The Woman Who Values Herself is about 90 percent of what I envisioned when I set out to print a pocket-sized book of 31 affirmations for women, each illustrated with a line drawing by Sheila Kennedy. I suspect it is just as a grown child is always about 90 percent of what a parent hoped for. And of course the parent dwells on the 10 percent. What's right:
- cover color (love the green! There is no name for such a green!)
- most of the drawings
- the fact that this book exists at all
- the kindness shown to me by all the blurb contributors
- that this is Sheila's first book and she's thrilled and she should be, she is awesome
- that this book might be of help or comfort to somebody somewhere someday
- pricing ($10; thank God I asked for advice!)
- They didn't add one of my corrections
- The paper is thick and I'd hoped it would be opaque, but it's not
- The back cover with its three colors looks better to me than the front with its two colors
- They didn't vertically center the blurbs on the back; I mean, it's okay but it's not perfect!
- Yes, the spine is 1/4 inch wide just as I wanted, and admittedly it is the thinnest possible size for a perfect (glued) binding, but it drives me wild when the microscopic printing on some of them is off by a millionth of an inch
I had paid for a barcode to be placed on the back cover of my current project, The Woman Who Values Herself, and when I got the final cover PDF it occured to me to print it and test it with a barcode reader app. It wouldn't work, although the app read other barcode labels. I kept trying, freaking out incrementally. Because the book is so small, the barcode had been shrunk proportionally and it was too small for the app to read. Online I found that there is indeed a minimum size for barcodes: 80 percent of the original, or about .825" high.
Having advised the cover designer of these facts I was in turn advised that she'd never had any problems with shrunken barcodes, but she'd enlarge it just for me, and so it was on the next proof. The barcode scanner could not read this barcode either. Feigning great patience (THIS BOOK HAS BEEN IN PRODUCTION SINCE JUNE for PETE'sSAKE!!) I advised her of this and asked her to test it on her end.
The project manager contacted me and swore it worked on their end, and it wasn't working for me because my proofs were electronic PDFs and low-resolution (high-resolution PDF proofs are so huge they'd crash a mailbox) although they didn't look it. So I chose to just drop the issue, now that I had his email saying it worked--in case it didn't. So ended this tiny nightmare, and I learned:
1. You need an ISBN and a matching barcode.
2. Test the barcode.
3. There is a minimum size for barcodes, and even if it is plug-ugly and out of proportion to the book's size or design, you still need one if you want stores to carry the book, and of course you do.
4. Understand that your electronic proofs are low-resolution.
5. Get written assurance that the darned thing really works so that if it doesn't, this can all be done over again at somebody else's expense.
6. Everything in publishing works far more slowly than you'd think.
Worry of the week (overheard): Won't self-publishing create more writers than readers?
Let's examine this question. Self-publishing doesn't "create writers." Self-publishing requires a text already written. Self-publishing creates authors -- writers who have their names on books. Self-publishing generates authorship.
The word "readers" in "more writers than readers" really means "readers who purchase books." There are plenty of readers. They're all reading stuff on the Internet, or at the library, or magazines, or books by their friends or faves. The real worry is, "Can publishers sell enough books to make profits?"
The question then becomes: Does the existence of more self-published authors generate less money for publishers and their authors -- less money than formerly?
Well, the vast majority of authors -- the unknowns, the rookies, the "mid-list" --could hardly make less money. But self-publishing could possibly generate more for them.
For publishers - well, you had your chance. When writers sent you these same manuscripts, you wouldn't even look at them. So they turned themselves into authors without you. They're happy. They sell their own books at least as well as you would have sold them; maybe better.
Good article about reasons writers self-publish. Yes, the writers pay the tab, but they get exactly the book they wanted (see "The Book the Poet Wants") and also get 100 percent of the cover price when they sell their books. If someone's book is nothing but "an enhanced business card," well, golly, he or she can write it off as a business expense. Go, writers! Be fruitful and multiply! Did you know that 90 percent of the books published in the U.S. are published in editions of 99 or fewer copies?
However, because the author was so young when imprisoned, he retains few vivid memories about the camp and its inhabitants. Most of the book is about the rest of his life.
The author’s question was: Did I think he could get an agent for the book? It was, after all, a memoir by a Holocaust survivor. Life stories don’t get any more dramatic than that.
My research turned up these surprising (to me) facts: Holocaust memoirs are “a dime a dozen.” Agents, publishers and readers don’t buy such books out of respect for the survivors. They snap them up only if such memoirs are very detailed and shocking and revelatory, and if the book centers on the camp experience. Agents and publishers want THAT so badly that they will seize upon phony Holocaust memoirs cooked up according to that recipe.
Very carefully and politely I told the author my crushing conclusion: If he wanted to see his memoir in print, he should self-publish. He wouldn’t stoop to that. Can’t blame him. But since that time, someone has tried to establish a Holocaust-memoir vanity-publishing business to make themselves some money from these dime-a-dozen manuscripts. I’m not kidding.
And you want an agent for that memoir you wrote about your relative with Alzheimer’s? Your broken hip? Your infertility treatments? Save time and effort: Publish it yourself.
Cherry Pie Press since 2005 has published a series of poetry chapbooks by Midwestern women. They are beautifully produced and the poetry is hot and it keeps coming: Three new books this year. A friend of mine, Pamela Garvey, won a chapbook contest last year; her chapbook is titled Fear (Finishing Line Press), and each copy is threaded through with a satin rattail ribbon, different colors: mine is wine-red. Poets with traditional publishers will issue chapbooks if they've got some work that's too edgy for the suits. Ted Hughes issued 110 copies (that's all!) of a chapbook titled Howls & Whispers (1998), 11 poems from the Birthday Letters series that he, or somebody, thought were too edgy to publish in the regular book. In a rare-book room I read copy #75. Online I found a deluxe edition for sale that costs USD $27,500. Mostly, though, chapbooks are a heck of a lot more affordable than normal books of poetry, and they're mostly meat, very little gristle. A book of 20 or 30 poems that are ALL good is positively intoxicating.
I'm even urging chapbook publication on poets who have lots of good poems but not enough for a full-length manuscript, or who have full-length manuscripts they can't publish. Chapbooks can be handsomely made, even at home, and circulated and sold, mainly at poetry readings, but also through flyers, local bookstores, and the Internet.
And as far as I can see, no poet today is ever sorry that he or she issued a chapbook. Poets, consider it. And maybe it's time for some fiction or nonfiction writers to do it too.
- If sending out a mass e-mail to 5 million perfect strangers, at a cost to you of $2,359, sounds to you like an effective way to market your self-published book. . .
- If you think establishing an author website or a book website* will make your book sales soar. . .
- If it sounds like a good idea to spend $1,387 to submit the link from your website to 3,000 websites with no guarantees that any of them will post your link. . .
I wish at this time to let everyone know that "self-published" does not mean "rich" or "naive" or "devoid of common sense."
*All authors should have such a site, but such sites aren't sales tools. They are contact tools. When was the last time you bought a book through an author's website?
May 20, 12 noon: A promotional E-mail from BookSurge (how’d they find me?) offers me 20 free copies of my own book if I self-publish with them before May 30. I’m curious and reply.
May 21, 10:20 a.m.: A deft and polite BookSurge sales rep ACTUALLY PHONES ME. I said I had a 90-page book of poetry, print-ready, in PDF format. Faint hint of dismay (poetry?!) detected. To publish this book in paperback I’d pay them only $299 and get 1 copy. If, like most authors, I had a plain, no-pictures, word-processing manuscript, not print-ready, requiring interior layout and design, I’d pay $499 and get 1 copy.
Honestly, the above two deals are competitive in all details with other good self-publishers. Except Booksurge alone can currently say, coquettishly, “We are one of the few self-publishing, print-on-demand companies that can guarantee availability on Amazon.com always.”
But what about my 20 free copies? I asked the rep. Turns out that Booksurge’s May special isn’t for penny-ante printing like mine, but for their Total Design Freedom Packages: $799 to $2,749. (Note: The traditional publishing industry has never given authors a say in their covers or bindings, much less total design freedom. It sounds good, but you don’t need it.)
Like other PODs, BookSurge has optional promotional tools, but only BookSurge, being Amazon, can pair your book with an Amazon bestseller as a tag-along (“buy this too”) suggestion on the bestseller’s page -- if you pay $1,000 a month.
". . .For the most part, big booksellers shy away from carrying self-published books. But they’re still looking to jump into the game. . . .
"The Borders site says self-published authors can even arrange readings in local Borders stores. . ."
And a big hint that a self-published author will soon be able to BUY space on bookstore shelves, if that's what he/she wants and can afford. (Vanity shelving!) That'll help keep the big-box bookstores open for a few more years -- because fewer people shop in those places anymore, unless they want Harry Potter or Rachael Ray. The surviving bookstores will be more like independent bookstores: smaller, and supportive of local authors; and a center for downloads. Or there will be small, dedicated book/media stores: one specializing in mysteries, one in romance, one in Spanish-language books, and so on.
Given that, and given all the new competition for readership -- what's your plan?
1. Research book covers you like and determine why you like them: Color? Typeface? Images? The way the title or image is placed?
2. While looking for covers you like, look for unappealing ones, and determine what makes them unattractive.
2. Although the book may well be for or about you, the cover is for your readership.
3. A good book cover contributes greatly to the book's success; a bad one repels buyers and readers.
4. #1 source of cover disasters: drawings, paintings, or photo images by, or of, the author's friends and relatives. Even your friend who is a professional artist will draw you a disaster when you dictate to him exactly what you want, such as a watercolor of the old home place, or a symbolic image.
5. No one will understand the symbolism of your symbolic image.
6. Script or fancy type fonts render titles unreadable. People who can't read the title can't want the book.
7. A book's title should be readable from 12 feet away.
8. If a book cover is solely words (title, and name of author) it had better be professionally designed, or it positively SCREAMS "self-published!"
9. A truism from the printing industry (where I began my career): Readers shun books with purple covers; no one knows why. Go into a bookstore and I will give you a dime for every purple cover you find.
10. Book covers are NOT the place for old family photos, a watercolor of the old home place, or a photo or image of you (costumed, or being yourself). These may mean a lot to you; they mean nothing to readers. A cover is not about you; it is a responsibility you have to your readership. If you must have those pictures, put them INSIDE the book.
11. Images from the Internet may not be used without express written permission from the creators or you can be sued and have to change your cover.
12. Self-publishing companies offer generic covers. Everyone will recognize that they're generic and no one will respect your book.
13. If you plan to list on Amazon.com and other sites, remember that online, your book cover image will be one inch high. Can readers still see your title when your book cover is shrunk for online selling?
What costs money: Professional advice. Professional graphic artists familiar with book-cover standards. This is money you WON'T regret spending.
I'll soon post some disastrous covers so you can see what I mean.