Thursday, May 31, 2012

Try These Tools.

Or not: Below are three tools that I either use or have run across recently:

Tracfone: I've had a Tracfone for several years because it's pay-as-you-go, doesn't require a contract, and is cheap, cheap, cheap. I use it as my office phone, and it's strictly for talking with customers (and auto emergencies). I'm required to buy some minutes every 90 days, which so far has cost me between $7.00 and $10.00 a month. For that, I'm happily not joining the ranks of smart phone users. Actually, my new phone is app-capable, at least with the addition of more memory, but it's still just a phone and will stay that way for a while. Oh,yes, it can text. I don't have much use for that either. One caveat. Because Tracfone is pay-as-you-go and requires almost no information, it's popular with drug sellers, criminals, and other ne'er-do-wells--and their short-term phone numbers are recycled. My last phone number was used by a serious deadbeat, and I began getting collection calls for him. When the calls got up to three-times-a-day, I let the minutes run out and bought a new phone--with a new number. So far, so good.

Square: Speaking of smart phones, you can now use your smart phone to take credit-card payments, which is handy for those of you selling books direct to your customers after presentations and the like. Square is just one of the devices I've heard about. It's getting raves about its ease of use and its cost, but there are concerns about its customer service. I haven't used it myself--hey, no smart phone--but I know people who have and like it. Our Toastmasters club is contemplating using it to make it easier for new members and existing members to pay their dues. Competing services include GoPayment from Intuit and ProPay, which is more robust. I expect PayPal, which I use for taking credit card payments online, will get into the mobile credit-card processing game sooner rather than later.

MagCloud: This is an HP business that is combining POD technology, social media, and magazine distribution. I wondered why I hadn't seen POD technology applied to magazines before, but printing hard copies of magazines (unlike books) is a challenge. While their 20-cent per-page price compares favorably to prices at local copy printers, it does not make printing hard copies of a magazine attractive. It is no surprise, then, that the emphasis seems to be on creating PDF magazines, which makes me wonder why we need HP. It's interesting, but I haven't figured it out yet. The Publishing Pro

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Need a Website? Get a Blog!

Why Not? For several years, I've been advising my self-publishing customers to start a blog. And ever since and began offering the capacity to create "pages," I've been advising those same customers to use their blogs as their websites. Indeed, why not?

Some people still think they need to have a website, which is fine, and that they need to pay a "web designer" several hundred dollars or more to build a website for them, which is not fine. Too many self-described web designers build sites with bells and whistles that you don't need and that actually inhibit navigation. Too many of them build sites that require you to go through them to upload your own content. Unless you're a big outfit--or admittedly helpless around the internet--you probably don't need a web designer. Today, your web hosting service is likely to have templates that enable you to design your own website, maintain it by yourself, and upload your own content as needed. Trust me. You do not want to have to go through your web designer every time you want to add a news item, change a paragraph, or delete a comma.

I have even better news. You can skip the web hosting service altogether--you know, the one that requires you to pay $7.99 or $12.99 a month to host your site. Instead, you can start a blog for free, via either or (among others), add a few "pages" and, presto, you've got a blog and website--with no monthly bite into your credit card. If you want to get really fancy, you can buy a domain name for an annual fee and point it to your blog name, in which case your fans will find your blog/website by typing in instead of or

What do you do with this blog/website?

First, you need to decide whether to make your blog all about your book or all about a subject, to which your book may be related. I prefer the second approach, even though I have a book blog myself ( However, that happened because I started the blog as a way to upload drafts of my book and get some early feedback. Now that the book is out, I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. I like the "subject" approach because it gives you more leeway to talk about your broader work, while still offering you the opportunity to sell your book but in a more subtle way. For an example of this second approach, see

Second, design your blog. This is the fun part, and it is reasonably easy. If you need help, it won't take long or several hundred dollars for someone like me to show you the ropes. 

The blog part is the collection of "posts" that appear in reverse chronological order. Some bloggers do very short posts or random comments. My posts, like this one, tend to be more like small articles.

However, to turn your blog into more of a website, you need to create pages. Here are some suggestions, which have to do with marketing both yourself and your book:
  • Book Contents: List the Table of Contents from your book, hyperlinking to sample chapters if you wish. 
  • Buy the Book: You can put a link to Amazon or a button that will take buyers to a shopping cart almost anywhere. Howver, I like a "Buy the Book" page because it makes it easy for those who come to your website explicitly to buy the book. I don't want to force them to hunt around.  
  • Testimonials: Got too many testimonials? You should have such problems. This is one place you can use them. Put reviews here as well--or perhaps on their own page.
  • News: Notify your readers about your book signings, presentations, and appearances--or any developments that affect your work.  
  • Presentations: As an author, you should be making yourself available to do presentations, workshops, or seminars. List and summarize those here. These presentations can be ones you already do or ones you would like to do. 
  • FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. This may or may not apply to you and/or your book. 
  • Article Index: If your posts are really articles, why not list them on a page and hyperlink to the original post. Blogs archive posts by month and subject, but I find that a little cumbersome. You can make it easier on your readers.
  • New Activities (or Stories, Recipes, Projects or Whatevers): If your book is a collection of Whatevers, you can add more Whatevers on this page--and you've got the makings of another book. 

These are just a few ideas. Remember, you're an author, and authors don't just write books. Now I've got to get back to work and implement some of these ideas for myself. The Publishing Pro.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Free Software Puts the Fun Back in Writing.

At least it did for me: Last month, a novelist friend and customer told me about discovering OneNote, which is a little known addition to recent versions of Microsoft Office. By most accounts, OneNote is a fine little notetaking program. However, it does cost something--$80.00 if you buy it separately from Microsoft Office 10--and that sent me checking out cheaper alternatives. It did not take me long to find Ywriter, which has been getting good reviews and is, of all things, free.

While Ywriter5 (the latest version) is an alternative to OneNote, it is not a note-taking program. Rather, it is a writing program, designed more or less specifically for novelists. It solves the novelist's problem: keeping track of characters, locations, bios, notes, ideas, timelines, and the myriad details that are all the more complicated because they come from the ever-changing figment of the writer's imagination. With Ywriter5, you can stop in mid-chapter to add new details that won't be lost. You can create a list of major and minor characters as you go, adding the relevant characters to each chapter.

The software counts the words in each chapter and keeps a cumulative total, which supports my insistence that all authors--novelists included--set a target word count and not simply write until they drop. I keep finding little tools, including some real jewels, designed to help the writer not only finish but finish well. For example, it counts specific word usage, useful for identifying those overused words that writers ignore but that become a thousand sore thumbs in a poorly finished product.

To be fair, the program is not perfect. It has a learning curve, which could be a deal-breaker for the impatient or the electronically challenged. While the program looks good and makes visual sense, it is not functionally intuitive. I repeatedly found myself stuck somewhere, thinking I could add or edit information, only to find I had not found the key. Worse, there is little useful help within the system. I did get some help from YouTube files, of all places. In addition, I could not install Ywriter5 in Windows 7 XP Mode, which is my production machine, and had to settle for installing Ywriter4. On a hunch, I tried installing Ywriter5 directly onto Windows 7, and that worked. Now, I'm actually using Windows 7 for some real work. 

The flaws are aggravating, but they are relatively small and temporary. Each time I broke through a roadblock, my  satisfaction with this software grew--and so did my interest in writing my mystery. The Publishing Pro.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Add Value: Add an Index to Your Book

... But Don't Overdo: It's well known that an index adds value to your book. However, an index can be expensive. Or difficult. Or both.

In the olden days (maybe ten years ago), indexing required the indexer to create a list of indexed entries (words or items) and then, once the final page proofs were done, to undertake the painstaking process of reading every page and identifying which entries appeared on each page. Indexers charged $1.50 to $3.00 a page, partly for the expertise it took to create a good list and partly for the time it took to walk through the book page by page. If a book were to have an index, usually a professional indexer did the job.

With the advent of publishing software like Quark and Adobe InDesign, indexing is easier. Somewhat. While someone still needs to create the list of indexed entries, the computer can keep track of which indexed entries are referenced on which pages.

However, there are three problems with the new system. First, the temptation is there to skip the professional indexer in favor of a DIY index compiled by the author or editor, which can mean that the list of indexed items is not very good. Second, the computer tracks actual words more easily than concepts, which is more limiting than the old human-reliant system. Third, the new system still relies on brute force, though the procedure is opposite to what was followed ten years ago. Instead of going page by page and identifying which indexed entries are referenced on each page, the new indexer (who is more apt to be a graphics or production person than an editor) goes indexed entry by indexed entry through the entire book with the "find" tool, clicking "add" every time a suitable use of the entry appears and skipping any uses of the entry that shouldn't appear in the final index. In the old system, the size of the job was determined mainly by the number of book pages--and so indexers charged per book page. In the new system, the size of the job is determined mainly by the size of the indexed list--and so I charge per each entry indexed.

What does this mean to you? 
  • Refine your list of entries. Sometimes, a focused list makes sense. For example, some books benefit from an index of names. Or an index of locations. Keep your list shorter rather than longer. Remember, you'll probably be charged for each entry on your list.
  • Wait until all your other pages are done before you build your index. That much hasn't changed. Under the new system, you don't want your indexer to have to cycle through your entire list of entries more than once. Or expect to pay for it.
The Publishing Pro