Verbose, Verbosity, Verbusoso

There was a time when I knew how to shave my correspondence with Occam's Razor. As I sent off a third or fourth little note to a publisher today, primarily unsolicited advice about redesigning their website, I realized that I'm getting verbose. I can't get across an idea without doing an introduction, a conclusion, and including at least one personal anecdote. As usual, I blame it all on blogging.

But I'm thinking, if I can't help being verbose, maybe I can be good at it, an artist of vebosity. I'm guilty, guilty, guilty of writing long blog posts. I just decided somewhere along the line that short blog posts are too lazy. Anybody can write:

Wrote three pages of novel today, not sure what to do with the Natasha character. The postman brought three more rejection slips, and the cat spit up a hairball.

As a true Verbusoso, if daily progress was my axe, I'd write something like:

When I sat down to work on my novel today, the long nights mental agony over my Natasha's predicament was foremost in my thoughts. Should she accept Petrov, or join the Siberian Nunnery, as foreshadowed in the chapter titled, "Natasha considers joining the Siberian nunnery." My keyboard clacked away at 120 wpm and was threatening to burst into flame when the postman rang, once.

I leapt to the mail slot like one of Pavlov's mutts, and recovered three important letters from my publishing correspondents. The first delivered their deepest apologies, but they no longer read manuscripts. They included a reference to an Agent directory. The second was very encouraging because it included a personal comment suggesting that I could improve the manuscript if I rolled it up tight, cut it down the middle, and stored it in the bathroom. I'm still trying to figure that one out. The final rejection was hardly a rejection at all. They just didn't have the resources to consider it at this time, but were sure it was a noble effort. Greatly encouraged, I returned to Natasha.

Suddenly, a sound like a Bengal tiger trapped in a well assailed my ears. I cast about the room, and spotted my poor cat Dickens struggling desperately to tell me something. Dickens strained, and coughed, and right when I was sure he was going say, "Send Natasha to the nunnery," he ejected something I'd rather not describe in public. Feeling let down, despite important publisher correspondence, I decided to call it a day.

And that's why I don't blog about my day. Maybe that's why they call a master of verbose prose a verbusoso. Maybe it's just me.

Self Promotion Means Always Having To Say You're Somebody

This week a single page on my website received close to 10,000 visitors from StumbleUpon. I don't know why they came, there weren't any reviews of the page that I could find, just eight or ten people who had given it a "thumbs up." I've never been very active on any of these social tagging networks, I think the only one I ever dug things on was Digg. But self publishing and self promotion go hand-in-hand, and self promotion means always having to say you're somebody. The trick is telling the right people. In the current Google dominated phase of Internet search, nothing is more important than the company you keep, often described as your "neighborhood." Thackery's unforgettable character Becky in Vanity Fair had internet based promotion worked out a hundred fifty years ago with the line:

"One must, my dear, show one is somebody", she said. "One mustn''t be seen with doubtful people."

As we move into the long slow summer and I think about redoing my blog template for the first time in a while, I'm wondering if I should add some self promotion buttons as a sidebar feature. The icons in this post only operate for people who are members of the named services. Otherwise, they'll ask you to create an account.

The blog search site that I occasionally use myself and ping my blog on is Technorati. I only started a feed recently so I have relatively low "authority" but maybe this post will help.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Digg is more focused on news stories, and the need for self promotion in the self publishing world is hardly news. But maybe you dig the blog.

Digg!Digg it!

StumbleUpon is really more of a social tagging site, where my impression is it's more about sharing sites with "friends" than creating a new index for the web. As I mentioned above, StumbleUpon and their nearly 2.6 million users can throw a lot of visitors your way, and maybe this will help a couple more trip over me.

Stumble Upon ToolbarStumble It!

So, this is my version of standing on a bench in a park and yelling that I'm somebody. One way I can tell I'm not real good at it is I had to search around the web for an hour just to find example links, and I don't even know if they'll work. Still, it's important to try new avenues in your promotion efforts from time to time, or you're likely to discover that you're preaching to the converted. So, I'm going to post this now and try out the links.

Microsoft Live Search Books And Print On Demand

When it comes to discussions of Microsoft and Google, Microsoft is usually seen as having to play catch up. This week, it's Microsoft that's jumped out front with a move that's so obvious I've been writing about it since 2004! I actually went to the Internet Archive to check, since I update most of my pages frequently, and sure enough, I thought that the scanning programs represented by Amazon's Search Inside and Google Books meant that one of those companies would put one and one together and offer copyright holders print-on-demand fulfillment and revenues.

As time went on, Amazon bought BookSurge and has moved into print-on-demand in a big way, but if they announced a POD availability option for Search Inside titles, I missed it. Likewise, the long delayed e-book sales option of Google Books seemed like a logical step in the on-demand direction, but somehow got stalled. So Microsoft with their Live Search Books program has leapfrogged the competition by partnering with the Ingram Digital Group. While the ebook side of that particular equation doesn't excite me very much, Ingram will give publishers the option to use Lightning Source for POD fulfillment of digitized titles. Whether they'll expand that option from publishers to rights-holders wasn't clear in the press announcement, but as they say in the intellectual property business, "Where there's a Will, there's a way."

What I really don't understand is why it's taken so long. I suppose none of the major players saw print-on-demand production and sales of out-of-print titles as a big enough business to pursue aggressively. What Google may have missed, despite the huge amount of effort that's gone into the development and legal defense of their Books program, is the opportunity to become the go-to site for books on the web. The knowledge that finding a book on Live Search Books will sometimes mean being able to procure that book on paper may be more than enough to compensate for the differing scopes of the two programs.

Adobe Digital Editions, Epublishing And Amazon

Just some jumbled thoughts about epublishing today in contrast with my usual meticulous research:-) I finally enabled Flash and downloaded Adobe Digital Editions, which looks pretty slick. But I'm not in it for the aesthetics. Digital Editions is the latest attempt to establish a true industry standard platform for ebooks that will maintain currency going forward.

The PR stresses the term "portable documents" over "ebooks", which is fair enough since the ebooks label was always a little confusing when used to refer to documents that wouldn't make it as a feature magazine article, much less a book. I think it's also a reaction to the fading star of ebooks in the marketplace - as in, "Ebooks, whatever happened to them?"

But as a publisher who's been through the DRM wars, what I find even more interesting is the impression that Adobe and their many publishing partners seem to be shying away from the term "DRM" in favor of "digital media protection" or something similar. But whatever you call it, Digital Editions is supposed to support the DRM of PDF's protected by ACS (Adobe Content Server). Clear as alphabet soup?

The biggest question mark, to me, is whether Amazon will sell them. I just did a quick check on the Amazon site and I didn't see any current ebooks from the publishers Adobe has already signed for Digital Editions. If all that Digital Editions accomplishes is to give publishers and readers a new, thin client, universal document reader, I doubt it will have much impact outside of the corporate world. Amazon is too big a piece of the consumer ebook puzzle to be ignored, and last time I checked, looked, they owned their own ebook software company, Mobipocket.

But I haven't been making a big effort to keep up with epublishing since Amazon dumped my Ingram/LSI ebooks, so maybe there's a deal brewing that I just haven't heard about. I never even figured out for sure why Amazon dumped the majority fo their ebook catalog, whether it was to reduce customer support for DRM issues, to prepare the ground for Mobipocket, or even to slow down ebook adoption until they could get a branded hardware reader into production.

As a publisher, I'm pretty indifferent to a having a new, universal and easy to use platform for publishing digital books. What I'm interested in is a turn-key platform that can sell ebooks for me, and I doubt that Adobe and a consortium of NY trades have the ambition or ability to be my ebook retailing platform. Amazon does.

Paid Publishing Market Tops In 2006

I spent a little time this morning looking at the year-over-year sales growth of subsidy publishers, also known as author's services companies or vanity presses. The common thread is that the author pays a fee to have the book published, generally somewhere in the $400 to $800 area. There are some multi-tiered versions of the the paid publishing model, such as Lulu's "Free Publishing" offer that doesn't include distribution, or their ISBN purchase model that comes about as close to true self publishing as you can get under the paid publishing umbrella. There's also the PublishAmerica free publishing model that I haven't kept up with lately, but their main catch used to be in the contract terms.

This sudden interest in paid publishing numbers came about through a correspondence I was having with a friend in the publishing business. I guessed that the whole subsidy publishing business would top out at some point when all of the old manuscripts came out of the bottom drawers and got typed up, and a balance was reached between current author production and the willingness to pay fees for publication. Keep in mind that while everybody knew the term "vanity press" ten years ago, the new generation of subsidy presses have have cleverly defined themselves as "Self Publishing" companies. The new labeling works to their advantage because self publishing is a respectable profession at which many authors have earned a living, with some expanding their business into broader trade publishing operations. I don't know anybody who earns a living as a subsidy press author, though a small number have moved on to true self publishing or trade contracts. As to the endless supply of new authors, while everybody may have a book in them, relatively few will go to the trouble of writing and typing it.

The following numbers for the # titles per publisher per year are derived from the Advanced Search function on Amazon. It does not include titles that are not in the Amazon catalog. The publishers listed are those who have been around for years and publish over 1,000 titles per year, I'm sure there are others I've missed. It's also the first time I've stuck a table in Blogger, not very happy with the formatting:-)

Publisher / # Titles




2007 Ytd































The table shows the paid publishing market topping out in 2005/2006. The only real exception is the growth shown by Lulu, which had been running at 100% growth a year but looks to be less than 50% this year if the trends hold. Both AuthorHouse and PublishAmerica look to be the big market share losers to Lulu as paid publishing becomes a zero-sum game. iUniverse is only a little below trend, and Xlibris has been flat-lined for years now. I can't explain the 2006 number for Trafford, either they went on a marketing blitz that year or there's a glitch in the cataloging. None of these numbers have anything to say about true self publishing, authors who set up their own publishing company to publish and market their own books. But I thought it was kind of interesting that the "top" in subsidy publishing appears to have coincided with the top in the housing market!

Bowkerlink And ISBN Management

I never thought I'd live to see the day that Bowker would fix Bowkerlink! Bowkerlink has long offered publishers an online interface for listing titles in Bowker's Books-in-Print, but it was painful! While the usability of software interfaces has something to do with the eye of the beholder, in my eyes, the old Bowkerlink was the worst interface I've ever been stuck dealing with. In fact, I made mistakes more than once due to the bizarre multi-page format and vague error messages that made it a guessing game as to whether or not changes were being saved. Now that I think about it, just getting to the old Bowkerlink login used to be a hassle unless you had it saved in favorites. It was a sort of a menu option on a kitchen sink template.

Well, I'm willing to give credit where it's due, and while I haven't entered a new title on the new-look Bowkerlink yet, I'm looking forward to it. For one thing, they've reduced the five or six data entry pages to a single page per title, and the on-screen instructions appear to be relevant. They even included a toll free number for tech support and an e-mail support address in the announcement they sent out, which is what led me to go and look. Well, first I had to find my username and password which took quite a while since I avoided visiting the old Bowkerlink at almost all costs. The truth is, I had figured they'd never bother updating it since as a monopoly agency, they don't have any competition in the US. Maybe somebody decided that doing a good job has it's own rewards.

One thing the visit to Bowkerlink reminded me of was that I actually burned through some ISBN numbers on ebooks. For me, that amounted to poor ISBN management because the current ebook selling platforms on the web are all able to deal with ebook versions of existing print books by inventing numbers for them, such as the Amazon ASIN, or simply using the same ISBN number as the paper book, like Powell's, but identifying the ebook as an "Electronic Book". On the bright side, even though I got as far as printing proof copies of my canceled self publishing blog book with an ISBN, I never entered it into the Bowkerlink system because I dreaded struggling with the interface and was procrastinating. So that book never appeared in Books in Print and I can still use the number for another title.

So, this is my day to say nice things about Bowker. I didn't see any signs on the new Bowkerlink of them pushing SAN's and other value-added propositions on publishers, who used to get quite confused over what was really necessary to publish a book. If their new approach to dealing with publishers turns out to include offering some new service, I'd now be willing to give it a look rather than ignoring it as usual.

Self Diagnostic For Self Publishers

Lost my mind a little today while working on diagnostic flowcharts and knocked one out for self publishing problems. Normally, I tell aspiring self publishers that success in self publishing is entirely dependent on marketing, but today I backed the truck up a bit and made market research the focus. The best marketing in the world is of little value when there isn't a market for the book. I'm pasting in the mini version of the diagnostic flowchart below, clicking on the flowchart or here will take you to the full size version. Once you're there, clicking the diamond shapes brings you to longer text clarifications since space on the flowchart itself is limited.

This must be both the shortest and the most time consuming blog post I've ever written:-)

Friends And Recommendation Networks

I'm feeling a little reflective this week as my original partner in the publishing business is preparing to move down to Georgia. We first began working together around thirteen years ago, co-authoring a book and publishing an Internet newsletter on technology. By 1996, we'd settled on the model of publishing books both online and on paper, and our Dailey International Publishing business eventually published three titles under the old offset printing and distribution model. By 2000, I was no longer writing off mileage for my weekly visits to his home office, because the business had evolved into a friendship.

The only other face-to-face publishing friendship I have is with Jon Reed, the owner of the POD_Publishers group, who I've also known for a decade. We live in the same town and talk frequently, but probably only meet every other month or so. I'm planning on moving out of state myself come July, so my publishing friendships will depend upon online correspondence.

And that got me thinking about social networking, as opposed to social networking websites. None of my publishing friends were recommended to me by a computer algorithm, I don't have a "Be my friend" button anywhere on the website, and we don't get points anywhere for being connected with each other. I was greatly amused the story about a politician who lost some tens of thousands of "friends" due to changing pages on the MySpace social networking site. We're all free to use English any way we like, I'm partial to making up words from time to time myself, but pairing the word "friend" with numbers that could best be expressed in scientific notation strikes me as pretty over the top.

I'm a pill when it comes to social networking. I've signed up for a couple sites over the years when friends have sent me invitations, but I've never visited a second time. As an outsider, I "get" how social networking sites are useful for marketing, but I don't "get" why people join. I'm told it's a great way to keep in touch with real world friends, but it seems to me more like a way to keep them at a safe distance. I've also heard it's a great way to find people with similar interests and outlooks, but I can get that in the bathroom mirror.

The most valuable component of my publishing friendships, in the purely professional sense, is the push-back. Friends write me with their observations and ideas, I write back with my counter-observations and claim that the ideas originated with me in an earlier correspondence:-) I've noticed with a couple of my publishing penpals that we tend to push each other to extreme positions as a thread continues. If I start with, "I'm thinking of publishing a short-run of a new edition on offset," and hear back, "You might want to make your name a little bigger on the cover," after two days of exchanges, it ends up, "I'm going to print 100,000 copies and include a DVD" and "You would be drawn and quartered for your cover designs in most civilized countries!" Oddly enough, it's a constructive process.

So, heres to old friends, good memories and the collegial sharing of ideas and data that makes it nearly impossible to figure out who gave away the store.

What Do Academic And Romance Authors Have In Common

Question: What Do Academic And Romance Authors Have In Common?

Answers: Ivory Towers? Luck at cards? Captive audiences or audiences to captives?

Perhaps all of the above, but I was thinking about contract terms. I don't want to paint all academic or romance publishers with a broad brush, I'm sure that some act with chivalry and have dark, handsome editors who are rightful heirs to thrones somewhere. However, what some academic and romance publishers share is authors over a barrel.

There's a segment of the writing population who have always wanted to write romance novels, in the modern sense, and I've heard some horror stories about the contract terms. Not just low royalties, and I seem to remember seeing as low as 3% on the cover (I hope it wasn't 3% on publisher net), but loss of self. In other words, romance authors may be forced to write under a nom de plume that belongs to the publisher. If the author doesn't want to write more books on the publisher's schedule and terms, the publisher can jack up the mirrors and slide another author into place. If you're reading this as a romance writer, you may want to look to into joining the Romance Writers of America for support.

There's a segment of the academic population who are desperate for a publishing contract on any terms. This segment, otherwise known as untenured professors, face the publish or perish review board after four to six years of service. While hard working lecturers at teaching schools might get by with an article and public service, the better colleges and universities want to see at least one book on the resume, even if it's a rehashed dissertation - as most first books probably are. These untenured professors aren't worried about royalties, rights or romance, they just need a book, or at least a contract for the tenure file.

The subject of publishing contracts came up at lunch today, and I challenged my lunch companion, betting he'd never read the fine print of his several book contracts with academic presses. I was right, he couldn't even remember the top-line royalty percentage or whether it was on the cover or the net. So we went back to his office and I read a couple of the contracts in his files. By the way, if you're reading this as a new academic author, academic and textbook authors do have an association that I believe offers support.

A good academic press associated with a broader movement that has the ability to sell, and dare I say, even market books, paid pretty well. Better than any trade contract I've signed at 10% of the cover. However, that royalty is cut in half on books sold for more than 50% off the cover, which would include a major portion of most trade titles. Academic presses do sell a lot of short discount books so he might come out OK, not that he cares about the money.

On the other hand, a world famous academic press started at a mid-single digit percentage of the publisher net, and stayed in the single digits unless the title should become a bona-fide academic bestseller. They did give the author the majority share of any film deals to make up for it. But what really surprised me was seeing a fairly broadly worded non-compete in an academic contract. They didn't call it a non-compete, but they stipulated the author couldn't write any works that might in part or in full compete with and interfere with the sales of the work being contracted for. My friend is confident they would never enforce it, and he may be right since many academic authors suffer from a trait often attributed to lesser romance writers and self-publishing bloggers -- repetition.

Problems With Self Publishing

If there weren't enough problems with self publishing already, I've been seeing signs of a new rain clouds on the horizon. Last year at this time, I wrote about the darker side of starting a new publishing business:

I've heard from new publishers who expect hand-holding from every vendor they deal with, when the profit on the business they are bringing that vendor won't pay for an hour of the customer service rep's time. In other words, you're asking them to lose money on you, because you see it as being necessary overhead for their business. They might not agree. The most frequent argument I hear from new publishers who believe they have logic on their side is, "I may become a big publisher one day." You may, you may not, the odds are on their side that you won't. The odds are also on their side that if you do become a big publisher, you'll put aside your personal feelings and deal with them if they can give you the best value for your money. Another movie classic you may recognize, "Tell Mike it was business, not personal."

Some new self publishers who are fresh out of a publishing seminar or who just finished reading a how-to book are rushing into self publishing without getting all their ducks in line first. Then they find that the paths that were open for others aren't open to them. It some cases, the problems may be the fault of the "expert" who gave the seminar or the author of the how-to book. Either the path or the ease of walking it may have been oversold, or the industry may have changed. But some of the changes in the industry have been driven by large numbers of self published authors who haven't done their homework overwhelming the system.

There was a time when getting book signings arranged was as simple as asking. Bookstores were happy to host readings and signings, sell a few of the author's books and more importantly, bring customers into their stores who might never have been there before. But the number of authors without any book industry experience rose, and some of them thought they could arrange readings the week they expected their book to be printed. Even the major trades have trouble getting books out on schedule, so a date on a new self publisher's calendar should be treated as a rough estimate, not a scheduling tool. There's no point in holding a book signing if you don't have any books, and it reflects on the bookstore as well as the author.

How many times will a bookstore go through the time and expense of setting up to host a reading, possibly even advertising, only to have the book and author pull a no show. Or worse, create problems for the bookstore by showing up and not knowing the ropes. Many bookstores today won't schedule readings unless they are contacted by a publicist for a major trade or by authors famous in their own right. Too many self publishers are deluded into thinking that a book is an important credential in the publishing industry. It may be a credential outside the publishing industry, but insiders are surrounded by books and authors day and night - it's nothing special.

The same is true for other publishing infrastructure companies that don't charge up-front fees. A subsidy publisher is happy to get you because you are ensuring their profit up front. The fee you pay will more than cover the publication costs associated with your book, and most will be happy to sell you all manner of profitable (for them) add-on services as well. But printers only get paid when books get printed, in quantity. Some self publishers are too clever by far, leaning on their local printers for preproduction expertise and then getting cheaper pricing over the Internet through a broker. Customer service is a major cost in every business.

One day this may lead to problems self publishing through Lightning Source. I've always written that as far as the industry is concerned, the difference between an author and a publisher is a block of ISBN numbers, but that time may be coming to an end. Print providers like Lightning Source charge trivial set-up fees per title that may or may not cover the labor cost and overhead in setting up a new customer account. The business model of an on-demand printer is the same as that of an offset printer, to mark up paper with ink, bind it, and sell books in quantity. New publishers who don't bring with them an air of knowing what they are doing aren't attractive prospects. The print providers don't win any prizes for having a large, inactive customer base.

Lightning Source was always known for steering authors to author services companies, otherwise known as subsidy publishers. They turned me away the first time I approached them at a trade show back seven or eight years ago, and I was a trade published author by then. If problem of new self publishers taking up their time and not generating sales should grow, I won't be surprised if they go from discouraging self publishers who sound like amateurs to rejecting self publishers who can't prove they are pros.

Over Exposed At BEA (Book Expo America)

Last month I contacted the BEA public relations people to request a press pass as a blogger. They approved the pass, so this morning I drove out to New Jersey, took the ferry to the Javits Center, and strutted onto the floor like a big shot. I was feeling pretty cocky because I've read about how publicists will practically throw themselves at working press to get us to mention their titles.

What I didn't expect was that everybody would leave their booths, form a large circle around me, and start chanting, "Mor-ris, Mor-ris, Mor-ris." Even though I thought it was kind of extreme, I did the old politician victory thing, clasping my hands together and raising them over my head shaking them here and there, like a Lulav on Succos. All of a sudden, I began to wonder how all the publishing professionals and show attendees had recognized me, since I don't include a photo in my blog layout, which I'm sure they all read. Then I remembered the press pass hanging around my neck and looked down to see whether my name was in 36 point bold.

What I saw on my chest was hair, and I realized I had walked into the BEA wearing nothing but my underwear. The chant I'd mistaken for "Mor-ris, Mor-ris" was actually "More-Asprin, More-Asprin" but without the "prin". The friendly faces suddenly got ugly, I realized they'd been drinking all night and didn't want to talk about books. Flashbulbs were going off, I turned and sprinted for the door, and when the hot breeze coming off the Hudson hit me, I knew that my underwear had remained inside with one of those souvenir crazed bag stuffers that plague trade shows. I didn't want to stand around naked in Manhattan waiting for the ferry so I dove into the Hudson and started to swim back to the car when I woke up in the shower.

Now, none of that would have happened if my press pass confirmation had gotten here on time. I'm guessing I actually did get a pass because I got some party invites and come-hither e-mails late this week, made out to "Blogger". There were multiple invitations to some sort of ceramics party at a night club put on by a guy named Harry and his family, maybe they made it past my spam filter and the press pass confirmation didn't.

Now I know that I'm not the smartest guy in the world and I get a little dumber with every passing year. I know this because I go to the state fair every May and try my luck on the IQ tester. I spit on my hands, swing that hammer way back over my head and hit the actuator with everything I've got, but I get farther and farther from ringing the bell at the top each year. Sometimes I suspect it's a mechanical binding problem, that the rail the bell clapper runs up has a hump in the middle and I've been distributed on the wrong side. But maybe the solution is to spend less time at state fairs and more time following up on business in progress. Unfortunately, following-up always struck me as a close relation of nagging, of which I have an absolute horror.