Writing and Publishing News for September 11th through September 18th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 11th through September 18th:

Writing and Publishing News for September 7th through September 9th

Here’s what I’ve tagged for September 7th through September 9th:

Bookmarks for January 3rd through January 8th

These are my links for January 3rd through January 8th:

Bookmarks for December 14th from 18:44 to 19:04

These are my links for December 14th from 18:44 to 19:04:

Self-Publishing, Print on Demand, and You

On Wednesday, December 3, 2008, I gave a presentation about self-publishing and POD to Clive Matson’s “Getting Published” writers’ group. I’ve reproduced my handout here. Click the “play” button below for the recording. If you pay close attention, you can hear me make a mortifying grammar gaffe: I said “have chose” instead of “have chosen.”

The recorder shut down before we had finished the discussion, which went on for quite some time, but after we had moved from the topic of POD to other aspects of marketing a book.

The example of POD success leading to a contract with a major publisher is Terry Fallis’ book The Best-Laid Plans.

The Handout

Traditional Self-Publishing

  • Higher up-front costs, but lower per-book cost (offset printing)
  • You’[podcast]http://authorizer.fileslinger.com/audio/Matson-12-03-2008.mp3[/podcast][podcast]http://authorizer.fileslinger.com/audio/Matson-12-03-2008.mp3[/podcast]re responsible for storage and distribution (shipment)

Print on Demand

  • Lower up front costs, but higher per-book cost (digital printing)
  • POD company prints and ships books as needed

Costs Author Pays Either Way

  • Copyediting
  • Book design and typesetting
  • Cover design
  • Proofreading
  • ISBN/Bar code

Podcasting Your Book

  • Inexpensive, but time-consuming
  • Builds audience/platform (might lead to publishing contract)
  • Best for fiction, poetry

Some POD Companies




Should You Start Your Own POD Bookstore?

On October 12, 2008, Paula B from The Writing Show published an episode about Print-on-Demand Technologies hosted by Ricardo from Amigo Audio (known to me from his insightful contributions to the For Immediate Release podcast). Ricardo talked about buying your own printing press in order to start a bookstore that could provide thousands of titles without needing acres of shelf space.

The printing press, in this case, would be one of two devices, either of them smaller than the HP Indigo printers used by many POD houses and the new MagCloud services. The first is Instabook Maker, which when assembled is 7 feet long, 3 feet high, and 2.5 feet deep.

Instabook Maker III

The second is the Espresso Book Machine from On Demand Books. The new 2.0 version is 3.8 feet wide, 2.7 feet deep, and 4.5 feet high.

Either of these could fit in a good-sized office or a modest-sized storefront. (Ricardo even talks about the possibility of installing such a press in a van and creating a new, improved bookmobile.)

When listening to Ricardo’s recording, I had a hard time imagining myself, or most of the authors I work with, wanting to start a bookstore. Devices like this do have the potential to give independent bookstores—a dying breed—an edge they haven’t had before and an opportunity to make a wider range of books available to their customers, including titles that have now gone out of print. But most non-fiction authors don’t aspire to running a bookstore or even a printing press. Come to that, I don’t know any novelists or poets who do, either. In fact, most independent publishers have someone else do their printing.

Then there’s the caveat that even if the quality of the paper, printing, and binding do in fact stack up to those of commercially published books, producing a professional-looking book requires good design and good editing in addition to the correct technology.

And if you want to be able to reprint books from other authors and publishers, there has to be some kind of arrangement about rights and royalties, which could get complicated.

But then I got my October Michigan Today, and what should be in it but an article about an Espresso Book Machine recently installed in the Ugli? (Excuse me, the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. But when I was in gradual school at U-M in the early 1990s, we all thought “Ugli” was only too appropriate.) U-M was one of the first libraries to get involved in digitizing books as part of the controversial Google Book Search project, so it’s not surprising they should be quick to adopt other new technologies.

The Espresso Book Machine makes perfect sense as an investment for a research library. Academic books tend to have small print runs and to go out of print quickly, but those out-of-print books remain important for scholars. U-M is a research university famed for its library collections. They even have a papyrology collection; I worked there one summer. (Yeah, I know, you thought U-M was all about football. I was in Ann Arbor for 5 years and never went to a single game.) And libraries only need a few copies of any given title, but they need to restock them due to wear and tear.

So when I read the article and watched the video, I thought “Now that is really cool.”

Espresso Book Machine

Do I want to open a bookstore? No. And I don’t think either Instabook or Espresso is likely to be a good investment for anyone who wants to print large runs of single books. Nor is owning such a device enough to make you a publisher (assuming you can afford one, and the prices are such that you’d better be independently wealthy, a large enterprise, or have VC backing). But the potential really is tremendous, if the intellectual property issues can be worked out.

Magazines on Demand

A couple of months ago I wrote about storing your data “in the cloud.” Now Hewlett-Packard wants publishers to store magazines in the cloud and make them available on demand. These days, a “publisher” is anyone who posts content online, so that means you.

Thanks to colleagues in the Northern California chapter of the National Speakers Association (NSANC), I had the opportunity to attend a presentation on MagCloud at HP Labs today. NSA member Ian Griffin used MagCloud to create the first issue of Professionally Speaking” and send it to NSANC members.

MagCloud prints on heavy 80-lb matte stock rather than the flimsy paper used by most magazine publishers. I compared “Professionally Speaking” with the assorted business magazines piled up on my desk and with the Better Social Media Communication Results newsletter my colleague Lee Hopkins published on an offset press. The MagCloud product compared favorably to both, particularly for printing photos.

The text didn’t seem as crisp or black as that in the BetterComms newsletter, but that may be a function of the resolution of the PDF file uploaded to create “Professionally Speaking,” or perhaps the font color or style, because the body text in HP’s own MagCloud Publisher Guide is as clear and sharp a black as anyone could wish for. (You can download a free PDF version of that to help you set up your own MagCloud publication.)


HP Indigo Printer (cutaway view) MagCloud Publisher Guide

Many POD book publishers use the same HP Indigo printers that produce MagCloud’s magazines. We looked at an Indigo 3000 in the Color Lab, but that’s already been superseded by newer, faster models that push the break-even point versus offset printing to 5,000 copies. (That means that unless you’re printing 5,000 or more copies, HP Indigo technology, and by extension MagCloud, is more cost-effective than offset printing.) Even the older model is impressive—more than seven feet tall, yet amazingly compact and tidy for industrial production. Ordinary inkjets, laser printers, and even offset presses use 4-color printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (abbreviated “K” for reasons I can’t remember). The Indigos use six colors, either the standard CCMMYK of photo printers like my Epson Stylus Photo 1280, or Pantone spot colors. They’ll print on practically anything, including plastic cards, and the samples we saw were beautiful. I don’t think I will add one to my “covet” list, though: the PG&E bill would go through the roof, and the fan noise would keep me up at night.

Serial Typography

Until now, the burgeoning print-on-demand industry has focused on publishing books. Magazines are actually better candidates for POD, which allows for timely production and reduces wastage. (Some 50% of magazines sent to newsstands are never sold and get pulped.)

The defining characteristic of magazines is recurrence. When you sign up as a MagCloud publisher, you’re asked to enter a title and subtitle for your magazine, and then create your first issue. During the private beta, you’ll need an invitation in order to get a publisher account, and they’ve already had more than a thousand requests, so you may have to wait a while before you can try it out.

Many other print publications also lend themselves to this multiple-issue format: newsletters, annual reports, membership directories, course materials, and the like. So do e-zines and blogs. You might not really want to start distributing your e-zine in print format to all your subscribers, but having a print version to hand around at networking meetings could be useful, and it’s possible that a few of your readers will actually want to order one.

If all you want is a short run of a short-format document, however, you may want to consider another POD service, because right now MagCloud offers you one trim size, one binding, and one text stock. (Cover and text stock are the same.) Other features, like templates to allow non-designers to lay out their own magazines, are still in an extremely rudimentary phase. And MagCloud is not (yet?) in the business of selling ISSNs. (That’s like an ISBN, but for magazines; I remember getting one for my electronic journal in 1994, and if you ever want your magazine sold in stores, you’ll need one.)

If they can find a way to import RSS feeds easily MagCloud will attract bloggers in droves. Right now Blurb’s “blog slurping” function only works with hosted blogs, which is no use to those of us who publish our blogs from our own servers. If Windows Live Writer can access and import from all my blogs, I don’t know why BookSmart can’t.

Pricing Structure

MagCloud’s own business model is to charge US$0.20 per full-color page. That’s one side of an 8.5 x 11 sheet, the same as one page in a word-processing program or one page as a copy shop would charge you. This represents a comfortable but not extravagant markup over HP’s costs. It’s less than you’d pay for color photocopies and probably less than it would cost you in ink to print the magazine yourself on an inkjet printer (assuming you have a duplex printer that handles tabloid format sheets, which most people don’t). Publishers add their own markup on top of this base price.

Magazine length is based on a unit of 4 pages, up to a total of 60 pages. (This is short by comparison with most commercial magazines, but much longer than most corporate newsletters.) A 60-page magazine would have a minimum cover price of US$12 plus shipping—steep compared with what you find on the newsstands. And that’s assuming the publisher doesn’t want to make any money on it.

There is no set-up fee for publishing a magazine if your PDF is ready to go.

Magazines 2.0

Because of the Indigo technology’s advantage in short-run printing, the MagCloud team is focusing its efforts on niche publishers like NSA or the Palo Alto flying club. One person at today’s presentation described MagCloud as “iTunes for magazines.” MagCloud has a lot in common with blogging, podcasting, and niche networks created with Ning. While print magazines already exist to serve a phenomenal variety of specific interests, those magazines also cease publication with alarming frequency as subscriber numbers and advertising revenue drop off and distribution costs increase.

A New Model for Print Advertising

Print advertising is the oldest form (apart from yelling at passers-by in the open market, anyway), and it has long-established conventions that simply aren’t appropriate for MagCloud’s niche publications, any more than they suit most podcasts or blogs. Advertisers buy print and broadcast ads based on something called CPM, which means “cost per thousand.” So for every thousand readers you have, you get X amount.

Naturally, if you only have 500 subscribers—or 50—CPM is a rotten model. Traditionally-published magazines give away free subscriptions to “industry professionals” (meaning anyone who signs up): it helps them keep their circulations numbers high. If you’ve ever had one of these free subscriptions and tried to cancel it, you know how difficult it is to stop magazine publishers from sending endless issues of dubious relevance.

MagCloud publishers who want to subsidize their printing costs with advertising (an established revenue model and one not yet much used in book publishing) can learn important lessons from online content creators. Highly targeted audiences are more valuable than sheer numbers. If the advertiser’s product matches the interests of a magazine’s readership closely enough, sales are guaranteed. For some groups (like the wine geeks who listen to Grape Radio), the revenue per order may be quite high and the return on investment in a niche publication very enticing.

This won’t work for all niches, and finding an advertiser to match the interest of your readership might be a challenge. But MagCloud has some ideas about that, too.

Community Vision

Many POD houses make more money by selling design and editing services than by printing and distributing books. Rather than selling design services directly and overtaxing its creative department, HP Labs wants MagCloud to become a community marketplace where content creators can hook up with (and rate) designers, and publishers seeking content can find writers to produce it. In this vision, subscribers could create their own magazines from individual articles in other MagCloud publications. An advertiser could post “I’m trying to reach Baby Boomers in the financial industry” and publishers could respond with their reader demographics and psychographics.

So far the crowdsourcing and social networking aspects of MagCloud are only at the “vision” stage, however. Users of the MagCloud site have two options: to sign up as subscribers, and to sign up as publishers. Eventually, one presumes, it will be possible to sign up as a designer, a content creator, or an advertiser.

Even in its pre-release state, MagCloud offers fascinating possibilities. Like all great ideas, magazine publishing on demand prompts the question “Why hasn’t someone done this before?”

How to Avoid Self-Publishing Mistakes—in One Minute

George Smyth’s One Minute How-To podcast challenges us so-called experts to tell listeners how to do something in one minute. He picked the topic for this one, from a range of possible publishing-related tips. I had to use a written crib sheet to be sure I could cover all the important points in the allotted time.

Naturally, it’s not possible to do all this in one minute.

  1. Read Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book. Try to get the most recent edition.
  2. Visit the SelfPublishing.com website. Read the FAQ. Listen to the Publishing Basics interviews.
  3. Make sure you know the difference between self-publishing (which means printing the books yourself) and POD (Print on Demand), which has a higher per-book cost.
  4. Get an ISBN if you plan to sell the book from anywhere but your own website or garage.
  5. Hire a professional copy editor and typesetter/book designer.
  6. Use BookSurge if you want to sell your POD book on Amazon.
  7. Don’t self-publish if your aim is to get into the large bookstore chains. It can be done, but it’s very difficult.
  8. Look for a local independent publishers association, and join it. In the Bay Area, for instance, we have the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association and Book Builders West.

If you’ve had experience with self-publishing, feel free to add your own suggestions to this list.

Listen to the podcast here.

Can You Publish a Profitable Book in Days?

No, really. Nancy Fulton asked “Do you know how to publish a profitable book (and get it on Amazon) in days?” on LinkedIn. She was hoping for additions to a list of POD she had in a blog post on HubSpot that’s no longer available (I’ve made the publish date of this post the date that I answered the original question, but it’s really September 2009 as I type this).

There was a point I made in my response that I think it’s worth making again here:

The process of getting a book printed is very simple these days. Profiting, on the other hand, is more challenging, because of the increase in the number of books printed: there’s a lot of competition for readers. And even though producing a book through, say, Lulu, costs very little, there are still enough costs associated with making the book publishable (your time in writing it, hiring an editor, hiring a designer) that you’ll need to sell quite a few copies in order to realize a profit from book sales.

On the other hand, if having that book gets you $50,000 of new business in the next year, it could be very profitable even if you give copies away.

In any case, profit doesn’t depend on how you publish, but on the quality of the book and—much more—your own marketing skills.

It’s also worth mentioning the Best Answer for this question, provided by Inna Red. Authors who use a POD house like Lulu or Amazon’s own BookSurge automatically get their books on Amazon, but if you print your books yourself, you need to sign up with Amazon.com Advantage or Amazon.com Advantage Professional, depending on the type of books you produce.

Dan Poynter on YouTube (and elsewhere)

Self-publishing guru Dan Poynter, author of Writing NonfictionAmazon tracking link and The Self-Publishing Manual, makes his YouTube debut in a ten-minute video taken at one of his seminars. The video is not as enlightening as his books, but it does serve to introduce Dan as a person. I’ve never attended a live seminar, but I’ve heard Dan in teleseminars and I’ve read his books, and I definitely recommend them for anyone considering writing and publishing a book. He’s also been very helpful when I’ve contacted him with questions, even though he’s on the road almost all the time. That may be why his podcast never took off, though the first two episodes are worth hearing.

It appears that WordPress doesn’t want me to embed the video here, but you can watch the video at YouTube.

Hat tip to the Small Press Blog.