Marchbooks' Blog

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 http://pattyjansen.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/should-i-self-publish/

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.

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August 24, 2009

The Downside to POD

I always enjoy being devil’s advocate, even when the devil is me. Therefore, this entry is devoted to a counter argument to a previous post –  ‘POD – The Greener Side of Publishing’.

Many authors burn with the desire to see their words in print. Surprisingly though, not enough of those authors are willing to polish those words to a perfect sheen before sending them out into the world.

Editing is a lot of work. It is tedious, boring and worst of all, it keeps you from doing what you were born to do — write. You have already written the story. Now it’s time to move on to your next literary masterpiece, n’est pas? Proofreading is even worse. If an author does make an effort, beyond the cursory running of spell-check in their word processor, they will soon find their brain atrophying from the proofreading process. Their eyes will eventually begin to glaze over, sabotaging the author’s efforts by skimming over their undeniably perfect prose.

News flash – editing and proofreading are not optional if you desire to put your writing out there for public consumption. Unfortunately, authors do it every day. The evidence is everywhere. Go to any community writing site. Writing.com and WritersCafe are my favorites. These communities are wonderful and an absolute must for any author who is trying to guage how the public will receive their writing, but throughout these sites, you will find an abundance of poorly written prose.

Admittedly, posting a short piece online is quite different from arduously preparing a book for print, especially when one purpose of that post is to garner constructive criticism of the piece. And, it is not my intent to be cruel, but let’s call a spade a spade. It is no secret when a writer is merely posting their words as quickly as they fall off of their pen. This is hugely inconsiderate to the potential reader. Sadly, this phenomenon, all too often, carries over into a writer’s self-publishing efforts. And, how unfair is that to the unwitting buyer of the product of this slovenly effort? Excuse me for saying so, but if I have laid out my hard-earned money to buy a book, which I do often and with enthusiasm, the very least I can expect is that I not have to stumble through a minefield of typographical and grammatical errors. I have no right to expect that this author be the next Hemingway, but I can expect that they have made every reasonable effort to produce a text free of obvious spelling and grammatical errors.

There seems to be an all too pervasive misconception, among new authors, that publishing is easy. Second news flash – not if you do it right. There is a reason why publishing houses are uber selective about which submissions they will accept. Publishing and promoting a book is a long, arduous and expensive undertaking (if it wasn’t there would be no reason not to publish everything that came across their desk). Publishing a book the right way is more than simply uploading a raw text file and encasing it in a generic cover. And, when that book does finally roll off of the presses, the lion’s share of the work is just beginning.

And there, my friends, is what I consider to be the downside of POD. This new technology has made it all too easy for anyone, with only a small initial investment and minimal effort, to publish their writing – thereby flooding the market with numerous substandard books. The result is a stigma that a diligent self-publisher must now overcome.

As with most new technology, with the good comes the bad. This is the downside of a wonderful, new, groundbreaking technology. It is surmountable, it just makes the job of the serious small publisher that much more difficult.

July 20, 2009

POD – The Greener Side of Publishing

In the constant pursuit of information on all things publishing, I recently finished Peter Bowerman’s, ‘The Well-Fed Self – Publisher’. It is a handy tool that does a good job of taking the reader through the process of self-publishing, in an easy, step-by-step progression. I have no mind to remake the wheel here. Suffice it to say that, if you are thinking of self-publishing, this would be a useful addition to your library.

This blog is devoted to the one area in the book that I took exception to – the consummate disparagement of POD as an option for the self-publisher. Bowerman devotes a full chapter to this issue ‘Print-On-Demand (POD): Dream or Disappointment’. Throughout, he paints POD with a pretty dark brush.

I’ll begin by acknowledging the fact that one reason for this jaundiced viewpoint may be the fact that the information is dated, the book being copyrighted in 2007. I will piggyback on this statement by pointing to this as clear evidence of how fast this technology is moving along. Perhaps, in 2007, the author’s comments rang true, but in only two years, the picture has changed dramatically.

First of all, Bowerman seems to contradict his own text when he, time after time, refers to POD as only a technology (which it is). But, in castigating it, he points to turn-key publishers like iUniverse and Author House (apparently Lulu was just coming on the scene at that time).

This blog is not meant to criticize Bowerman for being short-sighted and failing to see into the future, but to clarify a misconception that a novice might draw from this text.

First of all, POD is a technology. It is a technology which, as time goes by, is becoming more widely available and, if we are smart, will someday be credited with changing the face of publishing.

The traditional publishing model, which has changed little in several hundred years, is founded on speculation – write a book, print it in huge quantities (to reduce the per unit cost) and buckshot it to as many outlets as possible to see if it will sell. To accomodate this business model, we must use vast amounts of energy and natural resources to print the books. Then we waste more energy to ship these books to their temporary destination, where we will expend many more man-hours unloading, unpacking and displaying these books for the customer (let me repeat – ALL ON SPECULATION). We hope, but don’t know, that people will buy these books. The hope of the publisher is that, if they put a book in every window and on every display table, the customer will eventually relent and buy a copy.

Inevitably, after three or four months (sometimes much less), these books will get subplanted with the new flavor of the day. So, we expend more man-hours and energy to ship these books back to the publisher where they will be discounted, remaindered or turned into pulp. This arrangement benefits no one. The bookstore owner may see this as a positive, no-risk solution and certainly, there is little incentive for them to seek change. They are filling their stores with inventory that is often returned for credit before their checks have even cleared, effectively turning them into so many consignment shops.

Perhaps, if these store owners had more of a vested interest in whether or not their inventory sold, there would be more regard for purchasing saleable titles in realistic quantities and applying effective marketing techniques.

I realize that instant gratification is an integral aspect of our lives today. However, would it be such a crime to be in a position where you had to  order a book and return two days later to pick it up? And, that is only the worst case scenerio. For a small increase in the end cost, POD removes the necessity for huge print runs. Certainly, the Kings and Grishams of our time will still merit offset printing, but now there is a better option for the other 95% of titles on the market. Now, with the arrival of Lightningsource’s Espresso machine, a customer can have their book printed right on site, while they wait. Ain’t technology grand? I am sure the quality will not be that of offset printing, or current POD standards for that matter, but that is what is wonderful about human ingenuity. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of these books will improve at lightning speed, now that we have the technology in hand.

The publishing industry is struggling and it is not because the community-at-large has lost its interest in a good book. It is the industry’s refusal to change that will be its downfall. POD is the cure for this flawed business model. The quality of POD is now almost on a par with traditional offset printing. The speed and efficiency of the model allows for a title to be printed and delivered in days. Self-publishers can take advantage of the turn-key operations like iUniverse, Outskirts Press or Lulu  to fulfill their needs for book design, or they can do it themselves with printers like Createspace or Lightningsource (if they have a strong heart and nerves of steel – believe me, it is not a task for the faint of heart).

True, if you use one of the turn-key operations, you will pay for the service – in two ways 1. an upfront charge for the design of your book and 2. a percentage of each sale. This is somewhat unfair, in my mind. These companies should not be entitled to a portion of sales unless they generate from that company’s site. But, hey, it’s their company, so they call the shots. In the end, your % return on each sale will still be better than the meager royalty you would receive through a traditional publisher.

POD is not an option to be disparaged. It should be embraced and seen as what it is – the key to a better future for the publishing industry. But, I key does not work unless you use it. Change is not comfortable for anyone, but the time has come. Let’s embrace a new era for the written word.

www.marchbooks.com

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