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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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! Continue reading →
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.
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.
One 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 word processor has placed new burdens on writers to understand how to use italics, big and small capitals, dashes, hyphens, initials, etc. Writers who do their own typesetting often produce mediocre results. Likewise, trade publishers sacrifice typographic aesthetics when they pack tiny type into small margins to save money on massive print runs.
With type being butchered by big and small publishers alike, how do we establish criteria for professional standards in book typography? Though economic costs and benefits are easy to assess, writers and publishers should be able to evaluate aesthetic compromises based on a set of typographic best practices. Continue reading →
Indie publishers complain that the mainstream publishing establishment acts as a “gatekeeper.” Many readers rely on big publishing houses to filter out low quality books—even though trade publishers regularly print celebrity crap with impunity. Indie publishers often see themselves as victims who are locked out of well-deserved opportunities by a cadre of hypocritical profiteers, but the truth is not so cut and dry. Trade publishers cannot be blamed for adopting whatever standards support their business objectives; their raison d’être is not to give you a chance at fame. Moreover, the fact remains that despite notable exceptions, these folks do a fine job selecting manuscripts and producing good books.
But the nature of gatekeeping is changing. Not so long ago, major network news was considered to be the trusted gatekeeper for the “accurate picture” of what was happening in the world—even though their financial survival depended on advertisers, and their access to “high level information” depended on complicity. Major record labels fed the latest “cool music” to their networks of “popular format” radio stations, and everyone danced. In the same way, the NY Times Book review (which only reviews Big Six-published books) and Big Publishers themselves once enjoyed exclusive status as de facto guardians of the public’s literary tastes. Those days are far from over, but new media has changed the nature of gatekeepers and consumers alike.
Differences between eBook media formats are blurring. Due to a convergence of technologies around HTML5, books can be published through eReader devices, as mobile applications, or on the web. This article examines the pros and cons of each eBook format.
EBooks are based on HTML, the same technological foundation that powers the worldwide web. As the web has grown, so have eBook technologies—at least in potential. The ePub3 standard, released in October 2011 and continuing to develop under the auspices of the International Digital Publishing Foundation (IDPF), describes an eBook as a “website in a book.” Growing concurrently with the Internet are mobile operating systems and app stores (like Apple’s iPhone OS and Google’s Android), and eReader devices (like Barnes and Noble’s Nook and Amazon’s Kindle). If popular mobile devices can render eBook content, web content or mobile applications, which of these media is best suited to the needs of publishers?
“Traditional” EBooks and EReaders
For years, eBooks (in mostly ePub2 format) stood apart from the web and mobile apps in a closed universe; the reader found a book in an online bookstore and downloaded it to an eReader device. Dedicated eReader devices were once exclusively designed to facilitate finding, purchasing and reading books, but the differences between eReaders and tablet computers are rapidly disappearing. Recent offerings come with color screens, wireless web browsers, and mobile operating systems. These eReader devices are no longer walled off from alternate eBook distribution formats like apps and the web. Continue reading →
Book reviews are critically important. Have you ever read a book hoping it would get better, only to find that it never did? And how do you tell if an independently published book is any good? So many are poorly edited and primitively designed, but writing off the entire self-publishing establishment amounts to closed-minded literary prejudice. Good online reviews drive purchasing decisions by separating out the Shinola—whether it’s trade published or offered by a vanity press.
In today’s digital world, consumers interested in most any product quickly look for the appraisals of early adopters. Considering a book? Or a new stereo? Or one of those “new” Jimi Hendrix albums? Smart consumers always check user reviews before clicking the “buy” button.
But if the average book takes ten hours to read and the average review takes an hour to write and post, you’re asking for eleven hours of a reviewer’s time. So how do you get people to review your book? Continue reading →