From the Archives: “Google misspelled itself: The weight of word choice in self-publishing a book”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: December 5th, 2010 ]

Scholars and sources claim that William Shakespeare invented as many 1700 in his published and performed writing career. Language is dynamic and words are invented all of the time. Or, in cases like “Google” reinvented through accidentally misspelling the word for the number, googol. When words, specific combinations of words, are used often they can become powerful. They can also become cliché.

An interesting definition of the word cliché from Wikipedia:

“a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. The term is frequently used in modern culture for an action or idea which is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. It is likely to be used pejoratively.”

How many of us where taught to avoid cliché in our writing at all cost? One popular creative writing professor focuses an entire week on the subject.

In print, the French derived word, cliché, came to denote a printing plate used as a cast in moveable type. Commonly used words and phrases were cast into a single mold. The idea was to take a novelty and replicate it easily and inexpensively. The overuse of such came to take on a negative connotation.

But cliché can work for the self-publishing author in marketing your book.

What do words and phrases like these bring to mind?

Change we can believe in
All for one…
Don’t leave home without it…
Google

Even if these are terms you don’t personally buy into, or even agree with, they are indelible. Think of them as the cast plate of the new digital work that come in the form of keywords, tags, Twitter handles, and the list goes on. The can become the brand for your book. And the best part is they are free.

Whether you’re published or just finishing the 1st chapter of your book, start thinking about what makes your work unique, and how cliché may become a key component in your book marketing campaign.

On Clichés

They’re not all bad, are they? After all, there’s nothing quite so appealing as the comfort of familiarity, especially in the midst of unfamiliar territory or while on the hunt for something new to stock the shelves––whether those shelves are in the pantry or the office or the library, this rule will always apply. Even people who self-confess to being “adventurous souls” very rarely try the absolute least familiar item available on the menu; humans are hard-wired to be scientists, and to hone their powers of selection by trial and error.

Try something and hate it, and anything connected to it will automatically become a less likely future choice, even subconsciously. Try something and love it, and anything remotely similar or that shares similar ingredients will strike a congenial subconscious note, making that strange seafood dish you’ve never heard of but that contains coconut and shrimp automatically appealing––or that book you’ve never read, but that uses a similar cover design to Adrian Tchaikovsky or Nnedi Okorafor deeply interesting, even though you’ve never heard of the new author.

This process of learning and developing tastes by trial and error leads to another psychological distillation which at first sounds ominous: confirmation bias. Essentially, confirmation bias comes into play when people want a certain idea to be true, and they end up coaxing themselves into believing it to be true. As Psychology Today puts it, “They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.” Confirmation bias has been blamed for a lot of negative human behavior, including the recent political conversation about “fake news” and the people who do or do not believe the news in question, but it’s not always such a bad thing. It’s the consequence of how humans learn––by trial and error, and learning from not just our personal errors but the errors of others. Oh, that kind of book cover has let me down in the past. Oh, that genre has been a safe choice before! And so on.

Confirmation bias shares the power of clichés on a grand social level––we only believe them to work because we tell ourselves that they work, collectively. But if there’s anything we can learn from human psychology, it’s that these kinds of collective decisions can have powerful, wide-ranging, far-reaching effects. We will use a cliché if we personally or collectively have tested its premise and found it lines up with the universe well. For example, if we’ve “looked a gift horse in the mouth” or known someone who did, and suffered for it, we’re far more likely to use the cliché ourselves in the future––because it lines up with experience.

So:

Experience is the test of whether you should use a certain cliché in your marketing or not. Don’t use a cliché just because it exists and falls easily off of the tongue (and onto your laptop keyboard) … use a cliché because it lines up with the evidence, personally and generally. Readers have phenomenally sensitive “B.S. detectors” (as my father put it once), and they will not forgive you for lapsing into cliché-speak just to drive sales and without verifying the legitimacy of your language usage. As in all things, you want to be true to yourself, to your voice as an author––in marketing as in everything else––and you want to be the most effective, accurate author possible.

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Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


Kelly

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

From the Archives: “The Book Doctor talks ‘Copyright’ Protection”

Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: June 2nd, 2010 ]

Self-publishing affords author the advantage of 100% content and property rights control, which makes copyright protection an important element to consider when choosing your publisher. Bobbie the “Book Doctor” Christmas shares some helpful tips…

Q: When I send my manuscript to readers or agents, should I put the copyright c in a circle on the title page, on every page, or anywhere at all? Should a date be there also?

A: I tend to trust people and therefore do not put a copyright mark on my manuscripts, because the laws of copyright protect us—that is, we own the rights to all our intellectual property the moment we create it. Also, agents and publishers who see a copyright mark may think the person who sent the manuscript is un-knowledgeable or paranoid, because it is not necessary to officially register the copyright until the work is laid out and ready to be published in book form.

If, however, you feel more comfortable marking your manuscripts with a copyright mark, the traditional method for showing a copyright is to use the symbol c in a circle or write the word “Copyright.” Either form should then be followed by the year and your first and last name, all on one line. It should appear on the title page only, and because it is not standard to have a copyright mark on a manuscript, there is no standard for where on the title page to put it. I would probably put it two lines below the name of the author on the title page.

Do not, however, go to the trouble of registering the copyright with the government until the book is about to be published. The content will no doubt change between the time you write it and it gets published, so wait until the book is in its final form before paying to register the copyright.

– by Bobbie Christmas

I’ll be honest with you here:

After decades of working in the self-publishing industry–as an author myself and as an advocate for other authors–copyright is still hard.  And messy.  And confusing.  For Americans at least, it shouldn’t be–the basic principles of copyright were determined (and governed) by the United States Constitution and other international copyright agreements, and have therefore been around a while.  For the the most part, after all of my experience, I feel like I can muddle along on a day-to-day basis, repeating the basic definition to myself:

Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. This is usually only for a limited time. The exclusive rights are not absolute but limited by limitations and exceptions to copyright law, including fair use. A major limitation on copyright is that copyright protects only the original expression of ideas, and not the underlying ideas themselves.

(Thanks, Wikipedia.)

The thing is, despite having a fairly solid understanding of what my own “original work” and “intellectual property” looks like, there are a swarm of details like the one Bobbie addresses above that end up being so complicated I can’t memorize all of the details.  And because copyright laws are serious–and I want to respect both my own work as well as the work of others–I want and even need to have full command of the necessary information to honor copyright requirements.

copyright

Which is why having the right resources on hand to turn to is important.  A good copyright resource, like the Owl at Purdue for grammar and academic writing requirements, will be detailed and thorough, easy to navigate, and always just one click away.  It really does take a load off when you’re in a pinch and need to know the answer right now.

When it comes to resources on copyright, I have a few recommendations:

  • Poets & Writers has a website dedicated to “Copyright Information for Writers” which strikes just the right balance between simplicity and responsiveness.  You have the option of starting a “Topic,” or essentially posting your own query to the P&W community for responses.
  • UW Copyright Connection may just be the most successful resource at breaking down the various complexities of copyright for authors looking to answer specific questions. The Connection looks and feels much like a Wiki–only it’s dedicated to authors, so there’s no need to skim through the white noise of irrelevant information to find the answers you need.
  • The Book Designer has a series of good posts about copyright, including one titled “Self-Publishing Basics: The Copyright Page” that specifically addresses, well, the copyright page.  It addresses Bobbie’s comments above, and then fills in some of the white space around them.
  • The Huffington Post is also getting into the copyright game by addressing the self-publishing author’s unique relationship with copyright.  Check out the article, “Legal Issues in Self-Publishing: What Authors Need to Know” for more information.
  • Wikipedia.  It’s less of a cop-out than you think, trust me, especially if you’re looking for the historical background to certain copyright restrictions.  Sometimes the why is buried in the how it came about, and knowing the reasons for a restriction often make it easier to live within. Wikipedia also has a page dedicated to Authors Rights.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠


KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

From the Archives: “The Book Doctor on Poetry and Publishing”

Welcome back to our new Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted: July 1st, 2010 ]

Q: How would I go about publishing an original one-hundred-page poetry book? Generally how much would the profit be from such a book?

A: You have quite a few options and potential paths when it comes to publishing. Before you decide to self-publish or try to sell a book to a publisher, first you must know your goals and assess your abilities. My fifty-minute seminar on CD called “I Finished My Book; What Should I Do Next?” covers the decision-making process, so you’ll know which way to go, whether you want to self-publish or attempt to find a publisher, and if you self-publish, whether you want to use a traditional printer, print-on-demand (POD), or a company that helps in the publishing process. I crammed the seminar with information and included many pages of supplemental printed material, so you can understand why I can’t answer your question in detail in only a few paragraphs.

Here’s a little information to help, though.

If you already know you want to self-publish, your next step depends on whether you want to handle all the pre-printing details, such as editing, internal and cover design, ISBN numbers, and finding a printer, or whether you prefer to rely on a company that handles those details for you—for a price. Read a good book on self-publishing and learn all aspects of it before you make your decision. Also carefully scrutinize the company you choose as a printer or publisher—know there is a difference—and carefully ensure that the services the company provides are the services you need.

You also asked how much profit to expect. Let me first ask a question: When did you last buy a poetry book? If you are like most Americans, you have not bought a single poetry book in the last ten years. Although millions of people write poetry, not many write it well, and even fewer buy poetry books. Poetry books rarely make any profit at all.

Although few Americans make much if any money from poetry, it is the highest form of literary art. Once writers master poetry, they can apply those skills to their fiction and nonfiction and increase their chances of making money with their prose.

My news should not discourage you, however. If you put a great deal of time and effort into marketing, you might make some money after all. At least one poet I know used POD for his books and travels the country giving readings. He writes excellent poetry and performs it well, and he has sold close to a thousand copies of his book. He chose POD, which gives him less profit per book than if he had chosen a traditional printer, but he did not have to invest a huge amount of money up front or store thousands of books, so the tradeoff suits his needs.

As you can see, the answer to both questions—how to go about getting a poetry book published and how much you might profit—are the same: It depends on what you are willing and able to do, and none of the paths are simple. Educate yourself first and then decide what works best for you.


When Bobbie Christmas (author of Write in Style, printed by Union Square Publishing, and owner of Zebra Communications) first wrote this question-and-answer post for us back in mid-2010, the self-publishing market was still young enough that authors could rely on readers to purchase the big “staples” of the book market––meaning fiction, and especially genre fiction––but the so-called “niche” markets and genres were still somewhat a) underdeveloped, b) undiscovered, or c) the data wasn’t available to analyze their profitability.

Luckily, we have on board our Tuesday “From the Archives” vehicle a time machine which allows us to jump five years forward from 2010 … to 2015.  (Please allow me to pretend there’s actual time travel involved!  It’s a Tuesday, after all.)  And when it comes to self-published poetry, we have a great deal more information at our fingertips today than ever before.

First, I might point you to the experience of Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol, whose book of poems (Letters, to the Men I Have Loved) has not only done moderately well––it has done so exceptionally well as to remain on Amazon’s bestseller lists for months.  MMCM published through Outskirts Press, a hybrid publishing company based out of the Denver area, and OP ran a feature and interview piece with her on their official blog.  “The most rewarding part [of being published] is and will always be the ability Letters has to touch people,” says MMCM. “It’s crazy because I didn’t think people really read books anymore. But for me, having these girls go and buy my book, and spend their twenty dollars or so on Letters––it’s amazing, that someone believes in things still.”  Readers have been snapping up copies of her book, both in physical and digital forms, at such a rate as to firmly prove that people still “really read books”––including poetry.

Secondly, I might point you to this blog post by self-published poets Terri Kirby Erickson and Michelle True.  (Every day there are more and more useful online resources like theirs that are sent out into the aether, and now the greater struggle is not just to find information, but to determine which information is actually useful.)  This particular post is handy, not because it provides a template or how-to guide to put you on a path to success (though it might also do that, in a sense) but because it provides an anthology of the ways in which these two self-published poets have already found ways to sell their books.  If you needed affirmation that you can be a poet, and a self-published poet at that, and find your readers––well, take a look.  Articles like the one Denise Enck wrote for the Empty Mirror is much more prescriptive, and may help fill in the gaps.

Lastly, I might also point you to a bit of anecdotal evidence: Yesterday, I was in my local library, browsing the new additions, when I overheard a patron talking with one of the librarians at the front desk.  “Where would I find the poetry?” she asked.  “I don’t see much of it here.”  The librarian pointed out that the poetry was mixed in with poetry, nonfiction, and even young adult, junior fiction, and junior nonfiction.  “But why?” asked the patron.  “All I want to read is some poetry.  It’s the only kind of book that I actually enjoy!”  The library did happen to have a section dedicated to local authors, many of whom were self-published.

What Bobbie Christmas wrote back in 2010 still holds true: “none of the paths are simple.”  But today we have the benefit of knowing that, while writing remains a highly personal and sometimes borderline crazy endeavor, writers of all types and creeds and genres and niche markets are finding success, finding readers, and finding their true voice.  Keep writing, dear readers.  And keep publishing! ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Guest Post – 5 Social Tools for Authors by John T. Meyer

You all know as readers of this blog the publishing industry has changed drastically. Whether you are an author or a publisher the game is different today: cost of production is down, marketing channels are everywhere, and you can even eliminate the middle man. Much of this change can be attributed to technology.

As a social technology consultant I spend everyday helping businesses, brands, and bloggers utilize today’s social technology. Today I thought I’d take a look at what specific tools and channels an author can take advantage of. I’m going to focus on authors, and I also want to point out that every single one of these tools is free.

  1. Name Chk – I’m sure the right way for authors to name a book is at the very end, but I just get excited about names. Use a tool like name chckr to scan across all social networks to see if your desired name is available. You still can name your book whatever you please, but you’re going to want to utilize social media to promote.
  2. Search.Twitter – This website is what takes Twitter to the next level. There are plenty of web apps that do similar things, but when it comes to listening on Twitter it doesn’t get any better. Run searches on keywords in your industry, topics related to your book, and influencers who can help promote. You can use Search.Twitter before writing as a research tool, or after publishing as a promotional tool.
  3. Facebook Ads – I know you’re thinking, I never click on a Facebook ad, but that isn’t the point. A successful author today has to target a specific audience of readers. The best-selling books are targeted at a niche that needs the content. Facebook Ads have an incredible ability to target to exactly who you’re looking for. With the ability to sort by age, gender, geography, education level, and interests you are bound to find your book’s audience. Facebook Ads can be affordable and build massive awareness.
  4. Square – When it is time to sell, you don’t need a POS system or the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble, just sell the book yourself – on the go! Square is that nifty sugar cube like credit card reader that plugs nicely into your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or Android’s headphone jack. Just swipe a card and receive the payment. No monthly fees, no cost for the device, just a 2.75% transaction fee (which is quite competitive I might add).
  5. Google+ – Part of my job is jumping on and trying the latest and greatest in social technology, but usually I go into a new network with a lot of skepticism. Especially when Google (a search company first) attempts to do something social (e.g. Google Wave, Google Buzz). However, this time around I’m a bit more intrigued. I believe Google did something right this time with Google+ and I want to spend more time digging into it. As a brand new network, I think the opportunity is out there to build a strong brand on G+, and we all know a best-selling author needs a strong brand.

For questions on these tools or others hit me up on Twitter (@johntmeyer) or feel free to email me at john (at) 9clouds (dot) com. Also, learn more about social technology in our product Sandbox, an online community that makes social technology easy.


Book Editing & Point of View

Q: Can you tell me if editors (and even reviewers) specifically check or look out for consistency of viewpoint in a novel? I have been reading about being consistent with time and with how close you focus with one or many characters, and it seems a little confusing. Is this something I should take a class in? I was just wondering if many published authors keep these things in mind when writing a story.

A: Editors come in many forms. Some simply handle acquisitions for a publisher and do not edit at all, much less comment on viewpoint. Some editors edit for grammar, punctuation, and syntax and do not pay attention to viewpoint. Only an editor or book doctor who also analyzes the content will pay attention to, point out, or correct viewpoint flaws, which certainly should be addressed, because publishers want clear, consistent, and logical viewpoints in novels.

Viewpoint (also called point of view or POV) is a tricky matter. It refers to which character perceives that particular scene—in whose point of view the action takes place.

Consistency is important in that the point of view should be only one per scene (that is, never get into the head of more than one character per scene). You can get into another character’s point of view by starting a new scene.

Your best bet is to use only main characters as point-of-view characters, and the best novels have no more than three main characters. How the time per character is divvied up, though, does not matter. The choice is up to the author.

I think it’s easier to find a book on point of view than find a class that specifically addresses that issue, but no matter how you choose to educate yourself, if you want to write novels, you do need to know about point of view and how and when to use it to its best advantage.

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com

Self-publishing Advice guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

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Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Q: I’ve noticed that printed paperback mysteries range from 250 to 325 pages. Using double spacing, what should my manuscript page count be, then? I’m trying to determine how much background information I need to include without it looking like padding. Any ideas?

A: Rather than thinking in terms of page count, think in terms of word count. Most publishers prefer first novels to run between 50,000 and 100,000 words. In most word processing programs, you can go to Tools to get the word count of your file.

No matter what, avoid padding at all costs. If you have only 40,000 words, but they are tight and great and nothing more could enhance the story, stop writing! If, however, you have an idea for another plot-related scene or chapter that could flesh out the story, by all means add it and pump up the word count closer to 50,000 words.

Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com

Self-publishing Advice Guest Post: Ask the Book Doctor

Q: What’s the difference between narrative nonfiction and a memoir? I’m hearing that because of so many fake memoirs, editors are shy about taking memoirs. Could a memoir be pitched as narrative nonfiction?

A: All memoirs and biographies are considered narrative nonfiction, while how-to books are considered prescriptive nonfiction. In other words, call the book narrative nonfiction or memoir, but it’s the same thing. Agents and publishers won’t be fooled by the word choice.

The market for memoirs is still strong. Think of runaway bestseller Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs, for example.

If you can attest to the accuracy of the details and the story is alluring and well-written, the manuscript has a fair chance. Well-written memoirs include vignettes or scenes with beginnings, middles, and ends and include action, dialogue, narrative, settings, and other elements of fiction to make readers feel as though they are watching the story unfold.

Self-publishing guest post: Ask the Book Doctor

Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at http://www.zebraeditor.com

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