Archive for the ‘Common Errors’ Category


Saturday, August 29th, 2015

There is one, and only one, thing that a good cover does. It makes the right readers stop, and look more closely at your book. Standing out a little is good, but standing out too much is not. Good design is necessary, but not sufficient. A few common sense approaches actually hurt sales, and should be avoided.

If the wrong readers stop, this does you no good. It may even lead them to buy your book, under the mistaken impression that it’s the kind that they like, and then write a really nasty review. That’s worse than making no sale at all. If the right readers don’t stop, they’ll never see the descriptive copy you’ve labored so long over, and never buy the book.

I’ve heard a number of new publishers proudly proclaim that their covers will make readers notice, because they’re so different. This is a classic newbie error. If your cover stands out too much, it’s probably too different from your book’s competitors to signal that it is in competition with them. The cover must use the same sort of visual signals as other successful competitors to your book use, even as it uses them slightly differently. If it looks too different, the message that “this is a book for you” will not be communicated as your readers’ eyes sweep past it.

Experienced designers of magazines, or product packaging, or whatever, often think that they can do a better job than the normal designs used by book covers. They want to apply the things that they’ve learned in these other areas. Sometimes they’re right.

It’s still critical that the cover “look like” a [fill in the blank] in 1 to 3 seconds. If you book is alternate history with a military bent but instead it looks like urban fantasy, then the quality of the design and the ability to get people to stop and look are irrelevant. You’re either not going to make the sale, or you’re going to make a lot of sales to the wrong readers. Not a good thing either way.

It’s common sense that your book cover should accurately and prominently portray the main characters and the stuff around them. Unfortunately, common sense is wrong for most types of novels.

The sad truth is that your reader isn’t going to care about your character, until your words make them do so. You care, they don’t. Yet. They take it for granted that IF the book is of the right type, and IF you’re a good writer, THEN they’ll care. What they’re trying to learn from the cover is “Is this the right type of book? Plot? Theme? Style? Genre?” Those are the things you can answer, by using the right iconography, in a matter of seconds. Sometimes, that means that the lead character will be on the front (romances, some types of science fiction or fantasy). Sometimes not. Do as your competitors do.

Oh, and the author name? Keep it unobtrusive, unless and until people start buying books simply because you wrote them.

The best way to tell if your idea for the cover is good, is to look at the top 100 sellers that your book will be competing with. What do those covers say, and how? Be a little, but not much, different.

Marion’s Rules

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

I’m procrastinating. Today, that means I’m blogging. I hope that the following helps you avoid whatever you don’t want to do right now, too!

The RULES of PUBLISHING, according to me:

It depends.
This one answers almost every question I get on-line and off, when it comes to making books and making a profit at the same time.

Publishing is high-stakes gambling. Don’t risk anything you can’t afford to lose.
There are no sure things in this business, and I have the stories to prove it.

Publishing is addictive.
Consult your accountant and psychiatrist before you begin.

New models that will revolutionize the industry arrive regularly.
And some of them actually do change things. But never as much as the pundits predict, especially if these pundits are from outside the industry.

There are no shortcuts to success.
And if you think you’ve found one, look harder. There’s something waiting out there in the woods to jump out and bite you.

Copyediting is not the same thing as editing.
And you need to do both!

There is no such thing as a book without competition.
In the US, at least. In a smaller market, it might be more possible.

Marketing to “all readers” is the same as marketing to none.
Know your reader(s), first, and everything else follows.

Marketing works best when you’re helping first, and selling second, or not at all.
Most people have an utterly different picture of marketing. In my experience, marketing works best if most of your audience doesn’t even realize that you’re engaged in marketing. They should be thrilled to get the help or the information or excerpt or whatever it is that you’re putting out there, and then they should think that it’s their own idea to go look for your book.

I’m sure that there are more. What are your favorite rules?

And which of the rules above do you disagree with?

Vampire Myths: The Ones We Simply Can’t Kill

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Do you have an authors’ or writers’ myth you’d love to kill? Ones that just keep going in defiance of all logic and reality? I have more than a few, and I’m collecting yours today, too!

Myth #1: The way to get published is to send your manuscript, in full, to a publisher or agent.
Why would they want your full manuscript before they ask for it? They have the instructions all over their sites, and all say to send queries or proposals. Many say that unsolicited manuscripts will be returned unopened. Believe them!

Myth #2: Editors will change your work until it sounds like them, not you.
Not if they’re any good, they won’t. The purpose of an editor is to help you figure out how your book can work better for the reader, while remaining true to your vision of it. That’s why one editor can have many very different, but excellent, authors on his or her list.

Myth #3: Editing is about fixing spelling and grammar.
That’s copyediting or maybe proofreading. Editing is about fixing the structure of the book, and the macro issues. Some of the small stuff may be caught along the way, but that’s not the point.

Myth #4: Big publishing is terrified of the self-publishing’s new modes, especially the e-book revolution.
Wish fulfillment, anyone? 99% of all manuscripts that float around are not worth publishing. They’re either so bad that it’s not worth trying to fix them, or they are good, but have a very limited market. So now, those manuscripts are going straight to ebook or being “POD published” (which is NOT the same as self-publishing with a POD printer). This is simply dumping the slush pile on an unsuspecting public, most of whom are showing the sterling good sense to buy elsewhere, or to do a pan review if they do accidentally purchase one.

Good stuff will sell, and be on the front pages of the on-line searches, and on bookstore shelves. And publishers still offer all the advantages that they always have. (Should this be another blog topic for later? Are you interested in this?)

I could keep going for a good long time, but I’ll give the rest of you a chance. What are your favorite myths? Skewer away!

Reversion Clauses in an Age of Change

Monday, October 17th, 2011

As the book business changes more and more quickly, we need to write flexibility and clarity into our contracts, in ways that are fair to all parties, and yet allow for futures we cannot yet see.

I see reversion clauses that have problems in this respect, but I think I have one that works. What do you think?

My reversion version:
Rights to this work shall revert to the author(s) when royalty earnings, exclusive of any reserves taken or released, have fallen below $XY for one full year. At that point, rights shall revert within 1 month of receipt of the author’s written request.

Possible variations:
–The publisher shall have the right to dispose of or sell any printed copies on hand at the time that reversion is requested, if the author(s) does(do) not choose to purchase that stock for amount it cost the publisher to print those copies.

–The publisher shall have 6 months from the date of request to issue a new edition or otherwise improve sales and royalty earnings.

So, what problems and misunderstandings might occur under this sort of contract? How would we fix those issues fairly?

POD: Some Very Good Questions

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Most of my readers know that POD publishing and POD printing are not synonymous. It’s entirely possible for anyone to set up a publishing company (which is totally trivial to do), and send a file into a POD printer. And you’ve probably heard that it’s a much better idea. The questions that many of you may still have include:
–Why is it a good idea?
–Would price per copy be the only reason for not printing with a POD?
–Is there a marketing or PR reason to use one POD over the other?

Why is it better to use a POD printer than a POD publisher?
Sometimes it’s not. Those times are when you expect to sell fewer than a 100 copies in the life of your book. This might apply to a gift edition of Aunt Peggy’s early poetry, or a family history.

When you have valid reasons to expect sales of a few thousand copies over a couple of years, then you should be using offset printing, and an inexpensive warehousing option. Or perhaps an inexpensive fulfillment house.

In between those areas, and in a few other special circumstances, you will probably do best with a POD printer. POD publishers charge much more per copy (although those charges are often unclear to the new author — they’re certainly not broken out for you). No one in this business can afford to give away part of their profit. It’s a very low margin industry!

Would price per copy be the only reason you would avoid a POD publisher?
No. POD publishers tend to charge very, very low rates for their design and layout services, but you’re not getting more than you pay for. The quality, although good enough to a besotted author’s eye, tends to seem “a little off” to regular readers who don’t know you, and to show glaring problems to the educated eyes of the people (reviewers, buyers for bookstores, etc) who stand between you and large numbers of readers.

Is there a marketing or PR reason not to use a POD publisher?
There’s the company you’re keeping. Most books produced by POD publishers are, I’m sorry to say, dreadful, in design and in writing. They’re often labors of love, but that can’t save them from an audience of people who don’t know the author. If your book is classed among these “book-shaped objects,” it’s easy for gatekeepers to dismiss it, without a single second’s examination.

And gatekeepers must weed out most of the books submitted to them immediately. There were 3,000,000 books published in the US last year. That’s one every other second, for the every working hour. Reviewers and buyers don’t get to look at books all day, every day. At some point, they have to read some and write reviews, or look at some longer, and decide how many to order, for which store or library branch, or do whatever else justifies their paychecks.

Oh, and one last reason why you may want to go to POD printer: your book might actually do well!
If your book “breaks out,” you’ll probably need print runs of several thousand copies each month. You can’t afford to give away half of the possible profit, or more, by not switching to offset. But if you publish through a POD publisher, when you want to change printing, you have to change the publisher. That means changing the ISBN (because the original one came from your publisher’s block), and that means starting over with all the marketing, reviews, and other momentum builders.

Most POD publishers also don’t sell you the rights to the cover or the layout. You pay for these things, but you don’t own them. So, when you need to start printing more inexpensively, you also have to get a new cover and a new text design, and that, too, will damage your sales momentum.

There are other reasons, of course, for any decision. And there are exceptions to every generalization.

When you’re making decisions about publishing:
–DO YOUR HOMEWORK FIRST! There’s usually a simple, obvious solution that’s quite wrong for your book and your bank account.
–Read books before you make books, because even blogs like this are much too short to cover all the important things you need to think about.
–Crunch your numbers. Your P&L spreadsheets should be at least 2 pages, if they’re to include all of the important variables.
–Be aware that the popular press is an unreliable guide to the complexities of something like this industry.
–Don’t blindly follow the herd. It may be thundering over a cliff.

But Self-Publishing Makes So Much More $

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

A number of bloggers, including, most prominently, Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, have talked about how self-publishers make more money than traditionally published authors. This can be true. More often, it’s not.

It is obvious that you can get a higher share of the total revenue if you cut out a middleman, or even several of them. BUT a larger share of a smaller total may not equal more money in your bank account.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, wise authors will consider a few things, such as:

How much will your sales of print books shrink when you no longer have a large press’ distribution muscle behind you?

How much will your subsidiary rights income shrink? Are you clued-in enough to sell your own? Which ones? First and second serial aren’t too hard, but translation? Audio? Or hardest of all, movies?

How much extra time or money will you be spending upon doing, or getting done, all of the editing, cover design, marketing copy, file conversion and proofing, and so on that publishers do?

Will you earn enough more to re-pay that extra investment of time or money?

When you are contemplating the best use of that manuscript you just spent hundreds or thousands of hours writing, it should be worth a few dozen hours of your time to learn about and evaluate the options available.

Go buy some books on the publishing process, and on running a publishing company. (That’s what a self-publisher is, like it or not.) Pull up your copy of Excel and do some spreadsheets on various possible courses of action, using real numbers from books that would be comparable to yours. (And if you don’t know how to get those real numbers — read some of my other posts!)

As always, you are invited to tell me where I have it wrong, or to ask me to explain myself!

Love or Money?

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Most writers write about what they love, and because they love it. From this, many conclude that they either can’t or shouldn’t make money. I disagree.

Millions of us love our work, but most of us are also paid. Very few of you would sneer at someone else because they were paid a reasonable amount for work they enjoy. Why hold yourself to a different standard? Is creativity so different from the labor that goes into other professions?

If you still feel guilty about money, donate the proceeds to charity, but recognize that donating your work to the public will probably cause them to ignore it. If you don’t seem to put a value on it, neither will the world.

One exception: you can give away complimentary copies. That can make the free copies highly valued, but it only works if they recipients are aware that they’re getting a “deal” on something that has been or will be sold to others.

A side effect of this “love or money” dichotomy, is that even more writers think they shouldn’t “write for the market.” Again I disagree.

I think that you owe it to your readers to respect them. I hear you thinking “Of course. But what does that have to do with the market?”

Your readers are your final market.

When you write with respect for your readers, you think about what they want from your book, and about why they are reading it. You try to understand who they may be, so that you can do that. And you try to hone your words so that they’re not only beautifully crafted but so that they deliver what those readers want as well as possible.

If you really respect them, you’ll invest the time to understand what alternatives there are out there (books and other resources) that will deliver what they want. When you know what is competing for your readers time, attention and money, you will understand what you can do for them that meets their desires and needs better than anything else around. And making sure that your book gives your readers more of what they want most from it is not only good writing, but also good marketing.

Oh, and one last note: We, in the book business, often proclaim that certain bestsellers are awful, and that the public just doesn’t know what they need. That’s rather arrogant of us. Instead, we should look to see what that book has done for its readers that made them forget the errors in technique. Readers don’t forgive clunky writing without cause. Understanding the cause is part of our job.

In sum: write for love, but don’t sell yourself or your readers short in the process.

Need to Know?

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

“Everyone who (fill in the blank) needs to read my book!”

It may be true, and often is. Unfortunately, this statement is also a signal that the writer (or even the publisher) is probably headed for grief. I have seen it over and over again.

I’m sure you’ve heard consultants, including me, say that you should identify a group of people who share a need for the information you have, or whose emotional needs will be fulfilled by the story you want to tell before you publish your book. If that’s true, what’s the problem with our first sentence then?

[If you would answer that in the comments section, before you go on, we’ll all learn more from each other . . . Don’t be worried about getting a different answer than the one I’m about to give. There aren’t any wrong answers here.]
. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

. . . .

My answer:
The most common reason that our first statement signals trouble ahead is that it doesn’t look at what the reader sees as his or her needs, but at what an outsider sees as the problem and the answer.

There’s often a very large gap between what an objective outsider sees going wrong and what the person in the middle of the issue thinks the problem is. Sometimes we’re too emotionally invested in a position or approach to see the situation clearly. Sometimes we’re too busy to look for the roots of the problem, as we frantically try to deal with the symptoms. And there are other reasons why insiders may see the problems and their needs differently than you do.

Whatever the reason, the successful author and publisher needs to think about not what the reader should want, but what the reader does want to know. Once you’ve drawn them in, then you can continue on to show them a more comprehensive solution, but you must first offer the bait that will set the hook.

Things Newbies Say

Monday, May 12th, 2008

What are your favorites? You know, the ones you hear over and over from people who aren’t professionals in the book business?

Some of mine:

This book will appeal to everyone. No, it won’t.

There are no comparable titles. There are almost 400,000 books published each year in the US alone. Every book has competition.

I’m an author, marketing is your problem. Only if you don’t care about money or your career. Yes, publishers do market the book, but they can’t market it nearly as well without the assistance of the author.

I don’t need any editing. Every word is perfect. Ahem.

This is public domain. I found it on the Internet. Things on the Net are still under copyright.

My book would have been a bestseller if only the publisher had printed enough copies. Very few publishers have difficulty feeding demand for a book. If there’s any demand to feed, that is.

You need to know someone or be a celebrity to get published. No one cares how good your book is. Acquiring editors are scouring every source they can find for the next unknown with a brilliant manuscript. The lucky few who find one have a huge career boost. Those who find more than one are made for life. (See my last post for ways to get published.)

Publishing with a well-known POD company is a good way to get “real publishers” to notice your book. There are no shortcuts in this industry.

Okay, your turn!

Isn’t the Content More Important Than the Cover?

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

It depends.

Are you interested in selling books? If so, then where will they sell? Bookstores won’t stock books that don’t have a good spine and a commercially viable cover. And on-line stores like Amazon use thumbnails of the cover to help sell books because good ones work.

Without a good cover, your readers won’t look at your book long enough to get hooked. There have been a few exceptions, as with any rule, but not many. And who wants to make it any harder for your book to succeed in this world?

So packaging matters, even when you’re selling words. Allot enough resources to guarantee a good cover if you want good sales.

Now for the hard part: what makes a good cover? I have a few thoughts, which may be all wrong, so please feel free to contradict or argue with me in the comments:

Spine: Should be clearly legible from a distance of 3 to 4 feet, by your target audience. (For example, if they’re boomers, their eyes may no longer be good, so make it even larger font, and less ornamental.) If it’s popular non-fiction or fiction, consider including a thumbnail image.

Front cover: Look at the books on the store shelf where you want yours to appear. What do the successful ones have in common? Your design should have a similar design sensibility (color schemes, type of art or lack of same, font type, overall “feel” . . .), and similar amounts of information.

Back cover: The copy here (or on the jacket flaps) is critical. You have a very few sentences to tell the reader why they’ll be glad they bought your book and not the others that meet their needs. You may want to use blurbs (do other books on the shelf?) or summaries of benefits (not features) or plot synopses. Whatever you say, make it count!

Really, I’m not the person to ask, so I’m opening it up to all of you. What grabs you and makes you pull down a book (other than a known author or branded series)?