Friday, January 23, 2009

American Idol's Sanjaya - The Author?

You remember Sanjaya? That long haired guy who tried to make a play on American Idol some years ago? Well this time around, he wants to be an author. He wrote a tell-all book about himself, of course, which topic would a guy know more about than himself right? Autobiographies are just big these days.

Written with Alan Goldsher and centered around his time on the reality competition, the book includes everything from his “grueling” auditions to taking the stage in the “Idol” top 10.

Among the insider info is a look at how contestants make it to the judges’ table. Potential contestants go through three auditions before they ever get in front of the cameras. “Then they get on the show and they’re beat down,” Malakar said.

This might be interesting to those who like American Idol or that particular season of American Idol. All I can remember about the guy was that he had weird hairstyles, other than that he was rather unexciting so seeing how this book would turn out should be interesting.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thad McIlroy's Take On Book Publishing Trends And Outlook

This article is just right on the spot with regards to outlining book publishing its trends and what it is projected to be in the next few years.

What is it about books that make them the sine qua non of publishing? I think it's very simple. Great books have changed lives, have changed history. While there have been innumerable articles of great importance in magazines and newspapers, let's face it - they don't have the force of the classics of literature and non-fiction. Just about any reader can point to a book that has changed his or her life. Most of us can point to many different books that have had an equally strong impact.

We encounter these books at different ages. I know that many of the books I read when I was only 10- or 12-years-old made a huge impact then and still influence me today. The whole context of reading as a child was a unique emotional experience. As I grew older, I found books that suited my age, and continued to grow and mature with the extraordinary literature at my disposal.

Further, since Andrew Carnegie's philanthropic efforts, there has always been a great infrastructure for enjoying books. Most cities in North America have many fine libraries and bookstores. Books are everywhere! Supporting them also was a robust film industry that interpreted books in unexpected ways; as often as not driving us back to the original written version.

I fully entered the world of books in the early 1970s via book publishing, first as a bookseller, then as a traveling book sales rep, and then as a publisher. I still have very strong feelings about book publishing: most of the people I know who work in the book publishing industry feel as strongly. It's hard to get publishing out of your blood.

Book publishing is not the first form of publishing by any means - think cave drawings, scrolls and those dedicated monks with their beautiful manuscripts. But somehow book publishing has come to embody the idea of publishing more than any other form - when I say "publishing" you probably think books (perhaps even if you happen to be a newspaper publisher).

Yes, for most of us, books hold a unique emotional place in our hearts and minds. When it comes to imagine the so-called "death of print," we react in unison: Perhaps some kinds of print, but not books!

So then how to interpret the changes in the book publishing industry? We've still got Harry Potter, don't we? (With the last volume the greatest success of the series.)

What about all of the books for children, those marvelous classics. Surely they won't disappear? The bestsellers we read in hardcover and paperback; the fine non-fiction biographies and histories. These can't disappear, can they?

The Traditional Context of Book Publishing

Nearly all of us who are close to printing and publishing romanticize Gutenberg's invention of movable type (circa 1450) and cheerfully ignore the context that surrounded it. We cheerfully ignore the fact that printing was invented in China long before Gutenberg got near his printing press, and that in Korea a system of printing from movable metal type was developed around 1041.

We ignore that Gutenberg was a businessman as much as he was an "artist" - and possibly much more interested in business than art. (Unfortunately he was not a stellar businessman - by 1455 Gutenberg was effectively bankrupt.)

Not surprisingly, the history of publishing is well-documented in books. One such, a fine work, The Nature of the Book by Adrian Johns (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998), illustrates in 753 pages the very commercial nature of the book trade from its earliest days. Book publishing today is very much a descendant of those early efforts. It remains inescapably a commercial enterprise.

Certainly some not-for-profit groups, associations and government-subsidized efforts reduce the commercial pressure on their publication efforts as money-making ventures. But the vast majority of book publishers worldwide undertake their tasks with at least one eye on the bottom line, and this necessarily has a great impact on how the business of book publishing is conducted.

As someone who operated three different trade publishing companies in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, I began to see the modern challenge of book publishing as two-fold. The first was to get anyone to notice that a new book had even been published - as we've seen, hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, and it is expensive to get noticed with that much competition. Also (and particularly in the pre-Internet era), the sale of trade books relied on the distribution of those books to bookstores across America, or across Canada, or name the country, and the cost of this broad geographic distribution was prohibitive except for the most high-profile titles. (Which tended to push publishers toward paying large advances for the few titles that were hoped to carry the many.)

I'll examine shortly the statistics that bear on these challenges. Some of them have changed in the last decades; many still apply.

Much more interesting to consider is the impact of the Internet on the creation, marketing, distribution and sale of books. The Internet is having an enormous impact on the future of book publishing - both in positive and negative ways. I'll examine this trend also.

At the same time there are other forces at work: eBooks, print-on-demand, the digital scanning of vast libraries and the conversion of certain books into other electronic formats. Each of these is playing a part in securing a fascinating future for my beloved The Wind in the Willows. Technology need not be destructive for book publishers; it can be a very positive force for change.

Types of Book Publishing

There are many kinds of book publishing. Most listings differ, but here is a representative sample of publishing types.

1. Trade publishing

(i) Hardcover
(ii) Trade paperback
(iii) Mass-market paperback
(iv) Children's books
(v) Religious books

2. Textbook publishing

(i) Textbooks in hardcover or paperback
(a) K-12 textbooks
(b) Secondary school textbooks
(c) Higher education: college and university textbooks
(d) Post formal institutional education (adult learning) textbooks

(ii) Ancillary texts, such as teacher or student guides

3. Reference publishing

(i) Encyclopedias
(ii) Directories
(iii) And numerous others

4. Reports, studies, etc. by not-for-profit publishers, government agencies, etc.

I'll stick with this short list of the types of book publishing for the time being, having it serve principally as a reminder that no discussion of book publishing can be authoritative without recognizing its varied species.

Hoovers, referenced below, reports that trade books account for 30 percent of the market, textbooks 25 percent, and professional books 15 percent. Those figures seem reasonable.

The Book Industry Study Group offers the following breakdown of small publishers:

The Scope of the Book Publishing Business in North America

According to Hoovers "The US book publishing industry consists of about 2,600 companies with combined annual revenue of $30 billion. Large US publishers include McGraw-Hill, Pearson PLC, John Wiley & Sons, and Scholastic. Some of the biggest publishers are units of large media companies, including HarperCollins (NewsCorp), Random House (Bertelsmann AG of Germany), and Simon & Schuster (CBS Corp). The industry is highly concentrated; the top 50 companies hold 80 percent of the market." This book industry report points to two different aspects of the industry: first, that there is a high degree of concentration at the top of the pyramid, and two, that most book publishing analysts grossly underestimate the size of the industry in the U.S. As pointed out above the Book Industry Study Group claims that in 2006 there were in fact 88,528 "active" publishers in the U.S., and nearly 68,000 had sales under $50,000 per year.

The same group estimates 2006 U.S. book sales at $35.7 billion, up 3.2 percent over 2005's total.

R.R. Bowker projects that U.S. title output in 2006 increased by more than 3% to 291,920 new titles and editions, up from the 282,500 published in 2005.

The Canadian Government's Statistics Canada agency counted 1,324 publishing companies in 2005, representing total sales of (CDN) $2.4 billion. It cautioned however that "the number of establishments is comprised mainly of small companies. Of the 1324 establishments for the industry only 444 were in the survey portion. This means that most of the movement in number of establishments from year to year comes from 884 companies that had under $50,000 in revenue."

Based on the U.S. figure of over 62,000 active publishers, one wonders if the Canadian figure should not be closer to 6,000 than 1,000, judging by the standard 10 to 1 ratio that holds for most industrial comparisons between the two countries. Canadian Books in Print listed 4,300 book publishers in the year 2000.

A unique aspect of the Canadian book publishing market is that 19 foreign-controlled publishers, which represented less than 6% of all companies surveyed, accounted for 59% of domestic book sales in 2004 (the percentage has increased). The Canadian book publishing industry is foreign-dominated.

Hoovers also remind us that "demand for largely resistant to economic cycles." As I discuss in my blog entry "Economics and the Future of Publishing," this recession is thus far proving different, and the eventual outcome for book publishers remains to be seen.

The Practice of Book Publishing

Several unique practices have definitively characterized book publishing in the modern era:

1. Individual editors and/or publishers make individual decisions about what will or won't be published by their firm (at larger companies, a larger group may be involved in the decision).

This, as much as anything I believe is the cause of the transformation and decline of book publishing in the modern era. Who are these editors and publishers who have so much power to make life-and-death decisions on what books will or won't be published each year? They may have some kind of education associated with the history and/or practice of writing and literature. This ostensibly makes them "expert" in what constitutes "quality" in writing. But of course they are as susceptible as the rest of us to individual matters of taste, to bias and to lapses in judgment. Still their role within their respective companies is god-like - they make judgments of life or death, except in this case upon what will be published, rather than who will be sent to hell.

Furthermore, at the largest book publishers the decision is no longer generally about quality but more often about salability. Is that taught at Swarthmore?

Publishing courses are now abundant. Who really believes that you can take English majors in their twenties and "teach" them how to intuit what will be this year's bestseller? Twaddle.

2. At the same time, I consider it inarguable that most writers need good editors. William Zinsser, author of the classic text On Writing Well, wrote "The essence of writing is rewriting."

Ernest Hemingway is reputed to have told George Plimpton during an interview that he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied.

"Why so many rewrites?" Plimpton asked.

"Because," Hemingway responded, "I wanted to get the words right."

So while I argue above that editors can offer blocks to the publication of worthwhile books, in their key role, that of helping authors improve their texts, they are invaluable. That has been my consistent experience. The tales of great editors are legion, such as Maxwell Perkins and his role in shaping F. Scott Fitzgerald's prose. But a merely good editor can work magic also.

While many very poorly-written and poorly-edited books have become bestsellers, this doesn't obviate the general rule: a book written (and/or edited) with clarity in mind will succeed beyond a similar text that lacks such clarity.

3. The book industry has traditionally been a retail-based industry. Books are mostly bought in bookstores. The explosive growth of the major chain booksellers in the 1970s and onwards was continually lamented as representing some sort of "death of publishing." That dire prediction on the future of book publishing proved untrue. The major complaint was that the book chains would force publishers to take a pass on publishing important books in favor of "mindless" bestsellers. But with 350,000 books published in English last year that prediction has also proved false. Furthermore the numerous book superstores ordinarily feature a far broader inventory that the average independent bookseller.

Online bookselling by and its competitors has had an enormous impact on bookselling. Now anyone can quite easily obtain any of the 300,000+ new books that can't be found in the retail channel. The result is that never have so many different books been so easily, readily and inexpensively available.

Print-on-Demand Changes the Equation

This section links very clearly into the next. The premise is one that I often observe: a technology develops or evolves and a new industry (or sub-industry) is born. The improvement in print-on-demand (using a generic name for this type of print manufacturing) over the last decade has been astounding. As discussed elsewhere, most book publishers grew up in an industry where the consideration was between printing 3,000 copies or 5,000, hoping to shave perhaps 10-15% off the manufactured cost. What happens when you can print one book for 120%/per unit of the price of 3,000 books? An industry changes. The book publishing industry has changed because this is the new reality.

Vanity Publishing Becomes Self-Publishing

Vanity publishing always had a bad name. The concept was that some sucker would pay some huckster to print several thousand copies of their "terrifically important" manuscript that somehow had been cruelly overlooked by 300 New York agents and publishers, and turn that into the bestseller it had always deserved to be. Of course there were a few success stories to fuel the flames, but in many cases naïve authors found themselves with a large invoice and 2,999 copies of their book in the bedroom cupboard.

The big difference is distribution. In the old days of vanity publishing, those publishers had few mechanisms for book distribution, and even fewer chances of having their vanity publications taken seriously by any of the mainstream reviewers.

In the age of the Internet, distribution issues are significantly muted, and the reading public has discovered that they don't necessarily care what The New York Times says about an inexpensive book covering a topic in which they're interested.

This has led to the blossoming of and its brethren (see References for more information on, and I for one, will not lament the end of New York's hegemony on deciding what should be purchased and read.

Book Readership

Probably the most important document revealing key aspects of the future of book publishing is a 60-page report published by in June 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts. Called Reading at Risk, the report presents the results from a 2002 survey (conducted by the Census Bureau) of 17,000 people aged 18 or older, who attended artistic performances, visited museums, watched broadcasts of arts programs, or read literature. The results are compared to similar surveys carried out in 1982 and 1992. The first sentence of the preface to the report notes that "Reading at Risk is not a report that the National Endowment for the Arts is happy to issue."

The survey asked respondents if during the previous twelve months they had read any novels, short stories, plays, or poetry in their leisure time (not for work or school). As the report notes, included were "popular genres such as mysteries, as well as contemporary and classic literary fiction. No distinctions were drawn on the quality of literary works." Literary non-fiction was apparently not included.

The results paint a grim picture for the future of the book. The charts (all taken directly from the report, and copyright of the National Endowment for the Arts) best reveal the tale:

What is most notable in this first chart is an important anomaly between the number of literary readers and the percentage. Because of population increases, the total number of readers is constant over a 20-year period, while the percentage decline, as illustrated in the next figure is 7.3%, and by 2002, the rate of decline had increased to 14%!

It's somewhat cold comfort that the rate of decline in the reading of "any book" decreased by half of the percentage of the decline in the reading of literature.

Not many will be surprised, though most of us will remain concerned, that the decline in reading is most pronounced in the young, although the following chart encompasses those up to the age of 44! Even the "elderly" are partaking of the slaughter, but in far more modest numbers.

Looking at similar results from a slightly different statistical perspective, while the U.S. population increased by nearly 40% between 1982 and 2002, the percentage reading literature dropped by just over 10%.

What conclusions to draw from this arguably grim data? I think that the pessimist's viewpoint is well-represented by these charts (and more so in the original report - recommended reading). But it is worth focusing on the brighter side of the picture. Two data points stand out: while there is a clear shift away from literary reading, the reading of the broad range of books published does not show as steep a decline. Also, the North American population will continue to increase, and this will to some extent ameliorate the trend from the publishers' perspective - although the nature of what they publish will have to change if they wish to hold their own against the trends so clearly illustrated here.

The other question remains as to what percentage of all books sold annually could be classified as "literary." I suspect the percentage is modest. (I'm still looking for a data source to illuminate this question.)

A few key data points:
  • Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.
  • The percentage of 18- to 44-year-olds who read a book fell 7 points from 1992 to 2002.
  • The percentage of 17-year-olds who read nothing at all for pleasure has doubled over a 20-year period.
  • Although nominal spending on books grew from 1985 to 2005, average annual household spending on books dropped 14% when adjusted for inflation.
What makes this report both more important and more unsettling than its predecessor is that it is of course more timely, but also that it moves beyond the single category of "literary reading," taking a broader view of publishing. And that broader view is a bleaker view.

Future of Book Publishing -- Trends & Outlook

While the book publishing industry has begun to come to terms with some of the opportunities afforded by the Internet, I fear that this is thus far a case of too little, too late. Of course it's not merely missed opportunities on the Internet and the Web. More fundamentally, it appears that competing media are slowly eroding the economic base of publishing. Twenty years ago television and music were distracting for the young. In combination with chat, social networking sites, mobile phones and more, the book has certainly met its match.

The Future Of Book Publishing

I've always wondered what will book publishing be like in the future given the rise of so many new technologies like the ebook and the internet, will we stop reading books? Just as the encyclopedia is slowly growing out of style and obsolete by the minute, will books in general lose its place?

Here are the statistics for book publishing via Thad McIlroy's future of publishing

  1. Nielsen BookScan, quoted in the June 2007 Harper's magazine (available to subscribers only), reported that nearly 1.5 million different titles were sold in the United States in 2006, although 78% of those titles sold fewer than 99 copies, while only 483 titles sold more than 100,000 copies.
  2. A ground-breaking 2005 report by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) revealed that there are 62,815 active publishers in the United States, and that 46,860 of these publishers had revenues below $50,000 per year. (Most observers would have placed the number well below 5,000; in 2002 the U.S. Census reported 3,570 book publishers.) In 2006, using a slightly different methodology, the BISG reported that there were in fact 88,528 "active" publishers in the U.S. Nearly 68,000 had sales under $50,000 per year.
  3. Book publishing remains arguably amongst the least digitized of publishing industries, and yet this lack of automation appears not to have hampered the business. What might improved use of digital production bring to the bottom line? The industry has only begun to explore the many opportunities that the Web is offering, in terms of promotion, sales and distribution. There remains a significant upside here.
  4. With all of the demographic changes in print readership, book publishing industry has weathered the challenge, in part through the publication of more specialized titles in shorter print runs, in part through increased publications of "non-books" (novelty titles) and in part through improved distribution method, including on the Internet.
  5. In the separate section on Education I cover the textbook industry. While it currently remains profitable, growth has stalled, and the move to new electronic media poses a very serious threat to this $20 billion sector of the book publishing industry.
  6. Despite some modestly positive trends, the underlying basis for a successful future for the book publishing industry is rapidly being eroded. As reported below, reading rates are dropping drastically, and average annual household spending on books dropped 14% between 1985 and 2005 when adjusted for inflation.
  7. On the other hand, e-books do appear to be rapidly (and finally) gaining a foothold in the industry, both substituting for and augmenting print sales.
My overall rating for the future of book publishing is a continuing modest decline in total sales volume, but certainly not an impending catastrophe.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), "the total number of films released in the U.S. in 2007 remained on par with 2006 with 603 films released." (They have subsequently revised this figure to 590 in 2007, vs. 599 in 2006). According to Bowker, the book publishing industry "bible," "(in 2004) publishers in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand released 375,000 new titles and editions." While I can't find updated worldwide figures, a May 2008 press release from Bowker reports that the company "is projecting that U.S. title output in 2007 increased slightly to 276,649 new titles and editions, up from the 274,416 that were published in 2006."

25 Things You Need To Know About Self Publishing

Here's a nice article lifted from CNET reviews on self publishing your book by David Carnoy. He ended up with Booksurge so you may find that Booksurge is mentioned throughout the 25 items, but his experience is just as applicable to those who might want to self publish with other book publishing companies as well. I found it very insightful

1. Self-publishing is easy.

Here's how it works. You choose a size for your book, format your Word manuscript to fit that size, turn your Word doc into a PDF, create some cover art in Photoshop, turn that into a PDF, and upload it all to the self-publisher of your choice and get a book proof back within a couple of weeks (or sooner) if you succeeded in formatting everything correctly. You can then make changes and swap in new PDFs.

After you officially publish your book, you can make changes to your cover and interior text by submitting new PDFs, though your book will go offline ("out of stock") for a week or two. BookSurge charges $50 for uploading a new cover and $50 for a new interior.

Lulu offers very good, detailed instructions for the DIY crowd, doesn't require any upfront fees, and is very popular as a result. Ironically, I used Lulu's how-to content to put my book together for BookSurge, which has very poor instructions for DIYers. Interesting stat: Lulu claims to publish an average of 4,000 books a week. Oddly, the company didn't offer the size of the book I wanted to create (8 x 5.25 inches--the standard size for trade paperback novels; Lulu only offers 6 x 9, which is too big).

2. Quality has improved.

I can't speak for all self-publishing companies, but the quality of Booksurge's books seem quite solid. You can't do a fancy matte cover (yet), but the books look and feel like "real" books. The only giveaway that you're dealing with a self-published book would be if the cover were poorly designed--which, unfortunately, is too often the case.

3. Some of the more successful self-published books are about self-publishing.

I don't know what this says about the industry, but it's probably not a good thing. I didn't read any books because I was busy scouring the Internet, but there are a few that appear to have some useful information. However, take everything with a grain of salt because things change quickly in self-publishing and analysis of the industry tends to attract a lot of qualifying statements.

As Mark Levine notes in a "sample" review of his The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, "Will BookPros provide a service that is $20,000 better than anyone else in this book? If your book takes off, then yes. However, if your book isn't very successful, you may not think so." In another noteworthy book, Stacie Vander Pol takes a stab at ranking top performing POD self-publishing companies based on sales performance. I'd like to see this stuff on a free website rather than a book. But that's just me.

4. Good self-published books are few and far between.

Because the barrier to entry is so low, the majority of self-published books are pretty bad. If I had to put a number on it, I'd say less than 5 percent are decent and less than 1 percent are really good. A tiny fraction become monster success stories, but every once in a while, you'll hear about someone hitting it big.

5. The odds are against you.

The average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies--or 2/3 to 3/4 of your friends and family combined (and don't count on all your Facebook aquaintances buying). I don't have a source for this statistic, but I've seen this stated on several blogs and as a Publishers Weekly article titled "Turning Bad Books into Big Bucks" noted, while traditional publishers aim to publish hundreds of thousands of copies of a few books, self-publishing companies make money by publishing 100 copies of hundreds of thousands of books.

6. Creating a "professional" book is really hard.

Barrier to entry may be low, but creating a book that looks professional and is indistinguishable from a book published by a "real" publishing house is very difficult and requires a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars (I'm up at around $5,000 right now). You wonder why "real" books take 9 months to produce--and usually significantly longer. Well, I now know why. It's hard to get everything just right (if you're a novice at book formatting, Microsoft Word will become your worst enemy). And once you've finally received that final proof, you feel it could be slightly better.

7. Have a clear goal for your book.

This will help dictate what service you go with. For instance, if your objective is to create a book for posterity's sake (so your friends and family can read it for all eternity), you won't have to invest a lot of time or money to produce something that's quite acceptable. Lulu is probably your best bet. However, if yours is a commercial venture with big aspirations, things get pretty tricky.

8. Even if it's great, there's a good chance your book won't sell.

If your book is really mediocre, don't expect it to take off. But even if it's a masterpiece, there's a good chance it won't fly off the shelves. In other words, quality isn't a guarantee of success. You'll be lucky to make your investment back, let alone have a "hit" that brings in some real income. Don't quit your day job yet.

9. Niche books do best.

This seems to be the mantra of self-publishing. Nonfiction books with a well-defined topic and a nice hook to them can do well, especially if they have a target audience that you can focus on. Religious books are a perfect case in point. And fiction? Well, it's next to impossible. But then again, the majority of fiction books--even ones from "real" publishers--struggle in the marketplace. That's why traditional publishers stick with tried-and-true authors with loyal followings.

10. Buy your own ISBN--and create your own publishing house.

If you have market aspirations for your book, buy your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and create your own publishing company.

Even if you go with one of the subsidy presses for convenience sake, there's no reason to have Lulu, BookSurge, CreateSpace, iUniverse, Xlibris, Author House, Outskirts, or whomever listed as your publisher. For $99 (what a single ISBN costs) and a little added paperwork, you can go toe-to-toe with any small publisher. sells ISBNs. BookSurge does not. I bought mine at RJ Communications, which also provides author services. The complete list of sellers is here.

11. Create a unique title.

Your book should be easy to find in a search on Amazon. It should come up in the first couple of search results. Unfortunately, many authors make the mistake of using a title that has too many other products associated it with it--and it gets buried in search results. Not good. Basically, you want to get the maximum SEO (search engine optimization) for your title, so if and when somebody's actually looking to buy it they'll find the link for your book--not an older one with an identical title.

12. Turn-key solutions cost a lot of money.

You've written your book and God knows you'd like to just hand it off to someone, have a team of professionals whip it into shape, and get it out there. Well, there are a lot of companies that will offer to make just that happen--and do it in a fraction of the time a traditional publisher could. But those "packages" range anywhere from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $25,000 for the deluxe stuff at BookPros with some marketing/PR extras rolled in. (BookPros says it's selective and aims to take on books that it thinks will sell).

These folks can potentially put together a really nice book for you. But I've also heard a lot nightmare stories where people come away disappointed with the process and feel ripped off. Read this interesting interview with iUniverse CEO Kevin Weiss. Then read the comments in the comments section. You'll catch my drift.

13. Self-publishers don't care if your book is successful.

They say they care, but they really don't care. You have to make them care.

14. Buy as little as possible from your publishing company.

Self-publishing outfits are in the game to make money. And since they're probably not going to sell a lot of your books, they make money by selling you services with nice margins. That's OK. Some of the services are worth it--or at least may be worth it. In an experiment, I've invested in BookSurge's Buy X, Get Y program that pairs your book with an Amazon bestseller. While it's pricey--it's normally $1,000 a month, but during a special sale, I bought 3 months for the price of two--and may not help you sell all that many books, it does put your thumbnail image in front of a lot of people. (After I complete the program, I'll try to ascertain its effectiveness and report back).

Personally, I'd never work with BookSurge's in-house editors, copy editors, and in-house design people. That doesn't mean they're bad at what they do (I've seen some covers that are well done). But if you can, it's better to hire your own people and work directly with them. Ideally, you should be able to meet with an editor, copy editor, and graphic designer in person--and they all should have experience in book publishing.

By the way if you're interested in pairing your book with one of the big shots in Booksurge's Buy X, Get Y program, pairing your book with a bestseller isn't cheap.

15. If you're serious about your book, hire a book doctor and get it copy-edited.

OK, so I've just told to avoid "packages" from publishers and yet I'm now saying you need editing and copy-editing. So, where do you go? Well, before I sent my book out to agents, I hired a "book doctor" who was a former acquisition editor from a major New York publishing house (like most editors he worked at a few different houses). He happened to be the father of a friend from college, so I got a little discount, but it still wasn't cheap. However, after I'd made the changes he suggested, he made some calls to agents he knew and some were willing to take a look. His name is Jerry Gross and he's part of Independent Editors Group (IEG), a group of former acquisition editors who take on freelance editing projects for authors.

While I didn't use his copy editor (I used a friend of a friend who currently works at a big publishing house), he and other editors in his group can suggest people. To be clear, this isn't going to be a better deal than what you'd get from a package deal with a self-publisher, but these people are experienced and are going to be upfront and honest with you. They're not just pushing your book out to move it along the line on the conveyor belt, though they are trying to make a living. (Warning: They don't take on all writers).

By no means is IEG the only game in town. There are plenty of good book consultants out there, including Alan Rinzler, who has an excellent blog and straddles the line between being an executive editor at an imprint of John Wiley & Sons and providing services to private clients. I expect that as the publishing industry contracts further, you'll see more editors--and former editors--becoming guns for hire.

Note: I had the added advantage of my agent being a former editor at a publishing house. So, he was able to suggest changes that made the book better (alas, not good enough to entice a "real" publisher into buying it).

16. Negotiate everything.

BookSurge and other self-publishing companies are always offering special deals on their various services. There isn't whole lot of leeway, but it doesn't hurt to ask for deal sweeteners--like more free copies of your book (they often throw in free copies of your book). It also doesn't hurt to ask about deals that have technically expired. In sales, everything is negotiable. Remember, these people have quotas and bonuses at stake. (For their sake, I hope they do anyway).

17. Ask a lot of questions and don't be afraid to complain.

BookSurge charged me $300 to join the BookSurge club so to speak. Companies like Lulu and CreateSpace have complete DIY options and require no upfront setup fees. That's great, but when you're dealing with a superbasic package, you're most likely going to be doing customer support via e-mail or IM, which I don't love. I want to be able to call up and bitch (in a nice way, of course) directly to a live person on the phone and I'm happy to pay an extra $300 for that privilege (which is really the only thing you're getting for $300).

I will say this: The customer service at BookSurge has generally been great. You can't always get through to your sales rep, marketing rep, or customer service reps right away (yes, the company is very regimented), but they do get back to you pretty quickly and all my issues have been resolved within a day or two.

18. Self-publishing is a contact sport.

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to self-publishing is that they expect to just put out a book and have it magically sell. They might even hire a publicist and expect something to happen. It's just not so. You have to be a relentless self-promoter. Unfortunately, a lot people just don't have the stomach or time for it--which is part of the reason I anted up for BookSurge's Buy X, Get Y program, which is essentially a form of advertising.

19. Getting your book in bookstores sounds good, but that shouldn't be a real concern.

You may have always wanted to see your book in a bookstore but bookstores aren't keen on carrying self-published books and it's extremely difficult to get good placement in the store for your book so chances are no one will see the three copies the store has on hand anyway. Furthermore, your royalty drops to 10% on in-store sales. Some of the self-publishing outfits offer distribution through Ingram. BookSurge offers it through Baker & Taylor. BookSurge says: "Your trade paperback book will be available for order through Baker & Taylor on a non-returnable basis. For an additional yearly fee, your book can be made available through Baker & Taylor on a returnable basis with our Baker & Taylor Returnable Program. You'll receive a 10% royalty on all wholesale book orders purchased through Baker & Taylor."

Note: A while back I had a nonfiction book published by a traditional publisher, Faber & Faber. My local Barnes & Noble in New York had three copies of it. It felt good seeing it on a shelf--for about 10 minutes.

20. Self-published books don't get reviewed.

Yes, it's true. It's very hard to get your self-published book reviewed--and the mantra in the traditional publishing world is that reviews sell books. But eventually that will change. People didn't take bloggers seriously at first and now they do. And what's interesting is that reputable book reviewers such as Kirkus are offering special reviews services geared toward self-published authors. The author pays a fee to have the book reviewed (around $400-$550, depending on the speed) and a freelancer writes an objective critique (yes, they do negative reviews) in the same format as a standard Kirkus review--except the review must be cited as a Kirkus Discoveries review. I expect more companies to go this route to expand revenue streams.

21. Design your book cover to look good small.

(Credit: Amazon)

Traditional book publishers design--or at least they used to design--a book cover to make a book stand out in a bookstore and evoke whatever sentiment it was supposed to evoke. Well, with Amazon becoming a dominant bookseller, your book has to stand out as a thumbnail image online because that's how most people are going to come across it. If you're primarily selling through Amazon, think small and work your way up.

22. If you're selling online, make the most out of your Amazon page.

I'm a little bit surprised by how neglectful some self-published authors are when it comes to their Amazon product pages. I've talked to self-published authors who spend a few thousand dollars on a publicist and their Amazon product page looks woeful--and they've barely even looked at it. I ask, "Where are people going to buy your book?" They don't seem to realize how important Amazon is. True, some people market through a Web site or buy Google keywords to drive traffic there. But you need to have your Amazon page look as good as possible and take advantage of the "tools" Amazon has to help you surface your book ("Tags," Listmania, reader reviews, etc.). It may not have a major impact, but it's better than doing nothing.

One tip: Make sure your book is put into five browsing categories (it's only allowed 5). It helps to categorize your book to readers and also will make your book look better if it's a bestseller in those categories. No one at BookSurge suggested this to me; I had to figure it out on my own. (Again, they don't care, you have to make them care).

The manifestation of categorizing your book.
(Credit: Amazon)

23. Pricing is a serious challenge.

The biggest problem with going the POD route is that it costs more to produce one-offs of your book than it does to do produce thousands. I can buy my book--it's a paperback--from BookSurge for $5.70. It's about 370 pages. Now, if I went ahead and had the thing printed up directly through an off-set printer--and ordered a few thousand of them--I could probably cut the cost of the book in half, and maybe even a little more. But I'd have to pay the upfront fee to buy the books and then I'd have to figure out a way to sell them (this is how vanity presses used to work--you had to agree to buy a few thousand books).

Amazon sells my book for $15.99 (It stared at $17.99 but I've managed to get BookSurge to whittle the price down by $2). BookSurge royalty rates seem to be standardized: authors get 35% of the book's list price. You can also sweeten the pot by becoming an Amazon affiliate: if customers buy the book through the Amazon affiliate link (say, on an author-produced website that advertises the book), that's an additional 7% in the author's pocket.

Those are actually quite good royalty rates (interesting article here) in the world of subsidy self-publishing. But the fact is, to compete against top-selling titles from traditional publishers my book should be a little cheaper (I barely beat the hardcover prices of bestsellers). Some of the other subsidy self-publishers seem to have a little more flexibility with price setting on Amazon, but BookSurge appears to have a better overall rate of return compared to the likes of Lulu, iUniverse, and Xlibris. In other words, if I was using Lulu and I set my selling price at $15.99 on Amazon, I'd make less money. ( touts its own online store, which is well designed and has a big audience, but--compared to the Amazon juggernaut--I have my doubts you can sell a lot of books there).

As I said, I've generally had a good experience with BookSurge and have been pleased with the service. However, the one thing that I truly resent is how my book is priced on Amazon. There's no discount on it! Every book from every "real" publisher has a slash through the list price and then there's the Amazon price. On mine, the list price is the price.

That's not cool, Mr. Bezos. I mean, if BookSurge needs to set a price floor to hit certain margins, set the list price higher, put a slash through it, and put the street price at a buck or two less and give the author the royalty on the street price. That way, the book looks like every other book and the buyer thinks he or she is getting some sort of discount. That's important. As it is, I guess I'm looking at sort of an Apple pricing model, where the list price is the street price. I should note that there is a chance my book might get discounted--but it's dependent on an Amazon algorithm that kicks in when you hit some sort of milestone that remains shrouded in mystery. To be fair this is not a BookSurge problem exactly, it's more of an Amazon/BookSurge synergy problem and a database issue.

24. Electronic books have potential, but they're still in their infancy.

Once you have your book finalized in a Word or PDF file, it's relatively easy to convert it into one of the many ebook formats--or just offer it as a download as a PDF. There are several epublishers geared to "indie" authors, including Smashwords (good list of others here) and many ebook-oriented blogs. I like the concept of HarperCollins' Authonomy, which is designed to discover new talent--but it's more geared toward trying to get a traditional publishing contract.

In terms of ebook readers, Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader line have the biggest audiences (BookSurge charges $299 to turn your book into a Kindle ebook--that's too much, considering you can find other parties to convert it correctly, formatting tweaks and all, for half that, and probably less). But a lot of people are looking toward the iPhone and iPod Touch as a potentially interesting market for ebooks because there are so many of them out there (see CNET TV's Molly Wood's related video here). For self-published authors, I see all these electronic avenues as ways to reach a larger audience quickly, but I don't see anybody getting a ton of downloads unless you're willing to sell your ebook very cheaply or give it away. There are exceptions, of course, but self-published ebooks present more of a supplemental marketing opportunity than a way to make big bucks.

25. Self-publishing is a fluid business.

Self-publishing is a rapidly evolving industry with lots of competitors that are constantly throwing out new information. Publishers are continually upgrading their facilities, infrastructure, and pricing, and what I--or other pundits say today--could be wrong just a few months from now. Last year, BookSurge was only offering 25 percent royalties on books. This year, it's 35 percent. What does next year hold in store?