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15 posts from May 2005

Author Tip: The Sample Chapter

The sample chapter might seem like a pointless exercise to a new author, even more so to an experienced author. After all, if you’ve written an acceptable proposal, surely you’ve proven to your acquisitions editor that you have good writing skills. Why do they need a sample chapter?

First of all, the sample chapter will help you (the author) determine if you can write to the series guidelines/template provided by the editor. You might be a great writer, but do you have the skills to write to the appropriate audience? Are you able to deliver on all the key elements in the series? Are you able to provide the right amount of material for each topic in the chapter?

Second, if you’ve never written a book before, you’ll see how long it takes to write a chapter. You ought to be able to extrapolate from that to determine a reasonable, and realistic, writing schedule for the entire book. If it takes you a week to write the sample, don’t assume you’ll be able to write each subsequent chapter in 2 days or less. Also, don’t let your acquisitions editor bully you into thinking you’ll be able to write faster. You know your schedule, your other commitments, etc., better than anyone else.

Use the sample chapter to your advantage. Insist on detailed feedback from the acquisitions editor and/or a development editor. If you’re going to invest your time in a sample chapter, the least they can do is give it a thorough review and help coach you. Be very skeptical if the editor simply says, “hey, it looked great…we don’t have any comments…keep writing!” This could be a warning signal that nobody had the time to look it over and they’re anxious to hit the next manuscript delivery date on the schedule. That could mean a lot of rework for you and the editor down the road.

By the way, be sure to keep track of the amount of time you have to spend reworking the sample chapter to address the editor’s feedback. This will help you gauge the amount of work you’ll be faced with at the author review stage for the rest of the manuscript. However, if the editor does a good job providing high-level feedback, you should incorporate that feedback in the later chapters, making for less author review work down the road.


More on Improving the Brick and Mortar Bookstore Experience

Earlier this month I posted some thoughts on how to improve the brick and mortar bookstore experience. Many readers weighed in, making for an interesting discussion. I’ve been on the road a lot lately and fell a bit behind in my reading. On a flight back from San Francisco the other night I finally got around to reading the April issue of MIT’s Technology Review. It’s a great magazine and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in technology.

The article that caught my eye was called E-Commerce Gets Smarter. It reminds me of the brick and mortar bookstore post noted above. In that post, I talked about some ideas for in-store kiosks and how they could be used to enhance the customer experience. Here are a few interesting related excerpts from the Technology Review article:

The business jargon for this model of integrating retails sales is “multichanneling” – that is, fusing digital services with in-store, mail order, and telephone sales, and with any other retail channels.

By looking at just a few of a customer’s purchases, a retailer will even be able to predict how much she’ll spend over her lifetime, and adjust the deals and promotions it offers her accordingly.

Last year, another $355 billion in retail sales took place in physical stores after consumers had done their homework online. Overall, says Jupiter, for every $1 consumers spend online, they spend $6 offline as a result of research conducted on the Internet.

Many companies set up online stores in the mid to late 1990s, often building proprietary systems that were not integrated with other parts of their operations. Later, harmonizing operations seemed expensive and difficult. It’s only since the economy has improved that some retail executives have been investing more heavily in integrating their sales channels.

I think it’s time for the brick and mortar bookstores to get with it and really leverage this “multichanneling” concept. They’ve got to embrace an online presence in the stores and offer customers services and conveniences the .com’s can’t. As I also noted in my original post, I think this can be done with minimal investment from the bookstores – there are probably plenty of potential sponsors out there who would jump on the opportunity to fund a new PR and marketing program like this.


Microsoft OneCare

Earlier this week Microsoft announced plans for their upcoming subscription service intended to squash viruses, spyware and more. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m highly likely to stick with my Symantec subscription. Microsoft makes great products, but I can’t bring myself to spend money fixing holes they have in their operating system. When a car manufacturer has a serious product flaw you bring the car back in via a recall and they fix it for free. When software companies run into the same problem, they generally issue free patches/updates, which Microsoft also does, of course; but when they add to it with a fee-based subscription service, I’ve really got to say “no thanks”.

Microsoft is an easy target and I’m obviously not alone in this bias against the OneCare concept. David Pogue also recently commented on this one. He says much the same as what I’ve noted above, but also adds that there might be an anti-competition issue here as well. Perhaps, but I figure Microsoft’s program will just force Symantec to make their product that much better, which means I still come out ahead. Yes, I know OneCare could crush antivirus companies much like IE killed Netscape, Word killed WordPerfect, Excel killed 1-2-3, etc. I tend to believe this war is different since so many customers seem to question whether Microsoft (a) can really create a competitive product and (b) is worthy of a subscription payment when they really ought to just fix the problems for free.

What’s your opinion?


Wiley Acquires Sybex

Sybex is a computer book publisher I’ve respected for many years. In fact, when I was programming back in the ‘80’s I learned microprocessor essentials from a book written by Rodnay Zaks himself: From Chips to Systems. I consider it one of the most readable and informative computer books of all time.

As you may have seen in the press release that came out today, Sybex is about to become part of John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Many of us at Wiley are in the process of getting to know the staff at Sybex – I’m very impressed with the energy level, product knowledge and general sense of teamwork throughout the organization. There’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m extremely enthusiastic about the prospects of a great Wiley tech program that becomes even stronger with the addition of Sybex.


More on Audible.com

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’ve been listening to the audio version of Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End. It’s the first product I downloaded from Audible.com. Well, I finished the book yesterday. The verdict: Mixed results.

The book itself wasn’t overly inspiring. I’m not sure if I’m lukewarm on this because of the content or the fact that I listened to it rather than read it. The author spends a lot of time going over commonsense things like “success breeds success.” I’m a big sports fan, so you’d think I wouldn’t tire of the numerous examples from the world of basketball, football and baseball. Wrong. Even I have my limits when it comes to restating the obvious.

One noteworthy takeaway is the point that confidence is the result of three key items: accountability, collaboration and initiative. Again, not earth-shattering, but interesting to consider, especially the way these points were applied against some of the more meaningful examples.

The audio format was convenient. I listened to the book on planes, on a treadmill, watching my daughter at her horseback riding lesson, etc. Nevertheless, there’s one attribute of reading a book rather than listening that works better for me: I can easily re-read sections two and three times if necessary. I’m a slow reader and I sometimes have to read a sentence a couple of times for it to sink in. Good luck trying to accomplish this in an audio format. It’s hard to rewind to just the right point.

I still love the fact that I can have a book on an SD card anywhere I take my PocketPC. With that in mind, I’ll probably try this format at least one more time to see if I warm up to it.