Thursday, December 30, 2010

Time spent

Another interesting thing: It doesn't take a lot of time to write (type in) a manuscript, compared to all the other jazz that goes into a published book. I think I spent around 10 minutes per page writing the book, and maybe another 10 minutes editing, formatting, etc. I'm all-in for less than 100 hours to write a 200 page book, and I'm sure I could do another similar one even faster.

The odd part is what is taking all the time.Talking to my readers and going over their feedback, working out various title/subtitle combinations, taking a few shots at cover design, deciding what I want to put in my bio, etc. That's not even considering the time required to go out and get "marketing quotes" from authorities, contacting relevant experts for input on specific sections, and figure out how and where to start marketing it.

I figure less than half the hours I end up putting into book #1 will be in the "initial concept, research, draft, line editing, and book layout" categories. The other half will be in stuff I never really thought about until after "the book was written". (har har)

Live and learn.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Make-work / learning my tools: cover art

Right now I'm waiting on my readers for feedback before I submit the manuscript to iUniverse. Not surprisingly, I was itchy to do something so I took a rough cut at some cover art. It's probably painfully bad from a design perspective, but at least I learned some new stuff (frames and rotated text) in OOWriter, and confirmed that the color stuff in my PDF export & reader software works. Oddly, iUniverse doesn't seem to have a "submit cover art" feature. Weird.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Going forward with iUniverse

I ended up choosing iUniverse, mostly because they were easy to contact, and called me back when they said they would. I still intend to follow up with Outskirts, though, since they apparently offer ala carte editing & marketing feedback.

I talked with my "check-in coordinator" (They have a lot of base-touching positions at iUniverse... I like that a lot)  about the editing feedback... I don't want encouragement, I want to know if the book will sell. She assured me that the feedback from the various passes would be professional grade. In fact, it's sufficiently hard-nosed that they actually have a preparatory email that goes out to ease more "fragile" authors' passage through the process.

I also wanted to talk about scheduling. My book itself is out with three readers right now who are all slated to get me my feedback by Jan 3. Assuming I start then, what does the schedule look like? My "eval" pass will take ~2 weeks, then there's some editing iterations. Whether I pay them to do it, or do it myself, there's some back-and-forth. Then printing, publishing, and marketing. A "good quick pace" has it out this summer.

So there's your time line: If your book is "Written and ready for editing" and it doesn't require too many editing passes you can go from "Logically complete" text to "Edited ready for publishing" text in about 3 months. Then you can go from "Edited ready for publishing" to "Available in and iTunes with accompanying boilerplate marketing info" in 3 months. So a "fast" pace from logically complete text to first paper-book sale is probably on the order of six months.

Today's work consisted mostly of going through their editing guidelines (they prefer "e-mail" to "email" and always capitalize "Internet", etc) and applying those changes to my text. Some of the stuff I lazily left for them to find (spelling vs enumerating small numbers, hyphenating compound numbers) but most of it was easy enough to do myself before my first submission.

Sick as this may be, I've already got 15 ideas for chapters in the "next" book, if there is one.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Authors and their books

I'm an introvert. Ask anyone. I can glad-hand with the best of them when the situation calls for it, but my nature is very introverted. Given that, and the fact that I seem to want to talk to everyone from the 7-11 guy to my apartment manager about the contents of my book, I think I see why publishers keep authors at arms-length.

We want to talk about our books, not about publishing them, or making money, or sales or schedules. We want to talk about what we were thinking when we wrote this bit, and why we made this tiny change last night, and the inspiration that gave us that other paragraph. If someone like me finds themselves wanting to talk to complete strangers about a book I'm writing, I'm pretty sure that the effect on a normally socialized human would be even more profound.

This may explain why so few publishers list their phone numbers on their websites.

Just a thought,

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Contact with Outskirts Press

So I just spent about 20 minutes on the phone with A.T. at Outskirts Press, and it was a really good conversation. Outskirts Press also offers a combination of publishing and marketing services. At this stage of the game, I'm confident I can find someone to do the grunt-work of publishing a text, so I'm really interviewing these companies for their Marketing- and Publishing-Industry- expertise and advice. Specifically, something where I can pay for what I need but not have to sign an exclusive contract.

A.T. was in the "total package" department, but was happy to set up a contact with their marketing side for a separate deal. I hope to hear from them soon. Nice first-contact Outskirts Press!

Monday, December 20, 2010

And one more thing...

My working title was just that, a working title. I'm realizing now that as a computer geek I'm not particularly skilled at choosing market-attracting titles. (Much less cover art, which also needs to get done) Hopefully the self-publisher I go with will provide some useful counsel

iUniverse, and a reality check

iUniverse, like Outskirts Publishing, puts a phone number on their webpage. I called, and... and... someone answered! Meet Bob Wagner, a nice guy with a lot of info.

iUniverse claims (and I have no reason to doubt it) that they are the second-largest self-publishing company in the world, sister-company to the biggest, and they have more authors that have graduated from iUniverse to the "big leagues" of traditional publishing than anyone else. After talking to Bob for a while, I learned a lot.

Their deluxe all-inclusive package is pretty pricey. Not new-car pricey, but used-car pricey. This includes a lot of goodies. (N.B. This is not a complete list, may change without notice, don't sue me, don't sue them, your mileage may vary, yadda yadda) Among those goodies are:
  • You retain the copyright (all rights, essentially)
  • They get a non-exclusive right to publish-on-demand for you for the customers they handle. (Which I am currently assuming you can terminate with notice)
  • Your manuscript gets an "evaluation read" by a professional editor & publisher, who provides "useful and substantial" feedback on your work. This is something some Literary Agents charge for, so getting it "in the package" is nice.
  • an ISBN
  • Listing with all online booksellers immediately
  • Publish to all eBook formats immediately
  • iUniverse will handle the transition to in-store publishing if a vendor (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) requests it. This is a Big Deal, because the order volume goes up dramatically and "correct and timely" delivery is important to the brick-and-mortar crowd.
The financial stuff is also fairly straightforward
  • They cover (financially) unsold buybacks from brick & mortar booksellers, so the author is never on the hook. I really didn't expect that. It's a nice benefit.
  • For your paper-printed books, you get 20-ish percent of the wholesale price (55-65% of the sticker price) for each copy of your book sold through them.
  • For eBook sales, they have their own site as well. If sold through that site, you get 50% of the sticker. If sold through the Apple, Sony, or Amazon eBook outlets, it's somewhat less.
There was a lot (a whole lot) more that Bob told me, but a lot of it kinda washed through my head, because I knew that I didn't know enough (yet) to ask many good questions, or even understand a lot of the stuff he said. I did ask a few questions, though, and I learned a lot.

First: even after spending thousands of dollars on publishing assistance from iUniverse, the majority of authors don't follow through enough to recoup their investment. So be told: splurging on a publishing package is absolutely no guarantee of success.

Second: some back-of-the-napkin math showed I'd need to sell around 4,000 copies to make back my investment and pay me a reasonable wage for the time I'd spent already. That's not counting the time I would spend going forward. So add another 1,000 copies to cover that. Some research gave me an interesting number: less than 2% of self-published authors (not books, authors) ever sell 5,000 books. That's a dauntingly small percentage, and at this point I'm not sure if I want to continue with this book project. We'll see how the holidays play out.

Round 2

In the meantime, I had been checking out other self-publishing outfits that various people had sent my way. One was already gone by the time I typed in their URL. That gave me pause.  With a small publisher or printer, I was definitely running the risk that they wouldn't be around as long as I would, or my book would. That wouldn't be the end of the world, but it was something I wanted to take into account.

Among others, I found Outskirts Press, which was the first self-publishing organization to have a phone number on their website. I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I clicked on the "sign up with us" button, and got an email response in short order, along with the name of my contact in their company. I called the company's number, got the directory, typed in her name, and got to the wrong mailbox. I tried again, with the same result. Yup, my contact was unknown to the company directory. Not a promising start. Another email followed the first. It said:
Hi, my name is A- T- and I look forward to consulting with you about your book.  My goal is to [...] Please look for a brief welcoming call from me to confirm that you are receiving my emails. I am excited to learn more about your project. Have a great day.
I replied immediately: "I'm at my desk now, this would be a great time to call". Unfortunately, no response.

In the meantime I ran across iUniverse.

Progress, and more research

In the next two days, I finished the list of jobs, wrote the introduction, and two of the appendices (appendixes? I'll have to look that up)

I also realized that there were a lot of fiddly little differences between page sizes, and they all made a difference. You pick one from a list of size formats the publisher offered, formatted your text for that page size, and moved forward from there. Publishers will resize/format your work for you, for a fee. My word processor software allowed me to select page size, so I figured I'd do that work and save some money.

I'd chosen a likely-looking format when I started: A5. It "looked about right" on the screen. Unfortunately, that's a European format, and I'm publishing in the US, so for the most part, A5 format isn't offered. I needed to find out what was in common use in the business world.

I'd also just recently found that the production cost of my book was likely to be in the range of $6, so I also wanted to find out what business books sold for, so I could guesstimate my profit.

Thus, I returned to Barnes & Noble, this time with a tape measure. More trips up and down the business & self-improvement aisles later, I had found that there were two main paperback book sizes near A5. One was 5.25x8 (inches) and one was 5.5x8.5. It looked like most publishers did one, or the other, but not both. Picking up a sample of books in these formats, I found that the prices ranged (for the most part) from $12.95 to $16.95, a nice tight range.

Choosing sanity

It's been a mere THREE DAYS since I set out to find out how authors get published, and I have decided that the entire publishing industry is barking mad. What's more I've had my opinion confirmed by an insider. It really is just that stupid. So I brushed up my arrogance, polished my hubris to a bright sheen, and decided to shake the dust of this publishing industry from my sandals. I would do it without them.

For the rest of this blog, I'll try to use the common term "self-publishing company" to talk about what is really a "Company that has services that a self-publishing author might want to take advantage of". It's kind of a weird term at face value, but it's the term everyone uses. So be it.

The first two companies I looked at were and Both were recommended to me by friends-of-friends. Both seemed to offer similar services.

The rules of self-publishing are pretty straightforward: you get what you pay for. Now that is a concept I was familiar with. I may not know anything about what I wanted to buy or how much it should cost, but at least I could buy it today if I did.

At bargain basement end of self publishing, you have "Go to Kinkos, make a copy of your book, sell it off a table at a flea market". Congratulations, you're a published author. This you can do without help. Since you get no help, the self-publishing industry is kind enough not to charge you anything. See? Fair.

Lulu and Blurb seemed to offer similar services: on-demand printing services at competitive prices. (looked like the print-cost of my book would be in the $6 area) With the first print purchase, there are some freebies: they would convert my manuscript to ebook format, list it on the various e-sites that host eBooks, etc. Things like ISBNs and getting a professional editor to read over your work (and make suggestions) were extra. Fair enough.

e-book only?

It was at about this time when a good idea wandered (by mistake no doubt) through my head.

I have gmail, and my friends are a pretty eclectic bunch, I wonder if anyone's ever talked about self-publishing? So I went to gmail and did the "search through the last N years of your mail for this keyword" thingie. It took 2 seconds to find half a dozen conversations on the subject. Only one was of immediate use: a friend named Marcus had been on the path to self-publishing an eBook, consisting mostly of photographs.

I dashed him off a note, asking about his experience. He had used a tool called Calibre to produce the work, and made it available via a variety of sellers. Sales had been very weak, but it had actually worked like people had said eBooks did: point, click, upload & get cash.

Thus I have just a little more information than I did before.

Surely I misunderstand...

Assuming I was a babe in the publishing woods, I wrote an email to as many of the literary agents and publishers as I had email addresses for, explaining that I was new to publishing, and the system seemed very odd, and would they kindly enlighten me. Then I sat back to wait, puzzled about what I could be missing.

The next day, a very kind (and experienced) literary agent replied. This is essentially what she said:
I've been staring at my keyboard for several minutes wondering what to do. I get 50 emails a day asking how to get published, and given the number of hours in the day, I literally cannot answer them. Having said that, I was also in the business world before I became an author and literary agent, and I remember the same feeling of shock when I saw the process. I just couldn't believe it either.
The bad news is: It's really that bad. The big publishers want 3 months to even think about looking at your manuscript, and in practice it can take twice that. Once you're accepted as a client, it'll be another 6 months or so before your book is published. It's weird, but that's actually how things work here.
If your book is really as far along as you say, and you're willing to pay for the services up front, you should really look into self-publishing.
P.S. Don't tell anyone, ever, that I replied to a message like this. No one ever does, and stories of a response will only encourage more please-publish-me-now spam.
Sorry, C. I just had to let people know that the insiders know quite well how bizarre their system looks from the outside.  Hopefully this will actually drive your spam down instead of up.

I got "No, thank you" form letters from some other agents. None of the publishers replied.

Stark Raving Madmen

When possible, I like to be an informed consumer, so I went to a Barnes & Noble for a little initial research. I wandered through the sections labelled "Entrepeneur", "Business" and "Self Improvement". I just kind of squinted my eyes and looked at the book spines, looking for logos that showed up a lot. I figured they would be "the big fish", the people I wanted to go to first. I wrote down their names, as well as their URLs, and went home to surf my way to publishing glory.

More background: I've been in a variety of businesses. I've delivered Pizza, been a cashier at K-mart, done door-to-door fundraising, and then a heck of a lot of computer programming. I've worked for companies you've heard of (Amazon and Google) and companies you haven't (Unify and XDB Systems) and several startups. I'd occasionally worked for my father's company too, doing odds and ends. 

What I found at the publisher's websites absolutely flabbergasted me. Flabbergasted may not be going far enough. I was agog. Stunned. Shocked. Simply blown away. The publishing process for each of the "big fish" was the same:
  1. Send us the first 10% of your manuscript.
  2. Mail it to this PO Box.
  3. Include your contact information.
  4. Do not call us
  5. We will usually get back to you within three months if we want to publish your work.
Now I am aware that there are a heck of a lot of people out there who think they're the next Wambaugh or Eddings. I understand that traditional publishers are faced with sifting through a huge bulk of "No thanks" for every "Could work", and the ratio of "Could work" to "We made money" is even worse. I get that. Really.

But seriously... 3 months to get accepted, even longer to get published? That's crazy. You'd be writing business books that were almost out of date the day they hit the shelves.

So I talked to a couple friends, who suggested I consider getting Literary Agent. I searched anew on the web, and found a dozen or so that specialized in what I was doing. (Nonfiction, technical, business) I looked at their process to accept an author: It was essentially the same as the publishers: Send us your work, don't call us, we'll call you in N months.

I was beyond gobsmacked. I was completely at a loss.

Then I remembered something that's helped me in the past: when things in a new arena seem completely incomprehensible, assume you're a clueless noob and ask the professionals (very politely) for directions.

Haven't you forgotten something?

The next morning, I woke up with a start. I realized that I was past halfway through writing a book, and I had no idea how to publish a book. Or for that matter, if the book itself was any good. (I had not shown anyone the manuscript since the original 4-chapter "sniff" I had given to Lynn) If I wanted to be an author (which I wasn't sure of) or if I at least wanted to publish the book I'd spent this much time writing (which I was more sure of, but only barely) then I'd better fix both problems.

First: get someone else to read it. Happily, I had an academic editor in the family. I printed out what I had and sent it on. I was even brave enough to insist on the "real, academic press" editing pass rather than the "encouraging family member" editing pass. I felt all manly.

Second: How in blazes do you get a book published?

I decided I would find out.-

Spinning my wheels, getting a grip

The next two weeks saw almost no writing at all. Lots of activity, thought, and pacing around the room, but almost no actual writing happening. The best I can describe it is "churning". I toyed around with the text, adding sections to each chapter, then deciding against them and deleting them. Changing the "voice" back and forth, more humor, less humor, more italics, less pedantic. Lots of "work", but no actual text to show for it.

In truth, this is one of my (few, almost imperceptible, really) weaknesses: I overthink things. I get about 2/3 the way through a project, then stop and redesign it from scratch. Then I do it again, and a couple more times, eventually deciding that there is no "right" way to do it, and giving up entirely.

This time, the cycle broke differently. Lynn and I were getting together later that week, and I really didn't want to say "I don't want to talk about it" when the subject of the book came up, so I took the bull by the horns.

I rolled back all the work I'd done in the previous two weeks: just threw it away and reverted to the text I'd started with, then started writing again. I added chapter 24 and cranked through to 27. If anyone's interested, I had long since passed the amount of time I thought I'd need to write and polish the whole book, but strangely that wasn't really bothering me. I just wanted to do it. I just had to do it.

But after 27, the well ran dry. Every new job I thought of, I dismissed. It was too much like another one I'd already written up, it sounded too "menial" and I thought it would turn readers off, I couldn't prove that anyone was actually doing it for serious money, etc. Dry well. Apparently people who are actual real-life authors (not computer-geek writer-wannabes like me) have a term for this, but just knowing other people had hit similar walls was encouraging.

Like a dog returns...

I think everyone "just knows" when they've dropped the wrong thread in their lives. It kinda gnaws at you. At least, it was gnawing at me.

This past November I decided I'd give it another go. Strangely, over the next two days, the next nine chapters almost wrote themselves. Apparently my subconscious hadn't given up even when my conscious had. Then I called called Lynn. Ostensibly this was to brag about me being back on the case, but really I was just looking for someone to say "That's great!".

"That's really great!" said Lynn when I told her. She's a gem.

So we talked for a bit longer about some of the ideas I had for other chapters, and then about other things, fun and not so fun. Nanci, my Dad's wife, had passed on, and the family was planning the memorial, which was obviously hard on everyone. Nanci was a great person. I'd started missing her immediately, and always will. But this is not a blog about my family.

Talking about my book, just throwing ideas back and forth, had crystallized a few more thoughts, and by the time I went to bed that night, I was up to 23.

I put up, then shut up.

I didn't see Lynn for a couple weeks, but when we got together again, I presented her with the first four jobs as proof that it was a good idea, that I was smart and capable, and that I was truly a man of action, ready to leap into action as soon as the impulse struck. She wasn't buying it.

"It's been two weeks. Where's the rest?" Argh.

Feeling much disempowered, I did the only rational thing: I dropped the subject, archived the files, shredded my hardcopies, and didn't speak of it again. Lynn, kind soul that she is, didn't make a big deal of it, and the summer and fall sped by.

The adventure begins: a little backstory

Just so we get this straight: I basically started this on a dare. So it's all Lynn's fault if it ends in tears. I get the credit if it works, Lynn gets the blame if it explodes in a ball of green flame.

The story began this past May (2010) on a fine Saturday afternoon.

I was chatting with Lynn, whose counsel I appreciate, and I was musing that it was too bad so many of my friends were looking for a job, and they were all sitting around waiting for interviews when they could be out there actually doing something useful. I was a bit upset, and I said "People think they need permission to work! There's loads of work out there to be done that you don't need to get hired to do!".

"Yeah!" I continued. "Someone should write a book like '1,000 jobs you don't have to get hired to do'". Lynn caught the idea, and shoved it right back in my face: "That's a great idea! You should do it!" Ouch. Shoulda seen that coming.

The excuses welled up in my mind immediately: I'm a computer geek, I'm bad with people, who would want to publish my thoughts, that sort of thing.  But she had a point. My father had run his own business for more than a decade, my mom had retired from academia but also had her own art business, and at the time I had invested with a friend in a small martial arts dojo. I did actually know something (however small) about running a small business. And I definitely had a passion for the subject. (Ask any of my friends, I'm always talking about small business ownership)

So I did the decisive, manly thing: I waffled. "Eh", I said cleverly, and waved my hand, in a fashion I hoped would cause the subject to spontaneously change.

Lynn persisted. "How long would it take to do?"

OK, fine. I grabbed a nearby paperback, flipped to the back page and looked at the page number. 140. I thought aloud "Ok, if each job took four pages to describe, I'd need 35 jobs to write the book. Assuming each one took 2 hours to do, it'd take 70 hours to write the jobs and figure that much again to edit and polish, and I could have it done in two, maybe three weeks of full time work." Put that way, it seemed quite doable.

So that very afternoon, I went home and chugged out the first four chapters. I wanted some serious out-of-the-box alternatives to drive the point home that "everyday jobs" aren't the only alternative. I can't remember what the first four were, but I'm pretty sure "traveling massage therapist" and "worm fiddler" were in the first batch. When I had worked for Google earlier on, the on-site masseuse and I had talked about her business one day, and it sounded remarkably fun: book as much as you want, when you want to work. Stop when you don't. I can't remember where worm fiddling came from. I think I read about it in a Schoolastic book long, long ago. Encyclopedia Brown or one of those. With the writing of the first bits, my passion on the subject was mostly expended, and I stopped and went back to my "regular living".

Edit, a week or so later:

Thanks to Google Books. "Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down" by Donald J Sobol (1971) has a reference to worm fiddling. This I remember and I still can't remember my best friend's birthday. Sheesh.

LoC: 77-160147
ISBN: 978-0-14-240951-0