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48 posts from January 2007

Kay Stoner Interview -- Part III (Final)

Ipub_1Here's the final installment of my interview with Kay Stoner of ipubfasttrack.com (Part's I and II are here and here):

JW: Have you tried any other self-publishing providers? 

KS: I had looked at Lightning Source a while back, but their process seemed pretty convoluted to me, plus they were a subsidiary of Ingram, which left a bad taste in my mouth, after all the mergers and acquisitions in the book distribution scene over the past years. I wanted to do something more independent and I was worried that I might end up shunted to the back of the bus, as an indie publisher, if I went with Lightning Source. 

I had also looked into Xlibris and iUniverse (and a number of others), but I decided against them because of the money required -- I just didn't have the $300-$3,000 to spend! I had a lot of books I was going to be publishing, and it would run me into the tens of thousands of dollars, by the time all was said and done. Plus, I wasn't very impressed by the printing and binding quality of the samples I received -- I can't remember which service they was from, so please don't assume it was iUniverse or Xlibris! It could have been from a smaller "vanity" press.

Until Lulu came along, my self-publishing was limited to small-scale, do-it-yourself manual operations -- which, ironically, gave me exactly the kind of quality I was seeking!

Lulu came along about the time when I was on the verge of signing up with either Xlibris or iUniverse. Something told me to hold off on committing to a service, and when I found Lulu, I looked no further. They offered me exactly the kind of flexibility and power I needed, and there were no contracts to sign! Plus, the fact that Lulu was started by one of the founders of Red Hat, (which made Linux a serious contender against Microsoft Windows in my small uber-geeky social circle during the late 1990's), made Lulu look pretty friendly to me. The founder had  started this company to offer authors an alternative to the pitfalls of corporate publishing, which were exactly the kinds of problems I wanted to avoid like the plague. Philosophically and artistically and technically, Lulu just made a lot more sense. And it was free. I signed up as soon as I found out about them.

Logistically, too, Lulu was a total no-brainer. The thought of being locked into another company's production schedule and having to accommodate their calendars, was not very attractive to me. I looked at the samples they sent me, I checked out their websites, and the quality I saw just didn't justify the added hassle of having extra staff do the job. I could do it myself just as well - if not better! Why would I spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars, on a book that wasn't 100% my own vision?

All in all, I'd have to say that Lulu is the best thing since sliced bread for struggling and frustrated writers. (It's even better - no  calories and no glucose! ;) If you're still wedded to the idea of being picked up by a mainstream press, if you make tons of sales you may catch a publisher's attention, you can attract a potential contract. I've heard stories of people being successful on their own, and then signing with a mainstream house. It's almost like Lulu is a "farm team" where newbies can vet themselves and their talents. But the real beauty is, you're not hamstrung by waiting by the phone (or your e-mail) for someone to get back to you with a contract that offers something like $1.50 per book in royalties... and you can do it all on your own terms and set your own price.

When it works (which in my experience is 95% of the time), Lulu is a dream! And when it doesn't on the first pass, you can always keep trying till things sort themselves out.

I'd strongly recommend that writers take Lulu for a test spin. Even if it's just out of curiosity, It doesn't have to cost anything at all to get set up, and the payout -- your own published book -- is pretty amazing!

More on DRM

Lock_2This post by Benjamin Higginbotham on the Technology Evangelist blog really hurts.  I've commented on DRM before, so it's no surprise that I agree with everything Benjamin says.  But what's especially painful is that the example he uses is a book my group published about a year ago, Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.

Here are a few excerpts that I couldn't agree with more:

I'm not saying that eBooks have to be DRM free, but it should be loose enough that I can move my books from eReader to eReader and I should be able to read my eBooks on different computers easily.

Is it really worth all the headache to stop a few pirates? Won't the pirates find a way to steal the content anyhow? Why not allow the law abiding consumer to do with the media as they please?

Now rather than protecting assets, DRM seems to be pissing people off while the content is still stolen.

Hard to argue with.  On top of all that I see he had the misfortune of buying one of those over-priced, feature-poor Sony ebook readers. I feel bad for the guy...so bad, in fact, that I'm going to reach out and see if he'd accept a comp copy of Naked Conversations.  Maybe I could even get Robert and Shel to autograph a copy for him...guys, if you're reading this, can you let me know if you'll help me out on this mission?


Kay Stoner Interview -- Part II

IpubHere's the second part of my interview with Kay Stoner of ipubfasttrack.com (Part I is here).  It's only one question but Kay's answer is loaded with great insight, so I think it stands on its own (and I wanted everyone to have access to everything she had to say):

JW: What are some of the warnings you'd offer new authors who are considering the self-publishing route?

KS: Be prepared to continue your writing career in obscurity for the immediate future. You may totally believe in your book 100%, and you may in fact be the next Saul Bellow, but it takes time for the rest of the world to figure that out. It takes a huge amount of work to continuously promote a book -- which is what you have to do, if you want to catch anybody's attention, these days. Be prepared to work -- and work hard! -- for every review, every mention, every sale. The work pays off, but be prepared to work harder than you ever thought you had to. Follow up constantly on every contact, post to blogs, keep your website up to date, make your calls to the press, send out your news releases... go for it! But prepare to work hard, and possibly without immediate reward in the first month or so. These things take time.

Don't get depressed by your earnings numbers. You may indeed come up with a best-seller, and you may make some serious money in sales and speaking engagements, but there's always a chance that won't happen. The bookselling business is notoriously difficult, and that fact is largely obscured by the huge operations at mainstream publishing houses, which create the illusion of a profitable industry to the uninitiated. Do what you can to promote your book, but don't be thrown off if the numbers start off at a trickle at first. Remember, some books that become blockbuster best-sellers over several years' time start out fairly anemic. So, steel your nerves for a slow start, just in case... If you gauge your success only by how much money you make or how often your name shows up in Google, you may develop even more of an inferiority complex than you had when all you had to show for your writing was a drawer full of rejection slips. So, don't let slow sales get to you at first.

Just as importantly, be prepared to be successful! There's nothing worse than having a big hit on your hands and not being prepared to follow through on the invitations to television appearances and radio interviews and all the publicity activities that go along with a hot new project that everybody's very excited about. So, make sure your calendar is pretty flexible around the time that you're doing your book launch -- and be prepared to follow through. Be clear about what you will and will not do -- how far you're willing to travel, when you're prepared to make appearances, etc.

Bottom line is, as an indie publisher, anything can happen -- which can be the best thing in the world, or the worst thing! If you have a plan and you stick to it, that can simplify things a great deal and get you to your publishing and publicity goals.

Also, there's still a tremendous amount of bias against self-publishing. A lot of people still believe the hype about publishing houses being the ultimate arbiters of literary taste, and they love to tell you about it. It's totally up to you whether you listen to them or not, but a lot of people won't be shy about turning up their noses at you. Of course, if you've already established credibility as an expert in your field, then you can possibly overcome the objections quicker. If you're a multi-millionaire, or you're a well-known subject matter expert, and you're sharing what you've already made wildly successful, that can overcome the "vanity press" bias.

You can also do a great job of obscuring your humble origins by having a professional-looking cover and formatting your interior with a more formal font than Times New Roman. There are a lot of people who know about fonts, and they love to share that knowledge online. Do your research, look at other books, and see how they do it. Try out different fonts, and don't be afraid to scrap a certain layout if it just isn't right. You can overcome the anti-self-publishing bias by right of a well-built "product" - seeing is believing!


WSJ On the Future of Writing

Wsj_2Here's a great article (subscription required) by Jason Fry in The Wall Street Journal.  He's gathered thoughts and opinions from many of his readers to speculate a bit about the future of writing.  My favorite excerpts (with my own thoughts in bold below a few):

Cookbooks are the most analogous to the music album.  I would love to be able to choose just the recipes in the area I am most interested.

...there's a service that lets me do just that (buy portions of technical manuals), although at a steep price: O'Reilly's Safari.

I never thought Safari's price was all that expensive, but that's probably because I think of it in terms of the price of the print books you're gaining access to; someone comparing it to all the free content that's available would obviously have a very different opinion.

I would love to be able to buy a chopped-up version of (Alexander Hamilton's) biography, where I could pick and choose the parts of Hamilton's life I would want to own and read again.

This definitely highlights some of the new burdens publishers are going to have to assume if they want to succeed in the future: thoroughly tagging and atomizing content.  The closest analogy is indexing, but we're going to need the equivalent of "indexing on steroids" to achieve this goal of absolute content granularity.  It can (and will!) be done, but it will require publishers to make a significant investment in this part of the process.

...he (a business book author) can only earn dollars and reputation by publishing it as a book, even if the whole idea could have been expressed in a few sentences.  In an ideal world authors would be compensated in proportion to the number of times a reader said, "Wow, I never thought of it that way before!"  Monetize that, and you've got your text revolution.

I have been a subscriber to WSJ.com for many years and dropped my Wall Street Journal subscription years ago.

Sounds very familiar.  I too dropped the print subscription for the online one a few years ago.


Kay Stoner Interview -- Part I

Ipub_2Kay Stoner has a great resource center called Independent Publisher Fast Track.  I came across it earlier this month after Kay posted a comment on my blog.  Her site is loaded with great information for authors who are looking to get published.  I'm intrigued with what she has to offer and I thought readers of this blog might be interested as well; she graciously accepted my interview invitation, and the first installment is below.

JW: So what caused you to want to launch the ipubfasttrack.com website?

KS: Because I'm absolutely thrilled by the new print-on-demand technologies that are making quality self-publishing a reality for many writers who may have been frustrated or silenced by the traditional book publishing industry. There are a lot of great new self-publishing resources out there, and it's easier than ever to get your work into print. But there are also pitfalls, which can undermine the success of even the best-written book. Completing a book is a major accomplishment, but if your printed product doesn't do it justice, then the impact of your overall work can suffer. I've seen a lot of self-published books, of varying levels of quality, and some of them have made me cringe --they may have been well-written, but they were clearly using either faulty software or they hadn't been shown how to make their work look great. It really isn't necessary to settle for a poorly designed book, just because you're doing the job yourself. There are many excellent tools out there, as well as a lot of information to enable authors to produce the highest-quality, best-looking book they can. I wanted to create a place where everyday writers could come to get practical information, inexpensive tools, well-designed templates, and insider techniques, so they can do their work justice with high-quality book production.

JW: What are a few of the more important things you've learned as you've self-published with Lulu?

KS: First, always do a test print run -- or two, or three! You can print up a sample version of your book with only the cover art and a few sheets as "filler" to see if your cover is going to come out the way you expect. And you can print up a single copy of your complete book before you make it available to the world, just to check the margins, see how it looks, and see if there's anything you need to change, before you order a larger run of books for reviewers.

There is a "learning curve" (albeit small), to the Lulu process, and the last thing you want, is to get held up at the last minute, by unexpected twists or complications. There's nothing more irritating, than being almost done with your book -- but the cover doesn't turn out exactly like you want, or the interior is "off" somehow, and you have to go back to the drawing board.

It can really mess up your promotion schedule, when that happens. It's well worth the extra dollars, to make sure everything will come out fine before you launch your book.

Second, pace yourself. Self-publishing with Lulu is so easy and fast, that you can easily go into "indie publisher overload" and get so carried away publishing new books, that you forget to fully promote the books you already have published. I suggest putting together a complete production and promotion schedule for each book you publish and sticking with it from start to finish before you begin your next project, rather than trying to publish a bunch of books at the same time. I've found that it also helps with credibility, if you tell people you've published "a book" instead of "15 books" sometimes they have a hard time believing that you're really capable of writing and publishing all of that quantity -- and quality, too!

Third, make sure you produce the best-looking book you possibly can -- interior and exterior -- so that people take you seriously. Spend the money on an ISBN -- it makes you look truly official. (Because, of course, you are!) And if you don't know your way around a graphics program, then invest the money in professional help. Guru.com is full of freelance artists and graphics folks who can create great-looking work for very low cost. Or post your plea for help on craigslist.org.

Fourth, stay organized! Keep your files in the same folder on your computer, and make backup copies on CD. If you publish a number of books, you may lose track of where you've put everything, so having a well-organized file management system can be very helpful.

Last but not least, never, ever give up. Don't be afraid to try different things, like different titles and different cover designs. It's cheap and straightforward to do that with Lulu. And don't be put off my surprises beyond your control. There have been times when a book I was working on came out looking a little funky, and I either got online and chatted with a live Lulu rep, or I tried to re-format my book again. I got the help I needed, and eventually I got the book looking like I wanted. Don't just throw up your hands and say, "This doesn't work! Lulu is awful!" I've found them very willing to help, and my experiences have turned out good, in the long run. There's a whole lot of information online at Lulu.com. Sometimes the quickest way to solve a problem, is to talk to a live rep.


Mavericks at Work, by William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre

Mavericks_at_work_1I generally rate business book by two factors: How many pages I've highlighted by folding them over and whether it causes me to stop and think about how the content applies to my world.  Mavericks at Work scores very high on both points.

Here are some of the more interesting excerpts I flagged as I read this one:

Southwest didn't flourish just because its fares were cheaper...Southwest flourished because it reimagined what it means to be an airline.

If you want to renew and re-energize an industry...don't hire people from that industry.

If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would really miss you and why?

The most effective leaders are the ones who are the most insatiable learners, and experienced leaders learn the most by interacting with people whose interests, backgrounds and experiences are the least like theirs.

We must begin all things in ignorance...otherwise we never start at the beginning.

The next frontier for making products more emotional is to turn them into something social -- to create a sense of shared ownership and participation among customers themselves.

Why would great people want to work here?

You could (and probably should!) spend hours thinking about the answers to those two questions (If your company went out of business... and Why would great people want to work here?).  I also found the authors' thoughts on the use of ad-hoc teams to build new products/services within an existing business, and thereby avoid The Innovator's Dilemma, to be very helpful.

The authors have a very readable style and provide loads of examples from companies and executives they interviewed for the book.  Highly recommended.


Happy Horse Hoopla

Happy_horseI don't talk much about home life on this blog, but this item is too important to skip.  Our youngest daughter (Hannah) has been riding horses for a few years now and is in more competitions than I can count.  Don't ask me the details...I'm a total horse novice but I enjoy watching her ride.

The IHJA had their annual banquet last night and we were invited because Hannah finished the year 5th in the state in the "Beginner Rider (Junior)" class.  I can't even tell you how proud I was last night, hearing her name called and watching her head to the stage for her ribbon.  It was definitely one of those images that I'll remember the rest of my life.


Currently 5 Listed in the Top 25 on Amazon!

Smiley_faceAs I was winding down for the night I decided to take a quick look at the Amazon Computers & Internet bestseller list.  What a great way to end the day: My editorial team has 5 of the top 25 on the list:

#5: Lifehacker
#11: Windows Vista Secrets
#14: Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, etc.
#17: Second Life: The Official Guide
#25: Search Engine Optimization: An Hour a Day

Besides coming from our group at Wiley, what else do these books all have in common?  They're all one-off's, not part of any series, written by outstanding author teams with great platforms.  Congrats to everyone associated with each of these fantastic books!


Can Satellite Radio Survive?

SatelliteradioHere's a good article from my local paper today regarding the state of the satellite radio industry.  There are two reasons I'm holding out hope that the key players, XM and Sirius, can create successful business models.  First, I own an XM player and I totally love it.  Great product, great service.  Second, and more importantly, local radio stinks, period.

The scariest fact from the article above is the point that subscriptions were down in 2006 compared to 2005.  Ouch.  What little momentum XM/Sirius had recently is now apparently long gone.  Despite all the listeners Howard Stern brought with him, I've got to believe Sirius doesn't consider that deal to be a great investment.  Both companies have been spending money at an insane rate, trying to lure new subscribers, but they obviously can't pedal fast enough.

What to do?  A big part of the problem is also highlighted in this article: Even as a gift, satellite radio is an awkward product, thanks mostly to the never-ending subscription fees.  Sounds like your typical cell phone, no?  I mentioned this before and I keep coming back to it: The only way I see satellite radio "crossing the chasm", "reaching the masses", or whatever trendy phrase you want to use, is to marry it to a cell phone package.  Most consumers don't think twice about adding the latest, greatest new feature to their cell phone plan.  If convergence is really the name of the game, why not put the satellite radio electronics in a cell phone and add $5 to the monthly fees?

(Btw, that Sprint Ambassador program I got to test last year included a stripped-down pseudo-satellite radio service, but the signal came through the phone line, not direct from the satellite itself.  The stream was unreliable and the channels were very limited, so it's not a fair test and I'm betting Sprint doesn't have too many subscribers for that feature.)


TED Talks

TedLooking for some inspiration?  Want to hear some of the brightest people around talk about what they're most passionate about?  If so, you need to check out the TED Talks.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is an annual conference featuring the best and brightest speakers on the planet.  I just finished watching this session with Malcolm Gladwell.

Fortunately for those of us who can't attend the conference, the kind folks at TED offer freely accessible audio and video archives of every speaker.  Isn't that the way every conference should be, btw?!  I've often wondered why more conferences don't do this sort of thing.  Yeah, I know...they're afraid it will affect the in-person attendance rates, and those fees are where the hosts really make their money.  Maybe they ought to consider more sponsorships to help fund the operation.  TED obviously benefits from both in-person attendees and loads of virtual attendees after the show.

You say you don't have the time to sit around watching this sort of thing?  Then do what my friend Bryan Gray (CEO of MediaSauce) did: Download the audio versions, put them on a CD and listen to them on your way to/from the office.  Do it.  You won't regret it.