Marchbooks' Blog

February 2, 2010

Google Book Settlement

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 7:09 pm
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I have been trying to track this issue in several publishing forums that I follow. There has been some heated discussion and passions are running high on both sides of the fence. I came late to the party, perhaps I was two busy publishing our first two books to see what was going on.

I don’t pretend to be completely educated on the matter. Perhaps I am missing some essential facts, but, for the life of me, I don’t see what there is to debate. Apparently there is a great deal of legalese and subterfuge involved in this settlement, but as in most such cases, it can be boiled down to one basic principle. In this case, that principle is whether or not Google has the right to infringe on the rights of numerous copyright holders; authors, publishers and their family members by trying to bind them to what is essentially a publishing contract that they did not agree to and for which they would get little if any compensation for.

As I understand it, Google has taken it upon itself, over the last several months, through their library affiliates, to scan countless books into their system with little or no regard for copyright. Their claim, again – as I understand it, is that their interest is in preserving older titles and protecting them from disappearing from the grid.

I am all for protecting the great legacy of the written word, however, it seems that Google’s motives might not be so altruistic. First, and probably most importantly, it seems that they made only a token effort to confirm that copyright had actually expired on these texts. Furthermore, it seems that, in their fervor, they blatantly stepped on the toes of numerous existing copyright holders. So now, there is this settlement in the offing which basically groups all authors and copyright holders together (regardless of the status of their copyright). Rather than allowing authors to opt-in to this book scanning program, it places the onus on the author/publisher to opt-out of it, promising little or no compensation for staying in and not even guaranteeing that an author’s books will not be scanned if they opt-out. Huh???????? It begs the question – why strongarm people into this agreement? If this settlement option was such an attractive deal, wouldn’t authors and publishers flock to get on board, without the need for coercion or underhanded tactics?

Confused – yes, incredulous – yes, pissed off – yes, yes, yes. I think the idea of a world library database of out-of-print, orphaned (expired copyright) books is a wonderful idea. I DO NOT THINK THAT PROVIDES AN EXCUSE TO INFRINGE ON THE COPYRIGHT OF COUNTLESS HARDWORKING AUTHORS!!!! These are two completely separate issues. Preserving a heritage of printed material which is no longer covered by copyright law is a terrific goal. Usurping the rights of legitimate copyright holders is unconscionable.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I know from first hand experience how much time and effort goes into writing, editing, formatting, publishing and marketing a book. Because of archaic discounts and return policies, it is hard enough to break even in this business. Now, we are supposed to accept that a company like Google can come in and scan the fruits of our labor (based on their unilateral decision and with no compensation) to use it as they like?

It’s not okay for someone to steal a book out of my hands, it is not okay for someone to print my books and sell them without my knowledge or consent and it is not okay for someone to copy my book and use it for their own benefit. That is the essence of copyright law. So, again I say, what is the debate over? Unless I am missing an important part of this equation, Google is attempting to do a major end run around well established copyright law.

If any of you feel that I am missing some facts and would like to enlighten me, I welcome it. If you are an author/publisher who also feels that your rights may be at risk, let me hear that as well. I welcome any and all feedback on this issue.


January 13, 2010

Pricing eBooks

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 11:37 pm
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Recently, the question of eBook pricing came up in a forum that I follow. It was suggested that the publisher should set one price for all ebook formats. I disagree. This is my response.

I have not done it yet, but my understanding is that a Kindle conversion entails more than just throwing my PDF up on Amazon. Such a file, although it could be read on a Kindle would not allow text flow or change of font sizes, etc.

For me, it is very simple – a new file requires a conversion and that requires effort – some conversions require more effort, some require less. I am currently converting my novels to flipbooks. They are not suited to the ereaders. There is no text flow as with the ereaders. Surely I could, and some publishers do, just import their text and throw their books out there. I’m not willing to do that. Whatever format I choose for my books, I want the end products to look as clean and aesthetically pleasing as I can make them. That takes time and effort.

If I chose to make my PDF book files available on Smarshwords, I would not charge the same as I would for a flipbook that required hours of formatting and design, nor would I charge the same as for a proper Kindle or Nook version that I paid a service to convert for me.

Likewise, I think that the venue’s percentage should be a consideration. It is one of the many things about the publishing industry that I think is outdated. Why should the intellectual property holder be the last one to have a say about the end cost to the consumer? Big companies like Amazon and Wal Mart want to have it all. They want to tell you what % they will take up front (LSI exceptions noted), they want to decide how much of that percentage they pass on to the consumer – something that can change on a monthly basis, and they want to dictate what you sell to other vendors for.

The thingamajig maker who needs widgets does not go to the widget maker and tell them what they will pay for their widgets, nor do they dictate who and what price that company can sell widgets to other companies for. As authors, we are the supplier (the widget makers). As publishers, we are the manufacturers (the thingamajig makers), so why are we at the sales venue’s mercy? I am just saying that the author/publisher should not be at the bottom of the food chain.

In the end, it becomes a question of ‘buyer beware’. At any one time, you will find most books available for a wide range of prices on the internet – most often, none of that is the function of what price the author/publisher has set for their book.

I’ll end this little tirade with a personal example of how business is being done these days. I recently bought carpeting for one of my properties. I requested quotes from two nationally recognized chains. Both reps came out to the condo, took their measurements and gave me their quote. Quality of the carpet was comparable for both companies. The first company quoted me a price of almost $7500 – a price that I knew was grossly inflated, but I did not know how much as it had been over 10 years since I had carpeted this property. A week later, a member of their capture team, supposedly a supervisor, called and we talked at length. At the end of the call, this man offered to do the job for $2600. I declined. (I, personally, will not deal with a company that does business this way). The second company’s rep came out and went through the same machinations before tending his quote of $2945. We talked for a while about installation, padding, furniture moving, etc and ultimately settled on a price of $2600 for the job.

The first company is a thriving, although unethical, business so there is no question in my mind that there are customers falling prey to their blatantly userous tactics. The seller does not always do their due diligence, if they don’t they have no one to blame…Had I ignorantly accepted the $7500 quote I would be outraged, but I would have no recourse and no one to blame but myself.

I am not offering this to suggest that two wrongs make a right. What I am saying is that I am not going to undercut my contributions, significant as they are, to my end product when there is so much blantant gluttony both in and out of the industry. I believe that I can comfortably defend any price discrepancy that I might choose to impose.

I sincerely hope that some day we can see all authors elevated above their current position at the bottom of the food chain. Then, perhaps, more than just the top 5% could actually make a living in this business.

Let me know what you think.


December 22, 2009

I Have Been Remiss

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 5:08 pm
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Sorry for the long absence. Things have been absolutely INSANE here and the month has flown by on the wings of a hummingbird. Three days from Christmas and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that it is no longer September. Have you seen that commercial, you know the one, the BING commercial that shows different people in the grip of information overload? Well, that is my life these days.

With a to-do list that seems to grow exponentially every time I cross something off of it, the holidays bearing down on me like an uncaged panther and another ‘real-world’ job that is making greater demands on me by the day (the bills have to be paid until this publishing gig takes off, after all), I find myself frantically wondering if I have made a mistake. Something (or a couple of somethings) had to give. One of them was the blog – I hope you understand.

It seems that I am losing the ability to prioritize. There are so many things vying for my attention these days. There is networking to be done; writers’ groups, publisher’s groups and the occasional talk to groups of those aspiring to be one or the other. The next two titles on the March Books list are banging louder and louder for attention – ‘edit us’, ‘format us’, ‘proofread us’, ‘get us some covers’ and ‘GET US PUBLISHED’. Meanwhile, I work on one of the half-dozen eFormats for our first two releases. Gone are the days when we could just hand over the PDF file and be done with it. Now Kindle needs a version, the Nook needs a separate version and I (insane as I am) stay married to the idea of offering a flipbook version from our website. But, this is all the fun stuff.

Then, there is the marketing. God save me from the marketing. But, if he did, what would be the point of publishing? If no one knows about the books, why even bother? And so, I continue to look for new ways to market our books to bookstores and libraries, to wrap my head around SEO and the power of the internet (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Blog Spot, Book Blogger, WritersCafe, and about two dozen others – heck, who am I kidding, I can’t even remember all of the writing, reading and blogging sites that I have joined) and keep putting our name out there until the magic number has been reached when our audience will take the step of buying our books. Then, of course, there is the grass-roots movement – actually getting into local businesses and hawking the books, talking to local groups and scheduling book signings – Yikes! Let us not forget the reams of ongoing research on how to design, how to format, how to edit, how to market, publicize and sell your book. The intricacies of dealing with Amazon alone would keep me busy for a month.

Is it any wonder that I have found myself paralyzed by indecision? What to do next? I don’t know the answer to that question. For now, it is enough to be blogging. Then the holidays and the hope that 2010 will bring a new calm and sanity to an otherwise insane endeavor.

Wish me luck,

The Little Insanity
Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow

November 30, 2009

Putting A Price On Your Masterpiece

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 5:19 pm
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I have participated in many discussions about how to set pricing for your book. There is much talk about ‘crunching the numbers’. Certainly that is an important part of setting a price for a new title. Any publisher (unless they are publishing out of purely philanthropic motives) must look at the cost of the book, discounts being offered and expenditures to date, to know what they should charge for their book. At the end of the day, the numbers must work so that there is adequate compensation for your efforts. If not, you have basically embarked on a fool’s errand. I don’t know of many people who can afford to be upside down on their figures, to the point where they are losing money on each sale. However, if you don’t look at the numbers, that is exactly what might happen.

If that were the only factor, pricing calculations would be easy enough. Unfortunately, that is only part of the equation. Once we have an idea what we WANT to get for our book, we need to look at what the market will bear. This is not an easy task. With prices running the gamut from Wal-Mart discounts to small indie stores that can only survive by charging full retail, it is not always easy to get a grip on the quickly changing market.

But, that isn’t even the end of it. Add the unpredictable nature of discounting (will Amazon discount my book or not?), a buyer’s perceived value of what you are offering and economic fluctuations, you have got yourself a herculean task. After all, short of a crystal ball, some of these variables are beyond our grasp. For instance, is the current economic situation helping or hurting the book trade? Will a person think twice, or more, before laying down a twenty dollar bill for a book or will they consider it a sound alternative to a much pricier video game or iPod? How much of a price incentive does a publisher have to offer to get a consumer to take a chance on an unknown author? Not to mention the obvious difficulty a small publisher will encounter while promoting a new author. It is not easy to be price competitive with big names which warrant huge print runs by large publishing houses.

Discounts pose another inscrutable mystery. With similar discounts, we see these differences in pricing between Amazon and Barnes and Noble on our first two titles; The Little Insanity – B & N  —  The Little Insanity – Amazon  and Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow – B & N  —  Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow – Amazon  Go figure. As you can see, Barnes and Noble offered significant discounts where Amazon offers none. There is no way of predicting how a vendor will, or if they will apply discounts to your title.

Is it an impossible task? Difficult, but not impossible. As with most things, you have to do your homework. Crunch your numbers, check your competition and get as much feedback as you can from your intended readership. If you can overcome a reader’s reluctance to open their wallet for a new author, I personally do not believe that a dollar or two difference will make or break the deal.

October 30, 2009

Do You Need A Full Service Publisher Or A Printer?

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 2:48 pm
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Many writers are confused by the plethora of choices available to them when it comes to publishing today. Having gone through the decision-making process not so very long ago, I know it is not an easy one. Like most major decisions, this one is far from cut and dried.

To begin with, it is essential to know what you want out of publication and what your goals are. Do you want to publish the next great American classic, a N.Y. Times Bestseller or do you just want to have your name in print for your family and friends to see? Once you have honed in on your objective, you can proceed to the next step and that is learning the basics of the industry.

Novices continue to refer to POD as a package deal. POD is a technology, nothing more, nothing less. There are companies that utilize this printing technology, combining it with a totally turn-key product (or package deal) which can provide everything from editing, formatting and marketing to book covers and other design features. Then there are companies like Lightningsource and Createspace who are essentially just printers that offer POD technology. Although CS is now beginning to offer an expanded service, when I signed on with them both companies were only interested in receiving print-ready files. You would submit your completed files, check the proof and you were off to the races.

Sounds great, but this avenue is not for the faint of heart. Most people, especially those who only have one title to publish, are not interested in going through the learning curve that is required for the proper publication of a book. Believe me, it is much more complex than just uploading your Word file, at least if you intend to do it properly, so that your title can be competitive with traditional trade paperbacks.

Self publishers have a choice; they can either front load their cost by putting the time and labor into designing and editing their books themselves or they can pay someone to do it for them. Keep in mind that many of these service companies will get their money in more than one way. Many of these custom publishing companies, like Outskirts Press – which is the company that I considered before signing on with CS and LS, will collect money up front (usually in the form of a flat fee for different book design and marketing packages). Then, they will also collect money by inflating the cost of the book (thus reducing the author’s share). Outskirts Press charges almost twice as much, for author copies, as CS or LS. This can add up quickly, especially if you are planning on mailing out large numbers of review copies as part of your marketing plan.

Again, if you are only planning to publish one title, it may not be worth it to go to the effort of learning all of the intricacies of publication or to invest in a block of ISBN numbers. If your intent is to continue to write and publish, it WILL be worth your effort to go through the learning curve because it will mean significant savings for you in the long run.

Just keep in mind that if you do decide to wear the hats of publisher, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, book designer and marketer, don’t plan on being able to get back to the business of writing any time soon. Publication efforts can absorb most, if not all, of you time and can suck the life out of the creative process.

Consider yourself warned, weigh all the factors and then make a decision. Exercise due diligence before you open your check book, you’ll be glad you did. I think that there are many people who signed on with Publish America who wish that they had taken more time to research the facts before making a commitment. Don’t be one of those people.

Good luck,

October 26, 2009

An Insane Ban On Words

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:01 pm
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I have always had a love affair with words. Even before I began writing with a purpose, I was enmored with the use of words, both written and spoken, to convey my thoughts. Conversation can be so colorful with just an occasional dash from a broadened vocabulary. The right word can make you see the vibrant color in a fall leaf, smell the salt in an ocean breeze or taste the first snow flake of the season on your tongue. Even the clunkier, less elegant inhabitants of the dictionary serve a purpose. That is why it so infuriates me to see a campaign, to ban words, such as the one shown below.

To me, this is the equivalent of banning building blocks from toy stores. True, words hurt and there are certain words; racial slurs, swears, etc. that do not add much to any dialogue but, in the right circumstance or setting, even they can serve a purpose. The ban in question, however, goes beyond the pale. Teenager, homeless and American are just a few of the words that are targeted to be banned.

You might say to yourself, who cares? After all, they can’t exactly arrest you for calling your son a teenager. But, what they are talking about here is excluding these words from school text books. I have to wonder if this energy couldn’t be rechanneled to a more worthwhile cause. Our school children are having to deal with drugs, sex and violence in their schools. Will the banning of these select words serve to improve their school experience – I doubt it. In almost all cases, they are only replacing one, succinct, word with a cumbersome three word phrase. Yes, that would be our definition of progress.

October 12, 2009

Even The Prettiest Font Won’t Rescue Weak Prose

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:48 pm
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Just a short post today. I received a children’s story from a member in a writing group I attend. A aggressively bold 16 point font screamed across an 18 page document. I had to laugh, because I can well remember making the same mistake when I started writing. I would painstakingly search through dozens, nay hundreds, of fonts looking for just the right one to display my lovely words.

Of course, I can see, did see the attraction. There are 50 million, fun and exciting, fonts out there (that’s not an exact count of course – I’m just saying that there are a lot). That does not mean we should use them. I don’t remember if it was a writing teacher, an agent or an editor who first broke the news to me, but the plain and simple fact is that you should keep it plain and simple. Any serious writer should stick to a handful of standard fonts.

It was not until I opened this story on my computer that I fully realized the rationale behind this. When I first opened this document, I have to be honest, I had no desire to read it. I felt as though I was being assaulted by this hard-hitting type. It took over 15 minutes of formatting and removing hard returns for me to reduce this 18 page document to six pages.

As a purely environmental point of fact, using three times the necessary paper to print your story is not a good idea. Sure, if you only intend that your work be read online, it doesn’t matter. In this instance, the writer wants feedback. The best way to provide feedback (at least for me) is to work from a hard copy, with a red pen. Many agents and editors still prefer to receive hard copies of submissions. Even on a computer, someone with anything less than a 20 inch monitor would spend all of their time scrolling back and forth because of the size of the font. If you want to dress up a one page poem with a font that catches the mood of your poem, have at it, but believe me, no one wants to read through your 5000 word story in a large, ornate font.

Looking at these unconventional fonts for long periods of time can cause eye strain. Imagine being an agent or editor; their desk is covered with manuscripts and they are all printed in a different font. How old would that get? I know, you want your manuscript to stand out – find another way.

Lastly, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, a fancy font will not compensate for bad prose and it will only distract from good writing. Do yourself a favor, stick to Times Roman, Garamond, Palantino, it doesn’t matter which but stick with a conventional font and let your stories stand on their own merits.

BothCovers copysmaller










October 3, 2009

If You’re Not Willing To Edit, You’re Not Ready To Publish?

I have been participating in an interesting discussion about self publishing

To self publish, or not to self publish, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

It is a big question, not to be taken lightly. For some, this may be the biggest endeavor of your life. Fortunately for us, even if the big publishing houses have closed the door on you, fate has opened a window. That window is POD. Self Publishing is now available to everyone, but that does not mean that it should be availed of by everyone. If your intent is to simply dust off your old manuscript, run your spell check program (I’m sorry to say that some people even omit this step), generate a Word document and slap a generic cover on it before sending it the printer, do the readers of the world a favor and put it back in  your sock drawer.

That might sound a bit harsh, but I think the world needs a little protection from substandard prose. Ever since the Gutenberg press, mass marketing of books has been recognized as an excellent way to exchange ideas and share stories. Everyone has something to say, but not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort that is necessary to make their words palatable to the public.

As I am sure I have mentioned, there are a multitude of steps involved in publishing a manuscript, not the least of which is the editing process. Unfortunately, that is often the step that new authors seem to omit, or skrimp on. Believe me, this is not the time to be miserly, with your time or money, if your intent is to have your publication compete with those put out by the big boys.

There are traditions which have been passed down in publishing that no longer have the relevance they once had (large print runs, blanket return policies and inequitable royalty structures). Editorial practices do not fall in this list.

Every publisher should have the benefit of a twelve person editorial staff. Few of us do, but that does not mean you should throw up your hands and refuse to do the step at all. Your attempts may not be perfect. Things may still slip through the cracks, but believe me, your effort will be recognized and appreciated.


September 23, 2009

All is Good in the Land of Words

If you have been following, you have probably noticed the absence of any new gripes about the publishing industry. I suppose that is because we are basking in the afterglow of the publication of our first two novels.

The Little Insanity
and Nightsweats in Bigelow Hollow

Sure, sales could be brisker and there is certainly no abatement of entries on the publication ‘to do’ list. However, the first hurdle has been met and conquered. The books are beautiful (alright, I’m biased). They are a pleasure to look at and feel good in your hand. So far, we have only discovered one small blip, in The Little Insanity, that was missed by editing. I won’t tell you where, you can find it yourself – I challenge you, lol.

We have gotten some good reviews on Amazon and M.J. had her first book signing a week and a half ago. It went very well. Although she did not sell out, she made a respectable showing for a first time author and we were able to donate a healthy percentage back to the charity that hosted the event. It was a wonderful win-win for everyone involved.

Work still continues on the website. Our shopping cart is still having issues. There are still numerous review copies to be sent out and marketing to bookstores and libraries continues unabated. Promotional materials must be designed and updated. We continue to look for new opportunities for signings and we are plunging, with both feet, into the editing of our next two titles – both by M.J. Claire, ‘The Invisibles and Bigelow Hollow Revisited (if you didn’t guess, this is the second in the Bigelow Hollow series). And, of course, we occasionally find time to blog.

So, yes, we are not bored, but we are infinitely happy. Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life. I wish the same for all of you. Until next time.

BothCovers copysmaller

September 1, 2009

Revolutionizing the Publishing Model

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 3:37 pm
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Viva la Revolucion. If you have been reading my blog, you know that I believe the publishing industry has some catching up to do. It seems as though they have been napping for the past hundred years or so. The current publishing model. The result is a very wasteful industry that offers less and less for their non A-list authors. Change has to come, even if it comes kicking and screaming. Has it arrived? Are publishers finally starting to see the light. This wonderful article by Bob Miller gives me hope that the revolution is upon us.

What a wonderful concept: a fifty-fifty split. The author brings his creative work to the table and the publisher brings his bank book, they then split the profits. Now, each party is completely vested in the publication, marketing and promotion of this book. I can hear the nay sayers screaming and beating their breasts from here. ‘It’s not fair. Publishing is expensive. We’d be losing money hand over fist. It’s just not fair!’

What is not fair is asking an author to hand over the rights to the product of their labor for a meager 5-10% royalty.  Even without layering promotion/marketing money and time by the author, this does not seem equitable. The author is at the bottom of the totem pole as the bookseller takes their 35% and the publisher distributor takes the lion’s share after printing costs, leaving precious little for the author. That author has become a second class citizen in the sale of his own book, despite the fact that he is essentially creating jobs for everyone in the food chain. So why are there only scraps left for him?

This model presented by Harper Studio is overdo but very welcome. Congratulations on your creativity, responsiveness and bravery in beginning changes in an industry that is entrenched in the past – kudos to you. I hope that more publishers will follow your lead.

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