Sunday, May 25, 2008

Book Review: Self-Publishing Manual, by Dan Poynter

Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book, 465 pages (Para Publishing, Santa Barbara, CA, Sixteenth Edition, 2007). Includes helpful glossary and index.

Since I'm moving toward self-publishing another book, I needed an education on the publishing process. Poynter fit the bill.

He writes with excellent qualifications: started publishing in 1969, has written over 120 books.

If you're interested in self-publishing, or just want to know more about the publishing process, get your own copy of this book and mark it up well. It has so much relevant content (think: hundreds of specifics you'll want to implement) that you'll want to refer back to it over and over as you work your way through the publication process.

Even if someone else is publishing your book, I'd highly advise studying this book and mapping out the process, since I hear horror stories of publishers who think their responsibility begins and ends with printing the book. Read this book, and you'll know what needs to be done, and when.

Example: many review organizations, which can be critical to the success of a book, won't look at published books. Understandably, they want to review galley proofs before the book is published, so that their reviews can alert bookstores, distributors, libraries, etc., of the latest books that people will be wanting. Since the greatest publicity for a book tends to come when it's initially published, review organizations don't want to put out a review three months after the main publicity has gone out. Plus, they need time to read and review the book.

If you miss these deadlines, you miss out on some valuable publicity. Poynter ends with a valuable timeline, which you can revise to account for all the specifics of your own book.

Content includes publishing options, writing and creating your manuscript, starting a publishing company, designing/layout/printing, announcing your book, pricing, promoting, understanding distribution channels, advertising, storage/packing/shipping, coping with being published.

In one sense, its overwhelming to see the hundreds of things I need to do to publish my book. I think, "Crap. Can't I just spend my time researching and writing and just ship it off to the printer? Now I've got to think about all this stuff."

On the other hand, it's freeing. Now I understand why so many good books don't get into people's hands. The publishing world works with rules that those outside the industry don't understand. Understanding the industry empowers us to get our books out to those who want them.

In order to deal with the feeling of bewilderment that comes with having hundreds of items on a to-do list, I'll start with Poynter's helpful "Calendar" of events in his appendix, personalizing it for the things I need to do for my book. After putting the to-do items in chronological order, I'll be responsible for only the items that I need to accomplish today, or at least this week.

Why not just delegate all this stuff? Poynter advises,

"Learn the entire business by doing everything yourself before you begin to farm out some
of the work, because doing it all yourself will provide you with a better understanding of publishing.

Another thought: After reading several books on publishing and marketing, I've discovered that these books aren't just parading out the same materials in different forms. Each book teaches me many new things about the process. Some concentrate on the process of getting your book well-positioned and marketed through Then there's the business of e-books. Concerning book marketing in general, the ideas are practically endless.

So keep reading about book publishing and marketing. Learn the process. We don't have to do everything they say. Even taking one great idea and running with it could revolutionize the impact of our next book.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Networking as Caring

I'm realizing more and more the power of networking for selling books. It especially hit home to me this weekend.

I attended a Webinar Thursday night by book marketing guru Brian Jud on Networking. I didn't set out to have a networking weekend, but it certainly turned out that way. Perhaps I was just more aware of what was going on because of the seminar.

Friday night, Cherie and I traveled an hour north to the little town of Dalton, to celebrate a friend's college graduation. We weren't going to network; we were simply honoring a friend. When we got there, we weren't "working the room;" we were trying to spend time with as many people as we could. Someone introduced us to a person who was filling the pulpit for their church. I'd wanted to meet the fellow, since I'd heard that we had some things in common. I think we were a good contact for him since he was toying with getting more into writing. Then he introduced his girlfriend. I politely asked what she did and she responded,

"I work at Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters in PR."

"Funny thing," I said. "I've been thinking that Wal-Mart might like to carry my new book on finances, especially since I mention Sam Walton (Wal-Mart's founder) in the book in some very positive ways (good PR for Wal-Mart)."

She went on to explain to me how to get in touch with the people that make those buying decisions for Wal-Mart, encouraged me to speak to the manager of my local Wal-Mart, and gave me other invaluable, insider tips. She gave me her card and I filed it away in my new networking notebook. "What an incredible contact!" I told Cherie afterwards. "What if Wal-Mart decided to carry my book!

Saturday afternoon I took Paul and David (my middle school twins) to Trade-N-Play, where they trade video games. I always chat with the owner and ask him questions, because he's simply a nice guy and has great wisdom about business and life. I mentioned my latest book on finances for young people and he was thrilled!

"Sure, I'd love to take a look at it and consider selling it in my store," he responded. He was full of stories about his concerns about people overspending and ruining their financial lives. His young associate heard our excitement and wanted to know if he could get a copy to review as well.

If he takes it and it sells well, isn't it possible that the entire chain would consider carrying it?

Today, Sunday, Cherie reconnected with a college buddy at church, who had a friend with her. I asked the friend what she did, and she responded that she was entering the art department at KSU. I asked if she liked to doodle and draw cartoon characters, since I was considering a short cartoon series to go along with my book. She did that type drawing and was thrilled at the prospect. We traded cards.

Now these are three remarkable contacts made in three days by a guy who doesn't get out much, since I care for my ailing dad and 102-year-old granny. Any one of these contacts could easily lead to significant book sales. It caused me to reflect on the power and principles of networking. Some stray thoughts:

#1 - Always, always carry business cards and a pen. I didn't have a card in Dalton. Fortunately, others were better networkers than me, offering their cards. You never know who you'll run across.

#2 - Never forget that some of your greatest contacts are neighbors down the street, people sitting next to you at church, the person pumping iron next to you in the gym, the teen taking your order at Arby's. You don't have to hop a flight to the convention in LA to start networking. It's a lot cheaper to welcome your new neighbor with a batch of peanut butter cookies.

#3 - Always take a genuine interest in other people. I didn't go to any of these meetings to get something. I didn't meet them in order to see if they had something to offer. I went to Dalton to honor a friend. I went to Trade-N-Play to be with my kids. I went to church to worship God.

#4 - Get used to asking simple questions of people, like
  • "What do you do for a living?"
  • "What do you do for fun?"
After they respond, ask them more about these areas of interest, like:
  • What fascinates you about that job or activity?
  • How long have you been doing that?
As simple as this seems, very few people do it. Very, very few ask me about my work and interests. Consumed with their own world and concerns, they can't seem to take an interest in other people's world and concern. And they miss out on so much fun in the process!

Don't feign friendship to make a contact. People can smell a selfish phony a mile away. I really care about those people. That's why I ask about their lives rather than spout off about my own life.

Genuine caring sprinkles pixie-dust on casual conversations, transforming them into into something magical. Fascinating things bubble up - connections I never imagined, ideas that that change my course, services I was looking for.

I read a marketing professional lately who stated something like, "Networking is simply a new term for an old practice that we used to call caring."

Well put.

As we care enough to find out about other people's interests and find ways to serve them, we find the ideas and connections we need to move forward with our own interests. Sounds strikingly similar to "give and you shall receive," a biblical concept that proves its worth anew in each generation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

How I Plan to Earn $2000 More with my Writing this Year

I plan to save $1500. That's it.

No, the difference in numbers isn't a typo. Let me explain.

Money management gurus drive home the need to curtail spending. They often put it this way:

"A dollar saved equals two dollars earned."

Here's their angle: If you want to net $1 more through writing this year, you can do it in one of two ways:

#1: Earn an extra $2. If you're in a higher tax bracket, half of those earnings will disappear in the form of taxes, leaving you with your $1.

#2: Save $1. You keep it all. The IRS doesn't tax savings.

Now I'm not in a high tax bracket, so let's imagine that for me, $1500 saved equals $2000 earned.

The amazing thing is that the way I'm saving won't hurt me at all. It's not like I'm committing to eat Ramen Noodles for the rest of the year, or cutting my marketing budget. I simply compared prices on some of my services and winged better deals.

My primary savings came from changing my merchant account (the company that processes my credit cards for online purchases of my writing.) Cherie had been complaining for some time that too much of our earnings were being eaten up by our merchant account. I'd always respond, "Well, you know we compared before we got the service several years ago. I guess it just costs a lot."

But when they said they decided to charge us $40 more per month (ostensibly in order to serve us better!), I fired up my calculator and began asking around about the top merchant services. One ministry said they had changed merchants every two years, because companies would advertise a killer rate, inching up to an exorbitant rate before you knew what had hit you. He ended up with PayPal. I'm making the change, which should save me about $1200 per year. (Before the increase, they were charging us over six times the amount that PayPal charges for the same service!)

I've also found that you can bargain with Internet Service Providers. Mine was charging me about $70 per month for DSL wireless (allowing me about five computers to access). I got an advertisement in the mail that said I could get a competing service for about $45 per month. But I didn't want to go through the hassle of changing (change e-mail addresses, etc.). So I called my provider and said, "I like you guys, but your competitor is offering me the same service for $45 per month."

"We can beat that," he said. So immediately I began saving another $300 per year.

In my book on personal finance, I quote the CEO of Wherehouse Music as saying,

"Manage costs, not revenue. And remember that there is no such thing as a fixed cost."

Cutting costs frees up writers to take the assignments and write the books we're passionate about, rather than having to always go for the best paying. Extend this to paying less for houses, cars, etc., and you'll be that much closer to making a decent living from your writing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

On Writers and Their Websites

As a writer, I own and operate several Websites. It's one of the best things I've ever done, since now I have over 1000 individuals visiting my sites each day. The sites give me both income and busy places to tell people about my books. Two of my sites are and .

If you're into writing for the long-haul, you'll probably find yourself needing an author site, a site for one of your books, a site on the topic of your books, and sites for other purposes. Over 10+ years of working with Websites, I've learned a few things. For one, many people spend way too much for their sites. Here are a few tips on where to find a place to build your site (Web Hosts).

I'm recommending that you set up your sites as cheaply as possible. (If you're independently wealthy, read no further. Just find a top-notch Web designer and shell out the bucks. But even then, I'd comparison shop, or you won't be wealthy for long!) I'll start with the most cheap (free) and move all the way to less cheap (about $5.00 per month).

1) You can get a free site through Google with no ads on it, and it might be just fine if all you want is an online brochure to direct people to on your business card. (Search "google g-mail." and sign up for a free g-mail account. Now, look at your g-mail account information and click on the "google pages" link.)

But Google Pages is new and has its limitations. As I write, people are having problems connecting their custom Web address (url) to it, so that I don't think you could have (substitute your book name or author name or the topic of your site) as your Web address. I'd want my own distinct Web address so that people can find me easier. It also looks more professional.

Also, you may have trouble expanding if you want to do e-commerce (sell stuff to people using credit cards) or databases.

But if all you need is a cheap, online brochure (you can make it very professional if you like), this is one way to go. It's got online tools to help you build a simple site, so that you don't have to learn a daunting program like DreamWeaver.

2) You can get a free site through places like, but they'll feature ads on your site. If you don't mind having ads, then Tripod might be a good choice. They've been offering sites longer than Google and have more helpful tools.

3) Going to paid servers, there are lots of great, cheap options. A good place to find reviews of servers and comparisons of prices and features is . (Click "web hosting" on their left menu.) I pay $5.00 per month for each of my sites, which have tons of people coming to them and hundreds of pages of materials. I'm probably using less than 5% of the space I could be using.

I'm considering for a new site I want to build, primarily because they have a very cute Indy race driver on their home page. Besides this nice feature, they've got 24/7 support, lots of space, lots of free ad-ons (blog, etc.). Domains are cheap through them (c. $9.99 and under per year) and Web space is under $5 per month. I'll also compare , but their alligator picture isn't nearly as cute as the racing chick.
I think both of these hosts give you tools to easily build a simple site using templates and their own tools, so that you don't have to invest in software like Macromedia DreamWeaver or Microsoft Expression Web, which are getting more complicated to use because of stuff like Cascading Style Sheets (don't even ask!)

If you decide later to get fancy with the site, like adding e-commerce or databases, these sites support this stuff and you can continue moving forward.

These servers often have stock images you can use. But I absolutely love . Offering over 3 million images (and growing wildly!), easy to search and only $1 per small photo (you don't need huge images for the Web), I always find what I need. Don't copy people's images from the Web (like searching Google Images and randomly copying). People who do this are partly responsible for "starving artists' syndrome." Feed good photographers by purchasing their pics.

If you just need a simple site with attractive information about your books and services, don't spend big bucks. Fool around with some of these inexpensive options. If you need help, enlist your children or a college student studying Web design who desperately needs some experience on his/her resume. If it still doesn't look as professional as you'd like, offer a graphic designer who does good work (look at her portfolio on the Web) and works out of her home (low overhead) a couple of hundred dollars to "take what I've got and make it look more professional."