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Sh*t New Authors Say

2 Mar

Hilarious, ’cause it’s true…

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.

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.

Create Your Future

3 Oct

I recently read Seth Godin’s blog post entitled “The forever recession (and coming revolution)” and pretty much agree with everything except the “coming” part. I think the revolution is upon us.

It’s funny how we, at least in this country, have become conditioned to avoid pain at any cost — even when pain is normal. We have all sorts of drugs and devices and techniques for alleviating pain, which is great because no one should suffer pain needlessly. The problem, though, is that pain sometimes isn’t needless.

Pain, literally or metaphorically, is an important sign, an indicator that something is wrong. When we rush to mask that pain, before we’ve diagnosed it, we lose the chance to discover what it’s trying to tell us. Within the current state of the economy, there’s a rush on all sides to quickly fix the pain we are going through as a nation. But what if this pain is just the natural byproduct of what Godin has proposed? Think of it as a national form of “growing pains” as we transition from a century of living within an industrial-based economy to living within a new one based on technology and information.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m not trivializing the difficulty that millions of people are going through. The past few years have been challenging for me as well, not to mention many people I know. But if this is, indeed, a natural part of our growing as a nation, transitioning from one economy to another, then it does us no good to fight it. It does us no good to try to “fix” it. And it does us no good to hang on to what was and what “should be.” As with any inevitable transition, those who most successfully navigate it are the ones who let go the fastest and look for the next path.

Which brings us to self-publishing. What a great time to be doing this! Really, much of what Godin wrote holds promise for those willing to take the self-publishing path. As I mention in the intro to my ebook, there has never been a more opportune time for us — not to mention self-publishing even being a possibility for so many people it hadn’t before.

Start thinking of your current and future projects as potential annuities, especially the younger you are. Think of them as ways to build security in your future, at a time when “job security” will be an oxymoron. Think of them as intellectual property in the same way real estate investors think of real property: they are yours to build (self-publish) and sell or rent out (license). But unlike real estate, you can create as much intellectual property as you can dream up, you have far fewer barriers to creation, you can sell one property many times over, and the time to completion for each project can be much quicker. Not only that, you can create a potentially lucrative piece of self-published property with almost no money at all — you sure can’t do that in real estate.

Despite the uncertainty all around us, I get more excited about self-publishing every day. More and more tools are coming out to support our efforts, and many of them are free (like Google Apps). The stigma of self-publishing is fading with each success story (like Amanda Hocking’s). And the thirst for entertainment and information has never been greater. So, create great works… fill needs… take pride in your craft… and remember, with each self-publishing project, you are potentially creating your own future.