Sh*t New Authors Say

2 Mar

Hilarious, ’cause it’s true…

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When the term “ebook” is pejorative

13 Feb

I was on a comment thread on Google+ last week, in which the original poster, Brian Clark, had asked whether people preferred “ebook” or “e-book.” Of course, some people chimed in with “Ebook” and “eBook” and other variations, but the consensus seemed to be “ebook.” (I’ve drifted away from the hyphen as well, much as happened with email.) But the discussion got me to thinking about the term itself.

Why do we even need the “e” in “ebook” for most usages? We don’t download an “e-song” or “e-CD” or “e-movie”. (Ignore whether I should’ve put hyphens in there or not.) And we don’t even refer to the format in general as electronic; it’s typically “digital.” So, really, they could be called “d-books” or “dbooks.” But think about it—why the distinction?

Well, there are two answers. First, the ebook came about fairly early in the online world. It’s quite likely, though I haven’t checked, that ebooks date back to the beginning of the Web as we know it. I’m no early adopter and I self-published my first ebook in 1996. In the days of dial-up modems they were reasonable to download, and the common parlance back then for the medium was “electronic” as opposed to “digital,” which is why we have email and not dmail. Second, there is of course the practical need to distinguish an electronic book from a printed one for customer service; no one would be happy purchasing what they expect to be a printed book and getting a link for an ebook download.

But now that we’ve advanced to the era of the Kindle, Nook, and other e-readers (again, why not “d-reader”?), in which the purchase process is transparent and fairly seamless, why do we download ebooks instead of books? Again, we don’t download e-songs, e-CDs, or e-movies. Well, herein lies the title of this post. I propose that there are members of the reeling traditional publishing world who, consciously or subconsciously, use the term in a condescending or derogatory manner. It’s a subtle way to put the lowly ebook in its place, when referring to those kinds of books. It’s really no different than has been the case with self-publishing for decades; why distinguish a book as self-published? (And for the grammarians out there, why is self-published hyphenated even when it follows the noun it modifies?)

As you peruse the Internet, reading about the boom in ebooks, keep this in mind. See if you don’t notice this little conspiracy (or at least separatist thinking) that I propose. Remember, as politicians well know, the best way to rally your troops and supporters is to have a big, bad boogeyman. What better way to keep in their place those books that happen to be in digital format than to continue referring to them as the “e” word.

Aside

Amazon now lists “page count” for Kindle books

13 Jan

I just discovered, at least for my NO BROWN M&M’s! book of entrepreneurial lessons from rock stars, that Amazon is now listing an approximate printed page count for Kindle books. It makes me wonder if some people were feeling ripped off since the file size never gave the customer a good idea of how much content they were buying.

The price is right

11 Jan

Well, that depends. When it comes to books (and other published items), it can be a fine walk between pricing too low (not enough profit margin) and too high (no sales). A couple weeks ago, I was alerted to a friend of a friend’s book now being available on a site that basically functions as a poor-man’s Amazon for self-published authors. Not the best place to sell books, but the real problem was the price — $35.00 for a 96-page book.

There are books that sell very well in the 35-cents-per-page range, but they are typically technical, scientific, or art books. This one is none of those; it’s a basic paperback aimed toward 20-somethings who are job hunting. First, this category and demographic simply doesn’t support a $35 book. The most similar books on the topic typically cost half the price with far more material included. Second, the target market being job hunters at least partially implies they are short on money—not exactly the most likely group to pop $35 on a book.

The price point here is indicative of a problem found with many online self-publishing services—their fees or cut requires most books to be priced too high to reasonably sell (unless the author wants to make little or no money). If a company such as this will charge $20 to sell your book, and your book is the kind typically selling for $19.95, you have a problem. Don’t think you can just bump it up to $22.95 or $24.95 and be fine with it. It’s extremely easy for people to price-check things online and get a strong sense of what’s reasonable. This is not to say you can’t overcome such resistance—but your content and your marketing had better be stellar.

As a final point, it’s worth noting that there is value in brevity. If you can condense your thoughts, ideas, advice, or whatever into a very short format that provides maximum value for the reader’s time invested, that’s worth something. But again, you will need to have excellent content and a superb marketing plan to communicate this benefit, because people still largely equate page counts (quantity) with price, though things are shifting with ebooks.

How Bookstores Can Survive

19 Dec

Over the last several years, as bookstores have dwindled and Borders went belly up, a lot of attention has shifted toward Amazon (being the villain or scapegoat, depending on your perspective). But debating Amazon’s role in the changes in publishing does nothing to save bookstores. Like it or not, Amazon will continue to do what it’s doing, and because it’s primarily helping readers, little traction will ever be gained among book lovers to boycott Amazon or any similar pointless activities (unless Amazon does something truly wrong).

The truth is, bookstores have dwindled because they’re part of a defunct system that dates back nearly a hundred years, and became very comfortable in their role. In other words, as the publishing world started to change (evident at least 20 years ago), bookstores did little if anything to proactively adjust. They just kept doing the same old things, selling books the same old way. Worse yet, as book-selling consolidated among fewer chains, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, the “associates” (or whatever title workers were bestowed) became less and less knowledgeable. The love of books common among independent bookstore employees was replaced by the attitude that “it’s a better job than other options” for getting through college or a mid-life crisis. Of course, I’m grossly generalizing, to the insult of honest, book-loving bookstore employees everywhere — however, they are a truly slim minority (and they, of all people, know it).

So, what can bookstores do?

My recommendation — and precisely what I’d do if I were to start or take over a bookstore today — is to specialize, specialize, specialize. Focus your bookstore on a particular genre and know that genre inside out. Humor books, self-help books, business books, mystery, sci-fi, romance, whatever. Pick a genre and go deep. Feature the popular titles, but carry many from unknown and self-published authors as well. Hire employees who absolutely LOVE your genre, so they know more about it than 90% of the customers coming through the door.

Wanna get crazy? Allow customers to order books from Amazon that you don’t carry. Do it right there in your store. Have computer stations set up so customers order through your Amazon Associates account, earning you a little cut from each sale. No, it’s not much, but it’s a slice of the pie you wouldn’t otherwise have — and it’s goodwill among your customers. Make this option abundantly clear in your store, so fewer rude lurkers are buying from Amazon on their smartphones in your store.

I have more thoughts on this I’ll add in the future, but for now, I’ve put the idea out there. Of course, I’m not saying there’s no such bookstore in the U.S. or world, but I’ve never heard of or seen one (not counting technical, scientific, or religious bookstores). So, at the very least, I can say the vast majority of bookstores try to carry most genres for most people. I think the time has come to head the opposite direction.

Google+

13 Dec

If you haven’t heard, Google+ has “gone public” — meaning that you no longer need an invitation to get in. I had a brief chance to try it out during the testing phase, when author Jason Matthews (who’s written an excellent ebook on self-publishing ebooks) sent me an invitation. It is definitely worth getting familiar with.

While it has only a fraction of the users of Facebook at this point (and yet that still equals millions), I’d be very surprised if that doesn’t skyrocket in 2012. So, yes, you will find a lot of people are not there yet — but I think they will be. But the reason I’m hyping it up a little bit is not the number of people already on it, but rather one simple feature. You’ll find lots of debate online about whether it’s better than Facebook or Twitter, blah, blah, blah. So, I’m not going to get into that. Instead, I just want to share with you the benefit of its most basic feature — adding people to “circles.”

Basically, Google+ (also referred to as Google Plus and G+) allows you to set up circles of contacts to which you can add whomever you want. This means you can have a circle for friends, customers, family, coworkers, and so on. Technically, you can achieve something of the same in Facebook, but the big deal here is how easy it is in G+. In fact, I’d be very surprised if Facebook doesn’t overhaul its interface in the not-too-distant future to reflect this. Simply put, you just drag an icon of a contact (looks like a little rectangle with the person’s name and photo) into whichever circle (or circles) you choose. It’s very visual and easy. Love it.

So, for authors, this feature is a tremendous and nearly effortless way to segregate your contacts in basically unlimited ways. You can have a circle for fans, customers, business contacts (like marketing prospects), potential fans/customers, inner-circle supporters, publishing industry contacts, etc. Then, as these circles get established, you can choose them (however many) to receive your status updates — business people only receive business-related updates; fans receive updates on your characters or insights; your family receives updates on your holiday travel plans.

I may write more in the future about the benefits of Google+, but as of right now, this feature alone has won me over. Not that it means getting off Facebook — after all, all of the major social-media platforms have advantages and disadvantages — but it’s certainly a tool well worth adding to my author toolbox.

“By” the way

29 Oct

One of the 53 self-publishing mistakes I discuss in my ebook is putting the word “By” in front of the author’s name on the cover. Most authors and self-publishers are surprised to learn this, until they go to the store (or peruse Amazon) and find out it’s true—you don’t see “By” in front an author’s name on a book cover.

So, recently, I joined an online conversation about a book-cover design. The commentary included many designers and book lovers, and even Seth Godin. Everyone focused on various aspects of the design, but no one mentioned that the author’s name is preceded by the word “by”—so I brought it up. I gently mentioned that it’s a good lesson to keep in mind, especially for designers who aren’t familiar with the nuances of book covers.

But the funny thing is, this isn’t a self-published book with a cover design by an amateur. The book is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. (Check out the online discussion on the cover.) Isaacson is a well-known, best-selling biographer and the book is published by Simon & Schuster, but I didn’t know either at the time. How embarrassing!

So, what to make of my no-“by” advice? Well, though I put my toe in my mouth (if not my whole foot) in that online discussion by not knowing it’s a professionally designed cover, I stand by my calling this a self-publishing mistake, for two reasons:

  1. It is still extraordinarily unconventional, and I have not seen another professionally designed book cover that does this. My bet is that it was done to solely accommodate the design as is—meaning by using Steve Jobs’ name as the title and putting Isaacson’s name to the right of it, it is practically necessary to visually define the relationship of title and author. Though Jobs’ name is black and Isaacson’s name is gray, this isn’t enough (or at least the designer felt so).
  2. Because the publisher is Simon & Schuster and the designer is (presumably) a highly experienced pro, they can get away with such a “mistake.” When you have demonstrated your expertise, you can break certain rules. Stephen King is excused for writing a sentence fragment; a freshman college student isn’t. Likewise, a self-published author (at least an unknown one) whose book’s cover design violates the “rules” will most likely be seen as unprofessional. In fact, because the author is self-published, this perception and prejudice is heightened.

I will do some digging to see if I can learn who this designer is and contact her/him. I’m very interested to know the story behind this design choice. However, I would still recommend against any self-publishing author following suit.