Sunday, 22 November 2015

Brief status report

A nice lady (Amorina Rose and the world of writing with help from friends) was kind enough to enquire if everything was okay, since I'd gone quiet on this blog. And since I'd publicly declared my intention of publishing in mid-November, I needed to 'fess up and admit that I'd slipped yet another deadline. :-(

So, yes, everything is going very well, in fact. I have a few blog articles I need to write (soon), but my absolute top priority now is getting my book ready for publishing. And that's what I've been doing, and why I haven't blogged for a while. (Strewth: for three weeks!)

In some ways, I've found this round of editing and revising to be harder than the last one. That surprised me. I thought it couldn't very well be more challenging than inventing a major new plot element that fit seamlessly while turning the 1st half of the story into a properly-satisfying novel in its own right - and then writing the 60k words to Make It So. Right?

But Dave at thEditors did another amazing job of critiquing the new version of the 1st-half of the story, now a book-in-itself. Once again, at every level. Which meant I needed not just a bunch of new scenes (about 30k wds, probably more than Dave intended), and having to come to grips with cutting a lot (about 18k wds, probably less than Dave intended!), too; but also addressing I guess somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 line-comments in the MS itself. Covering the range from "dead easy, a few seconds work", to "Hmm, yeah... several hours later...". Along with some major shuffling of scenes and even chapters, which left me in a tangled mess at one point, that took a whole day to straighten out.

From which I've come to suspect that each external-edit will be unique, and bring its own unique challenges. But I'm going to take that as a sign that I'm learning, actually: that I'm finding new mistakes to make, and beginning to see things that were invisible to me before - with Dave's help. (The new things, that is: not the mistakes!)

So I've taken forty minutes to post this quick update. I've addressed all Dave's comments, as best I can, though there are now a bunch of return questions for him. And I'm about 25% of the way through my first polish of all the new (first draft) scenes and snippets I've added. Then will come a day or two of proofreading/polishing, then I'll see what Dave thinks about my remaining questions.

While doing that (and reporting bugs in LibreOffice: none catastrophic), and getting the new (final) cover from Mirella (yay!), and changing my author name from "Luke J. Kendall" to "L. J. Kendall", I realised I couldn't meet my mid-November deadline. But when I sat down and roughly scheduled the next few weeks, I saw that if I aimed to publish now on the anniversary of my wife's death last year, the 11th of December, that would be nicely fitting - as well as giving me a couple of extra days just-in-case.

So that's the new plan, and I really, really don't want to miss that one. But I have a good feeling about this deadline.

Oh, and in the end, despite the more fiery cover with the more vicious dog being better artistically and probably a better choice from the marketing viewpoint, in the end I chose the truer cover which better reflects the story. After all, since I'm self-publishing, I can hardly claim "Sorry, guv'nor. That's the Marketing Department: nothing to do with me, guv'nor!"

Here they are - front:

Grr, Blogger bug? What about if I insert that in a smaller size?...

Okay, no go. How about if I upload it directly...?

and back:

Now: back to work!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Apologies - a quick cover poll?

I'm apologising for two reasons - that this topic is a bit of a stretch for a blog which is meant to provide general info about self-publishing (maybe this article demonstrates that you might need to run more than one poll for your readers, but that's a pretty weak argument!), and secondly because it's become clear even to me-the-optimist, that there's no way I can meet my self-imposed deadline of having the new and polished version of my book ready by the end of October (tomorrow).

Just as a little update on that, Dave (my editor) got back to me with a very thoughtful and thorough critique of the revised/new novel (half of it was revised; half was entirely new). But despite having been working on the revision now for eight days, I'm still only one third of the way through the changes required.

So I have to reset my deadline. I'll be aggressive and reset it for mid November: a touch over two weeks from now...

So the main topic of this post is really to ask for people's opinions on the new cover design. New cover design? Well, yes...

Having quizzed about 50 people, voting was about 66% for the version of the cover with the dog, 33% for the cover without. And that was including several of the people who voted against the with-dog version just because the dog was too vicious. Since Faith (the character in the story) is not that mean (though easily that dangerous!), I started wondering about maybe finding another dog...

Another point I found intriguing was that everyone who preferred the version without the dog, did so for the same reason that all the others liked it! Namely, because the dog added more detail, more things to look at; more interest. But the people who preferred it without the dog all felt the extra details made the design too busy and cluttered.

Because I had improved the blurb too, thanks to more feedback, and also felt more-feminine hand/claws would would be a good thing. And maybe a more translucent "monster"...

Anyway, I commissioned Mirella to do a new version incorporating all these changes. But I thought it wise to run another poll. Note that I'm only running this poll for one week, since I need to make a decision for Mirella (I can't leave her dangling), and so I'm hoping people can vote soon!

Here they are, together, just the front cover parts. The options are: (a) With fierce dog, dark & fiery monster, (b) Serene dog & translucent monster, (c) No dog, dark & fiery monster, or (d) do you like them all roughly equally? Or do you prefer the new option (e): serene dog with glowing eye? To avoid interfering with the votes already taken, I've added a separate mini-poll and placed it below the other.

OR OR OR

Which cover design?

(I can't get this to work in-situ inside the article, so I've bodged it up by placing it over to the right on the main blog. It appears that Blogger has changed the way the poll tool works, and I'm no HTML guru... Below, is my dodgy attempt to embed it in the post: it won't work, but the "sorry, failed..." page does show the poll(s), so you could just zoom up the poll to a decent size and vote that way. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Poll: cover design (v2)
a) With fierce dog, dark & fiery monster (top)
  4 (44%)
 
b) Serene dog & translucent monster, (bottom, left)
  3 (33%)
 
c) No dog, dark & fiery monster (bottom, right)
  1 (11%)
 
d) Like them all about equally
  1 (11%)
 

Change your vote
Votes so far: 9
Days left to vote: 2
Or do you prefer serene-with-glow? (v4)
Yes, serene-with-glow is best (bottom)
  0 (0%)
No, I like an option from (v2)
  0 (0%)

Change your vote
Votes so far: 0
Days left to vote: 2

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Book Expo Australia, 2015

This weekend just past, I went to Book Expo Australia, and I must say I got a lot out of it.
To quote from the web site:
"Book Expo Australia is a dedicated event for the reading public to engage with authors and publishers."
I believe it's unusual in that rather than being mainly targeted at the publishers, this book expo is targeted more at the readers and authors. Here's a summary of what was on:

  • Booths in a very large hall, for authors, publishers, and everyone in between (or "alongside"). It was nice to catch up with people I knew (Edwina Harvey and I were in the ten finalists in the 1998 George Turner Contest: the multi-talented creator has several web sites for her guises as reviewer, editor, artist, and of course author), and Lama Jabr who runs Xana Publishing & Marketing, as well as meeting a lot of interesting and helpful new people.

    The booths were typically manned by the author or publisher personally, and all were approachable and very happy to chat. There were a range of booth options from AU$150 to AU$1950.

    I'd like to mention one stand in particular, since it was all about some technology in development for reducing dolphin deaths in fishing nets: Whale Guardian? (How does that relate to books? Well, the talk about crowd-funding and marketing was just as applicable for writers as for anyone else, with good advice helping build an author platform and brand. Whale Guardian was used as an example.)

  • A small cafeteria, as well as additional food/coffee places nearby and, and the usual amenities, including but not limited to ATMs. :-)
  • An area where various events were held to entertain the kids (like learning to draw cartoons). They had a "pitch fest," where authors could sit with publishers to pitch their book. Again quoting from the web site: "Pitchfest Australia will offer potential and established authors the opportunity to sit in front of a publisher for ten minutes.
    "Book Expo Australia will work with potential and established authors to ensure that they:
    • Have the best manuscript possible
    • Have all the paperwork required by each publisher
    • Have prepared the best three minute "Elevator Pitch"
    • Have worked to have answers to all questions possible for the remaining seven minutes."
    (I didn't take advantage of that because I'm quite happy with my decision to self-publish; but it sounds especially valuable and helpful.)
  • They had a whole series of talks/workshops (and a film!) running on both days:
  • And a writing workshop from very influential screenwriter Karel Segers:
    • Screenwriting – Your next Career
    • From Book To Screen Adaption
    • Setting Up Your Writers Website
  • And the events for kids: Children’s Interactive, Mr Arthur Puppets, Dad Reading Comp, Rob Feldman, Mum Reading Comp, Kingdom of Chen, Duncan Ball, Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, Tony Harris, Eumundi and Friends.
  • A "Getting Published" series of workshops:
    • Social Media Marketing/Crowdfunding (Two experts in the area of Social Media and Marketing talk about building markets and achieving business goals. Presenters: Robert Coorey&Tim Lea)
    • See also How I became a best-selling author on Amazon.

    • Enhanced E Book (Self Publishing an E-Book that succeeds. Presenter: Amanda Greenslade)
    • Ingram Spark Self Publishing: The Challenges – from concept to distribution (Deborah Lee)
    • Book Covers: What makes it Work. Presenter: Julia Kuris
    • Oh, and not to mention "Murder by the Book," an interactive murder mystery (I didn't find time to get involved).

      Last but very far from least, there was a meet-up for lots of booktubers from Down Under – they struck me as a young and enthusiastic group of vloggers who just love books and vlog about anything book-related that takes their fancy. I mainly spoke to Chami (@ReadLikeWildfire) and Miranda (@BooKss101M), but also a little bit to Nicole (@NicsandNacs), and Rebecca, but they all seemed very positive and open. (There was supposed to be a bloggers conference stream too, with very interesting-looking topics, but a misunderstanding/miscommunication lead to its cancellation and forced some urgent reorganisation.)

      Here's my clumsy photo-stitch of a couple of barely-adequate candid photos of the happy crew:

    • Let's see if I can embed a link to their Expo videos here, for your convenience:

      First Nicole's:

      ... and then Miranda's (in which I make a brief and sheepish appearance :-) ) :

    I found some good books to buy directly from their authors (of course!), got info to follow up on more books, got to meet and ask questions of authors, and learned several important things that improve and in some cases dramatically change my plans. But rather than "smear out" the information in several places, what I'll do is update the relevant blog posts with my fresh discoveries, and I'll just post links to the various topics here, so you can find them that way. The new info will be in a "Book Expo Aus 2015 Update" section at the end of the updated posts, and I'll list the updates here as I complete each one.

    [Set of links to be added here]

    All in all I found it very interesting and useful, with some real gems. I also got the impression that the organisers would welcome help. It's a big job, and it was undertaken (in my opinion) out of the love of books, when the main organiser realised Australia hadn't had a Book Expo for twenty years. So I'd encourage people to support their efforts!

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Emily Craven's brilliant idea for indie-published authors

I recently connected with Barbara Strickland and had a look around, and a read of, her blog Amorina Rose and the world of writing. There's useful stuff there, and I recommend the site; one link for example lead me to Emily Craven's e-Book Revolution blog, which again has lots and lots of useful information for Indie and self-publishers.

One item for example, happened just as I was discovering the world of book tubers, and found me in an especially receptive frame of mind. So, with that little intro, here is me explaining Emily's brilliant idea, from my point of view:

And just to highlight what people say about video, after I uploaded that to Youtube and shared it to Facebook and so on, I got more comments on the video at Facebook than I've received to any of the drier blog articles here. Which in my mind reinforces the idea that video is more engaging. It reinforced something which Lama Jabr of Xana Publishing & Marketing pointed out in one of her workshops: that Amazon make it easy for authors to include some videos on their Amazon author page.

I think video and text serve very different ends, though there can be a large overlap in the middle (depending on the content, naturally), and each has their pros and cons, but certainly for many kinds of communication, video is far more engaging.

Oh, I should probably add a tip, courtesy of film maker and copywriter Tim Lea (who I met at Book Expo Australia 2015): Google (the Youtube part) and Facebook are very much at war for mindshare in the video space (see his blog: "The Bloody Battle between Facebook and YouTube Part 2"). I think he had figures showing that more video was watched on Facebook than Youtube this year (though he observed that the picture is more complicated than that).

Anyway, Tim Lea's tip, if you want to maximise your brownie points with Facebook and Youtube, is to upload your video directly to each, independently. Don't just upload to Youtube and then link to it from FB: FB won't reward you for doing that. That was just one tip in an interesting talk he presented on some commercial opportunities for writers, related to video. He points out that if the video has dialogue, then it's probably going to benefit from having a writer involved! He shared his presentation with me, and I've made it available here:

(Incidentally, I found how to embed the PDF from here: How to Embed a PDF or Other Document Files in Blogger post. If you see advice where the html code ends with "view?usp=sharing", replace that by "preview" if you want it to work!)

Monday, 12 October 2015

Publishing in 2015

I suspect this post is going to be the second most controversial article I'll write here. (The most controversial is one which I'm still planning.) The subject this time is my overall assessment of the traditional book publishing compared to self-publishing . I think you'll see why the article may be controversial as you read on.

To be up-front and honest about where I'm going, I'll offer a metaphor for the traditional publishing industry:

It's like an ivory tower inside a mediaeval castle-and-keep; where a select few serfs are allowed inside to share in the protection of the walls and the benefits provided by the King. And now, visitors from another planet have landed outside, bringing new technology which they're sharing with anyone who wants it – inside the walls or out.

What follows are my personal views, based on my personal observations. Do take it with a grain of salt. Perhaps one day I'll put some effort into some research to substantiate all these claims, but for now I'm just working from memory.

Book publishers over the last 40 years have changed very gradually. In the “good old days”, most publishing companies were owned and run by people who fundamentally loved books and reading. For them, making money from doing something they loved, which supported authors and the whole culture of books and reading, was a source of deep satisfaction. Money was important, but was not the be-all and end-all.

Of course, these owners grew older; and other business-men and women saw the value and profitability of these publishing houses. Running them on more business-like grounds, with an eye fixed more firmly on profit, was just good sense. Gradually, smaller publishers were bought out by larger publishers. Publishing became concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The love of books somehow drained out of the equation, replaced by the necessity of maximising profitability and shareholder value. Publishing became an industry.

Of course, the spirit of books lived on: but increasingly, concentrated in the hands and hearts of smaller publishers and indie publishers. Some held out, but the money men were always present, waiting to make offers for valuable property and offer golden handshakes.

From what I've read recently, care of the Australian Society of Authors and researchers from Macquarie University, incomes for writers have been in decline for a long time. The average annual income for an Australian writer in 2015, from writing, is $12,900: $248 per week. The poverty line in Australia is defined as less than $358 per week. (Wikipedia: Poverty in Australia)

This is not the result of a rapid change; this is not a new thing. This is how it has been for a long, long time. Everyone knows: you don't choose to be a writer because you want to be wealthy, you choose to write because you feel a desire or even a need to write. You do it for the love of writing.

So, does this sound like the sort of situation that might result when you have a group of people, each basically working solo, and not part of a collective that wields power, who are driven to create and produce, and whose work is commercialised by other people? Does it sound like the sort of situation that would naturally evolve when the standard contracts and agreements are written by the commercial entities that hold the power and make the money – and the commercial organisations have changed from being controlled by people who love books, to people who need to love profits?

The Traditional publishing business model is, as I understand it, like this:

  • Find good authors (find new ones via agents or slush pile reading)
  • Work with the author to improve the book
  • Know the market for the book's subject matter, and predict sales
  • Print a fixed number of books in a single print run; warehouse and distribute these
  • Market the books: advertising, sales reps visiting big retailers, book promotions, etc.
  • Pay a royalty of 10-15% to the author; much of the rest goes in costs
  • If the print run sells out, maybe make another print run.
  • If books are left over, stop printing the book and sell off the leftovers at remaindered-prices

In this model, the publisher lets the writer concentrate just on writing, and looks after all the other annoying and tedious and difficult parts of the work for them. So there's certainly some benefits for writers. The publishers have specialist experts in every aspect, and can do a great job at each task: great book covers, clever marketing, beautiful typography and layout, high quality production, great blurbs, wonderful editors. So, many authors are very happy working with their publisher and agent, and these relationships tend to last a very long time.

One of the big problems with this model is that it's aimed at the mega-successful books: the publishing house may make very marginal profits on most of the titles they publish, making the bulk of their profits from just one, or a handful of, best-sellers. The best-sellers basically fund the other books. The publisher can only afford to offer 10%-15% royalty to the author because of the costs involved.

But there are other problems, too.

Another problem is numbers: there are a lot of good writers out there. The infamous “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts from would-be authors just grew and grew over the decades, inside each publishing house. The depth of the slush pile grew from hundreds, to thousands, to many thousands deep. Publisher's Readers were drowning in books. Many stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts at all: only accepting agented work. In other words, the slush piles were pushed to a new group of people, charged with panning the river of slush for the manuscripts of gold.

And a secret that wasn't widely known? That these golden manuscripts still needed editing and working on. Very few (any?) MSS came in where the publisher could say “Nothing to do, print it!” Most books require collaboration between a good editor and a good writer. (Maybe for some writers, this changes over time as they learn what their editor knows, and can produce work closer to publishable quality with fewer iterations of edits: I don't know.) But without this big effort, many wonderful books would have been ordinary. We read admissions of this over and over again, from authors, and I think there's more truth in it than most readers are aware. Not because good writers are not really good: it's simply that it's really that hard to write a wonderful book.

Okay, so one aspect of the “numbers problem” is that the number of writers who could produce a wonderful book is far larger than the number of people available in the traditional publishing industry to find them all, and get their work in front of the reading public. For new writers, being discovered required a lot of luck. I remember Stephen R. Donaldson speaking (over 30 years ago), and saying that he had submitted his first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to every major publisher in the US, and been rejected by them all, and was on the second loop through when an editor finally saw the potential. That was, over 50 rejections. I'm sure you've heard similar stories from many other famous authors. (For example.)

So, yeah, luck was required, not just good writing.

All this very clearly means that the traditional publishing model was failing to nurture and develop a whole lot of good writers. Think about that: think of some of your favourite books. I wonder how many great books exist as a pile of printed pages languishing in someone's garage, one day to be thrown out when the author dies; completely unread and undiscovered.

Pretty tragic, eh? The number make that a certainty: the only question, really, is how many hundred, or thousand, or whatever, wonderful books will have been lost to the human race because of this. Ah, well.

The trouble was, traditional publishing was the only game in town.

Enter the computer. As much as many people bemoan the computer, they're a key enabler of modern society. They're a tool that allow us to amplify the power of the human mind. Just the ease of preparing a manuscript with a home PC is a major boost. Even as recently as 20 years ago, most publishers required a printed, paper submission. And the MS was often retyped from that. Then came the internet, and email. Then social media. Then eBooks and eReaders. Then Amazon, and Google.

And consider how dramatically the traditional publishers changed, how their very business model changed: they accepted (and later, required) manuscripts to be submitted in electronic form.

That's about it, really. Apart from that, as far I've been able to see, traditional publishers have stayed with the same business model and the same practices that have worked for the last 100 years. After all, it's worked for that length of time, so why change?

Twenty years ago, when publishers always had electronic files that provided the typeset and layed-out form of the book, in a very small amount of space, I couldn't understand why books were still routinely going out of print. As a computer programmer, I could see how easy it would be to automate the reprint and reissue of a book, and even to keep track of people who would say “Yes, please, I would like to buy a copy if you reprint it for $X.” So that the cost of doing so would have meant the publisher would break even with a print run of about 100 books.

And then came print on demand (POD).

Understanding the alien technology. I don't know, I'm sitting here shaking my head. I see little sign that traditional publishers are adopting the new technologies; I see less signs that they properly understand the potential of the new technologies. I see them fighting and resisting the changes and the technologies that would benefit both themselves and the writers working with them.

Fortunately, the publishing landscape has changed enough, and other companies (technology companies, of course, who do understand the new technologies and who deeply appreciate the potential they bring) have been working diligently “outside the castle walls”, so writers now have another option. And in my view, this other option is a fundamentally better one, and should only improve further over time.

Self-publishing. Now, if a writer wishes to publish, she can do it all herself. The new business model for self-publishing looks, I think, like this:

  • The writer writes the best book she can.
  • The writer polishes it, gets beta-readers, and works on it some more.
  • If they can afford to, and if they can find a good editor, she pays for a professional edit.
  • The author either designs their own cover, finds a pre-made one, finds a good book cover designer, or relies on a by-the-numbers generic design if they don't really care much.
  • The author applies for and gets an ISBN and possibly an LCCN
  • The writer slaves over a good blurb and synopsis, and polishes them till they gleam.
  • The writer works out a marketing campaign for their book.
  • The writer registers with Amazon, or Apple's iBooks, or Barnes and Noble's Kobo, or with Smashwords (which lets them deal with all of the above), or with Lulu, or other electronic publishers, for an eBook version. Or even creates their own web page and ordering site.
  • The royalty figure is anywhere between 30% to 70% for eBooks (or higher, if you choose to keep complete control of everything: but you'll sell far fewer).
  • The writer can (and should, I think), prepare a version of the MS for printing, and offer a printed edition too, like Amazon's CreateSpace. The royalty for Print On Demand books is also higher than the traditional 10-15%, because you don't have to manage the risk of non-sales.
  • The writer publishes her book: electronic, printed, and maybe even an audio-book version. For extra points, they prepare a dyslexic-reader-friendly eBook.
  • The writer promotes their book, engages with their readers, and balances that with their primary work: working on their next book.
  • The books never go out of print. The more books you write, the more likely your older work is to sell.

With most of those steps, the writer can choose to dip into his or her pocket to get outside help, for a wide range of prices. (Yes, including free, or quid-pro-quo.) Generally, though, the costs are much lower than what traditional publishers require, because rather than the profits going to support the whole company, the money is only going to the individual or very-small-company providing the service. I've mentioned a few of these in other posts, so I won't rehash that here. But as a self-published author, know that don't need to go it alone. There's help if you want it.

Unfortunately, yet another numbers problem has been caused by this basically-positive boom in “production”: there are now so many books published each year (I have heard the figure of 1.3 million books published in 2014), how does the reader find the best books? Many people have noticed this, (See "Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World" and also the lovely follow-on piece: "Accounting for Authors, Publishing’s Forgotten Customers"),

Yet I feel the solution to this problem may be very straightforward, natural, empowering, and fair: word of mouth and the Network Effect. But let me quote something from that last article which I think goes to the heart of the problem with most traditional publishers:

'But there’s yet another customer few publishers usually identify when prompted.

'When I ask our publishing clients here at Biztegra to list their customers, they will usually include all the parties I’ve mentioned [readers, libraries, small online bookstores, distributors, large online retailers] and maybe one or two more depending on how they categorize their revenue. And when I then ask to them quantify each one, I can usually get a monetary value quoted directly from a revenue spreadsheet.

'By mapping all this out and developing marketing programs (and costs) associated with each customer category, we can get a pretty good idea of where the revenue is coming from and how much is being spent to acquire that revenue, the profitability of each and the potential to improve either the top or bottom line for each customer type. Ultimately, this lets us come up with programs to maximize both the associated spend and the revenue.

'It’s only then that I ask the question, “What about your authors?”

'And I usually get a blank stare.

'I will then ask something along the lines of, “How much is an author worth to your business?”

'The stare usually gets blanker.

'The truth is that authors are one of publishers’ most important customers, but I’ve only once heard a publisher actually list them as one .'    [Italics, and bold, are mine]

My predictions for the future. If I were working in a traditional publishing company, would I be worried? Well, yes and no. If I were working in such a company, I'd be doing my best to show them how they could use the new technologies work for them. :-) But answering the spirit of the question: if the company management doesn't “get” that things have changed, then yes, I'd be looking for somewhere else to work; but if the company does see the potential, then no, I wouldn't worry.

  1. One small but key part of this is the eBook readers themselves. I think these devices and programs have achieved somewhere between 10% to 30% of what they will achieve in the longer term (in ten to twenty years). I think the current eReaders are functional, but embarrassingly limited in usability and capability for their main function: reading books and managing a personal digital library.
  2. I think we're about halfway through the change – probably less. I think that traditional publishers will start including POD in their business model. (Ideally, they'd scrap the whole “remainders” concept, especially since it's so harmful to authors.) They'll even start including eBooks.
  3. I think the key problem will continue to be how good books are discovered by the readers who want to read them: the marketing or publicity side of things, if you like. I think that either reader's practices will change slightly (providing more word-of-mouth recommendations), or book promotion will change (via review sites and/or search engines).
  4. I predict that a lot of the middle-men in the supply chain will vanish.
  5. I think readers and authors will be much more directly connected.
  6. I think Amazon will continue to dominate the market, unless it starts abusing its power. If it does that, then I predict that innate human fairness will see people leaving Amazon's virtual stores in droves, and Amazon's competitors will emerge from the shade to handle the influx of new customers.
  7. I predict that someone is going to see the business possibility of print-locally and ship-locally, vastly reducing the cost and the wasteful use of energy in printing books overseas and shipping them locally, and providing this as a service to publishers large and small. I predict that someone will see the sense in doing this with a mix of traditional large print run offset printing and tiny-volume print on demand.
  8. I predict that author's royalties will rise, to a level that will allow their incomes to rise well above the poverty line and provide them with a good income.
  9. I predict that piracy will decline as the purchasing of books legitimately and fair pricing of books improves.
  10. I predict that authors will earn the success they deserve: that poorly-written or poorly-produced books will not be very successful, but that books that match the quality of good traditionally-published books will routinely earn the success they deserve.
  11. I predict that traditional publishers will stay, but that their business models will change. After all, the key benefits provided by publishers remain unchanged, and few authors really want to be involved in and micro-managing every aspect of their book's production and promotion. I think the Indie publishers are likely to lead the way. (I see Simon and Schuster are touting this new platform for authors, http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/simon-schuster-offers-expanded-author-services-in-new-multimedia-imprint/, but I personally don't see the platform as interesting or valuable, but more as an attempt to divert authors away from better existing such services).
  12. I predict that a very healthy, vibrant, and supportive service industry will continue to grow and flourish to support the large numbers of writers who simply have to write.
  13. I predict that the rate the human race produces good books and great books will increase to a level something like two or three times higher than what it currently is.
  14. I predict that the cost of books will drop a little further, while the income paid to the creators will increase.
  15. Who knows, more good writers may even start to be employed by Hollywood, so we'll get more movies with sparkling dialogue and plots that make great sense, with characters human and warm and engaging, as well as horrifying and scary.

I predict a bright future, provided we don't let fear of change start making us collectively act irrationally.

Update - helpful sites It occurred to me I should add some useful external links, though a Google search will turn these up:

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Book Cover Design

Now, I have little to no artistic ability, and less skill and experience in graphic design. So, given that the first hurdle a little-known author faces in a potential reader's mind is the book cover, that's clearly a problem.

My approach, once I realised that I needed a cover at all, was to look for suitable images that I could license to use. I found Dollar Photo Club, and began trawling through the images, using various search terms to ease the search. I was lucky to find something (a model, in a situation) which I felt would work quite well. Then I put a little thought into the font to use for the title, and put something together in the free GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), which many people argue matches and in some areas exceeds the power of Adobe Photoshop. I personally find the user interface diabolical – thank heavens for kindly people on Youtube! So the end result was this, which I thought quite good, considering.

Basically, I just cropped the full image to fit the page, and added the title, author, and image copyright texts.

However, my first rude awakening came at the one day course by the Australian Society for Authors Book Marketing and Publicity, where I was given some frank feedback:

  • It looked amateurish
  • It was too flat, too two-dimensional
  • It didn't really indicate what the story was: it could be about wild party-girls.
  • It was probably good enough for an ebook.

So, I added the tagline for the book onto the cover, and spoke to people with some artistic and design skills, to learn what “too flat” meant. The general consensus was to bring in the sides of the original image (just sacrificing some fog) to give some depth. This would also have the main character look a bit hemmed-in and oppressed, which fitted nicely with the book. Opinions differed about where to place the tagline – centred or off-centre – and I realised I'd need to prepare multiple variants and then show them to people to see if a general preference emerged.

So, after a day of learning more about the GIMP, here is my 2nd version:

I messed up her right boot, and need to fix that, but before I did that I had the opportunity to get some more feedback, this time from the Marrickville Writers Group. Again, I got lots of good feedback, and a definite consensus emerged as to what more needed to be done.

The writers group suggested modifying the model to suggest futuristic stuff, and magic, but that idea, though good in general, didn't fit the story.

Other ideas were to use the title as the focus and move the image into the background, perhaps even use the model just as a silhouette, with the rest of the image used more as a texture. (Note that the images shown here are quick rough sketches and doodles from Lyn and Joe in the Marrickville Writers Group, who kindly let me share their sketches on my blog.)

Wilder ideas were to use a blocky futuristic font with some decoration of the letters to suggest growth or wildness attacking or over-riding the solidity of the font.

The upshot of this was that I realised that my poor skills were quite inadequate to execute these ideas. And the idea of learning how to use the GIMP well enough to do them was almost as daunting.

A couple of people also suggested something which I had been considering myself: getting a professional to work on it. In the meantime, having something concrete and which I was moderately happy with would be a big help in providing a brief to real book cover designers. Options include crowdsourcing (like fiverr) or Goodreads cover specialists (there's a discussion here https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2193464-book-covers) or Kindle Groups designers.

Aesthetics aside. But let me leave the huge topic of aesthetics aside and consider what goes into a cover. Perhaps a little list is the best way to do this:

  • Cover image
  • Title
  • Font: for the title, and the font for the rest of the text
  • Author name
  • “Tag-line”
  • Series name and number, if appropriate
  • Spine design
  • Back cover design
  • Back cover blurb – a short blurb, or a longer synopsis?
  • Space for the barcode and ISBN
  • Bio for yourself, and author photo
  • Text and design for “ears” (the inside flaps if there will be a separate wrap-around cover)

I'll try to cover each of those topics briefly, below.

Cover image. This is crucial, as is the title. The cover is what you hope will catch the reader's eye, and interest. It needs to suggest what the book is about, and all the elements need to be harmonious. It's the first big hurdle you need to overcome in your quest to guide people to buying your book.

Title. What can I say about this? If the “elevator pitch” is a 25 word encapsulation of what your book is about, and the tag-line is an eight word hint, then the title is your novel distilled down to its essence, its heart. The approach you take for a title for fiction books is quite different to non-fiction: for the former, you want to rely on connotations and echoes, and for non-fiction you want to highlight what's unique about your book.

Font. The choice of font for the title is extremely important, too: although more so for fiction than non-fiction, I feel. I hadn't thought very much about this for my first attempt: I chose a cursive font because to me it suggested natural-ness (an echo of the “wild”), with a drop shadow so it could be read against the background. But one of the members of the Marrickville Writers Group with some cover design experience (hi, Lyn!) mentioned that drop shadow fonts for a title suggest the Mystery genre to readers (so, I should avoid that). There was general agreement that my choice of font for the title was wrong because it came across as too girly nor did it convey the futuristic angle.

The title font may benefit from being very eye-catching and highly decorative. The font for the rest needs to be more legible. Nor do you want a fruit salad of different fonts. That said, here is a site where you can get fonts for your cover: http://www.fontsquirrel.com/. An extra good thing about that site is that they also tag fonts, so you can search for things like “futuristic”: http://www.fontsquirrel.com/fonts/list/tag/futuristic.

Author name. Obviously you need to put the author's name there. But what name? Consider a pseudonym; consider variants of your name. My family actually suggested to me that “Luke Kendall” doesn't really roll off the tongue, whereas “Luke J. Kendall” is easier to say. And does the middle initial get put down with or without a period? A quick scan confirmed that, yes, the period is in.

“Tag-line”. I'm no expert on this: I bet Google would help you find good articles on how to do this. I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. The function of the tag-line is to help cue the potential reader in to the subject of the book. Since people had pointed out that “Wild Thing” could just as well refer to a wild party girl, adding the tag-line solved that particular problem.

Series name and number. One of my pet hates is not being able to easily find the order of books in a continuing series (Hi, Kim Harrison). Having to resort to Wikipedia and then using a permanent marker to add the number is not something I feel I should have to do. So, since I'm planning a whole series of books, I needed to add that somewhere. Oh, and then what to call the collection: Series, chronicles, report, archives, … in the end, I felt “dossier” best fit the subject matter.

Spine. If you're going to have a printed edition, then you need a design for the spine, and it needs to wrap around and fit with the front and back cover designs. As well, you will need to know how wide the spine will be, so that means you need to know how many pages, and the paper thickness. Fortunately, since I plan to use CreateSpace (https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/), they make it easy by providing a calculator, once you've chosen the paper type: be aware, that cream and white paper have slightly different thicknesses!

Back cover design. If you have a printed edition, naturally. Have a look at some published books to see what goes here. Also, what goes here will be different if the cover will be loose and separate (this, with wrap-around “ears” where readers will expect to find the blurb, and perhaps the author bio), or if the cover will be more like a paper-back (integral to the book, no inside flaps). Also note that CreateSpace can't print on the inside of the cover, at present. So if you want your bio, it'll need to go on the back cover.

Back cover blurb. This is hurdle #3: if the potential reader likes the cover image and title, there's a good chance that the next thing checked out will be the blurb. So it pays to wordsmith this until it's as near perfect as you can make it. I think a similar effort to what's needed for writing poetry goes into this, since every word counts. Don't go overboard with this: the text will need to be very legible, regardless of the back cover beneath it, so it will need to be reasonably large, and thus reasonably short. Also, don't think that a synopsis is the same as the blurb: write a separate synopsis, don't just add to the blurb. Nor should you give away too much: you'll spoil the pleasure for the reader if you do more than provide them hints as to some of the twists. You certainly should notbe summarising your story. Yes, it's a fine art!

Barcode. Yep, you need to get an ISBN and a barcode for the ISBN, so leave space for them. If a book seller can't catalogue your book, there's no chance they'll add it to their inventory. Book retailers have enough problems: don't make more for them.

Bio. Readers are often interested in knowing a little about the author. Write something that gets across who you are: your personality. You may also want to include a nice photo of yourself.

Ears or flaps. You'll need some text if you plan on a printed book with a dust jacket, since the inside flaps is where readers will expect a blurb, or a longer synopsis if you wish. Have a look and see what other authors do.

Cover design. You have a wide range of options here. What I started with was a source of licensable images. I did some google searching and found Dollar Photoclub which suited my needs nicely. I was careful to read the license terms, to be sure I could use the images for a book cover design and for general promotion of my book, if I paid for licenses for the images (which were very reasonable, I thought). (I'm told you can also find free images, but the difficulty in being sure that they really are free is not worth the trouble, in my opinion.) Dollar Photo club also tags images, so you can search the large set of images by keywords, and then browse through the resulting images that match: that's a real help!

Other options are pre-made book covers: you browse through and buy the one you want, and they remove it so no one else will end up with the same cover design as yours (which is a danger when you rely on stock images). I'm sure there are several of these sites: I had a bit of a look at http://thebookcoverdesigner.com/product-category/premade-book-covers/ and http://www.thecovercollection.com/premadeebook-kindle-covers-fiction. These options are very cheap, and although you could get lucky and find something exactly right for your book, they generally won't look as good as a special design made just for your book.

Kindle Direct Publishing also have their own cover design “tool” where you can add the title etc. as well as an image. If your design skills are good enough, you might be able to get a reasonable design that way.

Another option is crowdsourcing (like fiverr), where you provide a brief for the work you want done and then people will vie for the work. I gather with fiverr, you specify the amount you want to spend, and the “bidders” will work to that. Obviously, if you set your price low, you will get fewer people vying for the work.

If you yourself have good design skills, you can do it yourself: but be aware that there are nuances to book cover design that you will need to learn: different genres have different expected styles, and if you design a cover that doesn't fit that, your book may well be overlooked or disregarded. Even the style of font and font effects matter. It's a specialist art. Here are a couple of articles you may find useful: 14 Tips for Good Kindle Cover Design/ and What Does Your Cover Say About Your Book/ if you want to take that route. Note that the first of those two links is someone who will also design a cover for you.

My own experience. So the upshot of making my own best attempt at a cover and learning a little about the topic was that I realised I should find someone better than myself to create the cover for my book.

Soon after coming to realise this, and primed by my heightened awareness of the subject of cover design, I noticed in passing on Twitter the covers for the series Norma Jean's School of Witchery by @RoseMontague, and thought “Wow, they're good”. I contacted her to ask who designed them and Rose very kindly put me in touch with Mirella Santana of Brazil, on Facebook as https://www.facebook.com/mirellasantana.digitalartist and at http://mirellasantana.deviantart.com/, and I was hooked.

I contacted Mirella and outlined what I wanted, and since she was interested, proceeded to prepare a brief.

Writing a design-brief. I should point out that I don't know the right way to do this; what I provided Mirella was an early blurb for my book, a slightly longer synopsis, my bio, a short background section for the world of the story, my attempts at my own cover (along with a summary of their flaws), the cover details:
  Title:    Wild Thing
  Tag line:    She's not what they planned
  Subtitle:    The Leeth Dossier: vol 1
  Author:    Luke J Kendall
as well as a list of ideas related to incidents in the story that might form a suitable starting point for the cover design, including a list of the key characters and the roles they play. I was able to point Mirella at the model whose photos I'd found, since she was a surprisingly good match to my own mental image of my main character, and there was a good number of possibly suitable images of her available.

After a while, Mirella provided me with some samples; and we went back and forth a little bit via Facebook, discussing them, as well as providing the extra information needed (like the physical dimensions of the printed book, including the number of pages). I made a few suggestions (in the initial image, the position of the dog and the monster suggested the main character might be a werewolf; and might even change into the monster too, rather than being threatened by it. Mirella's solution to that problem was much better than my suggestions, incidentally.

Later, I provided updated text for the back cover. Mirella added the period in “Luke J. Kendall” since I hadn't been aware of that convention; she also highlighted some of the text for the back cover for those readers who just want to skim the synopsis for interesting tidbits, rather than read it all.

Mirella also pointed me at a site where we could transfer large files to one another (https://www.wetransfer.com/), and I simply used Paypal to pay her for all her excellent work.

The whole process was enjoyable and pleasant; I did try hard to be responsive, and tried to answer all her questions promptly. I can certainly recommend Mirella: I think I was very lucky to find her. My situation was complicated by the fact that I was in the middle of working on splitting the book into two, and dreaming up the right “something” that might make the first half a compelling book in itself. At least the title still worked: but pretty much all the rest of the text on the cover had to change.

So what does the cover look like? Well, I had Mirella design two variants: one with and one without the dog. Here they are, side by side, just the front cover parts: (Incidentally, adding the image with the dog took almost two hours: looks like a bug in Blogger. The only way to make the with-dog image to appear at all was to first add it to a Picasa/Google Photos album, and then add it to the blog from there. Go figure!)

OR OR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I think it's appropriate to show you Mirella's design and finish with a poll (thanks to Matt Koble's post about How to Embed a Poll on a Blogger Post), since there is still one question open about the cover: do more people prefer the with-dog version, or the without-dog version? Please vote (unless I've already asked you in person)!

Do you prefer the design with the dog, or without?

And one last thing: Mirella said that if people had questions about the book cover design, she would be willing to answer them. Perhaps we could do them right here on this blog; but if you'd rather contact me to ask Mirella, that's fine, too.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Professional vs Amateur Editing

Control.  One of the pluses of self-publishing is that you have very close to total control of the whole publishing process for your book.  It's also one of the biggest minuses.  No one can be good at everything, and so I think one of the key things the self-publisher needs to learn is the limits of their own ability, in all the areas required for successful publication.  If you're open and receptive, then you can go a long way to addressing the gaps in your own skills, provided you can find people who can fill in those gaps for you, and you take their advice.

If you don't take heed of their advice, people will stop giving it: you'll find their support or interest rapidly waning.  Of course, sometimes you should do what you think is best, even if this runs counter to the advice you've received – so how do you decide when to trust your advisors, and when to trust your own instincts?  The approach I took boiled down to understanding: if on some point of disagreement, I was sure I understood the advice and the reasoning behind it, yet also properly understood the rationale and consequences of my own opinion, then I'd go with whichever option made the most sense.  In areas where I knew my skills were weaker than my advisors, or knew that my understanding was poor, then I would simply follow their advice (while also doing my best to understand the reasoning behind it, to improve myself in that area).

So, professional editing.

I'm an extremely good proof-reader4, and I'm also good at picking up continuity errors, errors in flows and rhythms, awkwardness in dialogue, and many other aspects of writing.  So although the accepted wisdom is to get a professional editor, I thought I could go it alone.

Let me tell you a little story..

I'd put my whole book through the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, chapter by chapter, a few years earlier, and received lots of valuable feedback that improved the story (and my writing skills) over the year or so that that took.  I can heartily recommend the site, the team, and the community.  They're wonderful.

And life went on, and the years rolled by, and I'd find time to work a little more on it, polishing and so on, while thinking I should finish it off and send it into that great slush pile in the sky to see if anyone was interested.  One day though, I looked up and noticed that the publishing landscape had changed so much that it looked like I was in a whole new country: one in which self-publishing was really perfectly viable.  And after a couple of life-changing events, I found myself with both the time and the opportunity to seriously try the self-publishing route.  I knew there'd be a lot to learn, so I started studying, and sharing what I learned on this blog: about the various self-publishing platforms, and the writing tools, and the marketing tools, and the publishing tools.  And then one day in my Twitter feed, I noticed a mention of a professional editing group that offered to review and critique the first few thousand words of your manuscript, for free.  If they think a manuscript (MS) has potential, they'll send you a quote for their services for the whole MS.

“Well,” I thought, “it's as perfect as I can make it – I've been polishing it for years – so why not submit my work, just as a final sanity check?  I doubt they'll have much to say.”

Famous last words.

But it turned out to be a brilliant decision on my part (and dead lucky, too).  Because the advice contained in the detailed review – both the overall, “big picture” comments as well as the nitty-gritty line-by-line notes – was full of wisdom, frankly.  (The group I found and used are http://www.theditors.com/, and Dave handled my case.)  Just the advice from that initial critique was invaluable to me.  So I was pretty certain I'd get similar value from having the whole MS given the same careful review.

So, what did I get for my money?

A critique that spanned every level: proof-reading, line-by-line details, character-level stuff, plot thoughts, POV consistency, time-skipping, as well as emotional angles, psychological angles, and the biggie: the suggestion that there were two, maybe three books here, not just one.  What Dave basically saw, and pushed me to see, was that the characters and the 1st half (or maybe 1st third) of the story was sufficiently engaging that he (and other readers) would welcome more of it.  (This is the part where the main character is growing up: the story starts when she's just four.)

The big question, and the big problem, was: of course I had written the novel with a big climax at the end. There's a big change near the middle, certainly, but would it be enough to make a satisfying experience if the book ended there?  The answer, fundamentally, was “No” – but the potential was there.

So I decided I'd try as hard as I could to invent something extra to make that first part strong enough to stand on its own.

Two books, not one?

The disheartening thing about the whole affair for me, was that it was eerily similar to what I had realised myself, back in 1999 or 2000: that the whole second half of the book back then had plenty of action and story: but no plot!  (Even so, it was one of the ten finalists in the 1998 George Turner contest, so it wasn't all bad.)  After that epiphany, I cut the book in half, eventually dreamed up a plot that fully satisfied me; and then worked to develop and write the plot, weaving it seamlessly through the novel.  I think it took me about ten years to do that, in the little bits and pieces of spare time and energy that I had available.

I really couldn't face another ten year hiatus.  So I further decided I'd limit my time: I'd give myself just one month to work out a fully satisfying addition, otherwise I'd leave it as a single book.

Tough challenge.  I think this was the toughest creative challenge I've ever faced.  Part of the reason for the tough deadline was my understanding of some of my own weaknesses: I'm quite prone to tinkering endlessly, and worse still, after solving the hardest part of a problem, prone to losing interest in finishing the task.

Strangely, I felt I owed it to Leeth (my main character) to finally and properly bring her to life: I felt I'd be failing her if I didn't finish the book and get it published.

Dave and I discussed various ideas for a new plot element: he had good ideas, but I realised that most of them couldn't work (for me), because they didn't fit into the world or the future I had roughly sketched out for the books ahead.  (I hadn't shared any of the 22,000 words of additional background material I had with Dave, so he couldn't know.)  In the end, I was on my own for this part, though some aspects of the ideas we discussed certainly helped.

The spark.  The key moment was discovering a note I'd made back in about 1998.  I only stumbled over it after realising that Dave couldn't solve my problem for me, because I had all this extra context he'd never seen.  And while looking through that, and re-reading it (for the first time in over ten years), I saw this throw-away line about something which had happened deep in the background, which had a whole lot of scary resonance to it: an idea I could pursue one day...

Today was that day.

The note was just twelve words long, but I saw that it contained the essence of the threat from which everything would flow.  The more I thought about it, the better the idea worked: it fitted in seamlessly, it would trigger all sort of neat incidents (given the characters involved), and it even led to a powerful climax at the midpoint – all while actually reinforcing and strengthening the plot for the second half.  I think it took me about ten days – out of my allotted month – to reach that epiphany.

The process. So then I sat and thought, and made a list of the extra scenes I'd need to write to develop that plot: there were 22.  I kicked the ideas around a little with Dave and a friend of mine who is familiar with the book (hi, Jon!), and their refinements and suggestions strengthened it further.  The 22 scenes grew just a little (to 25, or 27 depending on how you counted), and that seemed feasible.  I thought each scene would probably average out to one or two thousand words.  So, with some indispensable tools for the big plotting and writing work involved in the Book Split:

Writing sprint.  I set to work.  I worked hard.  I worked very hard.  Fortunately, I had a whole world that I'd already worked out, and understood deeply. Especially the characters. Basically, I just imagined the characters in the appropriate scenes, and then just wrote down what they said and did.  The tiny pad meant I could do my writing or plotting anywhere at all; and I don't think you can beat pencil and paper for that mode of writing.  It's also completely distraction free.  Maybe two thirds of the scenes I first drafted that way (the tougher and trickier scenes); at other times, I'd just sit at the PC and write.  That was where LibreOffice and Workrave shone.  Anyway, I tweeted my results at the end of each day as I worked, and felt very satisfied: although I didn't complete the first drafts in the five days I'd hoped (yeah, right!), I did complete them in 9 days, and found I'd written 39,000 words.  Some of the scenes, I found myself crying as I wrote them; one or two, laughing.  One of them still cracks me up when I think of it.  They felt right; they felt good.

They all went into the file (Book-1-Split.odt) which held my outline of the work.  So, next, I switched from that task to Dave's detailed line-by-line comments in the MS (which I received on Aug 4th), addressing them each in turn.  I took a day off today (saw a movie, visited a friend, wrote this blog item), but apart from that I've been working hard.  Some of the problems Dave has pointed out are easy to fix; some harder.  E.g. I spent three hours yesterday fixing the problems he saw in just two pages (doing so also required me to write a thousand words), but after that, I managed 25 pages in five hours.  I seem to be managing 20-25 pages per day, and there are 180 pages in total.  (As of yesterday, I was on p109 of the 180 pages; though p109 in the old MS is now p175 in the new.)

Finding a good editor – step 1.  So that was the process for the creative parts, and the tough parts.  But how do you find an editor?  There are predators out there: people who will encourage you to pay them, to edit your work, ostensibly to do the job that Dave did so well, but who really are just leading people on.  I think the first thing you need to do, is to hone your writing skills and practice them enough so that what you've written is genuinely good.  Because anyone can self-publish, the quality of self-published work varies enormously.  An editor can only tell you how to improve your work: they can't make the improvements for you (I suppose, that's what a ghostwriter would do).  So: get other people to review it and critique it.  Listen well: take criticism and use it.  Build up your skills.  When other writers think your work is okay, and you've done the best job you can, at that point a good and honest editor can help you.  If you try to use an editor before that point, it'll be an expensive way to be taught how to write.

Finding a good editor – step 2.  Okay, so given that your work is of a basically sound standard, how do you find a good and reliable editor?  Obviously I can recommend Dave and his team – but they can't support the entire self-publishing industry on their own!  I think the same method that works for all aspects of the self-publishing “industry” applies here too: rely on word of mouth.  “thEditors” let you actually try them out, so you can decide for yourself: the “mouth” you're relying on is your own!  I'd suggest, though, asking other writers whose work you like, what they do.  That's how I found my cover designer (yay, Mirella!) – which will be the subject of another blog in the next few weeks, I'd say.

Self-publishing.  This whole experience has crystallised in my mind how the self-publishing industry works, and how it has the strong potential to out-perform the traditional publishing industry.  I'll write about that soon, too, I think.  Basically, we're not alone: there are other people with the talents needed to support the lonely writer working in her garret, and the new digital world and social media provide the tools to put all those various people in contact.  It lets you find the people you need to find, and to collaborate with them, and to pay them or to be paid in turn for your work.  The same thing applies for the readers, too.  I'm enormously excited by what I see ahead.

It's been hugely challenging, enjoyable, tough, and satisfying.  I have high hopes my readers will enjoy it as much as I did in writing it, and feel I've done Leeth proud.  And none of it would have happened (I would never have “learned” about all this new exciting stuff that had happened while she was growing up), if Dave had not pushed me to flesh out what he saw as almost a complete book in its own right, in the first half.

So, Dave, I think I'll finish this blog simply by saying: thank you; thank you deeply.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Punctuation: one space or two, sir?

(...and the optical scaling of fonts)

Well, I wasn't planning to write anything on this topic! But a short discussion at a recent meeting of the Marrickville Writers Corner writing group alerted me to the fact that I'm out of step with accepted practice (as far as published style guides go), on the topic of how much space to leave between sentences. I use “two spaces”; but some time between the last 30 to 50 years the modern convention changed to use a single space.

The especially interesting thing is that the common explanation and justification for this change is based on a myth: the claim is that the use of two spaces was a convention adopted due to the rise of the typewriter and mono-spaced fonts, and that with proportional fonts this archaic practice is no longer necessary. People often also claim that typefaces have space built in to provide the correct spacing after periods, question marks, exclamation marks, and quotation marks. (This is clearly false because that simply can't work for many common uses of periods such as in abbreviations, nor for the use of single-quote characters that are being used as an apostrophe.) Nor does it actually make sense: the typeface can't know whether a punctuation mark is being used at the end of a sentence. Another argument offered up is that the additional space is disturbing and introduces ugly extra gaps. To my mind, this flies in the face of cognitive science. There is a bigger semantic gap between sentences than between words: it's the end of one idea and the start of another. Words within a sentence, in contrast, are strongly connected and dependent: the meaning accumulates from one word to the next, like steps on a stairway. This is reflected when you read aloud: you pause longer between sentences than you do between words. And the white space on the page should reflect that aspect of the semantics. Which is why the use of a bigger gap was the preferred style until something like 30 – 50 years ago.

Anyway, all these myths are soundly debunked in this well-researched article here: Why two spaces after a period isn't wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history). (If that link doesn't work, copy and paste this: http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=324)

In fact, the most convincing explanation I've seen for how the practice developed is described in the article Sentence Spacing, which describes how linotype machines used “spacing bands” to define spaces, so the typesetter could adjust all the spaces within a line by adjusting the spacing control for the whole line. But a mechanical limitation of the linotype machine meant that if the typesetter put two spacing bands side-by-side, the system failed, with results which varied from having to remove the extra spacing band(s), to physically damaging the machine.

Prior to this, and for hundreds of years, people routinely used, recommended and preferred wider spaces between sentences, specifically to ease the reader's burden in seeing the ends of sentences. This practice continued while photo-typesetters were in common use, which was during the same period as the heyday of typewriters .

Another argument has been that one space between sentences is a cost-saving measure, making the text more compact to save on space, and therefore reduce printing costs. I just did a little experiment: in my 528 page book, if I replace all double spaces by single spaces, it shrinks to 524 pages. When you consider that books tend to be bound in sheaves, not only is that a mere 0.75% saving, but in real terms there's a 3 in 4 chance it will translate to no saving at all. So that argument would only apply if publishers really are trying to cut costs to the bone.

You'll notice that the argument also makes no sense whatsoever for epublishing.

I'm also quite sure that the line length would affect the desirability of more spaces between sentences, too, and whether flush-justification or ragged-right justification is being used, as well as depending on the font itself. In a multi-column format where the word spacing varies more from line to line, and especially if you're using flush-justification where inter-word spacing will vary from line to line (shudder), or in fonts where the letters are loosely spaced rather than tightly packed, the desirability of more space between sentences increases, to help make them visible.

Several articles I read while looking into this topic also mentioned, in essence, “Modern typographers prefer a single space between sentences, and they should know.” Well, modern typographers are wonderfully skilled people, but as for holding them up as the arbiters of good typographic style: in my view, on this topic they've been swallowed up by a fad that started as a result of the enormous pain caused to a typographer who accidentally put in double spaces in early linotype machines. I strongly believe it became part of the indoctrination that older members of the “guild” passed on to younger members, until the reason for doing so became lost in history and it simply became accepted as gospel.

Now, for those who may be reading this and averring that such a fad is unlikely to take hold, and that we should simply trust typographers to the arbiters of aesthetic judgements about beauty in typography, let me share a little-known fact I learned in late 2014. I offer it up as further evidence...

Most modern typographers are perfectly satisfied with scalable vector fonts, unaware that their pre-computer ancestors would have been horrified at the loss of the optical scaling of fonts. The idea that you can just geometrically scale a font up to whatever size you need, without taking account of how the letter shapes and stems should change to preserve the essence of the font design and maintain both readability and aesthetics, is a horror story that we're all, unconsciously suffering through. In the good old days, fonts were designed for maximum beauty and legibility for each specific font size. The old-time craftsman would be shocked that their art has been trodden so far into the dirt. If you can find a copy of Harry Carter's 1937 article on optical scaling, it's well worth the read. (An article that discusses Carter's article is called From the Optical Scale to Optical Scaling.)

Yet the number of modern typographers who are even aware of this topic is minuscule; and no computer operating system and no font technology vendor (especially Adobe), have algorithms and software in place to address the problem and achieve the quality that the old-timers routinely achieved. Here is a paper on some work done on it 20 years ago, which has since languished: Dynamic optical scaling and variable sized characters, and 28 years ago A model for automatic optical scaling of type designs for conventional and digital technology, but these papers have been largely ignored, and people have simply come to accept the poor quality as all they can expect – exactly as they have come to accept the use of the same gap between sentences as is used between words, I argue. I think what happened is that at the time the problem was noted, the solutions were too costly for the computing power available at the time, and since then people have simply come to accept the lower quality, because the effect is subtle.

It's interesting how perceptions and attitudes shift over the years. It's still my hope, though, that the older and superior quality might yet make a return to fashion. And I feel that this blog post is something small which I can contribute to the topic.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Book Publicity and Marketing

(Updated on 2015/10/20 following Book Expo Australia 2015. See Book Expo Aust Update)

First off, I should clarify that I am not claiming to understand book publicity and marketing; but I had the pleasure of attending a six hour course on the topic on Sat 18th July, held by the Australian Society of Authors. The presenter was Debbie McInnes of DMCPRMedia. I should add that it's been a while between articles as I've been hard at work on editing my book in preparation for thEditors.com's feedback, including doing some detailed analysis of how I use POV throughout my book.

Incidentally, here is a link to the information about today's event: Understanding Book Publicity and Marketing in the 21st Century

Debbie clearly knew her stuff and had a wealth of experience. I think there were 18 attendees, and as usual in these get-togethers with other authors and budding authors, I found them all to be interesting and engaging people. It really seems like authors are basically nice people! Also, the range of books underway was enormous, and many sounded very interesting and deserving of success. So Debbie had a really broad scope to try to cover, with probably every attendee wanting a different mix of things from the course. Her approach was to speak from her experience, to show us what needs to be done, and what works, and the broad range of things you need to think about and plan. In essence she provided a smorgasbord of knowledge, from which each person could choose the pieces relevant for them. It would be stupid, arrogant, and morally wrong for me to try to reproduce or summarise everything she went through, especially since I will not have fully understood all the implications of everything she said. But what I will do is share what I learned for my own specific situation: self-publishing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre.

I should further clarify that by self-publishing I don't mean engaging a publishing company and working with them to publish your book: I mean do-it-all-yourself, or at least, take responsibility for it all yourself. For example, I think if you can find a good professional editor to work on your otherwise-finalised MS, that makes excellent sense to do. It also became clear to me during the seminar today that engaging a book cover design expert is probably well worth the money, as perhaps the biggest first step to achieve after you've written your book is to come up with a cover that will make a reader interested enough to at least look at your book to consider reading it.

A lot of what Debbie covered was not relevant to me: most of the people in the media spotlight who interview authors, on TV or radio, do not interview self-published authors. Certainly not a 1st novel! Likewise for most of the marketing channels that are used in the traditional publishing industry; Debbie listed some key publicity drivers:
  1. Newspapers and magazines
  2. ABC (i.e. the national broadcaster) and commercial radio
  3. Free to air and pay TV
  4. Online and social media opportunities
  5. Events (like a book launch, or talks, or signings, …)
  6. Flyers, posters
  7. Web sites
  8. Word of mouth

Now, for a self-publisher, I think the only relevant ones are 7, 4, and 8. Though with sufficient time and energy, you could try 6 and 5, and try (good luck!) for 1, 2, or 3. But in all these cases which involve the media or other parties, you need to keep firmly in mind that there needs to be something in it for them: some reason why showing your book, or talking about your book, is useful and valuable to them. So if you're going to pitch your book to any of these groups, that's how you should be thinking about what to offer them and how to approach them.

Easy to put your foot in it. Debbie also made it clear that publicists and marketers who work in this book publishing space understand who's who in the industry, what's likely to interest them, and what's the right and wrong way to approach them. They know all that because of their deep experience in doing it, so if you try to approach them yourself, you'll need to research very heavily to make an even halfway decent approach. These people are all busy, with many demands on their time, and I imagine that it's taken decades to evolve their current efficient ways of getting the right information to the right people: so if you don't do it the way they expect, you're likely to do it in a way that makes their job harder, not easy. Which will annoy them.

To try to keep this brief, I think I'll just pick out the key things I learned which I expect to prove valuable for someone in my situation.

The publishing process consists of these parts:

  • Editing
  • Design of the book (including cover, back cover, spine, inside flaps, etc.)
  • Distribution
  • Publicity

And all those four things need to work, well, for your book to have much chance of success. That, of course, is on top of having written the very best book you can.

Publicity is usually planned right from the outset, because traditional publishers have to produce their books on time, and the scheduling of all the work involved is not simple. So you can't just wing it. In this one respect, the self-publisher has a much easier job: you control everything, and if you need to take more time and re-plan things, then you can, within reason. If you commit to deadlines for some third party, for example if you've organised to give a talk or to launch your book at your local library, then obviously if you can't meet the deadline that's going to be a big problem, and often would mean you've lost that chance, probably forever. So even for the self-publisher, planning your publicity campaign is something you need to put some very careful thought into.

What message does your cover send? Think about your cover in terms of the message it conveys. People want to know what they'll be getting. And if the cover doesn't look professional, the book won't be looked at by professional reviewers (e.g. for the book review section in a newspaper or magazine). For my book, Debbie pointed out I should include a tagline at least to indicate what the book's about. (She thought my cover looked like it had been produced by an amateur – which is absolutely correct – but for all that, it might be okay for a self-published ebook.) This of course includes the title, which is a critical element in the cover.

Marketing is a mix of the product itself, publicity, position (I think this means, relating your book to other similar ones, e.g. identifying the genre or sub-genres), and placement (distribution to bookstores).

Timing matters for publicity: there are busy times of the year when many publishers will be promoting books: for the Christmas period (so, for months before and soon after), and around major writer events and festivals. Try to avoid launching and promoting your book during those times: for a self-publisher, quieter periods will work better for you.

Book press-release. As part of the homework/preparation for the course, each person had to produce a 50-word bio and a press release for our book. This was a completely new concept to me, but although no large newspaper would be interested in the 1st novel of a self-published author, there's a slim chance that a local newspaper might be (since it promotes the idea that people in the local area include authors), so you might be able to pitch it in a way that would make it a useful small news snippet for them. It also occurred to me that if you were to send your book to anyone, then including the “press release” to explain what it is, is probably a good idea.

I did a quick Google search to find out what a book press release was, and found these links useful: How to write a press-release mini tutorial, Book press-release template (I just read the web page, I didn't request the template), and Write a better press release – 50 ways to reach your readers #14, and pulled together the tag-line and blurb I'd previously prepared, then expanded a bit on the blurb to provide some more details, and finally added the 50-word bio we'd been told to prepare. Apart from making the cover image of my book, and the head and shoulders shot of myself too large, Debbie seemed to think I'd made a pretty decent stab at that.

Plan out a publicity campaign: put some thought into it. Even if (like me), you're not going to be too ambitious, work out what you can reasonably do. Things to consider are contacting your local library or book store to see whether they'd be interested in you showing and talking about the book, or even launching it; local radio or newspaper; contacting local book clubs; and of course your online social media plans. You should have a web site where people can go to find out more about your book. If you can get a review comment from someone influential, that you can put on the cover or back page or inside, that could be hugely valuable to you. Getting reviews are very important, so identify and tee-up potential reviewers and plan how to get review copies to those people in good time before the launch date. The bigger the publicity campaign, the more thought and planning required, especially if it will involve newspapers or magazines, who will typically need a lead time of a few months to plan out how to fit your piece in.

Media training. We talked a little about media training: this means, basically, learning how to be yourself and to communicate the key messages about your book, if you're in the fortunate position of being interviewed on radio or TV. This would include simple things like learning how to speak without mumbling, to how close to the microphone you should speak, to how to ignore the weird and unnerving surroundings and project your authentic self. It did occur to me that if you were going to produce a video interview for putting up on your web site, then some media training might be money very well spent. You should also look and listen to interviews by other authors, to get a feel for how they do it. And consider it from the point of view of what you'd do and say if it were you being interviewed. Put some thought into the likely questions that will be asked (“What's your book about”), and put some thought into the answer so you don't stumble and look foolish.

Interview dos and don'ts. If you are going to be interviewed, Debbie advised: Re-read your book so it's fresh in your mind Have a copy of your book with you Focus on talking about the book and what makes it different or stand out from the crowd Be self-deprecating. You must avoid sound like you're pushing/selling the book. Make up a list of key points you'd like to make (as memory joggers), in case a question will allow you to offer that information Have some anecdotes ready, to illustrate points you want to make – you want to be interesting Don't tell the whole story and give away the ending when the interviewer asks about your book Never say “You'll have to read the book to find that out” Never ask the interview “Did you read the book?” or even “Did you like it?” - they're very busy people, they're unlikely to have done so.

Book Expo Australia. There's a “Book Expo Australia” event held at Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush (this year, on the 17th/18th October), which is “a dedicated event for the reading public to engage with authors and publishers”, where I believe self-published authors are welcome, too.

All in all, it was a valuable and interesting day, and well worth the time and money in my opinion.

Book Expo Australia 2015 Update

I've blogged about Book Expo Australia 2015 in general, but here are some specific things I learned related to book publicity and marketing, along with an idea I had.

Tim Lea gave a very useful talk on Social media and crowd-funding, and he has been kind enough to share his presentation with me. At first I thought "But I'm not planning to do any crowd-funding", but I'm very glad I went along, because it soon became blindingly clear that almost everything he said about crowd-funding applied equally well to marketing, or creating a "brand" for yourself as an author. See:

Summarising what he said: Crowd-funding is incredibly difficult. The key to doing it successfully is planning: a lot of planning! Allow a minimum of three months before you start your campaign: you'll need that time to plan it and prepare material for it, and even longer if you first need to create a social media presence!

ManageFlitter is a tool he recommended, since it can be very helpful in accurately targeting your market: e.g. if you know an author whose readers are likely to be interested in your book's subject, it can show you who that author's followers are, so you can choose which of them you should follow.

In Facebook there are many groups devoted to fantasy and other genres. So think of the angles/themes in your book, and then look through the groups to find those who might be interested.

Find your key influencers. You may not be able to reach them, but with time and diligence you should be able to work your way up the "hierarchy" of influencers if you have an interesting message. People like emotion, they like to understand motivation, so a blog on why you wrote the book is likely to be of interest to potential readers.

If you're blogging, and you happen to be writing on a topic for which some influential people have opinions, you can try contacting them (gently, e.g. via Twitter as a 1st step), and ask if they'd have a quote or a word of advice they'd be willing to share, which you could quote them on in the article you're writing.

You do need to promote yourself. You need to be helpful, though: curate other people's content; tweet or retweet some of their good stuff; share articles of interest to other people in the area you're working. If you're seen as being helpful to "your tribe" then "your tribe" is likely to reward you for your efforts.

See Tim's presentation for more information. He also shares a very good idea in his blog article about using your web site to "introduce yourself" to people who may then decide to connect with.

My own small idea, when I saw how enthusiastic and engaging the booktubing community was, was simply to include some of them when you're sending out free copies of your book to try to get reviews.