Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Serious Authors Put Customers First.

Think like an author: I make a point of trying to turn writers into authors. You can be both, of course, but there is a difference. Writers do the introverted, creative work. Authors do the extroverted, outreach work. If writers are comfortable in an ivory tower, authors are comfortable on the street. 

If forced to make a choice, I prefer my own customers to be authors. Two reasons. First, if an author can't write, I can help. If I writer can't reach out to readers, I can do nothing. Second, the author who can't write will always be more successful than the writer who can't think like an author. (One of my favorite projects was a book by a man who couldn't write. He couldn't spell, punctuate, or produce a grammatical sentence. On the other hand, he knew who his customers were and what he wanted from a book. And he had hilarious stories. Despite his lack of writing talent, his manuscript was an easy edit. The result: he has sold several thousand copies of his book.)

So, think like an author. And act like one. This means the following:
  • First, you start a book project with specific customers in mind. For most books, your customer will be your reader. In some cases, notably regarding a children's book, your customer will be your reader (a child of a certain age and description) and your buyer (parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, therapist, etc.). Doesn't matter. In  both cases, to borrow an idea from the late business and nonprofit consultant Peter Drucker, your aim is to change your customer's life. 
  • Second, you start interacting with your intended customers immediately. For those who already have identified customers, perhaps because they have been working in a particular business or ministry for some time, this will not be a problem. For those starting from scratch, it might be news. However, it should be common sense. If your aim is to change someone's life, why would you even think of waiting. Your work is your work. Your purpose is your purpose. Neither depend on having a book in hand. On the other hand, when you do get a book in hand, your ability to sell a copy depends on you doing things consistent with your work and your purpose. Why wait? 
  • Third, you spend the bulk of your time and energy on understanding and meeting your customer's needsfor information, inspiration, and entertainmentthan on polishing your work. As above, you can hire someone to dot the i's and cross the t's. It's harder to find someone with your passion and conviction who can carry your message to your customers. If they could do that well, they'd write their own books.  
Putting customers first does not mean you pander to them. This is not about giving them what they already have, know, or can do for themselves. It's about giving them your vision, your ideas, and your energy in a way that will change their lives for the better. It's about understanding that your book is not about you but about your relationship with your reader. If it's only about you, no one will buy it. The Publishing Pro

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Ephemeral Character of 21st-Century Publishing

No stopping: Not so long ago, books had a permanent quality about them. It was built into the beast. You had to print more than you needed, almost always, and you wouldn't go back to the printer until you needed more, almost never. Revisions, big or small, were too expensive. You lived with the odd mistake and went onto the next project.

Not so anymore. Books seem no more permanent than magazines, even newspapers, used to be. Newspapers themselves are in the process of going digital, which means they no longer have even the overnight "permanence" that they used to have. Photos have become ephemeral, taken on smart phones and posted on Snapchat for seconds, less record of an event than syllables in a jabbering conversation.

In any case, technology has made books easy to change, so much so that author-publishers have no idea where to stop. Publishing appears to be about constant changesconstant improvement for those who enjoy the process, constant correction for those who don't. Doesn't matter. Nowadays, it is hard to stop.

I'm going to suggest three approaches.
  • The first is to lean into the ephemeral world. If books are ephemeral today, so be it. Do them and move on. G.K. Chesterton might have had this wisdom in mind when he said that "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." His many fans have a tendency to turn this quote into a sort of high-minded spirituality, something to do with the spirit of play, but it probably originated from a more practical place. At various points in his career, he worked as a journalist and had firm deadlines. In this world, you do the best you can in the time allotted, and you hand in what you have. If you don't, you won't get published. If you don't often enough, you get fired. So ... do it, and don't look back.
  • The second is to lean away from the ephemeral world. Books—at least the printed kind—are still the medium of permanence. While ebooks go into the digital ether, the printed book goes on the shelf. You can pick it up, hold it in your hand, sniff the pages. Scrapbookers of the world, unite! Your one-offs are more likely to get passed on to the next generation—and the next, and the next—than a digital book that is likely to become obsolete as the technology changes. (Think of all the Super 8 family film that you can't view any more, the old audio on wire recorders that you can't hear any more, and the computer files on 8-inch disks that you can't read any more.) And then realize that if you don't get your book printed, you won't have anything to show for your work. 
  • The third is to find the creative synthesis between the ephemeral and the permanent world. For that, you need only to look at story, which can pass from medium to medium into memory and has the capacity to survive changes in technology.
Remember the story.The Publishing Pro.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Those Stupid Smart Phones

They've Changed the Business: Yesterday, I was trying to explain to a customer why I wanted him to send his manuscript alterations in a single batchor at least in batchesinstead of one at a time. He didn't understand. "How hard can it be to add a comma?" I patiently explained that it wasn't that hard. All I had to do was to locate the Word or InDesign file, open the file, wait for it to load, locate the correct page, insert the comma, save the file, and close the file. It might take three or four minutes. Not long, I admit, but the thing is: In that same three or four minutes, I could have made five corrections. But he didn't send me five corrections at a time. He sent me one. He sent the other four on four different occasionswhich meant that I was going to have to spend twenty minutes of my time instead of three or four.

He is not alone. He is not even the worst. Not even close. Most of my customers now send me alterations on page proofs or manuscripts one at a time, and it doesn't matter if they are bipolar poets, therapists, academics, storytellers, novelists, or children's book writers. They almost all do it, and excuse me if I feel like I am being nibbled to death by minnows.

The thing is, this is a new phenomenon. After stewing about this yesterday, I figured it out. 

It's those stupid smart phones.

In the good old days (a year ago), I'd send out a set of page proofs. The proofreader would read the page, note corrections, and return the set of page proofs to me. I'd go through the marked up proof and make corrections at a singleor, at any rate, a longsitting. The method is very efficient. It's still the best way to go. Today most people, except apparent Luddites like me, have smart phones. Sometimes, they read the proof (as a PDF) on their smart phone (a lousy way to catch mistakes, by the way). As soon as they find a problem, they send me an email or a text. "Missing comma on p57." If they read or send emails, they do so from their smart phone rather than from a computer. Millennials, I'm told (by them) don't even send emails if they can help it. They text. In any case, smart phones are not conducive to long messages. They are conducive to frequent messages, which give senders the illusion that they are communicating effectively.

Mostly they are just making trouble.

Now that I've figured out the source of the problem, what's the solution?  Maybe I need to create an app.

What's an app?

--The Publishing Pro

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Look for Strategic Partners.

They are gold: A couple of my authors have reminded me that you should be on the lookout for strategic partners, which are persons or businesses with a stake in promoting you, your business, or your book. There are various types:

Presentation Partners: If you are in demand as a speaker, the outfit that hires you may wish to distribute your book to the audience. In this case, you offer the event organizer a large quantity of books at a deep discount. The right deal could substitute for your speaking fee. Or not. In any case, you should charge enough to cover your printing and shipping costs plus some profit for you. John Huenefeld, the publishing consultant I followed religiously in the 1990s, did not like to offer more than a 65 percent discount for such purchases. If you are doing a special run of books, you can sweeten the pot by crediting your "co-publisher" within the book in some fashion.

Other Bulk Buyers: If your book is a direct hit with a business or a nonprofit, the entity may wish to distribute your book in quantity even when you are not speaking to them. Go for it.  

Publishers: While traditional publishers usually take the lead in reaching out to bulk buyers and co-publishers, you can approach a traditional publisher as your co-publisher. In this case, you remain the publisher and your partner (who happens to be a traditional publisher) buys hundreds of books from you at a 65 percent discount and gets credit as a co-publisher. Why would they do this? First, they want your book. Second, this may be the only way they can get your book. Or third, they may prefer the opportunity to spend, let's say, $3,500 for 500 books instead if $20,000 to develop and pay for a much larger press run. 

Other Benefactors: Not every strategic ally will be a book buyer. For example, one of my students is a professional landscape photographer who wanted to take photographs of a photogenic site with limited access to the public. She was able to gain access by offering the use of her photos, to be taken at the site, to the organization responsible for protecting the area. Now she has a stake in promoting the organization, and the organization has a stake in promoting her work.The Publishing Pro

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to Write a Book

It takes discipline: I spend most of my time trying to teach my customers how to be authors rather than writers. The distinction, you'll learn if you hang around me long enough, is that authors are all about the extrovert aspect of publishing (relating to their audience) and writers are all about the introvert aspect of publishing (creating the work). Great authors are not necessarily great writersand vice versa. Some time ago, I noticed that people who write booksespecially fictiontend to enjoy the writing but be a bit intimidated by the authoring. I chose to focus on that. Besides, consultants and coaches like Molly Wingate were available to help make the writing happen. 

Still, it hasn't escaped me that there is a relationship between authoring and writing. And lately, I've noticed that my "authors" can get plenty hung up on the "writing." Rookie writers often get lost in the process (or lack thereof) or worry their writing to death.

It is easy to get lost in the forest of writing. It's a right-brained activity that will take you from tree to tree, and soon you will have no idea where you've been or where you are going. Professional writers give themselves some structure, which will allow their creative juices to flow without taking them down paths to oblivion. A good structure has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

I teach my customers to plan and visualize their books before they start writing. This initial process includes the following steps:
  • Define your core reader.
  • Define your message.
  • Define how you will changer your reader's life. 
  • Invent a working title and subtitle that suggest your core reader and your promise. 
  • Write your table of contents.
  • Determine your specs (trim size, number of pages, number of words, etc.)
This is the opposite of the all-too-common strategy of sitting down to write and letting your computer fingers take you to who knows where. If you follow my advice, you know your destination before you sit down to write. You might have some surprises along the way, but you'll always be able to find your way home.

The Middle

The next phase is to begin writing the book. Professional writers will follow some variation of the steps below:
  • Write an outline or summary. (Essentially, you map out your story.)
  • Write your first draft. (Do this as a freewrite. Keep self-editing to a minimum.)
  • Write your second draft. (Focus on the content, not wordsmithing; eliminate chunks that don't work; add missing pieces.)
  • First edit. (Fine tune your content. Get your characters, story, and information the way you want them.)
  • Second edit. (Your content should be in place. Now focus on your writing.)

The End

  • Get your manuscript copy edited. (Ordinarily, this is not something you should do yourself, though you should get the edited manuscript and amend it your satisfaction. The copy edit should not be about your content. It should be about polishing your words and making your grammar, punctuation, and capitalization correct, and consistent.)
  • Get your pages proofed (first pass). You should read your proofs, but you should get two others (preferably) to proofcheck the pages for you. This is not editing. It is checking for errors. 
  • Get your pages proofed (second pass). Same as above, but it would be good to have two different  proofcheckers.
  • Approval for printing. Do this yourself. All you need to do (if you have gotten good proofchecking) is to make sure that the errors from the second proof were corrected. You should be done. 
The Publishing Pro

How to Publish Your Own Children's Book

Second edition now available: Publishing your own children's book was rather daunting, financially and otherwise, when I wrote How to Publish Your Own Children's Book ten years ago. Thanks to print-on-demand, ebooks, and easy access to distribution channels, it is much easier. I updated the book with that in mind. You can order it directly from The Publishing Pro or from Amazon. This is for the paperback. The ebook will come later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kickstarter Funding For Your Book?

Worth considering: Publishing is not a foolproof gateway to riches. On the other hand, it is no longer the high-risk venture that it used to be. You can publish for a modest sum and, consequently, break even on  your out-of-pocket expenses by selling only a few booksmaybe 100 to 200. What if you need money to support some specialized front-end costsor a marketing campaign that you couldn't afford otherwise? You could do a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds.

To see what one looks like, check out Architecture of Survival: Lessons from the Jewish Experience by George L. Fouke, Ph.D.  It's interesting but no guarantee. Be sure to look at the author's blog while you're at it.The Publishing Pro.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Children's Book Tip: Write Your Business Plan.

If you are going to publish your own children's book, you should do a business plan. But this is not the first thing you should do. If you have been following my previous posts on the subject of children's books, you have answered some preliminary questions.

You know what you want to write about, what you want to say, what message you want to deliver, and what tone you want to strike. You know who your book is for. You know who is going to buy it. And most important, you know how your book is going to change lives.

Surprise! You are almost done with your business plan. All you have to do is answer three more questions. And yes, it is a good idea to answer these questions before you start to put your book together.

•    How will I reach my buyers?
•    What will it cost per book?
•    How much will I charge for it?

[This post is adapted from the forthcoming second edition of How to Publish Your Own Children's Book.]—The Publishing Pro

7 Top eBook Blog Tour Sites

Thanks to Anne Flint, author of Fettigrew Hall, for this link: A blog tour as many of you know, is a marketing strategy frequently used by self-published authors when launching new books. Although they can be quite effective as a promotional tool, it can be very time consuming for authors to reach out to other bloggers and organize a blog tour. Today, Greg Strandberg tells us about blog tour sites that can assist authors with organizing their blog tours.

Read more.