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26 posts from March 2005

Kathy Sierra on “Just-in-Time Learning” vs. “Just-in-Case Learning”

Bestselling author Kathy Sierra has an interesting post on the motivations behind learning. She contrasts the just-in-time approach to the just-in-case one. Her point is that just-in-time is generally more effective. Unfortunately, most of us have learned via the just-in-case model. Most books are also structured around the just-in-case model, if you ask me.

The best advice in her post has to do with overcoming the limitations of just-in-case learning. It’s something she does very effectively in the Head First series.


Michael Hyatt’s Corporate Blogging Rules

Michael Hyatt is the President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His Working Smart blog is a good one to keep an eye on. He’s a very forward thinking executive and is encouraging Thomas Nelson employees to join the blogosphere. In fact, his latest post talks about plans for a corporate blog aggregator site.

He lists three objectives for the site, but his last one is my favorite: To give people a look at what goes on inside a real publishing company. That’s been one of the goals for my own blog. However, my posts are from the publisher’s perspective alone and only represent one piece of the larger puzzle. I’m working on some of my colleagues from other departments (e.g., marketing, sales, etc.) and I hope to see their blogs launch shortly.

Later in his post Michael presents the “Thomas Nelson Blog Terms and Conditions”. Few companies have taken the time to establish a formal blogging policy like this. I applaud what Michael Hyatt is doing and I look forward to the launch of the Thomas Nelson aggregator site. Won’t it be great when every company has a site like this and we’ll be able to peek inside, see what makes it tick and learn a little more about the people behind the scenes?


Why Not?

I finished reading this book last night. (Yes, it’s called Why Not?”) It caught my attention because of a review I read about it in a magazine a few months ago. The description on Amazon was interesting and the customer reviews were favorable. Although I found a few interesting tidbits, I’d give it no more than a “B” overall.

The most interesting concept they presented was the notion of “Would Flipping It Work?” where they consider solutions “the other way around”. A good example of this is what they propose with 900-xxx-xxxx phone numbers. When you call one of these, your phone bill gets charged. Could you imagine a scenario where the opposite would occur: you receive a call from a 900 number and your phone bill gets credited? How about with the dreaded telemarketer? If a telemarketer calls your home and you listen to their pitch you’d get a credit on your phone bill.

Although most of us wouldn’t opt for this, there’s probably some percentage of the public who would. Further, it would help offset the difficulties many telemarketers now face with all the “Do Not Call” registries across the country. Other examples in this chapter opened my eyes to interesting options that open up when you completely turn things around.

Although this book won’t make my favorites list, I plan to be a frequent visitor to the outstanding companion website. The authors refer to it as the “Why Not Open Source Movement” because they built it as a place for everyone to post new ideas and critique ideas from others. There are loads of ideas already on the site and more are being posted every month. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites, and yes, they do offer an RSS feed.

Even if you don’t find ideas that are directly related to your own business, you’re sure to find some that will spark your imagination. For example, check out the suggestion for an audio-in jack in cars (something I was complaining about recently!) and the great idea for a better brake light system.


Selecting a Publisher: Finding the Right Editor

In an earlier post I talked about how areas of expertise come into play when selecting a publisher. Today’s post outlines some thoughts on finding a good editor and what sort of questions an author should ask. I believe the task of finding the right editor, and therefore the right publisher, comes down to three things: referrals, enthusiasm and experience.

Referrals

What sort of a reputation does this acquisitions editor have? If it’s a good one, find out why. You’ll want to know if the reason that editor is held in high regard matches up with the attributes you’re looking for. As I mentioned in my earlier post on agents, references are as critical a part of this decision as anything. Perhaps it goes without saying, but be wary of any editor who has a hard time providing references…

Enthusiasm

Editor enthusiasm might seem like an odd characteristic for the short list. Nevertheless, it’s important for an editor to show they are excited about your project. That enthusiasm carries through to the various editorial and sales meetings where they have to pitch your idea. If they don’t sound overly interested on the phone with the author, how much are they likely to evangelize the idea to the sales and marketing departments?

Here’s a question every author should ask his or her acquisitions editor: How important is this book to your overall program? Get them to tell you whether they consider this to be one of the most important 3-5 titles they are currently working on (i.e., their “A-list”). If they say “yes”, ask them to prove it. Keep in mind that only about 15-25% of all books make the A-list list in any editor’s program. Maybe this project is really a mid-list title and isn’t going to make anyone’s A-list. That’s good information to have as well. The important point is to make sure that the editor’s expectations are in line with yours.

One editor may be tied up on a major release and although your title is important, they have other more high-priority titles above it. If it’s not on their A-list, maybe you should talk to an editor from another publisher to see if it will get more attention there. All other things being equal, I’d rather have my book signed with an editor who has it on their A-list (and can prove it) than somewhere else.

Experience

Acquisitions editors are always asking author candidates about their background, writing history, etc. What’s wrong with authors asking editors the same type of questions? How long have you been in the business? Do you specialize in any areas? What are your top-selling titles? Who are your best authors? What makes them so great?

Perhaps most importantly, you need to decide whether this person is someone who truly wants to work with you, not just on this particular book, but as a partner going forward. If this project goes well, are there others the editor might have in mind for you? The best author-editor relationships I’ve seen over the years seem to have one common theme: The authors speak highly of the editors who look at the bigger picture, not just a single book. They want to work in partnership with the author to build a franchise together.

Finally, if you’re still on the fence with an editor, ask them this one: Can I talk to the publisher and gauge their interest in this project? Whether it’s a phone call or an e-mail exchange, that line of communication should always be available. Take advantage of it!


Revised Editions of Computer Books

One of the more common customer complaints over the years has to do with the cost of buying a revised edition of a computer book. Readers sometimes note that the changes from one edition to the next are relatively minor. They want to know why they have to pay full price for the next edition when it contains much of the same information as the current edition.

There’s never been a simple solution for this problem. Publishers could take a page out of the software business and offer discounted upgrades to registered users. That’s probably never happened up to now because of:

  • The processing costs involved, especially when weighed against the net price if the customer’s “upgrade” discount is fairly deep,
  • The publisher risks alienating the bookstores and other channel partners by taking the next transaction direct to the customer, cutting out the retailer, and
  • It’s hard to say how many customers would even consider this as a viable option.

Rather than working towards a solution with a printed book, should an electronic upgrade product be considered? If you could get a PDF of the next edition for $5 or $10, vs. the original printed book price of $30 or $40, would you consider this alternative? What if that PDF included revision marks to show what’s new in the revised edition? What if the “upgrade” featured a second PDF file that highlighted only those chapters/elements that have changed? That way you could quickly scan through this smaller file to quickly get up-to-speed on the differences between the two editions. I could see where this might work in some cases, but it’s far from a perfect solution.

On a related note, Syngress has experimented a bit in this area with their “1 Year Upgrade/Buyer Protection Plan”. This is purely an online solution, but one that they’ve been playing up on covers for a few years. I don’t hear much buzz about this and you generally don’t even see customers refer to it in online reviews.

Is this really less of a problem than it’s perceived to be?