I’m Dave Bricker: author of fiction and nonfiction, (occasional) editor, graphic designer, interactive developer and MFA design educator. I help writers turn well-crafted manuscripts into beautiful, high-quality books. My website offers straight talk for writers about producing and marketing excellent books, eBook technology, book design, typography, writing, literacy and the publishing business.
Originally named OneHourSelfPub.com (after my self-publishing book), this site is now called TheWorldsGreatestBook.com. That’s what serious writers and publishers are trying to accomplish.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy your publishing journey.
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With the arrival of the Internet, the common man got the power to publish—anything—for free—for the first time in history. Then PDF brought replicas of printed documents to the screen with clarity, accuracy and security. Flash brought the power of animated vector graphics and a powerful programming tool to the web browser. Then the eBook brought reflowable, resizable text and inspired new reading devices—perfect for displaying long, paginated documents. But somewhere along the way, an important promise was broken. All of these technologies empowered the Internet’s unprecedented freedom to publish—except for the eBook.
Ebooks and the Promise of the Internet
EBooks violate the fundamental promise of the Internet. Anyone can publish a website. Anyone can offer content for free or sell whatever they want from a website. Small commissions to payment processors and web hosting costs notwithstanding, the Internet empowers a seller to engage directly with a buyer. Ebooks break this promise; the writer should be able to engage directly with the reader. The writer should be able to sell directly to the reader. Imagine if you had to pay your web hosting company 30% of your gross every time you sold an item on your website—that’s exactly what eBookstores do. By separating the eBook from its proper home—the web browser—big media companies grow fat. This article explores the relationships between the web browser, PDF, Flash and eBooks—and how those relationships affect you.
Read more about Ebooks in the Web Browser →
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Few subjects arouse more passion among writers and designers than the debate over how many spaces should follow a period. If you adhere to a style manual, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t specify a single-space. Chicago and MLA specify one—debate ended—but the popular arguments in support of the single-space after a period (arguments I must confess to having perpetuated in previous writings) turn out to be mostly apocryphal. The single-space after a period is a simple style evolution—and it’s a fairly recent one. This leaves traditionalist typesetters like myself in something of a quandary; staunch advocates for the single-space must question whether their “classic” design work is authentic.
This article surveys book typography from the 1700s to the present. The survey is small and the examples come from various publishers in different parts of the world, but the trends revealed are, at least, a catalyst for deeper exploration. As a “core sample,” the images suggest a certain path of typographical evolution.
Read more about Spaces After a Period →
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I recently responded to a question in a writers’ forum from an author who was in the process of designing a cover for her novel set in a swamp in New Orleans. “I chose a ‘swampy’ font that hangs down over the art to make it look like Spanish moss,” she said. For her previous Zombie fiction book, she chose a typeface appropriately named “bullet in the brain.” Though these might seem like obvious choices, their obviousness is precisely what makes them a liability. This article offers a few thoughts on book cover design for genre fiction.
Book Cover Typefaces: You Get What You Pay For
Excellent typefaces often cost hundreds of dollars. Fonts on free font sites are very often either ripped off and renamed or designed by amateurs. Rarely will someone take the time to design a serious typeface and give it away. FontSquirrel and a few others offer some quality typefaces but gimmicky fonts often lack a full set of characters. For example, they may offer only capital letters and might omit dollar signs and other useful glyphs. Like free clip-art that’s available to everybody, free fonts get downloaded and used over and over and over. Paying even a small price for a typeface ensures that 99% of amateurs won’t be using it. Read more about Book Cover Typefaces →
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I recently published a post about the difference between vanity publishing and true self-publishing. Fundamentally, the article defines a publisher as “someone who takes the risk on a book.” Vanity Presses represent themselves as publishers and accept royalties while the author assumes all the risk. True self-publishers pay the up-front costs for design, printing, distribution, etc. but after the sales commissions are paid, they don’t have to share their profits. But several readers wrote in to suggest I’d omitted a third approach—co-publishing. This article explains what co-publishing is and what it isn’t.
Co-Publishing — What it Is NOT
At first, I mistakenly assumed that co-publishing was an arrangement where the author published under the “self-publishing” wing of a major publisher. For example Penguin Books started a Book Country imprint which has been criticized as a vanity press that preys on authors who want to be “affiliated” with the publishing leviathan. But writers don’t have to work very hard to earn pseudo “Published by Penguin” status. Penguin’s parent company, Pearson, purchased Author Solutions which is the umbrella entity under which most of the major vanity presses operate. Penguin risks the dilution of their brand—their respected role as gatekeeper—by admitting anyone who wants to publish through the side door, and authors are unlikely to sell many books by playing the phony “published by Penguin” card, anyway. If Penguin thought your book was a potential blockbuster, they’d sign you directly and send you an advance. But though Penguin’s business tactics are newsworthy, pretending to ride the coattails of a major publisher by vanity publishing through one of their holdings is NOT co-publishing.
Co-Publishing — What it IS
Publishing on any level has risk associated with it; money is spent to bring a manuscript to market with the understanding that profits may not exceed expenditures. Traditional publishers assume all the risk; they pay the writer an advance against royalties and cover all the costs of marketing. Self-publishers cover their own costs. They assume all the risks and take home a much larger share of the profit (if there is any).
But what about a third arrangement where the author and publisher share the risks? For example, a small publisher may not be in a financial position to pay advances against royalties but it may be able to provide editing, design services, and publishing expertise—valuable contributions that writers often lack the skills and experience to handle on their own. Potentially, a co-publishing arrangement is worth a piece of the prospective future pie. Read more about Co-publishing →
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Writers and publishers generally talk about selling books, choosing a path for printing and distribution, the importance of professional editing and design, and technical matters pertaining to grammar and style. But what about the path one takes to become a writer? Certainly, we must all learn about semicolons and apostrophes, but that journey is often inspired by an earlier and more profound one. From whence comes the call to translate vivid life experiences and ideas—the sublime, the horrific, the transcendent, the transformational, the imagined—into a form that can be shared? What does it mean to live the writer’s life—as opposed to the publisher’s? Read more about The Writer’s Life →
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I’ve learned a great deal, shared a lot of information, and met some some clever folks on LinkedIn writers’ forums, but no matter what topic is being discussed, some clown always posts a link to his latest book. Really? Are you kidding? Though I’ve written on this topic before, here are some thoughts on forum etiquette.
Forum Etiquette: Don’t Change the Subject
Changing the topic of a discussion to suit your own commercial agenda is spam—bad form. Topic changing is also called “hijacking” the discussion. Some group moderators will (quite rightly) ban you for it.
Forum Etiquette: Sell Books to Readers
Though you might feel like you’re among sympathetic colleagues, every single participant in writers’ forum discussions either has her own books to sell or is in the process of creating one. If everyone posted links to their books, any possibility for productive discussion would die altogether. Selling books in a writers’ group is like trying to sell boxed lunches at a chefs’ convention. Ask questions. Offer answers. Support or challenge the contributions of other participants, but don’t hawk your books in discussion forums—sell books to readers, not to writers! Read more about Forum Etiquette →
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I just read a great article by editor David Kudler on Joel Friedlander’s (excellent) self-publishing blog, The Book Designer. If you’ve hesitated to send your book to an editor, get over it. Editors are essential to producing great books. You need one.
Read David’s article here.
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I was struck by an article on PublishingPerspectives.com that described a new movie, The Great Book Robbery by Amsterdam-based Israeli director, Benny Brunner.
According to the film’s website:
70,000 Palestinian books were systematically “collected” by the newly born state of Israel during the 1948 war. The story of the “collected” books is at the heart of our film.
The drive to “collect” the books came from the management and librarians of Israel’s National Library – a leading cultural institution of the Zionist movement and the state of Israel – where all the valuable books ended up. Another forty thousand (40,000) Palestinian books were “collected” in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and other places.
What if the political winds blew away the books in your private library? What roles do books, poets, and intellectuals play in political conflict? Of what use are warehoused books to either side? Is it of real strategic value to control the cultural archives of an occupied people? At what point should these books be made accessible to Palestinian libraries—or returned to the families of their owners? Certainly, the film alludes to just how powerful a book can be.
The complete film (with commentary from a political organization) can be viewed online:
P.S. I will not be hosting debate here about Middle East politics. Those with political, rather than book-centric perspectives are encouraged to watch the film and then share their opinions on the numerous forums that exist for that purpose.
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What is true self-publishing? What is the difference between self-publishing and “vanity publishing” or “subsidy publishing?” How do these differ from “traditional publishing?” Don’t publish until you understand these terms; that knowledge can make or break your book. Learn about publishing paths and pitfalls before stacking the odds and balance sheets against yourself.
Traditional publishers—the folks who invented the publishing game—are book investors; they purchase manuscripts and rights, pay advances and royalties, and assume risk in exchange for hoped-for profits. Their model provides a good working definition; a “publisher” is a person who takes a risk on a book.
Who’s taking the risk? Who pockets the profits? Who owns the ISBN (International Standard Book Number)? These questions shed light on potentially expensive differences between publishing strategies.
Also called “vanity presses,” subsidy publishers offer production services like editing and cover design that make them attractive to writers who want “one-stop shopping.” For a fee, you can have your rough manuscript turned into a book and made available through major book distribution channels. Basically, you pay someone to be your publisher (hence the term “subsidy publishing”). The bait and switch happens when your book becomes part of the “publisher’s” catalog. Subsidy publishers assign your book an ISBN number that belongs to them; they become the publisher of record which entitles them to receive an additional royalty whenever a book sells. Charging for editing, design, and production services is perfectly acceptable, but charging an additional publisher’s royalty is unethical unless they’ve taken some risk. Also, the publisher sets the book’s retail price so don’t be surprised if your book is priced higher than you’d like it to be.
read more about true self-publishing→
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Oné question that loops endlessly on writers’ forums is “How can I sell more books?” The question is a natural one, but for many self-publishers, it betrays a certain lack of awareness about the publishing business. Lest I sound holier than thou, let me clarify that my own book sales stats are probably no better than yours. I write, I publish, I make my books available, and I hang on to my day job. This article isn’t about magic marketing techniques or search engine secrets; it’s about making a realistic assessment of your potential to make money as an indie publisher.
Self-Publishing: Business Basics
Smart product developers—and books are products—start by identifying the needs of a customer group. They develop products specifically to meed those needs and they mitigate risk by using surveys and focus groups to estimate how many people will buy their product at what price. How many kayakers will buy a lightweight folding paddle at $500? How many will buy it at $100. What is the cost to manufacture the item in quantity? Can you sell direct or will you have to sell wholesale to a distributor who will double the price and then pass the item to a retailer who will double it again? What will it cost to advertise? Clearly, the product developer needs more than a great product. Market research and business strategy are key elements of success.
Compare this to the business plan of the average indie novelist: “I just finished a new book. How can I get readers to buy it?” Continue Reading the Self-Publisher Reality Checklist →
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