Previous month:
March 2005
Next month:
May 2005

18 posts from April 2005


That probably sounds like an odd subject for a publisher to blog about, right? I noticed that author Naba Barkakati posted recently about the subject, and it got me thinking. Believe it or not, I’m glad self-publishing is becoming a more viable option for some projects. Here’s why…

We turn down a lot of unsolicited project proposals from authors every year. For one reason or another, our editorial team simply decides the project doesn’t fit into our current publishing plans. Many of these proposals find their way to other publishers. My guess is they’re often rejected elsewhere as well. Don’t get me wrong, by the way…some unsolicited proposals are signed and turn out to be great projects. For those that are rejected by all publishers, many probably never see the light of day as a finished product. Others become a labor of love and are self-published by the author.

If an author is willing to go through all the work to self-publish, it tells me several things, the most important is that they author is extremely passionate about the topic. After all, they’re willing to invest their own time, money and efforts to do the work of several people on a self-published product. Passion is one of the attributes I often look for first in a new author.

Self-publishing success stories are another way for us to continue mining the list of emerging topics for the future. If a self-published book does well, maybe it’s time for a publisher to hop on board and produce a book that is likely to get broader distribution.

If you’ve proposed a project to several publishers and have been rejected by all of them, give self-publishing some consideration. Take a look at Naba’s blog – he lists some good resources.

Are there any authors reading this blog who have some self-publishing experience? If so, please post a comment here or on Naba’s blog so that others can learn from your efforts.

MyFi & DirecTV

I couldn’t resist any longer. I visited my local Fry’s and bought a MyFi the other night. What’s not to like? It’s great for the car, at home and anywhere on the road. I figured it was a better solution than an MP3 player because I could listen to live broadcasts and always hear something new.

That’s all wonderful, but the darned thing just didn’t work. Or should I say, it didn’t work here in central Indiana. I read several reviews of the device on sites like Amazon and Circuit City.  Most of the comments were favorable, but every so often I came across one that was critical of the weak signal. XM apparently has repeaters set up in the larger cities, but if you’re in a smaller metropolitan area, you’re 100% reliant on the satellite overhead.

All the ads, the website, etc., make the MyFi look like a completely untethered solution for high quality audio. You’d never know that by looking inside the box. There must have been a dozen different antennas and add-on components for the main device. There’s one antenna to use at home and another for your car. What bothered me the most is that you’re even supposed to wear yet another antenna if you’re not using the home or car one. The “wearable” antenna is no small object either – good luck trying to accessorize around this thing! I found that even when I had the wearable antenna plugged in, the signal would come and go.

Needless to say, I returned the MyFi the next day. The XM representative tried to sell me on one of their other radios, but they’re only for use in a car or at home, not in between. He finally acknowledged that this is a “first generation” product and that they’re working on improvements. I love the idea and I’m sure I’ll try the next version. In the mean time, I’m stuck listening to radio the old-fashioned way.

On a related satellite note, I had the pleasure of flying on Frontier airlines recently. What a treat. Besides having very clean jets that always left and arrived on time, they offer DirecTV service for $5. There were about 30 stations to choose from, including both ESPNs, ESPN News and ESPN Classic. It’s a great way to help pass the time on a long flight. But it got me to thinking… If DirecTV has the ability to enable concurrent viewing of 30 channels on a plane, why do they limit you to one channel per tuner in your home? Jim Minatel tells me it’s because they can get the bars to pay a much higher monthly rate for multi-channel service and DirecTV doesn’t want to lose income from those premium subscribers. Couldn’t they more than make up this loss by the dramatically increased volume in subscriptions? I mean, that whole “one-tuner, one-channel” limitation is the only reason I never left cable for satellite. I’ve got to believe that’s been a deterrent for plenty of others who never made the switch. Wouldn’t this put a huge dent in the cable business if the satellite people could figure this out?!

More Publishing Model Tinkering

As you’ve seen in some of my earlier posts, I’m a big advocate of trying new publishing models. (For example, see the lively discussion we had about an alternate publishing model.) That’s why I was so excited to see Naba Barkakati’s latest post on The Future of Computer Books.

Naba’s description reminds me of an experiment I tried a few years ago called “The Unlimited Edition”. Books in this program had a website where the authors posted additional chapters as the topic evolved. It enabled us to extend the book long after copies rolled off the presses. The experiment unfortunately didn’t generate much enthusiasm, despite there being no cost to the customer.

The Unlimited Edition was tested prior to the popularity of blogs and RSS feeds. Were we ahead of our time? Should we take another crack at this, as Naba suggests on his blog? Are there any other features that could be added to this to turn it into a killer idea?

Take a peek at Naba’s idea and contribute to the thinking…

What’s the Average Advance?

A large number of people wind up on this blog by doing a Google search for “average advance.” Although I’ve talked a bit about advances in previous entries (royalty calculations, advances and royalties: risk/reward and returns reserves), I thought I should address the idea of an “average advance” in a post all by itself.

As with the rest of my posts on this blog, it’s important to keep in mind that my perspective comes from the computer book publishing market. If you’re searching for information on the typical advance in the science fiction area, for example, you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s also important to realize that although it’s possible to calculate a true average advance, there are all sorts of exceptions and variables to consider. More on that in a moment…

In our business today, a typical author advance is around $10,000. Some are lower and some are higher. In fact, some authors completely opt out of the advance and choose to delay their earnings till the first royalty payment.

What are some factors that tend to drive up the advance? An urgent demand for the topic (which might include a shorter writing schedule) and an author's unique platform are two good examples. If a publisher is anxious to get a particular book/topic on the shelves they might be inclined to pay more for the author advance. As I note, however, this often results in the publisher asking the author for a shorter writing schedule. Be sure to read the earlier post on What Makes a Bestseller? to see where author platform fits into the equation.

What sort of factors might cause the advance to be on the lower end of the scale? One example is if the book covers a riskier topic with limited upside. Sometimes it’s hard to justify even an “average” advance on an emerging topic. It’s virtually impossible to gauge a sales forecast on a topic for which no books are currently available. Ironically, this is exactly the type of publishing that can create a breakout title that far exceeds the publisher’s wildest expectations. It all comes down to how much faith your editor and publisher have in the title.

If the lack of existing titles on the topic might cause the advance to be lower, shouldn’t the opposite be true? The more books out on a topic would therefore cause the advance on the next book to be higher. Nope. It doesn’t take long for the “next” book to be considered a commodity, once again driving down the advance the publisher is willing to pay. If there are already a dozen books out there on the topic don’t expect the publisher to treat yours (the 13th one) as something special that deserves a high advance…unless you’ve got a great platform or there’s some other compelling reason.

Many new authors often think page count plays a role in the advance. Truth is, there’s really no correlation between page count and advance dollars. An 800-page book won’t necessarily pay out two times the advance of a 400-page one – the smaller book might even get a higher advance than the bigger book. Finally, keep in mind that first-year earn-out of the advance is often an important consideration.

Many seasoned authors have been reading this blog. How does the information in this post compare to your experience with advances and an overall average?

The Sales Rep’s Role

Earlier posts featured perspectives from a Development Editor, an Acquisitions Editor and an Author. This one covers the role of the Sales Rep. Amy Blanchard is one of the best in the business. Here’s what she has to say:

In Sales we jump into the publishing process beginning with the book proposal. It is our job to set realistic expectations for sales of a title. They can’t all be bestsellers as much as we’d like them to.

The role of a Sales Rep involves more than simply selling books. One of the key aspects of the job is relationship management. It is easy to sell a book or load product into an account; the challenging part of the job is building trust and rapport with the buyer. My overall responsibilities involve account management, title presentations, forecasting lay downs and giving feedback on new titles. I work closely with Marketing to create account promotions and feature key new titles. My mission is to increase market-share and make sure our books are well represented in the marketplace.

I am a National Account Manager and work with a single large account. I have a wide range of duties, which include sell-in, overseeing operations, and merchandising. I sometimes think of myself as an Air Traffic Controller because I coordinate between so many different groups. I feel lucky because I have a great relationship with my account. They are always open to trying new things and come to Wiley whenever they want to test new programs. My favorite part of the job is coming up with cool new promotions and creating out of the box ways to increase sales of our books.

What makes Amy such a great rep? First of all, she’s extremely enthusiastic about her job. She is personally interested in technology and enjoys what she’s doing.  Secondly, she’s great at building relationships. As Amy notes above, this is one of the keys to account management. Finally, Amy brings a great deal of creativity to the table. Accounts appreciate that these days, especially when the shelves are so crowded. Every buyer is looking for creative ways to promote and sell their products, especially if the idea helps differentiate them from other retailers.

A rep often only has a minute or less to pitch a book idea to a buyer. The good ones figure out how to prioritize and make the most of that limited time. The great ones (like Amy) know their account so well that they truly become partners, not just selling something to their buyer, but helping create long-term strategies that are much larger than a single book.