7 Oct

I recently caught a little problem for an author that I hadn’t seen before — “ISBN #” — which preceded the ISBN on the copyright page of his book. While I’ve heard many people say “ISBN number,” I’d never seen it in print.

ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number,” so having the number sign follow it is like saying “International Standard Book Number number.” I realize people do this all the time with “PIN number” and “VIN number,” but as author-publishers, we should have a higher level of awareness and usage of our industry’s terminology. And people have less tolerance for mistakes in writing versus those in speech.

In this particular case, the author-publisher is very intelligent, educated, and experienced in publishing, so I know this was a slip of attention rather than an error of ignorance. And that’s all the more reason for all of us to keep an eye on our works; none of us is immune from an “unprofessional” publishing mistake.


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.

Yes, books *are* judged by their covers

23 Sep

The other day, a friend showed me a new book by a new author she knows. It was a proud moment for her, so I didn’t want to spoil it — but the cover was awful. I’m not sure whether it amazes me more that these publishing services (in this case, Author House) have the lack of shame to publish these covers or that the authors honestly can’t tell a bad cover from a good one.

Now, I’m not talking about stylistic, design subjectivity; this cover has a visibly blurry image of a handgun on the cover that was probably pulled from the Internet. Even if someone lacks the design savvy to see why the cover is bad overall, it escapes me that the average person wouldn’t see a badly blurry design element like this gun.

In addition, the back cover is nothing more than black text on a white background. BORING!! And on top of that, there were numerous typos just in the back description. Wow.

So, authors, pleeeeeease be ruthless critics of your book covers, especially when using a publishing service. The poor author above probably spent several hundred dollars, possibly a thousand, on his book. (Author House’s set-up fee starts at $598, according to 2009 Writer’s Digest directory of “self-publishing companies.”) If anything seems obviously wrong or questionable, don’t accept it as is. You have the right to a competent (if not great) book cover. If you don’t feel you have the knowledge to discern problems on your cover (before you approve it), then hire a book-cover designer for a consultation. This can be done for around $35-50, but it can save you hundreds of dollars you’d waste on a blatantly poor cover.

Your book’s cover is paramount to your book’s success. I won’t go so far as to say it’ll make or break your book, but it sets the tone for the reader and, more important, is the first impression a potentialreader has when considering buying your book. A cheap cover will convey (at least subconsciously) cheap content.

Adjusting your cover design when using print-on-demand services

23 Sep

Print-on-demand (also called publish-on-demand and usually referred to simply as “P.O.D.”) has been one of the four corners of the self-publishing revolution at the onset of the 21st century. Perhaps nothing else has truly put the benefits (and risks) of publishing within reach of most authors. It is the model on which nearly every subsidy or vanity publisher (often calling themselves “self-publishing companies”) is based.

Although P.O.D. has come a long way since its inception not so many years ago, it still requires some consideration when it comes to your cover design. For most interior designs (black ink on white paper), you’re pretty much free to roam design-wise; however, the color capabilities of P.O.D. is limited.

Know that your colors may be inconsistent from book to book. The variation may not be much, and may not matter to you, but if color accuracy is critical to your book you may have a problem. Due to the nature of P.O.D., it’s simply not possible to guarantee consistent color reproduction. Instead, you’d be better heading over to the world of offset printing and buying a larger print run.

Avoid photos, especially of people. While some imagery may not look bad if the colors are off (and no one will notice), others will look horrible. This is especially true of skin tones and food. No one wants to see faces with a greenish or purplish tint. Remember, it’s not the photo itself but rather the variance in how it will be printed. If you have such a photo that you absolutely must include in your cover, consider having your designer incorporate it in grayscale (black and white) or duotone.

Lastly, flat areas of color (as opposed to gradients, fades, and other effects) will reproduce best in P.O.D. This is not to say you must use flat areas of color, just that you will reduce the chances of a problem. Again, all this can vary significantly across the many P.O.D. services.

Print-on-demand has truly opened up exciting possibilities for self-publishing authors. For all its current limits, I wouldn’t trade it for the “old days” for anything. But as with any budding technology, it requires adaptation for the most effective use. And remember, when going or considering the P.O.D. route, be sure to mention this to your cover designer before starting your project.

Write Once, Sell Often

23 Sep

As you’re developing your content, or are looking for ways to make money from what you’ve already written, keep in mind: “Write once, sell often.” This phrase (that I borrowed from publishing expert Paulette Ensign) is a reminder that we authors need to use and re-use our material as much as possible, the concept of “leveraging.”

Too many authors (and I have to fight from falling into this trap as well) become enamored with many different pursuits, writing on various and sundry, unrelated topics. Others write book after book, without getting the most out of each one. It’s a better strategy to maximize your income streams from each piece, however big or small, you write.

This means your manuscript could be made available  in the following formats: paperback, hardback, audio, e-book, video, booklet or mini-book, and a web book (interactive combination of book and website). Additionally, your manuscript can be chopped into pieces for articles, subscription email delivery, Twitter tips, Facebook updates, blog entries, and more. Now, you see why the phrase is “write once, sell often.”

Of course, not all of these avenues will be income-producing in themselves; however, they all will contribute to raising awareness of your body of work and generating virtual footsteps to the focal point of your work (most likely your website). And these footsteps ultimately lead indirectly to income.