Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What will your book look like?

This is Part 2 of a seven part series that addresses what every writer must ask themselves before publishing. It is derived a set of questions asked at the Book Passage Publishing Workshop hosted by Bill Petrocelli. See Here for Part 1.

The look and feel of a book is timeless. For the last two hundred years (at least) books with rich covers of leather and colorful paper were the norm. Hardback books, as they are now called, have a permanent tactile and visual feel unique and warm. These are the books collected and passed down, it was only in the early twentieth century that paperbacks made a serious impact, primarily driven by price and subject matter. The pulp fiction market then, as now, didn’t really justify the feel and size of hardback book for their subject matter. So many choices are out there today: Hardback with colorful dust jacket, paperbacks in large and small formats, ebooks, PDF formats, and even some proprietary formats such as iBook. And each has a market segment.

Authors want their first book in paper of one form or another. Its something they can hold and place on the shelf next to every author that's gone before. Its an equalizer of sorts, "See, I did it, here it is." There's evidence and self-satisfaction between those covers of your hard work and perseverance to get the damn thing done.

If you are self-publishing there are choices to be made. Here are a few questions you need to ask just for the paper version of your book:
  • Who will format the manuscript into a layout and design that can be used by a printer to print and assemble the book?
  • If photos or graphics, who will do the formatting?
  • Who will do the cover art?
  • Will I publish a hardcover book?
  • Will there be paperbacks?
  • Will I contract with a Print-On-Demand printer (POD) to print the book?
  • Will I subscribe to a POD publishing service such as CreateSpace or Ingram Spark (more on these later).
I do a lot of this book formatting myself, but I have experience using Photoshop and InDesign software. I suggest caution here. There are competent services that provide this for a set fee, but remember they are not editors. They take your final manuscript and literally build the book around it. Critical issues to think about are: hardback/paperback, size, fonts, and paper weight and color. Each is critical to the final design and will affect price, shipping weight, and "feel." Look at the books on your shelves; these decisions were made for everyone of them. Take your time – it is very expensive to do a do-over.

Photos and Graphics:
Much has changed with electronic publishing. Photos and graphics are handled differently than even fifteen years ago. Again a good book builder and designer can help through this process.

Cover Art:
Book covers and their design are a series of blogs in and of themselves. All I can say is hire the best cover designer you can afford. They bring an understanding of genres and style that is worth the price. Remember that every genre carries a style represented in their book covers; thrillers are a lot different than romances. The cover should draw the buyer to it, tease them and by its look, and hint at what to expect. And it should look professional – check out the self-publishing shelves of Amazon, you will see what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand words and hopefully a thousand sales.

Hardback or Paperback
The traditional route was hardback, then six months to a year later a small format mass-market paperback. And for many traditionally published books it still is. But with the advent of the self-publisher, the book almost always goes to a hybrid form; this is the large format paperback with a color cover. The sizes are generally in the 5" x 8" range, but can straddle this number by up to an inch either way. Most POD printers have size standards based on the printing equipment, which is, by the way a copier type duplicator that uses an electronic file to produce the book. Hardbacks can also now be done with PODs but are pricier. Costs are critical here as well as shipping so be careful. Most readers still want paper so keep this in mind in your planning.

It goes without saying that you will publish an ebook concurrent with your printed book. Again there are choices to be made. Do you use Amazon, Smashwords, or other independent consultant that will help you format and put the book into the right ebook distributor. The largest ebooks sellers are Amazon, Kobo, iBook/iTunes, and Barnes and Noble/Nook. But this is a changing landscape; Sony just dropped their retailer site and now use Kobo. Again lots of information out there, my suggestion is to place your book on as many as possible.

CreateSpace and Ingram Spark
These are two (of many) POD printers that work closely with self-publishers to print and distribute your books – and the key here is distribution. There is a lot of info on there respective websites to tell you how to use them. But remember that CreateSpace is Amazon and everything there is to support the sale of books through Amazon. Ingram is the largest distributor of books in America and using Spark will get you into large and small bookstores and Ingram's catalogue. I suggest using both.

When you are lucky and have lived right you will be selected and anointed by an agent and then a traditional publisher. Much, if not all, above the above will be done by them, but also remember this: that book you had in your head as you spent those hours writing and editing may not look like what you wanted. It will reflect a committee's taste and a marketing plan. You will give a lot to get a lot.

More Later . . . . . . . .

Next week: Who are your readers and where will you find them?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Is The Manuscript Ready?

I'm often asked at workshops, How do you know when the manuscript (MS) is ready? When do you put down the pen or keyboard and send it off to the editor? When is it appropriate to: a) finally get the sleep I've been putting off, b) open that bottle of Veuve Clicquot I've been saving, c) and/or hide and slit my wrists.

Generally though, I have a conversation with myself that asks if there is anything more to say. If not, that's it, I'm done. For the time being that is. When a manuscript is finished you are the last person to judge its quality. It needs, like champagne or a good red wine, time to age. I'm not suggesting set it aside for four or five years, more like four to six weeks.

But first make copies of everything pertaining to the MS and put them on a hard drive storage device (your choice) and a memory stick. Put the stick someplace where the sun don’t shine, like a bank vault. And yes, your computer will crash and destroy everything tomorrow – so do it NOW.

While the MS is maturing, start your cover design ideas, marketing, contacts for publishing, etc. I will discuss this in much greater degree in later blogs. But now is the time to get everything in order for after the MS is edited.

There are thousands of editors out there; they literally come in all shapes, educations, experience, and specialties. Ask around at workshops, ask writer friends, even send emails to other writers and ask how they like their editor. Ninety-nine percent of freelance editors need a continuing flow of writers and MSs to stay alive. Interview them, buy them lunch, feel comfortable with them. At some point they will drive you crazy, make them feel guilty about it.

There are story editors, technical editors (fact checkers), copy editors and line editors. Each is a specialty with a different skill set, many will offer it all, but very few will succeed. Get your editor on board, costs will vary but expect for a 90K MS to pay about $1,200 to $1,800 for the job. Some are less, be wary of more than that. This estimate is for a copy and line editor, and don't pre pay a dime. Make them work for it. Most do not work with a contract – trust is a big thing in the writer's world. And they will not steal your MS, so don’t worry.

Back to the MS:
After it's been retrieved from the Bat Cave, print it out double-spaced and read it aloud. Make notes on the margins, circle corrections, and move quickly. The idea is to see if it flows, reading out loud will tell you a lot. Does your voice come through in the words – you'll know.

Make your changes to the MS. I then put the whole MS into a very cool program called SmartEdit. This program breaks the whole MS into words and how often they are used: phrases, clichés, adverbs, and a few other word and language issues. It is not an "editing" program. It is a seek and destroy program. We all fall into word traps that show up, sometimes in paragraph after paragraph. They are often trite words or phrase that we miss – using Word's find feature will help you can find these words and allow you to replace them.

Beta Readers:
These are invaluable friends and associates who are willing to read the MS at this point and give you feedback. I often will include a questionnaire with the MS to jog their memory or try to draw out criticism. Be careful though, friends are that, they will often not tell you what you want – a detailed and thorough critique. If you are in a writer's group that allows this – great. I've not done this though so I'm not sure how good they work. These Beta readers are gold, if you find one or two keep them close.

Submit the MS to your Editor:
I suggest that whether you decide to self-publish or try to go traditional the MS has to be as perfect as you can make it. Send this revised and updated MS to your editor. I work with Track Changes in Word and so do many editors. This should be clarified before you engage them. Some also work on paper – so be prepared.

The editorial process is under your control, if you are still looking at your MS structure now is the time to be sure it's what you want. Weigh the suggestions of the editor; are they right? Are they also onboard with your intent of the story? Do they get it? As you write more books the editing often becomes less (in volume of corrections) – you should be getting better and this is where it shows.

And remember, today agents and publishers may do an edit on the accepted MS for reasons that will drive you crazy – but won’t even look twice at a MS that's a mess – send them the best you can do.

Next week:
What is the book going to look like?

More Later . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Are Writers Workshops Necessary?

Absolutely. Last Saturday, March 8th, the best venue in the business for setting up workshops and author's event, Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, offered their first Publishing Workshop What restrained the crowd was the number of chairs, for many it was standing room in the back. I don't know the final count but there had to have at least sixty writers, published authors, editors and book designers all trying to figure what's going on in the publishing world. As Bill Petrocelli, the store's owner said, "I'm not even sure what it will be like next year, let alone what we are looking at now." He was referring to the publishing industry and the turmoil it's in.

Will traditional publishing with its centralized New York view still be the dominant player? Will it be the growing voice of the independent, author driver, publisher? Will it be a co-operative setup started by agents who are losing their gatekeeper status and hope to find new money making markets? Will it be the Smashword model, or the Amazon juggernaut? Yes to all and maybe to the rest. As I noted last week in the Hugh Howey article, the ebook is starting to demand respect as well as changing attitudes. Just look on an airplane, it seems that every other seat has a Kindle, Galaxy, or iPad open. All that translates into ebooks sold.

This workshop focused on the broader aspects of the publishing world: the growth of the mentor, the changing bookstore, the demands of editing a great product, book design basics, alternative publishing and major changes in distribution channels, and lastly the critical issue of book promotion. A great program that could have taken two days; talk about a crash course.

Many in the audience were first timers with a manuscript in hand, everyone trying to understand the road ahead. And for many it was eye opening. The traditional publishing route with one of the big four (was six then five) is the toughest, mainly due to the limited number of books published. But you do get experience and support (kind of). According to Sam Barry, Book Passage's leader of this event, over 700,000 books were published last year, and there were hundreds of thousands more that didn't use an ISBN. The number is staggering, to be heard above the tumult and roaring is extremely difficult, for most it’s a matter of luck, perseverance and quality. And not necessarily in that order.

Bill Petrocelli's also called this workshop, The Alternative Publishing Workshop. In his introductory remarks he listed seven important questions every writer needs to ask as they ready their manuscript for publishing. During the next few weeks I'll be addressing and adding my own thoughts to these critical questions.
1. Is the manuscript ready?
2. What's the book going to look like?
3. Who are the readers for the book?
4. Do you want to try for a traditional publisher?
5. How can you control the costs of publication?
6. How and where will your book be sold?
7. How will the book reach the attention of readers?

Remember, if you take away one critical piece of information from a workshop that can make your book a success, it is worth the price.

I will also explore and report back on one of the most exciting new aspects of the industry that may help independent authors more than all the Amazons, Kobos, Smashwords, rolled into one: Ingram-Spark. 

More later  . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Hugh Howey Kerfuffle – Must See Video

Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey is a writer of dystopian end-of-the-world-as-we-knew-it books that are quite good. He is self-published and he is incredibly successful at selling his books – primarily on Amazon. Here is the blog post I wrote last summer reviewing his book and the article in the Wall Street Journal WOOL - A Self-PublishingTriumph To many writers he is their hero and now their guide through the labyrinth that is the ebook and self-publishing.

And he is, like the little boy and the naked emperor, one who is not shy in pointing out what may be really happening in the world of independent publishing and ebooks.

On February 12, 2014, Howey published a lengthy manifesto that challenged the big New York publishing establishment and dearly held beliefs about where independent publishing and self-publishing, especially ebooks, stands and where it might be going.  He also challenges the large traditional ebook retailers to publish the facts and figures about what is really going on in the ebook world.  The 7K Report  is causing quite a kerfuffle in the independent and traditional world. Challenges to the data and its crunching by both sides is as much of the story as Howey's report is.

Much of what is causing all the angst is that no one from Amazon to Scrivener is willing to go public with real factual numbers regarding sales, especially ebooks. They point to Howey and repeat the famous line from the Wizard of Oz about not paying attention to the man behind the curtain.

There are two stories about Howey here. The first is the data and its acquisition and how Howey got it, and the second is what he did with it after it was complied. To hear him tell it no one wanted to touch the report. The excuses were the usual, "It's too long and who really cares." When Howey posted the 7K Report on its own website it had over 30,000 hits in a day. Yeah, no one really cares.

In a lengthy, interesting, and incredibly worth the time YouTube video, Howey discusses the report and its data with Self-publishing Roundtable, Episode 32.

Howey says that the top percentage of self-published authors are doing much better than the top percentage of traditionally published authors – makes you think for a minute about what's really going on out there.

Howey is pro-writer and is challenging the publishing industry to better respect and better pay the authors who are their only reason for being. His goal is to push the writer to the front of the publishing queue not the back where we have been placed by the traditional publishing industry. I have seen this in the arts world and other allied industries – most especially in the art publishing industry. The artist is the last to make the big bucks. Look how music was changed by iTunes – suddenly even the lowliest garage band can now make money and get exposure. Same is true for writers.

More Later . . . . . . . . . .