If you think you may be at legal risk, you should talk to a lawyer.
  • Decide on tactics for protecting others (and yourself) in your story: Tactics include changing names, details, and eliminating passages. Sometimes you can change the facts and get closer to the truth. Seriously. –The Publishing Pro.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Events that Changed My Perspective

When technology fails: This post is more personal than usual, but it is relevant to my business. I was having a bad time last week, mostly related to technology that either was not working or not working correctly. However, when I looked back on the week, three events completely changed how I viewed that particular day and ultimately the week.
  • HealthSouth: On Sundays, I have been privileged to offer a one-hour memoir class at this rehab hospital. I never know who is going to come, but it is always a pleasant surprise. Patients are rehabbing from a variety of conditions, accidents, and diseases. They come from all backgrounds, ages, and professions. They are usually feeling rather vulnerable and, at the same time, grateful to be there. (It's a positive place. The hospital takes the idea of restoring people to health pretty seriously.) It is a good setting to get stories, which can be fascinating, amusing, and inspiring. On this day, I talked to a 90-year-old woman who had been born in Paris and lived through the Nazi occupationand then to a man who had been a teacher, a principal, and a school superintendent in New Mexico. An Olympic figure-skating coach, who had been there a week earlier, came back for more. The stories made my day. This little gig has been the primary driver in shifting the emphasis of my business from the mechanics of book publishing to the process of helping people detect their most important stories and to begin sharing them.
  • Cottonwood Storytellers: This is the descendant of my regular author meetup group and is intended to get authors to focus as much on telling their stories out loud as in print. The idea is that written and oral stories are connectedand that authors need to connect personally with their readers if they intend to sell their books. We meet in the new David Lord Theater in Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The space is clearly built for performance, which is a little intimidating to our cadre of shy authors. We have struggled a bit to find our way, but I tried a couple of exercises that went particularly well for participants and they want more.
  • Downtown Toastmasters: Toastmasters, however weird its name, changes lives. It turns people who are terrified of speaking in public into dynamic leaders. My home club is bursting at the seams. We seem to get a new member every week. To get everyone sufficiently involved, we've had to add bonus meetings. One of them is at the Cottonwood, in the same place I mentioned above. On this particular Thursday, I had worried about attendance. I had gotten regrets from some of the regular attendees and was fretting that there would be no meeting at all. Worse, I was wondering if the bonus meeting could even be continued. In the end, we had four attendees, less than half of the supposed ideal. As it turned out, the meeting was terrific, with plenty of time for individual attention. I had also received regrets from several new members who expressed an interest in coming the next time. The meeting will continue.
Each of these events changed my perspective. Instead of focusing on my frustration about my wife's new phone, my video tools that refused to work, and the printer that broke and needed to be replaced, I noticed that creative things were happening between me and other people. And that's just what this introvert needs.
The Publishing Pro