The Thrill of the Physical Bookstore

The Thrill of the Physical Bookstore Outskirts Press

Last week, I took my children to a bookstore and was happy to see it so busy. During that visit, I rediscovered the thrill of the physical bookstore.

There were long lines at the checkout counter, happy kids looking at books and toys, and exciting energy buzzing within the aisles.

Over the years, though, I’ve seen so many people skip physical bookstores. Instead, they’d save a few bucks and order online. How sad.

It’s especially sad with the pandemic forcing most bookstores to close for months. However, with most stores reopened now—at least the places that survived COVID-19—I’m keen to see how many readers return to physical bookstores.

While my family was perusing the aisles, I realized that bookstores are integral to every community. Bookstores give us a safe and quiet place to look at books, read, and enjoy the company of other book lovers.

While in line to purchase another stack of books, I thought about the enormous role bookstores have played in my family’s life. My children have grown up being surrounded by books—no surprise since I work for a publishing company. When my children were younger, I would indulge in a coffee and a grown-up book while they listened to story time.

As my children have outgrown books, we filled many of our community’s Little Free Libraries. If you don’t know what it is, a Little Free Library is a small, outside bookcase, often shaped like a schoolhouse on a pole, that anyone can use to borrow or lend books freely. We know not everyone is so lucky to buy books up front, and my family is blessed to be able to give forward the gift of reading.

Beneath every cover lies the work of one of thousands of authors. Each author had an inspiration, an idea, a compulsion to write. It fascinates me how an author’s words end up in a book that then excites, inspires, or motivates a stranger.

For all of you writing and looking to publish your masterpiece soon, I can’t wait to see it the next time I’m shopping for books. So keep writing and keep being inspired. You’ve got readers out there like me waiting for you!

Now that I shared my bookstore experience, I’ll turn it to you: What do you like about bookstores? What are you looking forward to doing or seeing the next time you shop for books?

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

The Supply Chain – A Problem and Opportunity

The Supply Chain - A Problem and Opportunity

You might’ve heard how this holiday season, it might be more difficult for readers to get the books they want. Blame the international supply chain.

A supply chain is a system that a product goes through to go from raw materials and labor to a product delivered to the end customer. With a book, a manuscript is turned into physical books and ebooks for readers. With the COVID-19 pandemic, this process has been complicated.

The exact causes vary, with CNN and Vox having comprehensive articles. In summary, there’s a book shortage because of the following reasons:

  • increased demand for at-home delivery due to more shoppers staying inside and ordering online
  • increased demand during the holiday season, an already busy time of year amplified by delivery being at all-time high levels
  • increased demand for books because of consumers staying indoors and returning to literature
  • shortage of paper because of environmental concerns and increased need for cardboard in multiple industries
  • shortage of workers because of the pandemic, especially in transportation
  • lack of printing plants in the United States, especially after years of factories closing
  • commercial ship congestion at seaports. And yes, that includes the one ship that went viral after getting stuck in the Suez Canal.

The result? The supply chain has a traffic jam. Demand is high, and supply is low.

Book publishers wait in line for their titles to be printed and shipped at a time where readers want books more than ever. Booksellers and book stores can’t stock enough copies, publishers are postponing releases, and readers contend with delayed deliveries and more expensive shipping and handling.

Ask publishing professionals, and they’ll say it’s hard to overstate how much this is A Big Problem.

But even with these issues, you as a self-publishing author can find opportunities to adapt.

For instance, self-publishing authors can still get their books out there in ebook format. While electronic books still require work to convert a manuscript into a readable format, they don’t require paper, they can be read on devices that most people already own, and readers can buy and download them in seconds.

With these benefits, you can essentially skip the supply chain line and get your book to readers months before traditional publishers. This is an opportunity for new authors, because there’s an influx of new readers looking for stories to fall in love with.

What if you still want your book in print? While the publishing industry thought that ebooks would supplant physical books, printed books continue to outsell their electronic counterparts, even as ebooks are here to stay. With the two formats coexisting, a successful author shouldn’t rule out either.

Self-publishing authors can still get paper copies through print-on-demand (POD) books.

Traditionally, books were manufactured in large print runs, requiring a lot of money up front and a lot of sales to justify the endeavor. This gave traditional publishers an edge over self-publishing authors who couldn’t secure both, with the latter only entering the industry with the rise of computers.

More recently, print on demand has emerged as a profitable printing method. With POD, single copies are printed and shipped as individual customers order them. Furthermore, self-publishers can outsource distribution and fulfillment to an outside vendor and focus more on writing and marketing. POD titles can be restocked on a moment’s notice, and self-publishing authors don’t have to risk wasting money on unsold copies.

Because self-publishing authors retain a larger share of their titles’ revenue, they can take advantage of their leaner profit margins to get paper copies to their readers at reasonable prices. Pair POD with a primary ebook model, and self-publishing can thrive even in the middle of the book shortage.

Now, don’t forget about pre-orders.

Traditional publishers, authors, and booksellers are pushing readers to order in advance to more accurately gauge how many books to print and order and better plan around delays.

Self-publishing authors can also find much in making their books available for pre-order. The other benefits of pre-ordering stand, such as giving you time to do book promotion, allowing you to lock in sales before release day, and getting reviewers sooner.

On top of that, pre-orders can help readers receive an e-book automatically on release day or to shorten delivery times for physical books since you can produce and ship a physical copy beforehand.

Finally, the book shortage is one more opportunity for self-publishing authors to connect with readers. Some readers may not understand the book shortage’s severity, so you can use your social media platforms to practice transparency with why you may encourage them to be flexible with pre-ordering or buying ebooks.

If you’re honest about your situation, your readers will gain a higher appreciation of the publishing process, and your readers will be more invested in your career.

It’s easy to panic about the messed-up supply chain, but don’t let it scare you from self-publishing. The book shortage will remain in the short term, even as experts predict that supply chain congestion will decrease in 2022. The publishing industry has proven itself durable over decades of downturns, and it will survive the pandemic.

In the meantime, see the shortage as a challenge that will push you to grow as an author and a self-publisher. With a growth mindset, you can frame the supply chain problem as another interesting time in which to write and publish.

Pitfalls of Grammar Checkers

Grammar checkers, sometimes known as spell checkers, have the power to correct typos (misspelled words) and grammar errors in your writing. These days, you can find grammar checkers with almost anywhere where you can type words: word processors like Microsoft Word, online apps like Google Docs, and even online browser extensions like Grammarly.

But while grammar checkers can be for zapping typos in your texts or personal messages, don’t over-rely on them in your professional writing. Grammar checkers are not enough when self-publishing a book.

Your self-publishing author career relies on you building a team of editors and other professionals to assist you and your book. In this endeavor, it’s good to understand why computers are yet to replace human editors, and why it’ll likely stay this way.

Here are some pitfalls of grammar checkers that you can fall into when you rely solely on them, instead of hiring an editor.

Grammar checkers can miss grammatically correct errors.

You may use the wrong word, and because that word doesn’t cause a grammar issue, your grammar checker won’t flag the culprit.

Assume that you have a character named Mr. Petersen, not Peterson. You may write this sentence:

“Mr. Petersen will read the proposal and get back to you by Friday.”

Here’s a rewritten version that uses a different but incorrect spelling of his last name, but doesn’t trigger my grammar checker:

“Mr. Peterson will read the proposal and get back to you by Friday.”

See the difference? What if a reader notices that you spelled the same character’s name two different ways? You may get a bad review for poor editing.

While modern grammar checkers may flag the most misused word choices, you must check between the gaps for mistakes that the grammar checker misses, because you know your manuscript better than your computer.

Grammar checkers can interfere with your writing voice and style.

How many times have you typed a real word, only for the grammar checker to flag it as a typo?

Grammar checkers can wrongly flag new words, alternate spellings, and uncommon names. Names can be a particular sore point, as it’s not a good feeling when your software claims that your first or last name is spelled wrong.

You can address these situations by adding words to your app’s personal dictionary, or right clicking the word and selecting “Ignore.” Even then, your checker’s inaccuracies can distract you with its misplaced colored underlines.

At worst, grammar checkers can nudge you to “correct” sentences and push you from your personal style and toward the app developer’s biases. A skilled writer knows when to put style over “correctness,” and grammar checkers can sabotage these decisions.

Even the best editor needs a second pair of eyes.

Here’s a saying among lawyers: He who represents himself has a fool for a client. You can say the same thing about authors without editors.

Editors who publish their own book have an editor too, because they know that even the best editor needs a second pair of eyes.

A writer can be vigilant with using a grammar checker while editing. That said, a writer’s proximity to the work is a double-edged sword, as it’s easy to pass over mistakes that a second reader might spot.

Do yourself a favor and get a second reader to double-check your edits. And sometimes, even more.

Grammar checkers can’t do high-level editing.

Maybe you are the best grammar checker in the world, and you can check your writing perfectly. That’s not enough.

“Editing” can refer to different levels. Typically, a grammar checker only handles mechanical editing / light copyediting, checking for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Other levels of editing include:

  • proofreading to check what the manuscript will look like in print and ebook formats
  • heavy copyediting to correct non-grammatical errors and inconsistencies, such as style and word choice
  • line (or substantive) editing to check the tone and flow of paragraphs and chapters
  • fact checking to uphold creditability in non-fiction books and verisimilitude in novels
  • developmental (or structural) editing to revise a book’s more “macro” elements, like chapter order and the book’s big ideas

Some professional authors hire one editor for most of these editing levels. Others may hire separate roles, such as a developmental editor alongside a copyeditor.

You may also need other readers that don’t necessarily edit, but help you shape your story. For example, you can hire a sensitivity reader to check your manuscript for potentially offensive and inaccurate content, like with race or indigenous culture.

No matter what, even the most well-used grammar checker can only handle a narrow section of editing. For other levels, you must get an editor or other reader.

While technology is pivotal to the modern writing process, no app or tool can replace the human touch of an editor.

When you give your book to an editor, don’t think of it as admitting failure, but as your showing respect to your professionalism as an author and your manuscript’s potential.

Leave the grammar checker for your personal Facebook profile and give your book an editor.

What’s your experience with spell checkers and grammar checkers? What are some other pitfalls you can think of? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Self-Publishing News: 5.18.2021

news from the world of
self-publishing

There has been a lot of news lately regarding self-publishing and politics, specifically how it is providing a publishing haven for those individuals that have been rejected by the Big Four traditional publishing houses (Penguin Random House/S&S, Hachette, Macmillan, and HarperCollins as of May 2021; PRH has already begun the process of absorbing Simon & Schuster). At first glance, this news isn’t a surprise, as self-publishing has always been the place where authors previously seeking traditional book deals turn after finding them too constricting or flat-out unavailable. What’s different this time is how the choice, repeated regularly and often by high-profile politicians or those affiliated with politicians, has set up self-publishing to be cast as partisan: right now, those affiliated with the conservative right are self-publishing, while those affiliated with the conservative left are championing traditional publishing. Or at least, that’s how news outlets are covering the various happenings. This article from Fischer and Rummler of Axios outlines the sequence of events that has led up to this situation, and holds back from drawing too many conclusions. It is to be hoped that these same news outlets will also cover the critical role that self-publishing has played in providing a platform for diverse and marginalized voices of all kinds for decades, and steer clear of judging the many thousands of such writers who continue to self-publish today.

Time for a palate-cleanser! This article from Forbes contributor J.J. Hebert is not quite what it looks like, as it’s most definitely an argument for self-publishing. (Many articles that start with “Don’t X before X” end up being arguments against X.) Hebert, CEO of a self-publishing company and a self-publishing author himself, covers five critical aspects of the process that lay the groundwork for a solid start for those authors who have not yet taken the leap. His questions cover everything from quality control and editing to format options to identifying target readers to selecting a self-publishing platform that fits an author’s needs. It’s a fantastic and fairly concise introduction to much of the architecture required for a solid self-published success.

It has been a rough year for those who love (or whose success depends on) book fairs. Thankfully, many companies have been working hard to adapt to the post-pandemic world, and Publishers’ Weekly is hosting its inaugural PW US Book Show from May 25-27. They’ve updated their website with a list of participating virtual “booths,” and you can find out plenty more about pricing information and how to participate [ here ] and [ here ]. This virtual book show is intended to fill part of the vacuum left behind after the cancellation of so many in-person bookish events, and to provide librarians and booksellers (and those affiliated) with access to information to assist in connecting readers with their books. As with many other book fairs, though, the general public is invited to attend. It will prove to be an interesting experiment!

This much-needed article from Book Riot provides a straightforward and comprehensive explanation of what both traditionally and self-published authors make, on average, from their books each year. It also provides a nice breakdown of what all the complicated terminology means, which is just as important. And finally, it also profiles fifteen authors from all kinds of backgrounds and from both spheres of publishing who were willing to share data on what they make. Article author Sarah Nicolas refrains from sharing most of their identities (Jim C. Hines is an exception), and notes that none of the big “blockbuster” authors (think Grisham, Rowling, Quinn, etc) shared theirs. But even beyond the fascinating data we find the stories of how the finances fit into individual authors’ lives most revealing of all. Given the range of authors who participated, there should hopefully be at least one that can provide insight and context for new authors looking to break in to the publishing world. Would you need to pay for medical insurance out of your book earnings if you wrote full-time? Do you plan to write as a side-job? How much, after taxes, do you need to achieve your financial goals? What does your schedule look like? Each author Nicolas interviewed has something different to share.

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As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry. This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

In Your Corner: The Art of the Outline (III)

Two posts ago, I introduced the concept of outlining as a function of planning your next book, and in my last post, I began to present you with a buffet of possibilities you might mix and match between, with the idea that you could research further into the one or few that appeal to you. As it turned out, I had rather too much to say about too many possible options to put into just one post, so I had to break off about halfway through with the promise to finish in this, my latest post.

If you missed the previous methods of outlining, we covered the Bullet Point, Sticky Note, and Index Card methods, some of the apps and software available, and the Hero’s Journey, an organizational metaphor which might just provide a structure upon which to hang one’s outline. [You can read that post here.]

This week, I have four more outline options for you to consider.

FIVE COMMANDMENTS

If this method sounds a little biblical in nature, don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you carve anything onto stone tablets (unless you actually enjoy that–in which case, I admire you and your wrist strength very much). It is perhaps appropriate that the Five Commandments method would evoke visions of bygone days, given that it’s a well-respected outlining practice with a long legacy of usage. As with my last post’s description of the Hero’s Journey, this is an outlining practice distilled from an organizational metaphor. This one, as we’ve already noted, evokes the sense of a sacred text, but what it describes is the standard five-point plan often taught in high school and college classrooms to creative writing students. The points are:

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

The general idea is for the writer to use these “five essentials of a good story” (as one of my professors once put it) as a starting point, or as a framework upon which to hang the coat of one’s entire book. Functionally one can make that outline as simple or as complicated as is useful–simple phrases or entire paragraphs answering to the implicit questions posed by each point. I absolutely must recommend checking out Joslyn Chase’s “How to Write a Book Using an Outline,” which covers both the Five Commandments method in detail as well as the next one I’m going to summarize here: the Nine Checkpoints. (She also points to some additional resources to flesh out your understanding of outlines, which is always nice.)

NINE CHECKPOINTS

The Nine Checkpoints method sounds a bit more bureaucratic than biblical, which can be either freeing or somewhat discouraging in the way of standing in lines at the DMV. In reality, it’s simply an unpacked version of the previously described commandments, only instead of five points around which to cluster one’s ideas, there are nine:

  1. Hook
  2. Backstory
  3. Trigger
  4. Crisis
  5. Struggle
  6. Epiphany
  7. Plan
  8. Climax
  9. Resolution

In this outline method, one can look at the hook, backstory, and trigger sections as equating roughly with the Five Commandments’ “Inciting Incident” point, with the crisis, climax, and resolution sections all have exact correspondence. The only loose points remaining, then, are the struggle, epiphany, and plan sections. It’s easy to see the correlations and divergences between the two methods; what’s less easy to see is the organizational metaphor behind this outlining method. In my mind, each checkpoint in a line of checkpoints carries equal weight and priority, which may or may not reflect how I actually feel about the work I’m writing. Perhaps I know with absolute certainty what I want for one or three or eight of the points, and the others are able to flex and be sculpted around those certain ones. Perhaps I don’t. It all depends on the specific demands of the work in progress.

GROCERY STORE

Before this last month, I would have ended my list of suggested outlining methods there, with a Cold War or Man From U.N.C.L.E. reference regarding checkpoints. But then, while researching additional resources to point you to, I stumbled across this excellent piece on Sharon Watson’s blog, “Fun with Outlines. No, Really.” (Putting a positive spin on things is one sure way to always hook my attention!) Watson’s post on outlining introduced me to the idea of the Grocery Store method, as well as the final one I’ll summarize, the Restaurant method. What I love most about these methods is that they flow naturally out of a more intuitive writing process, and they flex in exactly the way that I hinted at earlier. This is not to discount the value of a more evenly-weighted lists or principles around which to circle an outline, which I feel have significant benefits in ensuring even pacing and a sense of “completeness,” particularly if one is drafting a work of creative nonfiction or memoir. That said, I might just love the intuitive means of the Grocery Store method best.

Grocery stores are easy to picture in the mind’s eye. They’re organized in intuitive ways, with snacks near drinks since they tend to be consumed together, and household cleaning supplies near pet supplies since, well, half of caring for a pet is cleaning up after her. (I’m putting off vacuuming right now. Why do cats have to have so much fur?) It’s also easy to put yourself in the mindset of a shopper in a grocery store: you go in with a few items you have to get on your list, but a couple of other things catch your eye as you walk up and down the aisles. This is where you need to be in order to use the Grocery Store method to outline your next book. Then, all you have to do is picture the contents of your work in progress as the produce filling the aisles. You can reflect this structure in a bullet point list (taking us alllll the way back to my first recommendation in respect to outlining!), or you can mock up a visual outline more along the lines of the Sticky Note method: sketch some aisles, and fill them with all the information you feel is important going into your book, leaving room for extra items to fill out the shelves as you get underway.

RESTAURANT

Last but certainly not least, the restaurant method is another outlining option I first read about in Sharon Watson’s outline post. This one is a little harder to visualize mentally, since Watson is sharing tips as an educator with other educators in mind, and her worksheets are designed with high schoolers in mind. The challenge she issues to her students is to picture the variety of restaurants and how they’re arranged, from a fast food restaurant to a buffet to a sit-down gourmet restaurant. In a sense, I can see this as a useful starting point in the quest to outlining your next book, as it may present you with a range of organizational metaphors from which you need only pick one to develop further using one of the other methods I’ve described over the last two of my own posts. I did think it worth including, however, simply because of its novelty; we’ve all heard of sticky notes and bullet points before, but have you thought of using a restaurant to outline your work before? Chances are there are some seeds of possibility there.

Looking for yet more information on outlining, and how to make it work for you? I’ll be back in two weeks to close out this series and to answer any questions you might have.

Thinking of you always. ♣︎

Elizabeth
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.