After completing the final draft of a manuscript for my fifth book, I wanted a reality check. I hired a professional editor and learned something important about self-publishing. No matter how capable you are as a writer and proofreader, you can’t accomplish your best writing entirely by yourself.
My initial editing process was hardly ineffective. My latest book is a memoir of my sailing adventures from the 1980s and 90s. I rounded up a capable crew that included people who were there, people who were college writing instructors and people who were simply avid readers. I sent them one chapter (1500-2500 words) per week for almost a year (so as not to burden anyone with a huge job to do gratis), and offered to edit their material in return. I got useful feedback about everything from seamanship to grammar along with their general reader reactions. The collaborative process also forced me to polish each chapter before I sent it out; I usually spent a few hours rewriting before posting the week’s installment on Google Docs and sharing it with my group. That unquestionably improved the book. Continue reading →
Self-publishing educators tell you how to sell your book, but very few bother to ask if that’s a worthwhile pursuit. Tacking marketing on as the de facto second phase of writing a book places many worthy artists’ resources in jeopardy. How much time, money and energy should you put into marketing your book? The answer is found in an honest evaluation of where your work lies on the spectrum between art and business.
John is a landscape painter. He has painted for decades, cultivating the skills to complement his talent. He works as a restaurant manager but he’s passionate about his art and maintains a studio in his garage. He has sold several paintings, had some gallery shows, and dreams of gaining enough stature as an artist to quit the food service business and devote himself to painting. After all, he paints at least as well as famous artists who make good money.
Wilma runs a vinyl sign shop out of her own garage. She creates graphics on a computer, exports the files to her vinyl cutter and applies them to shop windows and hanging banners. She studied design and takes her typography seriously, choosing appropriate typefaces and kerning the letters more carefully than her competitors do. Sometimes, she gets tired of doing commercial work; she wishes she could spend more time painting for fun but she’s grateful not to be working in a cubicle.
John is a fine artist. Wilma is a commercial artist. For our purposes, they represent the fiction and the nonfiction writer respectively.
WordPress is a magic web publishing tool perfect for writers and publishers who want to build attractive websites without spending a fortune and build reader communities around their work. This is the first in a series of articles that explain in non-technical terms how to get your site started and how to publish content without becoming a programmer. Search engines and marketing strategies will be discussed and I’ll steer you around common stumbling blocks.
Over 70 million WordPress sites (including the one you’re currently reading) produce over a half-billion new posts every day. Other good options are available, but WordPress offers a huge support community, thousands of add-ons (plug-ins) that extend its functionality and thousands of themes that instantly customize its appearance. WordPress is fantastically search engine friendly.
WordPress was originally developed as a blogging platform that enables writers to post articles and receive comments from readers. Eventually, WordPress expanded into a full-blown content management system. In English, this means you can post articles, create pages, embed images and publish many kinds of content with a simple Microsoft Word-style editor. Push the “Publish” button and your content magically appears on your website along with whatever links or navigation buttons are needed.
Can a computer analysis of your text help you write better? I gave AutoCrit a spin and became a customer.
It is often difficult to see mistakes in your own manuscript, but overused adverbs, repeated words, passive writing, too much introspection, and other patterns can be easily recognized by a computer. Author, Nina Davies used her background as a computational linguist (someone who works to make computers understand human languages) to develop the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. The wizard automatically finds and highlights potential problems in your text.
According to the AutoCrit site:
AutoCrit is a tool to help you identify weaknesses in your fiction writing. AutoCrit can help you identify:
Words that weaken your writing, such as too many occurrences of “that” or “it” or LY-adverbs.
Repetition of similar words.
Sentences that lack variety due to similar lengths.
Overuse of dialogue tags such as “she muttered.”
AutoCrit is not a grammar checker or a spell checker. AutoCrit identifies problems that prevent the reader from your enjoying story.
Indie publishers are everywhere and so are indie bookstores, but apart from their names, the two have little in common. “Independence” is a feelgood concept, but it’s often presented without any reference to that which a publisher or bookstore is independent from. Therein lies the difference. Does “independent” really mean anything in today’s publishing world?
Independent publishers are independent from the Big Six publishing establishment, but not being affiliated with six entities isn’t much of a distinction. For publishers, independence comes with a price. After writing, indie publishers must work independently with editors, designers and printers. They must make their own arrangements with distributors of print and ebooks. Perhaps most importantly, they must independently assess whether books they have a great personal stake in are viable products. Indie publishing isn’t better or worse than traditional publishing. There’s much to be said for having someone else push your manuscript down the long road to bookstores and there’s much to be said for cutting out the middleman and keeping creative control over your work.
Indie publishers generally sell books to niche audiences in lower volumes. They usually offer one or just a handful of books. Unlike big publishers, they aren’t able to circulate and promote hundreds of books until they find a blockbuster that pays for all the ones that don’t sell, but they are often positioned to make a profit with very low sales volumes.
The notion of real publishing as opposed to self-publishing and the stigma surrounding it is obsolete. I have no objections to traditional publishers but every one of them started off as a “self-publisher” with a first book. I have pretty much stopped referring to myself as a “self-publisher.” I produce and market books like anyone else in the business.
Real Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing: Self-publishing is often confused with so-called “vanity publishing.” If you pay someone like XLibris or iUniverse to publish you, you are not a publisher—and neither is the company that claims to be your publisher. Vanity presses take zero risk on your book. They make money producing it and they take a piece of the cover price as a royalty, double-dipping at your expense. If your so-called publisher has not made an investment in your work, they are not a real publisher. Real publishers invest in books, pay royalties when there are profits and incur losses when sales don’t match projections.
Many authors start down the publishing road believing that printing books is the same as printing money, only to be disappointed by low returns and the amount of work involved. This guest article by novelist, poet and songwriter Richard Geller responds to advice offered by marketing luminary Seth Godin who suggests indie publishers should lower their expectations. Geller proposes different ways to measure success. Printing books is not the same as printing money, but for creative writers, printing books may give rise to something of even greater value. Changing expectations and lowering them are two different things.
In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:
On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)
Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.
I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?
Discussion forums are a powerful medium for promoting your book, your art or your business. Facebook, LinkedIn and other communities are a major source of traffic for blogs and websites, but whether you post directly or embed links in responses to others’ posts, make good forum etiquette a priority. There are important rules to play the forum game by. Break the rules too many times and you’ll lose your community.
I posted a link to one of my blog articles on a discussion group’s board. Though I generally get positive, relevant responses, one reply went something like this:
Response:Why not post a profile on [my site]? This is a free site for writers, poets, photographers and artists. You can advertise and sell your work for free. Make sure you include a link to your site so others can learn even more about you and purchase your work. Please help us spread the word in your vast network of connections, it will inevitably be one more piece of the pie to maximize your exposure.
My Reply: Did you even read the article? It’s considered good practice to participate in a posted discussion rather than change its topic. It smells like canned lunch meat in here.
I’m Dave Bricker,MFA: speaker, author, editor, graphic designer, interactive developer, and 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.
Though this blog will no longer be updated, the hundred or so articles in the archive offer a valuable reference library for writers, publishers, and designers of all sizes. Enjoy your publishing journey.
When you’re finished browsing here, please check out my new storytelling project and blog at http://storysailing.com
Though I create eBooks and write about them extensively, I’m a classic bibliophile who loves to feel the subtle emboss of letters stamped on paper with metal type. I was rummaging through the garage and came across an old copy of The Progressive Road to Reading Book 2 by Georgine Burchill, William Ettinger and Edgar Dubs Shimer. Published in 1909 and reprinted in 1920, it was probably my father’s elementary school reading book. (See it on Google Books here.) It has me reflecting on what is undoubtedly the greatest achievement in publishing.
When I gave the book to my six-year old daughter, she was drawn to it immediately. It’s different from her other books. The paper is yellowed. The inked letters are not so perfect as the digitally printed ones in her paperback library. It’s filled with beautiful, engraved images printed with a color overlay. Some of the spelling conventions like “to-day” and “to-night” and “to-morrow” are clearly outdated. The line breaks in the type are strange.* It’s charming.