Archive for November, 2009
November 30th, 2009
A week or so ago I finished work on a book for a self-publisher, Jen Hall. The book, Success Is Simply Spiritual, is more than a simple self-help book, but a kind of treatise on achieving one’s dreams. And for that I highly recommend it to anyone looking to achieve things beyond the everyday “stuckness” we all occasionally find ourselves in.
But that is not the point I view this particular book from right now. I have worked on design-and-layout projects for self-publishing authors before. It happens, however, that Jen lives and is based in Australia. Hers was my first book for a client outside the U.S.
I had always wondered about issues like coordinating payment originating in non-U.S. currency—and also, frankly, about dealing with another layer of detail should there be any problem with timely payment. Well, of course, there was no problem. My pre-work conversations with Jen revealed a person—never mind an author and publisher—of the highest integrity; also someone who knew what she wanted and was very easy to work with.
So the project went off without a hitch and I await my copies of the book to inspect my handiwork and read it through as a book and not a “project”. But it wasn’t until the other night, reading Shel Israel’s insightful work, Twitterville, that it occurred to me: I’ve now gone global!
All the more remarkable when I think of how I reached this point. After resisting social media—Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter among them—on a whim, I engaged in Twitter nearly a year-and-a-half ago. Like many people who formed their opinion without actually trying it, I wondered why I should be interested in what someone I’d never met was doing or where they were. More to the point, I wondered who the hell would give a rat’s ass what I was up to.
Well, by superstar standards, I have a modest number of followers, a few over 1,800 and I’ve topped out at following just over 2,000 people. But within those numbers I’ve had some pretty meaningful exchanges—as well as some not-so-meaningful that were just fun—and made contacts or cultivated existing contacts to the tune of three books so far.
In Twitterville Shel describes the forming of bonds that can create a global clientele among people who will otherwise never actually sit in each other’s presence—except perhaps via the kick of videoconferencing (which I utilized with Jen and her copy editor). So now that I’ve gotten to that part of the year where I market myself to publishers in what seems almost like a horse-and-buggy method, email, looking for next year’s work, I am rethinking how far to cast my net.
Truly it is a remarkable time to be alive and a hoot of a way to conduct business.
November 22nd, 2009
Last night I tweeted:
What an amazing time to be alive! Sitting in bed, tweeting on my iPod Touch, Jethro Tull … in my ears, reading Twitterville.
Finished with Tara Hunt’s The Whuffie Factor, fresh with ideas about designing and laying out books to earn a living, as well as not charging others to help them get a handle on making books, I had moved on to Shel Israel’s book, Twitterville. Between being particularly fortunate in my social media interactions and the reading, I am pretty convinced I should start paying it forward.
If literacy for all was a worthy goal last century, I think one of this century’s democratizing features could just be the possibility that anyone can write and publish a book.
But, as one of the nuns at St. John the Evangelist in Brooklyn (no longer a school, but used for Adam Sandler’s apartment in the movie, Big Daddy) taught me sometime between kindergarten and eighth grade: “Just because you can, does not mean you may.” And I think there are a number of threshold issues that should be handled before one “may” self-publish his or her book:
- an ability to work
- something to say
- an awareness of the book’s natural audience
- a plan for reaching that natural audience and readers beyond it (including choosing distribution networks)
- professional book cover and interior design and production; or the skills and tools to perform the work
- sufficient capital to finance the above steps
My inner “Mother Teresa” tells me the best way to do this is to take this effort away from my site and blog, which is expressly to bring me paying work. So what I plan is to set up a page under my mostly-used-for-kibitzing presence on Facebook to use for disseminating information on item 5 of the list above.
What I need from you are any questions you may have about book design and page make-up. I have a few from recent comments that I’ll begin with, but I’d ask for any questions you can contribute.
November 17th, 2009
Maybe my perspective as a book designer skews my vision but I cannot imagine a scenario in which a self-publisher—someone seeking to publish a book he or she has written—would want anything but first-rate, professional book design and production.
The way I see it, “one-size-fits-all” solutions for turning out book covers and interiors do not provide the care and attention that any book crafted for publication deserves. Unfortunately, the process of publishing a book after it’s been written incurs expenses—editing, design, (occasionally) illustration, and production—that add up. That is, when the parts of the process are performed by competent professionals.
Not every self-publisher thinks to work that way, however.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize that exorbitant fees are the last thing a small business needs. Publishing has already turned into a cutthroat business, where large booksellers (both online and brick-and-mortar) have largely succeeded in marginalizing small bookstores. So there are more than a few reasons why making and selling books, especially to turn a profit, is not a pursuit for the faint-hearted.
Let me be clear: No book is guaranteed to earn a boatload of fast bucks. The only chance I see at making serious money is by writing really well on a subject that has an audience. Do your research seriously, locating a natural audience for your book. Create a plan for how you will reach that audience. Then consider the next layer of probable readers and how to reach that group.
Next engage the professionals I keep mentioning …
A real editor. Make no mistake: a new set of eyes is the way to go when checking over your writing. (For proofreading, too.) A designer who understands your book and its audience is your new best friend. Seek out a book designer who can tell you that his or her work is about your book, not his or her reputation. You want someone who understands the cover is not just for looking good and drawing attention, but for making a promise about what readers will find inside; and a typesetter who implements that design exactly. I think it is preferable for the designer to double as typesetter.
Give your book every chance to succeed.
November 8th, 2009
One of the hazards of running a sole freelancer’s practice is the inability to take advantage of anything large-scale. I would love, for instance, to be able to purchase thirty toner replacement cartridges, but I have neither the capital nor the storage space.
Another disadvantage accrues to a small design practice: the inability to negotiate favorable deals when sudden needs occur. I can understand this, as giving me a god deal now in no way guarantees that I will return later for a big-volume buying spree. But like everything else, there is nothing like a bit of good luck and getting friendly with the vendors with whom I deal.
Of course, there is bad luck, too.
I think it is fair to say that each time I have needed to replace a dead or dying Macintosh, I have looked around for the best price that was visibly available. This last time was no different. But because I was particularly stressed, with two books inside the old machine—and in the external backup drive—I wanted some hand-holding, as well as quick delivery. So for the first time since I bought my very first Apple computer, not a Macintosh, about twenty-five years ago, I went to a local computer shop.
Everything about the 24-inch iMac—size, processor speed, stock, RAM, and hard rive size—make it more computer than I have ever owned. It gives me my best shot to date at two facing pages on the screen at one time. And I am just generally please with how it works.
Then why am I heartsick?
First, some history …
Almost moments after I bough my first Macintosh, a IIx, in November, 1989, Apple released the IIcx. Now, silly as it seems, I wanted a tower back then and the IIcx was a compact desktop box. So I did not feel a sense of loss that first time. But when the IIx died unexpectedly—with a book in it and now backup but 3.5-inch floppies—and I bought a first-generation Power PC Macintosh and models with faster processors were released moments later, I felt betrayed. Like a schoolboy in lust with a girl I couldn’t have, however, it never swayed me from my Apple loyalty.
A few weeks ago, however, about six or seven weeks after I took possession of my new iMac, Apple came out with two new models. The 27-inch iMac retails for about what I paid for my new 24-inch. My retailer would sell the 24-inch for me if I want to buy the 27-inch. But she is upfront and tells me I would take a beating on what I could get for it. And Apple’s policy is not to exchange after fourteen days.
I emailed Apple Customer Service once and have not gotten an answer. I know it is not smart business to make such exceptions, and that all they really owe me is a working machine for what I paid them/ But I wish that Apple would just once show me the same loyalty I show them.
And that is why, for all the joys of being a one-person shop, designing and making books, there is always the possibility of the position I am in making me heartsick and giving me a nauseous feeling that I just cannot shake.