Author-envy: We All Have It

Erik Larson

Erik Larson

I’m a huge fan of Erik Larson. Devil in White City kept me spellbound–in part because I grew up near Chicago and my great-grandfather lived less than six blocks from the serial killer in that book. Wish I could write like that.

I’m also a big fan of Nora Ephron, whose career I tracked for decades because she spoke so well for a generation of young women writers entering the workforce with new expectations of their own capabilities. How I envied her early columns for Esquire!

Nora Ephron in 1975

Nora Ephron in 1975

And so it amused me to find a recent post by Erik Larson on Goodreads where he pays tribute to Ephron, and tells his own story of author-envy. Gives me heart. And hope.


Best Book Covers

Just back from BookExpo in New York, where I saw some extraordinary book covers. Over at Pinterest, I’ve put together a little board with comments on why each deserves special attention. If you believe, as I do, that people do indeed judge a book by its cover, check out my Pinterest Board.

Click here for larger view

Best Book Covers from BookExpo 2012

CreateSpace Opens European Market for Self-Published Books

If you’ve published a book through CreateSpace, you now have the option of making that book available throughout Europe. With just one click on the CreateSpace website (distribute>channels), you can make your book available on,,,, and (all the big European markets). And it’s free.

Earlier this year, I worked with BBC Masterpiece Theatre actor Robin Ellis to produce a new version of his memoir Making Poldark. A British citizen living in the South of France, Robin has fans on both sides of the Pond. But up until a week ago, those fans had to buy from Amazon US and wait for their books to cross the ocean.

I guess we weren’t the only ones who complained. Now books come to Europeans via same-day shipping, and royalty payments are made to US authors in dollars.

If you know anything about the book business, you know this must have taken a monumental effort on the part of Amazon and CreateSpace. But writers should be ecstatic. Now with one click, you can significantly increase the size of your market. And you should.

Photo by Rod Searcey

Tips for Hiring an Editor

Do you really need an editor?

Yes! Absolutely. Without question. Regardless of how good your writing is, you need a professional editor to work with you before you publish.

Think of it this way: your editor is a black box through which you send your manuscript–line by line. She will tell you whether the ideas, thoughts, connections and emotion you intended to produce in the reader’s mind when you crafted that sentence is what you actually produced.

Meghan Ward of the Grotto writing consortium in San Francisco has just posted a terrific little piece on tips for hiring a freelance editor–including costs associated with a professional edit. Highly recommended.

How to Find a Literary Agent

I’m often asked by writers who want to take a traditional publishing route: how do I find an agent?

The best answer to that: check out the discussion that has been percolating over at Book Publishing Professionals. Writers and publishing professionals have been gnawing on that bone for several months now.

After you read those comments, you’ll have a much better view of the truth of the matter than any expert or writer’s guide could offer.

A Smart Attempt to Redefine the Bookstore

If you read last Sunday’s article in The New York Times about Barnes & Noble’s struggles, you know that we’ve lost one in five independent bookstores in the US since 2002.

But what if the bookstore could be re-thought from the ground up? That’s what Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, has begun to do.

Kepler’s has for many decades been the premier independent bookstore in the Stanford area. I remember haunting its aisles as a student in the late sixties. But like all independent bookstores, it has struggled mightily to stay alive over the past decade.

Now the current owner, Clark Kepler, has brought in some smart partners who are creating a new business model: the store will be reworked as a place where the community gathers to share ideas. Books will be a part of that–but the events portion of the business will be spun off as a nonprofit. And digital books and ereaders will be embraced as another way to support the exchange of ideas in this new place.

If you’d like to know more about Kepler’s new vision, check out this 4-minute video:

Another Book Awards Program for Independent Publishers and Self-Published Authors

In yesterday’s blog, I listed three awards programs I’ve had some experience with and can recommend to independent publishers and self-published authors who would like to garner some kudos for their work.

But I forgot to mention the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, organized by Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group (IBPPG) in conjunction with Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency.

The nonprofit Indie Book Awards offers cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,500 for books in 60 separate categories–fiction and nonfiction. Perhaps more importantly, one winner from each category gets a review by literary agent Marilyn Allen, who has worked with such authors as Stephen King, Ken Follett, Barbara Kingsolver, John Gray, and Mary Higgins Clark.

One of my authors won a Finalist Award last year in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category. Perks included cash, an elegant awards reception at the Plaza in New York during Book Expo America (BEA), stickers for the cover of his books, and free publicity.

Worth considering.

Deadline (for receipt of books) is February 24th.

Three Book Awards Programs: Deadlines Soon

Independent_Book_Publishers_Association_Awards_Program entry brochureOne of the difficulties of self-publishing is that the responsibility for getting the word out about your book lies squarely with you. There’s no publisher cranking out press releases, no publicist lining up media tours on your behalf, no sales force selling your books into bookstores. (In truth, few traditional publishers are still doing that for their own authors these days. As Seth Godin so aptly observed: out of the 75,000+ books published by traditional houses in any given year, perhaps 100 of them receive the full marketing muscle that publishers can deliver.)

That’s why you might consider entering an awards program. If you win, you get bragging rights, which you can parlay across the Web and in your print promotions.

This time of year, there are several excellent awards programs to consider–each of which welcomes self-published books. Here are three I’d recommend:

Independent Book Publishers Association’s
Benjamin Franklin Awards

Deadline: January 15, 2012
Program offers awards in 55 separate categories, including both fiction and nonfiction.

Foreword Review’s Book-of-the-Year Award
Deadline: January 15, 2012
Program offers awards in 60 separate categories. Two Editor’s Choice prizes of $1,500 are awarded, one for fiction, the other for nonfiction.

Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award
Submissions received: Jan 23 — Feb 5, 2012 (limited to first 5,000 entries in each category)
Two grand prizes are awarded, one for general fiction and one for young adult fiction. Each winner will receive a $15,000 publishing contract with Penguin.

And here’s a little tip from someone who’s hosted more than one awards program. If you do win, show up at the awards ceremony and accept your award with your most gracious smile. People remember.

Creating an Illustrated EBook

Are you considering republishing your children’s book, cookbook, graphic novel, crafts guide or travel book in digital format?

For these kinds of books, the ePub format–which allows words to flow from one page to another as your reader enlarges text or changes fonts–doesn’t work. The illustrations, sidebars, and photos you so carefully placed beside certain sections of your book take on a life of their own.

For such books, you need to create a fixed-layout file, one that displays each spread just as your designer originally planned.
Spread from Pinhole and the Expedition to the Jungle
Fixed-layout ebooks look great on the new tablets that everyone’s getting for Christmas (Apple iPad, B&N Nook, Kobo VOX). But they are tricky to produce, especially if you’re moving from a print book into an enhanced iBook for the iPad.

Renowned explanation graphics designer Nigel Holmes and I have been running down rabbit holes for the past year trying to get his book Pinhole and the Expedition to the Jungle into a fixed-layout format for the iPad. We finally did it.

And here are the top things we learned:

  1. There aren’t yet many vendors who know how to take a print book and turn it into an enhanced ebook for the iPad. We used YUDU, which is located in (surprise!) Great Britain. Innodata also works, I’m told.
  2. Price pressure on these books is fierce. You spend a chunk to have the book recreated for the iPad, and the market wants to pay $3.99 or less. Yike. Hopefully, all those folks who got iPads for Christmas will be looking to buy enhanced ebooks, which could drive up revenue.
  3. If you hold the iPad in landscape mode, you see an entire spread from the book–without a seam. Nice! But on the iPad’s 10-inch screen, the font you chose for your print book looks small–and on the 7-inch screen of all the other tablets, it’s unreadable. Of course, your readers can enlarge the text with their fingers, but then you lose the effect of the spreads.
  4. Every new format of a book requires a separate ISBN number. Per BISG.

For a little extra pizazz, we also laced the adventure story with sounds. If you have an iPad and would like to see the result, here’s a free peek.

The Future of Book Publishing: Two Predictions

Amazon EncoreHere’s a prediction: within three years, we’ll see the publishing industry split into two tiers. Bestselling authors will work with traditional publishers–Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. And new authors will prove themselves in the self-publishing arena before they’re allowed to play in the big leagues.

If you’re an emerging author, you’ve probably already stumbled into this world. You know it’s practically impossible to get the attention of an established publisher. And if you do get lucky and find a publisher, the marketing department (now staffed by a couple of 24-year-old interns) all but ignore your book while they focus efforts on proven authors. Your paltry 10% royalty doesn’t really matter since your sales figures are so low. After six weeks, your publisher pronounces your book sales “disappointing” and loses interest.

At the same time, Amazon is opening doors for self-published authors. In May of 2009, the company quietly launched Amazon Encore, its first imprint as a publishing company. Using both sales figures and customer reviews, Amazon identifies books with potential and invites their (often self-published) authors to sign with Amazon Encore. The selected books are then formatted for all platforms (print, ebook and audio) and reintroduced into the marketplace–backed by Amazon’s substantial marketing muscle.

The number of titles published by Amazon Encore is small so far, and the imprint seems focused on novels. But if you’re invited to play, word on the street is that the royalty deals are far sweeter than those offered by traditional publishers.

And here’s another prediction: within ten years, serious self-published authors are going to wonder why they ever needed any publisher–Random House or Amazon Encore.