We are in Tucson, Arizona this weekend for the Tucson Festival of Books. It’s always a great event. One of the topics I know we’ll be discussing with authors is e-books. It seems like everybody wants their book in digital format. If you are making decisions about the best publishing format for your book – e-book, print book or both – here are some things to consider.
If you are an author aiming for commercial success you must approach your book as a business person would. Your book is, after all, a product you wish to sell. One of the first questions to consider is, how have similar books done in the marketplace? Michael Larsen, a partner in Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents wrote in Katherine Sands’ excellent book Making the Perfect Pitch: “The moment you have an exciting idea for a book… • Check the competition • Make yourself an expert on your subject by reading the most important competitive books and browsing through others.”
The draft of the book you plan to self-publish is finished. Your beta readers have offered good feedback on the book’s content. You have revised and edited the manuscript until it’s as polished as you can make it. You are ready to send the files off to the printer. But wait! It needs a thorough careful copy edit before it goes anywhere. “Copyediting is what turns an amateurish book into a polished, professional one,” says bestselling author Guy Kawasaki in his new book on self-publishing, APE: How to Publish a Book...Here are seven ideas that will improve your copy editing.
Who will edit the manuscript for your self-published book? If you haven’t thought about the question you should. There were 347,178 new print books published in 2011, the last year for which complete figures are available. With ebooks added the number probably approaches half a million. How will your book stand out from that torrent of others? You might begin to answer that question by thinking about a slogan Ford used in its advertising a few years ago, Quality is Job One! How will you assure that your manuscript is of the highest quality it can be? The simple answer is, make sure it is well-edited.
You have had an interesting life; maybe dramatic, maybe traumatic, maybe even tragic. You want to share it with a large audience in a memoir. To be successful you will ultimately have to confront what Richard Gilbert, in his blog Narrative, calls “the ‘so what’ dilemma.” No matter how remarkable the life story you have to tell, Gilbert explains, your reader will be likely to filter your experience through a series of questions, “’So what?’ That is, why should we care about your life? Why should we care what you think?” The paramount quality which makes a memoir great is not the uniqueness of the incidents it recounts, but the depth of the insights it draws from them.
Print books are going away in record numbers, but not in the way you think. In fact, Bowker Research’s 2012 Report on Print Book Publishing indicated that print titles published rose 6% to 347,178 in 2011 with another 1.1 million published titles of reprinted public domain works. That’s a lot of books. Reporter Claire Lawton of the Phoenix New Times in an article titled Disappearing Ink investigated what happened to those books when no one wants to read them any longer. It’s a fascinating piece.
You are finishing a book, or maybe have already finished one. You have heard a lot about the growing popularity of self-publishing and think that might be a good way to get your book out there. What should you do? Begin by asking two important questions regarding the self-publishing process. 1. Do you want your book to be truly self-published? 2. Who will own the rights to your book and the files used to create it?
How do you make your book stand out from the thousands of other being published each year? It all starts with your cover. Chip Kidd, a top cover designer at Alfred A. Knopf, who brought us the distinctive book cover of Jurassic Park, and one of the best-designed, all-around-best books on my reading shelf right now, Haruki Murakami’s IQ84, explains: “The book designer’s responsibility is three-fold to the reader, to the publisher, and most of all to the author. I want you to look at the author’s book and say, ‘Wow! I need to read that.’” “It’s a billboard,” said Peter Mendelsund, Kid’s colleague at Knopf who designed the cover for the Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels. “You hope yours shouts the loudest or entices the most intriguing way." A bad cover shouts out in a different way. “The first outward sign that your book is self-published is a crappy cover design.” said Guy Kawasaki, APE: How to Publish a Book. Let’s look at some excellent covers and some thoughts on what makes them effective.
Life can get in the way of getting your book written. If you are working at a day job and your writing is a spare time project, that spare time may be hard to find. If you have a family to take care of it may be hard to control your schedule to give yourself the time you would like to write. What’s the best way to manage the limited periods of time you have available to get your book written?
Tobias Wolff, the author of the wonderful memoir This Boy’s Life, put the memoirist’s task in this way, “Memory is funny. Once you hit a vein the problem is not how to remember but how to control the flow.” How do you decide what belongs in your memoir? Helen Keller explained her approach in The Story of My Life this way, “In order, therefore, not to be tedious I shall try to present in a series of sketches only the episodes that seem to me to be the most interesting and important.” That seems simple enough, but Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays With Morrie, warns, “Anyone who tries to write a memoir needs to keep in mind that what’s interesting to you isn’t necessarily important to a reader.”
It's hard to describe what I do. I help authors. As you know, it’s easier to understand a process when you break it down into manageable steps. Like a recipe; you just gather the ingredients, prepare, cook, and serve, right? Yes, but it’s not really that simple. Experienced cooks know that there are lots of choices, methods and tools at each step, and these will determine how the dish tastes. My guide for authors outlines “6 easy steps” - to imagine, plan, create, edit, design and publish. At each step, some authors will need help. It’s my specialty to know all of the choices, methods and tools, to prepare the book right along with the author, and to ensure the final product is excellent. I’ve never identified with the term “book shepherd.” That implies that authors are sheep who need to be driven with a stick. I am a mentor, a skilled craftsman, and a seasoned veteran. I don’t push or carry anyone. My job is to carry the ball into the end zone. The team scores.
Recreating a person’s life is hard, but that exactly what biographers, family historians, and memoirists must do. That begins with a factual skeleton. Research can help you to answer most of the questions posed by the journalist’s 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, why and how. Gathering the accurate details of a person’s life is important, but it’s only the beginning of telling a person’s life story. An engaging account of a person’s life depends on discovering the answers to the last two questions: how and why. Those answers may not be readily apparent in the documentary records. David McCullough, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, knows plenty about how to do that. He advises, “I believe very strongly that the essence of writing is to know your subject…to get beneath the surface.” How do you do that? How can you know what a person now gone was thinking or feeling during their lifetime? That involves some speculation. The question a biographer must deal with is how to speculate within a factual framework. You have to make inferences and deductions from the facts you know to get at your subject’s inner life. Let’s look at the ways two of the leading practitioners of the art do it.
How will people discover the wonderful new book you just had published? If you answered “online” you may want to pause a moment and think a bit more deeply about that. At the recent Digital Book World Conference in New York, Peter Hildick-Smith, the founder and CEO of the Codex Group, which tracks frequent readers’ book-buying behavior, said that the way readers discover the books they will purchase and where they actually will buy those books has been “decoupled.” Laura Owen Hazard explained in a post on Paid Content, Why Online Book Discovery Is Broken (and How to Fix It), “New research shows that frequent book buyers visit sites like Pinterest and Goodreads regularly, but those visits fail to drive actual book purchases… readers are likely to go online to buy a book after having learned about it elsewhere.” So what can you do about getting your book discovered?
If you’re looking for a way to tell your story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction you’d be well advised to look at the lessons offered by Tom Wolfe. His nonfiction, which reached its apogee in The Right Stuff, was a prototype for the so-called “new journalism.” His sharp reporter’s eye worked just as well when he began turning out novels like Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full. In his New York Times review of Wolfe’s new novel Back to Blood, novelist Thomas Mallon wrote: Tom Wolfe’s move from the New Journalism to fiction writing, undertaken a quarter-century ago, now seems on a par with Babe Ruth’s shift from the pitcher’s mound to the regular batting order. But from genre to genre, the fundamentals of Wolfe’s game have stayed the same… Let’s look today at the time before Wolfe made the shift from the mound to the batting order, the days when he was changing the way true stories were reported. There are some key lessons there for anyone who wants to write good nonfiction.
You are finished, or almost finished with the manuscript for your book. You have revised it diligently and asked friends and family to act as beta-readers. You are happy with what you have, but you understand why people like Ricky Pittman of Writers Weekly say, ““Every writer has blind spots to his or her own writing.” You know that when Jerry Simmons of Readers and Writers says, “Having an objective, experienced eye to evaluate and edit your work is worth its weight in gold,” he’s right. You want to find a good editor for your book. How do you know when a person is the right editor for you? Here are five questions that will help you decide.