Writing Prompt: 05/31/10

"Your phone rings. When you answer it, you make a startling discovery: the person on the other end is dead. What does he/she say and why are they calling you?"

Write for 15-30 minutes. My response will be posted 6/02/10.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Castigation of the Publishing Industry Part Three

Last week I talked about getting your manuscript ready for self-publication, and why traditional publication is more likely to screw you than to make you into the next Stephanie Meyer. This week I want to talk about what to do once you've completed the book, edited it with some help from your local critical writer's group, and hired proofreading help to stoppunch any grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors you may find.

Your next step is to look for a publisher that specializes in your preferred medium and has a reputation for making decent quality books. Let's not forget that you're also going to be paying for the publication, so you want a decent value.

I looked at a large number of publishers before I selected Authorhouse for my non-fiction. In addition to being reasonable on the front end (meaning that they only charged about $700 to publish my 420-page behemoth), they also offered great royalties on the back end, allowing me to set my own prices. Because I was aiming to assist a class of people without a lot of cash, I deliberately set my trade paperback price to about four dollars less than most comparable books of that subject matter and length. Despite this, I still ended up with a 50% royalty return!

Compare that to the 3-7% that traditional publishers will give you.

Another good thing about Authorhouse is that they don't require me to hold large amounts of overhead. Jack Reed, a non-fiction author and one of my mentors on several subjects, self-publishes his books, and has them manufactured by a company in Illinois. The problem is, he has to buy his books in job lots of 200 and store them himself. For a lot of people this isn't feasible.

Authorhouse uses print-on-demand publication. Need 200 books for a signing or for marketing? Great! They can do it. Or, you can link to their site from your home page and send buyers to their online purchasing section and they can print just one!

Best of all, my books are also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites (and several smaller e-tailers. Instead of having to sell to bookstores, I am a bookstore!

On the right hand side of this blog you'll see another link to a publisher, in the guise of an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad application called Fastpencil. Although I link to it, I'm not particularly impressed with it so far. For one thing, the application doesn't offer landscape typing mode, which is just damnfool stupid in a writing application, and second, it crashes constantly on my iPod Touch.

I'm hoping that a new release will be pushed out soon and fix those problems. The Chief Technical Officer assures me that's the case, but I haven't seen it yet.

If you use Fastpencil, though, you'll find that they are also a self-publishing company. In fact, if you have a blog like this one, you could write your book in that and then import it directly into their engine for publication.

Unfortunately, their prices are steep. $1,200 to publish anything like the length of my non-fiction, and their royalties were much lower than Authorhouse.

Please note that these are for traditional publication on paper. You can self-publish an eBook using Adobe Acrobat in just a few minutes. If you're going to do this, I strongly, strongly, suggest that you obtain an ISBN number for your work.

By the way, don't worry too much about copyrights. By law, the moment you put anything down in permanent or semi-permanent form it's legally yours. Your only concern is proving that you are the original author of the non-derivative work. The easiest way to do this is take your rough draft and mail it to yourself. Don't open the envelop. Ten years from now, if someone says that they were the original author of your book, take that unopened envelop into court and hand it to the judge. Problem solved.

By the way, also by law, schools own the copyright to anything produced in the classroom. If you write a best-selling novel in your English class your school is legally allowed to sue you for a cut of the action. As I keep saying, there's a lot of stupid going around.

With the prevalence of eBook readers like the Amazon kindle and the new one that I think is going to be taking over, the Kobo, which is $150 and only reads books, without a lot of wasted electronics to use cellular or WiFi technology, and natively reads PDF format, you may be interested in making eBooks. If you are, there are a couple of things to consider:

EBooks are cheap to make. Make one and copy it and you're good to go. This means a lower overhead, but it also means you need to set a much lower price. (Another reason the Kindle is getting its ass kicked is the $10 price of books and the fact that it doesn't read books you may already have in PDF format, the most widely used document format on the web, without running it through a conversion software.)

The other downside of eBooks is piracy. One electronic copy becomes dozens... except, as I mentioned last week, that may not be a bad thing. If you offer both an electronic and a traditionally bound version of your book there's a nice chance that you could give away your eBook for free and only charge for the bound paper and make a tidy sum. It works for the books in the Baen eLibrary, all of which are on the Baen top-seller's list.

So you've finally sent your book off (emailed, generally, or otherwise uploaded to your publisher), and now it's time to review your galley and cover proofs to make sure that everything is the way you want it. Folks, please read every damn page. I promise you something will be buggered and neatly hidden-- like the repeating page that threw off my indexing. I also recommend that you have someone else review your galleys looking for any final errors.

Treat this like a second round of proofing. Pay someone another $50 to read it and $5 per error spotted now. There's a typo on one page of David Edding's Magician's Gambit, one of The Belgariad, that kicks me out of my willing disbelief every time I read it... it's even present in the blasted eBook! One of my college professors published a book called Don't Get Duped! about the nutritional supplement and exercise industry. Unfortunately, Dr. Forness has eye problems, so he usually dictates into a computer and he didn't have a good copyeditor to catch homonyms. As a result, there are dozens of typos and misspellings in his otherwise excellent book. (Although I believe it was recently reprinted and I think the most glaring errors were corrected.)

After all this work is done, then, and only then, can you sign off as ready for publishing. By the way, this is all work that the traditional publisher usually does for you, so is it going to be worth it?

We'll find out next week when we talk about marketing.

Write on!

Christopher Rivan

Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!



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