Monday, July 25, 2011

We've moved!

The blog is now attached to our website! You can check us out at and subscribe to our RSS feed, which I know you totally want to do.

From now on, all posts will be posted there.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The layout.

So you have your manuscript written and edited, you're battered and bruised and you've replaced all of the creativity in your head with whiskey. You've got to be almost done with all this, right? As usual the answer is two-fold: Yes, you're done with it if you just want to plop it into Smashwords and fire it off into the internet ephemera where it'll be lost forever. No, you're not done if you'd actually like someone to read it aside from your mom.

Layout and formatting are extremely important. Some might say that they are more important, in terms of initial sales, than the quality of your writing. This is ridiculous, I know, but once you stop screaming at the clouds you'll realize this makes sense. People, in general, size a thing up in a matter of seconds. Not just books, mind you, I'm talking everything: cars, houses, pets, clothes, other people, you name it. You generally know if you want it after a few blinks. Sure, you may talk yourself in another direction, but you know. You know.

How does this pertain to you? Well, it's time to dress up your work. Start with cover art. I don't mean to toot my own horn here (read: I absolutely do) but would you rather purchase a book that looks like this:

Orrrrr would you like to buy a book that looks like this:

Unless you're a minimalist hipster you're gonna choose number 2 (In which case may I direct you to where it can be yours!) *end plug*

The point is, it's hard enough as a new author to sell anything you write at all, but it's even harder if what you're selling looks like crap. I am amazed at how many self-pubbed authors fall flat on their faces this close to the end. Don't be that guy. Don't spend years writing and editing your book just to take a left turn at the finish line.

I wanted to make a business of this, so I bought Adobe CS5 and got a hold of an illustrator and a designer, and learned my way around things, but you don't need to do that. If you're just planning on publishing yourself, there are people out there that will do a great cover for you for cheap. In some cases some very decent stuff for around $50 bucks. You can check out the market for cover artists at places like, or just search around for yourself. A ton of people have done it, and have chatted about it online.

Which brings me to another point. Adding cover art doesn't set you apart, oooooh no. Adding cover art brings you out of the dumpster. Instead of having several hundred thousand books above you, you're now alongside a couple hundred thousand, and above a couple hundred thousand, but if you look up you'll see another couple hundred thousand soaring above you still.

How do you compete with those above you? Well, there are still a few more presentation things you can do. A lot of you aren't gonna like this, but one of the best things you can do is get yourself a physical book. I know that it's the ebook revolution that has gotten everyone into this game, but the bottom line is that most people are (as of now) still more comfortable with physical books than ebooks. If you stop yourself at ebooks, you're limiting your sales unnecessarily.

At the very least, you can use a physical edition to drive more sales of your ebooks, and vice versa. People will be more comfortable with your product if it has both paperback (or hardcover) and ebook editions. You look more legitimate. This is especially good now that spammers are hacking the .99c ebook system and making everyone legitimately offering their work at that price look like hucksters in shabby overcoats trying to entice readers down dark alleys. Thanks a lot spammers. Is there anything that you don't completely ruin?

Also, Amazon likes you more too. As a physical book seller you can get an Amazon advantage account that allows you to spruce up your product pages a bit more, so you can specify an age range for your work and whatnot. All of these things are superficial and skin deep and appearance driven, and they can make or break you.

Next up, getting your ebook and your paperback done right, for cheap (sort of).

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The trenches.

In the past post I mentioned the four basic tiers that I think make up publishing. I should have added a caveat: Those are the four things you need to be a publisher. But there is a difference between a publisher and a good publisher. A good publisher needs one more thing: A manic drive to put out the absolute best product that they can.

Nowhere does it become more apparent whether or not you have this last bit than in the formatting and packaging of your product. This is the drudgery. This is where most people quit. This is the literary equivalent of the trenches of war, and you, fair publisher, are the one catching grenades. It's so big that I'll have to tackle it over a couple of posts.

Let's start with editing. Every time you edit a manuscript it gets better. Most people realize this as a sage bit of wisdom, but in reality it is a terrible curse. Think about it: the book you are going to publish could be better. It could always be better. For perfectionists (and a good publisher has at least a bit of perfectionist in them) this is terrible. You might as well give us a gun right now, to end it all. We have to fight the battle of knowing when to stop revising, because at some point you just hit an infinite loop and end up a crazy person editing the same manuscript for ten years, surrounded by twenty or so cats in a tiny apartment, eating Ramen noodles for every meal.

But in the self-pub world, knowing when to stop editing is not nearly as big of a problem as it should be. For most people it's getting them to start editing. I'm just going to throw this out there: You must have a professional, impartial second party edit your manuscript. Self-editing isn't going to cut it. You'd be amazed at how many times, in my own work, I miss the most ridiculous things. Things like capitalization and the correct use of their, there, or they're. These aren't tough things; this is JV squad stuff that I totally blow by multiple times. And I was a copy-editor. There is an inverse equation well known amongst copy-editors that says the more times you edit a thing, the blinder you become to glaring mistakes. It's called the "you're fired" equation and we try to avoid it at all costs by recruiting a fresh set of eyes.

I am a big fan of professional freelance editing services. There are a few out there that are really good. Places like that employ only doctors of English or MFAs in writing who do this stuff for a living. I will warn you, though, that it ain't cheap. A professional edit of a full length manuscript can run in the thousands of dollars, and I know the vast majority of indie-publishers and writers can't afford that.

At the very least you should have someone you don't know edit your work before you self-pub or submit to a publisher. I may be in the minority here, but I am of the opinion that it's extremely unlikely, and maybe even impossible, to get an honest review from a friend. This is because friends like you. They've probably seen how long you've worked on your manuscript and no matter how many times you tell them to give it to you straight, some part of them will hold back. Unless your friends are jerks. In which case you’re in luck on the editing front, but may have other problems.

The bottom line is if your friends are normal, nice people, you're either going to have to pay a pro or find someone who hates you to edit your work, otherwise it won't reach its full potential. This goes for both line editing and content editing, although with content editing you need to be your toughest critic, because ultimately you have the final say.

Everybody has their own tips and tricks when it comes to editing for content, in which the editor looks for flow and checks the plot line and character development. I've only ever found one tip that consistently works for me: In every paragraph you write you should be asking yourself: "How does this move the story forward?"

If the answer is "It doesn't" then axe it.

I can't tell you how many thousands of words I've cut because I adhered to this rule, and in every case it worked out for the better. Paragraphs that don't move the story forward in some way, either through relevant character development, or by progressing action towards a major plot point, are nothing but fat. I say relevant character development because this is where I've found most people trip up. If you're writing a crime caper, we probably do need to know the root of your character's fear of guns. We most likely don't need to know how your character came to name their cat Bumbleshanks. Unless Bumbleshanks is the killer. But I digress.

One final thought: Hemingway once wrote, “Write drunk; edit sober.” But that’s because Hemingway didn’t have Microsoft Word. I’m no expert on Hemingway, but knowing what I know of him, if he had the capability to save an early version of his work on a hard drive, he’d have said, “Write drunk; edit drunk.”

One of the best editing sessions I ever had, I sat down with a bottle of bourbon and my delete key. When I woke up in the morning I’d ripped 250 pages from an extremely overweight novel. It was a great move.

I’m just sayin’.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Four things

So what do you need to become a publisher? Keep in mind that, as of this writing, my company has not yet made me filthy rich, and I'm not out buying exotic pet tigers and Ferraris and training my tigers to drive my Ferraris. So I could be wrong about all this. But I have put a lot of thought and work into it and I think I've got it boiled down to the basics.

You need a thing to publish.
You need a means of preparing that thing for publishing.
You need a forum in which to put that thing on offer.
You need a means of letting people know about that thing.

In other words you need to satisfy the following conditions:


There are a lot of other ins and outs and other marginalia but that is basically it. And it all starts at the product. I believe it is Chris Farley in Tommy Boy, one of the great movies of our time, that says, "Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed... I will. I got spare time." Which is to say, a lot of people can offer you a publishing platform with all the bells and whistles, but it's ultimately what's inside that counts.

So you start by securing a good story. In my case, a dear friend of mine had what I thought was a great idea for a coming-of-age fairy tale series. The story was great, had a positive message and a lot of action, a dose of magic and characters that I thought would appeal to older women as well as young girls. Women of all ages read a good deal more than men, which I still find surprising as a man who reads a lot. Maybe most dudes are too busy at car shows and all-you-can-eat wing nights. I dunno. Anyway, when trying to sell books, or really most anything in life, it's best to appeal to the ladies.

I know it's tempting just to publish things you are personally in to, like erotic elf westerns or books about sexy turtle people, and I'm not trying to say that there aren't people out there that might be into that stuff, but it's a tough sell to the majority of people out there not romantically interested in turtles. On the other hand, it's also tough to sell the millionth YA vampire love story; you have to fight to get noticed because it's been done every which way before. The point is, there is a medium that you need to find, a fresh story that might appeal to a bunch of people other than you and your wierdo friends. 

So you've passed on the manuscript about a Conan the Barbarian type that lives in kickassville and drives around a souped up Camaro, knocking heads and seducing strippers. Good. That's a good first step. What's more, you've found a great story that you think has a lot of potential. Now what?

Well, now you get it formatted. And let me tell you, friend: You're in for a world of pain.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The old way and the new way

I have a business plan. It's a nice and neat dissertation on the past, present, and future of the publishing industry. I wrote it three years ago, before I started all of this. It has a Gap Analysis, and a Fulfillment Analysis, and a Stakeholder Analysis, and...what's that? You don't care? Good. You shouldn't. It wasn't for you anyway, it was for me. Business ventures are strange beasts; they take a ton of work and planning, but the way you can tell if they're on the right track or not is if they don't look planned or overworked.

When I left you last I was saying how I thought I could smack it out of the park to begin with. Overconfidence is a hallmark of MBAs, and it's annoying, but it's also necessary. One of the things I did do right all those years ago was just to jump in the pool and start swimming.  I didn't drown (or at least haven't yet) for a few reasons: The first is an unwavering belief that just doing it is vastly preferable to milling about the shore, fretting and frittering, dipping a toe in every now and then but scampering away; few things are as annoying to me as over-preparedness. 

The second reason I'm still standing is because of the nature of the publishing industry itself. Crazy, insane things are happening in publishing. Ground breaking things. The renaissance that is happening now in publishing has been compared to the creation of the printing press, accurately. 

Here's how publishing used to go:

1.) You write a book. This may take many months, or many years. You pour your soul into that book, and your time, and (in some cases) your money. You edit that book and belabor every comma and the nature of every metaphor. You stay up late wondering if your characters have the right names. You have nightmares about dialogue tags and proper subject/verb agreements. In short, you're a mess, but in the end you have a finished manuscript that you are secretly enormously proud of.

2.) You submit that book to agents that you've researched.

3.) You never hear back from any of those agents.

4.) You return to your job at Dunkin' Donuts.

Yeah, yeah, I know it turns out differently for one in a million people. Excuse me if I don't break out the champagne. Now, here is what has happened in the past couple of years in publishing.

1.) You write a book, this may take months or even years or blah blah blah...that you are enormously proud of.

2.) You may decide to query agents, but you realize that you no longer have to because...

3.) You can also decide to self publish and get distributed through all of the same outlets as a traditionally published author, save perhaps the brick and mortar stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. You know the one's I'm talking about? No? Well, they used to be everywhere but they're all closing.

What has happened here is that whereas once the barriers to publishing were agents and publishing houses, now they are you. That's right. Just you. The only thing keeping your work from the world is yourself.

Fortunately, it's as easy as it looks, at least for ebooks. If you have a word document of your manuscript you can convert it in five minutes and have it for sale online through Barnes and Noble and Amazon in 24 hours.

Unfortunately, it's as easy as it looks, at least for ebooks. If you have a garbled mess of a  piece-of-junk manuscript that's essentially one long run on sentence about a man/unicorn love story, you can convert it in five minutes and have it for sale online through Barnes and Noble and Amazon in 24 hours.

And there we have the crux of the debate about the legitimacy of self-publishing. But that debate doesn't really matter, because like it or not, here it comes. To the tune of hundreds of thousands of books a month.

There are those of the opinion that all the new way serves to do is open the sewers and flood the market with crap. These people have a strange, aristocratic loyalty to the old way, and argue that agents were doing just fine picking out the winners and pitching them to the houses. I don't buy it. I say if the agents were finding one diamond amongst ten thousand pieces of coal, if you flood the general market with tons of coal, the consumer will find thousands of diamonds themselves.

So how do you distinguish yourself? How do you turn your piece of coal into a diamond and get it in front of everyone?  That's what I hope this blog helps to illuminate. My company will use our resources to publish some of the great stuff overlooked every year by the major houses, we'll take on projects that we feel create real, lasting experiences for readers and we'll package them and market them and we'll tell you how we do it: What pitfalls to avoid, what worked for us, and what didn't.  We'll tell you this in the hopes that you buy our books, sure, but also so that you can, should you want to, better publish yourself.

Don't you see? We're a publishing company that is trying to tell you that you don't need a publishing company anymore.

This might sound crazy, but it's the way it is. The boat has sailed. There ain't no train comin' back. This changing role is a reality that the publishing industry is going to have to come to terms with, or risk becoming slowly irrelevant, like that that huge book store in the strip mall down your street. The one that they turned into a Best Buy, and then turned into a foreign supermarket, and then boarded up altogether.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A long path

I wanted to title this first post "In the beginning" but withheld for several reasons. First, I wonder how many people title their first post "In the beginning". I bet it's a lot. That's what getting into the publishing industry has done to me; it's made me think about how many people have gone before me, and how many things they've tried, and how many times they've failed. And how a few of them have succeeded. But I bet those that have succeeded didn't do it by doing what everyone else did.

The second reason is that this isn't the beginning. It's the beginning of the blog, sure, but it's actually about year two on the whole Publishing deal. I know, I know. But better late than never. I'll catch you up.

Part of the reason it's taken me so long to start this thing is the fact that I'm conflicted. Not about blogging, which I've done before and which I find hilariously therapeutic, but about telling random strangers all about my struggles to get this company off the ground. One of the first things I was told about publishing was to hold true to the old adage fake it 'till you make it. This essentially means act like you know exactly what you're doing and people will believe you actually do, and will give their patronage accordingly. People like to buy from established, wizened professionals, and the theory is that if you pretend like you're one of those they'll buy from you too.

A blog throws that whole thing right out the window. Free flowing exposition tends to unearth the truth in things. So as a businessman you can either treat your blog like a propaganda machine, in which case nobody will read it, or you can treat it like a blog and hope something good comes of it. I'll be taking the latter approach.

First, a bit of background. Don't misunderstand me. I'm not some emo teenager fresh off his tenth piercing trying to start a fly-by-night, lemonade stand of a company to attention-whore. I meant it when I said I started this two years ago. And not in an "I had a vision while drunk" kind of way, either. I registered my LLC in 2009 with a real honest to god bank, and have been doing prep work and gathering seed money for a general business launch for two years now.

This all stems, as does most everything in this industry, from a love of books. I was an English major in my undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis and had a whole mess of fabulous professors and workshops out there that planted the seed. I remember thinking how cool it would be to start a publishing company even way back then, but I was naive in the way all college grads are and instead went abroad hoping to fall ass backwards into my fortune somehow, someway. When I eventually came back to earth, I realized I needed a job. After working a few jobs here and there I thought to myself, "Self, you're a bright enough guy. Why work for people when you could have your own business?" Great idea, right? Except that I was an English major, remember, and while I loved my degree and wouldn't have gone any other way, I knew about as much of business as I did of engineering, which is to say, that they were both subjects that one could learn, if they were so inclined.

If there is one thing recent grads are really good at, it's going back to school. So that's what I did. Although this time, I had a plan. I would get an MBA and learn about this crazy "business" stuff: numbers and money and taxes and power lunches and all that nonsense, in the hopes that I would one day start my own publishing company. There we have it, back full circle.

Three long years later I had my MBA. Fresh off the presses at the University of Denver. Sure, I was saddled with a Santa's Sack full of student loan debt, but I was also equipped, believe it or not, with a pretty good picture of what a business should look like and how to get there. I thought I could jump right into it and knock it out of the park.

That was a year and a half ago now. Turns out I still had a few things to learn.